Wednesday’s Book Look: The Heart Stone Chronicles (The Swamp Fairy Book One) by Colleen M. Chesebro

Whew, this week’s blog title was a mouthful. I needed a gator’s gaping maw to say all that!

(Definite book spoilers lie ahead.)

I’m reading books faster than I can chat about them on the blog, but the other soon-to-be-two books aren’t fantasy, so they’ll get their own lightning-bolt look in another post.

And, before I get started, I found the hippie house of my dreams! Who wants to give me 1.5 million dollars? (Yes, it really is that much!) But maybe we can start a writer’s commune where we ignore each other as we huddle over our microwaved meals and our books. Unless, of course, we steal each other’s bookmarks, then, watch out for our old stink-eyed glares!

https://www.oldhousedreams.com/2021/03/16/1961-missile-silo-base-in-eskridge-ks/

Speaking of stink-eyes, I have an especially fierce one reserved for Florida’s developers, and the politicians that cater to them. And, believe me, I know all about their antics and tactics firsthand. (I was born and raised in Florida.)

Like the time a local county commissioner was determined to build a brand-new stadium to house/attract the Baltimore Orioles, and nothing, not even the tree with a pair of nesting bald eagles, was going to get in the county commissioner’s way. (I tried to locate the original news article, but did not find the correct one, so I had to relate the circumstances from memory.)

And so, even though the Heart Stone Chronicles is described as a read for “upper middle grade and the young at heart” by a reviewer on Amazon, it was a deeply personal read for me. Because the main character, teenaged Abby Forester, is having to take a stand against not only the menacing pressure of a local developer when she inherits a parcel of magical swamp land (But what swamp land ISN’T magical, I ask?!?!?!) as well as pressure from her new friends and other locals to sell up the land for a housing development. (As if Florida needs any more of those either, right? Or cheaply and hurriedly built gaudy McMansions, speaking of vile housing developments.)

The worst part in addition to the continued destruction of Florida’s shrinking wildlife areas is when beautiful 100+ year old oaks are cut down. It was supposed to be illegal, but nobody seems to care, and the perpetrator just pays the fine.

I did, though. My heart broke so much while I was living there. I tried to fight it in my own way, but it seems money will always win in Florida. What the development didn’t take care of, the newcomers to Florida took care of with their slavish devotion to Roundup and pesticide-laden green lawns. The local extension department even fully embraced Round-up. Even in a newly established, so-called “wetlands restoration” of someplace called Celery Fields was subjected to extensive Roundup spraying. I witnessed this myself. A golf cart with tanks on the back and a big sprayer was driving up and down and around the lake watering every square inch of the so-called “wetlands” with what was in the tanks (the tanks were even labeled “Roundup”. I called the county and even contacted the Sarasota Audubon Society.

I don’t think I even heard back from the county, as memory serves, but I did speak by phone with a spokesperson from the Sarasota Audubon Society and the spokesperson was in full support of the Roundup spraying as necessary maintenance for the Celery Fields site. https://www.sarasotaaudubon.org/the-celery-fields/

For myself, It was awful to see egrets and herons and other like birds wading and feeding in the areas that had just been liberally doused with Roundup.

So, in light of my above experiences, Colleen M. Chesebro’s book became my own “Heart Stone” read. Because in her book, the evil developer doesn’t win by virtue of money and his greased-palm political allies. Chesebro’s “swamp fairies” are protected, and, as I imagined, so are all the other swamp wildlife and trees and waterways.

I can close my eyes and pretend that none of the trees I loved as a child were cut down. I can pretend that majestically regal alligators don’t lose their tails to poachers. I can pretend that the terrible day never happened where the residents of Oaks Club in Venice, Florida intentionally shot fireworks into island bird rookeries. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2306348/Oaks-Club-Residents-private-country-club-shooting-fireworks-rookeries-scare-protected-birds.html

I can pretend that none of the animals who were here first are losing their homes and their habitats because there are little checks on Florida’s rampaging developments.

I can pretend that Colleen M. Chesebro’s swamp fairies are real. 

In fact, I can believe that her fairies are real. Because the Heart Stone Chronicles are inspired by her real-life encounter with a swamp fairy.

I can believe in the possibility, even as a skeptic, because I’ve seen something similar in Vermont and I have not found a way to discount what it was that I saw. Yet, anyway. Feel free to ask me about my fairy-ish sighting, even if you want to try to debunk it yourself.

In any case, Abby Forester wins out, and the swamp is turned into a protected wetlands site. One that is, hopefully, not doused with pesticides and Roundup that even park rangers seem to love to utilize.

But, in addition to the environmental theme within the book, there’s a strong social message in there. Some might argue that the messages about drug use (Abby’s father became an addict) and other elements are not appropriate for kids, but I strongly disagree. As if such things like that and contact with Department of Children and Families and blended families or whatever the term is aren’t something many kids today have to deal with in their daily lives. Heck, even back in the 1990s, there were elementary-school aged drug dealers (recruited by an older brother or sister or relative in their lives) or they had stolen drugs from a family member’s medicine cabinet to sell or trade. So I like that the main character has to navigate a similar situation. It handles the material well, and I believe it is a book that is current and relatable to younger readers, especially given that Abby not only finds a positive living environment, but has her own agency, knows/discovers her own mind, and makes her own decisions accordingly without succumbing to peer pressure and societal pressure. 

And, of course, we all know that fairies exist! So, it’s totally okay to believe in fairies and unicorns and mythical creatures and whatever else the hell you want to! Because if there’s no magic-made-real in this world, how can we find the hope and strength and creative vision to change things and make a difference for the better? To create a life and a world WE want to live in? Am I right or am I right? (I’m right!)

Here’s the links to Colleen M. Chesebro’s websites and book-buying options!

Author Website: https://colleenchesebro.com/

Goodreads Author Page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16254415.Colleen_M_Chesebro

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Colleen-M-Chesebro/e/B01N9MV2RX/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

A Close Encounter of the Real-Life Kind…#WIHM #ThrowbackThursday

It’s Women in Horror month. As it’s been said many times, and as I stressed in my blog post yesterday, horror is not some abstract concept in movies and books. Our threats are real, as is our fear, though many tell us it’s imagined. Or in our heads.

(This is an old essay on Tor.com, but I loved it. I still have the hard copy I printed out. https://www.tor.com/2017/04/13/the-peril-of-being-disbelieved-horror-and-the-intuition-of-women/)

In the case of this remembered experience, the fear this individual experienced was real. I have heard this story told and retold for as long as I can remember. And I asked the individual if I could share their experience here. I transcribed it from this individual’s recollection of their memory of the events during a recent phone conversation, typed it up, and am now posting it here, with their permission. Given the content of their remembered experience, I am keeping this source anonymous.

I have transcribed it verbatim from the original telling to the best of my ability (using a pen and paper and then typing it). I recorded this passage using a pen and paper on February 1st. I made a typewritten copy of the passage today, February 2nd. I have not edited, rewritten, or altered the transcript text as pasted below in any way, except for introducing ellipses to represent breaks and/or shifts in thought, and using brackets to enclose information to clarify certain items in the narrative text passage.

*begin transcript*

“I’m coming out of Publix [a grocery store]…it was summer…I know what dress I had on…I still remember it…sleeveless dress, burlap-type fabric…I had long blond hair and I had it down because I’d just washed it…This guy, getting into his car…a yellow Volkswagen beetle, a Bug, getting to our cars, he said ‘Hi’ I said ‘Hi’ thinking it was probably a theatre person. Get into my car, he gets into his. I got…I turned onto Siesta Drive [in Sarasota, Florida], out of the parking lot I turned east, and he followed me, follows me out onto Siesta Drive, which made me feel uncomfortable. While we were side by side, I looked over, and he was staring at me. Scared me to death, the eyes were just scary, hate…It just unnerved me…strange eyes, really strange eyes. When it [Siesta Drive] narrowed down to one lane and I was going faster than he was, and he fell behind. I was ahead of him. I was so very uncomfortable with the man; at Webber, a very short lefthand turn lane; at the last minute I jumped into the lane and there was no traffic coming so I made my turn. He had traffic behind him and he couldn’t move over and as he passed me; the glare, and the hate in his eyes. When I got home I was nervous cause it was an open carport…I was scared, shaking…I calmed down, not seeing him on the street; he hadn’t followed me.

The next day, he’d gone into the sorority house and killed two women. I still did not connect the dots until he was arrested some time later. I believe they arrested him in Colorado, I think, and brought him back to Sarasota. At the time of the arrest, they took a picture of him and when his picture appeared in the paper, it was like an electroshock…I recognized the eyes–the glare, and the hate–and realized how close I came, I guess. I immediately recognized the eyes, and I knew it was him.”

*end transcript*

I transcribed this interview faithfully, as is protocol, and to the best of my ability, and have not deliberately edited, rewritten, or changed the transcript of this remembered experience in any way.

This individual and I haven’t officially confirmed the actual picture that they saw in the paper, but I provided a couple of links that were close to what this person thinks they remember of the actual picture. I’ve also included a link to the Volkswagen beetle and a link to the Wikipedia article about Ted Bundy. I had actually tried to print it out for myself to read, and, a little spookily, the printer went haywire. I got an alert message I’d never seen before, and I could print everything out except the article on Ted Bundy. I even went on later and discovered one issue that I troubleshot (troubleshooted?) and fixed that, and the article still would not print out. But another document of the same type did without any problems. Creepy, and definitely gave me the chills late last night!

Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Bundy#/media/File:Ted_Bundy_volkswagen.JPG

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Bundy#/media/File:Ted_Bundy_headshot.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Bundy#/media/File:Ted-bundy.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ted_Bundy

Clowns That Don’t Go Bump in the Night…

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What could be better for my forthcoming birthday (September 20) than a whole book of horror stories featuring clowns?

The fact that my story’s among them!

So, “send in the clowns,” and don’t forget to bring balloons and plenty of gifts! Or, you can make my wish (and those of the other authors) come true, and buy the book, here: Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown.

Still here? Yes, you. You in the corner, clowning around. Well, I can’t get you an invite to clown school on that audition, but if you want more information about the book, check out Editor Dave Higgins’ blog post: https://davidjhiggins.wordpress.com/abstruse-press/fears-of-a-clown/bloodyrednose/.

Still can’t get enough clowns? Do you take your horror with a splash of humour? Well, Dave Higgins has released not one, but two, clown-featured books. Perhaps this one will help rekindle your childhood dream of becoming a clown. (Or not? I’ll have to read it, myself, to find out.) If you read Deadman Humour: Thirteen Fears of a Clown, please no spoilers. That’s worse than a clown without a smile!

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Sadly, I never did run away to join the circus. Which was probably a wise choice, as I imagine it would have been rather difficult to liberate elephants, giraffes, and lions as a twelve-year-old. Nevertheless, I do have a little bit of circus cred by association with my hometown, where I was raised, which was the winter headquarters of the Ringling Circus. (Until they moved to Venice, Florida.) Which, these days, I suspect that the Gulf Coast of Florida is pretty much all one swath of strip malls and gated communities with some six-million-dollar condos thrown into the heart of Floridian downtowns, just to give the residents a chance to kvetch about the slightest noise after 9 p.m. Or support noise meter companies. I forget which.

But don’t worry, even though more and more of Florida’s wetlands, wild areas, and farmlands are being parceled up and sold to developers by local politicians to become an on-every-street-corner Walgreens, or a toxic-turfed six-bedroom McMansion, you can still find sparkling sequins of circus history in Sarasota.

Check out the circus museum that’s part of the Ringling Museum historio-industrial complex: https://www.ringling.org/circus-museum. (Beware the museum’s staff, though; they can be more terrifying than any nightmare we writers can dream up. And enter into the gift shop at your own risk.*)

If you’d like a more genial experience, visit Bob Horne at his restaurant, Bob’s Train. His knowledge of circus from his own experiences, and his vibrant recitation of circus history, will add life to the museum visit. In fact, his own restaurant is filled with photos and memorabilia from the circus, and is the perfect setting to read certain clown anthologies (Can I drop any more hints?).

If you need any more convincing, yes, the restaurant is in an actual Pullman railroad car. Oh, and on the very same track is JoMar. Yes, that JoMar (look it up!). Which Bob Horne is restoring.

Here’s the link to Bob’s Train: https://www.bobstrain.com/location. (But I can’t promise there will be clowns.)

 

*I was born in Bradenton, and grew up in Sarasota. For those not from the area, that pretty much means I have carte blanche to be as snarky as I want to about my hometown(s). And it’s a gold mine for snarky humorists, let me tell ya.

 

Mourning a Celebrity Childhood Friend…

 

 

Snooty the manatee has died while in captivity at the South Florida Museum.

I used to go see Snooty as a kid. I always felt sad that he was all alone in his tank at the museum. I used to daydream that I would sneak in afterhours and somehow manage to set him free. It seemed like a stark place to live, and the sounds were disorientating even to my human ears.

As an adult (90s/early 2000s), trying to be more active in animal rights causes, I had mixed feelings about visiting the museum. I had fond memories of the South Florida Museum, but I found it hard to go see Snooty in his lonely little tank.

Around 2012/2013 or so, someone I knew could get me into the museum for free, so I went. I was amazed to see that Snooty was still at the museum. But, this time, he had company. There were two other manatees (they were being rehabilitated, I believe) in the tank with him, so I felt a little better that he wasn’t all by himself.

Then I saw a post on someone’s Facebook page announcing that he had died. I figured old age, not being too knowledgeable on how long manatees lived in captivity.

But then I read the article(s). I’ll let you choose to read them for yourself, just in case you are as sensitive to animals as I am, and maybe have to steel yourself before hearing the news. Or want to avoid it altogether.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/07/24/snooty-the-manatee-dies-in-heartbreaking-accident-days-after-his-69th-birthday/?utm_term=.7abad7a7d5ee

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/07/23/538900625/snooty-the-manatee-dies-and-a-florida-community-mourns

http://www.bradenton.com/news/local/article163774463.html

I have been in mourning for gentle Snooty over the past week  few days that have felt like a week.

And been thinking a lot.

About the fact that there is less and less room for animals, plants, trees, insects, fish, or any of the other non-human lifeforms that are on this planet as well. Because we humans are taking up so much room. And that, by the time there is no more room for humans on a planet that will become uninhabitable sooner or later, there probably won’t be any non-human lifeforms left.

I read something about micro-living via the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But is it enough? Is anything enough to stop humanity’s destructive drive to fully dominate the planet?

I don’t know. I’m still trying to do everything I can to be more environmentally respectful, as futile as it feels.

I know that I miss Snooty, one of my few (make-believe?) childhood friends. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, I hope he gets to live in a better world, surrounded by freedom and clean ocean water and other manatee friends and family. And I wish the same thing for animals and plants and trees and insects that have to live on the planet with us humans. May better karma be with you in your next life.