Blog Header The Lives They Left Behind

Thoughts on Books: The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic

Penney, D., P. Stastny, and L. Rinzier. (2008) The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases From a State Hospital Attic. New York, Bellevue Literary Press.

“This book is dedicated to the memories of the Willard Suitcase owners, and to all others who have lived and died in mental institutions.” — Darby Penney & Peter Statsny

I came across the Willard suitcases project’s website a few years ago thanks to another article which showcased some of the photos. That article, I am afraid, I have long since forgotten the link to and can now only speculate where it had been published. Nevertheless, the project had caught my imagination. 427 suitcases were wrapped in plastic as they had been found in one of Willard’s attics (a state mental hospital) and taken to the New York State Museum. These held the worldly possessions of patients who had lived and died at Willard.

The contents of the suitcases are both heartbreaking and riveting, leading one to question who this person was, how their illness cut their life short (or so it seems in many cases) and, more than once, made me say “There, but for Grace, go I.”

‘As jy weer in jou dagboek skryf

Onthou

Om die goue blaar te sien in die somerson’

When you write in your diary again

Remember

To see the golden leaf in the summer sun

When I saw the book on Kindle, I knew that I wanted to read it. It wasn’t because they were some “crazy” people locked away, but because I wanted to know about the people behind the suitcase, behind the facade that seem to still linger over a person as soon as they are diagnosed with mental illness of a kind that severely impacts their day-to-day lives. And, boy, did some of the stories hit close to home.

What really enthralled me about the book is that the stories of the patients were the stories, really, of the everyman who has, in many cases, just seen too much — too much death, too much loneliness. In many cases what could now be treated quite easily with some medication and psychotherapy/CBT was basically still untreatable — the medication and treatments in their infancy, so to speak.

We learn of people who sometimes flourished within the walls of Willard to become a person that lived as well as they could within the confines placed upon them. And yet, we see in this view of a lost generation of mental patients many of the same things that still haunt patients today. And you also realise how far a little empathy can go. Indeed, there, but for Grace, go I.

‘As jy weer in jou dagboek skryf

Onthou

Om in my oë te sien

Die son wat ek nou vir altyd bedek

Met swart vlinders’

When you write in your diary again

Remember

To see in my eyes

The sun that I now forever cover

With black butterflies

Extracts of “As jy weer skryf”, a poem by Ingrid Jonker, written in June 1964, and published in Kantelson in 1966, shortly after her suicide by drowning in July 1965 at Drieankerbaai, Cape Town at the age of 32.

A Happy New Year and My Writing Plans for January 2019

Happy New Year! *throws confetti* I hope that everyone had a wonderful festive season and also had some time to rest before the new year started!

My vacation of ten days flew by so fast! I really enjoyed it, though, and can actually tell that I rested a bit, which is good. I was really so exhausted by the end of last year that I really needed the time off.

(Kind of) new to the blog this year

Like I hinted in some previous posts, I’m making changes to the blog this year (to make it better!) and these changes include doing more book reviews and as-I-read thoughts – without spoilers, more flash fiction, creative non-fiction and bringing back the weekly finds and folklore/mythology days.

Plans for the 2019 NaNoWriMos

I’m planning on taking part in both Camp NaNoWriMos and November’s NaNoWriMo. Writing exactly what I am not yet sure, but it will probably have to do with either Porselein or The Ruon Chronicles.

January writing plans

Focusing on January, I’ll be working on Jozi Flash 2017 and Porselein (along with some articles and flash pieces!). I will also have a guest post with Rachel Poli later this month.

And a toast to JRR Tolkien, whose birthday would’ve been today…

Lord of the Rings books, glass of sparkling wine

Rediscovering your passion, part 1

Or, yeah, markets aren’t my thing

Last weekend was the church’s Christmas Market, and I’d decided a few months ago to sell some of my handmade goodies there. I’d pondered about markets being a secondary side-hustle as I’m creating stuff the whole time anyway, and then I have a place to sell them.

Let’s just say I realised that, while I enjoy going to markets, being one of the sellers isn’t my thing at all. I had no idea that the competition between stallholders were that great, for instance. I mean between stall holders that sell completely different things.

Handmade is apparently too old-fashioned?

And, apparently, the handmade part of handmade toys wasn’t a good thing for 95% of the parents there. Which quite boggled my mind as there were some gorgeous toys, but maybe I’m just old fashioned. Or half a hipster. I have very good memories of playing with handmade/hand sewn toys. I still have most of them.

People are rude

When about half the night was over and my things had been called “handmade shit” and “cheap crap” among other things (yup, in church, I was also surprised), I decided that I’m just going to sell either online or on commission as I had been.

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The perfect Friday night

My second wish that night was that I had rather stayed home to write. Sure I got some good time in watching all the people, but I was itching to work on Porselein

Every day I’m hustling

This made me realise something — which I’d basically known, but am now 100% sure of and committed to — and that is that writing is the right career for me. Crochet and quilling and the rest are all good as a hobby, but they are not things that I want to do as my full-time job. Or even — at the moment — as my (main) side-hustle. Nope, that will be left for fiction writing. And that makes me excited.

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November writing plans: The Ruon Chronicles and Porselein

While the temperatures are cooling down for most of my readers (*waves hello*), the temperatures here on the Highveld are sweltering, leaving my poor desk fan to work most of the day at work to try and keep my space less stuffy.

To that end, I’m doing more of my writing early in the morning, leaving my melted brain to focus only on simple tasks like crocheting in the afternoons while I wait for it to cool down again. Which bring me to what I’ll be working on during November.

The Ruon Chronicles — The Knowledge Stones, Grove of Graves, and an untitled novella

The Knowledge Stones is starting to haunt me because I can’t seem to just finish it! But I guess it’s better to have it done properly that to have it only half done and sent out into the world!

At the moment I’m busy figuring out one of the fight scenes (it contains some of the Tellerassar/eagle shifters and promises to be epic). At the moments it’s only a bulleted list of things which much happen, and will take quite a bit of writing to get ready, I think. And probably watching some more eagle videos…

But after that it’s just the denouement and setting up the next story in the series; the novella Grove of Graves.

The problem with Grove of Graves

I wrote Grove of Graves quite on a whim, not sure where it would go and having no idea that I would slot it into the main narrative that would make up The Ruon Chronicles (as opposed to being just a novella set in Airtha-Eyrassa). Neither did I expect secondary characters which I’d already created for later books to pitch up and demand to not only be in Grove of Graves, but also in Knowledge Stones.

Anyway…

After writing The Knowledge Stones, and knowing that Grove of Graves takes place just a few years after that, I need to make some changes to the story before publishing the final version which will then be canon in The RuonChronicles.

However, you will still be able to read Grove of Graves as a standalone story and even start with that one before tackling The Knowledge Stones.

Basically the reading order will be The Knowledge Stones, Grove of Graves, the unnamed story I’m going to talk about in a bit, The Charms of Life and Death (which is set to be Book 1 of a series).

The as-yet unnamed story

So, as luck would have it, I stumbled across an idea for another story (or two) that is set outside of the main narrative of The Ruon Chronicles, but still set in Airtha-Eyrassa. These will be novellas (because who am I kidding when I say “they’ll probably only be short stories”!) and I will work on them from January 2019 in order to get at least one out by March 2019.

As they are not part of the main narrative, there is a bit more room to explore the world of Airtha-Eyrassa, which I think will not only be interesting to read, but will also help me to be able to write faster when I start with the serious series of The Ruon Chronicles. They will also be a good entry into the world for those just starting out reading the stories about the world.

One of the stories is set during the Ruon Wars in the Midlands/Northern Lands, with the other set in the more eastern parts of the continent.

Porselein — still busy tinkering

Yes, I know. It’s been like a year and I’m still not done. (But what a year!) I’m basically almost just about done with the full outline of Porselein  and one of the things that I think has held me back — that there isn’t really fantasy fiction for adults in Afrikaans so why bother writing some** — may just be a thing of the past now that the Afrikaans translation of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring has been published. I can only hope.

Anyway, so I’m busy with the seventh module of my writing course (for which I am writing the book) and thanks to that have seen many instances where I need to rethink the pacing of the book or up the stakes some more. There is also some more backstory that I need to figure out completely and figure out how much of that I need to include in the book — if I need to include it at all.

** Ah, self-doubt. The seemingly ever-present companion of a writer.

A Note on Forgotten:

Because apparently I hate having any time off, I’ve decided to translate Forgotten into Afrikaans and make that available on Kobo as well. (Still pondering whether or not on Kindle…) However, this is not a priority for me at the moment, but more something that I want to do in-between working on my other projects. For now my main focus will be the Airtha-Eyrassa fiction and Porselein.

Forgotten is available in English at the moment, and you can read more about the story here.

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Final writing update for October

And there goes October whooshing by!

I’m very thankful to have finished and published Forgotten before Halloween (more about that over here), but November promises to be a very busy writing month as well. More about that next week, though.

#TheMerryWriter

During October I’ve had some more luck with keeping up with #TheMerryWriter on Twitter, though I still seem to fall behind at least once a week… oops. Still, it’s a lot of fun and also a chance to meet other writers who have the same or similar interests than yourself.

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The Ruon Chronicles and Porselein

With spending so much time getting Forgotten finished (and basically being very tired after some double deadlines* at work), I’ve barely touched Ruon Chronicles or Porselein this month. However, my fingers are itching to get stuck in and finishing these. I want to get a good part of the work done before triple deadlines start!

This Friday evening is the local Christmas Market where I’ll be selling some handmade goodies, but then I should have the rest of the weekend open for working on fiction. And cleaning. But I’m focusing on the writing!

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Shards of Mirrors

Aaaaand I’ve started another project. Well, sort of. It’s been brewing for a while, and is basically another flash fiction collection, like Dim Mirrors, wherein a whole lot of my flash stories are collected together and made available on a platform like Noisetrade Books. I’ve got a vague outline for it thus far, but will probably only have it ready somewhere at the beginning of 2019 as it still needs to be edited, etc. See, most of my Microcosms fiction is written during lunch hour, so they can all probably do with some re-editing.

So far I have an idea for a cover that is something like this:

Shard of Mirrors cover test

But I’m trying not to spread myself too thin! (She says, gazing at the pile of work she’s made for herself.)

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Have an awesome week!

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*For those wondering what on earth double and triple deadlines are, basically it’s our way of saying we have twice/thrice as many deadlines in the time we usually have one. Spoiler: by the time Christmas rolls around, the magazines up to February is basically finished… Anyway, it usually means a lot of coffee** and wishing that you had a TARDIS to get more hours out of the day.

** I drink mostly decaf though, so why I drink more coffee is beyond me! Ha!

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Behind the fiction: The Book of Damnation

Written for Microcosms, this story was quite a fun one to write. Not quite unicorns and rainbows, though…

For those who missed yesterday’s post, I’m giving the story first and the “behind the scenes” afterwards.

Fiction: The Book of Damnation

Welstandsuitsig Abbey had been built upon a tall pinnacle. Waking and sleeping in shifts, they shared in the work around the abbey all the while tending to the Abbess who sat in the highest room writing blindly in the Vedoemenis Boek all that happened – and would still happen – in the world below.

He came at midday, raw fingers and knuckles leaving bloody specks on the stone as he climbed the height of the rock to reach the abbey.

Two of the sisters helped him to the Abbess who still sat in front of the enormous book.

“I’ve come for the machine,” he said, barely greeting her.

She blessed him before simply stating ‘no’.

“You know what is happening down there,” he said. “People are slaughtering one another! The world is coming to an end”

“And you would stop it?”

“I would go back in time and stop it, yes.”

“And? Would I then simply rip out the page, forgetting all it said?”

“Yes.”

The Abbess stepped closer to the window.

“Come here and see what I see.”

The man sighed, went over to the window. The Abbess nodded and the sisters pushed him out. With a heart-wrenching scream, he plunged to his death.

The Abbess sat down at the Verdoemenis Boek once more and started writing.

“I read what would have been written,” she said to the sisters. “The world would have been destroyed by now. We would have been destroyed.”

When they had left, the Abbess started to write their world’s doom once more, the sisters’ murder slipping into oblivion between the lines she wrote, taking the murder upon herself only.

Behind the fiction

“The Book of Damnation” was one where I played around with a bunch of elements just for fun, basically. The prompts were “abbey”, “mountaineer”, and “diary”.

I immediately thought of Meteora when I read “abbey” and “mountaineer”, but had to cut quite a bit of the description as I only had 300 words for the whole story. Calling it Welstandsuitsig was more of a joke to myself (and people who can read Afrikaans) as it means “Wellness view”. It’s the small things…

Monastery Varlaam, Meteora, Greece

Verdoemenis Boek is also Afrikaans and added just to give it an otherworldly feel along with Welstandsuitsig and it literally means “Book of Damnation”. I wanted it to be almost a magical tome, set against the “scientific world” of the time machine.

The brain is also a weird thing when it comes to recalling something while you’re writing. So often I have no idea where something came from, but, for instance, the lines: “’People are slaughtering one another! The world is coming to an end’” is distinctly influences by the one stanza of Völuspa in the Poetic Edda where the coming of Ragnarok is described along with Fimbulventr.

Odin og Völven by Frølich

The time machine itself came as a bit of a surprise to me. I had no idea what the abbey was guarding until I came to the part where I realised maybe the “mountaineer” had been sent to try and save the world…

I hope to take part in Microcosms again this Friday and will then post the story next week Tuesday.

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(Header photo byMasaaki Komorion, Unsplash)

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Patreon: Change is in the air!

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… but it’s good change!

Since starting my Patreon page, I’ve slowly but surely fallen off the wagon in posting everything that I’d hoped to post there for my Patrons. However, with the renewed faith that I will actually be able to finish Forgotten, The Knowledge Stones, and Grove of Graves still in this year, I also have renewed energy to get back into the saddle of Patreon, so to speak.

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So, to that end, I’m going to relaunch the Patreon page in a week or two with some new tiers ($1, $5 and $15 per month). The new video may not be completely finished by then, but I don’t want to put it off longer than two weeks for the rest as Forgotten is coming out for Halloween. So I definitely have some very busy weeks before me!

What’s in it for me?

Now for the really important things, i.e. what’s the rewards for being a Patron?

I’ve decided to rather only have 3 tiers, keeping them affordable for most people. What you will get in return is as follows:

One dollar per month tier:

  • Bi-monthly short story (Rather than a monthly one that I only rush through)
  • Behind the scenes looks at my most important WIPs as they’re being created – think Forgotten and The Ruon Chronicles
  • Worldbuilding notes, including maps, inspiration boards, etc. A look at the pipeline

Five dollars per month tier:

  • Everything of the one dollar tier, plus:
  • Early access to stories and news
  • Early drafts of certain stories

Fifteen dollars per month tier:

  • Everything in the one and five dollar tiers, plus
  • Extra behind the scenes and worldbuilding
  • Having your name used in one of the Ruon Chronicles books or stories for a character.

Other cool stuff I’m still working on:

I’m still working out how to incorporate audio into my Patreon – whether it’s reading a story, explaining something about the worlds I write in, or simply giving updates.

What do you guys think?

Keep an eye out here and on my Patreon page over the next two weeks for updates!

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Starting over in October

I blame it on writing stuff for January and February at work, but I’m already thinking about what my goals will be for 2019. This also got me thinking that there’s no real need to wait for the new year to start working on goals (but, unfortunately, I still need to wait for January to start writing in my new diary…). To that end, I’ve come up with a Plan Of Action for the next few months which I hope will get me where I want to be at the beginning of 2019 to start the year of with a bang.*

On the writing front — Porselein

Besides Forgotten, I’m working on Porselein this month — more specifically getting the outline (including the subplots) finished and finally finishing module 7 of my writing course. My plan is to really start writing this novel in December. At the moment I have only written a few scenes here and there. I’m very excited for this one, though!

On the publishing front — Forgotten and The Knowledge Stones

After having some difficulty in keeping up with the initial deadlines I’d set for myself, I’m now well on my way to releasing Forgotten for Halloween this year and The Knowledge Stones in time for the holidays. Because holiday reading!

Here are the covers basically done now…

Patreon

On Monday I’ll have more info about changes on my Patreon page (all good changes, though!).

All of these elements should mean that by January 2019, I’ll be ready with the full outline for The Ruon Chronicles (actually written down and not just in my head), and starting on the first book of The Ruon Chronicles, and Porselein.

In-between I’ll still contribute to The Mighty and write for Microcosms (though probably not every week). Sometimes my brain just needs some flash fiction before returning to a longer work!

*Okay, no, usually wishing family and friends happy New Year, cursing the neighbours for their fireworks, toasting the change in calendar with sparkling grape juice and then going to bed. I live on the edge. (But before that I do spend a whole day watching all the extended cuts of The Lord of the Rings films. #Tradition)

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Writing Update: “Forgotten” – a short story

Note: “Forgotten” will be published in time for Halloween!

I’m busy finishing what I’m calling “part 2” of “Forgotten”, but I’m also heavily editing the first part which has already been written.

“Forgotten” had started out as an image of a story inspired by the photo by Joshua Sortino and which grew in leaps and bounds from there.

Photo of man on crashed plane

Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

So what does the rewrite mean? (I mean, let me be honest with myself, it is almost a rewrite, the amount of editing I’m doing.) Well, it means delving into the history of the world a bit, but really delving into the myth and folklore surrounding the story. Myth! Folklore! What’s not to love?

Book cover for "Forgotten" by Carin Marais

Cover for “Forgotten”

Writing Update: “Forgotten” and a writing routine

 

The temperatures here on the Highveld are soaring and it seems like our spring will be very short-lived. However, the trees are green (the jacarandas half purple) and there are birds everywhere in the garden looking a lot happier that a month ago. Also, somewhere in the neighbourhood there is now a rooster — got a shock the first morning it crowed, let me tell you! I’m more used to hadedas in the morning! (This is a hadeda…)

Hadeda photo by Dawid Loubser

Hadeda, photo by Dawid Loubser

On writing schedules and productivity

On the writing front I’m starting to feel more productive again. It has been one of those times when you feel like the balance you had in your life had a wobble.

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In part this happened because of the flares I’ve been having, but I also have had some weekends when I barely rested (which doesn’t help the symptoms) and my anxiety has been through the roof as well.

Good news! The anxiety has settled down to normal levels and I’m doing much better pain-wise. (For first-time visitors, you can check out this post.)

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Catching up

However, I do realise that I have a lot of work to do and to catch up on. But I’ll need to work through it all in a balanced manner — especially since we’re on double deadlines at work.

I’m still busy putting together a schedule, though, so I don’t have any dates set down in stone, except…

… “Forgotten” will be released in time for Halloween!

Cover - Forgotten

Second on my list is getting my homework for Porselein finished and sent off. Not doing NaNoWriMo this year has really taken a lot of pressure off!

Tomorrow I’m posting some Flash Fiction, and I’ll have more on “Forgotten” on Wednesday. Huzzah!