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PLEASE NOTE: I've heard from a few readers who say their computers don't get the whole pulldown menu, which is very long. This has something to do with screen settings, which I don't understand. If you can't get to the later chapters and want the reader's guide, just send me an email and tell me which chapters you want. I'll send those pages to you as Word documents.
From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain, and nourish all the world.
--William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost (IV, iii, 350-53)
Secret Lives is a big novel about big issues—aging and death, the way our society treats its senior citizens, women’s friendships, the powers of love, the theory and practice of magic, the rebirth of the Goddess and Her ancient religion. It’s about the untidy mysteries of human life.
I built this novel out of a prologue and twenty-six braided stories (the chapters). This is twenty-seven chapters in all, 27 being a magic number (3 x 3 x 3). Except for the prologue and chapter 25, much of the action is set in Long Beach, California, in 1989-90 and takes place over about a year and a half. Long Beach is a real city, and many of the incidents, places, and people are drawn from real life. Among the characters in Secret Lives are old women and men, young women and men, dead people, at least two immortals, a talking cat, a dragon, and mythological powers gone mad in the modern world.
As the baby boom generation ages, the issues in Secret Lives become more significant to readers. Also more recognizable. Issues that used to matter only to their parents are now starting to pop up in the boomers’ own lives. This novel will thus appeal not only to the large audience that reads pagan fiction, but also to mainstream readers who love a good, complicated story and may have heard about pagans and gods and goddesses. As they read, they will learn a great deal.
Each chapter is a standalone story, although there are two arcs that comprise two stories and three stories. The bulleted notes that follow the barebones outlines and show how the stories are braided together and explain many of the allusions. An event may be foreshadowed in early chapters, for example, be the major plot of another chapter, and be resolved or echoed in later chapters. Likewise, people who appear as minor characters in some chapters become major actors in other chapters.
There are at least fifteen rituals and beginnings of rituals in Secret Lives—the creation of the dragon (Ch. 1), the charging of the cat (Ch. 2), the creation of sacred space (Ch. 3), a banishing (Ch. 4), a handfasting (Ch. 5), a menarche celebration (Ch. 6), a protective circle (Ch. 7), reversing spells (Chs. 10 and 18), a little friendship spell (Ch. 11), a croning (Ch. 15), a Gardnerian outer court ritual (Ch. 16), scrying (Chs. 16 and 17), a unique circle casting (Ch. 19), invocations and a cone of power in action (Ch. 21), and the beginning of a new ritual with new priestesses and a priest (Ch. 26). Plus bits and suggestions of rituals. These rituals show that these women are indeed working magic. You can copy and adapt them to your magical work if you want to, but similar results are not guaranteed. This is not a textbook of magic, but a novel written in the style called magical realism. That is to say, the magic is a normal part of the realistic lives of the characters. In the Dictionary of Theories (London: Gale Research International, 1993) Jennifer Bothamley defines magical realism as “a quasi-surrealist technique of writing in which clearly delineated realism is juxtaposed with fantasy, dreams, and myths; and in which complicated narratives and shifts of time-sphere are common. The effect is often bizarre, puzzling, or shocking” (p. 325). I first became aware of this kind of writing, which seems to have been invented by South American authors, in the novels of Isabel Allende, especially The House of the Spirits. Secret Live is both as real and as magical as I can make it.
Note that our generally accepted paradigm, Maiden, Mother, and Crone, comes from The White Goddess, written in 1948 by Robert Graves. It does not come from ancient days or cultures. A more logical division of woman’s life is four (or more) stages. In her book, The Queen of My Self (2005), Donna Henes proposes adding Queen after Mother. This has nothing to do with hierarchy or rulership, but sovereignty over oneself. I agree with my friend Donna, and if I were writing the book today, I’d make the nurses and some of the other women Queens. Besides, the moon really has four phases—new, waxing, full, waning—and there are four tarot suits and four seasons. Is 3 a more magical number than 4?
Please go to my Secret Lives Facebook page and Like it. I'll be posting little snippets from the book there. I'm hoping to build up a great big following. Every little Like helps, doncha know.
The FREE READER'S GUIDE is like a great big footnote in which I annotate the book. I explain allusions (for the occasional reader who may not recognize something--yes, I know I'm writing for smart people), give resources (books, movies, CDs, etc. just in case you want to follow up), and make comments, some of them snarky, some personal. Look at it this way--if Secret Lives were a DVD, the FREE READER'S GUIDE would be the commentary track. I almost always watch the commentary track. It's fun to find out what the director of a movie was thinking and doing.