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Guest Post with Barbara Ardinger

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Your book is composed of 26 chapters or stories. Do you have a favorite chapter in the book?  Do you have any that were difficult to work out and how did you get it all to come together?

Including the prologue, which is also a full story, the book is composed of 27 braided stories, including two arcs of related stories. The first arc is two stories about the mischief one of the women and the talking cat create at a psychic fair at a metaphysical church and the consequences of that mischief. The second arc concerns the Wintergreen Sisters, who arrive from snowy Minneapolis to take over the circle in Long Beach. They don’t succeed, so they start a war using weather as their weapon. This arc comprises three stories—the arrival of the sisters, the war, and its consequences. In addition, the shaman of the prologue appears in two or three other stories (she’s about 6 ½ thousand years old by 1989. No, I don’t know how she’s still alive.) and has her own story later in the book.

I tied things together by braiding the stories. Characters or plot developments are foreshadowed in one or two stories, then they have their major story, then details are resolved and denouments are given in later stories. Madame Blavatsky, the talking cat, is introduced in Ch. 2 and appears in nearly all the rest of the stories, sometimes as a major character, as when she disguises herself as the Cheshire Cat to drive the residence manager into a nervous breakdown. Another example is a scrying session with a magic mirror at the Halloween party. The mirror shows the denouments of some earlier stories and predicts a relationship that will be critical to the pyrrhic victory of the weather war.

How did I get everything to come together? The book has two dozen major characters and many minor characters. I made lists! I have lists of when all the characters were born and where they grew up. I have lists of which women are present in which scene—that’s so someone who’s not there doesn’t start talking. I have lists of who did what in which story. I have lists and diagrams that show the story arcs, with foreshadowing and denouments and where they occur. For the action that occurs in Long Beach, I have Google maps on which I drew where the retirement residence is and where other characters live. I have note on details, including one character’s Ozark dialect. I have notes on what happens to them after the book ends; most of this information is given in the final chapter.

Do I have a favorite chapter? I’m extremely fond of my version of Red Riding Hood in which a long goddess comes to Long Beach to deliver a message and is more or less taken captive by two horny old men (the wolves). I’m extremely fond of the chapter in which the Green Man and the university professor fall in love. He’s a very sexy fellow! I’m extremely fond of the chapter that takes us through the history of a famtrad (a family tradition), which includes Scotland and the Ozarks. You know, as I sit here, I can’t think of any chapter that I do not love. I’ve been living with these characters for 20 years. They’re very real to me, and I love them all. Well, except for the novel’s two major villains.

Please let me know if you have any more questions. For more information, you can visit the FREE READER’S GUIDE on my website, The reader’s guide is like the commentary track for a DVD.

From Chapter 3 of Secret Lives:

Sarah’s son has cooked up a big real estate deal in Yorba Linda and moved her out of her home and into the Center Towers Retirement Residence in Long Beach.

Herta looked Sarah straight in the eye for a long moment. Neither woman blinked.
“Your daughter and granddaughter are very concerned,” Herta finally said. “They tell us your other children are also very concerned because you’ve been ‘depressed.’ Well, that’s understandable, since almost all your treasures were packed up and put away when you moved. … But, frankly, there seems to be nowhere else you can go. Your children are willing to take you in, but none of them really have the room. Or the time.”
“I lived that way before I came to the Towers,” Sophie said. “A couple months with Doris, and her at work all day long, then pack everything up and move down to Sissie’s, then a couple months and, wham, back with Doris. It’s no way to live. I can tell you that. Never a room to call your own. Never your own friends. Watching daytime TV because there’s nothing else to do. Practically everything you own in a suitcase all the time. Waiting for your kids to find time to do for you. I never knew where to call home. That’s why I let the social services find me a place here.”
“I lived with my nephew and his wife,” Bertha said, petting the feather boa as she spoke. “I did their cleaning—well, I helped Lupe, the maid. Taught her some English while I was at it so she’d know what’s what. And I had to put up with their tight-ass Republican friends.”
“So,” Herta resumed, “you don’t have much of a choice. Your son is willing to support you as long as you live. And you do have friends here. But I guess you know that by now.”
“Why, I guess I do.” Sarah looked at these strangers who were spending time with her and actually listening to what she had to say. She was being cared about and cared for as if she really mattered. “I think you are my friends. Even though I don’t hardly know all your names.”
“Sarah, what do you want?”
She took another sip of her tea and looked down at herself in the wheelchair. She considered the days and weeks and months and years ahead, knowing that she was getting older, weaker, knowing she’d always be afraid she’d fall down again. She thought about her children, living and dead, and her Jake, whom she missed every night of her life, and every morning. She was grateful that her children and grandchildren (and even the greats) came to visit, phoned, sent her pretty cards, but she realized that they all had lives of their own. She saw that some of these women lived in this old folks home and seemed to be happy here. But maybe they’d never lived the way she had, out in the country (back then) with clean air and clean land.
How could she ever learn to be happy in that bare little room with no kitchen in this old folks home with a hospital pressing down on top of it? How could she be happy with endless days of nothing useful to do?
“What do I want?” She looked around at her circle of new friends. “I want to die.”

Read about the magical circle the women cast to help their new friend!
Check out the FREE READER’S GUIDE:

About Barbara Ardinger

Barbara Ardinger, Ph.D. (, is the author of Secret Lives, a novel about crones and other magical folks, and Pagan Every Day: Finding the Extraordinary in Our Ordinary Lives, a unique daybook of daily meditations, stories, and activities. Her earlier books include Goddess Meditations, Finding New Goddesses (a parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Quicksilver Moon (a realistic novel … except for the vampire). Her day job is freelance editing for people who have good ideas but don’t want to embarrass themselves in print. To date, she has edited more than 250 books, both fiction and nonfiction, on a wide range of topics. Barbara lives in southern California.

Here's the Facebook page for my new novel, Secret Lives: