Pagan Theurgy done, vacation time!

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It’s done!

Well, mostly.

Two years ago, September 2013, I started writing “Pagan Theurgy”. Six months later I turned in a manuscript that in retrospect looks more like notes toward a book. My (fantastic) editor kicked it back to me for a rewrite. I turned in the rewrite the first week of September 2015. So that’ll teach me to think I can write a book in six months!

My editor likes the rewrite and has placed it on the launch track. It’s such a relief. I’ve got some edits to clean up by the end of the year, but compared to the extensive reworking of the last 18 months, they’re pretty darned minor.

To celebrate I promptly went on vacation. Every free weekend and vacation week for the last two years has been spent on the writing – it’s time to party! In my case this means taking Alex on a week long vacation to…Sequim, where I’ve been doing all the writing. We closed the bookstore for a week and just went.

It was very interesting to be in the same house doing something completely different. I actually didn’t sit down at my computer once that whole time. We stocked up on local food at Nash’s Farm Store and Sunny Farm store and mostly cooked in the kitchen, saving our money for a really great dinner at Alder Wood Bistro on our last night. Ted came out one evening and we had a family dinner and breakfast, with the great conversation we have when we’re all relaxed and have the time.

Being in the same landscape on the same month felt like starting over. It was such a vivid reminder of when I first visited to start writing two years ago. I remembered the color of the light, the seasonal notices in the stores, the look of the farmland. With the book behind me it felt like I could relax and enjoy it all. I am very fond of Sequim and expect to spend more time there when I retire. In the meantime I can look forward to editing weekends.

Oh, and I took half an hour at Hurricane Ridge and scribbled notes for three more books.

Here’s what we did on our end-of-summer vacation.

Cline Spit fishing

Cline Spit fishing

Cline Spit county park is very close to the house. It was a calm day when these fishermen set out.


Two out-of-commission dams have been removed from the Elwha River to restore the salmon runs. This is where the lower dam used to be – hardly looks like a dam at all now!


Cape Alava is the northwest tip of the continental US. The walk out to the viewpoint is three quarters of a mile of slick boardwalk but totally worth it.


Alex took much better images than I did all weekend. He was dressed for the part too!


Lake Crescent. I grabbed this quick shot leaning over Alex in the driver seat on our way back from the Makah reservation.


Hurricane Ridge on a rare cloudless day. The visitor center is open all year long, gets pretty snowy in the winter!


This used to be Cedarbrook farm. Now the restaurant Crave serves local food out of what used to be the gift shop.


There’s a settler cemetery close to the house with a spectacular view of Sequim-Dungeness farmland and the Olympic mountains.


Dungeness Spit. It’s five miles one way to the lighthouse, mind the tides!


If you mean to take a picture of the railroad bridge, best do it right away. It’s coming down to be replaced by a safer but less picturesque pedestrian bridge.

We spent a beautiful week in a beautiful place. Now I’m catching up on all my blogging and such before wading back in to finish the edits.


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I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to leave my people and my cats (dog, chickens, bees, garden) and go spend another weekend in isolation. Duty drove me to leave my desk at the dot of 5 and climb into the car to make the hour and a half drive to Clallam County.

The world is so beautiful. I remembered this as I crossed the Hood Canal bridge, the water shimmering silver around the little islands. This is why we leave our homes and travel. On the pass the wind’s strong hand send clouds scudding and cars skidding. Across the pass the mountains relaxed into pleasant valleys dotted with barns.

Back porch view

Back porch view

At the store (Sunny Farms) (really) I picked up two days worth of lunch and dinner. The squashes are in, so are the cabbages, and they are ginormous, and there were little bags of candy corn by the cash register.

I realized that this is where I came in. The wheel has turned one whole round and I’m back in the season where I started the book. It’s been a year. I’m still playing out that contract, delivered a draft by deadline, now working out the edits. My editor wished me a happy writing weekend which means more than you can know if you haven’t left everyone you love to stick yourself in the echo chamber of your own mind.

I re-read the draft I made at the Labor Day vacation. It did not suck. This is immensely reassuring. Before anyone else can like what I’ve done I have to like what I’ve done. The draft, to be honest, felt like a slog, a whole lot of work squeezed into not enough time, and the prose felt dry. It’s lively now, less prosaic and more poetic. When the draft ended where I had stopped I was disappointed – wait, what next?

After a year in this house I know its little sounds, they no longer alarm me. I still wish I could bring Fiona the wonder dog along, but this very nice place belongs to a non-pet owner, so that’s out. But a warm cup of tea sends me to sleep.

In the morning the storm had passed and the Olympics came clear. There is nothing here to do but write which is the point. So I write. I’m leaning more into story as I go along and when I do my voice settles. It’s a nice feeling. Almost compensation for the absence of loved cats, and people.

How to Write a Book in Six Months – specifically dicatation

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Usually it takes me a year to write a book. So when my publisher and I agreed I would write a book in six months, I knew I had to step up my game. I had read a book called How to Write a Book in a Weekend in which the writer outlined this process: first he gathers research on a topic, then he spends the weekend dictating the book, then he sends the book out to be typeset and then copyedited.

I thought I might as well give dicating a try. Did anyone else besides Vic Johnson write this way? I found that the fiction writer Kevin J. Anderson dictates novels into a tape recorder while taking hikes. He says it makes writing landscape descriptions easy! Keeps him in shape too. However, he too has his material transcribed. Kobo Writing Life, “It’s Okay to Talk to Yourself”

I didn’t want to spend the money on hiring a transcriptionist. Instead I explored dictation software. I’ve been following the Dragon company since their very first product. Voice recognition took longer than the industry expected to become reliable. However I’ve started using voice recognition for phone texts, and these turn out to be pretty good, so I figured Dragon surely had caught up by now. Dragon Naturally Speaking v.12 got very good reviews. I bought the premium version to get recording transcription functionality.

I spent some time figuring out which microphone to buy. I finally settled on the Logitech H800 as it got the highest reviews for accuracy. It fits over the ears rather than in the ears and has an adjustable mike.

I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the process turned out to be. It was harder to get my Windows 8 computer to recognize the microphone than it was to train Dragon to understand my speech. The book I was writing has a lot of philosophical technical terms and proper names that the software couldn’t be expected to understand. However, once I discovered that I could train Dragon to recognize a specific word as I spoke it, I found the software handled those terms gracefully.

I was also interested in the idea of dictating while walking. My writing process involves lots of walking to clear out my thoughts stimulate ideas. After a walk I will spend time rapidly scribbling the ideas that came up. Also, the drive home from my writing retreat location takes about an hour and a half, and I often think the whole time I’m driving about the writing. When I come home the family turns out to greet me, people, cats, the dog, the chickens. This tends to wipe out everything I have been thinking. If I could capture the thoughts in transit I could increase my productivity.

When I started researching recorders I wondered how you get the data off the recorder. I found a YouTube video that demonstrated exactly what happens. It turns out that little portable tape recorders these days have a USB connection you can just plug into the USB port in your computer. Dragon has a function that allows you to pick “transcribe recording” and then select the recording straight off the device. It’s magical to watch it happen.

I settled on the Sony ICD-SX733 mini handheld. It wasn’t incredibly expensive and Dragon rated it among the top recorders for transcription accuracy. Using a handheld is tricky while driving, so I only turn it on when I’m on straight roads with no other traffic, which does happen quite a bit between Sequim and my house.

Transcription from the Sony handheld is not as accurate as transcription from the Logitech wireless headset. Partly I think this is because I use the tape recorder in noisy environments. Even so, for normal English words it’s pretty darned good. I believe every word I dictated on those drives home made it into the final manuscript.

An unintended consequence of this change in writing technology is a change in writing style. My voice is literally my voice – there is no keyboard between myself and the words on the page. It’s more conversational and relaxed. I like that very much. This technique also lends itself really well to writing blog posts.

After six months of hard use I managed to damage my Logitech headset. The company graciously agreed to replace it even without the receipt. In the meantime, I discovered I can plug any microphone and headset into the microphone jack of my PC and Dragon will recognize it. I am dictating this on a little headphone plus microphone gadget I bought to listen to music on my phone. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this would actually work! However it is not as comfortable or accurate as the Logitech headset.

Even with dictation I still can’t write a “book” in a weekend; not a 60,000 word book on philosophy anyway. I can do about 6,000 words of draft, and I think Anderson does something like ten. I’m eager to try the technique with a less dense subject.

This of course is another reason to go on writing retreat – I’m talking to myself the whole time!

Writing Retreat Recharge

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Having turned the latest manuscript over to the publisher for editing, I’m giving myself time to “dink around”. I’m writing pamphlets, blog posts, fiction, and other experimental pieces. I needed to knock out a set of blog posts and tried doing it at home and rediscovered why I go on writing retreats. Even when Alex and Ted leave me strictly alone, with only the occasional interruption for something urgent, there’s the cats! There’s no cutting a deal with cats. Especially Princess Ludmilla, who baps me with her paw until she gets what she wants.

So I decided to do a writing retreat and see if I can just focus on doing small pieces. I’ve been doing writing retreats for more than a decade. I used to hunt out cabins in remote places: the Cranbury Coast, Lake Cushman, Silver Lake, Westport, Long Beach, Pacific Beach, Guemes Island, Quillayute River. When I could spend a week I booked into the Whidbey Island Writers Refuge.

To knock out the latest book I needed to get away almost every weekend. Renting a cabin that often was cost prohibitive. Fortunately Ted’s mom Carol offered me the use of her house. After Ted’s dad died she moved to an assisted living apartment in Bremerton where Ted and I can see her very frequently (we take her to dinner and the theater and Nordstrom’s, because that’s how she rolls.) I bought a Costco chair and a laptop table, brought in some sheets and pillows from home, and took over her den.

I spent some time tidying up the house. Ted’s dad had left magazines virtually everywhere and I stacked them in the garage. I hired a housecleaner to come in and clean up the refrigerator and wipe the house down. After that, I took on the housekeeping chores myself, because with one person spending a small amount of time in the house there isn’t really much that happens to it. I did get cable TV, Internet, and the phone bundle from the local provider, as Carol had turned off all of those services. She had also turned off garbage and I got that back in place as well. I was introduced to the gardener/caretaker who monitors the house after he came out on a Friday and politely asked if I knew Carol! He’d forgotten that we’d met. Carol tucked a note into her monthly check to him authorizing my presence.

In the early months of the draft I was finding my voice. I don’t think a single word I wrote in the first month made it to the final draft. To get myself into the writing mood, I went for long walks, and I explored the area. This is an amazing retirement community dropped into a fully functional agricultural ecosystem. Houses with big views are tucked in among fields of cows. . There is a 10 mile food shed furnishing almost everything you’d need to cook – vegetables, meat, diary, flour – and retired folks eager for decent restaurants. I ate lunch and dinner at every eatery with a local food connection. I went to the First Friday Art walk, I joined the local museum, I poked around the little downtown shops.

As I gained traction in the writing I did less recreating. I would drive out on Friday, read what I had written in the previous weekend, wake up on Saturday and draft until I fell over into the bed, get up on Sunday and draft to the end of the section, and then drive home. The winter weather was conducive to staying indoors – it was cold, rainy, and dark. I edited the manuscript in pretty much the same way.

So this weekend was a reset in the writing process. I have been out here in a month. Dire things have happened to the house in the meantime – it had sprung a leak and needed to be repaired. Also the Internet router had reset itself needing to be reconfigured. I spent Friday night managing these things.

I slept in on Saturday and woke up moving very slowly. I live with two retired guys and I know the truism that it takes two years to recover from the sleep deprivation of American working life plays out in practice. I didn’t hear the words in my head. When I write, I am really rather taking dictation, and I wake up with that dictation already flowing. On workdays the thoughts vanish under the present I can just get up and start recording. On writing retreats I get up and start recording.

I have a lot of thoughts and no focus. So I went into town. I ate at nourish, a local food restaurant in the old Herb Farm. I went to the art museum and checked out the photos of Ross Hamilton in a 14 year retrospective. I took pictures of local food outlets for my food blog.

I drove down Dungeness Landing and took pictures of a young bald eagle and the lighthouse in the distance. When I found myself cruising past the Dungeness Cemetery I recalled that Ross Hamilton had said it has the best view of Sequim-Dungeness Valley. It’s a lovely place.

So it wasn’t a production weekend, but I got some material, recharged my batteries, and made space for the creative process. Which is what dinking around really means.

Preparing for retreat

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I’m preparing to immerse myself in a project. I’ll be writing a book due to the publisher in mid-February. That’s only six months which is a bit daunting! I’m not a full time writer. In fact I’m a very part time writer. Here’s what else I do: I work full time at a corporate job. I have two partners, three cats, a bunch of chickens and bees, and a severely neglected vegetable garden. My coven meets for sabbats and family parties, my OTO body (Vortex Oasis) meets monthly for Mass, and my Golden Dawn group is putting together a community center. I sing in a choir. I am president of the local beekeepers association.

Ted’s mom Carol asked me seriously, “How are you going to write a book?” I told her I created an Excel spreadsheet and put all my obligations down on it. They fall almost entirely on weekdays. My job is M-F (although long hours on those days), choir meets weekly on Wednesdays, beekeepers meet monthly on Tuesdays, coven meets on Fridays for the sabbats. Vortex does meet the second Sunday, that’s the only ongoing weekend commitment, but I can take Fridays off to shift the weekend over a day. I was able to find 15 weekends to block for writing between now and deadline.

Next, a place to stay. When I try to work at home I get a lot less done. I telecommute full time, and off work I have partners-cats-chickens-bees-garden vying for attention. So I go out of the house to write. Renting cabins and writer retreats works one weekend a month or the occasional vacation week, but 15 weekends? That would break the bank.

Fortunately Carol came to the rescue. When she moved to an apartment near us she kept her house on the Olympic Peninsula. For decades I’ve spent weekends and holidays out there visiting the ‘rents. I’m used to the house and very familiar with the surroundings. It’s lovely and comfortable. Now it’s been empty for a year, so my using the house on weekends works out well for the whole family because it puts a person back in the house frequently. I’ll pay for the utilities I use which will be vastly less expensive than renting a place. And I can set it up for writing so when I walk in I’m ready to work.

Also, this is the amazing part, it’s situated in a three mile foodshed. Local farmers literally grow and make almost everything you need for a diet, including grain. All they need to import is chocolate and coffee. I know a lot of the local farmers too as they sell in farmers markets near my house. I’m going to do my best to eat in the foodshed throughout the winter.

The hardest part will be missing companionship. I work all day surrounded by cats, and have lunch and dinner with my people, so I feel very loved and needed. They miss me when I’m gone too, they mob me when I get home and tell me they missed me. And that’s just the cats! On the other hand, it’s kind of exciting to block a winter for myself, to sleep when I want, cook when I want, and really lose myself in a project.

Solitude allows me to listen to the voices of my life until I sort out the one that is actually mine. A retreat gives me space to do the work; it’s where I feel most authentically myself.

Magical Retreat

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20130211_mmI met Alex when I was twenty-four and he was thirty-two. That was a big difference in ages at those ages! We were living in an intentional community and both had other relationships.

I’d been initiated into Witchcraft and kept the sabbats. He had studied Ceremonial Magic and yoga. I taught him Witchcraft, he taught me Ceremonial, and together we studied sex magic, both in theory and practice.

After a few months we ran away together – broke off our relationships and said goodbye to the community. I jumped on the back of his motorcycle and we roared off over the mountains.

Washington is an agricultural state. Every year in September the call goes out for pickers to live in the orchards and bring the harvest in. We ended up in the Okanogan Valley, living in a picker’s cabin without electricity or running water, with a communal shared toilet-shower.

At the end of the harvest season Alex was offered a job in the orchard as a “steady hand”. This came with a cabin with wood heat and running water! We still used the shared toilet-shower though. With a steady job and a place to live, he proposed, and I accepted. We turned up in front of a justice of the peace at the county courthouse with a couple who served as our witnesses, reception at the Dairy Queen after.

Having traded the motorbike for a beater truck, we roared off to spend our honeymoon in a tent on the coast. It rained, the tent flooded, we checked into a hotel, and I took another step in the lengthy process of growing up.

We lived in that apple orchard for three years. Pre-internet, out in the Washington sticks, we had to use mail order to bring books into the house.

Alex worked each weekday, I worked seasonally in the orchard and in the house when there was no work. At night, on weekends, we studied and practiced magic. At sabbats there were just two of us in the circle. We bought the Aurum Solis Magical Philosophy series – we were among the people who sent in money to print the fifth book – and worked through that system as a self-study program, doing rituals together and apart, writing journals, taking notes.

At the end of three years we felt ready to emerge from our lengthy magical retreat. We traded the beater truck for a travel trailer and roared off over another set of mountains to settle in Puget Sound. Seattle is a big town or a small city. We have spent more than two decades working with various magical systems but staying in touch with the same people.

It was such a luxury to be able to focus on nothing but magic for all that time. However far I’ve gone in my magic and travels, that early magical retreat provides a solid substratum for my practice. I am still immersed in the world of community, but I have a thought at the back of my head that I will end up in my old age holed up in a cabin in the woods on one final magical retreat.

Woman Magician

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Hood Canal

Hood Canal

Writing The Woman Magician wasn’t just a project for me, it was a lifestyle. IIt was ten years from the typing the first pages to holding the printed book in my hands, and I travelled a lot of miles along the way.

Travelled? Yes, I wrote the book on the get-away-and-focus plan. Some works can be done in little pieces, like quilt squares, and then stitched together. The book was more like a grand knitting project, it had to be done all at once. I needed big chunks of time to think a complex thought through to its conclusion.

To accomplish this I spent at least one weekend a month away from home on a series of writing retreats. I’d scour the web for a place to stay within a short driving radius. It had to be quiet, preferably a cabin, with places where I could walk. I stayed at Lake Cushman, Silver Lake, Lake Oswego. I spent one long weekend on Guemes Island and several others on Hood Canal. For a number of years I spent Christmas break at Long Beach in Washington state. It’s a four hour drive from my house to the Long Beach peninsula along highways, then state roads, then local roads. In the winter the alder trunks stand bare against green cedar, red twig dogwood and tan grasses line the roads, the water reflects the gray mist in the sky. I’d pop a CD of troubador music in the player and roll along the road. Some years were wilder than others, sometimes trees blocked the roads, sometimes there was snow.

Whidbey Island Writers Refuge

Whidbey Island Writers Refuge

Once installed in the cabin I had a regular routine. I woke up and wrote. I’d eat lunch and then take a walk, along the beach, in a neighboring park, down the road where I was staying. Back at the cabin I would write what I had been thinking on the walk. I’d take a nap. Then dinner, in the cabin or out at a neighborhood joint, and more writing. I’d call or Skype Ted and catch up on what we’d been doing. Then I’d write until I was too tired to sit up. Sleep, repeat.

I wasn’t always working on the book during writing retreats. I worked on “Feminist Thelema” or Women’s Voices in Magic too. I’d always come back to the main work though. After eight or so years of this I had a pretty substantial collection of draft text.

Finally I got serious about finishing the project. I booked two week-long stays at the Whidbey Island Writers Refuge. This is a cozy cabin tucked away in the woods that was purpose-built for writing retreats. I spent one summer week there drafting half the book and a winter week drafting the second half. The seasons and the cabin made their way into the book.

I threw a book release party at the Esoteric Book Conference in 2011. The week after the conference my entire family took a month-long trip around the country by train. It was a celebration of accomplishment and a total immersion into a luxuriously long trip.

Long Beach in winter

Long Beach in winter

Since we came back from that trip I haven’t done monthly writing retreats. There are a lot of reasons. I am committed to conservation of resources and try to drive as little as possible. As I get older travel is not quite as easy as it used to be for me and I find that I miss my own sheets and my kitchen gear. Also, when we came back from our month on the train we all got new pets, and now I have three beautiful kitties; they are always around me, sleeping nearby or on me, nuzzling me and purring. When I have to stay away from home I miss them terribly. It may be that my writing vagabond days are over.

I loved the writing retreat period of my life. I saw a lot of the northwest that way. The places wound themselves into the text. When I read the words I can see the waves on the winter beach, the birds circling over the water, long stretches of highway through trees. The north woods by the sea offer quiet immersion in secluded places. I don’t think I could have written a book of that scope anywhere else.