It’s 1900 in remote Wyoming, where a smart young siren in human form falls into a trap. Because of a curse, her lover may die if she acts on her passionate instincts.
The novel is a new take on speculative fiction, treating real coming-of-age issues of choice for modern young women and meanwhile weaving a cautionary tale of paranormal romance and terror set in the distant past.
This is the story of a group of sirens, told in part by the ghost of the main character, Cassandra. The sirens are creatures who are part human but who have strange powers and skills. Cassandra’s love life in the Old West results in a curse which passes down the generations.
A family of paranormal women, an ancient lineage of sirens in human form, are threatened by extinction, unless Marlena, the youngest, carries her pregnancy to term in 1977. Cassandra, the siren ghost, tells Marlena her own story, how back in 1900 in Wyoming, she followed her passion rather than a code of human values. Falling into a trap, she brought on the family curse and disaster. Now the men loved by the sirens face an untimely end.
My name is Zoe Augusta Drake, but I go by Zaddie. Today is supposed to be the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar, but so far, so good.
The winter solstice is a special day in our family. Cassandra, our most controversial ancestress, was born on December 21, 1880. She died at age ninety-six on December 21, 1976, on the same day as her only son. On the solstice of 1977, during a rare family reunion, Marlena Bellum, our mother, was told Cassandra’s secret story and ultimately decided to continue with her unexpected pregnancy.
This solstice is a marker for me. Six months ago I published the first book in a trilogy, which is collectively entitled HOME SCHOOLING. Today I finished the second book and am beginning work on the third. The end is in sight. Woo-hoo!
I began composing the books as an adolescent, soon after I discovered mother’s journals in a folder entitled “The Pink House” at the bottom of an old trunk in our attic. We were living exclusively in Alta, Wyoming then, and my idea was to memorialize our family history for posterity. It was about the same time the trouble began between mother and my twin brother, and after a while I put away the project.
I had formed the writing habit at an early age. I began talking with the dead at two, writing down their stories at three, and reciting them from memory at five. As a result, I blush to say, our mother pronounced me “a prodigy with an old soul.” But Grammie Bellum said I was a fibber.
These days, it is not that uncommon for teens to publish fan-based fiction, and I am no longer a precocious redheaded adolescent (though I am still red-haired). On the first book’s publication date I turned thirty-four, along with my twin brother Gordie, whom Grammie once described as “gloomy, grand, and damned peculiar.”
Grammie Bellum is dead serious in her opinions, and I love her too much ever to contradict her. I would give an arm for her. I love everyone in my family that way. Sometimes it is a chore to love them so deeply, but when I think about the alternatives, they are not so good. There is too much hate in the world and lots of room for unconditional love. I often give my readers that advice, but I wonder if they take it.
My day job is writing an advice column for young women. “Rules of engagement for the chick lit generation,” the New York Times Book Review has called it. My monthly column first appeared a decade ago as a hoax. Here is how that went down.
I wrote a private letter containing heartfelt advice to a desperate friend back in Wyoming, that was filched by my prankster brother from the mailbox at Sally Honeywell’s mansion in Key West, where we were staying. Gordie typed its content into a “Dear Abby” format, falsely attributed authorship to local psychic Sioux May, and sent it to the city desk editor of the Key West Citizen. The editor was on deadline, and she published the column without checking with Sioux May.
Even after the hoax was disclosed, the readership refused to go away. Now the audience for “Ghost Orchid” is worldwide, from South America to the South Bronx. My column is named after a tropical plant that derives its nourishment from air.
Full disclosure: my books are not derived from thin air. That trick is seriously difficult to pull off. They stem from my home schooling and are indirectly related to a seminal work published in 1978, Home Schooling: How to Build a Happy Home/life. It was co-authored by our mother and her mentor, our dearest old cousin, Dr. Chloe Vye. They wrote their book while Gordie and I were in utero. It is part psychology and part home-building advice; a must-read for architects, who spend as much time handholding their clients as they do designing rooms for them, according to mother.
My books are part family history and part bildungsroman. “Educational journeys undertaken by women to fathom the power and responsibility of sexual allure,” in the words of one reviewer. In plain English, I write for women who are trying to navigate the hookup culture with the Bible in one hand and Fifty Shades of Grey in the other.
All four works, mother’s and mine, focus on the importance of homes: building happy homes, rescuing historic houses, and surviving homecomings. They also have to do with schooling. But, there is no connection to the popular practice of keeping children at home for their education. In Marlena Bellum’s opinion, “that kind of home schooling is too often aimed at conforming the young mind to the principles of this or that religious system, thus defeating the purpose of education, which is to lead the mind away from narrow indoctrination.”
With the notable exception of Grammie Bellum (her first name is Faith!), the women in our family do not go in for organized religion. Mother says we are “unrepentant pagan spirits, attracting that which is unexpected and unsanctioned.” I believe she is referring to events in the family history that cannot be explained either by traditional religion or traditional science. You see, I come from a long line of non-conformist women with voracious sexual appetites and gifted with paranormal powers.
Let’s call us sirens.
An early siren in our line was a young red-haired courtesan who was painted and bedded by the great Tiziano Vecellio, more commonly known as Titian. Their love affair ended with Titian’s death in 1576. She carried on with tonsured members of the clergy, only to have her temptress career cut short by a papal Inquisitor. He pronounced her an agent of Satan and axed her in half to avoid looking her in the eye.
At my second birthday party, a beautiful, red-haired stranger appeared in Dr. Chloe’s vegetable garden. She and I had a short conversation. That was the start of my home schooling. Mother acknowledged that the woman was the ghost of our ancestress, Cassandra.
Two years ago, after a rather long absence, the red-haired ghost appeared to me again. This time, she introduced herself formally, beginning with these words: “In life, I was Cassandra Vye, born Cassandra Zanelli in 1880. I come from a proud and ancient line of sirens in human form. Home base, the Italian Alps.” Her introduction was a nice gesture, I thought. Mother taught us always to be polite, and though Gordie has no use for etiquette, even he would have enjoyed her narrative.
As children, we were told little about the controversial figure; only that she was the mother of Dr. Chloe and had four names. She was born Cassandra Zanelli, then re-named herself twice, taking the name of Cassandra Vye, in 1899, and eventually a nom de plume, Nevada Carson. During the brief time she lived in Alta, she also had a married name, Cassandra Brighton.
Eventually Mother did admit Cassandra was controversial because of being a “bounder,” which is an archaic but apt term for a runaway wife. Our siren ancestor was “assertive” long before the term was invented by modern feminists, and therefore she was grossly misunderstood. Cassandra was distinctive for other reasons. For instance, she anonymously funded a number of cultural institutions in Alta, including a large regional arts center where, as a toddler, I played my baroque zither in a public concert.
Before we were born, mother rattled some local cages by making facts known about Cassandra Vye’s anonymous generosity. This exposure was a controversial move in the extended family, one that was hotly contested by Marlena’s mother. “Our practice is to debate key issues. Afterward, your mother goes out and does exactly as she pleases.” That is what Grammie says, and I would agree there is truth to her observation.
Because of mother going public with Cassandra’s anonymous generosity and the inference we were proud of her legacy rather than ashamed of her notoriety, we were obliged to live somewhat reclusively in what mother has always called “the pink house” – an old Victorian frame home dating from homesteading days. As the Casper Star-News wrote, “Thanks to the persistent efforts of architect Marlena Bellum and her powerful preservationist friends, Lila and Bryce Scattergood, Alta has a higher percentage of rescued historic homes than any other frontier town of the Old West.” Our beloved pink house is one of them.
According to Cassandra’s ghost, her good works were anonymous because the natives of her time hated and feared her, dead or alive. This generalization brings me to the most distinctive thing about her. In 1900, not long after arriving in Alta, she was branded in church by a local witch-hunter as a force for evil. Later, she was accused of being a murderess, even by her husband, and driven from town. The ghost told me her version of the story, which is included in the pages that follow. The villagers blamed her for four deaths between 1901 and 1917. She said they were owing to a family curse that was “fiendishly devised to end our siren line.”
To this day, most in Alta remember Cassandra as a common slut, and some believe she was an evil witch. Elsewhere, she is star material. Under the pseudonym of Nevada Carson, she prospered as an actress, writer, and producer for the film industry until her death in San Francisco.
But all are somewhat mistaken. Cassandra Vye was a true siren.
Cassandra says I am a siren, too. “The green twig on a dying holly bush,” she sings to me in my dreams. Her lyrics are accompanied by the plink-plink-plink of a zither. I will be the last of our siren line, unless I manage to do what my mother did and reproduce a siren offspring.
No pressure there.
About the Author
Anne Carlisle, Ph. D., is an award-winning author. The Siren’s Tale is the most recent release, from LazyDay Publishing and available on Amazon, B&N, and ARE. It is the second novel in her Home Schooling trilogy, paranormal-romance novels for New Adults which feature the sexual exploits of sirens in human form as they emerge into adulthood. Carlisle holds a doctorate in 19th Century British Literature from Case Western Reserve University. Currently Professor and Course Chair at the University of Maryland, she teaches college writing worldwide to U.S. military students. Formerly, while working as a newspaper columnist, magazine editor, and theatre reviewer, she authored a book on writing, wrote hundreds of articles, and was awarded prizes by the ANPA and the National Writer’s Club. She also served as a dean for Golden Gate University in San Francisco. She works from her homes, in Seattle, Key West, and Wilmington, NC.
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