WitchLit Wednesday: Fermata Cellars

Three things I enjoy: a glass of wine, supporting local farmers, and folklore. Author Gwen Clayton combined all three into an intriguing and entertaining offering of WitchLit. In my last entry (which was in May, my gosh), I explored a loose definition of WitchLit and committed myself to reading and reviewing such titles on my blog. Clayton caught my eye last year when I realized she’s also in ADF and her religion inspired characters and situations in her novels.

The cover of Fermata Cellars by Gwen Clayton displayed on my viola along with a floral crown, my triquetra necklace, and some quartz crystal friends who wanted to show off. Photo by me.

First, the book blurb:


Manuel Chavez grew up in the vineyards as the son of a migrant farmworker. All his life, the good Catholic boy heard rumors of Fermata Cellars being haunted, but he never believed them until he accepted a job as the winery’s marketing director. When a corrupt city councilman tries to snake the land away from his Pagan employers, he has to confront his fear of the supernatural to determine whether or not the nuisance should be abated.

The premise of Fermata Cellars intrigued me and reminded me of By Earth: The Witches of Portland Book One by T. Thorn Coyle in that the antagonists are corrupt officials. There’s also an element of religious conflict which looms over the characters both in regards to the fate of the storied vineyard, and in Manuel’s personal baggage as he grapples with his identity and how he fits into the community.

I’m going to explain what I liked in a moment, but I want to get this part out of the way. To be honest, I often struggle getting into stories written as journals (hello Dracula!), and it was difficult for me believe that someone would document such detailed dialog in their diary. The minutia of Manuel’s record-keeping, such as his marketing plan budget, sometimes detracted from the mysteries of the vineyard, but that’s just me. He initially starts the journal to help him keep track of the details, and I suppose Manuel has a very good memory! I also want potential readers to know that characters use several slurs. Some of them are Romani people, and the author uses a more controversial title for them. It definitely reveals something about the characters when they speak as they do, but you may find it jarring and at times unnecessary. One of my favorite scenes actually involved a young woman calling Manuel out on using one!

Curiosity in who ultimately haunted the Fermata Cellars kept me going, as well as a desire to see more about the Comatis, a fictionalized group of Pagan people who have deep roots in the Rivervine community. They are very open about their religious identity, and many run local businesses in addition to growing grapes and producing wine. Overall, the portrayal was a glimpse at what could be if a large number of polytheists lived together in the same village.

I suppose I should have been weirded out, but they didn’t do anything that was downright scary. Everyone kept their clothes on. The children were safe. No demons appeared out of the bonfire. It was just incense and candles and tossing stuff into the flames like pennies in a wishing well.

Manuel reflects on a ritual in Gwen Clayton’s Fermata Cellars.

In addition to the supernatural suspense, Clayton populated Fermata Cellars with an intriguing cast of characters. I enjoyed learning about Manuel’s friend Lily and would have liked more of her. There’s also Glenda, a journalist who decides to write a novel about the spirits who inhabit the vineyard. Even one of the antagonists, Edie, has a strong voice I clearly heard in my head whenever she spoke.

Another strength is Clayton’s ability to bring the setting to life. Notes and acknowledgements reveal some of the locations and experiences that inspired Rivervine. I have a soft spot for story locations that are as much of a character as anyone else!

If you’re seeking a romantic read, there is a small subplot, as well as LGBTQ+ representation, but it’s not a major focus. However, if you thirst for a ghostly whodunit with realistically described rituals based on actual practice by an author immersed in polytheism and her landscape, this may be your cup of tea! (Or your glass of wine!)

Witch Lit Wednesday: Why “Witch Lit?” What is it?

I often classify my writing as magical realism, which has been wonderfully explained by others such as this helpful series. I think my books sometimes veer close to being supernatural, especially the third, but the plots remain rooted in a realistic, contemporary setting. The characters have experiences with spirits, sometimes in corporeal form, who scare, confuse, inspire, and guide them. Lacey, Cian, Anthony, Margaret and others often doubt themselves, but as they move forward, they realize these beings are an integral part of reality, though others may not experience them. This is something many polytheists and animists experience too.

My second book surrounded by items from my craft that are relevant to this story about contemporary Pagans.

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you may notice I also often make use of the “witch lit” hashtag when promoting my writing. Perhaps you’ve wondered about that and why I don’t simply stick to the magical realism label. What is it?

Again, others have written about the topic before me, notably author Wendy Steele who helps curate the Witch Lit account on Twitter. There are communities on Facebook and Discord for people who write and read it. Author Laura Perry discussed this and linked to some in a guest post on Nimue Brown’s blog. So what is it?

To me, Witch Lit is a sub-genre of magical realism, meaning it’s rooted in real witchcraft and folklore. That doesn’t mean one has to be a practicing Pagan to write or even appreciate it, but it should show an understanding of who we are (and have really been). Witch Lit, in my opinion, is not about Hollywood witchcraft. The Wicked Witch of the West and Hermione Granger are great examples of literary witches, but they aren’t based on reality like the aunties in Alice Hoffman’s acclaimed “Practical Magic” for example.

Photo by me.

When I realized I wanted River Magic to be more magical realism than fantasy, I was inspired by Hoffman and Sarah Addison Allen, but I thirsted for stories about people like me by people like me. (I’m not sure what Allen’s religious perspectives are…I can’t find them. Hoffman is Jewish.) So I did what so many writers before me suggested: wrote the story I needed.

Now, through the wonders of social media, I’m connecting with other Witch Lit writers such as Gwen Alyce Clayton, Serene Conneeley, and fellow Upstate New York resident Janina Grey! These are just a few who I’ve become acquainted with, but I know there are others, and I’m excited to get to know a more diverse circle and read their work. Each month, I aim to delve into more Witch Lit and share my recommendations. Stay Tuned!

Come to the Magical May Fest with me! (Book Giveaway)

Official “Rock Bay Magical May Fest” graphic by Shadow Spark Publishing artist Jess Moon!

My third novel, Forest Magic, begins a new tradition in the Rock Bay Pagan community – the annual Magical May Fest! The small-town magical festival was inspired by several I’ve attended and helped to organize. In the novel, Lacey and Cian help their friends plan for their first ever multi-group event!

Last year, many of our favorite festivals were cancelled or held virtually. Some are reviving this year, but others are playing it extra safe and postponing until the next. Many of us miss these physical opportunities to celebrate and learn with like-minded souls. Goodness knows I miss the workshops, whimsy, drum circles, and shopping.

In honor of the festivals that have inspired and shaped me, to support my local Pagan community in Upstate New York, and to celebrate the publication of my third novel in the Rituals of Rock Bay series, I’m bringing the Magical May Fest to you online! For the rest of the month, I’m going to share reflections of past festivals, snippets from my novel, and peeks at a prize I’m going to give away on May 31st! Join me on a little tour of some of my favorite shops and artisans–places and people I imagine Lacey and Cian would adore. There will be opportunities to interact and wine prizes! There will be one package for US residents only (which will include a signed paperback copy of any one of my novels), and another for international fans (which will include an e-book copy of any one of my novels). Stay tuned for more info here and on my social media for the other prizes.

Winners will be able to choose one of my three novels above!

For your first entry, comment on my blog or Instagram to answer the following prompts:

  1. In what country do you live? (To determine whether you may win a paperback or e-book of one of my novels)
  2. Which of my novels would you choose and why?

The rules:

This giveaway is not associated with WordPress, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. You must be 18 or older and have a valid email address to participate. Winners must be willing to share their mailing address and email. Only US residents will win the package with the signed paperback copy of one of my books. The e-book prize is also one of my novels. Winners may choose one. Participants may enter by answering as many prompts as desired, but must interact by answering the questions fuly. Participants may gain more entries by answering on more than one social media platform, but only one answer per post will be counted. I will randomly choose two winners, one per prize package, on May 31st and announce them on social media. Winners must respond with valid contact information in order to receive their prize. The contest is free to enter!

Regional Druid (Witch) Challenge

Allies and beloved tools. Photo by M. A. Phillips

Instagrammer Via Hedera started a challenge called the “Regional Witch Pic Challenge” and tasked everyone to post a photo “that highlights the toolkit of magic” where we live. I’ve truly enjoyed seeing all the marvelous photos others have posted, and have been considering what to share for my own.

I decided to place everything on the quilt handstitched by my great-grandmother. In my Druidry, the ancestors are a major focus. While I live in Northern New York (in Haudenosaunee land), my own ancestry is largely comprised of diaspora from Ireland, Scotland, and England. Those folkways dominate my practice and influences how I interact with the local spirits and my deities.

In the center, there is a sigil representing the Three Cosmos (designed by Ian Corrigan). A fellow ADF Druid gifted me with this handmade banner. Though not authentically Irish in design, it represents my journey with modern Druidry in America. I try very hard to focus on Irish polytheism, but I found my spiritual community within Druidry. It has a special place in my personal path.

A deer friend rests on top of that. He has been with me for some time, and he is a beloved and steadfast companion.

Other items (from the top going clockwise) include:

  • A seagull feather found at Sylvan Beach
  • A potholder my daughter made me — I’m over the moon that she’s learning how to craft useful items for our kitchen magic
  • A rowan cross made with berries I harvested and dried and wool yarn I spun
  • The mini cauldron that belonged to my mother
  • Dried juniper
  • My handstitched pouch that houses our Brat Bride 
  • A smooth river stone
  • A Herkimer quartz (a local gem largely found in the region around my childhood home)
  • Local honey
  • Pellets of incense I made with wildcrafted ingredients
  • A jar of mugwort grown in my garden
  • The shell of a fresh-water mussel found beside the Indian River
  • A fresh-water snail shell found near the St. Lawrence river
  • A handmade ceramic bowl made by an artisan in Utica. It contains dried beans and peas from my own garden
  • A candle made of local beeswax
  • A Brigid cross made of dried grasses from around our home

There are other items I could have included but did not for various reasons. I enjoy how this layout turned out, and I hope it inspires some of you. Tools needn’t be central to your polytheism; the focus is on your service to the gods, land, beloved dead, and your community. That may involve tools, and I hope you consider where you obtain them and how.

Pagan Parenting: Creating Magical Garden Nooks

A cement unicorn statue surrounded by hyacinths in our new “play garden.” Photo by M. A. Phillips

When asked what drew one to Druidry (or other kinds of Paganism), many are quick to answer that it had something to do with a love of Nature. For many of us, this stems from a background in gardening, and those of us who became gardeners as adults were exposed to it as children.

I recently watched an episode of Gardeners’ World in which the host, Monty Don, described how he helped with his parents’ garden as a child. Now a celebrity gardener, he admits that it felt more like a chore back then. Though I enjoyed the idea of having a mini veggie patch as a child myself, I wasn’t very good about the work involved, and I didn’t become engaged with the challenge and joy of it all until I was an older teenager. It was around this time when I began studying folk magic and realized how gardening could become part of that process. I’ve found this to be true with many of my polytheist and witch friends who also garden or have house plants: the love (and perhaps obsession) with the plant world didn’t come until adulthood.

As a parent, it’s important to me that I expose my daughter to the everyday magic of working with the land. Some of it will always come across as a chore–watering plants is a simple and necessary way to promote time outside to learn and begin forming a relationship with the green world.

While I accept that a deep passion may not come until later (if it comes at all), I want to make the process as fun and whimsical as possible. My husband and I decided to set aside the ground around my daughter’s swing set as her “play garden.” Bee is enthusiastic to collaborate, and that ownership is important for her motivation and development as a lifelong learner. She gets to choose the decorations and plants, but she understands her parents have veto power. Of course, we would explain our reasoning, whether a plant is poisonous, thorny, invasive, or not suited to our zone. So far, the only plant we had to strongly discourage was a peony, and only because I showed her how large they would become, and how it would limit her options. In the end, it was her choice. So far she selected tulips and hyacinths. Later, we’ll plant marigolds since they look like fire flowers from Mario.

In addition to adding plants, we are going to make some stepping stones so that it’s easy for her to access and care for her new green friends. Their practical nature is secondary to her; Bee is excited to hop from stone to stone!

As spring blossoms all around, take some time to consider adding a play garden to your own space for the little ones in your life. For some, this could be a living, outdoor Waldorf-inspired nature table that shifts with the seasons. It could be the beginnings of a child’s own altar area and a place to make offerings to the land spirits with guidance from a trusted adult. Or it could be an observation area for the budding scientist. Maybe it can be all three! You can make it as large as a bed that wraps around a play area or as small as a single pot on the windowsill, balcony, or patio.

Whatever the case, the end goal is not to push Druidry on your child (though I certainly raise my daughter in my tradition). Rather, the goal is to share a deep respect and understanding for the natural world with your child. Whoever they grow into as an adult, the hope is such care will guide them as they make personal and civic choices.

Come to the Rock Bay Magical May Fest!

The “Rock Bay Magical May Fest” graphic by Jess Moon for the Rituals of Rock Bay series.

The crocuses, tulips, and daffodils are out, and that means Bealtaine is around the corner. In my upcoming book, Forest Magic, several Pagan characters in Rock Bay are organizing a Magical May Festival to celebrate their Pagan community. As I wrote book three in the series, I drew from various festivals I’ve attended and helped to organize. The anticipation, joy, whimsy, and, yes, drama, all inspired me. While it’s not the main focus in the story, the Magical May Festival is certainly a driving force as Lacey’s life changes and her grove confronts an old foe.

A few days ago, I learned that our local Pagan Pride Day is cancelled for the year. Given the ongoing pandemic and the difficulties of planning a large festival, I think this was a smart idea. Still, I miss these gatherings. I miss coming together with Pagans on different paths to swap knowledge, song, and dance. I look forward to enjoying more Pagan festivals in the future, both in real life and my fiction writing!

If you’ve been reading The Rituals of Rock Bay series so far, I hope you’ll come with me to the Rock Bay Magical May Fest! If you haven’t started, there’s still time. Get to know Lacey and Cian in River Magic then Hearth Magic. Book three, Forest Magic, comes out May 1st this year! 

You can pre-order an e-book of Forest Magic and also find brand new merch, including t-shirts and mugs featuring the above design! Just head over to Shadow Spark Publishing.

Writing and Resting

My third novel, Forest Magic, surrounded by various magical elements found within the story. Photo composed by me but taken by my husband. Book cover by Jess and Chad Moon.

First of all, if you haven’t seen my various social media accounts, my third novel, Forest Magic, will release on May 1st this year! This is the third book in the Rituals of Rock Bay series about modern Druids and other Pagans who live in Upstate NY. You can pre-order the e-book right now.

Lacey and Cian embrace a new path in life, but fresh mysteries and dangers stalk the forest around their home. The dreams and visions that once guided Lacey have gone silent, and Cian’s own intuition blossoms whether he wants it or not. With their abilities transforming, and tragedy at their heels, can Lacey and Cian do what they must to protect their family and Pagan community, even when one of their greatest threats ever comes from within?

Forest Magic blurb

I’m very excited to share more about Lacey and Cian with you. I’ve reflected on this elsewhere, but it’s amazing to me that, a year ago, I’d only been offered a contract for my first novel, River Magic. Then, a month or so later, my publisher offered me a contract for two more books! At the time, I had been working on what would become Hearth Magic for Camp NaNoWriMo. Book 3 (Forest Magic) was merely an outline and some scrapped drafts from my original attempt at a sequel a couple years prior. A year later, I feel as if I ran a marathon! I’m delighted, proud, grateful, and also very exhausted.

With that said, I’ve decided not to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo this month. I need to rest and recuperate. As I work to prepare my garden beds for a new season, I’ve been reflecting on how important the winter months are for my plant friends. So many of them require a period of dormancy before bursting back to life each spring and summer. There’s wisdom in this, and I need to embrace it for my own well-being, especially after publishing three books via rapid release!

I will post more about future writing plans another day, however I am excited to share that, in addition to Forest Magic, I will have a short story in the upcoming Pagan e-zine, Hearth Craft! I will post more about it soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to focus on my garden, various craft projects, reading, and Druidry. I may outline and even write sporadically over the next couple months. We’ll see. I have some ideas, but they need time to germinate. Don’t worry; I can’t help but write. I hope to have more for you soon! As always, thanks for supporting me!

The Antique Anatomy Tarot: First Impressions

Some of my favorite cards from The Antique Anatomy Tarot by Claire Goodchild. Photo by me.

I rarely buy tarot cards. I’m…picky. I usually prefer working with my ogham or other oracle cards, but sometimes a deck cries out to me and demands attention. So when I saw The Antique Anatomy Tarot by Claire Goodchild (@blackandthemoon), I thought about it for a few days then decided to treat myself.

The cards arrived yesterday in a sturdy case with an equally beautiful guidebook. I’m still acquainting myself with them, but I will tell you…this exquisite deck is blunt. I mean…would you expect any less from cards featuring medical equipment? I wish the guidebook gave more info about the flowers, but they’re mostly there for color symbolism it seems. Same with the specific uses of the equipment portrayed.

My intrigue may surprise some of you, but I have a very casual interest in such things thanks to a trip to the Mütter Museum years ago and the fact that my late grandmother was a nurse during World War 2.  I also have a fondness for the art style found in Victorian-era naturalist notebooks, so I’m drooling over all the dissected hands and flowers.

If you’re also drawn to such aesthetics, I invite you to order through the aforementioned museum. While I can’t travel and visit right now, I’m glad I was able to support them in some small way.

Fancy a Cup of Tea with Lacey and Cian? A Hearth Magic Giveaway!

My second novel, Hearth Magic, will be available in e-book and paperback February 2nd through Shadow Spark Publishing! To celebrate this novel of romance, redemption, and kitchen magic, I thought it would be fun to give away some goodies!

One lucky winner (from the US or Canada) will receive:

  • A signed paperback of Hearth Magic
  • Lacey and Cian bookmarks featuring art by Immabunni
  • A beautiful tea giftset I am purchasing from my friends at The Magick Apothecary!

Owned and operated by my friend Seth–a witch, psychic, and licensed herbalist–The Magick Apothecary is one of Northern NY’s newest metaphysical stores. Formerly known as the Tarot Cafe, Seth blends science and magic to create potions for one and all. I’m a huge fan of these three romantic blends, so I hope you enjoy them, too! They would all pair well with my #witchlit novels.

This tea set will include the following tarot-inspired blends:

The Lovers Potion – a unique blend of cinnamon and hibiscus flowers.

The High Priestess – a yummy blend of Assam black tea and lavender flowers.

The Empress – a beautifully balanced blend of Assam black tea and rose flowers.

What’s Hearth Magic About?

After the events of RIVER MAGIC, Cian O’Connor and Anthony Russo must grapple with their relationship to the land, the spirit realm, and each other. One man wants to support Lacey and protect her from another otherworldly maelstrom. The other needs her help as he confronts an angry presence in his home so he can move on with a new lover.

Are Cian and Anthony’s lives more entwined than they ever imagined?

“The medium, the conservationist, and the poacher, all drawn together by a cord of fate.”

A new Rituals of Rock Bay tale featuring kitchen magic, romance, redemption, and the spiritual bonds that link us.

To enter, simply provide your email address here. You’ll receive extra entries if you complete the other prompts. I’d love it if you would follow me, my publisher, and The Magick Apothecary on social media! The giveaway closes on February 3rd at 12:AM, so be sure to enter!

This giveaway is not affiliated with WordPress, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. No purchase necessary. Open only to US and Canadian residents. Book and tea set will ship separately. Please provide a valid email address. Winner must be willing to provide a valid mailing address. I am not responsible for lost or stolen packages.

Time to Inhale and Exhale Deeply

I had to schedule my relaxation to make sure I adhere to it. Yet here I am writing in my blog. LOL Photo by M. A. Phillips

Yesterday, after a long week with several ups and downs, I submitted my third manuscript to my publisher for developmental edits.

I’m expecting my first round of revisions in two weeks. In the meantime, I have no other pressing deadlines aside from interviews and promoting my upcoming book, HEARTH MAGIC. I have no other contracted books or stories to write or edit. It’s been months of nearly non-stop work and sacrifice. I mean that literally. My dream was always to become a published author, so I put in the magical and practical work to get there, and my lady delivered not one, but three contracts to me. I’ve dedicated so much of this project to her, and it’s been very worthwhile, but my goodness…I needed a rest.

My family needs me to rest.

I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself at the moment. I inherited my work ethic from my late grandfather, a fellow writer, and he was always laboring on something until his death. Yet I need to force myself to pause and renew. To inhale and exhale deeply without worrying that I’m wasting precious time that could be spent outlining, drafting, revising, proofreading…

I need some time to reconnect with the spirituality that initially inspired my books. Spirit allies cry out for more attention and urge me to turn inward for introspection. My work on book three is far from done, but without another contracted title in the wings, I can catch my breath, spend some more time with my family, catch up on housework, and refuel for the next project. (I also need to organize a virtual Imbolc for my grove!)

Whatever those future writing projects become, they are brewing. I already started a skeletal outline for something, and I may give into temptation and play with it next week. I need a break, but I still adore writing, and I really enjoy crafting stories about Pagans and other magically-inclined people in our world. RIVER MAGIC resonated with people. I hope my other novels do the same.

For now, I’m inhaling and exhaling deeply.