#IndieAuthor #Interview: @SJHigbee shares #bookjoy with #reading and #writing delightfully #adventurous #sciencefiction and #fantasy

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Welcome, Friends, to yet another splendid interview with a beautiful indie author soul! I am thrilled to pause all this chaos of teaching, parenting, and preparing my own novel for publication so I may introduce you to the cosmic dreamer and eternal adventurer, S.J. Higbee.

To call you an “avid reader” feels like a huuuuge understatement. Can you share a little of your reader’s journey with us? That is, can you tell us what inspired you to take on book reviewing with such gusto, and your process for choosing the books you do for reviewing?

Visit her at @sjhigbee & her website sjhigbee.wordpress.com.

I’ve always been an avid reader. Once I got to school and realised the power of words and how stories could take me away from where I was and to different worlds – that was it. I was away…

I originally started reviewing for SFReader.com, a forum for science fiction and fantasy readers and writers from 2006-09. However, I soon had a hefty backlog of reviews stacking up, as I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing down my thoughts after reading a book. So once I started my own blog back in 2009, it made sense to mostly review books on it. I stumbled across other book reviewers, almost by accident.

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

The late, great Terry Pratchett. There aren’t many authors whose complete output we own, but we have all his books, including Where’s My Cow? We also own all Lois McMaster Bujold’s books and I’ve read nearly all of Jo Walton’s output. I am the ultimate mood reader, however. While I do get a steady stream of books from Netgalley, I take care never to overdo it, so I’m forced to sit down and read something that I really, really don’t want to.

Hmmm, I bet those moods can put a damper on the book joy at times. Have you ever gotten reader’s block?

Yes. When I’ve forced myself to trudge through a book that isn’t speaking to me on any level. So I don’t do it, anymore. If I don’t like a book, I DNF it – and that includes Netgalley arcs. I generally don’t mention DNFs on my blog, because I have strong opinions and specific tastes and while I cut loose when discussing book covers and in my private notes about books I’ve disliked sufficiently to stop reading, I don’t think it’s fair to share those views with a wider audience.

I know you’ve recently moved out of the classroom, but as a fellow teacher, reader, writer, and parent (well, I know you’re also a grandparent, but I’m not there *yet*, thank Heaven!), I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can spread literacy awareness among children today.

I’ve taught children with specific learning difficulties and the secret is always to find what motivates them – be it rulebooks for computer games, cookery recipes and in one case building suppliers’ lists, and use those to spark their interest in reading. Above all MAKE IT FUN! Words games… silly voices… reading a word each… And always stop before the child becomes fed up, so they are left wanting more. Little and often is far more effective than longer stints twice a week, which is why so many children don’t learn to read effectively at school.

Amen to that! When we turn reading into a treat, we know they will ALWAYS be ready for that treat. Rather like cookies, don’t you think? I wonder now if the publishing industry could be doing more to promote literacy.

Children’s writers do a fantastic job in promoting literacy by visiting schools and talking about their characters. But I would LOVE to see more serious imagination with regard to interactive programs to aid literacy. In fairness, I don’t think the publishing industry should be responsible for promoting literacy skills – but governments certainly should. What about a game like Fortnite actually using wordgames, punning, jokes and literacy games, in addition to all the cool graphics, driving music and action scenes, as part of a national reading scheme? It shouldn’t be the only way to reach children, of course. But certainly ought to be part of a range of resources to target children who spend a lot of time on their screens.

Now, let’s talk about your writing. You’ve written a number of slick Sci-Fi novels, including the YA Sunblinded trilogy, the Arcadian Chronicles, and the standalone Netted. What draws you to science fiction more than other genres?

I love the fact that when I open the cover, I never know exactly what I’m getting. To ensure that’s the case, I very rarely bother reading the blurb in advance, either. Sometimes, it’s a bit of a struggle to make sense of what is going on – especially if I’ve crashed midway into a series, but as long as the worldbuilding and characterisation are sound, I’ll generally make sense of what is going on. It’s the genre I love reading the most – and when it goes well, the tingle factor is off the charts… Fantasy is right up there, too.

I never get tired of that tingle! I must admit, though, I cannot crash into the middle of a series as you often do. 🙂 In an age where publishers are eager for stories that smack of potential franchise, what do you consider to be the strengths of a standalone novel?

Sometimes, there is a story I want to tell that is only the length of a single book. If that’s the case, then I don’t want to elongate it into something more drawn-out. I think most stories have a natural arc length – and part of the skill of the author is figuring out exactly what that length is. Some of my best reads, ever, have been standalone books.

You have certainly written your share of both series and standalones as well! Does writing energize or exhaust you?

It depends. If it’s going well, I find a high that I don’t get anywhere else. If it isn’t, then it’s both exhausting and depressing.

I love how you don’t peg yourself into writing a specific kind of character. Running out of Space’s Lizzy and Mantivore’s Kyrillia are both adventurous heroines, while Netted’s Kris is very reticent to take on the responsibilities the story quickly demands of her. Would you say each story helps you shape the characters, or the characters come to you and the story shapes around them?

Oh, it always starts with the character and an initial scene. Often I have dreamt that starting scene. However, the characters don’t leap onto the page fully formed and it is often a question of trial and error as to how they react to events around them that help me figure out exactly who they are. Up to now, I’ve been a pantser, but I’ve just started planning out my stories – and the main success has been in nailing the narrative arcs of all the main characters – it has made such a difference to the writing process.

World-building is HUGE for my writing process. If a story-world’s rules aren’t clear, then it’s a lot harder for readers to fully appreciate the plot’s stakes, let alone care about the characters. Science Fiction is no “easy” genre to write for—not only do you have to create a realistic place, but it also has to feel possible to reach in our future. Can you share a step or three in your world-building process?

I think anyone who writes SFF with any measure of success has to care about worldbuilding. The first rule has to be that it makes sense. I studied History at college, for which I’m constantly grateful. That perspective on how humans behaved in the past is really useful for extrapolating as to how they’d behave in the future. And if they doing something completely different from anything that has happened before, there has to be a solid reason for it.

However, all of that has also to be balanced against my personal loathing for pages of long-winded explanation in some nebulous authorial viewpoint. So readers often don’t get to know exactly what is going on all the time in all the corners of my worlds, because my characters don’t. I’m quite comfortable with that – though I’m aware it bothers some readers. It’s one reason why I use language as one of my main tools for worldbuilding – the slang and swearwords also denote issues like being overrun with pests, or melting icecaps without my even mentioning them.

Blech, I am not a fan of long-winded explanations, either. They exhaust me to read, let alone write…not that my kids give me oodles of time to write, anyway. Their moods are something of a writing Kryptonite for me. What would you consider to be your writing Kryptonite?

Becoming too tired. My instinct is to try and sprint, which is a problem as writing a novel is a marathon. I’m also one of those people who tends to hurl themselves, body and soul, into whatever they are doing. It has many rewards, but the cost is that I can get exhausted. And when that happens, I become ill. I have quite a lot of different calls on my time, which again, I really enjoy. I am lucky to have a lovely family and a range of wonderful friends, but there are times when it would be awesome to also have a writing clone I could shut up in an attic with a computer and never let out until she’s finished the book…

Let’s end on some help for aspiring writers. What’s a common trap you see them falling into time and again, and how can they avoid it?

Dialogue is often a surefire way of working out how experienced a writer is. Don’t use someone’s name if there are only two characters, unless one character is being hostile or arguing. When there are two people, they generally don’t call the other by name unless they are making a point. Don’t have your characters talking for too long – we generally bat a conversation back and forth between us if the power dynamic is equal. And rather than have a dominant character drone on for ages (as they often do in real life) have them, instead, constantly interrupt the subordinate character. Remember to include the thoughts and feelings of your viewpoint character, as they are on one end of a conversation.

YES! Thank you so much for sharing your reading and writing journey with us, Sarah, and for helping us find ways to better our own writing. This issue with dialogue is something I still struggle with, even as an editor when I was tidying up Fallen Princeborn: Chosen.

Arlen sets the bear cub running towards the thicket. “Come along, all of you. Dorjan and the others are waiting.”

But She-Bear does not move. “Why do you wear his weapon?”

Liam remains still on the shore where Charlotte and Arlen placed him, his speckled curls limp, his bruises painting what must be an abridged story of the pain he felt in the nets. So Charlotte answers, “The dagger worked for me in Dissecto-Library-Horrorland .” Charlotte grips one of Liam’s arms and hoists him to his feet.

The She-Bear bares her teeth, but Arlen’s hand upon her head silences her. “You…you worked land magic underwater?” he asks.

“How do you think that one mer-dude’s face got melted?”

Liam’s hand, as mottled as the rest of him, opens and closes as Charlotte wills. Her fingers press his own tightly about his own weapon.

Leather, iron, blood. Then comes the touch of Charlotte—sparks rip through his frame. No more the beaten boy.

“Try it now, Liam. C’mon, get some heartburn goin’. Blood firin’. You know. Flame on. Ppppffffooow.”

Liam closes his eyes and feels his inner wings stretch to blot out the past, if only for a few moments. He wraps his other hand around the base of the blade. The dagger takes its blood, as always.

This time, it pays back.

The blade crackles as it lengthens, its feathers smoldering. The blood sword shines as it did in the forge so long ago, when Liam’s ambitions burned their brightest. He brings the blade close to his face to taste old victories in its heat. He sees the world in melting waves, as he did so often after striking the earth, commanding it to swallow armies and villages whole.

There are no armies now. No villages. Only Charlotte dripping like a botched painting. Arlen halved on one side of the dagger; the beast halved on the other.

The beast, whom he was meant to kill. A mother and her child so…cared for…by…

“Who is this, Arlen?” Liam’s question rumbles slowly out of his lips.

No more evasion.

~STAY TUNED!~

While Autumn creeps its way slowly through Wisconsin’s forests and farmlands, I will continue to share more and more of my coming sequel with you. I’ve also got some interviews waiting in the wings as well as music and analyses to share. Thank you all once more for traveling with me through these unknown lands of indie publishing. You are each and every one of you a blessing to be thankful for.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#writingmusic for your #adventure in #storytelling! Plus an #ARC update for my #YA #Fantasy.

Happy weekend, Friends! It’s been a bugger of an August so far. We’re doing the best we can with the time we have–like a couple of trips to the beach while helping my mom clean out her house to sell it–but it’s pretty clear my three B’s are in desperate need of a break from one another. With many lockdown measures still in place, they’re acting like grumpy Pevensies stuck together on a rainy day.

If only a game of hide and seek would reveal a mysterious portal elsewhere, you know? Whether that portal be an old wardrobe, a forgotten door, or a painted forest, we are all looking for those gateways to adventure. Earlier this summer I was finding my own escape through the banjo, violin, and other instruments of the Appalachian Mountains, following the sounds of Edie Brickell and Steve Martin in their songs of love lost and found again.

But while their music calmed my heart, it didn’t spark my writing, a must when I was finishing a couple short stories and finalizing a novel for its ARC release. I needed another portal, one of magic, of danger…

…and a little hope.

The soundtrack for Back to the Future has been on constantly in our house since Bo showed the time travel scenes to the kids. Biff now runs around yelling, “Doc, the flux capacitor isn’t working!” Bash rides his bike with the cry, “we gotta go back to the future!” (Blondie politely tolerates it all.) And really, what isn’t there to love in this Alan Silvestri score? The little excerpt you’re (hopefully) listening to right now from the second film starts with one of my favorite cues: the violin, piano, and chimes trilling downward like falling magic. There’s mystery in the minor, and just a touch of danger in the french horns as Future Doc must take do what he can to prevent Past Doc from seeing him.

The main theme for Back to the Future is one of THE great themes for adventure: the swelling cymbals and bombastic brass sweep you away into the impossible journey through time–not to the major landmarks of history like some Wild Stallions, nor to the future of other galaxies like certain Doctors. No no, just into the past of one boy’s family, where he is able to inspire his father and mother to be the strong, loving people he needs in his present. Like John Williams, Silvestri loves his brass, but the heroic, staccato brass can only carry us so far without the legato of running strings echoing accelerating us to 88 miles per hour so we, too, can vanish with a trail of fire behind us.

Oh, the 1980s did have a marvelous run of music, didn’t they? Here’s one I just had to share from another favorite composer, James Horner. When you think of Horner, you usually think of Star Trek, Aliens, or Titanic. Ah, but he’s done so many others, including this little guilty pleasure of mine…

Bo often pokes fun about Horner. “It all sounds like Wrath of Kahn and you know it.” NO, I say, even though…yeah, there are bits that will always make me think of Star Trek II (which is one of the greatest scores ever and yes, I will need to do a post dedicated entirely to that score sometime.). But as another fan commented on YouTube, the common threads in Horner’s music feels like it binds all these different universes together, making this life just one more epic adventure tied to the next. I love that concept, and come on–who wouldn’t want the stampede of trumpets, the melodic violins heralding their arrival? The galloping drums transport us across the vast alien landscape to rescue our kidnapped love doing their best to hide from a villain who sees all, knows all.

But more than anything, it’s the trumpets at the two-minute mark that just melt me. Oh, what a hero’s theme. The utter defiance in the face of omnipotent evil. No matter what mischief is worked, the hero comes through in those trumpets, riding on, never stopping until he rescues the one who was taken from him.

Of course there has been good music after the 1980s. Take The Pirates of the Caribbean, where the first film has a wonderfully lush score for its swashbucklers. Hans Zimmer is connected to this series, but the first film was composed by Klaus Badelt, who has worked with Zimmer on other scores like The Prince of Egypt and Gladiator. Badelt’s theme starts fast and never lets up for a heartbeat. Here the orchestra moves as one, crashing up against us as the ocean waves beat a ship’s hull, and the cannon smoke blinds men in their climb up and down ropes to protect the sails and seek out the forbidden land for treasure.

Or you may abandon the ships for an adventure on the land, where the desert is your sea, and your only hope is to drive on, drive fast, and never, ever, let them catch you.

Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) has become a go-to creator of action and adventure scores over the last twenty years. Whether you’re web-slinging with Spider-Man, defending a Dark Tower, or driving a mobile city to devour another, Holkenborg knows how to balance instruments and synth to create a force of unnatural power. You must move forward, you must heed the drums, you must flee the dissonance. You must summon all courage as the bass carries you, and when the strings break free from the percussion, you must fly or perish.

There is also adventure to be found in the music without a film. When I interviewed author Michael Scott oh so long ago, he recommended listening to trailer music on YouTube for writing inspiration. If it weren’t for him I would have never stumbled across the track that inspired my western fantasy novella Night’s Tooth.

Unlike the western scores I shared at Night’s Tooth release, this music has no direct correlation to the western genre. It’s just drums, hands, guitars, and a whole lot of guts synthed together. When I first heard this, I imagined gunslingers running among bullet-torn walls while a hunter poises himself for transformation, snarling as he becomes a creature of night and fire and vengeance.

Jean Lee’s western, Night’s Tooth, takes readers back to the world of the River Vine, but in a different era- the Old West. Elements of a western, of real history, and of terrifying fantasy combined to make this a real page turner.

Amazon Reader Review

As Night’s Tooth approaches its birthday, I’m debating making the novella available in print as well as an e-book. I could maybe add some extras to the novella to make it worthwhile…a few of my other Princeborn short stories, perhaps? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

I’m also wrapping up preparations to share the ARC of my second novel, Fallen Princeborn: Chosen at the end of August. If you’ve not read the first novel but are interested in doing so, I’d be happy to connect you with it for a review!

I’ve been around a while and read my fair share of Fantasies, but it’s rare to find an artist who so capably commands her medium as does Jean Lee.

Her evil characters transcend malevolence, while her good characters are flawed enough to be their worthy opponents. I’ve never witnessed such a clash of forces and such mayhem as battled in the climax. I was literally exhausted when I finished it.

It’s good to know there are many books remaining in Jean Lee’s arsenal. We’ll be enjoying her brilliance for years to come.

Amazon Reader Review

Booksprout is a handy hub for catching ARCS from favorite indie authors, so if you’re keen for early access to Chosen, please visit my Booksprout page. If for whatever reason it’s not working and you’d like to have an ARC for a book review, just let me know!

Here is a quick taste of Fallen Princeborn: Chosen…

Ashes touch the air.

And a cackle.

A shriek, far and away.

Two entrances out of the Pits, both unlocked. One out in the woods.

And one inside Rose House.

“Liam!” Charlotte slams the patio door, locks it—idiot, it’s fucking glass—and bolts for the library.

Liam has yet to move, eyes closed, breath still slow.

“Liam you have to wake up!” Charlotte shakes him, cups his cheeks, brings her face close–dammit, this isn’t time for that. So she slaps his cheek instead. “Liam!” She yells in his ear.

Pounding, pounding below her feet.

They are coming.

Writers, we must keep fighting for our right to adventure. We must fly upon the backs of eagles, take to the line among those defending our personal Narnias, and conquer the darkness that would douse our creative fires. Let us share the music that carries us to victory and brings life when all would seem lost.

For the adventure. For the story. And for the music that inspires them both.

~STAY TUNED!~

I’ll be sharing an extra post to announce when Fallen Princeborn: Chosen ARCS are readily available. I also have an interview lined up with a wonderful indie author as well as a return to the Queen of the Fantastic.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#writerproblems: Balancing #WritingGoals in #storytelling and #Blogging During These #Uncertaintimes

Mama Robin calls
as morning’s dew captures light


Never mind writing haiku without coffee is hard.

Anyway.

‘Tis July first! The year is officially halfway over, and with all that’s happened in the world, I know many would prefer to wash their hands of 2020 and be done with it.

But then there are folks like me, who see a half-year of potential rather than a full year wasted. Lamenting opportunities lost only breeds bitterness and anger. Now is the time to grow onward and upward with whatever we have.

Even if all we have is a page of fantastical hopes.

Fellow Young Adult author K.M. Allen posted a couple articles recently about her own struggles with time management during the lockdown life and balancing the writing we do for our platforms vs. the writing we do for, you know, storytelling and whatnot. (Allen used a much better term–“The Art of Authoring.”) Her posts got me thinking about my writing mindset, and how I’ve tended to lump aaaaaaaaall the writing together into this single act. Writing a blogpost? Still writing. Writing notes on history? Still writing. Writing an actual honest-and-true story? Still writing.

Were my extra teaching jobs and graduate school work still a part of my life, this kind of writing would be enough. Heck, I’d be ecstatic if I found time to blog while writing term papers. But these extra factors are not a part of my life right now. Sure, University work still is–I even presented on nonfiction writing at the Lit Fest earlier this month. While researching I stumbled across a Writer’s Digest article called “The 9-Minute Novelist,” and that got me thinking…

Why not me, too?

I know I’ve bemoaned my struggle with time before–when my kids were toddlers, when they attended school but only part-time, when everyone’s home on summer break, etc etc etc. When lockdown life began, I thought for sure I could do do a little, just a little, writing. But too often I allowed blogging, researching, plotting, and those other -ings replace the actual DRAFT-ing that needed to happen.

Some are quite adept at blending one task to create another–history notes get typed up into the blog to help show a writing update, for instance. I know I used my 2019 attempt at NaNoWriMo as a chance to both draft and post all at once. It worked for a little while, just as the notes-turned-blogposts can work for a little while, too.

With the coming school year’s attendance procedures impossible to predict, parents like myself have to be prepared for more of “School at Home” while also working in or out of the home. (And of course, just as I type this, Bash has come into the room. “What is it, dude? I’m trying to work,” I say. “But I wanna be by you,” he says with the smallest possible voice, and moves all my materials to snuggle up by me. Oh, little kiddo.)

Some days the kids are great at occupying themselves, and other days not. Parent-Writers, we know setting aside “hours” to write, even once a week, just isn’t realistic. Heck, I’m amazed when the kids leave me be for twenty minutes in a row.

And that’s the key here: working with the minimum amount of time, not the maximum. Let’s consider what non-kid stuff requires our attention in the day, and where we can find those nine–or ten–minutes to write.

(Yes, I’m back to the old bulletin board. I need my visual schedule!)

One Hour

Risky thing, setting aside an hour. Either a movie better be on that ALL the kids will watch, or someone else needs to be in the house with the kids. My online classes are an hour long in the evenings when Bo is home. If I do a movie during the day, that is my one chance at an hour block. This time’s usually needed for grading, a task that I can safely break from and start back on when kids intervene. Writing-wise? That hour better be had outside of the house.

(Aaaand now Biff is in the room, poking Bash with his toes. “Why don’t you two read something?” *Two pairs of eyes continue staring off into space as toes continue poking legs*)

Thirty Minutes

Done right, half an hour can be a very productive time. One can write proposals for a conference, respond to a few students, or catch up on the late grading. As a writer, thirty minutes is perfect for looking through research, scoping out potential publishers, or drafting.

(Aaaaand now Blondie pokes her head in with a page she just has to read from Dogman: For Whom the Ball Rolls. “Yes, kiddo, thank you. Now go and occupy YOURSELVES. I am not here to entertain you!” Three bodies sluff off, complete with drooping shoulders and groans of “I’m too tired to build Lego.”)

Twenty Minutes

This is probably where one can feel the sprint effect–that is, there’s not a minute to waste. Good! Too often I fall down the social media hole with Twitter or YouTube. We must make every minute of that twenty count, be it drafting, editing, grading, or…gasp…exercising.

Again, being realistic with myself. I know I won’t set aside an hour for it, not even half. Twenty…yeah, I could swing that, if the mood strikes. Plus I can drag the little “what are you doing nooooow?” buckos right along with me. Win-win.

Ten Minutes

Okay, THIS has to be the golden number for one who’s got kids and job AND writing in life. Even my attention-lovers can be occupied by books, drawing, or Snoopy Monopoly for ten minutes.

So many lovely moments can be made in just ten minutes: reading a story aloud to kids. Drafting dialogue. Answering student questions. Editing a scene. Playing catch outside. Prepping for class. Networking on social media. Writing a Goodreads review.

Maybe it hurts a little inside to think I’m only spending ten minutes with my kids/story? I can’t do that! They deserve better! We need to remember this important point.

The day is no mere ten minutes.

I’m usually up from roughly 4:30am to 9:30pm. Want to guess how many minutes there are in seventeen hours? 1,020 minutes. Or, 102 slots of Ten Minutes.

102.

You are not giving your kids 1 slot out of 102 and you know it. You are not giving your writing 1 slot out of 102 and you know it. Don’t beat yourself up over organizing your time. If you don’t organize your time, then you will always feel like something is being set aside for the sake of the other, and that fear will lead to nothing but bitterness, anger, and the Dark Side.

Nothing has to be sacrificed here. Honest and for true. You just need to jigger those expectations over what you want to do and when. Take me, eager to publish the sequel to Fallen Princeborn: Stolen before 2020 ends. If I set aside 10 minutes to edit every day, I can make that goal. I want to expand and re-publish Middler’s Pride, too. 10 minutes a day can get me there. I’d LOVE to get “Hungry Mother” in an online magazine, finish the novella What Happened After Grandmother Failed to Die, work on the OTHER Princeborn novella I’ve sketched out–

And I can do all those things. I will do all those things. And you can, too.

Ten minutes at a time.

STAY TUNED NEXT FORTNIGHT!

Yup, two weeks. Part of this “jiggering” of expectations means blogging can’t overwhelm the story-writing. I’m going to follow K.M. Allen’s idea of blogging every other week, scheduling my own posts for the first and fifteenth of every month. Thank you all so much for your patience, kindness, and encouragement, and I hope you’ll be back when I share the interviews, analyses, music, and doodles waiting in the wings!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#LessonsLearned from #DianaWynneJones: Small #Family #Conflict Can Grow Into An #Epic #Fantasy

For a long time, I loathed writing the “intimate family story.” They were all the rage in school, these small-cast, down-to-earth stories of relationship conflict without any hope of a happy ending. Where’s the fun in writing such a story? You can’t have any massive showdowns or laser battles. It’s not like you can blow up an aircraft carrier when everything’s set on in the middle of Fort Bored, Wisconsin.

Now I know such stories have their place and their readers. Nothing wrong with that. But as a reader and writer, I struggled to see the true weight of small conflict…until now.

“What’s Aunt Dot look like, Mom?”

“Why does David go away to school?”

“Why is David’s family so mean?”

Blondie, Biff, and Bash sat around our meal/school table, their peanut butter sandwiches untouched, string cheese still wrapped. Apple sauce dripped from their spoons onto their Oreos.

“Is David that guy?” Bash points to the boy on the cover.

I shook my head. “Nope. That’s Luke.”

I had thought long and hard regarding which Diana Wynne Jones book to read to the kids. Howl’s Moving Castle was my first choice, but it seemed…oh, it seemed too easy a choice. They had seen the movie which, while very much its own creature, would still give the kids lots of visuals to think on as we read. I wanted to start from scratch and require the kids to visualize the story for themselves. This isn’t a typical challenge put to seven-year-olds, who are still very into picture books and the like, but Blondie was quite used to lunchtime read-alouds without any illustrations, so . We’d had success…and see if Myth-Reader Blondie would catch on as to who’s who in this story of freed mischief and horrid family members. Good thing I didn’t have this particular cover, which gives away the whole bloody mystery…

I mean, come ON. To post the climax of the story on the flippin’ cover…

Anyway.

Eight Days of Luke is a perfect example of just how epic an intimate family conflict can be. Jones accomplishes this in two parts: first David’s family, and then Luke’s.

Unlike most boys, David dreaded the holidays. His parents were dead and he lived with his Great Aunt Dot, Great Uncle Bernard, their son Cousin Ronald and Cousin Ronald’s wife Astrid; and all these four people insisted that he should be grateful for the way they looked after him. (9)

One paragraph in, and readers know the family dynamic is not at all pleasant, let alone fair. Being an orphan is lousy in and of itself, but to live with relatives who expect nothing but gushing gratitude for nothing is its own level of Hel.

“David,” said Aunt Dot, “I thought I told you to change your clothes.”
David tried to explain that he had now no clothes that fitted him any better. Aunt Dot swept his explanation aside and scolded him soundly, both for growing so inconsiderately fast and for arriving in advance of his trunk. It did no good for David to point out that people of his age did grow, nor to suggest that it was the railway’s fault about the trunk. (19)

Expectations set for David are always impossible to reach. He is not allowed amusements of his own, like a bicycle or a friend. The latest strain brought about by his family’s misunderstanding of when school let out leads to David boiling over and saying what no one’s dared say.

Before she or anyone else could speak, David plunged on, again trying so hard to be polite that his voice came out like an announcer’s. “It’s like this, you see. I hate being with you and you don’t want me, so the best thing is just to leave me here. You don’t have to spend lots of money on Mr. Scrum to get rid of me. I’ll be quite all right here.” (30)

While this cover also gives away Thor’s hammer,
there’s also a lot of magical whimsy with the way
Luke ribbons his fire amidst the garden.

The relations are utterly flabbergasted at David’s bluntness–no one denies David’s words, but they are so angered by it all that they send David away without lunch. David sulks in the backyard and, overcome by a desire to say awful, cursing words, unwittingly cracks open the very ground to reveal snakes and fire and…another boy named Luke. The two fight back the snakes, and then David is summoned to face the judges, his family.

“We will say no more about your rudeness at lunch, but what we would like to hear from you in return is a proper expression of thanks to us for all we have done for you.”
Under such a speech as this, most people’s gratitude would wither rather. David’s did. “I said Thanks,” he protested. “But I’ll say it again if you like.”
“What you say is beside the point, child,” Aunt Dot told him austerely. “All we want is that you should feel in your heart, honestly and sincerely, what it means to be grateful for once.”
“Then what do you want me to do?” David asked rather desperately.
“I sometimes think,” said Uncle Bernard vigorously, “that you were born without a scrap of gratitude or common good feeling, boy.” (47)

It doesn’t matter that David really is thankful not to be sent off to a remedial math tutor for two months. It doesn’t matter what his manners are, or what he does to stay clean (which, for a boy, is nigh impossible anyway). David’s very presence in the family breeds contempt, not love, and in that contempt there will always be conflict.

It takes some time with the mysterious Luke to bring about some much-needed change to David’s family’s dynamic. Cousin Ronald’s wife Astrid, for instance, ends her days of simpering and snapping and starts standing up for David’s needs.

“Honestly, David, sometimes when they all start I don’t know whether to scream or just walk out into the sunset.”
It had never occurred to David before that Astrid found his relations as unbearable as he did.

[said Astrid.] “Bottom of the pecking-order, that’s you. I’m the next one up. We ought to get together and stop it really, but I bet you think I’m as bad as the rest. You see, I get so mad I have to get at someone.” (127)

David’s family also doesn’t know how to handle the new attention from individuals keen to find Luke: the gigantic gardener Mr. Chew, the inquisitive ravens, the impeccably dressed Mr. Wedding, and more. David can’t fathom what these people would want with Luke, and Luke doesn’t know either, at least at first. It takes a run-in with a ginger-haired man who looks a lot like Luke to move the mystery forward into another scene of accusation before familial judges.

This style initially reminded me of the mosaics of Rome until I scoped out ancient Norse carving.

“One of my relations,” said Luke. “He’s lost something and he thought I knew where it was.” To David, he added, “And I see why Wedding’s so set on finding me now. It’s rather a mess.” (131)

****

Most of the other people were shouting accusations at Luke at the same time. David did not notice much about them except that they were tall and angry and that one man had only one ear. Nor did he notice particularly where they were, though he had a feeling that they were no longer in Uncle Bernard’s dining room but somewhere high up and out of doors. (144)

Now unless you were reading that blankety-blank version of a cover with Thor and the two boys on it, you may only now begin to see that Mr. Wedding, Mr. Chew, Luke, and the others are far more than arguing family members. David is witnessing a clash among gods and goddesses, a conflict spanning across all centuries and further, to hillsides of fire, to prisons of snakes, to storm-bringing hammers.

And yet for all that power, that end-of-days, time-bending power, they are still a family of bickering relations refusing to believe a boy’s words.

Sound familiar? It does to David.

The chief thing he noticed was how small and frightened Luke’s harassed figure looked among them. Never had David felt for anyone more. It was just like himself among his own relations. (144)

This parallel stays with us as we watch David offer to clear Luke’s name and set out to uncover the missing object Luke’s been accused of hiding. It takes a visit to Three Sisters living in a cupboard in a city boy’s basement and running a gauntlet of young warriors, but David soon discovers the secret ward hidden in the fires beyond time, and retrieves that which all thought Luke had stolen: Thor’s hammer.

Luke’s name cleared at last, his immortal family rejoices while David learns the fate of his own family.

When the thunder had abated a little, Astrid said, “You’ll never guess what’s happened, David. Dot and Bernard and Ronald have run for it.”
“Run for what?” said David.
“Run away, silly,” said Astrid. “The police think they’re out of the country by now. That’s how much they were worried about you being missing. Or me either, for that matter.” (199)

Now this cover’s got more of a Young Adult feel, what with the spitfire of Luke standing defiantly with his arms crossed and his firey hair blending with the flames surrounding him.

Blondie was shocked David’s family took off. “But he’s a kid!” she said. “They can’t leave him!”

I showed her the page of text. “Welp, they did.” Astrid explains that David was the real owner of the money that his relatives had been spending all these years, and once word (from Mr. Wedding of all people) got to a neighborhood solicitor about David’s situation, the authorities put a warrant out for David’s relatives.

Blondie nodded in approval with this. “Astrid’s way nicer now, so that’s okay.” David feels the same way, too, and says as much. Because his presence in the family was such a source of conflict, the absence of family here takes all the conflict with it. For David, life can only get better.

Could the same be said for Luke? David learns the answer when he asks about those who had taken Thor’s hammer.

David was still puzzled. “Did he–Sigurd–like the lady more, then? He didn’t seem to–just now, at Wallsey, I mean.”

“No. He was mistaken,” said Mr. Wedding.

“Was that mistake your doing, by any chance?” Luke asked shrewdly. “Brunhilda seemed to think it was when she came to see me in prison.” Mr. Wedding thoughtfully stroked the raven and said nothing. “I thought as much,” said Luke. “Their children might have threatened your power, eh? But she found another way of cutting your powers down when she took the hammer into those flames with her. Am I right?”

Mr. Wedding sighed. “More or less. These things have to be, Luke. We’ve been in a poor way, these last thousand years, without the hammer. Other beliefs have conquered us very easily. But now, thanks to David, we’ll have our full strength for the final battle.” He turned and looked at Luke, smiling slightly. Luke looked back and did not smile at all.

It came home to David that Luke and Mr. Wedding were going to be on opposite sides, when that final battle came. (201-2)

Unlike David’s relations, Luke’s family has no intention of running. Oh no–that conflict is far from over. He may not have to go back to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, but there is no promise of better things in his future. For Luke, there would always be conflict with his family. But these family squabbles would do more than hurt feelings or send a radio into the compost. Family squabbles on Luke’s level could drown islands, crack open time, and burn countless cities to dust. Any small, intimate conflict within a family of gods is destined to impact the world entire.

Be they mortal or immortal, some families are born to fight.

~STAY TUNED!~

I have a few kickin’ interviews lined up, and I’m excited to share more lessons in plotting. I also want to share some of my own writing ups and downs. It’ll be a wee bit, though, as I want to spend time in June exploring YOUR work and all that you’ve been up this spring. Hooray! I’m so excited to hang out with you!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

My #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing Says Farewell to #WyrdandWonder with #Wizard #Etiquette

Hello, Friends! I wanted to run by with a quick hello while fleeing the wizards…and the essay grading, but mostly the wizards.

NOT THOSE WIZARDS!

Ahem. No no, just the wizards Diana Wynne Jones describes in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. As a final jaunt through her critical parody of fantasy writing for this year’s Wyrd & Wonder

–it is high time we take a look at the most powerful magic-wielders in any fantasy realm: the Wizard.

WIZARDS are normally intensely old. They live solitary lives, mostly in TOWERS or CITADELS, or in a special CITY which has facilities for study. They will have been studying MAGIC for centuries and, alas, the great majority have been seriously dehumanized by those studies. Two-thirds have become EVIL, possibly agents of the DARK LORD. The remaining GOOD one-third have become eccentrics or drunks or just very hard to understand. Evil or Good, Wizards are the strongest MAGIC USERS of all except for the DARK LORD and GODDESSES and GODS, and can usually be distinguished by the fact that they have long beards and wear ROBES.

You need to distinguish Wizards: if crossed, most Wizards get childishly offended and exact terrible revenge. Angry Wizards are likely to throw lumps of LANDSCAPE hither and thither, move MOUNTAINS, wave WEATHER systems about (see STORM CONTROL), hurl DEMONS, flood or bury CITIES, and pollute whole COUNTRIES with sleeting Magics. This is how the WIZARDS’ WAR seems to have come about: too many Wizards got too annoyed at once.

As a result, full-scale Magic Wars have been prohibited by the Rules. Nowadays most Wizards are bored. Evil ones have to occupy their time with BREEDING PROGRAMMES and plans to rein over the world. Good Wizards could not do this, and so the Tours have come as a godsend to them. Some Good Wizards can accompany the Tourists as MENTORS, and all of them have fun bossing the show and delivering PROPHECIES or cryptic advice. And the Management in its turn is grateful to the Wizards, both for making the Tours so interesting and for obligingly putting all teh Landscape back together again after each Final CONFRONTATION, so that the next Tour may visit Fantasyland and find it whole and entire, as if as always.

I do so love Jones’ take on the Wizards’ War consisting of a bunch of annoyed Wizards in a snit with one another. I can only imagine she had this in mind as she crafted the world around the country of Ingary and its own population of witches and wizards, many with temperaments liable to bring about pools of green ooze or something worse: a curse.

So, let us all keep in mind the importance of Wizard Etiquette, shall we? One never knows, after all, just who walks by us on the street…

HOW TO INTERACT WITH WIZARDS

Treat all Wizards with the utmost politeness, even if one of them is your Tour MENTOR and you are trying to bully her/him into providing some action or telling you something. Remember that Wizards do not need anything from you and do not like to be coerced. Even the smiling ones with bushy eyebrows are touchy on this point.


Evil Wizards are liable to immure you in ice, bury you alive, or just transmit you to the Breeding Pens as food for their MONSTERS. Be highly civil.


Good Wizards do not go so far. They will just remove your skin and then make you itch. Be very courteous.
Poor Wizards, who are back at MAGIC, need to be treated with even greater politeness, unctuously in fact. If they botch the SPELL they put you on in anger, they might turn you into

anything an then not be able to undo it. Positively crawl to these.

And, please, please, never attempt to seduce a female Wizard. The consequences can be terrible.

Thank you all so very much for travailing with me through The Tough Guide to Fantasyland! We didn’t get to all the people and places I had hoped (the Crone, oh heaven, the Crone!), but I’m thankful for how far we could go together. I can’t wait to spend June catching up with you as I teach summer school, university, and attend school for another Masters. I’m also excited share a few fun interviews, some music, some lessons learned, and God-willing, some WRITING.

But first…the larch. The. Larch.

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist that one. 🙂 I’m in such a loopy mood…ANYway, I just wanted to say I’ll be sharing a new Diana Wynne Jones analysis with you just as May departs us. The kiddos have been mightily enjoying our lunchtime read, and the last chapter awaits us tomorrow. What did we read? What did we learn? Stay tuned and find out!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

My #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder Continues…with a #Breakout from #DistanceLearning

Good evening, everyone! May is almost at an end. I’ve informed Biff and Bash’s teachers that they will not be continuing in school after this week; there’s only one week left after this, and from what I’ve been told, the week’s going to consist of nothing but Zoom meetings. Oh, they can call them “Ph Ed Parties,” “Sing-Alongs,” or whatever else. In the end, it’s a Zoom meeting with kids who have the patience of a gnat as far as cameras go. Soooooo nope. It’s time we break out of the school year and escape to freer lands of imagination, where Lego robots and Cuddly Crews roam free.

Not that I’m one to equate school with prison.

There’s always opportunity to learn when we step out. The village executions, for instance, always help us learn something new.

EXECUTIONS are frequent in any COUNTRY not ruled by a Good KING. They take place in public in a holiday atmosphere. People flock to Executions and bring their CHILDREN, and sales of snacks and rinks are vast. Methods of Execution are various but are generally designed to be as much of a spectacle as possible. Thus burning at the stake is a great favorite, along with impaling, crucifixion, disemboweling, etc., while suspending the victim in a cage to starve is also very popular. Hangings and beheadings, being over rather swiftly, are generally done only in batches of ten or more. Some Tours will generally include an Execution in their schedule, but on most Tours the Management wishes to spare its Tourists the sight of anything so painful. You will be irritated to find you have just missed it.
The approach to the CITY will be flanked with stakes and crosses carrying fresh corpses; its streets will be lined with severed heads or rows of throttled dangling bodies; its walls will be hunt with desiccated cadavers or skeletons in small iron cages; and outside there will be large charred patches smelling of mutton chop. But you will be too late to witness anyone actually dying
.

See? We now learned that witches weigh the same as ducks.

Oh stop, you know I’m joking. Wyrd and Wonder is almost at an end. The school year is almost at an end. The confinements of math sheets, recitations, and journals suffocate more than ever before. Like good ol’ Calvin and Hobbes, we want out, darnit!

TORTURE is obligatory at some stage on the Tour. Generally this takes the form of being tied to rings in the wall almost too high for you to reach, and then being flogged. But on occasions worse things happen. Tourists usually find the Management blanks their minds to the details afterwards.

(I originally found that image of Gollum being tortured in Fellowship of the Ring, but Calvin’s cries are all too fitting with what I’ve been hearing the past few weeks.)

Springtime sun beckons my kids to bike rides outside, to sidewalk art, and to bubble battles. The last thing they want to do is be stuck inside and learn about clocks. On these golden days, when the bumblebees meander from yard to yard, and the neighbors pull out their firepits for an evening of beer and lazy chat in lawn chairs, our school space in the house may as well be Azkaban prison.

PRISON is really a lot of DUNGEONS in one place, plus a fairly grisly TORTURE chamber. The prison will be reached by a stone stair, dampish, lit by torches in brackets on the walls, and guarded by sadistic soldiery. Most of these GUARDS are rather careless: they think no one can escape. All Tours tend to prove this assumption wrong.

So, I admit it: I’m not all that restrictive these days. Much like the GUARDS in Diana Wynne Jones’ The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, I’m not going to be harping on anyone too much unless I absolutely have to.

GUARDS are the TOWN Watch and quite useless. They always arrive too late to quell a TAVERN BRAWL or riot. This is because there are too few of them and all of them are stupid. Tourists will be glad of both these facts at the point when they are trying to leave the Town unseen.

While I’ve never passed out like an elf at the table, I do get lost in coffee and grading, Biff is all too eager to escape with his bike for a trip around the neighborhood. For that kid, his bike = Biff’s happy place.

UNDERGROUND PASSAGES are usually there when you need them. No FORT, CASTLE, MONASTERY, or TEMPLE is without one. Thus your escape from an uncomfortable PRISON or situation is assured. Traditionally, the Underground Passage will be down some stone steps from the cellar or DUNGEON, where you may have to clear away some rubble, and then it will be wet and slimy with puddles underfoot, because it always takes you under the nearest RIVER. It will bring you out a good healthy distance from the DANGER you were escaping usually into a clump of prickly undergrowth. This is how the Management takes care of its Tourists.

Yes, we all could use an escape. While I can’t ignore teaching for the university, the twins and I are most certainly ready to break free of 1st grade shackles and move on to summer freedom. We want to return to the playgrounds, the rivers, the ducklings. We don’t want to worry about reading assignments, music glyphs, or *#Y#)#%*$#@ Zoom meetings.

Let’s get out. So long as we don’t run into any wizards, we’ll be okay.

DAMMIT!

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

My #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder Continues…with #Legends More Truthful Than #History All Sung in a #Ballad

Good morning, Friends! Sooooo I know I mentioned dungeons yesterday, but yesterday’s chaos swarmed upon my time like a plague of locusts and the chance to share all things dark and deadly was eaten alive. I won’t go into details, but if you imagine my three Bs at the auto mechanic and Biff’s gear-headed nature, I’m sure you’ll be able to draw your own conclusions. (No, no one was hurt. Just a very tiring afternoon making sure Biff didn’t go near the blowtorch.)

Let’s think on older things, shall we? Ancient things. Let’s think on one of the elements of an epic fantasy for Wyrd and Wonder.

I’m talking about the Legend.

Not THAT Legend!

I’m talking about a story-world’s history so often hidden among legends and ballads of old.

HISTORY is generally patchy and unreliable. Any real information about past events is either lost or contained in a SCROLL jealously guarded in a MONASTERY or TEMPLE. All that can be ascertained with any certainty is:

  1. That there once was an Empire that ruled the continent from coast to coast (give or take a few enclaves of ELVES, GOBLINS, and the like), but that this shrank to one CITY a long time before the era of the current Tour, leaving only a few ROADS, perhaps some of the less ancient ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS and much deserted country.
  2. That there was once a WIZARDS’ WAR which problbably occurred earlier still. The result of this is that large tracts of land are still magically devastated (see WASTE AREAS). See LEGENDS, as more reliable sources of information.

I can only imagine Diana Wynne Jones was thinking of a certain past teacher of hers as she wrote this entry in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland. *cough cough TOLKIEN cough cough*

Ages can pass between the historical events that influence the current story, allowing for much information learned in the past to be lost to those in the present. The only echo of history seems to find protagonists in two forms: Legends, and Ballads.

LEGENDS are an important source of true information. They always turn out to be far more accurate than HISTORY. Listen and attend carefully if anyone recounts you a Legend. The person telling it may be an old HERBWOMAN, a BARD, a bad KING, one of your COMPANIONS, or just someone in an INN. But no matter how improbable the story, it will always turn out to be the exact truth, and only by following it accurately can you hope to succeed in your QUEST. The Management will never allow anyone to tell you a Legend unless unless it is going to be important for you to know.

When I was working on the history of my Fallen Princeborn universe, I realized I, too, would need a history lost to the legends. But how to do that when some characters are shapeshifters capable of living for millennia?

Consider human nature–not, you know, JUST humans. Sinful nature, then. The Old Adam. Our Old Selves. The Sinister Side of the soul. It’s the side that focuses strictly upon the Self’s wants and ambitions. It only considers what directly impacts the Self, and cares nothing for what can’t meet the Self’s desires. (I’m sure there’s a much more philosophically poetic way to say this, but I’m only on my second cup of coffee and Blondie is already awake because God forbid she miss Nova.) History doesn’t affect the Self in the present; therefore, History is dismissed and forgotten. History becomes nothing more than a story with which to entertain. Its bite of relevance has lost its teeth, but there is still something to be felt.

Hmmm. Perhaps this is why Legends and Ballads are more useful to the fantasy-storyteller than a well-known History. If the History is clearly established, then there is little to discover about the story-world. Uncertain History promises mystery to the characters, and therefore to the reader. Exposition-giving methods like Ballads allow the storyteller to do a little…sugar-coating? Rose-tinting? Mixing-upping? Call it what you will. The point is that the Ballad’s useful despite sounding nonsensical, as Jones explains in…

HOW TO COMPOSE A BALLAD

You need to start with some lines of well-known Wisdom, like this:

Why number the teeth of a stallion
you have just received for free,
Or swiftly assess and inspect with care
the gulf you must jump for me?
Know that an avian held in the fist
weighs more than the flock you see,
And among a great surplus of chefs,
your soup might burn’ed be.

Next, include a LEGEND (which turns out to be History and quite accurate), so:

There once was a monarch, his name was Cole,
who drank and laughed his glee,
For beside his throne on seats of stone
sat his lovely daughters three.
One was as fair as the dawn’s bright air,
the second dark to see,
And the third was lovelier still, my lads,
and a wicked one was she.

After this you will need a chorus, which seems to be nonsense but turns out to be Hugely Significant, like this:

And they fiddled and they twiddled
And they twiddled and they fiddled
And they fiddled all night all three.

Do this two or three more times and you will have your Ballad.

It’s okay if Ballads are silly, too.

I actually worked on a Legend/Ballad for Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, utilizing a small portion of it for a freaky little song to be sung as a girl is kidnapped.

Two more shadows appear behind the others. Anna recognizes the driver Mr. Smith and Jamie. They smile and start singing badly:

“Wish for sleep
Sleep and dream
Dream your wish
Your life we’ll keep.”

She should scream for Charlie. Her quarter falls with a weak ting on the ground. She turns to scream to Uncle Mattie for help. “Close enough.” She blinks. The squirrel sits on the well just inches from her, quarter in its paws. Its eyes are violet and silver in the night.

If you’re a fan of fantasy adventure with a smart-ass of a protagonist, I hope you’ll give my Young Adult novel a go. It’ll be just 99 cents starting tomorrow and all through Memorial Day weekend. To celebrate, we’ll talk dungeons and Dark Lords, swords and sorcery, and whatever else sounds good for an adventure. x

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

My #Top20 #Countdown with #DianaWynneJones’ #Fantasy #Writing to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder Continues…with #Writingtips from the #Imagination in the Wood

Happy Wednesday, all! Uffdah, it’s already been ten days of sharing dragons, bountyhunters, and love for the fantastical that authors like Diana Wynne Jones inspire us to create. In these days of life at home, nothing’s so precious to one’s sanity like imagination. Applying my own imagination to storytelling has been a life-saver for my mental health. One of those stories, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, will be on sale this weekend. You’re more than welcome to climb over The Wall and be lost from the world, if you so wish.

Escaping from an abusive uncle, eighteen-year-old Charlotte runs away. She takes her bratty younger sister Anna with her, swearing to protect her. However, when their bus breaks down by a creepy old farm, the inconceivable happens—Anna is wiped from human memory.

But something inside Charlotte remembers. So she goes over the Wall in a frantic rescue attempt, accidentally awakening a once cruel but still dangerous prince, and gaining control of a powerful weapon, his magic dagger.

Charlotte’s only chance to save Anna hinges on her courage and an uneasy alliance with some of the very monsters that feed on humanity.

I also thank God every day that my kiddos have been blessed with creative spirits they have, because I’m pretty sure life here would be far more dire if they didn’t know how to escape these walls on their own. Jones understood all too well the lessons to be learned from a child’s imagination, and she shares those lessons in the essay “The Children in the Wood.”

Any book, whether realistic or fantasy, is a self-contained world with the reader in control (if you do not like the game the writer is playing, you can always stop reading). My feeling is that children got most from books which work along the same lines as they do—in other words, by ‘Let’s Pretend’. I am not saying that a fantasy needs to ape children’s games, but I do think it should be not unlike them in a number of important respects. Above all, it should be as exciting and engrossing as the games in the wood. I aim to be as gripped by a book I am writing as I hope any reader will be. I want to know what happens next. If it bores me, I stop. But a book has an additional asset: it seems to be real. If you say in a book that a certain thing is real, then in that book it is real. This is splendid, but it can also be a snare. I find I have to control any fantasy I write by constantly remembering the sort of things children do in their games.

Notice, for instance, that the children in the wood are very wisely not pretending too many things at once. They say ‘Pretend we’re all queens,’ or ‘Pretend we’re explorers,’ and part of the point of what follows is to find out what this entails. In the same way, I find it works best to suppose just one thing: Pretend you are a ghost, or Pretend your chemistry set works magic, or Pretend this dog is the Dog Star. Then I go on to explore the implications of this supposition. Quite often, I am totally surprised by the result.

Photo from Children and Nature

I also bear constantly in mind the fact that pretending is a thing most usefully done in groups….it is obvious that all other characters in a fantasy ought to be very real and clear and individual, and to interact profoundly—real, colourful people, behaving as people do. ..The third thing I bear in mind is the peculiar happiness of the children wandering in the wood. They are killing one another, terrifying one another and (as queens) despising one another and everyone else too. And they are loving it. This mixture of nastiness and happiness is typical of most children and makes wonderful opportunities for a writer. Your story can be violent, serious, and funny, all at once—indeed, I think it should be—and the stronger in all three the better. Fantasy can deal with death, malice and violence in the same way that the children in the wood are doing. You make clear that it is make-believe. And by showing it applies to nobody, you show that it applies to everyone. It is the way all fairy tales work.

But when all is said and done, there is an aspect to fantasy which defies description. Those children in the wood are going to grow up and remember that they played there. They will not remember what they were playing, or who pretended what. But they will remember the wood, and the big city all round it, in a special, vivid way. It does seem that a fantasy, working out on its own terms, stretching you beyond the normal concerns of your own life, gains you a peculiar charge of energy which inexplicably enriches you. At least, this is my idea of a fantasy, and I am always trying to write it.

May all who write fantasy aspire to do so…lest they be tossed into a dungeon and tortured! Mwa ha ha ha!

Say, that would be a good place to start our Fantasyland chat tomorrow…ahem. Anyway.

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#LastDay for a #freeread! #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder with #freefiction and all those peculiar #fantasy #characters

Okay, I’m being a very naughty person right now, writing this while attending a virtual workshop on Google Classrooms, but it’s just, so, BORING. I mean, there’s no bountyhunters or sabotage in a talk about building quizzes.

(Though if you dig bountyhunters and mysteries trains, my historical fantasy is still free! Today is the LAST day, so grab it while you can!)

I just want to escape dull online meetings for that mysterious River Town, something akin to Diana Wynne Jones’ Fantasyland, and get lost among the townsfolk who don’t worry about Discussion Boards, Rubrics, or Co-Teaching.

Art by Ryan Lowe

Perhaps I’ll wander the Market, watching merchants gather from nearby towns to sell their hometowns’ specialties. Artisans show their wares while bossing around their apprentices.

MERCHANTS—when freelance—travel from an unknown place in the south northwards to another uncertain place. They own CARAVANS loaded with BALES. And they love MONEY. This must be the reason so many of them travel, because nearly all of them fall by the wayside, victims of BANDITS or other AMBUSHES, and the rest must know the risk. But they keep coming. Individual Merchants are portly, warmly dressed, and rather prone to trust hired GUARDS on small evidence. While alive, they drive a hard bargain. Many of them travel with young female relatives. This is unwise. See SLAVES, FEMALE.

APPRENTICES are people who are training for a trade or skill, which means they are usually quite young and bad at what they do. Most of the time they are like nurses during an operation, being there only to hand the master his tools. They seem to have to do this for a good many years before they get to do anything more interesting, and it is therefore not surprising that some of them get restless and either try to do the interesting stuff themselves or simply run away and join the Tour. The Rules state that if an Apprentice tries to do the interesting stuff on her/his own it will blow up in her/his face. If she/he runs away, she/he will learn all sorts of things very quickly and also probably prove to be the MISSING HEIR to a Kingdom. Surprisingly, very few Apprentices do run away. If you have one on your Tour, you are in for an eventful time.

Oh dear. Well if the Apprentice is blowing up the workshop, I should maybe get that kid out for a break at the Inn. I’ll buy him a pint, so long as the Innkeeper will serve an outsider.

INNKEEPERS are all so alike that the Tourist may be pardoned for thinking she/he has not moved from one INN to the next. Innkeepers are tall, fat, male, aproned, busy, and normally jovial. They are there to serve and shout order to barmaids. They take everything in their stride, from STRANGE RACES and TAVERN BRAWLS to peculiar requests from Tourists with awkward SECRETS to conceal. They seldom otherwise intrude on the action. They are always too busy. It is not known when these admirable men find time to eat or sleep.

The Apprentice calms down after a pint, though he’s still smoking a bit. The Innkeeper’s third chin wiggles a bit while he slides a mug to a darkened corner of the tavern. Who goes there?

ASSASSINS are numerous and widespread. They are said to be very good at their job, which is of course killing people for money, and to proceed on all occasions with strict regard to law and protocol. From one-third of the way through your Tour onwards, you may expect someone to have paid an Assassin to slaughter you. The traditional venue of this murder is a townhouse (Assassins, for some reason, do not operate in open country) or WHARF, so be on your guard in these places. But do not lose sleep over it. As the Assassin approaches you will get a sense of wrongness or feeling of being watched, and this should alert you in time. Once alert, you will find it surprisingly easy to kill this practiced killer. He will die protesting that you broke some Rule or other.

Dammit, now I have to pay the Innkeeper for the drinks AND the cleanup.

Still, I dump some money and drag the Apprentice out before he can whine for a third pint. A beggar notices I have money, so of course takes to poking my boots with his walking stick. For a blind pirate, he sure has a keen sense of his surroundings.

BEGGARS are to be found in all major CITIES, always wearing rags and often with hideous deformities. They will pester Tourists for money from the City gates onwards. As soon as the City comes under SIEGE, however, all Beggars vanish. The Management has prudently withdrawn them for use in other Cities along the Tourist routes. This makes sense. Beggars would only be in the way during the fighting.

I’ll have to slide my remaining coins into my boot, because there’s eyes a’plenty watching me pay, and I’m not keen to lose my boat-fare for the way home.

THIEVES’ GUILD. The Thieves’ Guild exists to transfer wealth but not to distribute it. Its members are pickpockets, burglars, robbers, fences, and housebreakers, but never muggers. The Guild claims to be a body of artists. All its members profess horror at violence (but are quite proficient fighters all the same) and pride themselves on bringing off robberies in apparently impregnable TREASURE stores, on picking locks, and on climbing smooth walls. You will be taken to see the Guildmaster, who rejoices in such NAMES as The Faceless Man or The Gentleman, at some point when your Tour visits a City.

I have to lose myself among the townspeople. Surely they can’t ALL be cut-throats and miscreants, can they?

AVERAGE FOLK are any people inhabiting the continent who are not specifically mentioned in the list of PEOPLES. They are not precisely normal all the same. Those who are not ASSASSINS, BEGGARS, or THIEVES will be INNKEEPERS, MERCHANTS, or peasants, and therefore they are busy trying to either rob you, rub you out, or cheat you. The rest will be fully occupied being taxed out of existence or dealing with a variety of magical nuisances. Otherwise they are rather like you, give or take a few hideous sores, gnarled hands, and suspicious scowls. Do not expect help or sympathy from any of them.

Looks like I have to escape my own little fantasy visit just to make sure I’m not left destitute in some alley. Jeez, for once it’s safer with my kids and their Lego wars. Legend has it, however, that a child of golden hair has the ability to capture a dragon’s likeness upon the page. I think we’ll seek that child out tomorrow to learn what breeds she’s studied so far…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!

#Celebrate the #fantasy of #WyrdandWonder with #freefiction, #roads, and #rivers to impassable #mountains

“Mommy, I’m Bandit!” Biff hops toward me with his bear held high. “And this is Snowman! We gotta go to Texarkana County for cookies!” He runs in place, revving noises loud and strong, and then bolts down the hallway to my room, where there is no trace of cookies or Texas.

Bo sits at the table with his latest P.J. O’Rourke book, tea in hand. He’s trying to look innocent, but it’s not MY doing that the soundtrack for Smokey and the Bandit has been on for HOURS. Biff didn’t find that CD downstairs on his own, oh no. That little bugger had help.

“At least he’s not talking about bootleg beer,” Bo says.

“EW, beer is GROSS!” Biff hollers from my cookie-free room. “I’m on the run for bootleg cookies, not Coors!”

Bo hides behind his book.

“Eastbound and Down” starts up for the 3,511th time.

Must. Go. Outside.

Blondie and Bash are in a fit of camaraderie, which I’ll take over the previous fit of racing and grabbing at each other’s hoods and yanking each other to the ground. The two are blowing bubbles and talking up a storm over their new Comfie Club, choosing with of their stuffed animals will be in charge and whether or not Biff will even be invited.

The last bit, I admit, hurt. Biff’s the middle kid, just like me, and I was often left out of my brothers’ games when we were kids.

“Watch out, Snowman, here comes Smokey!” Biff tears by the window, “horn” blaring as his bear shakes frantically above his head. “We gotta jump the bridge, look out! Aaaaaaaah!”

I watch that boy and his bear leap from couch to chair and back as the banjo strums on. He’s reveling in an adventure all his own. Who am I to force him out of his imagination and into another’s?

We all need our passage out of reality once in a while. Thankfully, Wyrd and Wonder provides the perfect opportunity to escape the humdrum for something new.

Perhaps, like Biff, you wish to escape via the roads. Weeeeell they ain’t exactly paved in Fantasyland.

ROADS in Fantasyland are not good. Tourists have frequent cause to complain. There are several types of Road, each with its characteristic inconvenience.

  1. Ancient magical ways, normally engineered from some black rocklike substance impervious to wear. These are so old that only short stretches remain. The rest has been torn up or buried in some ancient CATACLYSM. This can be exasperating. You are just beginning to make some decent mileage on this tarmaclike surface when it stops, and you are back to a snail’s pace again.
  2. ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS. These are wider than an eight-lane highway, dead straight, and made of cobbles that preternaturally show no sign of aging. Though hardly ever used today—they are characterized by windswept emptiness—they were clearly built to allow a traffic of horse-drawn carts, four lanes in each direction, travelling at seventy miles per hour.
  3. Old trade routes. These are long-disused and normally serve to do little more than point you in the right direction. If you try to follow them you are quite likely to get lost when the route peters out into pathless moorland or even MARSHES. If the route is obvious, you will find no shelter along it, and no WATER.
  4. Unpaved roads. These are the norm. They are always muddy and full of deep ruts from the passage of MERCHANTS and previous Tours. They lead through dangerous WOODS and abound in rocky defiles ideal for AMBUSH. Nobody ever maintains these, despite frequent representations to the Management, and you have to use them because they are the only way to get about. Some Tourists lose patience and ride across country, but this is not recommended because it is the surest way to get attacked by APELIKE CANNIBALS.

Hmmm. Maybe roads aren’t the best way to go with those cannibals and ambushing bandits hiding all over. What about the mountains?

MOUNTAINS are always high and mostly snow-capped. There seems to have been no ice age in Fantasyland, so the Mountains rise tens of thousands of feet into pointed, jagged peaks, which have evidently never suffered erosion. They are full of rocky defiles and paths so steep you have to dismount and lead the HORSES. Almost certainly there will be at some stage a ledge along a cliff that is only a few feet wide with an immense drop the other side. This will be covered with ice. Snow will be xweeping across it. The Rule is that you always in a hurry at this stage.

MOUNTAIN PASS, BLOCKED. The Rule is that any time you need to get from one side of the MOUNTAINS to the other, the pass across is blocked. The pass will be a narrow rift high in the Mountains, and by the time you have climbed up there, either with the forces of the DARK LORD hard behind you, or knowing you have only so long to get to the other side before the forces of Darkness get there first, you will find the pass…impassable. Usually the Management applies this Rule by prudently sending you off in winter, so that the pass is snowbound; on occasion, though, the blockage can be a landslide or a fall of rocks. In some cases, you can go down and round the long way, but mostly you just have to bash on through. Somehow. See also HARDSHIP and HYPOTHERMIA.

Oh yeah, hypothermia…never mind! Well I do like my rivers. My town’s on a river, my state’s on a river. Heck, did you know that Wisconsin is home to 26,767 miles of streams and rivers? That’s enough to circle around the entire globe and THEN some! (I learned that while digging up facts about Wisconsin for the kids to copy for handwriting. Ain’t that neat?) So, let’s try a river.

RIVERS  in Fantasyland are often very peculiar. Some even flow uphill. Setting aside normal features such as the fact that neither WITCHES nor the forces of the Dark are able to cross RIVERS, , we are left with the unaccountable way that each bank of a given RIVER is liable to be different, and even more unaccountable way the local inhabitants ignore this oddity. The reason seems to be that the left bank of a River (face downstream) is often Highly Magical and full of Hidden Dangers, so that the dwellers are unable to see that side of the River at all. Heaven knows what they think they see instead, or the reason for the difference between the two banks.

BRIDGES. The inhabitants of Fantasyland seem to have a distrust of Bridges, maybe because they provide an easy way for an invading ARMY to cross to a VILLAGE on the other side of the RIVER. This is a great inconvenience to the Tourist. The Rule is that, when being pursued by the forces of the Dark, you are going to need to cross a Bridge, and there will be no Bridge. While the Tour is waiting to find a way across, the forces of the Dark have time to catch up. Even if there is supposed to be a Bridge on the route, you are likely to arrive to find it broken–whereupon the forces of the Dark gain steadily again. The only Bridges sure to be still in place are ANCIENT ENGINEERING PROJECTS, and they will be huge, with, as soon as you get to the middle, a tendency to develop a small but impassable gap right at the apex.

Well, how on earth can we get anywhere when the mountains are blocked, the roads are awful, and the bridges on the verge of collapse? I guess we’ll have to stop at a river’s town and socialize with the townsfolk therein…tomorrow. x

Until then, you can still catch my novella for FREE! Enjoy a little history of railway bridges over the timeless Mississippi as bounty hunters race to catch a saboteur determined to destroy a mysterious train…

Read on, share on, and write on, my friends!