…just in time for our Christmas church service, no less! At least Blondie’s ready and raring to recite Luke 2 and sing oodles of carols.
But enough whinging over fevers.
Firstly, I wanted to thank you for supporting me through what’s been a very bumpy year. My publisher discontinued my series, which meant I had to pull my free short stories Tales of the River Vine and overhaul my platform. You held me up when I felt like the game was over, and you encouraged me to write on and fight on.
So I did, and got a novella published in the process.
It seems so bloody easy to walk away. To give up the battle because the world says we’re just not good enough. I’ve seen these faces of defeat in many classrooms over the past few months: eight-year-olds who still cannot connect letters to sounds. Twelve-year-olds who’d rather throw books than read them out loud. Eighteen-year-olds who’ve never learned to use an index, let alone critically dissect a few textbook paragraphs. And the teachers? The teachers will move them onward and outward whether the students are ready or not.
We live in illiterate times, my friends. You may know proficiency rates are low where you live, but do you know how low? I learned last week that in the public schools of Wisconsin’s capital, only 36.6% tested proficient in reading.
Think about that for a second.
Only three in ten can read at grade level. And that’s just the basic stuff without all the critical thinking skills to go with it. These kids are graduating high school without the skills to read literature appropriate to any profession, let alone write a resumé. They’re simply dumped into the workforce and expected to survive.
Not for lack of trying, mind. Teachers in Madison, Wisconsin, and anywhere are in a terrible place. When I see what they’re up against, I can’t help but think of World War 1: embedded in trenches dug by faulty philosophy, living with almost no resources, struggling through the barbed wire that is parental criticism with little support from administration, their very livelihood determined by the results of tests created without their input.
This Christmas, let’s tell our kids stories by the light of the Christmas tree. Let’s enchant them, spook them, tickle them. Let’s engage them with characters and places realer than real. Whether it’s a story about Christmas or a story to love all year long, it is time to give the sweet gift of story…with cookies. Never forget the cookies!
From our sniffly house to yours, may you have a most blessed Christmas and an adventurous new year!
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
It’s so exciting to see my author interviews fill up for 2020! I can’t wait to share these wonderful writers with you. I also got an early Christmas present of music I MUST share with you next month. First, however, we need to discuss a serious writer’s problem, one which has gotten lots, and lots, and LOTS of press lately.
Oh yes. Next week, we are going to a galaxy far, far away to discuss what went wrong with Disney’s sequel trilogy…and no, I’m not just going to bash Rian Johnson and/or JJ Abrams for a thousand words.
From White Witches to innocent-looking aunties, you’ll find a wealth of discussion on villains in books, graphic novels, and more. I was honored to contribute this year with an analysis of Black Maria. Do check out the series–every article’s a feast for the mind and imagination!
Now, back to that first chapter. The plowman’s ushering Chloe Watchman and her family out of their car and into the Crow’s Nest. We’ve some other family to look out for besides this frightening “mother” figure: two brothers, Sal and Reg. Let’s see if we meet them today.
Writing Music: Philip Glass, Notes on a Scandal
Harsh white light from somewhere overhead switched on, turning the plowman’s skin the color of bone. “I’ll help you unload, get us all in faster….unless you’d rather stay here.”
Chloe’s mother exhaled an icy breath onto her window, erasing the outside–and the plowman– from her sight. “I’d prefer it,” she said flatly.
“Ang.” Chloe’s father shook his head as he stepped out of the car. He held a hand out to the plowman over the windshield. “Sorry, it’s been a long road. Thomas Watchman, Angela’s husband.”
The plowman removed his cowboy hat and held it to his chest. “Sumac, Sir, at your service,” he said with a little bow and a strong handshake. Very strong. Her father had the biggest hands Chloe ever knew, but this plowman’s were just as big, with hairy blonde knuckles that practicallyl turned his hands into paws. No wonder he had no gloves on.
Chloe slid out of the backseat into the snow, quietly watching as the two men gripped hands over the station wagon, smiling fine while also tugging like they wanted to pull the other over the car. Snow was spilling over the tops of her boots and melting down to her heels. Her black pantyhose should have been wool and denim jeans, but she just had to look professional like her momma by wearing a skirt. Not that her momma was any sort of professional right now, her dad acting like he’s got to prove himself to some white man again…
“Help would be great.” Chloe wraps up her books in the blanket and presses the bundle close to her chest. “Thanks.” She turns around.
And finds another Chloe staring right back at her: a black girl tall enough to make small white boys nervous. Hair speckled white with snow like her Aunt Tic’s. Headband’s askew. Hat made in home ec. Navy wool coat rescued from a Sear’s discard bin by her father, carefully repaired by her mother. Her classmates didn’t act like they knew, but Chloe could feel her mother’s stitches itch on her skin, scraping her up, marking her as cheap, unworthy
Get outta our school
You don’t belong here
Nothing but a low-life n—
“Still can’t get over these windows.” Sumac towered over Chloe, the frozen locks of his hair brushing snow off his own shoulders and onto hers. He had their only two suitcases–Chloe’s dad must be working on getting her mom out of the car. “Every time I drive here, I think another car’s playing chicken with me.”
“Are all the windows like this?” Chloe took a step back to take in the Crow’s Nest.
Two bright lamps stood upon either side of a massive door etched with…something. The snow stuck to much of it, but Chloe could see curves and grooves in the way the snow was shaded by the lamps. No light could be seen in any of the dozen windows staring down at her: not on the first floor, second floor, or attic. Only the flickering reflections of the door’s lamps and snow, like muted static on a television.
The roof itself was steep and lined with little spears–all but the center, where a circular shape remained blurred and secret in the night snow. The house itself was all large red bricks and cement, complete with cement scrolling rails up the wide, icy stairs to the front door.
The opening front door.
Even from the bottom of the stairs, Chloe could feel a wave of warmth spilling down the stairs. There was light, normal light inside, and what looked like carpets, and a staircase, and then a man’s shape. A man with combed black hair, narrow eyes, glasses, sweater. He staggered onto the front step, gaping at Chloe. “Angela?” With a jump he was off the stairs and in the snow, arms so tight around Chloe she lost her breath.
Word Count: 643 Total Count: 3270
Hmmm. I’m feeling like Chloe’s a bit too passive for own good these past few scenes, but then again, the current circumstances are out of her control. I’ll try to make her more active in the scenes ahead.
Like what you see so far? I’ve got books to share with you, too! Click here to learn more about my YA Fantasy novel, my serial fantasy on Channillo, and my fantasy western novella.
While both the original 1970s Italian film and 2018 film take place in a dance studio, that is about all they have in common. (If interested, click on for Red Letter Media’s thorough dissection of both the originaland the remake.) As I am going to speak of the 2018 film’s soundtrack, let’s focus on the latter, where a young Mennonite American woman feels she must, she must, join a West German dance troupe that is secretly run by a coven of witches. As she grows more entwined with the magic of the school, the psychotherapist of a dancer missing from that same troupe investigates what he believes to be supernatural goings-on behind the studio’s doors.
(Oh, and that elderly psychotherapist gentleman is played by Tilda Swinton, who is also playing one of the teacher-witches. This was actually a controversial point in the press, as she didn’t admit to playing this role until after the film premiered. Just watch this little snippet of the character moving, and you just feel the age of him, the weight of this mystery upon him. Bloody amazing, that Swinton.)
And there is indeed magical goings-on behind the studio doors. The witches need to prepare a vessel for one who claims to be of the Three Mothers whom the coven worships. How do the witches prepare such a vessel? With dance.
All their magic is empowered by dance. Every choreographed movement of the female body, especially a group of female bodies, helps build their power to control, summon, bespell.
So what better way to bespell the audience than with a magical score? Thom Yorke of Radiohead weaves synth, piano, and dancing rhythms through much of the score. Sometimes we are given only sound, such as in“A Storm That Took Everything.”Like a storm outside, the world is noise, dissonant, clashing, overwhelming. (I wish I had more than an Amazon sample to give you, but Yorke limited which tracks could be on YouTube, dammit.)
Sometimes the dancing rhythm takes center stage even when characters are not dancing. “Belongings Thrown in a River” is an excellent example of this. You can just feel the 3/4 time, always used for waltzes, pull you into a hypnotic 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3. Even when no witches can be seen, even outside and away from the studio, there is a power reaching out to our characters from afar.
A longer sample I can share of magical rhythms comes in “Volk,” the song played when the dancers perform what they think is a recital while the teacher-witches prepare Mother Suspiriorum’s entry into their chosen vessel, the Mennonite Susie.
The tinkling high synth that sinks down takes us, the listeners, down to the rhythm. Feel the 5/4 time, otherwise known as quintuple meter. It’s unnatural, this rhythm. It’s not one to be walked to, to run to. It is its own…until just after two minutes, and then the rhythm changes. Constantly halted, that synth, pausing you, pulling you, pushing you, a jerking dramatic control so like a puppeteer with his marionettes.
So like these dancers and their bewitching teachers.
But no song bewitched me like Yorke’s own “Suspirium.”
Again, the 3/4 time, but here with piano, a distant organ, later a flute. The rhythm is the melody is the rhythm. One feels prone to dance a walk in silence as the lyrics invoke a haunted hope of an impossible waiting, just ahead.
This is a waltz thinking about our bodies What they mean for our salvation With only the clothes that we stand up in Just the ground on which we stand Is the darkness ours to take? Bathed in lightness, bathed in heat
All is well, as long as we keep spinning Here and now, dancing behind a wall When the old songs and laughter we do Are forgiven always and never been true
When I arrive, will you come and find me? Or in a crowd, be one of them? Wore the wrong sign back beside her Know tomorrow’s at peace
It is through this song I found the rhythm of a story to another girl, one also drawn to a place she cannot yet understand, where her fate is entangled with past bloodied and forgotten in the snow.
It was 8:30 at night, and Grandmother still wasn’t dead.
Chloe tapped her box of Winston cigarettes against her nyloned knees, cold and impatient. Sitting at the top of the stairs hurt made her ass hurt, but the stairs started near Grandmother’s room, where Mom sat with the others. Chloe did not want to be too far from Mom, not when she sat so still and quiet in a room where Death was due to arrive at any time.
Chloe redid her headband to keep her black hair out of her eyes, and then leaned backwards to peer through the doorway again.
Nothing had changed. A heavy, ornate lamp sat on the bedside table with a thin orange shroud draped over its shade to dim the light. The bed stood high with wooden globes for feet, globes carved into precarious connections along the frame and headboard. The blankets on the bed looked like cast-off ball gowns, all bright colors in expensive fabric stitched with gold. Gold was everywhere in that room. No shroud could hinder the light from finding the gilded edges of crucifixes, mirrors, chairs, fireplace. Old family portraits of white people sitting stiffly cover walls papered in some sort of leafy green paper. The paper is cracked and peeling in places, just like Grandmother.
A portrait taken of this generation would be very, very different.
I should also warn you all I may very well drag you into the forest around the Crow’s Nest during my month-long stay in this story-world. Stay tuned to upcoming posts about that. 🙂
Speaking of writing endeavors, Super-Proud Mom Me is getting out of the chair so Blondie can tell you all about her current writing project. Take it away, Blondie!
Thanks, Mom! I’ll take it from here. Hello, everyone! I’m Blondie, if you don’t know already. Now, my story is called Alley Heroes. A wolf named Thor needs to defeat the evil Loki. Where is it? Oh, it takes place in Milwaukee, and the magical land of Valhalla.
Methinks my daughter has been influenced somewhat by her Basher Mythology book. 🙂 Here’s her introduction. Love this girl! xxxxx
It was a typical day in Milwaukee, or what you call typical. Under a pretty rosebush, Thor was born. What?! No, No, not the Norse god Thor! Well, maybe, but any who, let’s continue, shall we? SO, then, Thor’s parents left him behind when humans came. Thor grew up in the city alleys where it was perfect camouflage. Then it happened. What?! WHAT DO YOU MEAN, “SO, WHAT HAPPENED?” WELL, TURN THE PAGE!
Speaking of books, indie author and reviewer Colin Garrow was kind enough to review my novella Night’s Tooth. I’m so honored!
A mix of classic western and fantasy, Jean Lee’s novella is set on the edges of her Princeborn universe (see Fallen Princeborn: Stolen). Her use of language is delightful, with an unusual writing style that’s as clever as it is original. The characters are an interesting lot, too, (like the Sherriff with the squirrel-tails moustache). Drop them all into an atmospheric Clint Eastwood-type setting, and there’s plenty of action to keep the reader guessing what’s coming next.
I hope you’ll check out his site…and, well, my books, too. Night’s Toothis only 99 cents, after all!
~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~
We’ve just enough time before All Hallow’s Eve to explore spaces lost and forgotten, frightening and small. I’ll share a peculiar corner of Wisconsin before we run for the small spaces, where we must hope the smiling man of the mist will not find us….
Good morning, you wonderful folks, you! (Or afternoon. It’s coffee time, no matter where you are. xxxxx)
Sorry for the quick informal post, but I just got my approval for pre-order and can’t wait until next week to share it with you.
I picked the official launch day for Thursday, August 29th. We’ll still do our weird Wisconsin tour and study of Charlaine Harris’ An Easy Death, never fear. 🙂 In the meantime, please spread the word to kith and kin my latest tale’s just 99 cents and will be available in two weeks!
Oh, and before my kids’ latest skirmish over Lego spills into my work space, let me say that if you’d like to contribute some early reviews for this story, please let me know, for that would be awesome. 🙂
Happy August, everyone! To celebrate my upcoming novella’s release, I’d love to share a taste of it here with you. I’ve selected a moment inspired by the journal of one of La Crosse’s founders, Nathan Myrick. Here’s the original excerpt:
“In October of that year  quite a colony of Mormons came up from Nauvoo [Illinois] and landed at La Crosse…. They built twenty-five or thirty log houses and made themselves quite comfortable….The pay was drawn by the elders in provisions to support the families of the settlement. Just as the river opened in the spring , the men all came down from Black River, and the men stopped cutting…. News got out they were all going to leave. I went down to the settlement to see the elders and adjust matters…. That night they set fire to most of their houses and embarked in their flat-boats, and left by the light of their burning houses for Nauvoo.”
Naythan Myrick, A History of La Crosse, Wisconsin 1841-1900
This moment of Mormons fleeing in the midst of fire and smoke got my wheels turning, and I decided to put that moment to use in this moment of altered history. Enjoy!
No one’s going to
say the Bent Nail don’t live up to the title.
After all the
straight streets and prim houses, Sumac finds the uneven floorboards and slap
on the walls a welcome sight. Hazy smoke from the potbelly stove near the bar
table on one side of the room mingles with the smells of cheap brews, raw meat,
and human sweat. It’s enough to make even the biggest hunters like Sumac dizzy.
He braces himself in the doorway for a moment to let his senses adjust.
Half a dozen human
men—railyard foremen, like as not—huddle together at one end of the bar,
waggling their mustaches over the rims of their glasses, showering the bar with
whiskey. The bar dog gawks at Sumac from amongst the wood-carved mermaids and
glass bottles, his hand in some mechanized motion of wiping the bar table with
a stained apron. Cold from outside snaps like so many ghost-jaws at the lantern
flames at the far back marking the stairs to the second floor. A few strumpets
lounge on those stairs for easy selling. Who wants to sleep in a cold bed?
The wall opposite
the bar’s got a crooked stone fireplace surrounded by crooked benches like as
not built from ties the railroad deemed unworthy of its locomotives. Two
worthless barrel boarders, one young and one old, lay on those benches with
their hats over their eyes, sleeping.
Sumac sniffs the
room with superior disgust. Yes indeed, a slum like this is where all humanity
Not those golden
boys, though. They sit at a table in the middle of the saloon with their cards
and cigars like they own the place. Sheriff Jensen was right: they’re all too
pretty to be trusted, what with their clean leather coats and matching
haircuts. Any real hunter’s going to have a scar or three, a coat stained by
seasons and life, boots caked with dirt and blood. This pack’s all preened for
some sort of show.
The golden boys give
Sumac the once-over with their violet eyes. Something shimmers on one—the gold
earring of the pack leader. He bares his teeth and says, “What are you looking
Sumac shrugs and
saunters over to the bar table. “Beer.” He listens as the golden boys return to
their game, yip and snap over their cards.
The bar dog sets the
glass down. “Visiting kin?” The words croak like they don’t want to come out. It’s
a man’s face in front of Sumac, but inside’s a boy never quite grown up.
Damn violet eyes.
Sumac can’t help it if most of his sort has’em.
“Nope,” he says, and takes a long, slow drink.
Crescents of sweat
emerge beneath the bar dog’s armpits. “Must’ve been traveling, then, your pa.”
Sumac peers over the
rim of his glass.
or thereabouts?” The bar dog scratches the side of his neck. A scar’s there,
jagged and angry: a bullet’s scar. “You’re the spittin’ image of’im.”
Sumac sets his glass
down. He takes out a few Confederate buttons and the old apple peeler one of
Mick’s bastards tried wielding for a weapon. “Sure,” he says, and looks at the
A faint smell of
urine stings the air between them. It leaves the moment that fool bar dog
moseys down to the foremen at the other end of the bar. One asks if he’s okay.
“Just caught myself
rememberin’ somethin’ nasty, is all,” says the bar dog. “The Prophets’
By the sounds of the
card game the golden boys have paused a hand to hear the tale.
Sumac? He don’t look
up. He just goes right on whittling the shanks of the Confederate buttons,
biding his time while the bar dog speaks…
“The Mormons were here then, just a short while, back in ’44, but you don’t hear tell of the other ones who came along. Called themselves Stags of the Prophet, led by some holy man who promised all these crazy things, showed off this magic trick of turnin’ himself into a deer.”
An old strumpet
laughs. “My pappy didn’t get scooped in to that. He saw the stag they used all
chained up in a tent.”
nuthin’!” The old barrel boarder coughs himself upright, words slurring. Drunk
or tired or both, he spits into the fire and goes on, “I saw those crazy fools.
Devil men, they were, pullin’ gold out of trees and wine from the flowers. And
that holy man did change. I was there.”
The strumpets all cackle,
the foremen banging their glasses for more.
But the golden boys?
Silent. The young barrel boarder? Snoring.
Sumac? He’s checking
his handiwork on that shank. Good and sharp. A handful of tacks can be mighty
useful in a chase, especially when the runner’s got paws.
The bar dog’s wiping
the table again like the memory’s spilling all over, staining it. “Mormons don’t
much care for the Stags’ magic show, especially when the women folk get all
interested.” He pauses, shudders. “Thought all of Prairie La Crosse’d burn that
day. The whole land went wild in their fight, guns and fire beneath the full
moon, people screamin’ like animals, animals screamin’ like people, cougars and
wolves and bears all just, just crazed for hell’s blood…” He stops wiping the
Sumac knows the
human’s fixed on him now.
“Then out of the
burning tents I see your pa, walkin’ like there ain’t no fire or
hell-screamin’, goin’ straight for the Stags’ holy man—holy deer, whatever he
really was, but in that moment he was a buck, thirty points easy, and sure he
weren’t a stupid buck, Gabby, because he charged
right for that fella’s pa. And that man grabbed the buck like he weren’t
nuthin’, and dragged him by the antlers
into the smoke and embers at the edge of town. I heard gruntin’ and cryin’ for
a time…and then it went quiet. The Stags fled, and the Mormons, they hopped
their scows and took off down the river while we put out their damn fires.”
Well. Sumac never knew he could leave such a memorable impression on a young human like that.
Thoughts, comments? I’d love to hear’em! Night’s Tooth, a new Tale of the River Vine set in my Fallen Princebornuniverse, is now available as an e-book. I hope you’ll check it out!
I wish I could tell you just when it started, this love for the western. It should have been decades ago, when my brothers and I watched our old recorded VHS on the making of Star Wars yet again while Mom just wanted to sit and watch John Wayne in a classic like Stagecoach or The Searchers. But I had no patience for the kind of western where women clutch their aprons while Native Americans gallop by with villainous intentions and only John Wayne with his swaggering cadence can talk a coward into being a brave man just long enough to shoot the savage and save this little refuge of civilization.
Oh no. Iiiii had to sit and watch a rogue with a laser gun help out wizened old man and a snot-nosed kid who thinks he’s smart in the saddle hold out from attacks by corrupt powers….heeey…sounds, um…
Sounds kinda like a western. (More on that later.)
But aren’t westerns just glorified propaganda for western civilization uprooting native cultures? Don’t all their shoot-outs result in a lot of powder in the air, women swooning, and men clutching their chests going, “Aaaurgh!”?
What is it about this period spanning thirty years (or sixty, depending on whom you ask) that draws us back again and again?
I can’t speak for others, but dammit, I’ll speak for me.
A Hero uncivilized and unrestrained.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about the antihero, and how this individual for good or ill lives by his own code to meet his own ends. In the western this character certainly exists, but there are plenty of heroes, too, who are out to right a wrong and carry out some justice…only, their means ain’t exactly pretty (see High Plains Drifter for the ugliest justice there is). Plus, these folks are by no means super-heroes or ramped up by crazy technology (unless, of course, you’re in Wild Wild West).
The hero–or antihero–of the western is often one of minimal means caught up in a conflict where the other side has more bullets, more men, more high ground. Jack Shaefer, a writer of westerns, elaborates on this point:
The western story, in its most usual forms, represents the American version of the ever appealing oldest of man’s legends about himself, that of the sun-god hero, the all-conquering valiant who strides through dangers undaunted, righting wrongs, defeating villains, rescuing the fair and the weak and the helpless — and the western story does this in terms of the common man, in simple symbols close to natural experience . . . depicting ordinary everyday men, not armored knights or plumed fancy-sword gentlemen, the products of aristocratic systems, but ordinary men who might be you and me or our next-door neighbors gone a-pioneering, doing with shovel or axe or gun in hand their feats of courage and hardihood.
This is why I love Clint Eastwood in so many of his westerns. He’s shot, beaten, left to die in the desert, and God knows what else. We see him lose as much blood as he draws. He, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Jeff Bridges, and loads others show their struggle for a better self in a world that rewards the greedy and vicious. The price to be paid when doing the right thing can be pretty damn high, and the heroes are willing to sacrifice it all, including their own goodness, to pay it.
Which brings me to my next point. (And to one of the happiness quotes I was challenged by the lovely Lady Shey to hunt down and share.)
Action! Bang bang, punch kick kapow, boom blam CRASH!
In case you didn’t know from other posts, I’m something of an action junkie. (The fact that 1987’s Predator is another one of my all-time favorite movies should tell you a lot about me.) Westerns promise action. There may be tons of gun fights, or only a few. There may be a total blood bath such as in Django Unchained, or a drawn….out….showdown…years…in…the making….
That’s part of the western’s beauty. The climax can be a chess game of men, where pawns are removed one by one until all that remains are the kings of the board…and, perhaps, a rook. We have to watch their necks sweat, fingers twitch, eyes narrow, and wait, wait, wait for the moment where Hell will break loose–
Or, bullets fly and characters die in epic battle fashion, such as in The Magnificent Seven; we’re not sure who will survive the climactic battle, and because we know these heroes experience the broken bone and spirit of mortality, we cannot be certain any of them will make it at all.
(Unless, of course, you’re the townspeople of Blazing Saddles’ Rock Ridge, who all wind up breaking onto the set of another film and then the studio’s commissary for a huge food fight.)
Speaking of settings…
A landscape beautiful, terrifying, and untameable.
Western civilization may have crossed into the territories, but it is by no means in control of the land.
Communities are rarely large, and their ties with “proper” society–towns and cities east of the Mississippi–are tenuous at best. The first transcontinental railroad wasn’t completed until 1869, the first transcontinental telegraph only a few years before that. If someone travels west, they travel a lonely road, or a railroad often unguarded. They enter territories that never belonged to them, and yet are determined to keep them.
I figured this riverside town would be the perfect place to set my western fantasy novella Night’s Tooth. Wisconsin earned its statehood in the 1840s, sure, but it’s not like all of it was paved with pristine society by the end of the Civil War, right?
Well…the first settlers established the community of La Crosse in the 1840s a few years before that statehood, so yeah, Wisconsin still had a bit of wildness to it as far as governance goes, but by the end of the Civil War the log cabins had been replaced by a full-on city with one of the country’s first swing bridges for the Southern Minnesota Railroad.
No longer did rail cars have to be ferried across the great river to journey west. The White Man had brought his roads and buildings and built them all square and orderly to the Mississippi River Valley. Man had conquered Nature.
As far as Wisconsin was concerned, the Wild of its West was lost.
I can’t write a story where the West ISN’T Wild!!!
The idea of La Crosse being so damned orderly and efficient at growing really galled me. It galled me so much I figured my main character, a bounty hunter named Sumac, would be galled too, and call it a damn shame.
Then it hit me.
Use the city’s history in the story. Show how this final bastion of “civilization” before the territories had its own moments of dark dealings. Perhaps, if I am very careful, sew some patches of magic goings-on onto time’s quilt of history, and in their threads tell a new tale of hunters who hide among us…
Mississippi River Valley, 1870s. The white man wields rails and guns to bring law to the land. But there are more than wild animals hiding in the territories, and it will take more than guns to bring them down.
Sumac the bounty hunter needs no guns to hunt any bandit with a price on his head, even one as legendary and mysterious as Night’s Tooth. But Sumac didn’t count on other bounty hunters coming along as competition, nor did he expect hunters sharing his own magical gifts.
It’s one man against a gang and a mystery, all to protect a train that must cross the territories at all costs…
Inspired by classics like For a Few Dollars More and fantasy cult favorites like Highlander, “Night’s Tooth” is a western with a fantasy edge set in the Fallen Princeborn universe.
Intrigued? I sure hope so! 🙂 I’ll be posting an excerpt from the story in this month’s Exclusive Free Fiction from the Wilds. Once I’m done mucking through the formatting business, I’ll publish Night’s Tooth as an e-book and set its price for 99 cents. If all goes well with children and teaching, Night’s Tooth will be available near the end of this month.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your favorite westerns in the comments below! You may also enjoy watching Cinefix’s very interesting breakdown of favorite westerns from across the decades, including the changes of tone and theme created by different directors in countries. (If you’re wondering when Star Wars was supposed to come up again in this post, watch the video.)
~Stay Tuned Next Week~
I’m super-stoked about next week’s interview! He’s a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award as well as a fellow fan of Diana Wynne Jones. After that we’ll study a new and unique Wild West set in an alternate America, then take a tour through some amazing composers for westerns before finally (fingers crossed and turning thrice widdershins) launching Night’s Tooth into the publishing wild!
Blondie finished the school year with a straight-A report card. She was particularly proud of her last story for writing class: “The Invention that Changed the Chicken World.” It’s a suspenseful tale of action and intrigue as Zach, a lowly chicken residing on a dairy farm on the slopes of Mount St. Helens, discovers that special rocks from the volcano will help him build a jet pack. He successfully builds a model only to be discovered by a nefarious squirrel…well here, you read it:
Little did Zach know that two sinister eyes were watching from the trees. Later Zach was walking back to the coop when suddenly, a squirrel jumped in the way! He was wearing an eyepatch on his right eye! Worst of all, he was pointing a GUN AT HIM!!!
“Gimme your rocks, sonny. Then you can have anything you want,” said the squirrel calmly.
“What do you want with MY rocks? Go get your own!” shouted Zach. The squirrel leaped at him, took the rocks, adn sprinted away. Chickens, you might say, aren’t very fast. Zach, however, was just the opposite. Zach ran like a lightning bolt and caught up with the squirrel and took the rocks.
Blondie, “The Invention that Changed the Chicken World”
The tale continues, but Blondie refuses to read it out loud for me, the stinker. 🙂 Her story was such a hit with Biff and Bash that Biff even started his own story:
Blondie’s promised us all more stories about Zach the chicken this summer, and I’m excited to see Biff truly enjoy drawing and writing. Bash, meanwhile, is turning out some amazing creations with Lego; even we will set them apart so that no one else can wreck them.
But even though the kids are wrapping up their school year, my current term at the university has a ways to go. Plus, I’ve taken on a new job as substitute teaching aid at another town’s school district. It’ll help the family income, plus it gives me a chance to work with kids aged 4-18. If I want to write for these people, I should probably, you know, hang out with them’n’stuff…
(Side Question: Why the heck does anyone think four-year-olds can learn to walk on stilts? These kids can barely remember to use a kleenex, let alone tie shoes, and we trust them to walk with GIANT METAL RODS?!)
The plans had been to publish the entire series over the course of a few years, starting with Books 1 and 2 to come out pretty close to each other. We individually published six short stories over the summer and fall to help promote the first novel, and on October 31, 2018, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen hit the shelves.
Well. You might have noticed the second novel’s not out yet.
The folks at Aionios Books chose not to continue with my series.
Am I bummed? Of course I am. It feels like that moment in A Fistful of Dollars when Clint’s caught by the baddies after helping a girl escape. They beat him to a pulp, taking extra care to cripple his shooting hand. One look at him, and you’d think he’s a goner.
Only he’s not. He manages to escape despite his injuries and hides away in an old mine. Over the course of his recovery, he slowly, surely, tenaciously, teaches himself to shoot with his other hand.
Yeah, I may be down, but I’m a professional, dammit. It’s a wild world out there in indie publishing, and every fighter’s got to do what he/she can to survive. Aionios made the call they felt was best for them. So, we just need to do our own parts in helping Fallen Princeborn: Stolen stay alive while also adventuring off in our own directions.
In my case…well, first I’m learning to shoot with the other hand.
This means I’ve got to do a complete overhaul of my platform: website, social media, the whole kit’n’caboodle. Don’t be surprised if a link’s down one day and up the next–we’re talking years’ worth of posts to revise.
I intend to rework and re-release my six short stories of Tales in the River Vine.
I’m also excited to publish a new tale, a tale that hearkens to those wild days of territories stitched with railways and bounty hunters ready to kill for a few dollars more…
“Between you and me, I doubt they’ve got the know-how to outsmart Night’s Tooth.” Sheriff Jensen narrows his eyes at the poster like he could scare it. “No proper description of the man, and a modus operandi as bizarre as hell.”
“Why bizarre?” Sumac pulls the poster from its pin and stares thoughtfully at Night Tooth’s name.
Now the sheriff goes all quiet again, thinking. He’s really sizing Sumac up this time, like as not making sure Sumac’s not crazy as a loon. “Because they find bite marks in the rail cars’ walls, that’s why. This man’s got a wolf with him, somethin’ big as a bear and twice as smart.”
That’s a whap Sumac’s not expecting. No doubt his lady employer would have a good laugh over that one. “Well, as I see it, Sheriff, some creatures are born into killin’ like others are into dyin’. I reckon Night’s Tooth is of that first camp, wouldn’t you?”
The wind whistle-whines against the glass. Another train cries out from the rails beyond La Crosse’s commercial center.
Sumac smiles. He knows he doesn’t have to answer.
And, God-willing, before 2019 ends I’m going to publish the next installment of the Fallen Princeborn series.
The name sucks the air clean out of Charlotte’s mouth. Her lungs shrivel, her mind bleached like bones in the desert—
Someone stands out in the middle of the Wild Grasses. Pale arms hang perfectly still against a sparkly shirt. The breeze plays with red hair too bright to mistake. It carries the scent of bus and berries to Charlotte’s nose and stings her eyes to tears. A pink bubble inflates out of the mouth. Baby blues shine like search lights.
Pop. “I’m still waiting for you, Charlie.” Pop.
The Voice rushes to the bellows within Charlotte, brings air and feeling back to her lungs. One, two, don’t let Orna get to you.
Charlotte heaves a breath as deep as she can. Her legs don’t want to move, she can’t move, but she will move. She forces one foot forward, then another, commands her back to straighten, and she screams, “I know who you really are!” She chews the unsaid words “you bitch!” like gristle, wishing desperately to spit them out at The Lady wearing her sister’s shape like some Halloween costume. But even the shape of Anna forces the hateful speech to stick between Charlotte’s teeth. “Go back to your hole!”
should have died in the Pits, Charlie. She’s got something a lot worse planned
for you now.”
“’She’?” It was just a tiny word, but its reference jabs the Voice in Charlotte’s heart good’n’hard.
Blues grin like some damn playground secret.
“Don’t fuck with me, Orna.” Charlotte’s walking before she knows it, wading into the Wild Grasses, arms swaying fists, teeth clenched, “You’re the one never leaving this land alive, I swear!”
The berry and bubble gum stink to Charlotte’s nose now, all its pungent sour sweetness driving its way up into her sinuses and stinging behind her eyes.
More and more red hair blows over the Baby Blues, more hair than Anna ever had, and it grows longer, longer. She’s engulfed in hair like some Ginger-fied Cousin It.
Charlotte’s almost close enough to grab a lock and yank it off. “Take my sister off!” She lunges forward—
But Cairine’s teeth close upon Charlotte’s shirt, her nose a sharp chill on Charlotte’s neck. Cairine pulls Charlotte back as a bubble pops under all that impossible hair. A new voice grinds under Anna’s punctuated soprano:
“Let’s not rush. I’m still owed a sweetheart.”
Red hair spins round, tightens, stretches, into a giant red bubble. It floats above the wild grasses and pops to the echoes of girlish laughter.
In the meantime, I’m excited to spend June celebrating my dear friend Anne Clare–she’s releasing her debut novel this summer!
I’ve known Anne for decades, and like me, Anne’s been balancing teaching, family, and her writing life. For years she’s been researching and crafting a story that spans countless miles and years–just like our friendship. xxxxx
I am so, so proud of you, Anne!
I’ll be interviewing Anne and the impeccable James J. Cudney, who has another cozy mystery on its way to bookshelves next month.
What else lies in store? Oh, some world-building craft, methinks, and a study of the incredible Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. I shared one composition of his weeks ago, but it haunts me still. Let this song carry you on its magic into next week, where we sit, and listen, and imagine together.
For me, at least yesterday, it came as a question.
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”
Innocent enough question, right? Routine interview question from the panel, right?
Yet there I sat before the faculty, tears welling in my eyes.
I apologize for my reaction. I understand the question. It just calls me back to…well, I should be honest. It calls me back to when my children were infants and I suffered postpartum depression.
Very, very bad postpartum depression.
I would tell myself over and over that all would be better in five years.
In five years, when the kids were out of colic and not fighting so fiercely, all would be better.
And here I am these days, telling myself that in five years, when my sons are older, things will be better…
In regards to the University, I like it here. I want to continue teaching here, whether it’s full time or part time.
I want to help our students succeed because I know how hard it is for them because I’ve lived that insane balance of raising a family, caring for loved ones, and maintaining a job.
I want to make our curriculum meet our students’ needs because so many just don’t see how important writing is to their success.
I want to help them learn that, see that, for the next five years and farther.
So that should sum up how the interview went this week. I didn’t have many professional, verbose, academic answers for them.
Just a lot of heart.
Maybe that’s enough. Maybe not. No matter what, I’ve done my best and will continue to do my best. With the love of my family and dear friends like you, I won’t stop running with the wind, leaping as a wild child, never quite grown up, never quite done learning. And always ready to share that magic with others.
In the meantime, Bo’s ready to pour a glass of wine for me tonight because dammit, it’s been a long week, and I’ve already cheated the Whole30 code anyway.
Thank you for sticking it out with me, my friends. x
Oh! I finally got my newsletter out this afternoon, including a sneak peek at Fallen Princeborn: Chosen.Check it out!
blinks once, twice, to living color dancing about the library.
Yes, she’s sitting at Liam’s feet, having fallen asleep with her head resting on his knee. Liam’s fingers have wound themselves into her hair.
hearth is cold, and the stale food… unsettling. Shouldn’t Arlen be in the
kitchen by now, scolding Dorjan for raiding the fridge? Shouldn’t there be a
kettle whistling for the velifol tea? How
in brewin’ blazes are they going to defend Rose House against Campion and the Lady?
slowly slips her hand beneath Liam’s to free his fingers from her hair. Still
too many cuts and burns for her liking on his calloused skin. The Lady’s claws
must have struck near his neck, where angry red inflammation peeks out from
under Liam’s white tunic. The leather brace for his blood dagger seems to
restrict the rise and fall of Liam’s chest, so Charlotte holds her hand up to
Liam’s mouth and nose, and feels fitful breaths. Dreaming, maybe.
The teeniest, teeniest bit of space buffers her palm and his lips. She could close that space. Not, not too much: Charlotte’s thumb caresses Liam’s upper lip. Just once. It’d be nice to know his lips feel… oh yes, they feel so very different when not covered by musty facial hair. A dull violet glow emanates from just beneath Liam’s chair: the stone from Orna’s ring. Charlotte bends forward, chin on the floor, eyes almost crossing as she gazes deep into such a simple little thing, like marble, opaque with an inner shine. That shine’s got a power even Arlen doesn’t wanna touch. We better hide this, House, before a nasty Incomplete snatches it from Liam. She poises her thumb behind the stone, sticks out her tongue as she aims, and with a flick, the stone rolls into a little hole in the wall beneath the stained glass window. One eyeblink later, and the hole’s gone. Eight ball in the corner pocket. Thanks, House.
hugs herself against the chilly summer morning as her feet pad softly down the
corridor into the kitchen. No Arlen, no Dorjan.
clings to the Rose House’s walls, wary. Scared.
where are they?”
of silence. Then voices and distant footfalls: the third floor. But not Arlen
or Dorjan: the gravelly voice booming orders has got to be Devyn, leading the
other scouts to harvest the velifol flowers.
Charlotte checks the patio. It did sound like the uncle and nephew went outside
last night. Maybe they’re harvesting mint, or parsley, or whatever it is they
use for pies—Charlotte never really paid attention to the cooking stuff.
“Arlen?” She cups her hands to yell, “Dorjan!” Frost glitters upon the flowers beneath
Rose House’s shadow, but under Charlotte’s feet the frost feels different.
there is a rhythm.
run through the silent halls and out into the kitchen: Poppy as her mouse self,
going on?” Charlotte asks as Poppy changes before her. Though I think I can guess.
Miss Charlotte, Danger!” Poppy says before her whiskers have the chance to
vanish. “Terrible, terrible things below. Campion and the Lady, they got all
juiced up and stronger than before and they’re just totally super angry, and
they wanna get the Incomplete meanies up here, and they wanna just, they wanna,
oh, they wanna—”
“Retaliate.” The human version of Ember lands on a patio chair, feathers not fully transformed into orange patchwork fabric. Her skin reflects the early morning sun from the hall window, turning her white with the frost. “Something’s helped the Lady regain her strength. Eating an Incomplete, perhaps, heart’s fire knows, but she’s moving through the tunnels, and Campion’s at her side,” she says, her voice cracking under her former friend’s name.
“So Devyn’s getting the scouts to take the
thunder rumbles under a blue sky. Then Charlotte realizes the thunder’s not
from above. Oh. Shit. “Arlen and Dorjan,
where are they?”
Ember’s voice remains smooth, but biting her lip doesn’t hide the trembling of her chin. “Not in Rose House, we’ve looked. The wolf kin can protect Arlen, I’m sure.”
Charlotte nods, but this idea of the Lady of the Pits somehow getting out again and acquiring new power despite Liam slicing her face off and taking that magic violet stone from her ring…. How the hell does she find more power inside a bunch of tunnels? And Campion’s bones were broken to bits. Something is wrong, way too damn wrong. “Okay. You’re right. They can take care of themselves.” Because to say it out loud makes it feel more possible, more true. She will not allow her body to shake as Poppy’s does, even And Poppy’s shaking only makes it worse with the thunder rippling through the ground again, this time upsetting the patio stones. She will not let the fear freeze her as frost does a flower.
nods curtly. “We must hope Master Liam’s tree withstands the attack. Come,
Poppy, we need to carry what we can.”
grabs Charlotte’s arm. “But we can’t leave Miss Charlotte! She’s my bestest
friend, and she’s so nice, and she could come with us and be super helpful and—”
Charlotte shoves Poppy towards Ember. “No, stay together. I’ll get out with
right, Poppy.” Feathers tuft through Ember’s neck and hands. “Upstairs.”
rumble. A patio chair topples.
gulps a breath, then two, then takes off, changing as she goes.
takes a steadying breath. “You will hide,” she turns to Charlotte, “won’t you?”
Well what do you know. She kinda actually cares about the human in these here parts. A little. Maybe.
The frost thickens, latching onto Charlotte’s toes. “Long enough to see what that snake bitch’s hatched, yeah.” Another rumble bumps them both up and down. “You go, the House’n’I will buy you some time.”
Ember’s exhale mingles with the cloud of ash and feather already taking shape round her body. “We’re going to the far side of Lake Aranina. It is hopefully too far for the misshapen limbs of the Incomplete to run.”
wings, legs are shrinking. “Let us hope your luck carries us all through this
day.” The orange bird soars up, plucks something from the rooftop, and darts
south for the lake and beyond.
Ashes touch the air.
shriek, far and away.
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.
yet to move, eyes closed, breath still slow.
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. “Liam!” She yells in his ear.
pounding below her feet.
They are coming.
Any thoughts, comments? Please share them below with my thanks!
I’m going to pause before I even begin in order to say how amazingly patient you all have been for enduring this 30-day blog-o-thon. I’ve been doing my damndest to catch up on reading your sites, but I have a feeling it’s going to take a month of NOT writing just to see all that you lovely folks have done during this cold, snowy month.
During one pre-dawn hour set aside for morning coffee and blog reading, I came across an old book review by the amazing Chris Lovegrove. His closing nails the very topic I wish to discuss today:
I felt a little cheated by the end. The lack of resolution for one character felt manipulative. Increasingly, fantasies these days are clearly labelled Book One of a spellbinding new series or The first volume of such-and-such saga; it wasn’t till near the end that I realised that this wasn’t a standalone novel but that I would have to invest time and maybe more money in the sequel.
Indeed, what has happened to the standalone story? We are an audience of franchises and serieseseses to the point where filmmakers will divvy up a book and spread its material so thinly that a single story is transformed into a film trilogy. (cough cough HOBBIT cough cough)
When I study Diana Wynne Jones’ library (as every good and proper fantasy fan should do), I see 25 stand-alone stories. 2 duologies, 1 trilogy, 1 quartet (quartology?), and the octology of Chrestomanci. (I’m just making up number words at this point.) We won’t even get into the short fiction stuff here, or plays, or whatever else. Strictly novels. (If I missed any, let me know!)
If you go through all these novels, not one ends with a cliffhanger. Correct me if I’m wrong, but DWJ was one to practice what she preached:
My feeling is that the best stories leave the reader trying to imagine what happened after the story stopped.
As far as DWJ was concerned, the story she needed to tell began and ended in one volume. Even the DWJ stories considered sequels or parts of a series are only considered such because they’re in the same universe, NOT because they’re picking up where the previous plot left off. Look at the Howl trilogy: Howl and Sophie go from primary characters in the first book to making cameo appearances in the second. In the third book they appear halfway through the novel with some importance, but still, they are not the primary protagonists. One of the primary characters of Deep Secret returns in The Merlin Conspiracy, but again, he is not the main character. DWJ utilized the same universe for multiple stories, not necessarily the same characters. Heck, Chrestomanci’s rarely a main character in his own series! (But I already wrote about that.)
I started paging through other Young Adult Fantasy stories read from my bookshelf or local library to see which stories end on a cliffhanger, and which are capable of standing alone.
Celine Kiernan’s The Poison Throne:She was travelling at a good pace, though, and it was not long before she disappeared up the winding path, to be swallowed into the treacherous depths of the bandit-laden forest and the company of wolves.
Cliffhanger. The protagonist’s clearly beginning another journey. Not only is the primary antagonist of the story is still in power, but we learn our protagonist is entering yet another enemy’s territory.
Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games: Out of the corner of my eye, I see Peeta extend his hand. I look at him, unsure. “One more time? For the audience?” he says. His voice isn’t angry. It’s hollow, which is worse. Already the boy with the bread is slipping away from me.
I take his hand, holding on tightly, preparing for the cameras, and dreading the moment when I will finally have to let go.
Both. This one’s a bit grey to me. On the one hand, the protagonist has survived the Hunger Games. The primary conflict of the story has come to a close. However, we read here that the protagonist’s personal journey is not over, so there is, in a sense, a cliffhanger, just not like the life-or-death situation the protagonist’s been in for much of the book.
Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight:I touched his face. “Look,” I said. “I love you more than everything else in the world combined. Isn’t that enough?”
“Yes, it is enough,” he answered, smiling. “Enough for forever.”
And he leaned down to press his cold lips once more to my throat.
Standalone. You read right. Yes, I’ve read the whole series, so yes, I know there are more books after this. But I’ll give Meyers credit for giving this novel an ending that feels like an ending. As far as everyone knows, the last of the bad vampires has left the region and the girl’s got the guy. All’s right with the world.
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone(hush, I’m an American, THAT’S the title here): Harry hung back for a last word with Ron and Hermione.
“See you over summer, then.”
“Hope you have–er–a good holiday,” said Hermione, looking uncertainly after Uncle Vernon, shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant.
“Oh, I will,” said Harry, and they were surprised at the grin that was spreading over his face. “They don’t know we’re not allowed to use magic at home. I’m going to have a lot of fun with Dudley this summer…”
Standalone. When you consider the primary conflict (protecting the Sorcerer’s Stone from Voldemort) that conflict officially ends in this book. Yes, Voldemort gets away, but his plot’s been thwarted. Even the other school-friendly subplots of making friends, succeeding in a wizarding school with a muggle’s childhood, and so on are wrapped up. The Voldemort conflict does not start creating cliffhangers until the third book, Prisoner of Azkaban.
Cassandra Clare’s Clockwork Angel:Magnus reached behind himself and locked the parlor door. “Very well,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me what the problem is?”
Cliffhanger. Any time a story ends with a question, it’s an automatic cliffhanger–especially when that question pertains to a protagonist’s “problem.”
Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call:Early in the new year, she tells her parents that she has to leave again.
“The Nation must survive,” she says. “I can help with that.”
She sits alone on the bus, her suitcase propped up on the seat beside her so she can pretend it’s Megan sitting there instead. And off she goes through the snowy roads, Agnes and Ferg waving her away, hugging each other, their pride so fierce it burns.
Standalone. The protagonist has survived her three minutes. The fight goes on, and so will she, determined to leave her parents and teach other children how to survive the dark land of the Sidhe. By this story’s rules, she cannot be summoned back into the Sidhe realm for another hunt, so again, by this story’s rules, our protagonist is officially free. Of course, Peadar totally subverts these expectations in The Invasion, but I appreciate how he made this novel self-contained. Had this remained a standalone, it’d still be awesome.
Off the top of my head…
Other good examples of what I feel could be considered standalone novels whether or not they’re in a series: Court of Thorns and Roses, Uprooted, Neverwhere, Chronicles of Narnia
Know any others? Let me know!
Other good examples of what I feel are cliffhanger novels:Cruel Prince, Mortal Instruments, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen
Ibid on the knowing and the letting of me knowing
Hey, what’s my own book doing there?
Yes, I must plead guilty. I was in a similar situation as JRR Tolkien; as you know, LOTR is one HUGE tome broken into three books for readability’s sake. The same thing happened with Stolen–my publisher kindly pointed out that people aren’t necessarily going to be drawn to a debut novel 650 pages long. Two novels, though, would split that length into readable installments. The result?
Her head nestles against Liam’s knee. The Voice in her heart sighs, too exhausted to notice a pounding, a drumming rising from deep, deep in the Pits.
So what makes a cliffhanger tolerable and not infuriating?
Somewhere along the way, SOMEthing must be resolved.
A series is bound to have many plot threads, and that’s fine. But if a few hundred pages cannot tie off a single thread, readers are going to get pissed.
Rightfully so, too. In a way it comes back to those expectations and payoffs: the patience of a reader lasts for only so long. The more you build, and build, and build, yet never follow through, the more readers will feel lost, disengaged, or both. Why spend time in a world that’s constantly tangled with characters never decently understood?
So sure, maybe the antagonist is still free at the end of Book 1. Maybe the hero’s journey has only just begun. Was a battle fought and one? Was an internal conflict resolved? Did a relationship come to fruition or destruction? So long as SOMEthing has been brought to a close, a cliffhanger ending will still bring some satisfaction to the reader.
Resolve nothing in that first book, and readers will resolve not to invest time in the second.
Tie a thread or two, and hold your world–your series–together.
I Lang hae thought, my youthfu' friend, A something to have sent you, Tho' it should serve nae ither end Than just a kind memento: But how the subject-theme may gang, Let time and chance determine; Perhaps it may turn out a sang: Perhaps turn out a sermon. - Robert Burns