The Power of #OralStorytelling in #History, #Reading, and #Writing

Hello, my fellow creatives! Summer has returned to the Midwest at last. While my kids eagerly toss their backpacks into the air crying Hallelujah, I am wrapping up finals while also preparing for the next term. It’s a little scary, changing over terms, but, you know…we manage somehow. 🙂

But all this monsterly ruckus does not mean we cannot think of writerly things. In fact, I was fortunate enough to host a virtual Creative Salon for some fellow teachers about the importance of oral storytelling for its cultural, creative, and classroom significance. Let me take you through a few bits of research, perhaps a pondering or two, so that we may all remember just what is treasured–preserved–known through the tradition of oral storytelling.

The oral traditions and expressions include of many spoken such us riddles, proverbs, folklore, tales, legends story, myths, epic songs and poems, charms, prayers, chants, songs, dramatic performances and more. Oral traditions and expressions are used to give information about the knowledge, social and culture values as well as the collective memory.

Cultural Preservation: Rediscovering the Endangered Oral Tradition of Maluku

Think back to your days listening to a story a loved one tells you, or that you told yourself. “Once upon a time”… and off you go into someplace Other and New. Such a common little phrase, isn’t it? We hear it over and over in familiar fairy tells and legends. You can even trim that phrase down further to simply “Once.” Countless stories start at this very moment. These stories come from across land and time to reach us, here and now, and pull us into their “once”: stories of battles waged, quests completed, families reunited.

Or perhaps those stories come from an Elsewhere altogether different: lands of myth and magic, where the Impossible is just as real as you, or you…oooor you!

Campfires call upon that Impossible Magic, don’t they? When the words of a spoken story combine with the sparks and stars, we cannot help but fall under the story’s spell. Such was the way we and others wove with words: summer camp’s ghost stories, Dad’s evening devotions, or the bizarre fairy tales we’d tell ourselves while poking the embers with our sticks still sticky from the last of the marshmallows.

In the time of Dickens, reading aloud at home was very much a common household entertainment. The practice had become broadly accessible in Britain a hundred years earlier, with the spread of literacy and the increased availability of books and periodicals…they saw reading as a pick-me-up and a dangerous influence, a source of improvement, a way to stave off boredom, and even as a health-giving substitute…

The Enchanted Hour

But let us not be so foolish as to suppose the stories told could only be for fun. Telling tales aloud could be extremely instructive, too, for any class. From oral historians describing battles to Caesar as he dined, to the man reading newspapers to Cuban cigar-rollers as they worked, we have depended on the oral storyteller to take us outside of ourselves and witness that which we cannot experience otherwise. It is through the telling of lives that we have learned what it is like to emigrate to a foreign land, to live in a centuries-old slum, to hide in the trenches as bombs decimate the land. Countless cultures have depended upon oral storytelling to preserve their histories and customs, and it is through such practice that modern generations have been able to preserve the ways of their ancestors.

The art of storytelling was practiced by both men and women in Lakota culture and society, where a form of high culture existed prior to the reservation period. Those individuals born in the early part of the twentieth century retained memories of narratives told by grandparents who lived during this “high culture” period, which extended from the time before contact with Europeans to approximately 1850.

George Sword’s Warrior Narratives

Nowadays, Kapata is performed (sung) widely [in Indonesia]. In its development, Kapata helps to carry out the function as the medium to enrich language and literature…Another function of Kapata is a social control function. It can be found in the texts of Kapata such as in Kapata Nasihat in Central Maluku from parents to children or from kings to his people. Kapata [maintains] the sanctity of customs regulations and upholding custom laws in a particular community; and to preserve and maintain custom relations that have been established in a community for years.

Rediscovering the Endangered Oral Tradition of Maluku

Māori who participate in ceremonies and meetings there, descendants of those who composed and passed on the ancient records, know the lineage of their forebears because of often quoted genealogies, which were also preserved in the oral tradition. The words handed down from the ancestors are cherished and kept current in various ways and through new media….The literature that bears the closest relationship to the oral tradition in its original form are the texts that Māori first wrote down from memory or that were written for them as they dictated…

Maori Oral Tradition

The West had shaped the knowledge and discourse about Africa for hundreds of years and it was important to shift that power relationship. Obviously, decades of European colonial incursion and rule needed to be sorted out as it pertained to earlier scholarship….Certainly, African societies have preserved their histories, cultures, and ideas in nonverbal forms in the plastic, musical, dancing, and ritual arts, and these need to be taken into account when seeking a thorough historical picture. This also allows us to understand how earlier events have been reconsidered or even reshaped over time for contemporary purposes.

On the Status of African Oral Tradition Since 1970s: An Interview with Robert Cancel

But what does oral storytelling mean for us in the here and now? Since the professionals cannot make up their minds about listening to stories vs. reading them, let’s just focus on what we get out of oral storytelling as both readers and writers of the present.

Reading becomes a priority again. One of my university colleagues broke down the current literacy plight as an inevitable consequence of the “multimodality” of our entertainment. Once radio and film came to Main Street, people no longer needed newspapers and books like they used to. A representative of Wisconsin Literacy concurred, noting that a child is not raised in a home where reading matters, that mindset is carried into adulthood and passed on to the next generation. This mindset propels that vicious cycle of low-literacy onward: no motivation to read = inability to decipher and synthesize text both simple and complex. Forget research–low-literacy means being unable to properly fill out a job application or understand a medical prescription. Studies shared in The Enchanted Hour show that the majority of a child’s neurological development occurs in the first five years, and when a child watches a video instead of listening to a book being read, that development suffers greatly.

Listening to a picture book being read, however, helps children connect the pictures and words they see with the words they hear. They hear how the words sound, how the sentences sound, and are therefore able to use those words and sentences themselves with confidence. And this isn’t just for kids, by the way. I have recommended my adult learners reading fun stuff for years, and the response is overwhelmingly positive. Reading for fun makes reading for school a smidge easier. Reading for school makes writing for school a smidge easier. Writing for school makes writing for work a smidge easier. Put all those smidges together, and you’ve got yourselves a broken vicious cycle.

If a child sees something in a parent that that child aspires to, he or she will copy that parent and be content.

The Reading Promise

This is another reason why I started my podcast last month: in all my encouragement to students, I was neglecting myself. Story Cuppings became a way for me to not only sample and study stories through reading their first chapters, but to read aloud and experience new language again and again. If you’ve a book–be it one you love, wrote, or both–you’d like me to share on Story Cuppings, just let me know!

Passion swells to share one’s life experience, the struggles here and now. “Once upon a time” is not limited to Past Days or Elsewheres. “Once” means “now” as much as it means “then.” “Once” there is a group of people who struggle, not struggled, against adversity. That “once” takes us to the accounts of individuals in Hong Kong, in the United States, in Myanmar, in Poland, in Mexico. It is through the words of an individual—what they see and hear, what they experience at the hands of others—that we learn of the epic quests and battles of today.

And do not assume “epic” must mean “global stakes.” On the contrary, the most epic victories can be one family, one person, living life one season to the next. Such are the stories we hear at family gatherings, be they around a campfire, kitchen table, or fence post. As fellow Wisconsinite storyteller and documentarian Jeremy Apps explains:

My father and my uncles were storytellers, and so were several of the neighbors in the farming community where I grew up in central Wisconsin. Family members told stories when we gathered for celebrations, birthday parties, anniversaries, and at Christmas and Thanksgiving family affairs. Our farm neighbors told stories during threshing and wood sawing bees, while they waited at the grist mill for their cow feed to be ground, and when they came to town on Saturday nights and waited for their wives to grocery shop. These stories were always entertaining, as many of them had a humorous bent to them, but they were also filled with information—how the cattle were surviving during the summer drought, what price Sam got for his potato crop and how he managed to get that price. How the weather this year was not nearly as bad as the weather twenty years ago. Many of the stories were also sad, such as how Frank was making it on his poor farm since his wife died and left him with three kids to fee and care for.

Telling Your Own Story

When I read App’s words and see his work like A Farm Winter, I see the shine of the pivotal truth he wrote in Telling Your Own Story….

Click here for more on this documentary.

Your stories are snippets of history.

Never, EVER, sell your own story short. Whether you weave your experiences with imagined elements or you stitch the raw details together for all to know, YOUR story matters.

Now, tell it aloud.

Hear the sounds of the words you choose, the rhythm they create like the genealogies repeated by the Maori over and over as the story is told by the teller. Listen to the nuances of your characters’ voices–what words embody the tones you use when your voice dresses up as each character? What words bring sensory feeling to the settings you describe?

There is beauty in your story’s language, my fellow writers. Share it with the sparks and stars, and see its magic pass from one generation to the next.~

~COMING SOON!~

Would you believe I’m actually working on a humor writing workshop for my university this summer? I’m still working out how I got roped into that, too. Plus we need to FINALLY talk about the process of choosing character names. Let’s not forget studying those character archetypes that cross time and culture! There’s lots of literary fun to share over the coming months, not to mention some more kickin’ author interviews.

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

#WriterProblems: Finding #Worldbuilding #Inspiration in #SmallTownLife

Hullo hullo, fellow creative souls! It’s lovely to have you back in this, Wisconsin’s Fake-Out Spring. (Never let the first thaw fool you. We’re bound to be snowed under for Easter.)

Once upon a time I shared some posts about the hidden pieces of historical inspiration as well as the peculiar locations in one’s small town that feel like a piece of fiction come to life.

I’d like to continue on this path today, as this pandemic has kept many in their homes. Some homes are in the midst of a bustling city, others out in the middle of nowhere. I’m not in one, but not quite the other, either. My town has neighborhoods (including one on the other side of the tracks), two gas stations, two bars, a library, and a post office. (We shan’t discuss the curious carnival or rock shop today…or the RV campground someone thought would be great to build between a cornfield and old industrial area. Yup, that’s scenic, all right.)

My town, you could say, is small. Built around a river mill and railroad, like so many other rural towns in this country. Just one of thousands, right? The kind teens are so determined to escape to “find themselves” elsewhere.

Well in all my travels through all the small towns as a kid, two towns always struck me as a little weird. Oh, they looked fine from the car: post offices, gas stations, bars, maybe a little general store, or a mechanic operating out of a shoddy barn. Bait and/or feed supplies. Houses of old siding and older brick with uneven sidewalks and prim gardens. The park playgrounds have lost their happy colors, the benches more often used for sharing crude notes than motherly conversations. I didn’t understand those notes as a kid, thinking them a sort of secret code. I bet such notes could be a secret code in a future story, couldn’t they? We’re so quick to dismiss such scrawlings as adults. We complain that the benches should be replaced, or at least painted. Then we remember that small towns often can’t afford such frivolities, and we let it all pass out of mind, just as we let the small towns we drive by pass from our minds.

Except, for me, the Ashippuns.

Let me explain.

First, there would be Old Ashippun.

Then, barely a few miles later, there would be…Ashippun.

Why on earth are there two Ashippuns, and why are they so close to one another? Was there some vicious family feud? Did someone lose land in a legendary poker game? I bet if you look at your state, province, county, parish, etc., you may just find your own version of the Ashippuns, too. Perhaps their origin stories tell the tales of escaped convicts, smuggled ales, or buried treasure. Or, perhaps their origins are blandly pleasant, full of nothing but nice people nicely settling down to build a nice town just a little ways up from the other nice town.

Or not.

Come on, I just HAD to share a bit of Hot Fuzz in a post like this. And if you haven’t seen Hot Fuzz, do. (Not with little kids, for the record.) It’s a masterpiece.

Are the Wisconsin Ashippuns rooted in seedy beginnings? Sadly, Wikipedia says we can blame the railroad for not coming close enough to the original settlement, founded a few years before Wisconsin achieved statehood. Still…the whole town didn’t move, just a portion. And the portion left behind was left to the past, to decay into posterity among the grassy hills and broken county roads. It reminds me of the small farming town where I grew up, a tiny gathering of homes around a railroad station hardly used, held at the mercy of a river that can irrigate plenty of cattle and corn farms one season or simply flood over all of them the next. No one stops at such a place, not when all the highways bypass it. Who would care about strange goings-on in a nothing sort of town with nothing sort of people?

I wondered about that as a kid. I wondered about that a lot as an adult. I wondered so hard I had to make up my own versions of the Ashippuns and put them in a story.

Old Sanctuary had never bothered with paved roads, let alone road signs. Who needed them in this dirt hole of a so-called town?

It would take a certain kind of soul to visit such the old, forgotten town, let alone live there. That certain kind of soul wouldn’t visit on a whim, either. There’d have to be a purpose, a special purpose, to come to a “so-called town” like this one. I was reminded of the Autumn Carnival in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, its Autumn People eager to harvest desperate souls from small towns along its travels. Stephen King had a similar approach with the nefarious demon LeLand Gaunt selling people the one thing they desired most in Needful Things. Then another book came to mind: Kate Milford’s The Boneshaker.

And I knew what I needed to write.

See, The Boneshaker is a fascinating story. You’ve a young girl named Natalie coming into her own but still fiercely protective of her sick mother as they make ends meet in a small town. Many have their own little problems in a small town, problems that surely can be solved by the miracle cures advertised by the stranger Jake Limberleg and his traveling medicine show. But those cures come at a price. They always do.

We still see people paying that price in the real world, don’t we? Just replace “tonic” with “essential oil.” “Mixture” for “shake.” “Sure thing” for “time freedom.”

You’ve probably seen the ads on your social media, or gotten the messages from a person you went to school with ages ago. Social media has blessed those in every small town with the ability to reach out and connect with anyone anywhere, so they gather up the school year books and find the names online, and ding! The messages pour in. They say they want to catch up…and then invite you to a “business opportunity.”

All too often, people drink the dream. All too often, people drink nothing but poison.

Herbalife. Younique. Avon. LuLaRoe. Amway. Beachbody. Mary Kay. Scentsy. Shaklee. It Works. La Vel. Monat. DoTerra. Young Living. Optavia. Norwex. Color Street. There are dozens more, rising and collapsing every few years. They promise you the world by “social selling.” You can “change the world” by working in “pockets of your time” on your phone selling cosmetics. Insurance. Vitamins. Kids’ books. Weight Loss. Shampoo. Cleaning products. They have oils that can cure Autism and cancer. They have silver cloths that can be used to clean a toilet and your face in one go. They have wax melts to calm animals and plastic wraps to eliminate your fat.

They have everything the evil doctors and big corporations don’t want you to have. Capitalist society is such a crime. You can escape it and come to the real people who care about you and want you to succeed in the true way. You can be a part of the multi-level marketing family…for a start-up fee. For a monthly renewal fee. And be sure to get your inventory updated. Be sure to try the products for yourself. Be sure to sell the life to your family, your friends, your neighbors. And if your loved ones don’t support you? They’re toxic. Cut them out of your life. You don’t need them, you have your new family…

Nicole points to her Suzy Ray! bag with her drink straw and smiles extra-wide. “Suzy Ray! Living is, well, it’s not just body care. It’s really a way of life.” Nicole leans back and closes her eyes as usual, emphasizing her one-ness with the sunlight. “Suzy Ray! can heal your hair or skin, your gut, your muscles, your spine. Their specialized formulas that no other doctor’s been able to match bring vital nutrients to your marrow. They even,” Nicole opens her eyes slowly and looks upon the water pump and those sitting by it, “can bring function back to muscles that haven’t worked before.”

There are many YouTube creators warning people of these multi-level marketing (MLM) scams, and plenty of news outlets continue to show just how many people who cannot afford to lose money are giving hundreds and even thousands to these companies in the hopes of “financial freedom.” The creator Munecat’s deep dive into the company Arbonne is an excellent one, I think, as it shows how this company not only scams people, but grips them tight with cult tactics. Click here if you’d like to see it. I’m still working out how I can talk to my own family members and friends involved with the companies like Norwex and Optavia. They’re spending hundreds to have the right nutrition powders and latest cleaning cloths on the off-chance someone on their Facebook pages will buy them. There are women in my church who swear by Shaklee vitamins to the point they won’t take their own kids to the doctor because “those are just pills. These vitamins are made from plants, from God’s earth.” Heck, I have a friend who keeps changing MLMs, always changing her “business” to whatever sounds good at the time and insisting that “this time” it will work. Right now? Board games. Yes, there’s an MLM for frickin’ board games.

I suppose “The Hungry Mother” is born out of that frustrated confusion, that desire to show my loved ones they are not in any sort of family with those companies. To an MLM, they are nothing but dollar signs.

Nicole looks past the water pump. Beyond the road and wall of tall shrubs is a trailer park full of people, poor and desperate people praying for easy answers. And Nicole’s bag is just full of easy answers, priced to catch and never release. All it takes is one yes to snag the rest, and that yes is due any minute.

When I queried journals about “The Hungry Mother,” I emphasized the current double-pandemic of our country: the grip of COVID, and the grip of MLMs taking advantage of frightened, unemployed people. I’d like to think this is why a Wisconsin e-zine accepted “The Hungry Mother” for its Spring 2021 issue available March 1st.

I hope you’ll check the story out, and please, PLEASE do what you can to encourage loved ones to leave these MLMs. Such “business opportunities” promise nothing but loss: loss of money, loss of friends, loss of family, and loss of one’s own integrity.

~*~

Admittedly, I get weary of the small town life at times. The kids, too. It’s just the same library, the same playground, the same streets day after day. I’m very blessed the three little Bs enjoy taking off into their own imaginations, using whatever space ship, robot, or dragon will carry them into any Elsewhere they can think up.

Thank goodness they enjoy drawing! I wish I could say the same. When Aionios Books asked me to make a map for my first book Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, I cringed the whoooole time. It makes sense in MY head, I wanted to say. Who needs a map?

But after studying Tolkien’s The Art of The Lord of the Rings at our small town library, I better understand why such maps can be so important.

The book is a lovely collection of Tolkien’s brainstorming in art form. From sketches on scraps to detailed drawings with color and scale, the book reflects on just how immersed Tolkien was in Middle Earth. As the magazine Wired‘s review of the book explains:

HOW DID J.R.R. Tolkien create The Lord of the Rings? The simple answer is that he wrote it….The more complicated answer is that in addition to writing the story, he drew it. The many maps and sketches he made while drafting The Lord of the Rings informed his storytelling, allowing him to test narrative ideas and illustrate scenes he needed to capture in words. For Tolkien, the art of writing and the art of drawing were inextricably intertwined.

This is such a vital point, one that I need to remember as I dive into series writing with multiple lands and locations. Though these places only reveal themselves to me as I write them, I must still map their locations and details so they are not simply forgotten like the small towns of the real world. Readers need the guide, and frankly, so do writers. We can’t afford to switch locations around or forget where the mountains are. Even if the mystery of borders is a part of the story, the writer needs to know them. And if you’re a writer like me who doesn’t really know them until the story’s done, then you better map them as you go so that when the time comes to revise, you can walk the same road without losing a step.

I suppose the biggest obstacle I face with drawing is, well, my pride. I am NOT an artist. I am fine with that. But to be required to look at my own drawings, even for reference, just makes me squirm as one may squirm with having to dissect a dead frog. Blech. And Tolkien makes it look so bloody easy!

But The Art of the Lord of the Rings is an important reminder that Tolkien wasn’t aiming for perfection every time. Just look at that drawing of Helm’s Deep. He did that on a student’s examination paper! He didn’t care. It came to mind, and he drew it. How much detail and how “good” it was didn’t matter. He just had to get it down so he wouldn’t forget it when he did have the chance to write.

The world [Tolkien] built extended into his art. His art breathed life into the corners of that world he would never find the time to write about. At the same time, those drawings, maps, and doodles also helped readers immerse themselves in his never-before-seen invented realm, “a world,” Tolkien’s friend C.S. Lewis once noted, “that seems to have been going on before we stumbled into it.”

From Wired

THAT is the lesson to be learned here. What one draws and how one draws it shouldn’t prevent a writer from exploring a story-world, especially when one is building anew. Besides, technology allows writers new options if they don’t wish to draw their own. My fellow indie fantasy authors Wesley Allen and Michael Dellert both have extensive maps for their stories, but they didn’t publish their own sketches. Wes loves using special map-making software, and I confess–it looks pretty sweet! Michael commissioned a designer online to craft a polished map, and it’s a perfect reference to include with any of his stories.

So, it’s time I “Suck it up, Buttercup” and get mapping. After all, Charlotte’s not the only one who must explore the unknown. Two brothers must win a race through worlds to beat the crying sky, and Meredydd and her comrades must find where the Cat Man hides before he poisons the gods of their land.

Time for these teens to leave their small towns behind and discover what they are truly capable of.

~STAY TUNED!~

More interviews on the way, of course! I’ve also got to do a school presentation on names, and considering the importance of naming characters, I thought I’d share some points of discussion with you, too, you lucky devils. 🙂 I’ve also been reveling in some fantastic adventure music which is bound to get your own characters racing to victory, so don’t stray far! We’re too close to Hell to back down now…

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

#Indie #Author #Interview: @Paul_JHBooks shares #favoritereads and #writingtips, plus his new #fantasy #adventure

Hello, everyone! I’m slowly finding my way back to the balance of teaching, parenting, and writing. Let’s start this balancing act right with an interview, shall we? Here’s a fine fellow whose fantasy adventure has recently been published by the small press of the masterful Lady of Wit and Conflict of the Heart, Shehanne Moore. Hello, Paul Andruss!

Jean,

Thank you for having me over. It is a pleasure to be here. I am up for any questions you to care to ask. Fire away.

Let’s start with where the writing life begins for all of us–our reading lives. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life is neither a novel, nor under-appreciated. He has written 17 short stories in 30 years and won an embarrassment of awards.

The Story of Your Life tells of first contact. It was made into the film Arrival.  Here’s the elevator pitch: We learn to think in an aliens’ language and see time is simultaneous not sequential. Past, present and future exist together, making us observers in our own lives, unable to change a thing. In other words, imagine being up on a hill looking down at your child on a road. You see the speeding car. Know what will happen. There is nothing you can do.

A great idea, but how do you turn it into a story?

I’ve seen new authors produce stories that are no more than info dumps. We are force fed blocks of imaginative scenarios rather than left to experience the highs and lows, tension and excitement of a story unfolding. Characters are rough sketches whose actions do not move the story along. Plots are loose, falling apart when closely examined. There is too much clutter. Unnecessary characters and background details overwhelm the narrative. Turgid sentences roll endless on. You find yourself counting pages to the end.

Chiang avoids this by telling the story in the first person, non-sequentially which fits with the new time sense developing in the narrator — a linguist learning the alien language. Seeing the story unfold through her eyes we are pulled into her world.

She opens by telling her daughter how she identified her body after she died, aged of twenty-five in an accident. Two stories run parallel. One is how she learned to think in the language. The other reminisces about her child’s life. At the end we discover she is reviewing her daughter’s whole life on the night of conception — echoing the story’s parallel time theme; the linguistic past and the maternal future.

Chiang gives hints of a bigger story behind the one told. She and her husband are divorced. Perhaps when she told her husband of their daughter’s future death he could not accept his failure to protect his child, nor the guilt that came with it? Perhaps he blamed her for having their daughter, already knowing her fate. Even though every life is pre-destined.

Through his storytelling choices, Chiang turns cold hard science into something exciting, tender and ultimately, uniquely human. A story that stays in your mind long after you finish reading, as you explore the implications.

I’ll have to check Chiang out! I’ve been reading a lot of mysteries lately to get into the feel of finding the best point of view for a story. I’m also tempted to dig into some historical fiction to help me find the voice for another WIP. What kinds of research do you do for your own storytelling, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

I normally I don’t do a lot of research beforehand. I just jump in. I do lots while writing though. I fact check endlessly. If a reader spots even a niggling gaffe, it can destroy the illusion.

I recently wrote Ollywoodland, a faux-noir murder mystery set in 1949, the twilight of Hollywood. Not so much a who-dun-it, more a who-the-hell-wouldn’t-want-to.

Every single thing was checked: the history of the Hollywood sign, studios, highways, Las Vegas, the impact of WW2 on Hollywood, armed forces demobilisation, where academy awards were held, what newspapers were popular, local radio stations. Every libellous rumour had to be a quote in public domain. It was hard work, but a huge amount of fun.

Things are different with the new novella Porcelain, set in the UK’s glam rock era. Because of work commitments, I was unable to get on with the story and so ended up researching and writing copious notes. I now have 50 pages of material and almost the entire story in my head. It’s frightening and exhilarating because I have never started this way before.

I know just what you mean about all those notes. When I was working my own fantasy novel, I needed to get a feel of the current animal life of Wisconsin as well as some ancient history from which my shapeshifters could grow. I even wrote up notes on various names to work with, working out origins of names for various groups, even plant names for a certain class of creature. I suppose this is something you wouldn’t want to intimidate your younger writing self with. If you could tell that Young Paul Andruss anything, what would it be?

Nothing. Not because I’m a genius, believe me. I just wouldn’t listen. How do I know? Because I went back in time AND I DIDN’T LISTEN!

Okay, if you want to be pedantic, I didn’t exactly go back in time, but I might as well have. Others told me much the same and I ignored them. What is more, I’m glad I did. If I knew what was in store in terms of the hard graft and knockbacks ahead, I never would have written a word.

I came late to writing. Out of the blue, I thought, write a short story — how hard can it be? The story was what you’d expect. Naturally, I thought it the best story in the whole world and modestly basked in my genius. Are you beginning to see why I would not want to hear anything as inconvenient as the truth?

Drunk on overconfidence, I started a second story. A short Sci-Fi romp inspired by a history book that said the Celts went naked into battle. What if they were biker gangs?

Six years, and 180,000 words later, I had the 2nd draft of Finn Mac Cool. (Let’s not talk about 1st draft, shall we?) To be fair the 2nd draft wasn’t bad, just not good. I spent the next 2 years sending it out, while attempting to write a play (abandoned) and another novel (never to see the light of day). It was rejected by 30 publishers and agents. I then spent another six years rewriting Finn Mac Cool.

When I sat down to write that short story, if someone told me it would take the next 14 years of my life, I wouldn’t have bothered. It is lucky that when we first leap out of the nest and spread our wings, we are too exhilarated to give much thought to the way down.

Noooo kidding. I loved making that first draft of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen, but if you would have told me it’d take eight years to actually publish, I’d have worked out some other projects before dedicating that much time to a single story. What would you say are some other common writer’s life traps for aspiring writers?

I can’t speak for others, but for me writing is like peeling an onion.

Because it makes you weep?

Good one. And yes it does. I was thinking more that when you peel one layer you find another underneath. As we see from Ted Chiang, each layer: plot, characters, story twists, even the language we use, contributes to a good story.

There is no trick to writing. It is a result of time, effort and a lot of difficult choices. Because the writing process is long, and solitary, we cannot be blamed for seeking instant reward.

If I did go back to young me, I would say, Don’t be in too much hurry. Remember the old cliché: there is no second chance to make a first impression.

Instead of rushing out your latest piece, put it away for a couple of weeks. When you come back, you’ll see it with fresh eyes. In the old days I thought, “That will do.” These days, I want to write something that will stand the test of time. I know a story is finished when I read it for the fifth or sixth time and do not want to change a word. Like that proverbial onion, the story has developed layer by layer.

Never forget we become authors when read by others. Like literary hookers we ask readers to spend time and money on us. Yet, as readers, how do we feel when a writer doesn’t deliver? New writers often think they are special cases, especially after busting a gut to write a story. But readers don’t see you. They only see what’s on the page. Family and friends might lavish praise, but such praise can be poison. If you think you are as good as they say, where is the impetus to improve?

And yet we struggle on, don’t we? No matter what readers say, we must write our truest, or strongest, our brightest, our darkest, our best…est. We keep on keeping on no matter how difficult the subject matter. What would you say was your hardest scene to write?

A while ago, I’d had enough of people spouting doggerel blank verse. I’m no poet but do appreciate good poetry. When poetry is good, you have no choice but to appreciate it. Firmly on my high horse I wrote According to the Muse – A dialogue. Naturally enough, it started with ‘poem’

There are people who,

Aspiring to be considered poets,

Devise mundane sentences

Usual to any written piece

And arranging them in verse

Claim it is a poem

According to the muse

It’s not

Swiftly followed by a quote from the poet Marianne Moore … ‘Poetry is a matter of skill and honesty in any form whatsoever, while anything written poorly, although in perfect form, cannot be poetry.

The Muse discusses poetry and illustrates points with some of the greats, from Emily Bronte to Alan Ginsberg’s Howl. The argument goes that poetry should intoxicate the senses, leaving us drunk on loquaciousness. As the Muse’s mouthpiece, I needed to conclude with something really special.

I decided the Muse’s closing monologue should be loosely based on Molly Bloom’s 50,000-word stream-of-consciousness soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses. Molly’s gorgeous monologue is divided into 8 sentences without punctuation. It allows each clause to be constructed differently depending on which word you start. It is also a bugger to read.

The Muse’s monologue took me four weeks to write.

She requires it to be read aloud.

Under gods, man thought me tamed. Then man forgot the gods. But poetry remained. A poet seeking to invoke no longer knows how. He thinks to flatter and seduce and if he succeeds in blind fumbling excuse, believes I allow because he understands a woman’s needs. As if setting a rose in my hair like I were an Andalusian girl kissed breathless against a Moorish wall under a hot Alhambra moon was enough to make me acquiesce to his urgings for my yes, putting hands on me and kissing my neck while I thinking as well him as another draw him down to the perfume of my breasts with his heart drumming like mad in the expectation of my yes. The bloom and the breast is not his to possess or caress until my liberal yes, for this is woman talking and I am sick of love. Yes. I am no more his than a snatch of song heard on the jessamine breeze or a flower of the mountain born to die. So let me be. Yes. Set me free from the inky bars of this prison page to roll off a tongue careless as a lover’s air whistled on Palma Violet scented breath, let loose in an empire of senses where guileless yes is yes. A paradise garden of delight. A sensual world pregnant with life.

Beautifully put, Paul. Thank you so much for taking time to chat with me and all my fellow creative souls! Folks, you can check out Paul’s latest right here.

Paul Andruss’ first novel, the young adult fantasy Jack Hughes & Thomas the Rhymer is published by Black Wolf Books.

When 12-year-old Jack Hughes sees a sinister fairy queen kidnap his bother Dan, he knows his parents will never believe him. Nor will the police. Not when he says Dan vanished into thin air. If Jack wants to see Dan again, he has to save him. And not just him …

If he ever wants to find Dan, first he must save Thomas the Rhymer from a wicked enemy.

Bravely embarking on a rollercoaster adventure into the dark fairy realm, Jack and friends face monstrous griffins and brooding tapestries with a life of their own, learn to use magic mirrors and travel on ley lines that whip them off faster than sound.

Jack knows even if he returns Thomas the Rhymer to his selfish fairy queen, she might make Jack her prisoner. With the odds stacked against him, can Jack succeed in finding and freeing Dan? Or will he lose his brother forever?

If you enjoyed reading this, or even if you didn’t, Paul asks you to kindly send him all your money. If you are not quite gullible enough to fall for that one, then visiting his website will please him almost as much. http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/

Explore the book’s story http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/story-of-the-book.php

Download posters http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/art-gallery.php

Read pre-release reviews http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/thomas-the-rhymer.php

Or listen to music written for the book by classical composer Patrick Hartnett http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/music.php

Yes, Patrick loved the book that much.

And who knows?

So might you.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

I’m excited to get back on track with my writing goals! We’ll take a look at them to make sure I’m not burying myself too deep (as I am oft prone to do). This will include sharing my work on writing book proposals to see if this approach could also help you meet your own writing goals. There’s another swinging interview coming your way, plus I’ve also got some keen ideas on selecting point of view for writing thanks to my summer book binge as well as mellow music for calming the soul.

Oh, and hopefully I can get Blondie off her summer sliding duff to get creating for you, too. 🙂

Ah, it’s good to be back. xxxx

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

#FREE #historicalfantasy #shortread to #celebrate #WyrdandWonder! Nothing says #weekendreading like fun #fantasy to escape #lifeathome.

“Why do spirits need electricity?”

Bash sat in my lap as we watched Spirited Away earlier this week.

The story’s so like a fairy tale, yet all its own. A girl’s parents are lured into what appears to be a forgotten town to eat mysterious food, and turn into pigs as a result. Chihiro finds work in the bathhouse at the edge of town, a place run by a witch and filled with spirits, in order to remain near her parents and save them from the butcher’s block. Chihiro must learn true selflessness and love in order to save not just her parents but some of the spirits enslaved by the witch.

I love the organic growth of this story, the uniqueness of its characters, and the boundless possibility blossoming on the fringes of the worldbuilding. This was my favorite film to watch during night feedings with Baby Blondie. This time, I sat with another child on my lap to watch Chihiro’s adventure.

But unlike Baby Blondie, Bash did not merely snuggle and nap. Instead, he asked questions. Lots, and lots, of questions.

“Why do they have fans? Where does the train go? Why are some people people-shaped and some like ducks and some all blobby? Why do spirits need to eat?”

I, erm, tuned him out after a while. But I couldn’t blame Bash for having questions. We often associate magic with shapeshifting dragons, but not trains. We expect ghosts to haunt a place, but not run restaurants or ride trains. And why would spirits be sending mail to one another?

Fantasy stories take many, many shapes, be they within our present, past, or another time altogether. It’s just one more reason to be excited for Wyrd and Wonder, a month to celebrate all things fantastic no matter where they take place…

…and, well, to share my own historical fantasy, which just so happens to be FREE right now, and its mysterious train, The Weeper.

The old barrel boarder coughs himself up again. Someone ought to rip his heart out just to end that poor human’s misery. “Weepers ain’t no tale, b’hoys. I done beat the road on one. Wipe yer chins, I ain’t fibbin’!”

The remaining foremen, strumpets, and golden boys aren’t quieting down at all, so the old barrel boarder looks to Sumac. “Caught it up by Black River Falls durin’ a thunderstorm so loud you’da thought Paul Bunyan’d lost his Babe, just stompin’ and a’thunderin’, blowin’ trees down to find his partner. But,” and here the old man leans over the back of his bench, all mysterious like, soot mapping the creases of his face, “once the train done left the storm, I still heard the cryin’. The cryin’ come from inside the cars. T’ain’t natural, t’ain’t natural at all. A guard atop the car spotted me hidin’ by a couplin’ and took aim with his rifle, but I done jump before he could shoot.” He shudders. “Tarnation, ain’t never touchin’ no Weeper again.” And he spits into the fire for good measure. “Weeper creeper. Creep nuthin’. That’s the devil’s train, it is, wailin’ its way through a town like it’s late to Hell.”

There’s no mention of trains in Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is understandable. Jones is parodying all the old-school, medieval-style epic fantasies, which never seem to advance technologically beyond 1700. (Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on that.) Her entry on transportation highlights the classic mainstays like carts and boats.

TRANSPORT. Because of MAGIC and bad ROADS, Transport is very primitive. Here, though, are some general notes:

  1. By land, if you do not ride a HORSE, you must go by cart or wagon. Both of these have wooden wheels and no springs. Carriages are known, but very rare, even in TOWNS. They have slightly more springing but are distressingly likely either to break down or to be waylaid by BANDITS. Tourists who ride in a carriage complain how chilly they are despite sheepskin coverings inside. Ladies and Evil WIZARDS prefer to travel instead by litter. This is a kind of curtained bed that can be slung between Horses, but most often is carried by a team of strong servitors or SLAVES. Litters are most frequently encountered in CITIES.
  2. By WATER, whether sea or RIVER, you must go by small wooden BOAT, FERRY, RIVERBOAT, or SHIP. Whichever of these craft you find yourself on, be assured that one of the following will occur:
    1. It will sink, possibly because of attack by a SEA MONSTER; Sea Monsters are attracted by Tourists as mice are by cheese, although it is a lot easier to understand how the mice know the cheese is there than how the Sea Monsters know the Tourists are there. Perhaps Tourists possess an identifying SMELL to which Sea Monsters are unusually sensitive. Even if there is no Sea Monster in the region, the Ship is likely destined for the bottom: why captains take Tourists on board at all is a mystery, in this context, unless they are confident of cleaning up on the insurance.
    1. You will be attacked by PIRATES, who will hack to death or hang all the crewmen who have no NAME and possibly the grizzled but kindly Captain as well, so that you can pause for a restorative tear or two before trying to reconcile yourself to the fact that you are now a SLAVE, bound to be either a GLADIATOR or a GALLEY Slave.
    1. You will be betrayed to the forces of the DARK LORD as soon as you have been either delivered to your destination or thrown off the vessel in disgust by the crew.
    1. The Ship proves to be able to fly through the air rather than merely chug through the water. This will of course obviate your inborn tendency, as a Tourist, to seasickness; instead you will discover airsickness.
From Neil Gaiman’s Stardust

But let us save talk of roads and rivers and impassable mountains for another day.

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

#Lifeathome with #children during #SelfQuarantine: balancing #screentime and #handsonactivities

“Do you need anything else?” Biff’s teacher gestures to the table behind her. Bins of crayons, markers, chalk, and scrap paper abound.

I clutch the two black totes she gave me like they were my own kids, who are…well, damn, one’s screaming. In comes Bash from the playground. “I broke my kneeeeeeee!” Blondie follows him, waving her arms and sound way too much like me for her own good. “Calm down, you just skinned it!”

I blow a lock of hair out of my eyes, take one box of chalk from Biff, and tell him to empty his arms of markers back into the bin. “I just gotta plan with the mindset that this is how it’s going to be until June,” I say to the teacher.

She laughs. “Oh, it won’t be that bad!”

Won’t be that bad, MY ASS.

Ahem. Anyway.

Today I went through the boys’ packets–mainly math sheets and some reading activities. A few writing prompts with notebooks to write in. A yoga pamphlet. Some ideas for physical activities. A links to a dozen or so websites/databases for the kids to read and play games on. Aaaaaaand that’s about it.

Uffdah.

See, here’s the big challenge with this homeschooling thing for parents like me: we’re told to be careful with how much screen time kids get, but now with this self-quarantine and online schooling, it seems that kids need to be online a LOT. Plus this is working on the assumption that there’s enough screens to go around. I sure don’t have that amount of tech in my house, and I’m assuming other folks are in the same situation. I’m also going to assume that other folks don’t want to dump their kids in front of screens for hours at a time.

Balance. We have got to find the balance, people. But how?

To me, the key is switching up between screen time and hands-on time as we work through our day.

As you can see, I’ve got note cards for every part of the day, including a few Biff and Bash additions like “Social Skills” and “Free Choice.” I was surprised to see how excited they were by a board to organize our school day schedule, as well as work binders I made for them featuring dragons, Wall-E, and the Enterprise. My goal for the binders is to hold their work in reading, writing, math, Bible study, geography, and science. Other projects like art and music (Bash insists we have music–fine by me!) will go…elsewhere? We’ll see. 🙂

The key, as far as I see, is having a few online resources as well as a few hands-on activities for all the major subjects. To stave off the cabin fever–

–we can also take a daily virtual field trip. It won’t be quite like Miss Frizzle’s Magic School Bus, but it’s a start!

Bible Study

Faith if very important to my family, so I want to make sure we take time every day studying a few Bible stories and remembering how there is no darkness that can douse God’s love for us. This is an excellent edition to use with kids, as it’s got oodles of illustrations and some questions for discussion to get kiddos talking.

Since I was raised on flannelgraphs and puppets, I didn’t really think there was much need for online Bible Study stuff; when in doubt, go with Veggie Tales, I guess?

Reading

Thank heaven the kids like getting books as presents! We’ve oodles of books all around the house; the key is to get the kids reading things they’ve not tried before. For Biff and Bash, this includes series like The Magic Tree House or Stick Cat. Blondie has some required reading to do for school, but I’ve also gotten her to try new things from the library before it shut down, such as The Menagerie.

When it comes to reading aloud, I know I mentioned Diana Wynne Jones (Eight Days of Luke feels veeeery promising with this lot), but I may start with something a tad shorter that’s still fun–Bunnicula, perhaps, or Basil of Baker Street. I might let them vote to see which they’ll pick!

Writing

Storytelling is NOT an issue with any of the three Bs. Penmanship, however, is another matter. It’s vital I get all three kids to work on their handwriting every day. Copying seems like easiest strategy, but what to make them copy?

Books like 5,000 Awesome Facts or Weird but True are PACKED with a wide variety of information that’s bound to strike any kid’s fancy. The key is to look at pages with tinier print, as those’ll be the pages impatient little eyes may skip. Our book, for instance has 75 facts about cats listed in 11-point font on two pages. I know I can pull some facts from that Blondie and the others likely glossed over.

When it comes to writing stories…well, I think I can let them cover that. 🙂 I may even spur Blondie into signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo for Young Writers this April. Hmmm, maybe I could join her…

Art

Oh boy. Gotta be honest–art’s never really been my thing. I’d be cool if they just played with Legos every day at this time using this BINGO sheet of challenges.

That’s not fair, though, not when Bash loves to draw pictures and Blondie loves to draw comics. It’s Biff that needs a little push.

“Can we get paint?” he asks. Hmmm. Well, I suppose we could try a few basic painting projects from the craft store. We could also use paper here at home to try making animals with this Origami site. Plus websites like We Are Teachers are full of creative activities that can help art cross into multiple subjects. I know I’ll be digging into this more over the weekend!

Math

This one doesn’t worry me too much, even though I loathe math. Biff and Bash’s teachers sent home lots of worksheets for the boys, and Blondie’s got her own math textbook to use over the coming weeks. When it comes to age-appropriate math games, ABCya has oodles of math as well as reading games for the kiddos to choose from. Blondie always loves a chance to play Prodigy, too! It’s a pretty neat role-playing game that challenges kids with math problems as they venture off on magical quests. Sure, they want you to buy in, but the free version’s great, too!

I shouldn’t forget friend Anne Clare‘s recommendation of games, too. Many card and board games utilize mathematical thinking, and they force kiddos to work on some social skills, too, which is ALWAYS a plus with my hoodlums. If you have any favorite games, be sure to share them in the comments below!

Geography

The boys have always loved studying atlases, so for Christmas I gave them 50 Cities of the U.S.A. It shares all sorts of neato trivia about major cities across the country. I hope to give the kids turns in picking cities for us to talk about. I may even put Blondie to work on her computer and have her make slideshows sharing even more information about the cities. (Heck, I may have her do that for ALL the subjects. Co-Teacher Blondie to the rescue!) National Geographic also has an amazing database of educational resources I’m sure to dig into as well so we can learn more about the habitats we experience on our virtual field trips.

SCIENCE?!

I DIDN’T HAVE SCIENCE ON MY PREVIOUS SCHEDULE!!! Well, bullocks. At least I managed to get it on the card schedule. 🙂 Thank goodness We Are Teachers comes to my aid again with podcasts the kids can listen to (no screen required!). Milwaukee with Kids has a great article on science experiments one can do at home with items you actually have in your house as opposed to, you know, oodles of plaster or skin-melting chemicals. Some of you have recommended utilizing the outdoors, and I agree! Gardening can be a lovely way to learn some important science lessons, as can activities like riding a bike, playing ball, or blowing bubbles. The birds and other critters are returning to our neighborhood, too, so hopefully we can do some sketches and discussions on Wisconsin flora and fauna. When all else fails, there’s always Bill Nye the Science Guy or Weird but True‘s website of shorty shorts!

Virtual Field Trips

Okay, so, I sort of went down the Rabbit Hole with this one. Initially I wanted to do all the virtual tours I found in these articles–

Stuck at Home? These 12 Famous Museums Offer Virtual Tours You Can Take on Your Couch

–but then I realized that the self-exploring in this 360 degree style wasn’t a great fit for Biff and Bash. Blondie might like it, sure, and if you have older kids I bet they’d love exploring the Louvre or Smithsonian this way. But with our house of limited screens and quick-tempered kids, I don’t want to risk losing a computer I need for teaching to their arguments over who gets to push buttons.

So.

Time to find a more video-style field trip.

The Smithsonian has a YouTube channel–that’s a start!

There are awesome videos put together by The Nature Conservancy, too. I know I’ll be using some of these to send my kids off exploring new habitats across the globe!

We can’t forget outer space, of course, not with my boys. Why not take the kiddos to Mars with Access Mars? Or swing by Discovery Education to check out their virtual field trips on engineering?

WHEW! I think we’ve covered a lot today! Now I must be off to prep tonight’s online class for the university. Stay healthy and safe wherever you are, and take heart–we’re all in this together. xxxxxxx

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

#AuthorInterview: #indie #writer @ColinGarrow discusses #bookreviews, #SherlockHolmes, #writing #MG and #mysteries, and the importance of following through on the #writingprocess

Hello hello, everyone! Once again, it’s been…oh, it’s been a week at the good ol’ American public schools. Between tweens yelling at me that they don’t have to do their homework because I’m not their mom, to kiddos my sons’ age hitting each other because the other “was going to do something bad”….well, it’s no wonder I have some of the university students I do. Eeesh.

So, let’s focus on something lovely and positive, shall we? Let’s celebrate one another with a delightful indie author interview. Colin Garrow is a FABULOUS writer of mystery and spine-tingling adventures for adults and children alike. His latest for tweens, The Curse of Calico Jack, and his latest for adults, A Tall Cool Glass of Murder, are available now on Amazon and Smashwords. Check’em out! (After the interview, of course.)

Let’s begin with the niceties. Tell us a little about yourself, please!

You might think from some of my previous jobs (taxi driver, antiques dealer, drama facilitator, Santa Claus impersonator, fish processor, etc) that I’m a bit of a Jack of all trades, but let’s just say I like variety. When I left school, I had a vague idea of becoming either a rock star or a novelist. At the time, I was too timid to strut my stuff on a stage, and instead spent many hours churning out short stories and poems. In those days (late seventies), there were hundreds of what were called ‘little press’ magazines on the go, all looking for talented writers.

So, sending my scribblings out to such literary tomes as Stand Magazine, Envoi and Staple, I managed to collect a huge pile of rejection slips, and though I did eventually get a few poems and a short story published, it was studying for a BA in Drama that really made the difference to the quality of my writing. After that, I spent a few years writing plays, some of which were eventually performed by my theatre company in Aberdeen, but I didn’t start trying to write novels seriously until 2013, after a failed relationship left me living alone in a damp, mould-infested hovel, with little money and a lot of spare time. That summer I decided to try and finish a book I’d started a few years earlier. It was called The Devil’s Porridge Gang and was set in a fictionalised version of the town where I grew up.

I suppose I started writing for children because I didn’t think I had the talent to write for adults, so my Terry Bell and Watson Letters books didn’t get under way until a few years later. Now, having recently published my 20th book, I’m feeling a lot more confident about my creative abilities.

TWENTY BOOKS, my goodness! I tip my hat to you, Friend, and admire your years of experience in this publishing jungle. As a book reviewer and writer, what do you see as the most unethical practice in the publishing industry?

Aside from Kirkus reviews which, at several hundred dollars a pop, should never be considered by any sane person, I think the practice of paying a reviewer for his or her opinion is dodgy, to say the least. Even if you believe the individual is completely unbiased, you’re never going to know for sure. Readers too, are aware of this practice and if a book has too many five-star reviews on Amazon, it can give the impression someone is taking backhanders, even when that’s not the case. I’ve also seen books with six or seven reviews that sound so similar they could have been written by the same person.

Indie authors often give away free books in the hope of prompting readers to buy some of our other wares, or at least to leave a review. While I don’t have a problem with this, it’s not the same as someone actually handing over hard-earned cash in exchange for a book. My own reviewing practice is to buy a copy of any book I intend to review, which puts money in the author’s pocket, and eans they also get a ‘verified’ review on Amazon. Even so, I do sometimes accept a free copy in return for an honest review, though this is mostly due to my being on Amazon’s Vine programme.

You review SOOOO many books that I’m always humbled whenever you read one of my stories. Plus, you clearly use your growth as a reader to build your own unique stories. What would you consider to be the most difficult part of your artistic process?

It might sound odd, but the hardest part is coming up with a title and a cover for the book. With these in place I then have the motivation to write the book and discover what it’s about. As an example, the cover for the second Terry Bell mystery, A Long Cool Glass of Murder had to fit with the design of the first book, so it took me a while to come up with something that made sense. It also gave me a title that suggested poison, which was a good starting point.

On the other hand, I’m currently working on a horror novel for adults (as opposed to children), which doesn’t have a title or a cover. I do have a working title of Witch Moon (which may end up as the actual title), and a vague idea of what the cover will be, so there’s enough to get started with but I’ll need to finalise both before progressing much further with the plot.

One of the reasons I jive so well with you is because you’re a HUGE Sherlock Holmes fan, just like me! Tell us about The Watson Letters.

I’ve loved Sherlock Holmes for years but not being a particular devotee of ‘fan fiction’ had never thought of writing about him. Several years ago, a friend and I started emailing each other under the guise of a variety of fictional characters, usually centred around toilet humour and fart gags. Our favourite roles were Holmes and Watson, so when I started a website in praise of Arthur Conan Doyle and the associated books and movies etc, I included a spoof blog called The Watson Letters inspired by our musings. Some years later, my friend having taken to producing fewer and fewer emails in response to my attempts to create actual stories, I often found myself writing both parts of whatever adventure we were ensconced in, and when she eventually gave up altogether, it occurred to me I might take selected episodes of the blog and knock them into some sort of book.

The first book, The Watson Letters vol 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes was a bit of a hotchpotch and I didn’t really expect it to catch on, particularly as it jumped around a lot and didn’t exactly have a ‘through line’ in terms of the plot. It’s also very short, at around 23,000 words. But considering a second book, I opted to write three complete adventures and continued with that idea for books three and four. The current book, Murder on Mystery Island is different, in that it’s one complete adventure, and the next book, The Haunting of Roderick Usher will probably be the
same.

By this time, I’d scrapped the original website and started a new Watson Letters Blog, so what hasn’t changed, is that I still write each story on the Blog first, before putting it into book form. I’m aware that this practice limits me to what I’ve already written, but it’s good to have a challenge.

Another challenge in writing new stories with established characters comes in the
expectations of the reader. (Pretty sure Disney’s feeling this challenge with their
attempts at creating Star Wars sequels, but I digress
.) How do you create an original story while also delivering the kind of story readers want in a Sherlock Holmes adventure?

Hmm. This is an interesting one, as obviously there are tons of books written about
Holmes, Watson and several of the other characters created by Conan Doyle. I think
if you’re going to be true to the characters and attempt stories that reflect ACD’s
style and character traits etc, then that’s great, but since the original books are perfect as they are, I wanted to do something different. Taking a bunch of well- known characters, moving them off into a parallel universe, having them swear and do battle with villains like Hannibal Lecter and Bill Sikes, I hoped readers would go along with it, recognising I’m not trying to copy the original, but to create something different, though with a generous nod to the originals. Of course, one or two readers have complained that Holmes doesn’t use the F word, and Watson would never urinate on a pair of ne’er-do-wells, but when you’re in a parallel universe, anything can happen!

Ha, eeeeexactly! One of the fun things about writing fiction is that you don’t HAVE to follow “how things work.” I recall Colin Dexter saying as much about his Inspector Morse mystery series. Still, writing historical fiction is going to require some sort of research. What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

In general terms, I don’t do a lot of research for my books, as I believe it’s a writer’s
job to make stuff up. However, there are some things you just can’t make up and need information or detail to give the writing an authentic feel. Usually, I leave it until the point in the story when I need specific information before I’ll start looking for it. In the case of my middle grade series The Christie McKinnon Adventures, the first book begins in Edinburgh in 1897, so I used an old map of the city to work out Christie’s routes between one place and another. I did the same thing with The Maps of Time series which is set in 1630s London. In that instance I also wanted to use the old street names, like Cheap Syde and Fanchurch Streete.

For the Watson Letters books, which often use dates on letters and telegrams etc, there came a point when I confused myself and had to resort to using an online calendar to work out when things happened. This was particularly noticeable with The Curse of the Baskervilles adventure. The book starts in 1891, but the first story actually goes back to 1884, with the adventure following it beginning in 1889. For other books, there have been times when I’ve needed to know about air rifles, handguns, specific types of period clothing and how to use skeleton keys. Anything that requires lots of research is probably something I’ll avoid writing about.

That’s a great piece of advice. Would you like to close out on any other important writing tips for aspiring writers?

I think the advent of eBooks and the ease with which virtually anyone can become a published author, has also created its own set of problems. It’s not so much of an issue now, but a few years ago there were an awful lot of people churning out books that were nothing short of abysmal—packed with clichés, typos, poor sentence structure and a lot of really bad writing. I’ve had a few people approach me for advice on their own work and overall, they thank me profusely for pointing out their mistakes, realising no-one can produce a perfect novel all by themselves. Of course, there are those who think their immense talent should be obvious and the only motivation for asking my opinion is so I can tell them how wonderful they are. I know it’s hard for newbies to get started and forge relationships with other writers, editors, beta-readers etc, but I do think it’s essential, especially for indie authors, as we all need to know how other people see our work. As well as having two editors, I have several writer pals who proofread my books, while I do the same for them, so even if you can’t afford a professional editor, there are always people who can help out. It’s the same with book covers too—unless you happen to be Stephen King, a rubbishy cover will never sell your books. I have a reasonable ability with Photoshop, so I create my own covers (though I’m aware some of the early ones need updating). If you’re not gifted in that area, there are plenty of generic cover creators who can adapt a cover with your name/title etc for a reasonable price, so your book at least looks professional.

As Smashwords boss Mark Coker says, ‘…it’s the readers…who decide what’s worth buying. Bad books will sink.’

So, essentially, you need to write a good book, get it proofed, edited and pop on a good quality cover that tells us what the book is about, and off you go.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and insights, Colin! Folks, you can find Colin all over the place–go, visit, see, read!

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

Seeing the students I do, I think I’m ready to write about villainy. Dark, impulsive, whiny villainy.

But if my soul’s been sucked too dry by the American education system, then count on Blondie to come to my rescue with her awesome stories–and book reviews, too!

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

A #HappyHalloween in #Wisconsin! Let’s move from #October’s Hollow #Haunts to #November’s #NaNoWriMo #writers and #kidlit #legendsinthemaking.

Welcome to All Hallow’s Eve, my friends! ‘Tis a day for scary stories and magical pumpkin patches, eerie streets and spooooooky music.

It’s the perfect sort of day to explore a place hollow and forgotten, one where ghosts maybe, just maybe, linger in our world. That place is The Alexian Brothers Novitiate.

I learned of this peculiar estate while reading Wisconsin’s Most Haunted Volume II. What started as a loving father’s home for his wife and disabled daughter turned into a home of sadness: both the father and daughter died before the home was completed in the 1930s. The widow donated the home to the Alexian Brothers in the late 1940s, since her late husband had befriended them in Chicago years before. Novices and monks lived there for only a few decades when, without warning, the Menominee Warrior Society took the Brothers hostage and demanded the estate be turned over to the Menominee tribe. It took two months, but the Brothers and Tribe finally reached an agreement for the tribe to purchase the land from them. A few months later, a fire ran through the estate, and the tribe could not finance rebuilding any of the structures. The Menominee returned the estate to the Brothers, but they no longer had use for it either, so….here it sits.

I had hoped Bo and I could road-trip it up to the small town of Gresham, the closest community to the Novitiate, and see if we could take a look around. But finding time and an all-day sitter were impossible during Bo’s hellish work schedule this past summer, so we managed a visit to the House on the Rock instead. (Considering I didn’t know if we’d have even access to the grounds, I think we came out ahead. x)

Ghost hunters still visit the site sometimes, but I’m not sure what they’ll find. The history of the Novitiate isn’t bloody, like these creepy locations in the Dairy State. It’s tragic, not bloody.

But one doesn’t need a bloody past to imagine a magical future, one perhaps where shapeshifters make their home, where teens foolish to run where angels fear to tread discover a race mankind has all but forgotten…

Oh yes, you bet your boots I’m bainstorming a story about this place! And this isn’t even the novella I’m working on for NaNoWriMo.

Do I think I can write 50,000 words in 30 days? Heeeeeeell no, I’m not delusional. But I DO need to step up and start writing every day. My family needs me to be a working mom, so my hours for writing are now in tatters. That’s not going to change any time soon.

I need those tatters to make something for the sake of my own sanity.

If I can just do 500 words a day, I’d be ECSTATIC. So that’s what I’m going to do, and you’re going to have to watch!

Yup, I’m going to make myself post my draft here on WordPress. That means it’ll be rough’n’raw, probably not coherent. But it’ll be me writing, dammit, and that’s what counts. I’ll be happy to read your comments, or just know you’re reading. That, to me, is more of a “winner” badge than anything NaNoWriMo can give me. 🙂

I’m not the only one burning the creative oil around here, either. Biff, Bash, and Blondie are all digging their own unique storytelling grooves here, from nonfiction to comics and back again. I had them talk about their stories with you…so I could share their Halloween costumes, too. They’re all homemade this year, which I just LOVE!

My three Bs had a blast roaming my mother’s neighborhood for Tricks or Treats. Some towns are content with a few ghosts or pumpkins out in the yards, but not my mom’s neighborhood. Not by a LONG shot.

Some houses filled their front yard with beach balls and balloons for kids to play in. Homeowners handed out candy and popcorn to kids while parents got adult “treats” like chili and beer. One owner we talked to had been working on his decorations since July.

A few houses freaked the kiddos out, and I couldn’t blame them. One man was dressed in a bloody doctor’s outfit running around his yard with a chainsaw–not a fake one, a REAL one, revved and ready. Dude, simmer down! Others showed just as much love for the day without, you know, potential loss of limb.

These are all painted wood cutouts. Aren’t they amazing?

We had a magical evening together, banding about in the misty rain while the Monster Mash echoed up and down the streets. Eventually Robot Biff was ready to go back–“Beep boop, too many people!”–and helped his grandma hand out candy while Bash, Blondie, and I continued on until twilight’s end. From my little wonders to yours…

…may you have a safe and happy Halloween, and a most fantastical National Novel Writing Month!

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

#AuthorInterview: #indie #writer @julidrevezzo discusses #historicalromance, #steampunk, and other #magic delights in #writing #standalones and #novelseries

Good morning, fellow creatives! While I frantically put together my analysis of Aunt Maria for Witch Week, please welcome the magical Juli D. Revezzo, author of over a dozen novels of magic and love. Tell us a bit about yourself, please!

Hello, I’m Juli D. Revezzo. I write fantasy, fantasy romance, and historical romance. I’ve written The Antique Magic series, including its latest release, The Dragon’s Seamstress, the Celtic Stewards Chronicles, and several historical romances.

Your historical romances, like House of Dark Envy and Courting the Stationmaster’s Daughter, are set in the 18th and 19th centuries. What draws you to the Victorian and Gothic periods? What kind of research do you do to help you prepare for storytelling in the past?

Well, House of Dark Envy and Courting the Stationmaster’s Daughter are both set in the 19th century. My Gothic paranormal romance Lady of the Tarot is set in the 18th century and Fifty Measly Bucks, the 17th. I’ve also written in the Medieval periods–and one in World War II. 🙂 What draws me to the Victorian era, though, is… well, actually, I have a degree in Literature and from my early 20s have been reading Victorian lit through the lit of the mid-to-late 20th century ever since. And most of my biggest influences (sans Moorcock) are the writers of that era. I find the 19th century sense of wonder and drive for exploration particularly inspiring, they let their imaginations run wild (whoever thought we might travel faster than a horse?? Our 19th century ancestors, of course!), and that was for the most part, the birth of the fantasy genre, as well as the birth of women’s rights. So it’s a ready made hotbed of conflict.

Your time-travel novella Fifty Measly Bucks features protagonist Denver being caught up in the Salem Witch Trials. What would you consider to be the ethics of writing about historical figures?

There are none in my novels. Well, no. Not often, I should say. I’ll mention them, but I have a particular aversion to putting words in a real figure’s mouth. I don’t know why; I just always have. So, I write around them. I change names and invent characters to stand in for them. There might be gossip a figure overhears about such and such a real life character, but I always try to corroborate the gossip. If I can’t I don’t use it. The only time I ever have was in House of Dark Envy. My hero corresponds with Tesla (yes, the Tesla) and I struggled with that, until I found the tidbit that said “Tesla wrote hundreds of letters” so….why couldn’t he have correspondence with Felix? 🙂 Fifty Measly Bucks, though, I mentioned the judges and the girls (Betty Parris, Abigail Williams, and Ann Putnam, Jr.), but extended the period deliberately to push out having to involve the three girls–and made one character a friend of the girls…. I can’t explain much more than that without spoiling it. Everything in the book, though, happens because of that extension.

You recently published the fifth installment to your Antique Magic series, The Dragon’s Seamstress. Congratulations!

Thank you. I hope your readers will love The Dragon’s Seamstress. It was a different assignment for Caitlin and Trevor but I couldn’t resist? Who wouldn’t love having a dragon drop in for help? Its synopsis (because, why not? ;)) is as follows:

Since Caitlin and Trevor vowed to assist the Otherworld and opened their enchanted antique shop, they’ve seen many strange things. But now, someone comes in asking for a mundane item: kitschy “witches” brooms. Has their magical life returned to normal? 

As the couple prepares to host a family gathering, fate intervenes and something they’ve never seen before roars into their life: A creature out of Welsh legend and fantasy: A blundering, somewhat underdeveloped dragon—not at all the type of dragon they ever expected to meet.

Forced to undertake his unique challenge, Caitlin and Trevor are perplexed by his demands, but the magical beast is certain they are the only witches who can help him.  Doing so might unlock an ancient hidden secret. Refusing might destroy them.

This series has a unique episodic feel thanks to the profession of your protagonists Trevor and Caitlin, married owners of an antique shop that attracts gods, ghosts, and more. Earlier this year I discussed the writer’s problem of writing cliffhangers vs. standalones; do you feel having an episodic series is a strong compromise of giving readers more of the heroes they want without leaving them hanging when a book ends? (Gosh, I hope this question makes sense)

If I understand the question correctly, yes. Maybe? I do try to tie up the end of each tale. Caitlin always finds the answer to each client/sellers’ problem/mystery, book to book, but where the “episode” comes in is that their year progresses–or by this point, it’s been five years. 🙂 There’s a progression book to book of Trevor and Caitlin’s ages, their anniversary, the holidays. While there’s also two characters in school and their education advances, the biggest hold over is the Curse that hangs over the heads of Trevor’s family. So the question of why did that thing happen to his brother, sister, and mother casts a long shadow over the series, despite each wrapped-up happy ending. To my longtime readers, I know the answer to that question, and yes, you will be getting it soon.

That’s just a long way of saying, yes having an episodic series is a compromise, but more, I’ve done it because it felt right to continue following Caitlin’s life, in a linear progression. But finding where to cut without a cliffhanger is too much of a nuisance, so I’d rather have a clear end to the manuscript. Otherwise, the five books would still be in my computer, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

You write fantasy and steampunk as well, such as Watchmaker’s Heart. Do you find yourself doing the same kind of research as you do for historical romances, or do you toss history out the window and write the world as you wish? 🙂

A little bit of both. The thing about Steampunk is that it’s the aesthetics of our 19th century with the technology of…well? Star Trek but run on steam. So, as much as you get to have fun coming up with airships, gaslamps, and steampowered cars and weird robotic things, Queen Victoria is always in charge (unless there’s been some coup by we pesky Americans! ;)) and there’s always some 19th century cultural something or ‘nother going on. So, depending on what that cultural something is I want to noodle with, I’ll have to delve into the research lake. In Watchmaker’s Heart it was the mechanics of the underworld, as my hero is an ex-gang member trying to go straight, and I also had to do a little bit into the workings of the House of Commons for another character. With House of Dark Envy, again, that was such a time of technological exploration, and I had a readymade Steampunk feel in the work my hero (and in real life history of the time Tesla) were doing concerning DC and AC power, it was easy to just throw in some goggles and arcing magic Tesla beams. With a book like my faery tale-based/faery godmother story Changeling’s Crown…well, it was a mixture of faery tale setting and real world setting so that was fun to play with. Having castles on one hand, and cars and modern ranches and cell phones on the other. J And Caitlin even dips into the historical through the Antique Magic series, with the psychic trips the things in her antique shop sometimes spring on her. So far, she’s been hit with the prohibition era, the ‘60s,  Civil War battles, (due to a Civil War fort she lives near, and the ghost of Trevor’s ancestor from the 19th century who lives in their house and *cough* helps out more often than not), and the most recently, a glimpse of Medieval Wales.

Thank you so much for sharing your stories with us, Juli! Let’s wrap up with one last craft question. How do you balance making demands on the reader with taking care of the reader?

Critique Partners! In series (like Antique Magic), it gets particularly sticky, as I try to explain as much as I think necessary, but I have to leave it up to my critique partners to let me know if more is needed. And even then, sometimes, we miss. Personally, I see no need to regurgitate the entire story in all books throughout a series; in fact, that bugs me to no end when I read other writers doing it. I’ve skipped more pages, and put more books I read down for that than I have for not understanding something in a series of which I neglected to read from the beginning.

But editors and cps seem to think differently, so I sometimes have to overcompensate to bring them up to speed. I hope I don’t bore the heck out of my longtime readers when they pick up a #x story, doing a recap, but if so, I hope they’ll forgive me. So, how do I balance it? Very carefully and not without pulling my hair out. 😉 So, The Dragon Seamstress, while it can stand alone, being the fifth time I’ve revisited the couple, is very much part of the series. I hope your readers will enjoy them all.

I’m sure they will, Juli, especially when you share of your novellas for FREE! That’s right, folks–you can get the ebook Caitlin’s Book of Shadows for free right now, at this very moment, instantly, today.

Though their fame became legend, a rumor cropped up about the Fulmer family: Something terrifying stalked Caitlin and her beloved Trevor. Something the bits and pieces she left claimed she had to make sense of. When the curator of their collection finds Caitlin’s long forgotten diary, she wonders will it tell the whole tale? Will it tell why Caitlin seemed so determined to tell the difference between reality and nightmare? Why she thought herself a witch?

What will the holidays hold for Caitlin? Perhaps the answer lies between the lines of her story, one of lessons, struggles, and hopes for each new year.

*

For more on Juli and her work, check out her website and Amazon page. You can also sign up for her newsletter here.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

We are diving deep into a world of witchcraft and waltzes, haunting melodies and dissonant sexes.

Blondie is also super excited to share a project she’s working on, and I might just have a spooky surprise or two in store for you before All Hallows’ Eve.

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

#lessons learned from @CorneliaFunke and #GuillermodelToro: #write a #fairytale to enrich the #history of your #story.

Once upon a time, when magic did not hide from human eyes as thoroughly as it does today…

“The Mill That Lost Its Pond”

You know the words.

Once upon a time.

So many fairy tales begin this way. Like river stones bridging shores, we travel with those words from our world to another, eager to see what lies beyond.

Filmmaker Guillermo del Toro has been luring his audiences to cross reality’s river for years, but this summer he and author Cornelia Funke did more than lure us over the river. They led us through the hills past Grandmother’s house into a forest where past and present seemingly grow as one.

According to IndieWire, del Toro had wanted to expand on the folklore within his fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth, and I’m so very glad he did. The book’s a beautiful reading experience from cover to cover. (Seriously, the art work of the book is stunning. Just look at this!)

I could gush for another thousand words about the beauty of the language, the flawless shifts in point of view, etc etc, but instead let’s sit and talk depth. Not, you know, profound philosophy or some such thing, but giving a story-world depth. Giving the world a feel of history and life. Giving a sense of reality to non-reality.

And using the fairy tale to do just that.

Now I suppose that sounds a touch ironic. Words like once upon a time are timeless, aren’t they? They’re right up there with A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Fairy tale lands are…you know, out there (insert vague hand-wavy gesture here). That’s why there’s that indefinite article a. A time could mean Any time.

But The Labyrinth of the Faun is NOT “out there.” We are told on the first page of Chapter 1 precisely where and when we are:

There was once a forest in the north of Span, so old that it could tell stories long past and forgotten by men. The trees anchored so deeply in the moss-covered soil they laced the bones of the dead with their roots while their branches reached for the stars.

So many things lost, the leaves were murmuring as three black cars came driving down the unpaved road that cut through fern and moss.

But all things lost can be found again
, the trees whispered.

It was the year 1944 and the girl sitting in one of the cars, next to her pregnant mother, didn’t understand what the trees whispered.

Chapter 1, “The Forest and the Fairy”

The girl’s name is Ofelia, and this story not only tells of her meeting the Faun, but of war, of grief, of sorrow, and of hope. (After seeing what high school students are reading these days, I would LOVE to just assign this book and build a critical reading/writing unit around it.) So many themes are woven into one girl’s quest to discover her true soul, her identity as the long-lost princess of the Underground Kingdom. And hers isn’t the only journey shared here; we experience the life of Rebels hiding from the Fascist soldiers. We experience the mind of Captain Vidal, Ofelia’s sadistic stepfather. But best of all, we experience the life of this forest via the fairy tales interspersed between the chapters.

This is something del Toro must have known would not translate into the film medium: he and Funke interrupt the present-day narrative with Ofelia to take readers out and into the past. It’s an occasional pause during the first third of the book, but the interruptions increase in frequency towards the end of the book–past and present coming together for that single climactic moment in Ofelia’s journey.

The first fairy tale comes after Chapter 5, sharing the story of the sculptor whose creations Ofelia discovers centuries later in Chapter 1. The second fairy tale, “The Labyrinth,” tells of a nobleman who discovers a beautiful girl asleep in an ancient forest by a mill pond. They fall in love and marry, but her lack of memory plagues her in the night, sending her back to that forest time and again with sadness. The nobleman visits a witch her lives near the “Split Tree, which was said to house a poisonous toad between its roots.”

Hold on to that reference, if you please.

The witch Rocio instructs the nobleman to construct a labyrinth out of stones from the nearby deserted village where the Pale Man stole children to eat. The nobleman threatens to drown the witch in the pond if his wife’s memory doesn’t recover.

Rocio answered him with a smile.
“I know,” she said. “But we all have to play our parts, don’t we?”

“The Labyrinth”

The labyrinth fails to awaken the girl’s memory, and she dies, too ill with sadness to live. The son she bore the nobleman later walks the labyrinth to find what his mother lost only to never be seen again.

It took another two hundred and twenty-three years until the prophecy of the witch came true and the labyrinth revealed his mother’s true name when she once again walked its ancient corridors as a girl called Ofelia.

“The Labyrinth”

All this is learned before we come enter Chapter 10, “The Tree.” The Faun has given Ofelia three magic stones and a book that instructs Ofelia to give the stones to a “monstrous toad” inside a “colossal fig tree” that is now dying because of the toad.

By the end of Chapter 12, Ofelia successfully kills the Toad and sees “The key the Faun had asked her to bring was sticking to the Toad’s entrails along with dozens of twitching woodlice.”

Yet despite dying, this is not the end of the Toad’s presence in the story.

Remember, we are given this land’s history in fairy tales, and fairy tales know no time. Whenever Man wishes to control something as powerful as Time or Life, Death often follows.

Once upon a time, a nobleman ordered five of his soldiers to arrest a woman named Rocio, who he accused of being a witch. He told them to drown her in the pond of a mill deep in the old forest where she lived. It required two men to drag her into the cold water and one to hold her down until she ceased to breathe. That solder’s name was Umberto Garces.
… The task was terrible, and at the same time it arouse him, maybe because the witch was quite beautiful.

“The Echo of Murder”

This vicious act mirrors the evil we readers have seen earlier in the book with Captain Vidal. The echoes don’t end there, however. After sleepless nights of haunting visions, Garces returns to the old mill pond in hopes for peace of mind.

When he stepped closer to the water, though, Garces wished he’d never returned. The water was as black as his sin, and the trees seemed to whisper his judgment into the night: Murderer!”

“The Echo of Murder”

The trees repeat the word, over and over. The land is echoing Garces’ evil back at him.

“I’ll do it again!” he shouted over the silent water. “You hear me?”
His boots sank deeper into the mud and his hands started to itch. He lifted them to his face. His skin was covered in warts and webs were growing between his fingers–the fingers he’d used to hold the witch down.
… Garces screamed again. By now his voice had changed. Hoarse croaking escaped his throat and, his spine twisted and bent until he fell to his knees, digging his webbed fingers into the mud. Then he leaped into the same muddy pond water he’d drowned the witch in.

“The Echo of Murder”

The Toad is created. Yet wasn’t this Toad already present when the witch was alive, a toad the nobleman thinks on in the second fairy tale?

And yet this STILL isn’t the last we’ve seen of the Toad. He appears once more in the final fairy tale before the final chapter. This last tale shares the origins of a Child Eater known as the Pale Man.

In “The Boy Who Escaped,” we meet a boy named Serafin from a village near an ancient forest. The Pale Man captures him and takes him to his layer to eat, but Serafin is so fast he not only escaped the Pale Man’s clutches, but made off with a large key. A key to what? A key to a cupboard where the Pale Man’s dagger was kept–the dagger Ofelia and the fairies retrieved back in Chapter 20.

But hang on, we’re still with Serafin here. He escapes the Pale Man’s layer and, desperate to be rid of the key, throws it into an old mill pond.

Serafin didn’t notice the huge toad watching him when he hurled the key into the pond, nor that it had the eyes of a man. Neither did the boy see the toad swallow the key with its wart-covered lips.

“The Boy Who Escaped”

So…hang on. In THIS story, the village is no longer deserted, but Serafin sees the pond and recalls hearing that “years ago a nobleman’s soldiers had drowned a witch” there. yet in THAT story, the nobleman is instructed by the witch to build the labyrinth out of stones from a nearby deserted village.

Fairy tales need not be restricted by time. Man cannot contain it, as Captain Vidal dares with his silver pocket watch. Oh no. As Doctor Who would say:

Fairy tales happen once upon A time. Perhaps long ago, or not long ago. They happen when they happen. They are when the are.

And because they still are, they affect characters in this, the present tense.

Just as they affect us, the readers, now and always.

It’s always just a few who know where to look and how to listen, that is true. But for the best stories, a few are just enough.

“Little Traces”

What fairy tale echoes in your present life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

October awaits with all its firey magic! I’ve some lovely interviews coming, as well as some exciting news about Witch Week. Plus there’s updates to be told about my Fallen Princeborn series–oh, my western fantasy Night’s Tooth is still 99 cents, if you’ve not snatched that up yet!

I’ve the perfect music to haunt your dreams, and–if my teaching allows it–some snippets of a novella I’m building out of snow, fear, and secrets.

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

My #western #fantasy #novella is #onsalenow for #99cents! Plus, #lessons learned in #worldbuilding for #writing #fiction: #AnEasyDeath by @RealCharlaine.

Hello, everyone! At long, long, loooooong last, my novella “Night’s Tooth” is alive and kicking on Amazon!

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.

Once Biff, Bash, and Blondie are all in school, I hope to get “Night’s Tooth” on Draft 2 Digital so it’ll be available on other markets. Click here for an excerpt of the novella. The whole thing’s just 99 cents–easy on the wallet. 😉 Don’t forget to leave a review, too!

Like “Night’s Tooth,” Charlaine Harris’ An Easy Death is a mix of fantasy and western, but while my novella takes place during the “official” time period of the Wild West, Harris’ story is set in an altered, no-longer-United States. I picked up An Easy Death after reading SJ Higbee’s glowing recommendation, and after reading it I can see why Time magazine lists An Easy Death as one of its top 10 fantasy novels of 2018.

Let’s take a walk through the first two chapters and see how Harris builds this broken world.

In the morning I got Chrissie to cut off all my hair. Tarken and Martin would be tinkering with the truck, which was our livelihood….My neighbor Chrissie was not too bright, but I’d watched her trim her husband’s hair and beard as he sat on a stool outside their cabin. She’d done a good job. She sang as she worked, in her sweet, high voice, and she told me about her youngest one’s adventures with a frog in the creek.

I see a few key words in here that can make the imagination fill in some mighty big blanks. “Cabin,” for instance, isn’t a term for a home in an urban setting; therefore, we picture the two characters someplace rustic. A child playing with a frog in a nearby creek emphasizes the country-type of location here.

A truck tying to livelihood tells us we’re dealing with transporters of a sort–a cross-country kind of job. We should expect to see a lot of the story’s landscape with this narrator.

Chrissie and the narrator, Lizbeth, have a conversation on the second page. I’ve copied nearly the whole page here because, like Agatha Christie, Harris packs a lot of information in dialogue that only takes a few minutes to read. (Still, it’s a long passage to blog, so I’ll break it up a bit.)

“You heading out soon? I saw them farmers at Martin’s place, when I was coming back from the store.” Chrissie’s trousers had long tendrils of dark hair all over’em now. She’d have to brush’em.

“Yeah, we’re leaving as soon as it’s near dark.”

“Ain’t you scared?”

Sure, I was. “Of course not, the only ones should be scared are anyone who tries to get in our way.” I smiled.

“You’ll kill’em dead, bang, bang,” Chrissie said in a singsong voice.

“Yep. Bang, bang,” I agreed.

What have we learned? Lizbeth is leaving with some farmers, who must be riding in that truck, her livelihood. It’s Lizbeth’s job to kill anyone who tries to hinder them. Considering Chrissie’s innocent tone in describing this, killing people has become a mainstream profession, and by Lizbeth’s tone, we get the sense she knows what she’s doing…even if the job still scares her.

“Why are they going to New America?”

“The farmers? The part of Texas they live in got swallowed up by Mexico a few years ago. You remember?”

Chrissie looked dim. She shook her head.

“Anyway, the government down there has been telling the Texans that they’re not real Mexicans, and their land is forfeit.”

Chrissie looked even dimmer.

Their land is getting taken. So if they’ve got kin up north or anywhere, even in Dixie, they got to leave Mexico to have a chance.”

Dixie was so poor and so dangerous you’d have to be desperate to flee there.

What have we learned? America is weak enough that other countries like Mexico have taken control of its land. Notice Lizbeth doesn’t say “North America” or “United States,” but “New America” and “Dixie.” This isn’t the traditional 50 states of our reality.

Chrissie ran her fingers through the short hair on the left side of my head, and shook her head. “Anyone ever go to the HRE?” she asked.

“Chrissie,” I said. She bent around to meet my eyes.

“Oh, sorry, Lizbeth.” She began to work on the right side, following her own whim. I tried to remember if I’d ever seen her cut anyone’s hair besides Norton’s. “I forgot you don’t like them grigoris.”

No. I did not like magicians.

What have we learned? The HRE is not someplace you want to find yourself because–and this is the part that hooked me to the story–there’s magic in this world. Magicians are part of the normal fabric of society; not liked, maybe, but still, they are as normal as killing people to protect others fleeing the country.

So, over the course of two pages, we have a sense of narrator Lizbeth’s no-nonsense attitude thanks to her clipped prose and dialogue. We know her profession. We know she has some prejudices, and some inner conflicts. We know something of the world, though we don’t know why it is the way it is. All we know is that it’s dangerous, and people are desperate to flee from that danger. Harris successfully builds the world just enough that we can move forward without tripping on any exposition dumps.

A couple pages later we learn the term for Lizbeth’s profession.

I passed Rex Santino. “Easy death,” he said in his gruff way.

That’s what people wished gunnies. It made me feel good. I nodded back at him.

Not quite “gunslinger,” but it’s close enough to familiar terminology that readers get what Harris is going for. On this version of the North American continent, hired guns are a must for safe passage from one country to another. Connections like roads and rails, amenities like electricity and plumbing, they’re all as fickle as the law one finds from town to town.

We were on a good part of the road, one that hadn’t been broken. There were still stretches around like that. My mother had told me that once almost all the roads were smooth, and that when they cracked, they got repaired. It sounded like a fancy dream.
….

If the New America patrols stopped us, we’d be fine. People were legal cargo, and respectable people like this were even welcome in New America. But if bandits caught us, well, that was why Galilee and I were on duty. That was why the oldest brother had hired us to get the two families through the lawless land along the border between Texoma and New America.

What have we learned? When we consider how the roads were built to help unite a country, is it any surprise the roads are among the first things to rot in this fractured land? It’s also clear that the new countries don’t much care for watching each other’s borders, but will instead keep to their own; hence, the “lawless land.”

Chapter 1 ends with an ambush. All the gunnies but Lizbeth are killed, the truck destroyed. In Chapter 2, an injured Lizbeth tracks the bandits and farmers. She discovers the body of a teen girl along the way.

There must have been more gunfire after I’d been hit. She’d tried to run. Lots of families taught their girls to run, figuring that a bullet in the back was quicker than what waited for them after capture. My opinion, sometimes they were right.

What have we learned? The violence of the bandits tells us just how much human life is worth between the countries: absolutely nothing.

Lizbeth kills the bandits, rescues the remaining family members, and successfully escorts them to New America on foot. During this trek the farmers get to talking, which allows Lizbeth to think about historical context for the reader’s sake. (Last excerpt, promise)

“Since the president died, the world has gone to hell. God help us all,” Jeremiah said, and his brother nodded.

When people said “the president,” they meant the last elected president of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt. When he’d been assassinated in some city in Florida, before he could be sworn into office, the government had started down a slope that had gotten slicker and slicker…..After the white government had collapsed, the Indian tribes who could muster up a group of warriors had taken back the land that had been theirs….And bandits were everywhere, especially in Texoma, New America, and Dixie. I had heard that in Britannia, the area that had knelt to England, there was so much law that bandits were caught and hung quickly. The same for Canada, which had expanded to take in a lot of northern America. Canada had its horseback police, who were supposed to be crackerjack at their jobs. The Holy Russian Empire had a squad of grigoris and militia whose job it was to track highway robbers and kill them on the spot.

But in Texoma and New America, formal justice was scarce on the ground.

What have we learned? Ah, now we get the mother-load, for now we have a time frame to work with. FDR was indeed fired upon by Giuseppe Zangara in 1933. For those who don’t know, Franklin Delano Roosevelt took the helm of the United States during The Great Depression and remained in the presidency through much of World War Two. He’s the only president to have served more than two terms; in fact, the man had been voted to serve a fourth term when he died in 1945.

All the world was in flux in the 1930s. The aftermath of World War I, the rise of fascism and communism, the transformation of media and transportation….Life. Was. Changing. Just as a single assassination tipped Europe’s political scales into warfare in 1914, Harris shows us how the United States could have been broken by assassination in 1933. And when one considers the political climate of that time, are we really so surprised?

Now Harris doesn’t clearly state how much time has passed since FDR’s assassination, but when Lizbeth does meet two grigoris who want to hire her for a job, we learn a bit more about the Russian monarchy that escaped the communist uprising as well as magic’s role in this new world.

But that’s for you to discover in An Easy Death.

When a writer sets out to cut history’s timeline and paste it somewhere new, she has the advantage of using some common history to give the reader context before guiding the reader into unfamiliar territory. It’s a tried and true method used by many to their advantage, and there’s no reason you shouldn’t, either. It all comes down to pacing–rather like helping a rambunctious kindergartner glue string on top of his fish picture. Sure, you can just squirt a HUGE glop of glue on the page and just slather it everywhere; it gets the job done, but then all you both see is the glue smears over his nice fish. If you carefully squirt teeny dots all along the string, the string will remain in its place, and the fish is no longer smeary.

…sorry, that’s quite a mom-metaphor there. Point is, you don’t want readers to see nothing but the exposition. You want it to blend into the story, right? So don’t slather that world-building everywhere, blurring what could be an amazing story. Bead it along, letting it glue together scenes of conversation, conflict, and discovery.

Thanks so much for reading! I do hope you enjoy “Night’s Tooth.”

~STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK!~

The kids will be in school!

I mean….

The kids will be in school.

(Honestly, it’s a mix of both.)

Anyway, September and the fall season await with more delightful author interviews, some studies of scary tales, a hunt for fun’n’freaky music, and hopefully some updates on my current WIPS–both novellas, both dark fantasy, and both spooooooookily inspired by Wisconsin’s North Woods.

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