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

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

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

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

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

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

What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time, it pays back.

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

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

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

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

No more evasion.

~STAY TUNED!~

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

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

A #writer’s thoughts on boundaries in #magic. Plus a #CoverReveal and #ARC access to my new #YA #Fantasy #Novel!

Wisconsin’s upper half is filled with roads like this:

Narrow strips of asphalt and concrete wind their way through woods of towering pines, oaks, and birches. Turkey, deer, ravens, and squirrels keep a mindful watch of the roads we meager humans travel, feeding in the nearby grass and trees, unafraid to cross what little land we claim for our own. The North Woods may have its cabins and towns, but make no mistake–it is a wild place of bears and coyotes, wolves and cougars. It is not a place for wandering off the known paths.

Yet it is so very tempting, especially when someone has been there before…

I don’t know what it is about ropes, chains, and logs being used to mark a territory, but they always make me smile. I suppose it’s because they assume we Wisconsinites are polite folk adequately deterred by a rope. “Someone put up a rope? Well, I can’t go there, then.” It’s just a rope, not barbed wire. All it would take is a little slip under.

Not that my goody-goods of kiddos would allow it. “You can’t go in there, Mom!” Blondie says. “It says no trespassing!” Bash says. “Can I call the police now and tell them what your’e doing?” Biff asks. This then devolved into who would get to talk to the police officer, who would get to sit in the driver’s seat of the police car, who would get to use the radio, aaaaaaaand I didn’t get to cross over. Probably for the best–I don’t want them wandering off where wolves will happily greet children with toothy grins. But oh, my friends, that desire to explore was so very strong, for magic buzzed among the cicadas and dragonflies that day. And who doesn’t feel the magic when surrounded by trees so tall the sun only greets your face at midday? Who doesn’t follow the herons’ call as they soar overhead? Who doesn’t sit upon the lakeshore to watch the eagles swoop across the water to pluck thrashing fish with their talons? Who doesn’t feel their spirit glow green as the moss upon the rocks, eager for the North Woods to burn bright crimson, orange, and yellow in the coming autumn?

All it takes is a willfulness to cross into the forbidden.

It’s the start of so many beloved stories, isn’t it? The Father in Beauty and the Beast is a classic example, or Alice crawling into the White Rabbit’s hole in Alice in Wonderland. Many of Diana Wynne Jones’ stories involve crossing into new lands and/or worlds, be it Deep Secret, House of Many Ways, Fire and Hemlock…heavens, there’s a lot. The first that came to mind, though, was Enchanted Glass. The entire story revolves around Aidan and Andrew defining the invisible boundaries of Andrew’s “field-of-care” bestowed upon him by his wizard grandfather so they can determine who’s siphoning magic away for their own purpose. In Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, Agnieszka defies village law and enters The Wood, a place full of cursed, angry magic, to rescue her best friend. In Peadar Ó Guilín’s The Call, Faerie re-define their own borders by surrounding the Emerald Isle in a timeless fog. Nessa and other youth must face The Call, that moment when they are transported into the Faerie realm, or find that access point to the realm first. The mound Nessa finds that marks the entry point reminded me of the mound Camilla Bruce creates in You Let Me In (a wonderful review by fellow indie author S.J. Higbee put me on to this dark adventure). The protagonist Cassandra has been involved with Faerie all her life, and in this moment she describes that initial crossing from “her path” to the Faerie path to the mound.

The shift was subtle, like the beginning of a rainstorm with oncoming mist. My trees gave way to strange ones, taller and wider, older by far, thick roots curling at their trunks. Their branches brushed my head as we walked beneath them, felt like fingers with very long nails. The path beneath my feet shone dimly in the faint light, scattered with fist-sized leaves, it was like walking on glass or silver, or on a frozen stream…the ground turned soggy and moist; the trees were drooping shapes with clusters of leaves brushing the ground…Finally, we came to a halt by a circular shape in the landscape, a grass-covered mound studded with jutting stones…They parted for us when we approached. Smiling faces, glimmering eyes. Hands that patted and touched.
Inviting me into their nest.
Into the dark, dark earth.

And then there are portals through boundaries so very ordinary that no one bothers to notice them. The wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes to mind. In Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife, Will finds a typical looking knife that it is capable of literally cutting through the boundaries of time and space and into other earths. In J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, passages between the muggle and magical pieces of the world can be separated with very commonplace things, like a tavern or a train station’s wall. Recently I read the graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, where unlike the stop-motion film, the door to the Other Mother looks like any other door in the house. But we all know what looks can be, don’t we?

She walked into the drawing room and looked at the door. She had the feeling that the door was looking at her, which she knew was silly, and knew on a deeper level was somehow true.

In another Neil Gaiman novel, a town next to a magical border is literally named Wall.

Immediately to the east of Wall is a grey rock wall, from which the town takes it name. This wall old, built of rough, square lumps of hewn granite, and it comes from the woods and goes back to the woods once more.

There is even a guard who watches over the wall. Sure, those who live in Wall think that guard is crazy for thinking anything interesting could be beyond the wall, but the guard knows what lies beyond is not ordinary at all…

Such a wall became an inspiration for my own fantasy series, Fallen Princeborn. Readers first experience the Wall’s power with protagonist Charlotte when she’s stranded on an old farm with her sister. The farmer’s daughter, Jenny, trusts Charlotte to tell her about what it’s like to live in this unnatural place:

Chattering. Outside.
Charlotte looks out to see the full moon blanketing the woods in pale light. The Wall glows but for its shadows, and one in particular: a tiny shadow moving swiftly along the stones. The squirrel.
It stops. Faces them.
Jenny’s body seizes.
“Shit—” Charlotte blinks.
“Where’s my Charlie? My badge could use a shine.”
Charlotte blinks. What the—? Dad? No—
The squirrel, chattering.
Charlotte pulls the window shut and hugs Jenny to her chest. “Breathe with me, kid, one, two. Breathe with me, okay? Come on, he’s gone,” she lies, afraid of the squirrel’s chatter because it shouldn’t be able to create ghosts out of wishes and dreams—
A howl, long and furious. A swift black shadow runs along the Wall’s edge.
It leaps into the air toward the Wall and—with a streak of violet and shadow—is gone.
Charlotte waits for the squirrel to return, or that wolf, but nothing comes.
Even the stars seem to move and search the Wall, their light transforming the
clouds into fleeing ghosts.

Jenny’s face breaks from relief. “D can’t do much in the day, but at night he
chases the nightmares away.” She puts her head to the floor and listens.
Television voices keep talking. The hall floor doesn’t creak. Mrs. Blair never
heard them.
“But where do they go? Where do they come from?”


“The Wall.” Jenny crawls to one side of the sewing table while Charlotte positions herself on the other. Together, they can just see different pieces of the Wall exposed by moonlight. “My parents have never gone over it, and they’ve never talked about anyone living back there. It’s not marked as a nature preserve or conservancy or anything. It’s just… there. It’s been there as long as this farm. Longer.”
“Some wall, if it can’t keep them in.”
“I don’t think it’s about keeping them in so much as keeping us out.”
Autumn so often brings traces of smoke in the air from those who burn leaves or have final campfires. This evening there is a smell in the air, but it’s not leaves: it’s thick. Sticky. Persistent.
Hate.
Jenny pulls another sheet from her book, a page ripped out of a literature textbook. Jenny’s circled the four-line refrain over and over and over:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
“Yeats. ‘The Stolen Child.’ You think…” Charlotte has to pause, because to
say this is even possible… No, she couldn’t let this be possible. “You think those
animal things are fairies?”

Now, at long last, we can continue Charlotte’s story beyond the Wall, where another wall, this one underwater, awaits her crossing into the unknown…

It towers above them, surely taller than Rose House. Yet it stands incomplete: the wall runs about the width of Rose House, but the lake waters continue on either side. And directly in front of them there’s a large hole in the wall, as if it was built that way. Unlike the Wall above, this one allows life to grow upon it: seaweed, old and frayed as an ancient mariner’s hair, yes, but still, it is something growing upon the rock around that hole. The hole has a pull to it, a current that barely touches them with soft fingertips, but it is there, palpable, and Liam’s wings feel its pull. He has not known such a pull since traveling the Water Road so very long ago… “Where does that go?”
Blinkey sneers, steps backward. “Nowhere. Everywhere.”
“On pain of death, we’re bound by magic to remain within the Wall of River Vine—”
“Is that what you are afraid of?” Blinkey grins, displaying two solid rows of teeth shaped like little white Ws.
Charlotte feels the muscles in Liam’s arm tighten as he replies, “I am not afraid.”
“Think, Blinkey: your queeny can’t talk to us if these cursed tattoos kill us first.” Charlotte holds her right wrist up actually hoping the thorns will start moving. But they don’t.
Blinkey lazily twirls her spear as she steps out of the air bubble back into the water. The magic that reshapes her legs into a tail comes and goes, but the smile has not yet left her face.
Charlotte wishes it would.
Liam can’t take his eyes off the hole in the wall, or the seaweed that fails to sway with the current flowing through the wall. The seaweed is still. Resistant. It keeps all its fronds away from the hole. The water beyond the hole, it looks… dark, unfathomable.

Yup, this last bit is an excerpt from Fallen Princeborn: Chosen, the second installment in the Fallen Princeborn series. Despite what happened with my publisher, you all encouraged me to fight the good fight and write on, so write on I did! Now at last Chosen is ready to be shared with you via ARC–Click here to access and get started. Come the week of Halloween, the ebook (and paperback, I hope!) will be ready for purchase.

The Blurb!

CHARLOTTE’S FAMILY MAY NO LONGER REMEMBER HER NAME,

BUT HER ENEMIES WILL NEVER FORGET.

Charlotte just wanted to start a new life with her sister Anna out of the reaches of their abusive uncle. When their journey led to Anna’s disappearance from human memory, Charlotte hunted for her sister and the mysterious creatures that took her behind an ancient Wall that hid a land of magic the world had long forgotten. Charlotte woke the Princeborn Liam Artair, and with his return the conflict between factions of the magical Velidevour turned cursed and deadly.

Now Charlotte must end this conflict before the land of River Vine and the inhabitants she’s befriended are consumed by Orna, Lady of the Pits, who is still very, very eager to see her beloved return. And Orna is not the only one who wants hold of the Princeborn Liam’s heart. These Velidevour come armed with firey wings, crimson claws, and pale fire, and like dead magic, they know no kindness.

The Bloody Days are soon returning, and they will not end until a choice is made, a choice that could tear the heart of River Vine apart.

Fallen Princeborn: Chosen is a direct continuation of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Recommended for fans of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, Brigid Kemmerer’s A Curse So Dark and Lonely, and Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Mist and Fury.

I am thrilled beyond measure to finally reach this milestone, and I cannot thank you again for encouraging me through all my doubts and fears. You, each and every one of you, are a blessing to cherish in this community.

Do you have a favorite story with a boundary into a magical realm, where a character willfully crosses into the unknown? Please share in the comments below!

~STAY TUNED!~

I’ve got some fantastic interviews underway as well as music both cozy and creepy to get our autumn adventures started. I’ll also be sharing more excerpts from Fallen Princeborn: Chosen and the sources of inspiration that helped create pivotal moments.

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

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

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

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

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

…and a little hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Reader Review

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Reader Review

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

Here is a quick taste of Fallen Princeborn: Chosen…

Ashes touch the air.

And a cackle.

A shriek, far and away.

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

And one inside Rose House.

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

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

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

Pounding, pounding below her feet.

They are coming.

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

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

~STAY TUNED!~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAMMIT!

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

#YAFantasy #Onsalenow to #Celebrate #WyrdandWonder! Add #Magic, #Danger, and a #Vicious #DarkLady to your #WeekendReading.

Cheers, my friends, for it is Friday at long last! It might be a tad early for beer, but I think you’d like to share a tall order of joy with me. x

We’re deep, deep, deep into our Diana Wynne Jones read-aloud at home. Though the boys often ask for pictures from the story (and I answer, “Make the picture in your mind”), all the kids are happily enjoying the adventure. I’m hoping Blondie will take to the audio version of Howl’s Moving Castle due to arrive any day now in the library–yes, the libraries will be opening! REJOICE!–and maybe, just maybe, will want to read more Jones of her own accord.

Speaking of Jones, she’s got some delightfully delectable definitions of dastardly deviants and other d-words in her Tough Guide to Fantasyland. We must begin, of course, with the dungeons I had mentioned last time.

DUNGEONS are the first thing to be built when anyone is planning a large BUILDING. Even Town Halls tend to have them. The Rules state that Dungeons are damp and small and a long way underground. If the Tourist being confined is lucky, there will be a small barred window too high up to reach, through which the contents of the moat trickle, and old straw on the ground. There will be a thick door (locked) with a small shutter in where what passes (only just) for FOOD can be thrown in at prisoners, generally dropping it tantalizingly an inch out of reach, and there will always be rings in the walls carrying chains and sometimes old bones too. It is all designed to make you feel low. There may even be scutterings that could be rats (but see ANIMALS). The average stay in such a place is, for Tourists, twenty-four hours. If the Dungeon is a pit of the type called an oubliette, on the other hand, you are justified in slight melancholy. It will be several days before someone lowers a rope to you and hauls you out.

Now while a town’s jail cell doesn’t sound all that intimidating, I can only imagine the dungeon of THE villain in Fantasyland would be another matter.

DARK LORD. There is always one of these in the background of every Tour, attempting to ruin everything and take over the world. He will be so sinister that he will be seen by you only once or twice, probably near the end of the Tour. Generally he will attack you through MINIONS, of which he will have large numbers. When you do get to see him at last, you will not be surprised to find he is black (see COLOUR CODING) and shadowy and probably not wholly human. He will make you feel very cold and small. Actually, when it comes down to it, that is probably all he will do, having almost certainly exhausted his other resources earlier on. You should be able to defeat him, with a little help from your COMPANIONS, without too much effort. However, the Rules state that at this stage you will be exhausted yourself and possibly wounded by MAGIC. So be careful.

No one’s voice carried menace quite like John Hurt (RIP)

Such Dark Lords are often the responsibility of whatever plagues the Fantasyland, for they are the root of all Danger.

DANGER is everywhere in Fantasyland. You will be in Danger from the first step you take on your Tour, starting with the intruder with a knife on your first night, then running through ASSASSINS and DEMONS on to WIZARDS and bad QUEENS and finally the DARK LORD–not to speak of AMBUSHES in between and subtle Dangers devised by ENCHANTRESSES. You will spend a lot of time fleeing. In order not to live in a state of perpetual abject Terror, you must remember that in Fantasyland, Danger has an actual SMELL (aka, Reek of Wrongness). Watch for this Smell. HORSES are good at detecting it. When there is any threat to safety, recognise what the Horses are sniffing and from then on you can relax until the moment you smell it.

All the talk of smelling danger got me thinking about my protagonist Charlotte in Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. She depends on her sense of smell not only to get accustomed to strange surroundings, but to alert her to danger…and help.

Charlotte breathes in as she steps down, the last passenger to get off the bus. Her nose tells her that the bus has leaked its gasoline all over the highway, that the man with the fry pan ears hasn’t bathed in days, and that a predator killed its prey somewhere in the surrounding forest two, if not three, days ago….

***
Charlotte sees seats of soft leather, new carpet, a bathroom, a table piled high with cakes and fruit and cans of soda. Yet all she smells is rot and blood. She shakes her head again and again, as if whatever gunk had died in her nose just needs to be blown out…

***
Charlotte lowers the blade. No, Arlen’s not the threat here, and neither’s
Dorjan. Dorjan could have ripped her to pieces, and Arlen could have poisoned her. And both bear a scent Charlotte long thought dead in the world: nobility.

Another d-word that got me thinking about Princeborn was Jones’ entry for a female villain.

DARK LADY. There is never one of these–so see DARK LORD instead. The Management considers that male Dark Ones have more potential to be sinister, and seldom if ever employs a female in this role. This is purely because the Management was born too late to meet my Great Aunt Clara.

I was honestly surprised by this one. A lead female villain was first and foremost on my mind for Princeborn.

Crack! The lowest branches split the trunk open, yet its brittle orange leaves refuse to fall. The white wood creaks and curves as it opens like a great flower, bends back, rejoins, and is made whole again. The tree has become a throne, and on it sits the Lady.

Hell of an entrance.

She’s draped in a silver dress that hangs limply around her shoulders. Her skin glows like the tree, her white-blond hair matchstick straight. She leans to the side and holds her chin in her hand. A long white finger traces her smile. “So. You are the outsider that intrigues my loyal adviser. Welcome.” She rises. “I am Orna, Lady of the Pits, Ruler of the River Vine Velidevour.”

Everyone bows—all except Cein, who beams with pride, and Charlotte, who doesn’t give a fuck. Even the branches demonstrate their fealty, bending low to crown her body in orange gold and form a stairwell to the ground.

Charlotte tilts the blood dagger so the Lady can see it reflect light off its steel feathers. “I want my sister back.”

Surely there are plenty of wicked women in fantasy literature, aren’t there? Are they always second bananas to the primary villain? I would love to hear your comments on this, if you have the chance. I know I’ve been quiet on my comments and yours lately, and I apologize. This new term is utilizing some sort of new learning software takes forever to use, so I’m constantly fielding student complaints while being unable to actually fix anything. It sucks, I don’t like it, let’s close this post out with a link to my novel that you can now purchase for 99 cents.

POSTING UPDATE: There’s been a gaff with Amazon over the sale. Please stay tuned for updates in future posts.

If you already own it, my deepest thanks for buying! If you’ve already left a review, YOU ARE AMAZING. If you haven’t had a chance to review it yet, now’s the time! I’ll be back here tomorrow with Blondie to celebrate her years upon this earth, and to likely discuss talking dogs, as they are just as awesome as dragons as far as Blondie’s concerned.

Gromit, of course, being the exception to the rule.

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

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

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

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

I’m talking about the Legend.

Not THAT Legend!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HOW TO COMPOSE A BALLAD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s okay if Ballads are silly, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Art by Ryan Lowe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bo hides behind his book.

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

Must. Go. Outside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#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!

#FREE #western #fantasyfiction for #readers to #celebrate #WyrdandWonder! Enjoy a #quickread of #bountyhunters and #magic this #weekend.

It does seem that a fantasy, working out in its own terms, stretching you beyond the normal concerns of your own life, gains you a peculiar charge of energy which inexplicably enriches you. At least, this is my ideal of a fantasy, and I am always trying to write it.

— Diana Wynne Jones

Welcome back, my friends! Isn’t this a gorgeous video of the Wisconsin bluffs? The Mississippi River Valley is almost like another world inside my state. Farms are lost among all the forested hills. Silver rivers cast spells upon the landscape. It’s the perfect setting for a fantasy, one hidden among the pages of true history, as I describe for an excerpt of my novella, Night’s Tooth.

“In October of that year [1844] quite a colony of Mormons came up from Nauvoo [Illinois] and landed at La Crosse…. They built twenty-five or thirty log houses and made themselves quite comfortable….The pay was drawn by the elders in provisions to support the families of the settlement. Just as the river opened in the spring [1845], the men all came down from Black River, and the men stopped cutting…. News got out they were all going to leave. I went down to the settlement to see the elders and adjust matters…. That night they set fire to most of their houses and embarked in their flat-boats, and left by the light of their burning houses for Nauvoo.”

NAYTHAN MYRICK, A HISTORY OF LA CROSSE, WISCONSIN 1841-1900

It’s amazing how a little piece of history can set our imaginations galloping off into the boundless possibility of fantasy. The writings that pass down rarely give us a complete picture, which allows us to fill those spaces with our own creations. This happened to me for Night’s Tooth, and I’m sure this has happened to you, too. Click here to read the excerpt!

In the spirit of Wyrd and Wonder‘s celebration of all things fantasy, I wanted to share my writing with you all by making my novella free for the weekend.

Yes, that’s right–FREE for the weekend! From today until Monday (May 15-18), Night’s Tooth will be free for download from Amazon.

In the Mississippi River Valley, during the latter part of the nineteenth century, bounty hunter Sumac seeks shadowy bandit, Night’s Tooth. However, though gifted with magical powers, Sumac isn’t the only one tracking the mysterious outlaw, and he’ll need to keep his wits about him if he aims to get the better of Sheriff Jenson and the golden boys…

A mix of classic western and fantasy, Jean Lee’s novella is set on the edges of her Princeborn universe (see Fallen Princeborn: Stolen). Her use of language is delightful, with an unusual writing style that’s as clever as it is original. The characters are an interesting lot, too, (like the Sherriff with the squirrel-tails moustache). Drop them all into an atmospheric Clint Eastwood-type setting, and there’s plenty of action to keep the reader guessing what’s coming next.

Unlike Fallen, this one isn’t aimed at Young Adult readers, but if you like cowboy stories with a dollop of the weird and strange, this’ll be right up your old west Main Street.

Book Reviewer and Indie Author Colin Garrow

There are many other authors celebrating Wyrd and Wonder in their own unique ways; I hope you’ll visit them via the Wyrd and Wonder website for a peek into countless more adventures in lands of magic beautifully fierce.

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