Greetings, one and all! While I run around a massive education conference for my university, please enjoy this lovely chat I had with Indie Fantasy Author Marsha A. Moore.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
As a child, instead of having a bedtime story read to me, my father prompted me to create oral stories with him. Together over a few years, we conjured a series of fantasy tales called The Land of Wickee Wackee. Our characters and sub-plots interwove. Nothing was more exciting than creating new stories in that make-believe world! Bedtime was amazing!
Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Natasha Mostert’s Season of the Witch changed how I view my role as an author of fantasy fiction. In her book, magic causes mental effects for both the giver and receiver. I find the complexity of that sort of magical system riveting, something I strive for in my own work.
It’s so cool to find a story that pushes us to think beyond how we’ve previously built our worlds. That kind of care surely takes time. Unfortunately, we don’t always see this kind of care in books currently published by indie writers, do we?
have a growing dislike for the indie practice of pushing books out so fast that
quality is sacrificed. The trend worsens each year. Books are produced that
lack originality and depth, and writers burn out and then teach their
methodology for “success” only because they were unable to maintain the arduous
pace long term. Art requires reflection.
Indeed! It took me eight years of writing, revision, reflection, and more writing to make my own first novel worthy of publication. What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Picking up writing a particular story after I’ve left it for a while and it’s gone cold, absent from my daily thoughts. That is a beast I definitely dread tackling.
I’d love to hear more about your series, The Coon Hollow Coven Tales. What inspired you to bring witches and magic to the Midwestern setting?
My series, Coon Hollow Coven Tales, is set in my version of a real place near where I lived in southern Indiana as a child. With its rolling forested ravines and artist residences tucked away in sleepy, rustic log and limestone cabins, the place captured my imagination and never let go.
place is Nashville, Indiana, which lies south of Bloomington. In fact, all of
Brown County and its rolling hills inspires this series.
unusual tiny town in the county, Story, Indiana, is now privately owned and run
as a small bed and breakfast resort. It’s a living fairy tale! And some of the
buildings are haunted! The Blue Lady lives in the rooms above the
inn/restaurant/old general store. If you get a chance to visit, you must!
In Witch’s Mystic Woods, I adapted that little village, renamed it “Fable” and gave it to my Summer Fae King and his faeries to run. In the book, I needed a location to throw a Winter Solstice party. Who else would be better party hosts than fae? So the inn of Fable opened its doors to the witches of Coon Hollow Coven for a memorable night.
The books in my Coon Hollow Coven Tales series are rich with a warm Hoosier down-home feel as well as mysterious magic that lurks in the ravines of those deep woods.
Did Coon Hollow Coven Tales require lots of research? I can’t help but imagine so, considering the subject matter.
Writing Coon Hollow Coven Tales has given me a terrific reason to spend inordinate amounts of time researching all kinds of witchcraft, from group to solitary practices, green witchcraft, wiccan work compared to paganism, Cherokee shamanism (for Witch’s Windsong), and even necromancy (the raising of the dead, for Witch’s Cursed Cabin).
But the most interesting witchcraft I learned about was that of a Hedge Witch, an old, old practice. It relies upon communication with the world of faeries going through the “hedge” or “veil” into their realm. These Hedge Witches are the true-life, Appalachian granny witches, also knowns as “root doctors” or “wildwood mystics.” Their skills riveted me and became the background for my book Blood Ice & Oak Moon. During the past year, I’ve begun a new series, a YA alternate reality/historic fantasy. The series is set in the year 2,355 in what was once the United States, well past an apocalypse that occurred at the end of the Civil War. I’ve done considerate research about the Civil War and how different areas of the country were affected. One of my best references for small things, which books or YouTube cannot convey, has been one of my former high school students who has been an avid 18th and 19th century reenactor for decades. I treasure her advice!
As a writer, what would you choose as your spirit animal?
In preparing to write Witch’s Windsong, the most recent in my Coon Hollow Coven Tales, I studied with a local shaman. My main character, Keir, is a shaman, and I wanted to portray his work accurately. The local shaman taught me how to journey into the different realms and helped me locate and meet my spirit animal, the Coyote, who often teaches me valuable lessons.
The Coyote helps in with my general outlook, including my
writing, always poking at me to take time to “play” with my creative process.
When I listen, the process becomes hugely more rewarding, as much or more than
achieving the final outcome.
Now here’s a fine fellow I’m excited to share with you. Yes, he’s written a book, which is awesome, but I’M keen to share him with you because of his creativity with music. If you’ve visited my blog before, you know how important music is to my writing, so to speak with a songwriter is a great honor, indeed!
Let’s start with an introduction first, shall we? Give us a bit about who you are and what you do.
When will all the pieces come together? And if I don’t like the picture am I stuck with it forever?
a line from a song I wrote when starting out.
The words stayed with me. Kept me honest. A mantra for the inspiration self-doubt hands out in shedloads when it feels like it.
Who am I? Since finishing uni with and against all odds,
a BA (Hons) 1st in Music Technology I’ve gone by the alter ego ‘Zoolon’ but
generally when people call me ‘George’ they get a response. I’m a
singer/songwriter and sound artist without an ego, preferring art above glory;
composition over crowds. On balance I prefer animals to humans and am wary of
men in suits. I’m colour-blind and dyslexic. I work alone, writing lyrics,
composing melody, performing and producing all my own stuff.
Having gone the generic teenage route of live gigging
playing lead guitar in an average band and figuring out it wasn’t for me as the
politics of people were a thing I could do without, I eventually decided to
invent a version of me that could make a music career without going through the
rituals of just performance. Hence the birth of ‘Zoolon’ a couple of years
The key stat that made me look at the music industry
differently was reading that 1% of artists draw in over 90% of the available
income. That means most musicians, however exceptionally talented they might
be, haven’t got a chance. I just knew I had to take a different path. I’m not
there yet, but two years into the ‘Zoolon’ project I’m still in business; I’m
doing OK. Just.
I like to vary the genres I work in from things as far
apart as classical music at one end of the scale to heavy metal at the other
and in between, ambient, acoustic, folk, alternative and experimental.
Growing up I’d never realized that I was dyslexic and
colour-blind until the day came when some professional bloke at great cost to
my parents confirmed it. That they were the reasons I could barely read or
write and that I only saw things as black, grey or white. It’s interesting
being told you are something you never knew you were.
My audience is anyone who’ll listen in. In terms of completion of the Zoolon project I hope that one day I’ll be writing the score for a blockbuster movie.
Now you’ve been studying music a long time. Which instrument started this quest for you, and did you begin composing on this same instrument?
I was about 8-9 years old when my parents gave me my
first guitar. They’d forgotten I was left-handed so the one I got was regular
version. I remember feeling a bit bad about telling them they’d bought the
wrong thing so I taught myself how to play right-handed. I still play
I eventually upgraded to better guitars but remember I did write my first song, ‘The Universe Has Forgotten Me’ – a stereotypical teenage angst number – but wish I could forget. I cringe every time I think about it. I still have that first guitar. It’s bad luck to get rid of the first one.
Your first album, Dream Rescuer, is actually something of a story told in music. What inspired this project within you, and can you describe your creative process to make it?
At uni I composed two concept albums, ‘Cosa Nostra’ that was a sound art composition using captured sound and electronic music, and ‘Liquid Truth’, an album themed on Plato’s Allegory of The Cave. I never released either as they were both in demo form and I’ve never got around to remaking them. As for ‘Dream Rescuer’ – Zoolon’s first album – I had to start somewhere so I put together a collection of songs that each had its own meaning. From that album there are the two songs that have had the most plays out of all my work so far. ‘Sunlight & The Dust’, a protest song regarding how much the world would suffer when farmers and thoughtless gardeners have killed off the bees, and ‘Rexie Believes in Magic’, a take on being lost and finding yourself again. There was no specific creative process. I just let the songs arrive in their own time. Luckily for me, they did just that.
Now your website Zoolon Hub often shares posts where you share poems that may or may not become a song, but I don’t recall you often having this “issue,” if you will, in reverse. Do you find that the lyrics come more readily than, say, the instrumental themes?
Because I have a short span of attention I find it
easier if I try to vary the stuff I put on the blog, throwing in some pics I’ve
taken, plus random story words and rhyming verses mainly, although sometimes
structured ones, plus pieces of music I’ve created and/or that of well-known
artists I like. Foster the People; Coldplay; The Villagers; Paul Simon; Randy
Newman; Metallica; Lola Marsh; Within Temptation; Lana; Marina; Aurora and so
You’re right though, I do put up quite a lot of simple verse type stuff on the blog from time to time, well before any melody has even been thought about. Mostly, I go for melody before words but can do it either way. Inspiration for instrumental music comes from whatever mood I’m in when I’m on a roll – especially the electronic classical numbers, like ‘The Forgotten Daughter of Zeus’ and ‘Barbed Wire’.
A good example of exactly how I work are the two numbers
I wrote for the album ‘The Pigeons Are Switzerland’ about the life and death of
Francesca Woodman a photographic artist from the States who topped herself aged
22 in 1981. They probably reveal a lot about me and the way I write my music. I
can’t claim I discovered this artist myself. I got introduced to Francesca’s
work by another blogger who writes words better than mine and most others. Dark
words and great metaphors you have to think about. Also, she certainly knows
Anyway, what I found amazing about Francesca was that
she was her own muse. She did what she did without the assistance of any
others. A massive portfolio in black and white portraying/capturing, at least
that’s how I see them, reflective statements, moods and emotions in a surreal
way. My work also is something where I don’t involve others. My end result is
often the same as hers, just that it’s spoken through a different artistic
genre. Maybe that’s why I’m hooked on her work. Some people don’t get it when I
say, ‘I hunt alone’. I can’t help it.
I wrote the blog words for the vocal track, ‘Francesca’ well before I turned it into a song. Once I had a melody in my head I used just the selected words from the original I needed for the song that might match Francesca’s mindset leading up to her death.
I like having verses in the closet but rarely stick to them when composing. Also, my love of instrumentals meant I just had to cover her final moments in music and try to do her proud with that ‘freedom at last’ track, ‘Eastside 1981’. If you listen, at the very end you’ll hear the gentle whispering of disturbed air as she took a leap of no faith.
Like a lot of artists her work only
made the big time after her death. A shame.
That’s basically how I work.
I’ve often thought that the composer’s choosing of instruments is akin to a writer choosing the right voices to tell a story…unless, of course, the music chooses its instruments for you. I’ve had that happen, too, where the characters come to me with their stories rather than me hunting them down. What factors are in play when you select the instruments for a song?
That’s a hard question. I think I can only answer it by providing a list. My mood; gut feeling; influences of other artists (whether I’m conscious of it or not); writing with a bespoke purpose in mind; testing my limits; trying to please; and the random thoughts of the scatterbrain I am.
You’ve received some awesome top-notch ratings for your work. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Certainly and in some ways surprisingly, being featured in the February 2019 Lifoti Magazine improved my stats for a while and having a number of songs curated has helped the Zoolon brand get ‘known’ out there, although certainly not ‘well-known’ yet, plus it’s helped to get my work selected for custom-made playlists as well as things like music for mobile apps, retail outlets and stuff like that. Being UK No. 1 and in the Global top 10 for two months earlier this year on ReverbNation has helped spread the word. I’ve got some good potential irons in fires that may come to fruition soon. A year ago I had none of these things.
I imagine that the marketing strategies of an indie musician can be very similar to that of an indie writer. What do you to keep your discography visible on social media?
Not enough. I’m driven to make music, not driven to make
marketing strategy. I glaze over at the word ‘marketing’. It’s stupid but
honestly it’s the truth. It’s a musician thing I think. On social media I go
through the motions best as I can. WP is OK as it’s one to one contact most
often, but Instagram and Facebook are soulless. Twitter is what it is. It’s not
as useless as some people say. Twitter has done well for me.
Word of mouth seems more powerful to me than social media where everyone is competing for the self-same thing – selling music. I probably need a full-time manager, but they generally wear suits!
I love how your songs carry a wide variety of feeling: some have a touch of melancholy, others tension; some anger, others hope. Sooo I don’t really have a question on this, but I’d love for you to comment on the emotional drive for your music. Hmmm, I suppose you could say I’m asking this: Does the emotion come first to inspire the song, or does the song help build these emotions inside you?
I never know how a song’s emotion will evolve.
Creativity never lets on how and if she’s on my side on any given day. I just
have to live in hope she turns up in a good mood. When she turns up bored
senseless more often than not I produce work that ends up getting trashed. A
good day to me is one where I get so involved in what I’m doing that I forget
to eat and drink. I try to get out for breakfast most days just in case I’ll be
starving myself without realizing it for the rest of the day and well into the
On your site you offer to turn a writer’s poem into a song. That’s such a cool service! What inspired you to do this? Do you find it a challenge to create around someone else’s creation?
Working a project for other artists whether they are
poets who want their poems turned to song, or other musicians who want
something they can’t do themselves is great. Just knowing what the brief is
seems to take the pressure away – unlike composing my own stuff from scratch.
The poem to song thing seemed like a good idea; a
sensible thing to add to my WP website. At Zoolon’s WP special rate of just
£100 across the board I’m saving the writer of the words probably £2500+ when
compared with the alternative of hiring a whole load of others from musicians,
singers and sound engineers, plus studio time. The only reason I can do it so
cheaply is that I do everything myself. Also, the customer gets the copyright
for the finished article. I have a number of satisfied customers out there but
could do with a few more. I enjoy creating for others. It’s a warm glow
Lastly, do you want to share any updates about your current works in progress?
In January just gone I released the instrumental album
‘The Forgotten Daughter of Zeus’ and had planned a new acoustic set of songs
for later this year. The new collection was, so I thought, progressing really
well. An early release was on the cards. Then it hit me that the title track was
a bit special and overshadowed the rest. Others have also confirmed that I
might be onto something good with this one.
Because of that a later release of the whole set is now more likely as I need to rethink where I am and where I want to be with the other songs. In many ways this is a good thing. Quality means everything. I’d like to say more at this time but for now all I’ll say is that for the title track I’ve done something entirely different to anything I’ve done before. More on that on my blog in due course.
If you’re curious about my own thoughts on music, feel free to visit my collection of “Writer’s Music” posts. You can also read the results of that inspirational music in my novel and free fiction, available on this site as well as on Amazon.
Thank heaven for this month of fantastic interviews! I’m still trudging my way through grading finals, pricing all the little Bs’ toddler clothing to sell, preparing for two rounds of family visits for Easter…oh and maybe writing in there somewhere. Whew!
So let’s continue on with our amazing Indie April and chat with sci-fi wonder, J.I. Rogers.
First, let’s get the niceties…well not out of the way, as it were, but if you’d like to introduce yourself—who you are and what you write, etc etc etc.
Hi. I’m J. I. Rogers, and I write a fusion of dystopian science fiction and space opera. My bio aptly states that when I’m not acting as a conduit for the voices in my head, I’m a poster child for Gen X and the Queen of most boondoggles that lead to eye-strain and tinnitus. Simply put, I’m a green-eyed, ginger-haired, caffeine addict who currently spends most days (and nights) creating bits to go into ‘The Korpes File Series,’ art, or convincing to my family and friends that I’m not dead.
What would you say was the first book (or author) you read that inspired you to become a writer?
The graphic novel series “Love & Rockets” by Los Bros Hernandez is what truly set me on this path. I’ve been an artist for far longer than I’ve been an author, and Jaime’s work, in particular, sparked the Muse to create my own world. It’s taken close to thirty years to get the ball rolling. In the meantime I’d have to say that every book I’ve ever read has pushed me toward committing text to screen; even the ones I didn’t like. Authors such as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Barbara Hambly, George Orwell, R. A. MacAvoy, Anne McCaffery, G. R. R. Martin, J. R. R. Tolkien, Terry Pratchett have also added their influence. I wrote a few short, fantasy stories based in Mercedes Lackey’s world in the 90s, but my APA, “Northwest Passages,” was sidelined by other projects.
Now according to your “About” page on your site https://jirogers-author.com/, you started working on the sci-fi series The Korpes File back in 2012. This series is set on a different planet, Tamyrh. I’ve never imagined creating an entire PLANET, let alone its various histories and cultures! Can you describe your world-building process for us?
I have a bit of experience in building worlds stemming from my time playing fantasy and sci-fi based role-playing games… Yes, I was one of those dice-rolling, graph-paper toting geeks that played in and ran campaigns through the 80s and 90s. My process could be best described as ‘organized chaos.’
Character Development: Usually, I’ll start with the character, loosely identify their physical and personality characteristics, and then I’ll interview them to learn more. After a couple of paragraphs, I have more of an idea of who they are and how they fit in the world. I’ve found that the characters themselves reveal a fragment of ‘foundation’ information or a core element fairly early on. Things like ‘bullied,’ ‘has integrity,’ and ‘chronic tease’ are just a few of the things that have emerged. From there, I let them flesh themselves out as I write. I’m still learning things about Nash and the other inhabitants of my world. I have found a few photographs that are close to how I visualize the different racial groups of Tamyrh, but none that define the characters. I’m planning to release a sketchbook in 2020 with my vision of what everyone looks like.
World Development: I’m continually finding visual inspirations in our world that I can shape to place in mine, as my Pinterest account can attest. Other aspects, the alien ones, have lurked in my subconscious for decades.
The protagonist in The Korpes File, Nash Korpes, sounds like a fascinating character, burdened with history he didn’t ask for and facing an entire society down in his own “private war,” as you put it. Would you say Nash first appeared to you as a complete person or did you piece his character together over time?
Nash’s ‘Sarcastic voice’ revealed itself first, the rest followed. To be completely honest I’m still learning things about him, and I’m almost done the draft of book three.
You have a little disclaimer on your Korpes series’ web page that the stories contain some serious themes, such as genocide and racism. Were these themes you felt compelled to address via your story, or did your characters seem to guide you into these topics and address them their own way?
All the themes addressed were things that happened organically. There are six distinct humanoid groups on Tamyrh, and one uniquely alien. I had a vague idea of the physical and racial characteristics involved, and as I created the environments (cities, countries, and cultures), they suggested other, human-relatable traits and issues. An excellent example of this subconscious creation would be I knew the Korlo were xenophobes. It wasn’t until I discovered they had never fought a major war on their own soil, they had a small population, and their culture was highly class oriented that I understood why they responded negatively to the Diasporan (refugee) influx. Another example: I didn’t know one of the main characters was gay until he started hitting on another character in a bar scene. Some of the storyline has been on the loom for over thirty years, and the Muse is good at picking up stray threads.
As a fellow series writer, I have to admit that fatigue does occasionally set in—my brain keeps thinking on other projects, and if I don’t let my fingers at least get a few things down my creativity goes haywire. The timeline for your series looks pretty extensive, so I can’t help but ask how you stay dedicated to a single series for so long without going nuts.
HA! I am nuts, just ask anyone who knows me. It helps that as I’m writing, I’ll write scenes or chapters in the future or past (other books). I have at least four or five projects going at once, so if I tire of one, I can keep momentum and interest going by working on another… or stepping out of the office and down to the studio and doing some art. There are also movie nights. When my hubby and I merged households, our book and movie collections threatened to form a singularity. To appease the various gods of chaos, we watch a movie every couple of days.
On the flip side of building an entire world, you also do the “Six-Word Story Challenge,” telling scenes not only with six words but with a unique image in the background. Now I know you’ve been doing this for at least a year, even creating these six-word stories with alphabetized theme words. I believe you’ve had an exhibit for these pieces of storytelling art, correct? How on Tamyrh did you get into this unique vein, and how would you say it powers your creativity?
“Six-Word Story Challenges” are great little warm-up exercises. Sometimes they’ll lead to a much longer scene, and other times, they’re the perfect summation (I’ve even hidden a few in the books). The art exhibition was more of a happy coincidence. A friend and I were going to do a joint exhibit and then she had to withdraw due to poor health. The show was scaled back (I had to omit pieces that were designed for a larger space) and come up with something that could fill the void. I opted to have my show become interactive by encouraging people to look at the art (paintings, sculpture, and prints), then write a six-word story about their experience. I had about forty responses, half of which were genuine attempts. The other half were by someone who liked noodles.
I think it’s safe to say all writers have their own writing Kryptonite. Mine’s that dreaded phone call from the school principal—kills my creativity in a heartbeat. What’s your writing Kryptonite?
I lived in East Africa when
I was growing up. A Cheetah has to eat its kill soon after it’s brought down;
they don’t eat carrion unless the situation is dire. In the past, tour buses would
come in close so the tourii could get better shots, the noise would scare the
kitty off, and the poor thing would have to go and find another gazelle to run
down. This was a problem because of the enormous amount of energy they expend
in the chase. After being run off a third time, some were too weak to make
another try and actually died.
Laws were passed to prevent the tour companies from harassing the wildlife.
When my hubby closes the door to his office, he’s busy. When I close the door
to my office, it means I’m writing. If I’m pulled out of my groove to do
something that didn’t really need me to do it I’ll get peevish and make snarly
noises. If it happens three times in a row, I’ll try to eat the tourist.
You are an AMAZING supporter of fellow indie authors in the blogging community as well as on social media. What advice would you give newbie writers as they work on building their own author platforms?
Why thank you! 😀 My advice is to share posts, create engaging content, leave reviews, be positive without looking for immediate evidence of karmic return. In other words, treat people the way you’d like to be treated. Ultimately, it might even lead to Jean Lee inviting you to appear as an interviewee on her awesome blog.
Aaaaw, shucks. 🙂
What would you say are common traps for aspiring writers, and how would you suggest avoiding them?
1. Don’t edit as you write, only edit after you have the first draft done. 2. Schedule your time on social media like it’s a job. Have a reason to be there and a time when you log off. 3. Take breaks, stretch, and remember to go outside and play with your friends. 4. Drink more water. 5. Remember to sleep.
Do I do all of these things? No, but I’m aspiring.
What would you consider to be the most problematic practice in the publishing industry, and how would you try to change it?
I’ve never been a fan of politics, and it seems to be a constant in any field, creative or not. I would love to win something like a Hugo or a Nebula Award at some point before I die, but the former has become highly political from all accounts, and I’m not traditionally published in the case of the latter. I’m not holding out much hope. How would I change that? It’s out of my power. However, if you can’t bring about big changes, change something in your own neighborhood, right? There are a lot of indie publishers who embody positive energy and support their fellow authors; actions like theirs make everyone stronger. Model the behavior you wish to see, be the person you want to encounter and boost the worthy folks you meet. Pay it forward.
Oh! Tell us about your current project(s), please!
I’m currently working on books three through six of “The Korpes File Series,” painting the cowling on my Vino scooter before I put it back on the road, finishing up some WAY overdue art commissions, and creating a character sketchbook for my patrons (that’s due out in 2020).
Stay tuned for yet another lovely indie author interview next week–in fact, I’ve actually gotten requested by more authors to interview them, soooooo this interview-a-thon may very well spill into May. We shall see!
In the meantime, here are links to my novel and FREE short stories, juuuuuuust in case you haven’t checked them out yet, wink wink nudge nudge say no more. 😉
Helloooooo, my lovely folks! While I vanquish the mountain of term papers and attempt to discover new territory in Camp NaNoWriMo,I want to treat you all to a month of interviews with amazing indie authors. As April is also Poetry Month, it is only fitting to begin with the one, the only, Master Mike Steeden. x
First, Mike, why not tell us a little about yourself?
As to imparting ‘a little about myself’ it is probably for the best that such information remains left untold. Were I to continue there is a very real risk of your readers becoming consumed with the urgent desire to open a vein and end it all out of sheer tedium.All I will say is that aside from being a time-traveller…and frankly that’s not all it’s made out to be…and having shared a few beers with both Joan of Arc, a lovely gal, although lacking that certain panache on the coiffure front, and the much maligned yet a decent sort when you get to know him, Vlad the Impaler, there is little of interest to divulge.
What first inspired you to create with words?
I know many ‘words’ yet cannot spell for toffee, hence the day I discovered that Word had a ‘spellcheck’ I was inspired to have a stab at writing. To my addled mind, although irrelevant in the global plan of things, that event became my metamorphosis moment. Notwithstanding the spelling issues, possibly I should also extend my thanks to the inventers of the keyboard for I am incapable of reading my own handwriting.
You create a lush mix of poetry, prose poetry, flash fiction, and novel fiction. When does that form take shape? That is, does a story always begin a story, or does the scene you begin later transform into a poem? Your piece “The Shop that Sells Kisses” feels like it could have been a bit of flash fiction, but the rhythm of language clearly demands its rightful place among your poetry. 🙂
When fate affords me a decent ‘first line’ or a ‘title’ I’m straight on the case. Hardly ever do I know in which direction or sub-genre the words might take me. I simply leave it up to them. Some words beg to rhyme others seem to not care less what happens next. I tend to work to my disorganized version of organized and without a blind clue as to the content of what I’ve written until it feels like the finished article. Only then do I read it back. At that stage some finished pieces face the firing squad, others live to see another day. ‘Words’ are anarchistic creatures…free roaming is their way of life. Were it the case they ended up confined within the cages of Manuscript Zoo they would commit hara-kiri. In life I cannot, as the old London saying goes, ‘Organize a piss up at a brewery’ and likewise when writing I’ve never been capable of successfully structuring a coherent plan. Quite the opposite as I live in constant fear of preordained rules. Free-thinking never submits to precedent’s ineptitude.
Something I’ve always wanted to ask a poet pertains to line breaks. “The Longest Night” has both fluid lines, long and winding, as well as stark lines of extreme brevity. How do you decide where lines should be broken?
As I alluded to previously, the words make decisions for me. I have no say in the matter. It is akin to being in a maze wearing just a blindfold and socks. I’ve never claimed to be a poet. ‘Almost poetry’ is the name I coined for my genre. The words decide the line breaks amongst themselves. Rarely do they argue with one another. A democracy of syllables? Possibly. Some words are shy and want to hold hands together, others prefer the hustle and bustle of the cityscape on a summers night. Given that rules bore me rigid I am grateful to the wantonly pliable words for making life easy. In terms of ‘The Longest Night’, albeit written in what feels like a lifetime lost I do remember being sat outside a café watching the day go by when a group of now aging Gurkha ex-soldiers strolled by. For whatever reason the chalk on the blackboard inside my head came out with the obscure first line, ‘Forgotten tribes and luminaries outwear handicaps’. It hit me smack in the face Tysonesque punch style. I suspect that the pattern the words took was due to the quantum leaps of shifting back and forth across two time zones. Sorrowfully, the event I wrote of was concerning the stupidity of WW1. The word collective demanded the whole picture be seen even if the subject matter was in cameo; a convoluted fiction of respect.
What, according to you, is the hardest thing about writing?
By far and away the hardest thing is when, over an evening’s glass or two of something French and red I’ve welcomed in the multi-coloured immigrant words and ensured the poor things are safe and sound in the sanctuary of my laptop only to find come the morn they have mutated into a gang of shaven headed, tattooed archetypical plain white indigenous thugs. Sadly, I have to evict the unwanted and await for new arrivals.
Do you pen down revelations and ideas as you get them, right then and there?
Yes. Words are delicate things. Give them a home at the drop of a hat in the knowledge that should they not be cared for they will die young.
You’ve clearly tapped an endless vein of inspiration from WWII and the Cold War, as poems like the “The Sunshine Girl” and “She is the Ghost of Generations” show. What is it about these particular years that hold your imaginative curiosity above all others?
Twixt the end of one evil, namely WW1 and the commencement of
another…morally far, far worse than its predecessor…a new dawn would trade
peace’s bright sun-shiny new dawn for darkest storms clouds that would
hurriedly mature into the tempest that was the unremitting thunder and
lightning of WW2. Within the traditional
European battlefield a Lilliputian era of unrefined, unadulterated passion for
passion’s sake. A ‘passion’ initially
for simply ‘living life to the full’; a thing lost in the death and destruction
of what had gone before. Then, in passion’s adolescence; new artforms; adapted
old artforms; polar opposite political doctrines; deliciously sullied ‘encounters’
of any and every shape and form; writers taking bold risks like never before.
Nothing was taboo. At its centre was Paris, ‘The City of Love’, although Weimar
Berlin ran it a close second. How could
I not be drawn into such an array of talent revealed; sometimes wasted in this
Bohemian, Parisian wonderland? Oh, to be
a fly on the wall. I have said before,
even in the knowledge that by 1939 the world would once again be in conflict, I
would give my right arm to, as the poet Max Jacob said when taking up residence
in Montparnasse district of the city, “I have come to sin disgracefully.”
One must not overlook that during those years at various times
within this small quarter was home to Hemingway, F Scott Fitzgerald, Man Ray,
Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Dali, Henry Miller, Ezra Pound, Lee Miller and a whole
host of others from abroad. In the case of the many young, talented American’s
arriving, they came because they believed their ‘native land was a cultural
sink.’ Perhaps all ‘native’ lands had earned such a dull tag when compared to
Paris back then? Whatever, Ms Lee that is the reasoning behind my constant
My risqué ‘romance come espionage’ book, ‘Notoriously Naked Flames’ is themed around the events of that short-lived libertine era. Writing that book was pure joy. I think I fell in love with the albino Goddess who was my lead character and a diamond gal, to boot.
Another element of poetry that fascinates me is word choice. When you write poems like “The Passing of a Myth,” do you first concentrate on creating the visuals within the poem, or are you first dedicated to building the music of the line? Both are gorgeous in this poem, but I can’t fathom trying to work on both at once, so I’m assuming there’s a process. 🙂
There’s no process, I promise.
In truth I’d forgotten I ever wrote that one. Having just read it once again I recall that at the time a dark depression had consumed me. I’m particularly good at those. In their own clinging way they have a creative spark unique to their species. The addictive perk depression offers is that it spawns words of own volition. They may have come alive in my head yet I never feel ‘ownership’ of them. What and how I write is, as ever, at their discretion. If there is a benefit in chance visits from my old nemesis, Monsieur Chien Noir, then it is that, by way of compensation for outstaying his welcome, I often find he settles his account by way a currency born of milk and honey words that flow like there’s no tomorrow.
What advice would you like to pass on to young writers of today that is unconventional but true?
Well, this is my personal take on the subject. I’m sure many will justifiably
see it differently. I would firstly advise that nothing is sacred. You can get
away with murder when your only weapon is the written word. Never pull a punch.
It took me an age to realize that words beg to be out of their comfort zone. Let
them run feral. Also, never run ahead of yourself and believe you’re a poet or
a novelist. You’re not. I’m not. Most aren’t. To me only the greats who have
earned their stripes in that regard can lay claim to those tags. Mostly they
never find that out, as accolades tend to chase only the great and grateful dead.
Importantly, grab hold of self-doubt and make her your new best friend. She’ll never let you down. While a smidgen of self-believe is a harmless thing, never believe you’re capable of walking on the inky waters of Lake Egocentric for you will lose all respect from your peer group as well as potential readers.
If you’re writing about a city/country/culture you haven’t physically visited, how much research do you conduct before you start writing?
Albeit a contradiction given what I’ve said vis a vis ‘words’, yes I
do research. I find it chivvies the lazy words amongst the contingent along. In
many ways it’s the most enjoyable aspect. I learn shed loads of things I never
knew previously. Even with my ‘Jonny Catapult the Plumber the Artist’s All
Trust’ lunatic skits…as per my new book, ‘Fanny,
I Think of You Often’…I had to research pretty much all angles of
plumbing believe it or not…not that I shall actually or actively ‘plumb’ now
or at any time in the future unless there is a revolver fixed firmly at my
temple. Plainly, it is essential to share my research with the tribe curious ‘words’
thus giving them an idea as to where I live in hope they will travel.
‘Notoriously Naked Flames’ demanded a whole mass of painstaking research. I had to discover exactly how life was and how it looked during those years building up to WW2 in countries and cities across Europe, from Amsterdam, Mother Russia…including the Ukraine, Istanbul and Berlin, none of which I was that familiar with, although when it came to Paris and the coastal areas of Belgium I was very much on home territory. History, architecture, politics and the ways of life of both the good and the bad became key to creating a canvas upon which words could paint their picture.
Thank you so, so much for taking time to chat, Master Steeden! Let’s wrap-up with a rundown of your latest works available now on Amazon.
I’ve have already made mention of the new book, full title, ‘Fanny, I Think of You Often & Other Tales of Abject Lunacy’. It is the first of two books both of which are a deranged collection of skits, such as ‘Audrey Hepburn’s Bout of Gout’; ‘Marilyn Monroe’s Distressing Flatulence’; ‘The fate of the old grannie from Lowestoft who once upon a time inadvertently stepped upon Elvis’s blue suede shoes’ and much, much more. The sister to this tome, ‘The Elastic Snapped,’ is also available.
Another addition to the shelves at Amazon/Kindle is co-authored with Shirley Blamey. It’s name is ‘Whatever Happened To Eve?’ Eighteen months previous I commenced collecting ever willing words for this story. A third of the book complete, the new words arriving were a motley crew who failed abysmally to direct my tale toward a conclusion.
Then a stroke of good fortune. It was in September last year, having
suffered an irksome eye injury some months previous that had slowed my progress
when coaxing words, that Shirl and I took a short break in France and it was
there a story imagined over cold bière blonde in a clandestine darkest corner
of a once voguish bar in ‘Paris par la mer’ took on a new shape. Twixt the pair
of us, in concert we found ourselves acting and reacting to the seductive pulse
of mutual, sometimes deliciously wicked thoughts. No ‘what if’s’, ‘but’s’ or ‘maybe’s’ when a
dark fantasy drops out the night sky for it must, for rationalities’ sake, be
put to the written word before it is lost forever to the merciless ether. An
excited cluster of unshackled ‘words’ agreed. We were on a roll.
I have to say, come breakfast, I questioned Shirl on a number of potentially
controversial topics and storylines we had come up with that night in France.
“Can we really get away with that? Seriously?” I asked. “Molly Parkin got away
with it time and time again. Why not?,” her pokerfaced riposte. Soon after wily
‘words’ found they had two craniums to take up residence in. I tend to think
mine was just their holiday home.
130,000 or so words later we have a book we shall shortly make known
to others. Having said that…and you
are the first to know, the lovely Ms. Lee…
‘Whatever Happened To Eve?’ is, in truth, already available in both
paperback and Kindle at Amazon sites far and wide.
Lastly Ms Lee, my
thanks for the invitation, your time and patience.
Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse: Poetry with a Hint of Lunacy: Gentlemen Prefer a Pulse is Mike Steeden’s first published collection of poetry and features over a hundred poems that are sometimes humourous, serious, satirical, surreal, thought provoking and brilliant! Mike says his inspiration is drawn from his self proclaimed love of the fairer sex, his passion for ‘people watching’ (a trait born of his time as a private investigator), social justice and compassion.
Notoriously Naked Flames: Part espionage thriller, part romance, part fantasy, part adventure, ‘Notoriously Naked Flames’ is Mike Steeden’s first novel. Spanning the lead up to World War II, the war itself, and into the early 1950s, the unnamed heroine of the piece, a bewitching albino of Bohemian bent, masquerades in all manner of risqué guises dishing out her own version of clandestine justice to those evil souls spawned of conflict’s disregard for compassion, law, and order.
Fanny, I Think of You Often… Nothing is sacred. If permitted, the mind wanders free in the knowledge that anything and everything is possible. Season such a mind with a pinch of satire plus a hint of Pythonesque surrealism and the dish of ‘fusion lunacy’ is ready to be served. Within the pages of this deranged collection of skits you will discover how Audrey Hepburn dealt with a bout of gout; similarly what became of Marilyn Monroe’s false teeth; the fate of the old grannie from Lowestoft who once upon a time inadvertently stepped upon Elvis’s blue suede shoes and much, much more.
The Elastic Snapped: WARNING: This book may contain traces of nuts (not of the edible kind) and may also cause drowsiness amongst those unfamiliar with the English language. Bibliophobia sufferers may experience severe panic attacks. Additionally, it is strongly recommended that you do not drive whilst reading.INGREDIENTS: Lunacy, stupidity, silliness, idiocy, absurdity, aberration, eccentricity and fragments of appallingly bad taste.
Whatever Happened to Eve? No writer can help what he or she writes. Whether they be scandalous or sweet, dull or bright, words arrive as and when the fancy takes and evolve into whatever fable suits. With that in mind this collective of untamed words, of their own volition, chose not to be pitched at the easily offended or fainthearted, instead they opted for a captivating darkness.
Let’s talk first about reading awesome stuff. What is your favorite childhood book? C’mon, say Voyage of the Dawn Treader, you know you want to!
Haha, is that your favorite Narnia book? If I was to go with something from C.S. Lewis I’d say Out of the Silent Planet. I’m a big fan of Roald Dahl, it’s hard to pick one, maybe James and the Giant Peach. Also, I’ve been reading Calvin & Hobbes to my kids at night, and I’m always impressed by how much insight Bill Waterson has into the fundamental nature of childhood. Do other people identify that much with Calvin or is it just me?
OH MY GOSH YES! We found all our old Calvin & Hobbes collections when the basement flooded. The kids LOVE reading them, which is awesome…until one starts using some of Calvin’s vocabulary at school and winds up seeing the principal as a result. That’s not so awesome.
Anyway, what authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
I think that The Catcher in the Rye is one of those books where there’s a small window in your life where it really hits you like a punch in the face. I think high schools do it a disservice by teaching it in Sophomore years. I think you need to approach it a bit later. Sooner or later you’ll feel what Holden was feeling, and Catcher is magical if you pick it up at that moment. However, if you’re reading it against your will it becomes absolutely miserable…which is unfortunate.
I know just what you mean. I recall being forced to readThe Count of Monte Cristoin college and absolutely loathed it, but when I tried it again a few years ago, I was completely enraptured. It’s like there needs to be a shedding of expectations, an allowance to read for reading’s sake, and allow the story to dictate the pace rather than the reader.
I remember being pretty upset at the end of The Elfstones of Shannara. I also found the first 6 minutes of Transformers: The Movie completely devastating. I know it was just a big advertisement to get us to buy toy robots…but it meant something to me dang it!
Oh yeah, I made the mistake of showing this “kid’s movie” to my sons. Watch the opening if you dare, folks. This movie opens with an entire planet of living robots BEING EATEN. Kids love death on a planetary scale!
(Gotta say, though, that the theme song is totally metal.)
Bash sobbed for ages after it was done, and I don’t blame him–you’re watching beloved Robots in Disguise MELT TO DEATH throughout this movie! Biff thought it all amusing and wanted to watch it again. (Yes, we are watching him.)
I’m sure you get a lot of authors and/or stories recommended to you that you just don’t dig—a reader’s block, as it were. Do you fight your way through to finish the story, or do you shelve the story, never to be finished?
The main reason I don’t finish a book these days is just a lack of time. Endings don’t surprise me anymore so the main craft of a book is in the beginning I believe. If an astute reader hasn’t guessed the ending of a book then there are problems with the build up. It’s pretty rare to encounter a book so terrible I have to put it down. Whether a book is published by a small press, a major publisher, or independently, there is almost always a memorable line or scene. Everybody has a worthwhile story to tell.
Excellent point. In all my years I can’t think of more than a few books that I just couldn’t bring myself to finish. Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?
Walter Rhein with Janet & Chris Morris at the Library of Congress
I like the onomatopoeic words that show interjections of simultaneous action during a dialogue, and the present tense portions create a sense of urgency. Janet Morris does something similar in her Beyondseries, although she slips out of it into a more traditional narrative voice. I might try doing a short story in your style just to see how it feels.
That’d be cool! It’s important to test different styles. Yeah, they might not work, but some other excellent character or plot idea may arise in that attempt, and that makes the experiment worth it.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
I think you gain more confidence in the process as you go. Usually there’s a theme or an idea that I want to work through, and I come up with a lot of stories that surround that idea. Once you have a hundred pages of stories, you start to see how they connect in a storyline. I imagine that The Hobbit came as a result of Tolkien saying, “I’d like to daydream about a place called Middle-Earth for a while.” Writing a book is very much taking a journey. You take the journey because you’re curious what the scenery looks like.
You’re currently a member of the St. Croix Writers, a writing group based in the beautiful North Woods of Wisconsin. Can you share a bit about this group and its awesomeness?
I just met those folks as a result of a concerted effort I’m making in 2019 to be more active in writing groups. I found a web page that listed all the writing groups in the state of Wisconsin and I wrote all of them a message. Thomas Wayne King sent me his phone number and encouraged me to call for a chat which I thought was very nice. I plan on attending their next meeting. I think a lot of writing groups could come into the 20th century a little more. There are a lot of ways that writers can support each other and I think that needs to be encouraged.
Yes, indeed! Especially because it’s easy to feel a bit cut off where we are, the “backwaters” that “real writers” don’t live in.
So of course I have to ask about Wisconsin, too, being a “Cheesehead” myself (yet not a Packer fan. I know, I know, I’m lucky not to be banished to Illinois for that.) Do you feel there’s something about Wisconsin’s land, people, or culture that inspires your storytelling? How so?
I think a lot of stories from rural Wisconsin are overlooked or dismissed. There’s quite a bit of arrogance in the writing community, and an impulse to disregard certain stories, which is unfortunate. Everyone has a story to tell, and all of those stories are very important and deserve attention. Actually, if you want to read more about my thoughts on this matter, check out my article “Not Worthy of Study: The Catastrophic Arrogance of the Literary Community.” Go Packers!
Ugh, don’t even TALK to me about the Packers after this lousy excuse of a season!
It can be a huge struggle balancing the writing side of life with that of family. Does your family inspire your stories, or support you in your writing endeavors? In what way(s)?
I’ll often read my stories to my girls at night before they go to sleep. If they pay attention all the way to the end, I know I have something good. If they drift off, I know I have to rewrite. They’re very honest and that’s vital.
Aw, that’s so awesome! I haven’t dared share my writing with my kids. When I see them, the fear of disappointing them digs too deep.
You regularly travel between the United States and Peru to visit family. How amazing to be immersed in such different cultures! What kinds of inspiration do you draw from the Peruvian landscape, culture, and people?
I went to Peru when I was 26 and it was super helpful to me because it was so inexpensive to live there. As a writer, you need a lot of time, not just for writing, but for reflection. Also, you can go a lot time between pay days writing, so it’s nice not to have a lot of financial pressure. Being in a foreign country is great for anyone because it shows that whole societies are built on radically different ideas. This is useful to see in person if you’re one of those people who walks around thinking, “So many things in our society seem wrong to me.” People will tell you that you’re crazy if you point out an error. “That’s the way it’s always been,” they say. It’s a massive existential boost to see that, no, it HASN’T always been that way in other parts of the world.
As much as I love my kids, they can be my writing Kryptonite: nothing zaps the creative drive like a call from the principal or a kid waking waaaay too early for his own good. What is your writing Kryptonite?
I’m the first to admit I “Google as I go” as far as researching is concerned. How long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
I think research is more important to a tech type writer, somebody like Tom Clancy where historical items are far more important to the plot. I’m a character type writer, so research doesn’t play that big a role. However, my most recent release, Paperclip, required some research. We did it on the fly, and we found exactly what we were looking for. It turns out there were some documents that were supposed to be shredded by the government but got misfiled instead—you can’t make stuff like that up!
Oh, what a lucky find!
You and I are both published via small presses, which are different than self-publishing programs or the “traditional” publishing houses, so we see things a bit differently in the publishing industry. What do you think is the most unethical practice in the publishing industry, and what can be done to change it?
There are a lot of things I’d like to change in the publishing industry. One of the things I really dislike is that people seem to be afraid to express their own opinions. A narrative gets created about a book, and people fall in step with what the narrative states. I’ve been fortunate where I’ve felt the tidal effect of a positive narrative, but it still is a disquieting feeling. I used to get in trouble in college classes a lot because I like to offer nuanced opinions, but the mass of people want to reassign you to a larger, dumbed down narrative. “Well it sounds like you’re saying this…” they say, when you aren’t saying anything of the sort.
Oh yes, I’ve noticed that, these “narratives.” There’s hype that will lump the book into a certain group, and if you disagree than you’re an awful person. There’s no nuance anymore, no “I liked Element A in the book but not B, and here’s why.” It’s all or nothing.
Mostly, I’d like to see new authors get more of a fair shake, but part of advertising is to take customers away from the competition. The thing I’m doing to change it is to read and engage with as many new authors as I can. I’ve become pretty bored with major Hollywood releases, there are some fascinating works out there in small-press and independent publishing.
Kudos to you, Sir! There’s such a wealth of amazing tales out there that the mainstream media never touches. It’s up to us to dig them up!
Lastly, what are common traps for aspiring writers, and how can they avoid them?
A lot of the general beliefs about what it means to be a writer are just flat out wrong, and there are a lot of people giving bad advice. The big thing to remember is that the money is supposed to flow TO the writer, not FROM the writer. Even if it’s not a lot of money, it needs to be going TO you. The other thing to keep in mind is that your work will often be rejected without being read. There are some agents and publishers who send out really snooty form letters, and you’ll get these even from an email query that doesn’t even include an attachment of your work. It’s pretty much a rigged game with no chance of success, but play it anyway. Maybe we should all be thankful for that because I think too much attention is just as destructive to your ability to do important work as too little. Every story is important, and every story has an audience. Thanks for having me!
And thank you for taking the time to chat! Lord willing I can drive up to Chippewa Falls sometime for a chat. 🙂
If you’re in northern Midwest, Rhein and co-author Dan Woll are having a talk about writing and marketing thrillers.
I connected with P.J. Lazos online as a fellow indie writer of fiction and nonfiction. Her discussions on environmental issues, writing, human virtue, and family are so compelling that I just had to introduce her to all of you.
First, let’s talk about you. Your biography reflects many passions: a passion for truth as a journalist, a passion to fight for what can’t as an environmental lawyer, and a passion for words as a writer. Which of these passions shown itself in you first, and how did it influence your other passions?
I think my strong sense of justice started in childhood. My mother had a baby who died at three months old. I was three years old at the time and remember thinking how unfair it was for our family, but especially for my mother who was devastated by the loss. I think I tried so hard to make it right for her, but of course, what could I do. Maybe the words grew out of that experience — definitely the emotion. I remember journaling when I was a kid although then it was called “keeping a diary” an no where near as in vogue as it is now so clearly the name change helped. As for my bit with the environment, well, my mom used to wrap me in a blanket and tuck me under the big oak tree in the backyard and I would lie there and have a conversation with the tree, or at least that’s what it looked like in the video, so I think that started then, too.
Your Six Sisters series delves into the nuances of family life and all its beautiful imperfections. Now I’m not going to strictly ask if this is autobiographical, but were any characters inspired by family or friends in your life? What drew you to share their stories?
That’s funny. My brother-in-law from my first marriage — I still maintain a solid relationship with my ex-husband and former in-laws — asked me the same question about List of 55. The answer is complicated. No, in that the over-the-top behaviors of the characters in that story were definitely not us, but yes in that the underlying emotion behind a break-up was definitely there. You don’t have to have a specific experience to write about it convincingly as long as you can access the emotion behind it. For example, I remarried and my now husband’s first wife died when their two kids were very young. Hearing that story from his POV allowed me to access his unbearable loss and I created a character — David Hartos in Oil and Water — loosely based on my husband who was also a commercial diver. He provided me with insight into how a heart completely busted open by grief struggled to raise two kids as well as how the world of commercial diving worked. I think that as writers, a piece of you lands in every story you ever write, but some are just more autobiographical than others. The part of List of 55 where the central character has a miscarriage — that precise situation did not happen to me, but I did have a miscarriage in a bathroom stall at 30th St. Station in Philadelphia and I think it may have been the saddest, most horrific moment of my life. I tried to write about it before, but it never came out with the gravity I wanted to convey so I put all that angst into Belinda’s character and that’s what I got. Sometimes it’s easier to process your own pain through a made up character. Isn’t that a staple of psychological counseling for kids, and aren’t we all just kids walking around in adult bodies, still harboring all the crap and still relishing all the joys we experienced in childhood?
Now, your most recent novel, Oil and Water,is an environmental thriller. Considering your legal expertise, I imagine you didn’t have to do a ton of research for this novel…or is that being presumptuous?
Yeah, I wish it worked that way for me, but it doesn’t. I started with doing some initial research about converting trash into oil and about the Marsh Arabs and the wetlands in the Fertile Crescent (which you would remember from studying Egypt or Mesopotamia), but a lot of the rest, like you, I googled as I went. I have enough information in my head to get me started, but my memory isn’t always a straight arrow so I need to fact check. My favorite kind of fiction is where you learn something so I wanted to be sure I was passing on real time information.
As the premise of Oil and Water brings readers to difficult questions about our dependence on fossil fuels, your website Green Life Blue Wateralso informs readers of some amazing environmental initiatives that are doing their communities some good. Are there any current programs you’d like to highlight right now?
Rain gardens and aquaponics! I’m a member of the Junior League of Lancaster, a group that’s been operating in Lancaster since 1923. This is my 8th year in the League and I love being part of a volunteer women’s organization. We are doing some really cutting edge stuff like building rain gardens which are basically bowl-like depressions planted with hydrophytic plants that hold stormwater and rain water in high flow times as a way to divert it out of combined sewer system.
This year we’re adding aquaponics to the mix which is basically a fish tank with food growing on top — veggies, herbs, whatever you want (well, maybe not pumpkins). The fish poop fertilizes the plants so it’s a self-contained system. We’re doing a pilot project at an elementary school here in Lancaster, installing four tanks in four second grade classrooms and putting together some curriculum to go with it. We want to make a “pizza garden” with basil, oregano, cherries tomatoes, and a few other things so when the kids harvest the food in the tank we can throw them a pizza party. So lots happening: how ecosystems interact, close up look tan water and nutrients, nutrition, and more, I’m sure. Hands on learning is really the best way to get those kind of lessons across. I just learned that the Aztecs were the first to do aquaponics. The called it Chinampas. So you see, I’m learning something, too.
You are also a member of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, correct? Can you tell us a little about this program and how writers can join?
I actually don’t do that anymore. It was quite fun, but a friend of mine asked me what I had to be insecure about since she loved my writing. That started me thinking about The Law of Attraction and how what you think about all day long is what manifests in your life so I stopped participating in IWSG and started participating in WATWB, We Are the World Blogfest, which had just started. WATWB happens on the last Friday of every month and it showcases positive news stories as a way to counteract all the negativity in the world, an “accentuate the positive” approach to news and life. I also found this group to be more “my people”, writers all, but focused on social justice, environmental issues, a better life for all people. Plus you get a real lift from reading the stories people post.
Lastly, what advice would you like to share with those who are unsure how to explore their family or other passions with writing?
Journaling is always a great way to get started. I always kept a kind-of notebook, but when my daughter was born, a friend gave me a beautiful black sketch book with lovely, creamy paper. I had four months off from work, plus another four on a very part-time basis, I wrote a journal in earnest, a love letter to my kid that I intend to give her one of these days when she’s ready to read it. Her dad and I split before she was born and I wanted to get everything I was feeling down on paper. We joke now that she came out screaming because I was so angry when I was pregnant. Unless I’m reading her wrong, today, like me, she laughs readily and sees both the irony and the gifts in most situations. I don’t write in a journal as much as I used to, but I have a blog and much of what I would write in the journal goes in the blog. One thing I would suggest and that I myself need to get back to is morning pages, something Julia Cameron suggested in “the Artist’s way.” A brain dump every morning to get the gook out and start fresh — something that both reaps and sows benefits. Your mind is clearer, and you’re not as much of a jerk to the the person behind the counter who gets your order wrong or the one who cuts you off in traffic. It helps you to be more chill, in addition to generating ideas, and we all could use more of that.
My deepest thanks to P.J. for taking time to time to talk to us! You can find her Amazon page here and her Twitter page here.
Would you like to be interviewed on Jean Lee’s World, or plug your creative work in my newsletter? Contact meand let me know!
Oh, and I just gotta say how cool it is that four of my Tales of the River Vine are STILL in the Top 10 Free YA Fantasy Monster Fiction.
That’s two months now, and going strong! Thank you thank you THANK YOU! I do hope you’ll leave a review letting me know which characters you dig–and which you want to see more of! I’m brainstorming up some more Tales while working on the novels, and would love a little reader input. xxxxxx
Ah, January 2019, you give me so much hope for the coming year! We must begin with stories, for of course we must. Whether you love to read or to write, you are here to experience a story.
Have I got the stories for you!
Not just my own fiction–I’ll get to that. No, I’d like to introduce you to some wonderful indie writers who have been publishing on Channillo, a subscription-based publishing platform stocked with hundreds of stories written by talented writers from around the world. A few Channillo writers have stopped by to share their stories as well as why they feel serialized fiction is awesome for readers and writers alike.
Let’s start with some basics. Your name and title(s) on Channillo, please!
Nick and Amy have been married for seventeen years which is a big deal because marriage is hard and messy and a fifty percent divorce rate and all. Nick and Amy live with their three kids in the middle of the United States, in a place like Iowa or Ohio or some other smallish, flat state with too many vowels, growing corn and soybeans, making it basically indistinguishable from any of the other states around it and uninteresting to anyone that didn’t grow up there. Nick is a procrastinator by nature which drives Amy crazy and Amy is spicy when she gets annoyed, which Nick adores. Together they are every marriage still trying to keep it real after almost two decades together while dealing with the not-so-fun parts of everyday life.
Leda, a young woman who moved to Japan to escape her abusive family, is slowly adjusting to her new life. She’s learning Japanese, making friends, and enjoying the summer festivals. On the day of the famous Tanabata festival, she finds a small shrine – but when she steps out of the shrine, she steps into Edo Era Japan.
Trapped 400 years in Japan’s past, what follows is half fantasy, half historical fiction. Is her coming here an accident? Or does it have something to do with the sudden appearance of European ships off the coast? Leda must discover how she ended up in this situation, and how she can get back home – or if she even wants to go back.
What made you choose publishing your work as a serial as opposed to a collection/novel?
Seitz: I do write novels in the traditional way, but writing Nick & Amy as a short story serial on Channillo gave me the opportunity to put something out every other week and get immediate feedback, which is not how writing a novel works. It’s quite refreshing to show the world what I’ve been working on for a week, get a laugh or two, and then do it all over again, while working simultaneously on a novel project that no one will see for months.
Oga: I choose to publish my work as a serial because I don’t have a complete manuscript. It gives me to the opportunity to share the parts I have written and see how interested people are in the work. Also, the pressure to publish the next installment in the series is a good motivation to write. Writers love deadlines.
Lee: I wanted to write a serialization. I guess I was inspired by things like manga, which have contained stories within an overall larger arc – and can go on indefinitely. I was also romanticizing the turn of the century, where authors like Charles Dickens would publish their novels as serials, sometimes not even knowing the ending or how long it would be.
I like how flexible serialization is.
I found this quote published in The Washington Post back in 2015, and I’d like you to comment on it:
Critics will undoubtedly moan that serialization would favor literature that’s heavy on cliffhangers and light on subtlety — and that it would corrupt more “serious” works. … Yet it requires the same characteristic any worthy novelist already seeks: momentum — a value that needn’t come at the expense of integrity. -Hillary Kelly, “Bring Back the Serialized Novel”
Seitz: There is truth that serial literature requires a reason for the reader to keep coming back for more, and maybe it works best as a cliff hanger for many serial stories. But at the heart of any story, a hard cover NYT Best Seller or an online serial, isn’t that exactly what every author is striving for? Spinning a story so thrilling or hilarious or mind-blowing that their reader can’t stop turning the pages though it’s hours past their bedtime.
Lee: You can’t tell me that modern novels don’t rely on cliffhangers. Have you ever read a YA novel? Look, cliffhangers aren’t bad, tension is not bad, motivating your readers to read the next instalment by getting them emotionally invested in a character is not bad.
A novel is like a movie, it comes out all at once. A serial is like a TV shows, building anticipation for the next chapter every week.
What benefits have arisen with plot, character development, and/or voice as you write a serial?
Seitz: I wanted to write Nick & Amy as a series of realistic fiction vignettes, every day funny stories about a regular married couple that don’t necessarily build on each other, but add another layer to the relationship with each new installment. As a serial, it’s been a fun way to play with building strong character development little by little in Nick and Amy, exposing deeper aspects of their marriage, relationships, and personalities through whatever daily adventure I’m putting them through.
Lee: I can experiment a lot more. I can have story arcs that focus on one particular character, or do a fun story that really has nothing to do with the overall arc, but adds to the atmosphere and the tension in the story. I feel like I just have so much more liberty telling this story.
What do you think draws readers to read serial (non)fiction?
Oga: Brevity. Our attention span is getting shorter as there are more and more things vying for it. People are drawn to serial works because the instalments are succinct. Serial successfully heighten pace and suspense. It enlightens and entertains long enough to hold the reader’s attention. It gives readers breaks between instalments to get them interested again. Each instalment starts strong, finishes strong, and creates suspense to intensify anticipation for the next.
People also like the participation in following a serial. Without the ability to read ahead, people are on the same page in terms of discussions of the work. Everyone tries to keep up with the reading in order to keep up with the conversations.
Lee: I think people like the anticipation. They like being rewarded every week with a new instalment. They like to wonder between instalments about what’s going to happen next. It’s a kind of interactive way to read a novel.
What advice do you have for fellow writers who want to give serialization a go?
As with anything artistic: just do it. If you don’t like it, or it fails, you have nothing to lose. It’s all experience that will help you with your next project.
Do you receive any reader feedback on your writing as it’s posted? What do you do with those reader comments?
Oga: Comments are important. Good or bad, they reveal how readers perceive my work. I cherish comments a lot because they help me better understand my expression of thought and plots. Comments help answer a lot of questions for me. Did my work inspired the emotions I hoped to raise? Did it enlighten the reader as I’d hoped? What is the reader expecting in the next installments? Is my work gripping enough?
I use comments to write better.
What advice do you have for fellow writers who want to give serialization a go?
Seitz: Give it a try! Serial fiction certainly wasn’t in my wheelhouse, but it’s helped me grow as an author, forcing me to work harder at making a story tight, concise, and well done in less time and in less words. It’s sharpened my skills as a writer and it’s been a fun learning curve. It certainly helps to do some planning beforehand to decide what you want the series to look like, but beyond that the freedom it gives you makes the writing rewarding. It helps to find it a good home for your serial, like Channillo, where the diversity of material, styles and authors is celebrated and embraced.
Many thanks to my fellow Channillo writers for their time! It’s important for us to challenge our writerly selves, just as it’s vital to expand our reading horizons. Channillo gives the opportunity for both. I do hope you’ll check them out…and perhaps my own books, too, nudge nudge. 😉
Reverend Wesley Allen is a delightful friend and fellow indie writer with a new book,In the Land of the Penny Gnomes.Today we discuss our mutual love of writing fantasy, balancing family and the writing life, and more.
I love this line from your “about” page on your site, Painfully Hopeful: “I hope that I can be a decent pastor, geek, father, and husband. It’s just sometimes I’m painfully aware that I’m not quite all that I want to be.” Let’s address your family first. You have a wife, two teenagers, and a baby. Just…I cannot fathom having a baby at this point, let alone with teenagers in the house. Do you manage to squeak a little writing time in every day, or just on Sunday afternoons, or when? Does your family root you on in the writing process, or do you keep your stories to yourself?
I am also unable to fathom having an infant in the house. Still, he’s pretty cool and I’ve raised kids through adolescence so poopy diapers and crying isn’t as daunting as it used to be. When Bump doesn’t want to sleep at night, though, I get a bit cranky.
I do write a bit most days, but I’ve managed to write only one short fiction piece for my blog since Bump’s been born. I need to get into a mindset to write, and it’s been hard to find the space to get there. My imagination is still going strong, though, and I’ve got stories running around in my head. I also have to write a sermon every week, so there’s that.
And Sunday afternoons are not good writing days. My introverted brain is basically a bowl of oatmeal by Sunday afternoon. It’s all I can do to scream at the Eagles when they’re playing. (1)
My family really isn’t involved in my projects. My wife isn’t a fantasy fan, my daughter likes to pretend she doesn’t care (2), and my older son just kinda grunts at me when I mention I wrote something. Bump drools on my keyboard. I’m sure if I pushed things a bit more they’d show more interest, but I don’t feel compelled to do so. When I was growing up my family referred to my daydreaming state as “Wes World.” I could dive so deep into my imagination people could be screaming at me and I would barely notice — it was my place to be one my own with my thoughts. As my writing basically emerges from that space it continues to be a solitary endeavor.
As a child of a preacher m’self, I know how one’s life merges to be one with the church sometimes. Personally, I like when storytelling allows me to separate from that environment, but there are ways when faith weaves itself into the fantasy world-building whether intended or not. Do you consider your faith to be a major or minor influence in your writing? How so?
I’m not sure I’d categorized it as “major or minor,” as that would imply faith was merely a component of who I am. Faith is the core of my being, it’s who I am.
But, because I’m quite comfortable with faith being who I am I do not set out to write “Christian stories.” In fact, using the word “Christian” as an adjective to describe a particular set of pop-culture media makes me want to throw up. I guess I’m with Tolkien — too much of what I see in “Christian” pop-culture is reduced to a blunt allegory which has deluded itself into believing it’s subtle. It’s icky.
At the same time, because faith is what I am, of course there are aspects of my faith which can’t help but be seen in my writing. But I try to evoke them as applicable expressions. The idea that good exists, that there is always a larger narrative, and that a people’s story matters all spring into my work though my faith. But I hope they resonate with any reader, and not just “religious” ones.
Having said all that, I am working on a devotional which works around short fiction pieces, but even then the pieces are there to provoke thought and not just telling people what to believe.
About the Pictures
On top of all this, you still find time to get out with your camera! Do you find the images you capture to inspire your storytelling, or do you enjoy time with your camera as a break form words?
Since I love to take Bump for walks, I’ve been able to keep up my photography hobby throughout his early months. I don’t know if photography is a break from words so much as it is permission to pay attention. I live in my head, photography gives me a window to see the world. At the same time, I hate photographing people. I love landscape, as they don’t look at you funny.
And, yes, photography has inspired me to write. When I share photos on my blog they are accompanied by a short meditation, which helps me process what I’m seeing. And the third world I’ve created, The Kingdom of Parallel, was inspired by a photo I took at Sunset. The story has evolved away from the inspiration that photo provided, but the world wouldn’t exist without it.
You’re also keen on using technological resources. I’m hoping to finally start using a program or two m’self, such as Scrivener. As a writer with multiple devices and obligations, which program do you find most useful for building and writing a fantasy world and why?
As you mentioned, Scrivener is huge. I’d be lost without that program, and version 3 on the Mac is superb. All my writing is done inside Scrivener.
For world-building Aeon Timeline is an application which helps me give context to my writing. I love visuals, and the character creation tools inside Aeon Timeline help me visualize how old the characters are at the time of the story. I have to imagine ahead of time, which takes out a lot of the guess work.
And then, interestingly enough, I love minecraft as a world builder. In fact, the first novel I completed, Welcome To The Valleys, was started because I wanted to write the story for the world I’d both explored and created. As I explored villages, terrain, and roadways I could visualize the world as a living space, which made it fun to write.
About the Book
Now let’s talk about your book, In the Land of the Penny Gnomes. Not only do you have an omniscient narrator to tell the story, but the Narrator himself is a character that interacts with the young hero, Will. Can you explain the process that brought you to this writing choice? What have been the challenges of such a choice? The payoffs?
The Narrator is a combination of techniques both Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde use in their work. Pratchett is famous for his footnotes, in which the Narrator issues an aside to the audience. So my use of footnotes is an homage to him. At the same time, Jasper Fforde uses footnotes so characters can communicate with one another (3). These two techniques became the genesis of the Narrator, a literal bridge between the reader and the characters in the story.
The main challenge was to not have the Narrator appear to fix everything on every other page. I’m not sure he’s Omniscient in the usual sense, because he’s on the journey with Will. He knows things, but there’s still things for him to discover, which is unusual for the Narrator. The biggest payoff is what Pratchett discovered, breaking the fourth wall to have the Narrator speak with the reader is a great way to add some weight to the connection.
One of my favorite elements in your book are the unique traits that go into the characters, like Professor Nobody, the gnome fixed upon the creation of the perfect snack chip. What on earth (or elsewhere, of course) did you find the inspiration to gather up such traits, let alone names?
Professor Nobody was named because I loved the gag his name creates. The Narrator can say things like “Nobody smiled,” and every time he did it would make me laugh. Nobody is my favorite character to write, there’s a lot of depth in that mad scientist.
Bug was named just because I wanted a name to match his personality. His last name is really bad Koine Greek, and means, “Not of me.” So Bug’s name, though Bug is actually a nickname, basically means, “Don’t bother me.” He’s unhelpful, grumpy, and points out the foibles of his own people group — which is something we are not supposed to do. Bug’s my hero.
Other names just… came to be. Though Grimby’s name is easy to confuse with “grimey,” which I enjoy.
The snack chip thing. I have no idea. I think Nobody pointed it out to me, if I’m honest, because it makes zero sense. I remember I liked the slogan “Snack Like Nobody’s Business,” which is a great pun on a number of levels, and ran with it.
While I have no idea how I came up with the whole snack chip think, their presence became a sign that he wasn’t giving up on The Realm. Nobody needed something to work toward, and what more ecould a deranged professor of Applied Imagination want than great snack chips?
Now I know you’ve got big plans for Realmian, what with saving imagination–and snack chip creation, and coffee, and Will–from pesky camouflaged lawyers in The Realm. Is there a sequel in the works with Bug, Professor Nobody, and the rest of the Penny Gnomes?
Yes, and I have you to thank for it, as you were the one who told me to keep exploring this world. In the second book the story will center around two the supporting characters I really enjoyed from the first book. It’ll follow Grimby the Dwarf and Fineflen the Darned Elf as they investigate a conspiracy to corrupt the Penny supply. The other characters will shift to supporting roles, with the exception of Sills.
Right now I’m mapping out the story in Aeon Timeline ahead of time, which will allow me to keep two separate story arcs in sync. This is fun, because it’ll be the first time I’ve tried to do this!
This is going to take a while. In the last six months I’ve managed to map out exactly two chapters!
If anyone wants to follow updates on The Realmian Adventures I encourage folks to follow @PennyGnomes on twitter. This is where I’ll be sharing updates, and where the characters sometimes decide they want to hijack the feed to add their own commentary.
1. And that’s if they’re winning. If they’re losing I get downright grumpy.
2. Which she sometimes forgets. She once told me she thinks Penny Gnomes should be a movie, but then remembered herself and shrugged with feigned nonchalance.
3. It’s complicated.
I love giving books for Christmas: they engage and inspire over and over again. My kids are getting books, my husband’s getting books–words for everyone!
Feel free to give my book to people, too, nudge nudge. 😉
Know what? Authors would love to receive YOUR words for Christmas, too. Book reviews help writers reach new readers on Amazon and Goodreads. So spread some cheer this season by sharing your love of your favorite stories online. We authors will love every word you say!
Shehanne Moore is a Scottish born author who writes gritty, witty, more risky than risqué, historical romance, set wherever takes her fancy–stories that detail the best and worst of human behaviour, as opposed to pouts and flounces. To celebrate the new release of two titles under her London Jewel Thieves series, I asked Shey to stop by and talk about how she creates such uniquely engaging characters and thrusts them into situations that promise spectacular fireworks.
Let’s first begin with what you write—smart, sexy, historical fiction. You delve into various time periods with your books, such as the 9th century in The Viking and the Courtesan and the 19th century in Splendor. What process do you go through when choosing the right century for a story’s setting? That is, if Splendor took place in another century, would it still be the Splendor we know?
Probably not. The stories are influenced by the time, the characters too, although they don’t always abide by the constraints of them. Mind you Splendor would be a shopaholic , running up debts galore in any time because some things are timeless. She’d be having to manage everything too. So I guess a bit of both would be true. I generally stick to the Georgian/Regency period—it’s a sort of genre in own right. BUT I do like to dabble and I do spend time thinking of how I will set a book physically within that period, in terms of imagery etc.. There’s also things that happen when I write.
I mean there was never meant to be a Viking in The Viking and The Courtesan. That was a straight Regency. But then halfway through chapter two, the little voice whispered, ‘You know that Viking story idea you have, the one you’ve never really got the idea for the heroine ‘s goal in? How about you just use it here?’ Much as I want to ignore that little voice, I can’t.
Such a question should mean I ask you about research, too. I know you’re very passionate about your research to keep the period lifestyle true to history. What’s your process in making the research phase as productive as possible?
You know people think I do a lot of research. I don’t . Too much can kill a story and read like a Wikipedia cut and pastes. At the end of the day I don’t want to know every detail of the time a story is set. I can read a history book for that. I want to read of the things that are universal. The things that stand the test of time. But I have always loved history, especially social history, ever since I can remember. I guess that’s what I have at my fingertips when I write. And of course, I will check a historical timeline detail where it is pertinent to a character, or setting, if I want a certain backdrop.
One thing I love about all your books is that these characters are layered with feeling. They desire, they hate, they aspire, they love, they fear. Your books are so, so much more than the “meet-cute” kinds of romances out there populated by characters with little more than a single quirk each. These characters can get downright wicked, like Devorlane Hawley in Loving Lady Lazuli. How do you bring together both light and dark natures into your characters to keep your stories compelling and un-put-downable?
Now Jean, it’s all right, I won’t set the dudes on you and the check is in the mail. You are way too kind. I just love characters. I want to write about the human condition and let’s face it sometimes it’s downright ugly. Okay, Devorlane Hawley, for example, page one, is not a man you would want to meet. He’s plainly gone to hell in a hand cart, is behaving outrageously and now he’s come into the dukedom because his older, perfect brother is dead, he’s for turfing out his sisters, his late mother’s ward, installing some floozie he’s scoured London to find and setting up a pleasure palace in the ancestral home. By page two/three he’s noticing that his home is nothing like he remembered, it’s a mess, his oldest sister is a drunk and that’s needling at what humanity he has, because it’s plain these years have been hard and the family have regrets. The fact is he’s the family black sheep, the man who made the kind of messes we can all make when we’re young. And that law-abiding, God fearing family let him go down for a crime he never committed, largely for the sake of peace. By the end of chapter one he’s spotted the woman who did commit that crime and his goal instantly changes. Now he’s becoming the architect of his own doom in many ways.
No-one’s all bad—I think it’s important to remember that when you write. But we are all flawed in some way, a bundle of contradictions, the sum and substance of our life experiences. That’s what I’m trying to blend. Ultimately underneath everything Devorlane Hawley isn’t a bad man. In some ways he’s man interrupted by his earlier experiences– and what has shaped his life since has been hardship and brutality. So the race is on then to see if he can become the man he could be, or are the flaws going to get in the way. I spend a lot of time peering through my fingers going… I wouldn’t have done that, to my characters when I write. AND I let them drive everything. I seriously never have any idea where a story is going next.
Yet another thing I dig (someday I’ll learn to write questions better), particularly where the London Jewel Thieves are concerned, is that the series doesn’t just revolve around one heroine; rather, each book focuses on a different character of a group. I love how these different perspectives give us a richer look into their world, as well as fresh looks at characters we’ve met in the other books. Which heroine came to you first? Did she bring all the other thieves with her, or did they start telling you their own stories later on?
Good question. Actually the heroine of a short story I have yet to turn into a full length, came first. The idea was there of the jewel thief gang and being forced into stealing because for one reason or another they’ve fallen into the clutches of the man who runs this gang. BUT Cassidy Armstrong aka Sapphire from Loving Lady Lazuli came first in terms of the writing. Originally it was a standalone but as I wrote it, and I was working the background, I thought of that short story and the whole thing just fell into place. The idea of giving the women the name of a jewel, of the Starkadder Sisterhood, and of setting the books after the gang has broken up. So it’s about them having to find their feet by whatever means and keeping one step ahead when there’s prices on their heads.
Lastly, congratulations on beginning your own small press! I’m so excited to see what Black Wolf Books will bring to readers—your own books, and the books of other authors. You’ve been writing for publishers for a number of years, but now you are both publisher and writer. How would you say your earlier experience prepared you for this change? What’s been the biggest “culture shock,” as it were, with donning the publisher robe?
Thank you so much Jean and ALSO for having me here today AND congrats on your own forthcoming release. Sure to be a rip along read. I have wanted to set up Black Wolf Books for about four years now but life got in the way. But I’m there now. I think the writing industry is in a constant state of flux. When I first subbed back in 2012, you still went the traddy route. Yes there were self published books but not so many, nor the same amount of tools to do it. I mean Amazon makes it so damned easy actually now. I have a lot of experience in the writing business that goes way back before 2012 and I’ve been able to use most of it now.
I think the biggest shock…well learning curve was formatting for ebooks and for paperback. Amazon does make it easy I just got in a flap till I mastered it. I initially paid a formatter for the print version for Splendor. I was too scared to do it, in case I messed it up. But when it came back like a dog’s dinner, I stood at the foot of the mountain and told myself to get up there. That it wasn’t anything like the time I took over the editing and design of a magazine and didn’t know how to draw a text box…
Are you looking for submissions right now? If so, what kind and do you have any guidelines to share?
Well we are not officially open in that I didn’t want swamped. I wanted to feel my way, get out my books, and the Mr’s book, before dealing with what could be an avalanche. And often I think publishers can take on way too many authors without concentrating on the ones they have. But we already have a signing of a YA author who has a trilogy. So I say to folks, contact me through my blog contact right now. And really so long as it’s good, I’m not laying down all kinds of conditions.
One of the reasons I wanted to do this is that I’ve seen a lot of authors get raw deals, not been able to get a book out cos it’s not fitting the mould, despite having books out. My aim in setting up BWB is to help authors. Believe me, I know how brutal this biz can be.
Lastly lastly I’m hoping you’ll allow the little Hamstah Dudes, that precocious batch of knowledgeable cuties who share amazing author interviews & writing advice on your site, to come on over for a moment and have the last word, as they’ve been very good and patient all through our chat.
Many thanks to Shey for sharing her experience and stories with us! And don’t worry, Hamstah Dudes–Blondie’s working on a Halloween picture just for you. Hopefully I can stop by Shey’s site to share it! 🙂
Shehanne still lives in Scotland with her husband Mr Shey. She has two daughters. When not writing intriguing, and of course, sizzling, historical romance, where goals and desires of sassy, unconventional heroines and ruthless men, mean worlds do collide, she fantasizes about cleaning the house, plays the odd musical instrument and loves what in any other country, would not be defined, as hill-walking.
After visiting the lovely Lady Shey, I do hope you’ll pick up my latest FREE fiction for some weekend reading!
Once upon a time, in a land of ancient magic, there lived a wizened old teacher and his errant pupil, a handsome young prince, who was born of a wicked king and a very wicked queen and who sought redemption with all the life that beat in his once-blackened, now-saddened and guilt-ridden heart. This once and cruel prince presided over a prison kingdom of shapeshifters, riven by factions from a dark and evil underworld, fomenting unrest, as food supplies grew more and more scarce with each passing day.
Over their prison Wall they went, growing bolder and more ruthless, unscrupulous and indiscriminate in their hunger and insatiable need. They ventured into the world of man—shapeshifting predators searching for prey.
Can the prince and his wise old Merlin find salvation for themselves and mankind? Or is there no true balm in Gilead?
Before kids, Laurel Wanrow studied and worked as a naturalist—someone who leads wildflower walks and answers calls about the snake that wandered into your garage. During a stint of homeschooling, she turned her writing skills to fiction to share her love of the land, magical characters and fantastical settings. Today Laurel answers some questions about digging into history to inspire her steampunk novels and the importance of attending conferences to reach readers.
The steampunk genre has always fascinated me. What first inspired you to write in this genre?
I have always read fantasy and loved living history. As a teenager, I volunteered for the Appalachian craft center my dad ran at Catoctin Mountain National Park in Maryland. Over the years, I apprenticed to the craftsmen, then after college I worked in historic interpretation for several parks. It wasn’t a far reach to write in a historic time period. I began The Luminated Threadsas a strictly fantasy world patterned off of the Victorian period because I’d read several steampunks and really liked the aesthetic. My critique partner said it seemed so like Victorian England that it was annoying that it wasn’t. So I switched it to the Peak District of Derbyshire.
I confess that I’m one of those who will only research when absolutely necessary. It just feels like such a time drain when one’s writing with kids running around. Yet for stories like yours, I imagine research is an extremely important phase of your world-building. Can you share your research process with us, and any tips you have for writers who aren’t accustomed to researching historical periods?
When I say ‘I switched it,’ the process really wasn’t that easy. Having worked as a historic interpreter, I wanted my world to be fairly accurate—fairly because I did take fantasy liberties. Those times were hard, especially for women, but in a fantasy world I could change things like equality and dress. And add magic to equalize the power among genders.
But the research: I questioned and checked everything, including changing the date of The Luminated Threads story—1868—to after steam-powered tractors were invented. Selecting Derby as a location wasn’t random either. It’s the site of the first water-powered silk mill in Britain and many cotton mills followed throughout Derbyshire, making it a center of Industrial Revolution. The borough was also the headquarters of the Midland Railway—and what steampunk doesn’t have steam trains?
I literally looked up everything. To reference it again, I create folders for background research, and save my referenced docs, with the URLs and often the important passages copied and highlighted. Here’s a screenshot of part of my research files, which reminds me how much I have invested in this series, and that I should really work on the second story arc!
I talked to people who write historic in other time periods, who are reenactors and others who are costume designers. I posted on loops and forums. I read blogs. I read books and took notes. My favorite is What Jane Austen Ateand Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool. It gives general life details, but not every specific a writer needs. But the things I still had to learn are endless: I looked up vegetables planted in England in Victorian times, but referred to a rug as pumpkin-colored for a few drafts until I realized pumpkins didn’t grow in England. Cookies aren’t referred to as cookies in Britain, but I wanted readers to know my heroine wasn’t eating a biscuit-biscuit, so I gave them the name “sweet biscuit” and described them as discs. I gave 1800s “Mason” jar images as a reference to my cover designer, then had a fortuitous moment of doubt and learned Mason jars are American, the British used “Kilmer” jars. But I couldn’t find an 1800s image to verify if the logo was embossed on them. Instead, my cover designer embossed my jars with a “Wellspring Collective 1868” logo on The Twisting, making it my favorite of the three.
You asked about historical research, so I focused on it here, but all of the natural history for the series is researched and as correct as I can make it, too: agricultural crops and local plants I based my shapeshifters on native wildlife, a local mineral called Blue John is a fantasy element. Though my hidden valley doesn’t exist in the Peaks District, other valleys like it have been formed through similar natural phenomena.
One problem I have in writing dialogue for historical characters is their vernacular: what word’s okay for what period, how do they swear, etc. How did you tackle writing accurate dialogue for your time period?
Again, I looked up most of the words I use. For example, a character says, “No kidding?” Not in 1868. The colloquial interjection no kidding! “that’s the truth” is from 1914. But to “kid” someone, as to tease playfully, is from 1839.
I know my dialogue isn’t completely accurate, but I tried. You can read historic novels, but other authors make mistakes, too, so honestly, you must double check. Read novels written during the actual time period. I watched You-Tube videos and PBS shows. I asked a British-born friend to beta read and, among many others, he suggested the endearment “Duck” that Mrs. Betsy uses.
Swear words are particularly tricky for historic and YA novels. Some of my information came secondhand from a forum thread on Absolute Write. Many words were reviewed, but most revealing, to me, was that the expletive ‘bloody’ was a highly offensive curse for Victorians. The writer recommended: Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr, published by Oxford University Press.
I see you attend conventions and signings. Those in-person events terrify me! Any advice to help a new author like myself get properly prepared for such events?
Attend a few as an attendee and, if you can, with other writer friends. Then you can review what you’ve experienced and learned together. Talk to the authors with tables or on panels to learn about their experience at that con and what other cons or fairs they have attended. Don’t be afraid to ask how it’s going or what they wish they had done differently. Take photos of their table set-ups, ask the sources of materials like display items, banners, table drapes, printed materials. Be sure to look up the event websites. The ‘guest writer/author’ fees, volunteer hour commitments and what equipment (canopy, table, chairs) vary widely. And the application dates are often a year to 6 months ahead of the event! With this information, you can prepare your table or presentations in advance.
When you are ready to attend, it’s fun to go with an author friend or two, having your own tables or sharing one. Coordinate to cover each other for panel talks or breaks, or bring a family member or friend as a helper. Keep in mind the distance to some events adds to your time and cost (hotel stays!); try a few local fairs first to test the waters. I have found that ‘book’ festivals have more book buyers than fantasy cons where costumes and gaming compete with books.
If you have a character in your novel that inspires you to dress in costume, do it. I attract a lot of attention when I wear my steampunk costume.
Also, watch for sales with printing suppliers to stock up on business cards, postcards, banners, etc. That 40-50% off really helps. Black Friday is coming and that’s a big sale time. Go on the sites early to sift through what you want and even set up your designs.
Any other closing words of encouragement to help your fellow writers through the rough days?
Join a writing chapter so you can develop friendships with those going through the same work, frustrations and joys. Writing is a lonely endeavor and it helps to be able to reach out. I’ve found that having an accountability partner helps—one in similar circumstances to yourself (i.e. writes full time, works fulltime/writes on weekends, writing around toddler schedule) is best.
Thank you so much for your time!
About the Author
Laurel is the author of The Luminated Threads series, a Victorian historical fantasy mixing witches, shapeshifters and a sweet romance in a secret corner of England, and The Windborne, a lighthearted YA fantasy series that begins with The Witch of the Meadows.
When not living in her fantasy worlds, Laurel camps, hunts fossils, and argues with her husband and two new adult kids over whose turn it is to clean house. Though they live on the East Coast, a cherished family cabin in the Colorado Rockies holds Laurel’s heart.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Laurel! I hope everyone checks out your work.
I’d also like to invite everyone to add my free fiction to their weekend reading–my latest short story “No More Pretty Rooms” is now available. Other free short stories in Tales of the River Vinecan be downloaded for Kindle, Nook, and other platforms, too!
Christopher Lee is the indie author of Nemeton,Bard Song, Westward, and Pantheon. He is an avid history buff, mythologist, bardic poet, and keeper of the old ways. Here he takes a moment to share a few favorite photos of his Colorado landscape as well as his thoughts on the challenges of point of view and world-building.
Let’s begin with a little about you. What was the first story you encountered that made you want to be a writer?
Ok, that is an easy one. Star Wars was the reason I became enchanted with the prospect of storytelling. When I first watched the fantasy and adventure of Han, Luke, and Leia, I was entranced. The vastness of their world, the complexity of the universe was gripping. As I grew into my teen years I became intoxicated by the idea that I would create worlds like that one day. After years of creating a fan-fic world within the Star Wars Universe, my lifelong friend and I decided to divorce our concept from the Star Wars Universe and make it wholly our own. Since that time, I have crafted many worlds from the realm of my own dreams, and don’t believe I will be stopping anytime soon.
You clearly enjoy creating worlds complete with vast, populated lands. What kind of creative process did you follow to develop the world of your first novel, Nemeton?
Nemeton is part of a grand epic that encompasses the whole of human history. When I first got into it I had a fraction of an idea, and zero clue about how to build a world as complex as was necessary. When it comes to worldbuilding there are literally thousands of angles to consider. I was overwhelmed at first, but I kept beating my head against the wall, and slowly it came into sharper focus. Overtime I developed an outline structure that I use in all of my worlds that dials in the world. This is my favorite process in creating because it allows me to see a completely new complex world. Nemeton relied heavily on readily available human myth. It was an attempt to blend the many voices of this world’s culture into a cohesive structure that was both believable and enjoyable. There were many hours in libraries, on Wikipedia, and scouring the internet for ancient documents that gave me a clear picture of what it might have been like to live around 3,000 BCE.
I’ve always felt writing characters of the opposite gender to be a tough gig. Any tips on how to swing this as you do for Sam of Nemeton?
Oh dear, this is something that I struggled with mightily. I wanted Samsara to be infinitely more complex than myself and slowly came to the realization that it was going to take more than I had in my toolkit. Writing the opposite gender is full of pitfalls which can either make or break your story. As a male, it was a struggle to craft a flawed, yet empowered eighteen-year-old girl that didn’t reek of male influence. I worked with a model I have seen in my own life as Sam is loosely based on my wife. I find that this process is helpful, especially when writing characters of the opposite gender, though it is also helpful in crafting characters of your own gender. Trust your heart, it knows how people interact, but you have to make sure to be honest in your assessments and resist the urges that don’t fit with the characters personality. Another thing to do is do personality tests as if you were the character. I find that to be thoroughly enlightening.
Your other fantasy series in the works are both episodic in nature. You explain this move to episodic writing and publication on your own website, but can you share your favorite reason to write serialized fiction?
Serial fiction is fun because the pressure comes off drafting a manuscript as a whole. It is then applied to crafting self-contained episodes that carry their own arch, on a much shorter timeline. The primary reason I like this method, currently, is that it allows me to track how the audience is enjoying the story in advance. With a full novel you often have no clue how an audience would respond, save with the help of a few beta readers. When you release content in quick bursts, you can hone the book for an audience long before you publish the entire Omnibus, and therein you find a proof of a concept, which is a huge hurdle for all writers. Imagine if your audience was your agent. They are the gatekeeper of the indie author. If one of my serials fails to draw interest, I can shift gears quickly and not lose the investment of my time. I can take what characters the audience likes and continue on their journeys, or scrap the idea all together, thus not wasting inordinate time and energy on an idea that doesn’t draw interest. But probably the best reason lies is audience engagement. Episodic releases allow me time to engage the audience and talk about what they dig. This is one way you can build a truly loyal audience, by simply responding to their feedback and giving them what they want more of.
Pantheon, your current project on Patreon, brings multiple mythologies together in a battle for supremacy. This reminds me of the Street Fighter arcade games of childhood. ☺ What inspired you to drop these characters into your arena?
Well a few years ago, when I was still drafting Nemeton, I fell in love with this concept of the pantheons doing battle. Who would win? It’s kind of like Avengers: Infinity War. What if we brought everyone into the same space (No pun intended, as it is a space fantasy). I sat on the idea and toyed with it until it finally fully formed in my mind. I’ve always been obsessed with mythology, reading it is what prompted me to write Nemeton. Thing is Nemeton is primarily Celtic in nature and didn’t deal with the gods and goddesses of the other western pantheons, so I wanted to draft something that gave a stage to the forgotten heroes of humanity’s past. Pantheon is that homage to the legacy of mankind, a revamped, relived story where the prominent and some not so prominent myths of mankind are reborn for future generations.
I can only imagine how hard it can be to decide which characters to use from these mythologies, and which to cut. Can you describe this process a little?
A lot of reading, researching and world-building. I basically compiled lists of the all the characters and figured out which major story-lines would work in concert with the others. The characters that play large roles in those story lines became my main POV characters. At first I wasn’t sure how I was going to tie them all together, but remarkably they all seemed to fall into place, as though the story itself was commanding itself to be written. Each Pantheon has their own story arch that will occur in Season One, mimicking major events in that cultures myth. I simply had to pick the characters that jived with that story-line and just follow the blueprint that the ancients left us, and whallla–Pantheon! I only pray that I have given it its proper due.
Unlike Pantheon and Nemeton, your other serialized fiction series Westward takes place in 1860s America. Does it feel restrictive, working with a geography and history already established in readers’ minds? Why or why not?
Well not really, in fact it liberating. I don’t have to come up with the major conflicts or story ques. I can follow what happened in history and work off that, with subplots that are character driven. Imagine taking a historical event and adding a character that didn’t exist, then weaving that character and its fictional story into the one we know. It’s challenging in its own right, but it is also very freeing because it allows you to present a fantastical element to almost any element of human history. I liken it to reading conspiracy theories because Westward/The Occultare Series relies on an underground/unseen organization that combats magical/supernatural occurrences in the human world. All you have to do is imagine that there is one operating today. Because there is…or is there?
Unlike Nemeton, you also write Westward with a first person point of view. What do you love about this intimate perspective, and what do you find challenging about it?
This was a HUGE jump. After half a million words spent writing Nemeton in the Third Person Omniscient viewpoint, first person was like trying on someone else’s skin. I thought it would be more difficult than it was, but once I sat down and just started to click the keys it flowed out of me. I’ve enjoyed it thus far because I can go deeper with the character than I can in 3rd, but it does limit a great deal of what I can do. I bend the rules a bit because my characters all have a little of me in them, aka a hyperactive mind, which may not be to the liking of all readers, but hey man–this is fantasy. Suspend your beliefs when you walk through that door.
Any last words of encouragement for your fellow story-tellers?
JUST KEEP AT IT! Everyday you should be writing, or editing, or at the very very least reading. Reading is the key to learning storytelling. There is no magic bullet, no blueprint. True storytelling comes from years of absorbing great stories. Read nonfiction books about writing, about life, religion, politics, history, enrich your mind with a wellspring of knowledge you can draw inspiration from. I know I couldn’t have crafted the religious systems of Nemeton without my previous interest in druidic religion. The key is to constantly look for areas to improve, steep yourself in the craft and you will grow. Probably the most important rule is this: You don’t have to please everyone, because frankly you can’t. There are going to be people who say you suck, there are going to be readers and fellow writers who tell you you aren’t good enough. POPPYCOCK! Straight up, not all readers will like your work. Your job is to find the ones that do and continue to better your craft to eventually envelope the readers who don’t. Rule number two, take what other writers say with a grain of salt. The Indie Author’s world is saturated with advice about how to MAKE IT. It’s bloomin’ bologna. You will find limited success this way, but you risk ending up a carbon copy of all the other authors out there right now. This flies in the face of art in general. Chasing fads, writing only in one POV to please the audience, or sticking a hard line on generalized writing rules are the plagues of the writing world today. Do not stymie the thing that makes your voice different. Learn the rules, perfect your craft, and then allow your voice to shine by breaking the rules as only you can. Only you can tell your story, not your readers, not your fellow writers, YOU. You have to believe in you because no one else is going to, save a few extraordinary folks. So get to it!
Another Holy Week is almost over. Another Easter on the horizon.
Another Easter without you.
This time of year the stores are overloaded with Easter lilies, the scent of their beautiful white blooms permeating every aisle. Of all your allergies, Easter lilies were the worst, especially because the old ladies of the church flower guilds never really took it seriously.
Oh, you’d tell them, and I’m sure they nodded politely, but what did they do on Saturday? STUFF the altar with lilies for the Easter service Sunday morning.
So where are you during those two, sometimes three services Easter morning? Not in the pulpit, that’s for damn sure. Down in the pews, as far from the altar as you can get, silently praying you can at least speak your way through the service without passing out because your throat’s so constricted. Singing Easter hymns was not even an option, which sucked, because I know how much you loved them. Even if the flower guilds used a mix of fake and real lilies, it made no difference–your voice would always be so hoarse anyone would have thought you’d spent the last six hours cheering for William Shatner’s arrival at a Star Trek convention.
Honestly, that’s what initially got me writing this. Not Easter, but Star Trek.
All my listening to James Horner put Bo in a mood for Star Trek; one clip with the kids later, and Biff is hooked.
Oh, Dad. Biff’s so into Star Trek right now it’s hilarious and sad all at once. He stares at the ships, absorbing every detail. He’s transforming boxes into his own Enterprise, Excelsior, Reliant–the kid’s got the entire Starfleet parked on the end of his bed, manned by the brave comfies from Planet Teeny Ty. I can’t imagine what a conversation between you and Biff would have been like, especially when the little guy’d insist Excelsior is cooler than Enterprise.
And because I can’t imagine that conversation, I’ve been pretty damn sad.
Bash shows me the first book he made about the Wall-E and Eve robots, and I can’t help but remember when I’d show my own stories to you, how’d we spend ages going over the stories I’d type on that goliath of an IBM computer.
I hear Blondie sing in church, and can’t help but remember those toddler years when she’d run up the aisle at your own church at the end of a service. You would pause the announcements, and just stand there, grinning, until she reached out for you with her little hands. You’d hold each other all through the announcements, recessional, and greeting, so happy to be together.
Blondie turns nine next month.
How you’d laugh with these guys now, sharing goofy faces and terrible puns. How you’d run after them at the park, caught up in epic battles of dragons and space ships. How you’d throw your hands up in exasperation when facing the latest generation of family stubbornness I know I got from you and have passed on to all three of my little B’s.
How I miss the memories that never were.
But this Easter, I’m doing my damndest not to let love known in the past prevent me from seeing the hope of a happy future.
Awake, my heart, with gladness, See what today is done, Now after gloom and sadness Comes forth the glorious Sun! My Savior there was laid Where our bed must be made When to the realms of light Our spirit wings its flight.
From the lutheran hymn “awake my heart with gladness”
Despite those lilies, you loved Easter. You loved sharing its joy, its hope, its miraculous nature. If not for Easter, there would be no hope for us beyond these few years of mortal coils. Through Christ, death can only keep us apart for a little while; through Christ, we know that when our time on earth is done we will be joined together in Heaven, where we can share all the songs and smiles, stories and laughter we’ve gathered over the years.
Happy Easter, Dad. For once I can put a lily next to you and it won’t kill you, let alone keep you from singing the Easter hymns you loved so much.
The Easter hymns I still cannot sing, too choked with tears.
But no tears will ever choke my hope of seeing you again in Heaven.
A few years back, I was challenged to take on a Young Adult series featuring teenage girls endeavoring to become Shield Maidens in the fantasy land of Idana. It took about a year to complete the first installment,Middler’s Pride. Oh yeah, pride’s a big deal in that story: self-centered Meredydd has to learn stop seeing herself as a legend and work with others as a team in order to defeat a nasty dark sorcerer. (Friendship is magic, you know.) When Middler’s Pride became a serialized novel on Channillo. I began work on the next volume, Beauty’s Price.As I once blogged:
Wynne has motives wholly unlike Mer’s for joining the Shield Maidens. She is a sweet soul, a lover of nature with a desire to live life without the rules a class society dictates.
While Meredydd came from a mix of the flawed and firey heroines in Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy novels, Wynne came from a newer love in my library: Jane Austen.
Yes, yes, I know Austen’s a classic, but I hadn’t read her until the last few years. Yes, I’m a horrible person. 🙂
The Bennets of Pride and Prejudice were a wonderful source of inspiration for Wynne’s family. They are…well. I think I’ll let Wynne describe them herself. There’s a lot to be learned of a character when one asks her to dig deep into her own home and heart. For this month’s free fiction, I’d love to share this excerpt of a long’n’lovely dialogue Narrator Me had with Wynne. She introduces us to her four sisters, the love of her life, and the rich, handsome gentleman whose arrival heralds unnerving changes to Wynne’s world.
NARRATOR ME: How would you describe yourself?
WYNNE: I would rather not, but as you are insistent, I will say I am the youngest of five sisters. My father is a merchant who deals with the caravans and artisans who live near us. My mother is also of a business, but that business is to marry my sisters and I to eligible, rich suitors.
We are all of us trained to be pleasing to the eyes and ears. Neither my mother nor my father saw need to train us in ways to be pleasing to the heart.
Your parents sound like long-term planners. Well, it can’t be easy raising five daughters, especially if they’re all like you.
Like me? My apologies, but that is a viewpoint in need of swift correction. Let us leave the kitchens and walk around the house—I avoid using the proper rooms as much as possible. Now, look over the fence as we move past the house for Traders Street. You can see my family there, in the courtyard inside the fence. My mother often instructs that it is good business to be on display, so there my sisters sit, poised for admiration. Some hours they sit so still I wonder if I live inside a tapestry woven by the gods.
Every one of them aspires to be the idyllic wife: clean, soft, and beautiful. Almedha strums a lyre. Cordelia weaves flower chains because their colors shine against her chestnut hair. Isolda prefers her needle, giving a fairy’s kiss to kerchiefs and cloaks. Morwenna strums another lyre, for she copies Almedha in all manners.
Among these four you will not find a single thought that did not first come from Mother. She dictates who sits where, for the sunlight best compliments Cordelia, while cloudy days give Isolda’s eyes a unique glow.
I must tell you, for I must tell someone lest my mouth be overwhelmed with vitriol. I find this all to be the purest of poppycock.
So, not exactly friends with your sisters.
Myself? I must say no. I am as civil as I must be, but I find the constant speak of suitors and wealth more than tiresome. What good is wealth to a man who squanders it, or even worse, hordes it from all but himself? Such men are not fit to be husbands or fathers, yet my sisters always watch the travelers for lords, chiefs, and merchants. If one has fur about his collar, he is worth a careful gaze. If one has a gold chain around his neck, he is worth a smile. If one travels with more than three servants, he is worth The Shy Drop Introduction. If one has a herald, a private cart, and a squadron of guards, he is worth The Sly Accident Introduction.
Oh, Mother has created several strategies to initiate interaction with a potential husband, and we each of us have been tested and tested late into the night to ensure their success when the time is right.
Do you have any friends around here?
Only the River Galene.
To be seen with others in town is to bring scandal and shame upon my family. I have not yet discerned how such scandal would come about, as many of the farmers and artisans have always been kind in their greetings to me in the market. They always offer compliments to my family, inquire of their health. Yet when I linger to watch the leather’s tooling, or the forge’s fire-storm, I am deeply chastised and kept in the fence for days afterward. How are such friendships scandalous? “Their hands are coarse and they live in dirt,” Mother says. “They know nothing of the finer things in life, as well they shouldn’t. But no daughter of mine’s going to know anything else, I’ll make certain of that, won’t I, Master Adwr?”
“Yes, Mistress Ffanci,” says Father, who thusly returns to his sums and calendars.
So here I must be, the fifth maiden of the set, situated upon the left with Cordelia to mirror Morwenna and Isolda, for it is Almedha’s turn in the center today. The flowers in Cordelia’s hair still sparkle with morning dew. Almedha takes lead with a new ballad filled with sweet romance. Morwenna quickly finds the harmony, but knows she is not allowed to sing louder than the eldest. Isolda hums and sews in rhythm. I hold the flute to my lips and fill it with sound, but not life. There is no life in such art.
The way you’re glaring at that fence, I’m betting you’ve found life somewhere. You did something incredible, and you found it.
What I may consider incredible could differ vastly from your consideration. You may think of heroic deeds, marches into battle and overtaking beastly fire. Sometimes the incredible comes in the little things, if you quiet yourself long enough to notice.
Consider a time many summers ago, when one is but a child, with few duties or directions. Many my age in town were considered beneath rank by my family, so I was forbidden to play with them in their fields or yards. Imagine whole days watching children immersed in adventures and warfare, and I could not take a single step among them! Such agony is what sent me north alongside the river Galene. She was my friend for many, many seasons, sharing her harmony with my songs and her whispers with those from my own heart. She encouraged me to walk beyond the town’s borders without escort or knowledge of the land, to walk northward through a dark wood where rocks the size of men peer from shadowed glens, to a new town I have never seen. I felt so very brave that day, so brave that without any word of introduction or family name, I walked up to the first child I saw and said, “What do you know about adventures?” And I did not blush despite my haggard appearance, though much of my body was dirtied with mud, petals, and sweat.
He seemed only to notice my eyes, this reed of a boy, for he never looked away when he said, “Loads.”
“Right,” I said, and I had no clue what else to say, except “Wh-what about adventures by the river Galene? Do you have them there?” My tongue loosened with the river’s name.
“Sometimes,” he said.
“Do you ever speak more than one word?” How impudent of me! Yet I found myself wanting an answer, for gods knew when my father would gallop in, hoist me up, and put me back inside the house among small chairs and stiff manners.
The boy’s smile reminded me of the Galene in winter’s thaw. “Depends.”
“Well then,” I crossed my arms as Father often did when he was declaring the finality of his offer, “let’s go.”
That may not seem very incredible to you, embarking on a game with another child. But to me, that day marked the first day I knew life instead of merely living.
Compared to sitting inside a fence on display all day, that is incredible. Would you consider this moment the turning point of your life, or is that something else?
Did I not already share this with you?
Well, I may not have shared all.
Harvest time always promises many caravans both on river and road. At this time, I was too young to be put before the eye of suitors, so my absence was never noted. I trust you to assume I took full advantage of this throughout the year, but especially every harvest.
Galene wears many crowns, if you have a care to look. In spring, she carries stars upon her head, and in summer, ribbons of light. In winter the ice thins and folds into jewelry so delicate I never dare breathe upon it.
But in fall, she moves as fire. I dipped my hands often into that crimson glow. The current felt as fingers around mine, even changing course to pull me northward.
I moved through the dark forest with people-stones. That sounds silly, I grant you, but I remember that particular day the stones looked, yes, like people: heads, necks, shoulders. Whenever sunlight cast its shadows, I felt sure I saw the markings of faces upon them.
No, I did not tarry to investigate. That was one adventure I could not bear to do alone.
No. I must not dwell on what has happened. What is done is done.
Do you wish to see the rocks? I cannot promise they will be there.
You smile at me as if I jest. No, Idana has no giants, not that I have seen. But I have never seen the ocean, either, yet I have no doubt about its presence. Nor do I doubt mountains touch the sky to the north. So it is with giants, thundering their way through lands past the river Galene. Oh, what a world there must be beyond this place! But dark and nasty things have found my country of Idana to their liking, so here they come to make tanneries filled with carcasses and animal piss, and…
You can see it, and smell it still. Look behind us now. Just past the town, to the south, there. Where Galene struggles for breath as they spill all manners of disgusting filth into her for the sake of industry.
My father is proud of that tannery. Mother, too. I am told I will grow accustomed to the smell in time. I often reply that the day I grow accustomed to the smell of piss and death is the day my soul dies.
I am told husbands aren’t looking for souls. And that is that.
Look no more to that wretched tannery. S-stay close to me, and to the river, please. Especially if we are to meet another.
Your boy, the friend? Nudge nudge?
Why do you wink at me so? Cease such actions, and pay heed to Galene, if you please.
And besides, he only comes south with his village’s weekly market cart.
You know, I get a feeling you don’t want to talk about the real turning point very much.
Oh, but I do, I do. There are simply so many turns to this point, you see. The day wound about me so tightly my soul nearly burst free of my chest, and I thought I had fallen into underworld of Hifrea.
I spoke already of the people-stones, that I did not want to look at them alone, did I not? I came to the village, and to Morthwyl–yes, the boy, the friend. My friend, my boy.
Galene had carved a small bay for herself not far from Morthwyl’s family home, where sparks shot into the air and the clangs of his father’s hammer sang while the morning clung to night’s chill. Six years, Morthwyl’s home welcomed me with this song. I grew to love the smell of woodsmoke and iron: simple industry that thrives as it both gives and takes goodness of the earth. These scents hid themselves in Morthwyl’s clothing and hair when he came down to meet me by the bay. Neither of us ever spoke in sight of the house.
In the woods along the Galene, however, Morthwyl’s lips spoke much without speaking: Never had I known someone to smile so. Some smiles promised mischief, some hope. Some a joke, with laughter eager to break through all. Some sadness. In his home, I saw no smiles, but heard many words. None ever seemed to quite translate into a pure, clear truth.
But this is not about Morthwyl’s family, not this day.
Morthwyl’s braids looked fresh, but one lock had broken free, curling round his right eye. His eyes were deep and clear, like the river.
A short walk from the shore was a patch of herbs and flowers different members of the village used. It seemed folks took turns to care for the patch as well as harvest it. Morthwyl knelt in the damp earth and cupped the bud of a tall flower. He looked up at me with such earnestness that I joined him there upon the ground. My instinct was to reach out, to hold, to care for he who had made this world sweet in spite of industry’s poison flooding the land. His cupped hands were spotted by freckles and burn marks from the forge. I studied that which he cupped in his hands. “A thistle, is it not?”
The earnestness spread to his chest, which began to flutter as though he were running. “Orpine.”
“Oh…” Mother spoke of orpines often, often promising we would plant them in our garden to divine who my sisters would marry. The three times she actually did instruct Father to purchase orpine for planting, however, one set grew straight as corn, one grew sick, and one simply died. Not one flower grew to touch another, and therefore promise marriage. Now I sat with one orpine resting upon my arm. Morthwyl released his, and it leaned forward to grace the petals’ tips in the most chaste of kisses.
Then Morthwyl’s hands blossomed with a new gift: two orpines forged of iron. They were but the length of our thumbs, woven round one another, leaves embracing, heads touching intimately.
Oh how my own heart wrapped round us in that moment! I could not breathe or speak. My soul swam through his eyes, feeling them purify me of past sorrow and bitterness. All that remained was joy so very sweet that I brought my lips to his own so that he may taste what happiness felt to me. His fingertips trembled along my cheek as his lips stayed with mine. In my heart, that moment has never ended.
But somewhere out of sight a branch snapped, pulling me away in fear. Had my father followed me at last? A horse trotted in haste, but not towards us. When a command thundered through the wood, it sounded like some lord demanding his servant. Father had no such depth or power in his commands, so I at last allowed myself to exhale and look again upon my Morthwyl.
A small smile appeared, relieved, and he placed the orpines in my hands. His own long fingers pressed a place in the stems, and I heard a small ting. The orpines came apart. One for each of us.
“Perfect,” I said. For in that moment, it was.
Oh, Wynne. No wonder it’s a turning moment.
I am not finished.
The horse whinnied such that I feared it right behind me. Morthwyl rolled into the garden and kept to his knees, hand round a weed. I uprooted the orpines and held them as children, already doomed to die in my arms. My heart cried out, but I gritted my teeth against the sorrows. No one else would know their love. Better to keep them together in their final moments than transplanted to somewhere far and alien, alone.
The horse jingled into view at full gallop. The rider pulled hard upon the belled reins, halting at garden’s edge. Beast and master shone with golden hounds embroidered upon crimson cloak and covers. Rings of red and orange gems glittered round every gloved finger. Such wealth displayed with such ease and without a single guard felt wrong, very wrong. I took one step back, eager to run, but such impudence would make me memorable, and I did not want whomever hid beneath that hood to remember me. So I curtsied, and kept my eyes to the orpines.
Morthwyl, too, bowed his head. He spoke with the quiet clarity that I knew only to come when he defended me from the insults of other lads. “My lord, the High King’s Road is far from this place. If you wish I will lead you to it.”
“That will not be necessary, boy.” The rubied hand pulled the hood aside, revealing a face that looked far too young for its voice. His beard was barely grown, and his hair, as golden as his hounds, remained tied back into a single short tail. “Merely exploring the extant of my land. But it appears I have trespassed upon your borders, this village of…”
“Little Innean, my lord.”
“Yes of course.” I could feel his gaze upon us, unrelenting as the sun in the heat of summer. If not for the horse’s content chewing, I would have screamed but to break the silence. “Pray forgive me, but I feel as if I should know you both.” He clicked his tongue, and the horse closed the distance between us. I could see every thread of his hounds, down to the points of their teeth. He had approached me, so there was no choice: I had to look up at his clean, polished face. “Perhaps my business has brought me to this town in the past. My memories are not always my own.” His smile revealed teeth white enough to be pearls.
No lord looked so perfect, not in body or status. He needed to get away, back to his land and away from this village, away from my Morthwyl. “Assuredly not, my lord,” I said. “This is but a small town of farmers and of no consequence to any of your stature.”
The rider smiled warmly as he took in my countenance, orpines and all. “A merchant such as myself trades with all walks, my lady. You, more than the boy, are far more familiar. I am now certain I have met you before.”
No, you are wrong! I wanted cry out, to leap into the Gasirad and beg sanctuary, but my mind, curse it, thought otherwise. “Perhaps you think of my sisters? They meet many who do business with my father, Master Adwr.” Surely he was thinking of them. Let him deal with their Sly Accidents before his horse, forcing him to carry them in all weak and wounded and be compelled to attend them. Let them coo and paw upon his chiseled jaw and ringed fingers. He can have their choice of them, for all I cared.
“Sisters?” He swallowed the word down. My own stomach burned. “How many?” The question came hard and fast. No smile, however warm and easy covered the odd strike that came with such a question.
And what was I to think in such a question? Yes, odd, but there surely could be no harm in it. “I am one of five sisters, my lord.”
Thank the gods for that “Sir.” I allowed myself to turn to the voice and see five large men, all clothed in crimson and golden hounds. Their hair was silver, and their features hard and angled round dull, red eyes. Yet in such mass and strength, their skin looked grey as corpses.
The one who spoke stepped forward and bowed at the waist. “Master, all corners of the border are now marked. Will trespassers be killed, or simply beheaded?”
The rider nodded along. “Yes, we’ll—what?” He cared not what Morthwyl’s reaction to such a question was, which I did see: as stalwart as oak. He would give these strangers nothing. It strengthened me to do the same. “Commander, such jests are wholly inappropriate among such intelligence…and beauty.” His rubied hand let go the reins, and opened its palm to me.
I wanted to cower. I wanted to run. I wanted to do anything, anything but place my hand in his.
But to not would mark me for punishment under his hands. And Morthwyl would not stand for such a thing without a fight, and then they would kill him. If they want to behead mere trespassers, what evils would they unleash for assault?
So I gave him my soiled hand, with my iron orpine hidden safely beneath the stalks of dying ones. His fingers closed fast and tight, and when the thumb stroked away a clump of dirt, I thought certain I would faint, or vomit, or by Galene, both. He brought his face close enough that I felt the chill of his breath, but he did not touch me with his lips. “A young beauty such as yours is to be cared for, my dear, not soiled by labor.” I curtsied to acknowledge, but said nothing. “I must speak to your father on it.”
Oh! “That is not necessary, my lord, it—”
“Tut tut, I insist. Now Commander, let us see if you’ve marked my lands clearly enough for the innocents.” He bowed as he drew his hood forward. “Until we meet again, my lady.” He rode past the five guards. Their eyes stared at us blankly for a moment, and then they turned to march silently into the trees.
Any thoughts, comments? Please share them with my thanks!
To celebrate March Magics–and because I’ve final projects to grade and two novels to crack down upon–I’m sharing a previously unposted essay I wrote a couple years back when I was compiling all my Diana Wynne Jones posts into the collection Lessons Learned. Enjoy!
In “The Heroic Ideal: A Personal Odyssey,”Diana Wynne Jones discusses the place of the mythic hero in contemporary story-telling, especially her own. This particular essay in Reflections on the Magic of Writing struck me on epiphanical proportions. (Yes, new word. Doesn’t the fantasy genre allow for some language leniency?) In all the writing classes I had taken over the years, no one had ever broken down the echoes and inspirations between the modern and ultra-classic like that before. Jones details connections between her work and Chaucer, Spenser, and Homer, to name a few. Sure, that may sound like she’s tooting her own horn, but I don’t think so. Fire and Hemlock, one of her most critically revered novels, is so subtle with the fantastic you can literally blink and miss it. For instance, the first chapter is all about the protagonist Polly trying to remember something. Sounds dull, doesn’t it? Yet as we go further into the story, we learn Polly is fighting through the memories be-spelled upon her by the villain. The first chapter shares Polly’s initial success in remembering the true past.
Tempting as it is to go in depth on Fire and Hemlock yet again, “The Heroic Ideal” contains Jones’ discussion of mythology’s inspiration F&H with far more depth and humor. Besides, she wrote two other novels that serve as marvelous examples. The first, Eight Days of Luke, is a touch more obvious than Fire and Hemlock if one knows a bit about Norse mythology. I’ll admit that I didn’t, at least not until the movie Thor came out and my father was as giddy as an eight-year-old. (It is a decent movie, for the record–and directed by Kenneth Branagh of all people!)
Granted, Marvel’s interpretation of Norse mythology is, um, loose, but you get some basics in there: the home of the gods, Thor and his dad being at odds, Loki the mischief maker, etc. Diana Wynne Jones has her own fun with these myths, and from her fun Eight Days of Luke is born.
David is stuck at home on school
holiday with his horrible relations. After being reminded how he’s a wretched,
ungrateful little orphan they don’t deserve to put up with, David skulks out
into the garden and starts pacing back and forth, muttering what he feels are
some really good curses—only, he doesn’t really know what he’s saying. The
garden wall cracks and out come some nasty snakes and a boy just David’s size.
His name is Luke.
By this point I’m sure you know who the title character Luke is—that’s right, Loki. David has somehow freed Luke from his prison (only Diana Wynne Jones would put a Norse god’s prison beneath a marrow garden in Ashbury) and Luke’s relations are coming down to get him: Mr. Chew (war god Tiu), the Frys (fertility gods Freyja and Freyr), and Mr. Wedding (Odin, chief of the gods). Thor comes along eventually when we learn why Luke’s in so much trouble, and what David can do to help him. (Thor’s rather the giveaway, so no fancy modern alias for him.)
One of the cool things about a quest story is that they are indeed timeless. David must outwit gods and mortals alike for the sake of his friend, just like any great hero of the distant past. Sure, folks like Perseus and Beowulf may not have had pinball or cricket, but they always had someone or something worth fighting for.
Jones’ The Game puts a girl at odds with horrible relations, too, only this novella is a bit more…hmm…nonlinear, would be the best way to say it. Hayley is sent to live with a bunch of aunts and cousins she’s never met before, and she quickly learns why her grandmother never liked them. She also learns just how much her grandfather bears on his shoulders—literally. Among many worldly matters, Haley’s grandfather takes great care of the mythosphere, a place where Hayley’s cousins secretly play The Game. Once Hayley begins playing The Game with them, reality and the mythosphere are both irrevocably changed. She discovers her grandfather’s true identity: Atlas the titan. The uncle who controls them all is none other than Jupiter. And she must…well. Needless to say, I learned some more mythology thanks to this book.
Bringing past gods into the present isn’t a unique idea; Rick Riordan’s made a mint off of his various “modern kids vs. ancient gods” series, Percy Jackson and the Olympiansbeing the first and, I believe, the most popular. (It’s the one I read, anyway.) And I give Riordan and Jones both credit for inspiring curiosity in young readers for the olden tales of heroes and gods, of the odysseys through time and beyond.
I know we all like to make that Ecclesiastic complaint that there is nothing new under the sun. Well, it’s one thing to copy, or plagiarize, but it’s another to truly reimagine. Jones proves time and again that one can look to the classics for inspiration. Even the most worn of roads will take you somewhere, if you let it.
Thanks so much for reading! If you have other grand (or not-so-grand) examples of reimaginings you’d like to discuss, please share them in the comments below.
Just as writers and readers dream of meeting the authors who inspire them, the Samuelsens dreamed of Horner composing a piece for them.
And, as the happiest of stories go, this dream came true.
Mutual friend and Norwegian director Harald Zwart finagled a meeting with James Horner and the Samuelsens. After performing for Horner, Mari asked if Horner would write a concerto for them.
He said yes.
I feel like I’m transported to the classical style Horner himself loved. The beginning cello solo here reminds me of the bassoon opening Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Then the violin enters, and I can’t help but think of Firebird Suite,also by Stravinsky. It’s no coincidence both works were adapted to accompany visual stories of creation and destruction in Disney’s Fantasia and Fantasia 2000.
And Horner himself is a storyteller, such a storyteller. The cello and violin are the characters of this story; its setting, the dawn of spring. Can’t you just feel the encroaching sunrise with the muted swell of the woodwinds? And here come the strings: warmth, growth. Green shoots struggle for freedom from thawing soil. Cello and violin walk–no, dance–through the landscape, casting out the final frost fairies to welcome spring’s sprites. The sprites run as the orchestral strings unleash them into the air.
I could go on, but I am sure your own imaginations picture this dance of change and color. It delights me to hear beloved themes from Horner’s other work woven into this tale: the strings bring forgotten magic from Something Wicked This Way Comes, a touch of kindled love from Titanic. The orchestral woodwinds remind me of the bravery buried in Wrath of Khan. Yes, I hear many loved harmonies of my childhood fantasies come and go until the final moment, when all is silent but for the violin and cello, an echo of the song’s beginning.
It helps the harmonies are played with such passionate players. I must find more of the Samuelsens’ work–their expression with bows and breaths are unlike any I’ve heard before.
If you loved Part 1, then please, listen to Part 2 andPart 3 of James Horner’s concerto. It’s such a stunning work, and one of Horner’s last; he died the year this album was released, 2015.
I am so thankful to have found Pas De Deux, and cannot wait to write more about the composer who led me to this album. But that will have to wait. Until then, let me give you a sample in the form of his contribution performed by the Samuelsens. May this song bring you dreams of Spring’s duet, its color and storms ever dancing with ribbons of sunlit magic.
But most of all, may this song fill your heart with a hope defiant of all darkness.
Purity tests are the tools of fanatics, and the quest for purity ultimately becomes indistinguishable from the quest for power.
Jennifer Senior, “Teen Fiction and the Perils of Cancel Culture”
There is a darkness creeping along the edges of Twitter. Like the Nothing from Neverending Story, it haunts authors with hushed whispers until it moves in swiftly with a power unmatched by any other.
It is the Cancel Culture.
I had not heard of cancel culture until last month, when debut YA author Kosoko Jackson pulled his book from publication because he was accused of being insensitive to the Muslim community. You can read the account here. Like article writer Jennifer Senior says, there’s a strong sense of irony that this YA author pulls his book after he and others demanded YA author Amélie Wen Zhao pull her book due to evoking “an offensive analogy to American slavery.” Click here for that article. (Oh, and here’s another article I found while editing this post that mentions yet another YA book mobbed by cancel culture.) This issue’s grown to such a point that PENAmerica recently held a panel featuring a diverse array of writers and critics to discuss the matter–click here for that, as it’s a thought-provoking read.
Whether you wade through all the articles or not, I really want you to see the quote from Jackson that speaks to this stormy state of YA Literature:
What Jackson’s case really demonstrates is just how narrow and untenable the rules for writing Y.A. literature are. In a tweet last May, Jackson himself more or less articulated them: “Stories about the civil rights movement should be written by black people. Stories of suffrage should be written by women. Ergo, stories about boys during life-changing times, like the AIDS epidemic, should be written by gay men. Why is this so hard to get?”
On the one hand, I LOVE the idea of bringing all the voices from all the walks of life onto the page. No one’s voice is worth less than another.
But while the cancel culture and purists may say they are fighting for diversity, their words come off more as calls for segregation.
Case in point: American Heart by Laura Moriarity. Initially her book was awarded a starred review from Kirkus…until cancel culture called for otherwise. Not only did Kirkus pull its star, it completely altered the review.Click here for a comparison of the two reviews.The New Yorker even did an editorial on “problematic” book reviews, (click here for that) and I think writer Ian Nolan’s conclusion on criticism is worth noting here:
…criticism exists in different flavors, but its defining feature is an individualism of response. That response can be wise or unwise, popular or unpopular. A reviewer can squander authority by seeming too often at odds with good judgment. But, without critical autonomy, the enterprise falls apart. The only reason to hire a critic, instead of giving a megaphone to the crowd, is that creative work—books most of all—isn’t processed as a collective. People make sense of art as individuals, and their experiences of the work differ individually, too. A reviewer speaks for somebody, even if he or she doesn’t speak for you.
Ian Nolan, “Kirkus Reviews and the Plight of the “Problematic” Book Review
I am a white woman born of two white parents in the Midwest. My parents both worked for protestant churches, and together barely made enough to make ends meet. Frugality was the name of the game no matter where we lived, be it a small farming town up north, or deep in Milwaukee’s North Side.
My father was born and raised in Milwaukee in a tumultuous time. White flight, housing discrimination, police brutality, and the Civil Rights movement all boiled over to overwhelm the inner city and scald it with the Milwaukee Riots. I can’t imagine how this affected my dad, seeing the death, the pain, the hundreds upon hundreds arrested in a war for equality. Maybe taking that Call to serve his childhood church in Milwaukee is answer enough.
I think Dad saw this and remembered the prejudice and anger that had poisoned his town so deeply in the 1960s. It would explain what he did next.
Juneteenth Day comes every 19th of June to celebrate the emancipation of slaves in 1865 in the last “holdout” state (Texas) after the Civil War. Dad reorganized the church’s annual outdoor picnic to be held in June as close to the 19th as he could get. He invited a gospel choir directed by a friend of his in a church from Milwaukee’s East Side, another struggling area. Then he reached out to the congregation’s few young members to form groups for canvassing the neighborhood, leaving flyers of invitation to the church’s outdoor service. With a mixture of words from the Bible and Civil Rights activists, Dad preached a message of Love, Equality, Justice, and Hope.
If I am to take this cancel culture to heart, then my father should not have worked to heal the old neighborhood. He was a middle-aged white man; therefore, he cannot possibly connect with those of a different color. He should have kept with his own kind. We should all only keep to our own kinds.
Have we forgotten what it means to look beyond ourselves?
Have we forgotten what it means to have empathy?
em·pa·thy [ˈempəTHē] NOUN the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
Why must my body define my voice?
Stories have a power completely, utterly unique: they can take a person born in one body, and transplant them into another. That body could be living three hundred years ago on the other side of the world, or three hundred years into the future buried deep beneath the earth, or even three thousand universes away. When we take the age-old writing lesson of “write what you know” and give it the Orwellian twist of “write only what you know,” we limit that power severely, dangerously.
When we limit that power, we limit our ability to empathize with one another. We lose our ability to connect with those beyond ourselves. We begin to turn away from the wealth of a diverse world, and huddle with our own kind.
Do not let others take your power away. There are countless worlds inside of you, filled with people of all cultures and creeds. You have every right to bring those people to the page.
No voice should be fettered by the body it’s born in.
I’m still pretty wound up about this, so if you feel like talking, add your comments below! If you’re new to my site, welcome! You are welcome to sign up for my newsletter, grab a copy of my freeshort stories, or check out my first novel. Thanks for coming by!
A free-spirited college student becomes a career-obsessed adult.
A writer becomes a…writer? Yes, still a writer. But a stronger writer.
I’m looking at you, Holly Black.
This woman’s got phenomenal talent. Black’s written books that lure you to dive head-first into her world. She’s got a strong following of readers, and one look at books like The Cruel Prince and The Wicked King show why. The relationships are complex, the conflicts compelling. We want to see what these characters do next, especially Jude, the teen protagonist.
Now I’ve talked a bit about Jude before, both in my post on tragic backstories as well as dissecting one of the briefest chapters ever written. Today I want to return to Jude because of another Holly Black title, the first Holly Black title:Tithe.
Sixteen-year-old Kaye is a modern nomad. Fierce and independent, she travels from city to city with her mother’s rock band until an ominous attack forces Kaye back to her childhood home. There, amid the industrial, blue-collar New Jersey backdrop, Kaye soon finds herself an unwilling pawn in an ancient power struggle between two rival faerie kingdoms – a struggle that could very well mean her death.
So over the course of sixteen years, Black wrote two different series about two teen heroines dealing with faeries. Fairies. Fae. However you spell it.
I–and many other readers, I imagine–connected with Jude because of her hopes and dreams. Jude is a girl struggling for identity inside her mostly Fae family as well as the Fae society. She witnessed her human parents’ murder by a Fae general, was then ripped away from the human realm along with her twin sister and half-Fae sister to be raised by that same general, and now attends school with other Fae gentry. She is living, breathing evidence of her mother’s desertion, yet this general fathers Jude like one of his own. In turn, Jude yearns to train and serve the Fae royalty as a knight despite being mortal. She loves her little brother, the Fae “son” of the general and his new wife. This is a girl fighting to make a place for herself in a world not created for her. She’s so desperate to make her mark in the Fae courts that she’s willing to kill in order to achieve her dream.
And then, there’s Kaye from Tithe.
Lots of people like this book, so I assume they must like Kaye as well.
But for me…look, this isn’t a roast of of Tithe. There’s plenty of strong elements here, and when one considers this is Black’s debut novel, those elements should be all the more commended. She blends Faerie and human realms seamlessly. The Fae are quite unique between Seelie and Unseelie. The black knight Roiben provides a wealth of inner conflict: magic compels him to do despicable things under the command of the Unseelie Queen, including killing a friend of Kaye’s. When we read from his point of view, we learn just how much he hates himself because he so often he has no control over his actions. A reader’s sympathy for him grows with every chapter.
And then, there’s Kaye.
Kaye took another drag on her cigarette and dropped it into her mother’s beer bottle. She figured that would be a good test for how drunk Ellen was–see if she would swallow a butt whole.
This is the first paragraph of the Prologue. This is our first impression of Kaye.
Already I’m wincing, but maybe that’s my prudish Midwestern nature. Plenty of kids have shitty parents, drinking parents. Plenty of teenagers pick up smoking. Turns out Kaye’s mother sings in a lousy club band and is dating one of its members, the “asshole Lloyd.” During the wrap up after a gig, Lloyd for no understandable reason tries to stab Kaye’s mom but Kaye stops him. (It is later learned he’d been entranced, for the record.)
We’re only a couple pages in, and Kaye’s witnessed an attempted murder. Normally this sort of thing, especially when family’s involved, would leave some sort of mark on a person, be it physically, emotionally, mentally, or all three. This is something that spawns nightmares, phobias, fixations on danger and/or thrills.
Yet Kaye and her mother Ellen only talk about moving in with Grandma. No confusion or anger over what Lloyd did. No fear over how they’re going to live next. No anxiety over whether or not Grandma will accept them after a six-year absence. Just…
“Honey,” Ellen said finally, “we’re going to have to go to Grandma’s.”
“Did you call her?” Kaye asked. …
“It’ll be a little while. You can visit that friend of yours.”
“Janet,” Kaye said. She hoped that was who Ellen meant. She hoped her mother wasn’t teasing her about that faerie bullshit again. If she had to hear another story about Kaye and her cute imaginary friends…
As you may have surmised, this is when Kaye started to lose me.
Yet I kept reading. Openings are tough. Kaye’s got to get back to her childhood home somehow, soooo okay, this works. Now Kaye’s on the New Jersey shore, walking and talking with her friend Janet on their way to hanging out with boys.
“Kaye, when we get there, you have to be cool. Don’t seem so weird. Guys don’t like weird….don’t you want a boyfriend?”
I had to stop there.
What did Kaye want?
From my impression of Kaye’s memories of her mother falling asleep in toilets and attaching herself to loser after loser, Kaye clearly doesn’t dig the life of a traveling musician. Yet her grandmother’s demands that she attend school are met with the same lack of enthusiasm.
In fact, Kaye doesn’t talk about anything with enthusiasm except Roiben, a lone faerie she helps on the roadside.
“Look, I’m only going to be in town for a couple of months, at most. The only thing that matters is that he is cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die beautiful.” Kaye waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
Perhaps Kaye is a girl who’s never allowed herself to dream. We can be like that too, I suppose–too fearful of failure, too weary of life’s obstacles to dare hope for anything beyond what’s in front of us.
So when Kaye is told she herself is a faerie who’s been glamoured to look human since birth, she…well, what do you think?
She was shaking her head, but even as she did it, she knew it was true. It felt true, unbalancing and rebalancing her world so neatly that she wondered how she didn’t think of it before now. After all, why would only she be visited by faeries? Why would only she have magic she couldn’t control?
Such a revelation alters everything: her human family’s not really hers. She’s not human at all. Any hope, any dream she had for her future must now be sacrificed–
She didn’t have any aspirations. This revelation, this life-altering revelation….just what exactly does it change inside Kaye?
I’m going to stop dissecting Tithe here. I’ll still recommend it for the world and for the conflicted Fae knight Roiben, but I cannot recommend Tithe for its heroine. For all her dislike against her grandmother’s “normal” lifestyle and her mother’s alcohol addled life on the road, has she honestly not once hidden a special passion for something to keep herself sane? One would think it’d be her “cute imaginary friends,” but Kaye’s first reference to her Fae visitors from childhood was “faerie bullshit.” So as of the beginning of this novel, faeries were no longer special. She keeps no journal, no art, no collection of little things she’d never dare show her mom. Even Janet, the one friend she’s been emailing from libraries, is completely blown off once Roiben comes onto the scene.
Readers care about characters who care. The character may be a jerk in many ways, but even jerks can have a soft spot. Jude committed murder in The Cruel Prince, yet I still found myself rooting for her. Why? Because she was fighting for her kid brother’s safety. Because she wanted the enemies of the old Faerie king to pay for their treachery. She gets her heart broken by one Fae boy while finding her fate entwined with another. Jude IS passion–hardly the “he’s so dreamy” passion, but the “I want my family to survive a coup” passion. The “I want to LIVE” passion.
That’s passion any reader can feel beating in his/her own heart.
Kaye never seems to feel that. She simply floats along whether she’s human or faerie, accepting whatever situation she’s placed in, fearful only of losing Roiben.
How often are we telling our teenagers not to wrap their entire lives around one other human being? To have their own hopes and dreams, because someone who truly loves them will love those dreams and help find a way to achieve them?
Love can be a powerful force in a fantasy, to be sure.
But so is hope.
So are dreams.
Which fictional hero or heroine inspires you to dream? Let me know in the comments below!
Thanks, too, for your encouragement during my saga over the full-time slot at the university. I didn’t get it, but I’m hopeful for the next time. 🙂
And if you’re a fan of dreamers (and stories of dreams gone fantastically awry) I hope you’ll check out my novel, Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. It’s free on Kindle Unlimited, and my short story collection Tales of the River Vineare all free to download from Amazon, too.