After Ilium by Stephen Swartz – A Review

Professor Swartz is a prolific writer. He has published 8 books of fiction since 2012.  “After Ilium” is his first published work, which has made big impression on me.  It was humorous and romantic.  It was well written and he was good at stream of consciousness between actions.  It was a thriller with two very attractive main characters, Alex and Eléna.  His skillful writing of this Romantic Adventure has brought Alex and Eléna to life.

Here is a brief description of this book:

Four years of college has not taught Alex as much as he will learn in a couple of weeks on the Turkish coast! Three thousand years ago Greeks fought Trojans below the fortress of Ilium. Now it is 1993 and new college graduate Alex Parris cruises to Istanbul, seeking his own adventure at Ilium. On the way, however, he meets Elena, a mysterious older woman who draws him into an affair—then forces him to fight for her! But Alex finds that escaping from the local jail is only the first of many obstacles to returning to his lover, as he embarks on his own odyssey across the wild Turkish coast! It is a journey that will test his will to survive and make him question everything he has been taught about life, love, and the way the world really works! All that matters in the end is what happens to Alex AFTER ILIUM.

Please also check out other books by Professor Stephen Swartz in Amazon:

A GIRL CALLED WOLF (2015)
AIKO (2015)
A DRY PATCH OF SKIN (2014)
A BEAUTIFUL CHILL (2014))
THE DREAM LAND Book I “Long Distance Voyager” (The Dream Land Trilogy) (2013)
THE DREAM LAND Book II “Dreams of Future’s Past” (The Dream Land Trilogy) (2013)
THE DREAM LAND Book III “Diaspora” (The Dream Land Trilogy) (2013)

Lisa Zhang Wharton is a graduate of Peking University and University of Minnesota. She is an engineer by education and an author by avocation. She has previously published several short stories about life in China in various literary magazines. Her short story “My Uncle” has won a second prize in a WICE sponsored Paris Writer’s Workshop. “Last Kiss in Tiananmen Square” is her first full-length novel, which can be purchased in Amazon.

http://amzn.to//LastKissTS

“Girls Can’t Be Knights” by Lee French – A Review

 

 

   This is a very different sort of YA story, dealing with a young girl (Claire) who has been orphaned and finds herself in the foster care system.  Trouble seems to find Claire at every turn, until she meets a young father-figure knight named Justin.  Even more trouble follows as the two alternate between the modern world and the fantasy world, battling corrupt spirits.  When I first read Lee French’s “Girls Can’t Be Knights” from the Spirit Knight Series, I began writing a review from an adult’s point of view.  But having written several Young Adult fiction books, I knew the difficulty that adults can have when trying to critique something written for a much younger audience.  So I asked my twelve-year-old to read it and tell me what she thought of it.  This is how much our views differed!

 

Character Development

Me:  This was my main complaint as I didn’t feel I knew enough about the main characters.  I wanted more fleshing-out.

12 y.o.:  Claire and Justin were awesome.  I liked how she seemed like some girls at my school.

Plot

Me:  I wanted more background so that I could understand why the characters acted as they did, rather than having to wait until the end for explanations.

12 y.o.:  I liked how it moved so fast without having to read a bunch of pages about every small detail.

Setting

Me:  The story was rather short and setting descriptions were on the minimal side.

12 y.o.:  There was enough description of places to move the story along.  I was so interested in the action that I thought there was just the right amount.

Conflict

Me:  There was an abundance of conflict, but I wasn’t always sure I understood what some of the terms really meant (such as ur and ne-phasm).

12 y.o.:  Lots of it!  There was always something going on that kept your interest.  It made me want to keep reading until the end!

Resolution

Me:  The resolution did satisfy me, but I would have preferred it not to come all in a rush at the very end.

12 y.o.:  Everything that I was hoping would happen, did come together at the end.  I loved how it ended.

Desire to continue reading the series

Me:  I did enjoy this book, but probably would not continue with the series.

12 y.o.:  There are more?  Can we get the next one now?

So you see, Lee French has targeted her audience well.  The young teen and preteen reader seem to love or not mind the very things that I did not care for.  I’m betting your young reader will too.

Kathleen Barker was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. A graduate of Blessed Sacrament, the Institute of Notre Dame and Towson University, she spent twenty years as the much-traveled wife of a Navy pilot and has three children. While working for a Fortune 500 insurance company in New Orleans, she wrote feature and human interest articles for their magazine and received the Field Reporter of the Year award. After Hurricane Katrina, she returned to her beloved state of Maryland where she started work on “The Charm City Chronicles”. All four volumes, “Ednor Scardens”, “The Body War”, “The Hurting Year”, and “On Gabriel’s Wings” are available in Amazon’s Kindle store.

That Tricky ‘Second Album’

It’s one of those givens for ‘bright new thing’ bands that after stunning debut albums, the second album never quite lives up to expectations. I’m sure everyone will throw out their exceptions, but for me The Killers, The Stone Roses, The Enemy, Mumford and Sons, and the Fratellis I can recall the deflation at listening to the eagerly anticipated second releases.

And films can often suffer the same issues, especially when not being planned as a series. Although loved by hard-core fans, I struggled to love Back to the Future 2 after worshiping the first; Hannibal was a poor shadow of Silence of the Lambs; Matrix Reloaded was best left without loading, and sometimes the third and beyond disappoint (Phantom Menace, Batman and Robin, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull thingy).

 

As a fledgling author, I can feel the pain of sequels. The first offering, especially in music, is often a synthesis of years on the road, eliminating crap songs, finding what works and what doesn’t, and the evolution of a fresh voice, a fresh way of displaying your art. We go through a similar process ourselves as writers, albeit on a more individual scale. We begin with scribbling, brainstorming narratives and styles, taking critique and refining. Some of us write short stories, dabble in genres, until we find one that suits our written ‘voice.’ And then, for some of us, that’s enough to write something more ambitious—a novella, or a novel.

I cut my teeth on fantasy fiction, first of all writing a piece based on Role-Playing Games for friends, then short stories for an on-line fanzine. The latter was critiqued by other authors, sometimes unfairly, but usually constructively, until it passed the ‘publishing’ test. Finally I worked up the bravery to write a fantasy novel, which evolve into a six book series (from a planned long single volume, similar to Stephen’s Epic Fantasy with Dragons).
In the midst of the six book Darkness Rising series, my kids nagged me into writing something lighter and more sci-fi based. Being fervent Dr Who fans (the term Whovian still rankles a little for me), I put a lot of alternate reality, televisual action into it and the kids loved it. It took a few rewrites and jiggles, but end-product—the Infinity Bridge—is probably by favourite single thing I’ve written. Naturally, the kids want more. And, indeed, having put the book up on Wattpad (the international Empire of Shaun Allen, as it shall be forever known ** proud colleague moment**) and reviewed on Goodreads, it seems there are readers not just loyal to me because I control their allowance who want to read some more of the ‘Nu Knights.’
And there the difficulty began. Although I’d written Infinity Bridge as having the potential for a series, the book is still fairly standalone. The events that occur in it, and how would they pan out in the course of time, were never fully fleshed out for a whole ongoing series. Not long after I published it, I had some great ideas for plots, and especially sub-plots of where I could take the characters, and began furiously typing these down. And as they hit the virtual page more ideas arrived, and evolved, and story arcs, and set-ups for books 3 and 4, and…

Boom. It’s written, and it all ties together in my brain, and I think ‘hot diggety, it’s ready to go.’ And then my steampunk mentor reads it, and says… ohhh—kayyyy, see what you’re doing here, but it’s like you’ve tried to do a dinner party for ten, including a vegan and someone who’s gluten intolerant, and served starters, main and dessert on one huge plate. That’s my analogy by the way, hers are far more exquisite. Too many ideas, too many characters, in too confusing a plot.

Now I’m embarrassed to say, that beyond a few paragraphs, and extra material to flesh a sub-plot out, I’ve never actually rewritten any of my work. As in never done first draft, second draft/ revision etc. Largely this was because I kind of actually just wrote as a hobby, mainly not really caring who read it, and with no expectation or precedent. Also, in a rather childish way, I get the buzz from that initial flurry of plotting, evolving the narrative and plot as I go along. It worked for Ian Fleming, why not me? So to tackle this rough diamond I have created, and refine and polish it until it’s worth putting on display is new territory for me. And I’m simply not sure how to do it—but then, when I evolved from short stories to novels I wasn’t either, and learned the best way—by others experience and mistakes, and by becoming part of a collective of like-minded motivated (and, honestly, more talented) writers.

Stephen King’s advice to new writers was to first and foremost be a reader—to digest everything on offer, in as many genres and styles as you can. In doing that you become acutely aware that some mainstream authors, usually riding on their success, have fallen into the trap of not refining their diamonds. I read some books and want to get a red pen and slash through the padding and indulgence that even top authors (and I’m thinking of George RR Martin especially here) put in their weighty tomes. And I hope it’s a sign of my progress of a writer that it’s time to do so to myself.
Nu Knights 2: The Spectral Assassin will be out this year.

#GraceUnderFire: Mary Shelley

The commonly publicized stories of famous men and women are generally focused on their great victories and glorious successes, and rarely touch for long on the less-than-glorious moments in their careers.

And, while I am always inspired by great successes, I am far more intrigued by how the heroes and heroines of history handled the most crushing, personal defeats.

One woman I deeply admire as much for the way she handled disgrace and loss as for her literary success, is Mary Shelley.

The year was 1814, and Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was 17–young, even by the standards of the day–when she ran away with a married man. That man was Percy Bysshe Shelley, who was (until he eloped with Mary) a close friend of her father.

Mary was the daughter of the famous political philosopher William Godwin, and her mother was the pioneering philosopher and feminist, Mary Wollstonecraft.  Her father was the first modern proponent of anarchism, and (until recently) her late mother’s tempestuous history overshadowed her brilliant work as a writer, philosopher, and advocate of women’s rights. Her parents were Free Thinkers, and were notorious in their own rights.

Percy was the eldest legitimate son of Sir Timothy Shelley, 2nd Baronet of Castle Goring. Sir Timothy had himself produced an illegitimate child, which (in Percy’s eyes) made his  pious horror at his son’s transgressions seem rather hypocritical.

William Godwin was frequently in danger of going to debtors’ prison as his businesses regularly failed.  Good friends always rescued him, and long before beginning his relationship with Mary, Percy Shelley had agreed to bail the man he admired out of debt.

After their elopement, the enraged William Godwin refused to see them, but still demanded money to be given to him under another name, to avoid scandal. Their assertions that marriage was a matter of mind and God rather than the law fell on primly deaf ears.

Mary viewed her father’s reaction to their elopement as both sanctimonious and motivated by greed. It does appear that way, in view of his past and his political views, and also in view of the liberal way in which he had raised her after her mother’s death.

But beyond Sir Timothy Shelley and William Godwin’s hypocrisy, the couple faced intense censure from society at large, and paid a heavy price for the choices they had made.

After the suicide of Percy’s 1st wife, Harriet, and his subsequent marriage to Mary, the Chancery Court ruled Percy Shelley morally unfit to have custody of his children, despite Mary’s desire to raise them. In what was a well-publicized case, Percy’s children were placed with a clergyman’s family.

Despite having her personal business widely discussed and being snubbed by people she had believed to be her friends, Mary refused to behave as an outcast, writing and living as normal a life as she was able. Forced to live abroad to escape creditors, Mary and Percy found their exile from England hard to bear, despite their famous (and infamous) circle of friends who were exiled for much the same reasons.

When faced with the suicide of her sister Fanny and the deaths of three of her children, Mary suffered a deep depression. She retreated into her writing, and her husband retreated into confusion. Nevertheless, in public she carried herself with grace and dignity, no matter what was said or implied about her. During that time, Percy wrote:

My dearest Mary, wherefore hast thou gone, And left me in this dreary world alone? Thy form is here indeed—a lovely one—But thou art fled, gone down a dreary road That leads to Sorrow’s most obscure abode. For thine own sake I cannot follow thee. Do thou return for mine.

At the age of twenty-two she found herself a widow, and spent the rest of her life raising her only living son, writing, and getting Percy’s works published. Her life with Percy had been a struggle in many ways, far beyond the obvious, but no man ever captivated her more than he had. The wild passion she felt for him was as much spiritual as it was carnal, a true meeting of minds.

They were young, and although he loved her body and soul, he was not entirely faithful to her, and didn’t hide his infidelity from her. They lived beyond their means and were hounded by creditors, which could have meant debtor’s prison. In Mary’s eyes, that lack of security was far more difficult to endure than sly comments about her perceived bad behavior.

Mary Shelley was brave in what she published, and wrote her political thoughts into her novels and essays boldly, despite women having no right to voice their ideas. She believed in the Enlightenment idea that “People can improve society through the responsible exercise of political power,” but she also feared that the reckless exercise of power would lead to chaos, and her works reflect this belief.

Her works reveal her as much less optimistic than her radical parents, Godwin and Wollstonecraft. She doubted her father’s theory that humanity could eventually be perfected.

Even her early works are critical of the way in which 18th-century thinkers, such as her parents, believed radical political changes could be brought about. It has been pointed out that the creature in Frankenstein reads books associated with radical ideals, but the education he gains from them is ultimately useless.

Mary supported her son with her writing, and a small stipend she managed to squeeze from Sir Timothy, who wrote into his will that she should pay it back when her son inherited the title and estate. She was never accepted or acknowledged by her father-in-law, although her son did live to inherit his title and estate.

How people find the strength to hold their heads up in the face of public humiliation, personal tragedy, and intense social ostracism is, to me, a far more intriguing story than their successes. Anyone can ride the wave of glory–it takes a person of great character to surf the shoals of public disaster with grace and step on shore with confidence and their dignity intact.

________________________________________________

#GraceUnderFire: Mary Shelley by Connie J. Jasperson was first published 7 Oct 2015  on Life in the Realm of Fantasy

Wikipedia contributors, “Mary Shelley,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Mary_Shelley&oldid=757791087 (accessed October 5, 2015)

Image: Portrait of Mary Shelley, Richard Rothwell [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Cover Reveal For ‘Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar’ And A Quick Word About PaintNET

The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar by Rachel Tsoumbakos FINAL COVER ART 940 resize

Now that Christmas and New Year’s has come and gone and the school holidays are nearly over here in Australia, it is time to get serious about edits for my upcoming book, Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar. But, before that can happen, there was just enough time to create the cover!

Thanks to some awesome input from my fellow Myrddin authors, and, in particular, Connie J. Jasperson, there has been many hours spent relearning how to use PaintNET. So, what does the cover for Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar look like? All the details are below.

 The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar by Rachel Tsoumbakos FINAL COVER ART 940 resize
[Image via © Nejron | Dreamstime.com/Rachel Tsoumbakos]

Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar Blurb

 

Lagertha was known to be one of the wives of the famous Viking, Ragnar Lodbrok. But did you know they first met each other at a brothel? And just how long did their marriage last? Was Lagertha really the revered shield maiden we see her as today? The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar aims to unravel all these secrets.

Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar is so much more than a history book though. While Part One examines the historical facts, Part Two brings their whole story to life with an historically accurate novella of their lives.

Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar aims to discover just how much of what we know of the shield maiden, Lagertha, and the famous Ragnar Lodbrok in popular culture today is actually true.

The Truth About series explores the historical fact from present day fiction in regards to the Vikings and other key historical figures that existed in the Viking era.

You can add Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar to your Goodreads reading list. Also, once the next stage of editing is completed (I’m around the halfway mark for this), I should have more idea of a release date, which means you will soon be able to pre-order The Truth About Lagertha and Ragnar on Amazon. Make sure you sign up to the Myrddin Publishing blog so you will know as soon as pre-order is available!

Also, for some fun facts you might not know about Lagertha and Ragnar already, you can check out my previous post on these two Vikings here.

So, What Is PaintNET Anyway?

If you have ever wanted to use Photoshop but just can’t afford the money or time to learn how to use such an enormous program, PaintNET might be just your thing. It is a freeware product designed by the people and for the people. This program is part of GNU, another free software operating system. While PaintNET is a great resource for those designing book covers and manipulating images, it is not entirely a full version alternative to Photoshop. If you want that, you will need GIMP, which is very much the freeware equivalent of Photoshop. However, if you — like me — have tried Photoshop and become completely overwhelmed with all it can do, PaintNET is nice alternative. It is very much a bridge between what can be done in Microsoft’s Paint program with a few added extras and the full Photoshop experience.

[Image via © Nejron | Dreamstime.com/Rachel Tsoumbakos]

Maps: the Art of Going Places

Maps are awesome additions to books.  I love drawing them, and I love books that have them.  When I was reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series I was constantly paging back and forth to the maps, wishing for smaller, more localized maps. They don’t have to be accurate–but they do have to give some idea of where the action is taking us.

When I formatted Huw the Bard, I included three maps. At the front I left the whole map of Waldeyn. Then I split the map, north and south,  so curious readers could see how the two halves of Waldeyn differ from each other, and how that difference in terrain affected his journey. The  second map is inserted where the second stage of Huw’s journey begins.

I did it that way because I am a voracious reader of anything by L.E. Modesitt Jr.,  but I am angry with his publisher, TOR Fantasy, for not updating the maps in his Recluce books. The maps in the front of that series of books detail the world AFTER The Chaos Balance, and bear absolutely NO resemblance to the towns in fully half of the books that are set before that time!

Sigh. All that money spent for beautiful artwork for the cover was a good investment, oh, mighty publishing giant, TOR–but the interior could use NEW MAPS! Give me the coordinates and I’ll draw them for you! (oh dear, I’m hyperventilating again….)

One of the best maps of a fantasy realm that I’ve ever seen was the map of Middle Earth as done by Pauline Baynes in 1970. It is beautiful, a complete work of art on its own, as all maps once were in the golden age of discovery.

I won’t lay claim to being an artist on this level, nor will my maps ever achieve this kind of style and creativity, but I am working on new maps for the world of Neveyah, and the Tower of Bones series. The ones I have right now are all in color, and they don’t translate well to black and white for print.

But, I’ve been working on that too. The map to the right of me is the current map of the City of Aeoven.

Now, if I can just make it look good grayscaled.

 

Dragons vs Christmas (Lights) #flashfic #amwriting

This story by Lee French originally appeared on Edgewise Words Inn.

Enion poked the wad of Christmas lights with a claw. “What is it?”

“It’s pretty!” Pimkin snapped her silver wings out and jumped onto the tangled wad of bright colors and dark green wire. She landed on top with a toothy grin. The ball pitched her forward, wiping away her triumph as she thumped on the table. Flapping her wings to escape, she found them snared by the wires. All four legs had wires wrapped around them too.

“I’ll save you!” Enion plowed into the tangle. The devious wires seized his head, wings, and tail. They slid across the table in a clump to stop at the edge. One end of the wires fell off the side and clattered on the linoleum floor.

Both tiny dragons wriggled and squirmed to escape, pulling the wires tighter around their bodies. The ball quavered on the verge of falling. Enion noticed and froze.

“Stop! We’re going to fall.” He shoved one foot through the wires to the table and scraped his claws on the table. Its plastic coating foiled his efforts to dig in.

Pimkin tried and failed to fold her wings in. “Why is this pretty thing so mean?”

“It’s evil.”

“Then we must defeat it!”

Enion pulled his neck back only to have the frill of tiny horns around his head catch on the wires. He snapped at a wire, sinking his sharp little teeth in and grinding. The soft plastic coating gave way to metal underneath. Electricity jolted through his body until he let go.

Not knowing which way was up anymore, he slumped. His weight sent the tangled ball over the edge. Enion and Pimkin both shrieked until the wad hit the floor. It bounced, cushioning both dragons from the fall, then rolled until it hit a kitchen cabinet.

More ensnared than before, Enion gasped.

“No more pretty lights!” Pimkin thrashed her tiny legs in frustration.

“It’s evil,” Enion agreed, his words slurred.

Pimkin gave up with a heavy sigh. “It wins.” She sagged in the wires.

Ready to also admit defeat and wait for a human to find them and fix everything, Enion gave one last heave. He caused the ball to roll far enough for him to put all four clawed feet on the floor.

Now facing up, Pimkin noticed one foot fell through the wires against he body, leaving it free so long as she didn’t move it again. She tugged gently on her other foreleg and discovered she could move it a tiny bit to the left, then pull it through. Suddenly, she had two legs free.

Enion sank his claws into the linoleum enough to gain traction. He dragged the ball away from the cabinet. “Not giving up yet!”

“Wait. Stop.” Pimkin eased one back foot free, then the other. “If you move slow, you defeat it!”

Pausing in his trek to the living room, Enion looked down at his raised foot. He’d lifted it to take the next step and only now noticed it had come free of the wires. With a step onto the wires instead of the floor, he lifted his other foreclaw and freed it also.

“Hurray!” Enion looked up and saw Pimkin’s wing near enough to reach. If he bit the wire around it without trying to chew through, he could loosen it.

A few minutes later, both dragons stood two feet away, glaring at the ball of lights attached to the wall socket by an orange extension cord.

“It’s pretty.”

“It’s evil.”

Dear Santa By Connie J. Jasperson

Dear Santa,

It was my sister’s fault.

Mostly. I also feel the Frigidaire company is partly to blame. They should make their products less prone to tipping over.

It all started because we were robbed on Halloween. Mrs. Sullivan gave out Snickers Bars, and Mr. Gentry gave Hershey Bars. Mrs. Morris had handed out M&Ms. In fact, all of Plum Street was handing out chocolate, so we knew we really did well that night. Chocolate is our favorite candy, so we were quite excited about having made such a grand haul. It was the best trick-or-treat night ever.

But by the time we had washed the face paint off our faces and changed into our jammies, and were allowed to sort through our candy, all that was left in our bags were Skittles, LifeSavers, Jujubes, Jolly Ranchers, and Tootsie Pops. I’m sure thieves snuck in and did it while Mom was watching Dancing with the Stars. Everyone knows our mom has sworn off sugar, so the thieves must have known there wouldn’t even be any stray Reese’s Pieces at our house under normal circumstances.

Cathy said the thieves must have spied on us as we made the rounds in the neighborhood and knew just where to come to steal it.

However, on Thanksgiving, we received reliable information from our cousin Jeremy (he’s fifteen and really tall) that some of the missing chocolate from our Halloween candy had been stashed in a secret cupboard on our premises. Probably the robbers couldn’t carry it all because there was so much chocolate, it took both Cathy and me to carry it home in the first place.

When Cathy counted what was left, it was clear the thieves had made off with more than half of it. We feared they would come back for the rest of it.

Now, I know I have a certain responsibility for how things turned out, as I am technically older. Mom is always telling us how sisters should be loyal to each other as they grow and venture into new territory.

The cupboard over the top of the refrigerator was definitely uncharted territory.

When Cathy told me about her plan to rescue the stolen chocolate, I felt she needed a safety net. Or at least someone to hold the chair while she climbed on top of the fridge.

We were surprised to discover her plan had a fatal flaw, although I should have expected it. After all, she’s only in third grade, so engineering is not her strong point. Although she’s amazing at drawing horses, much better than I am and I’m a year older. But I wasn’t consulted in the planning stage, or I would have suggested approaching the cupboard from the side via the counter instead of the front from a chair. All she asked me to do was to hold the chair, which I did until I had to drop it to catch the refrigerator.

Sort of.

I accidentally dropped that too.

You see, the door swung open, and she was hanging on it but managed to jump clear, and you know the rest.

Did you know that when your refrigerator falls on the door, more food falls out of it when you go to lift it back up? This is because the doors don’t latch too well.

So Santa, even though it wasn’t my idea to tip over the fridge, I did try to clean up the mess before Mom got back from the store. It’s just amazing how far pickles and olives can travel when they’re mixed with orange juice and moldy brussels sprouts. I didn’t realize they had rolled all the way to the back door. I felt terrible that mom slipped and dropped a gallon of milk.

And please don’t be too hard on Cathy. She was only trying to rescue the stolen chocolates.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Martin, Cathy’s sister

Dear Santa By Ceri Clark

Dear Santa,

It was my sister’s fault. I don’t normally write these things but I didn’t do it. I swear! I just wanted you to know.

I am so tired, I hate being alone but there is no one left. Do you even come this far?

Please help me. I can hear her calling my name. Mary’s got her hair in a pony tail and she’s stolen mom’s make-up. She looks really scary. It won’t be long until she finds me. They call it moon madness but she was always mean, even before we left Earth. Do you remember Toby? He lived next door to us. He must have been on your nice list. That wasn’t an accident. I was there. I saw the whole thing. She pushed him. The smile on her face as she did it. I never told anyone before. She scares me so bad.

Maybe I should have told Mom and Dad. Maybe everyone would be alive now. Harry and me would be in Hydroponics playing football. Dad would be telling us off right now…

Their faces. They were all collapsed. Higgledy piggledy. I was lucky I forgot my jumper. It was to be our first Christmas concert in space. Mom and Dad were more excited than me. It was going to to be broadcast back to Earth so Mom said we all had to look our best. I ran as fast as I could but when I got back the air was already gone. I saw her through the airlock window. My sister is a monster.

She’s playing with some rope. Like I don’t know that is for me if she catches me. There is no way I’m going to her. I saw the bodies. I’m not stupid. She’s using THAT voice – the one that gets mom to give her the chocolate from the top shelf. It just makes me shiver.

Mom said we should write letters to Santa – that you always hear us. She said that you had a sleigh that can ride high into the sky. I will leave this letter by the heating panels, its as close to a fire-place as we have here.

Please Santa, my sister blames me for everything. I heard her talk to her cat. She’s going to say I opened the air lock and killed everyone. If you can just get her the communicator she wants, the pink one, she might let me live. Its why she did it, Dad said it cost too much. But you can afford it can’t you?

I’m going to have to finish this now, I need to find a new hiding place. Please Santa, please come, you are my only hope.

 

Dear Santa By David P. Cantrell

Dear Santa,

It was my sister’s fault. Well, she didn’t light the fire. I did that, but there’s no doubt she caused the damage, and she could have stopped it if she hadn’t been running so fast. She’s selfish like that.

The fire wasn’t that big. It charred the front leg of Mommy’s favorite chair. I sat in it, so I know it’s okay. It does smell odd. Mommy says a skunk peed on it. I didn’t see a skunk, so I think she was wrong. Nobody’s noticed the scorched leg on Daddy’s chair. It always smells funny according to Mommy.

This all started in Mrs. Gold’s fourth-grade class. She showed us how to make candles and told us to make one to celebrate the holidays. Bobbie Schultz said our teacher was Jewish and didn’t like Christmas. I don’t know why she doesn’t like Christmas. For that matter, I don’t know what Jewish is, but Bobbie is smart. He knows the time’s tables all the way to thirteen.

Most kids made candles that looked like Rudolph, Frosty, or an angel. Two kids made pitchforks. They called them Minotaurs, I think. Zachery made a Navytea scene. It had little farm animals in a circle around a butterfly larva. I asked Zachery if it was a Monarch. He said it was a Baby Jesus. I’d never heard of that kind of butterfly. They probably come from Utah like Zachery.

I think I upset Mrs. Gold. I didn’t mean to. Honest, I didn’t. I made a devil. Mommy wouldn’t let me be a devil for Halloween–I had to wear Sara’s old Princess Jasmine costume. My devil was really cool, Santa. It had goat legs, the body of a man and the head of a bull. The bull horns had wicks in them. It was all red like you are, but not so round. Daddy says it’s not nice to call people fat. I hope round is okay. Anyway, it was sooooo cool. It didn’t stand up very well, so I glued on Popsicle sticks–they looked like snow skis.

Mommy and Daddy went shopping after dinner last night and left Sara and me to protect the house. I put the last ornaments on the Christmas tree, which sat between Mommy and Daddy’s chairs in front of the fireplace. We don’t use the fireplace because it’s anyfishunt. But, we still have a log lighter. I know, because I saw Daddy point it at Mommy like a gun. He said, ‘I’m going to light your fire woman.’ I wonder if I was adopted, sometimes.

Mommy and Daddy would be home soon, and I wanted to surprise them with my devil. I stood on Mommy’s chair to put the devil on the mantle. It looked great next to Grandma’s antique quilt on the wall.

“Sara where is the log lighter?”

She continued texting and mumbled, “On the hearth by Dad’s chair.”

“Thank you,” I said, but she ignored me, like always.

I had to stand on the armrest to reach the devil horns. The first one lit easily. I stretched to reach the second horn. The wick had started to flicker when Sara screamed, “What are you doing?”

I yelped and lost my balance. My hand caught the devil’s skis, and we both fell into the Christmas tree which fell on Sara. She squealed and ran like the wind. I landed on my back and stood up. The devil ignited the tree skirt which exploded in flames that died down quickly after I threw Mommy’s poinsettia plant on it. The ceiling sprinklers helped, too.

I hope you take it easy on Sara. I know this horrible incident was her fault, but she tries hard to be good. Sometimes things just don’t work out for her.

By the way, I’d like a Lego Super Hero High School for Christmas.

Yours most sincerely truly,

Elsie Montgomery, age 9 and 3/4ths.

 

When you get what you want …and it’s Winter!

Winter

 

Once there was a time

when the snow finally fell,

spreading like diamonds across the yard,

back when winter was a reason

to light the fires and embrace one another.

 

I counted the days

through the spring and summer,

watching the flowers bloom,

seeing people shed their clothes,

feeling the warmth cut through me.

 

I counted the weeks

through the falling leaves

watching them sweep my path,

seeing them blow casually away,

feeling how life fled from me.

 

And winter returned

as forever I prayed it would:

when all the birds take flight

yet there is one that remains,

willing to brave the cold

 

and shiver to death rather than escape,

wanting to believe rather than deny.

 

—Stephen Swartz (© 2007)

 

[Stephen likes to write about winter. His most wintry novels are A Beautiful Chill and A Girl Called Wolf.]

That Christmas Feeling

I love the sights and scents of the holiday season. Cookies baking, houses on our street with lighted displays–you don’t have to go wild to make a huge impression. My dear hubby always puts a few decorations out, little trees made of white lights and lighted candy canes.

All up and down our neighborhood, homes are decorated for the season. Anyone driving through our little valley will see some ambitious displays. Our home is really quite simple in its holiday decorating–a tree, candles, a cute centerpiece for the table. We keep it simple because we have to tear it down and put it all away over New Year’s day, and that rapidly becomes a bore.  It’s work, and I don’t like anything that falls into the category of labor. But I love looking at other people’s efforts!

Wrapping the presents is also a bore, but I am now the queen of bags! I love that all I have to do is remove the price-tag, fold a little tissue around it and stuff it in a bag. Jam a little tissue in the top and voila! Christmas is served! No more tape sticking to the wrong place and no more hunting for the scissors I just set down.

Just lazy me, blowing through wrapping the pile of presents like a sleigh through the snow!

We have a lot of grandkids. We’ll make sure their gifts arrive at their houses before the big day. It’s sad when their presents leave our house to go under the trees in their homes because our tree looks a bit lonely. But not for long–we’ll soon have a few bags under there, just a little something for the two old people to enjoy on their quiet Christmas morning with the son who lives nearby.

It doesn’t take a lot to make the place feel festive. A little here and there and the house feels warmer, cozier. An atmosphere of peace and well-being. I will roast a turkey breast for my hubby because he is a carnivore, but I will make a vegan entrée for me, a Hazelnut-Cranberry Roast made by the Seattle-based Field Roast Company. Everything I cook will be vegan except Greg’s turkey, and it will be delicious.

I make all the traditional dishes, substituting Earth Balance vegan margarine and almond or rice milk for the dairy. I use vegetable broth to make the cranberry walnut stuffing. Anyone can eat well if they choose to, and it’s not any more expensive than eating junk food, cheaper if you want to know the truth.

This is my recipe for:

ONION AND MUSHROOM GRAVY

Ingredients:

  •  3/4 cup white or button mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 small yellow or white onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup vegan margarine
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce (for gluten free, use corn starch to thicken the broth)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 tbsp poultry seasoning (or 1/2 tsp each of sage, thyme, and marjoram)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

In a large skillet, melt the vegan margarine and add onion and mushrooms. Sauté for just a minute or two over high heat.

Reduce heat to medium and add vegetable broth and soy sauce. Slowly add flour, stirring well to combine and prevent lumps from forming. Bring to a simmer or a low boil, then reduce heat.

I love this time of year. Great food, all the Christmas lights, and decorations–I kind of go nuts. When we take the presents round to our children’s homes I feel a sense of having succeeded–they have new traditions for their children, combined some from our past. I feel a sense of continuity–We’re the grandparents now, the old-fashioned ones, the ones who always have time for a cuddle and never deny a grandchild a cookie when he wants one.

We’re always in the background, knowing we’re slightly in the way of our daughters as they work to get things done, but trying not to be. We gladly wrangle the children, delighted to be mauled or sat on, happy to have our hair brushed, or even our toenails painted if that’s what makes a child happy. We’ll play Legos with them until the cows come home so their parents can get the real work of the holidays done.

When we were the parents and our children were small, our parents were there for them, being the old, wise people who loved them as unconditionally as we love our grandchildren

In this holiday dance, the circle is complete.

10 Unlikely actors for movie remakes (that were originally books)

movie remakesEver wondered what a movie would have been like with a different choice of actor? We love books here at Myrddin Publishing but sometimes we are drawn to the glitzy, sparkly lights of the cinema. Everyone loves a good movie and we are no different. Sometimes we like to think about how we would have written the story or who would we choose to star in a movie about our books. It was only a matter of time before one of us put a wish list of unlikely actors for movie remakes!

Here are six suggestions that may make your toes curl or  make you think twice.

1. Pride and Prejudice

Mr Darcy played by Arnold Schwarzeneggar

Arnold has played romantic leads in the past, but the Terminator star might give a new dimension to the character. Who could forget Kindergarten Cop or True Lies?

You are mistaken, Mr. Darcy, if you suppose that the mode of your declaration affected me in any other way, than as it spared the concern which I might have felt in refusing you, had you behaved in a more gentlemanlike manner.” (Elizabeth Bennett) ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

If Arnie had been playing Mr. Darcy, would Elizabeth Bennett have said that? Of all the movie remakes in this list, I would love to see this actually happen!

2. Bridget Jones Diary

Bridget Jones Diary played by Sigourney Weaver

Bridget Jones was famously played by Renée Zellweger but the drippy lead could do with some Sigourney Weaver ‘take no prisoners’ approach. Her style could make the ending all the more worth it and although she wouldn’t need Colin Firth, the fight scene would be worth watching in and of itself.

3. The Silence of the Lambs

Hannibal Lector played by Eddie Izzard

Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs  and Mads Mikkelsen in Hannibal have tough boots to fill but Eddie Izzard could be an awesome choice for a film remake. You will only need to check him out as the chilling Wolf in Powers to see why. He started out his media career as a stand up comedian but soon branched out into TV and film. The guy has run over 40 marathons and is multilingual which shows a dedication seldom seen in this world.

4. The Shining

Jack Torrance played by Rowan Atkinson

The actor who played the lovable Mr Bean has a wide repertoire of acting skills and should surely bear another look for this iconic character. Nobody could surpass the performance of the original but if there was to be a remake maybe they could take another gander at the Johnny English star. After all, he’s already used to being called Johnny. Is it such a stretch to imagine him, axe in hand, shouting “Here’s Johnny?”

5. The Godfather Series

The Godfather played by Eddie Murphy

You may be thinking that the actor playing the Godfather needs to be American-Italian, right? But bear with me. Eddie Murphy could give a new angle to the movie. Gone are the days when he made movies like The Golden Child and Beverly Hills Cop but given a really juicy role, he could get his mojo back. He’s a wise guy but this film is sooo serious maybe it could do with a bit of eccentricity.

6. The Bourne Series

Jason Bourne played by David Schwimmer

David Schwimmer is best known for his role in Friends but maybe it is time for him to expand his acting genius. No one would suspect him capable of such physical feats which makes him ideally placed to be a spy. His job as a dinosaur bones curator would be the perfect cover. To be honest it was a toss up between the Da Vinci Code and the Bourne Series for this guy for me.

7. Fight Club

Tyler Durden played by Zach Galifianakis

Best know for the Hangout movies, a Fight Club remake committee would not be doing their job if they did not at least consider Mr. Galifianakis in the lead role.Just like Edward Norton, the unsuspecting viewer, (if there is anyone left in the world who hasn’t read the book or seen the movie), would never guess the narrator and Tyler are one and the same. The role would stretch Zach but he could do it. Movie remakes seem a dime a dozen lately but this could be overdue for one.

8. Carrie

Carrie White played by Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie is known for playing strong characters. This would be a departure but would be a giant step for women. Any character Angelina would play wouldn’t stand for what Carrie does. It is probabl;y wish fulfillment but I for one would like to see her go into the that school and beat the pulp out of her tormentors.

Has anyone else noticed that the actors playing the ‘kids’ at the school look like they are in their thirties, possibly late thirties? Angelina Jolie looks way better and is (probably) a lot fitter than the actors portrayed in the original film. It would be a cross between a Buffy and Willow. That’s a movie I would really love to watch. I admit, there have been a few Carrie movie remakes, surely one more couldn’t hurt.

9. The Notebook

Noah Calhoun played by Jean Claude Van Damme

My husband introduced number 9 in this movie remakes list to me when we first met. I loved The Notebook when I first saw it but felt that Noah should really grow some back bone. I hated how she used the poor bloke and didn’t seem to appreciate him as much as she should have. Enter Jean Claude Van Damme. Instead of watching a drippy hero mope from one end of the movie to the other, he would grow some and find someone else to appreciate him for who he is.

10. X-Men 》

Professor X played by Vinnie Jones

I’ve been a fan of the X-Men films since they started. I’ve always loved superheroes. Professor X holds a special place in my heart as he was played by the Captain of the Enterprise. If a remake were on the cards then who better to replace him than Vinnie Jones? Hard man, ex-footballer turned actor he would deliver his lines with a glare. His lack of accent range would be no problem here as Professor X has a British accent anyway if a little more refined. He’s getting a little long in the tooth, (I’m going to so regret that statement in a few years), so the wheelchair is perfect.

I hope you enjoyed this foray into dream movie remakes. Which movies would you like to see remade and which unlikely actors would you choose to play the leads?

 

Ceri Clark is an author with Myrddin Publishing  who writes non-fiction technology guides as well as children’s fiction. You can find out more about her and her books on this site or at her personal sites Cericlark.com and MinkieMonster.com.

Andrew: Faith and Down Syndrome

cathedral or church

When we attend Mass on Sunday, sometimes we’re lucky enough to see Andrew*. More than any hymn or homily, Andrew’s joy in his faith is an inspiration.

He throws his entire being into worship. When the little church band plays, Andrew strums along with his air guitar, eyes closed in ecstasy. And when the pastor speaks, Andrew bows his head and reaches out, his hands touching the shoulders of those next to him.

Andrew was born with an extra chromosome 21. There are different names for this: Down Syndrome, special needs, mentally challenged.

His extra chromosome gives Andrew the usual tell-tale signs. He’s short. His tongue sticks out when he concentrates. He has difficulty saying some words. However, Andrew lives each day with the same intensity he displays at church.candles symbolizing faith

Sometimes I see him at his job, bagging groceries at a local store. As he works, Andrew examines each item and comments on it. A foil baking dish is ‘Cool.’ The ridges on canned cranberry sauce feel ‘Neat.’ Frozen peas are ‘Wow!’

Our nickname for him is The Mayor. Everyone knows him, everybody wants to shake his hand or give him a hug.

And what hugs! Like everything else he does, Andrew loves with intensity. He reaches out to strangers and embraces them. No social barriers for The Mayor, thank you very much.

Andrew goes to the movies each week with his friend Charlie*. Sometimes Charlie comes to church as well, and we get to see how the two buddies sing and dance to a rhythm I’ll never experience.

In church I catch myself wondering what the hell I’m going to make for dinner or how I’ll resolve the latest plot-point in my novel. I get annoyed at my daughter for being a noodge or at my husband for wanting to go to Home Depot after Mass.

No such silly nonsense for Andrew. In the seat in front of us, he raises both arms during the Allelujah and tilts back his head to catch every last word of praise.

golden umbrella among black and white umbrellasLast summer, the eighth-grade class sold ice cream outside the church one hot day. When the deacon announced the sale, Andrew responded with a huge smile. He rubbed his hands together in glee and beamed at us, certain we were all as ecstatic as he was.

I know things aren’t always easy for Andrew, and there must have been some tough times for his family. In 1910, his life expectancy might have been 20 years. Nowadays that number has increased to 60 – still not enough.

If only I could tell him what a gift it is to see him. All I can do is smile, wave, and say a private Thank You for getting to see him for a few golden moments.

*Names have been changed.

All images courtesy of Pixabay.

Things that inspire me

I live 60 miles due north of Mt. St. Helens, an active stratovolcano that has erupted several times in my lifetime. As a teenager in the fall of 1970, 10 years before the eruption, my earth-science class visited the lava-tubes that were popular tourist destinations in those days.  The volcano was considered to be of no threat to anyone, practically dead, really.

Mt. St. Helens from Spirit Lake prior to 1980
Mt. St. Helens from Spirit Lake prior to 1980 via ABC news

As this photo shows, it had a beautiful shape to it, like Mt. Fuji, and was featured on calendars and postcards for its beauty and majesty.  The verdant forests were tall and thick, mostly Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar.  Spirit Lake, at its base, was a playground for summer vacationers.  My family spent many summer holidays at the campgrounds and the lodge there.

PD United States Geological Survey, via Wikipedia
PD United States Geological Survey, via Wikipedia

All that changed overnight on May 18th, 1980, when the mountain erupted.  We could see the ash column quite clearly from the lake in the Bald Hills of Thurston County, where we were fishing that morning, and we knew something really bad had happened at the mountain. Entire forests were blown down and buried under volcanic ash. Spirit Lake was both destroyed and reborn in a different form.

The destruction of the ecology is one of the underlying themes of the Tower of Bones series.

But the miraculous way the land around Mt. St. Helens has rebounded in the last 35 years is also working its way into my World of Neveyah–Tauron’s spell is broken, and the land will recover.  The devastation of Mal Evol looks permanent, and is terrible to those who know what it once was like, but they have hope that it will recover.

In the World of Neveyah series, I created the Mountains of the Moon, out of which the valley of Mal Evol was torn. I understood how mountains can rise high into the sky, blocking the rising or setting sun. Also, I used the climate of the Scablands here in Washington–the climate is typified by large seasonal temperature differences, with excruciatingly hot  summers and severely cold winters, and that is how I made Mal Evol. Remember, dealing with weather offers great opportunity for mayhem in the narrative.

I live on the heavily forested western side of the state, 50 miles west of 14,411 ft tall  Mount Rainier, beneath the Nisqually Glacier. That sight dominates my front-yard skyline on a clear day. The valley I live in was carved by glaciers and eruptions from this amazing pile of rock, ice, and fire. I took this idea, but I made my mountains taller and badder than the Himalayas on a bad Mt. Everest day.

Mount Rainier, Nisqually Glacier, ©2010 Walter Siegmund Via Wikipedia
Mount Rainier, Nisqually Glacier, © 2010 Walter Siegmund Via Wikipedia

We here in our bipolar State of Washington are able to see how the landscape can radically change if you just drive east on I-90 for four hours.

Because  of my good fortune of living in the shadow of two large volcanoes, and between two high mountain ranges, the Olympic Mountains and the Cascade Range,  I have the opportunity to experience a wide diversity of ecologies in one day, going from saltwater to mountain range, to desert.

You may find your inspiration elsewhere. It could be in anything from architecture to ornamental gardens, to cornfields or sage brush. For me, it is in the amazing state of Washington, a wild, beautful place of many diverse and fragile ecologies.


Things that inspire me was first published in September of 2015 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, under the title of  Creating the Landscape by Connie J. Jasperson, © 2015 All Rights Reserved

What is Beta Reading?

beta-read-imageBeta reading has become a part-time vocation for me. Over the past two years, I’ve beta read a dozen full-length novels—I’m working on the baker’s dozen as I write this. Also, I’ve proofread a few books and provided feedback for several short pieces.  It’s enjoyable work for sure, but it is work.

Fast reader doesn’t apply to me, although my comprehension is pretty good, even so, a recreational read takes half the time of a beta read. The time taken isn’t important to me, but it’s necessary in my case because I’m…a slow one-finger typist. Truly, I’m honored to be a beta reader and want to provide useful information to help the author evaluate and, if necessary, revise their manuscript.

My formal writing education stopped with a Business Communication course in my third year of college when everything was handwritten or typed, and computers were the size of buses—double-deckers at that. The best “English” class I’d ever taken in many ways. It focused on the importance of clarity and discouraged overly complicated sentence and paragraph structure. Writing to inform, not illicit an emotional response, was the fundamental message and it served me well in my accounting career. I’d never heard the term “show, don’t tell” until I started writing, but, on reflection, that’s what financial statements do.

Not being a trained grammarian is a plus in my mind because I miss grammar and punctuation mistakes and therefore don’t spend much time thinking about them—that’s the line editor’s job.  Nor am I an expert writer. I can’t turn mediocre prose into artistic expression. Hell, I can’t tell you what artistic prose is, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have to be purple.

What makes you think you’re qualified to be a beta-reader?

(What makes you think you’re qualified to be a beta-reader? You might say. And I might say back, screw you. But, I wouldn’t because accountants don’t talk that way—in public).  I’m as qualified as anyone else to be a beta reader because there are no qualifications for a non-existent service. (You spent too long doing taxes, you’re talking in circles. Yes. I’m not.)

Merriam-Webster on-line doesn’t have a definition for “beta read,” “betaread,” or “beta-read.”  I tried the Library of Congress search engine but couldn’t zero in on a definition. I even tried the Oxford English Dictionary. Sadly, the lack of a UK library card barred me from learning its wisdom on the issue.  If a UK-library-card-carrying person reads this post and has nothing better to do, (If they had something better to do, would they be reading your poppycock, you might say, but I rather you didn’t.) please let me know what OED has to say.

Wikipedia offers this definition:

An alpha reader or beta reader (also spelled alphareader / betareader, or shortened to alpha / beta), also pre-reader or critiquer, is a non-professional reader who reads a written work, generally fiction, with the intent of looking over the material to find and improve elements such as grammar and spelling, as well as suggestions to improve the story, its characters, or its setting. Beta reading is typically done before the story is released for public consumption.[1] Beta readers are not explicitly proofreaders or editors, but can serve in that context.

Elements highlighted by beta readers encompass things such as plot holes, problems with continuity, characterization or believability; in fiction and non-fiction, the beta might also assist the author with fact-checking.[2]

The two people cited in this definition, were recent authors but not “authorities” as far as I can tell.  Definitions by self-published authors and those that sell services to them abound on the internet, but each has its own twist. Some bloggers recommend authors provide a questionnaire to beta readers to guide them through the process. I’m not a fan of questionnaires, they’re too similar to homework for my liking. Given the lack of a clear standard, I’ve developed my own.

gold

I do my best to think like a “reader” rather than a writer or editor. I concentrate on the story, plot and the characters. If all is well, I won’t have much to say. It’s the hiccups and stumbles that force me to speak. But, it’s not easy. I don’t want to criticize an author because I would have worded a passage differently. Each person has a voice, and that’s good. But, if I don’t understand the message, I feel compelled to say so. At other times, I think I understand the message, but I don’t like it, which is a difficult spot because I don’t want to hurt the author’s feelings or undermine their confidence.  On the other hand, it’s my duty to provide honest responses.

Why I Beta Read

I beta read for two reasons. I’ve had positive responses from “clients, ” and I’ve learned from the experience. During one of my earliest beta reads, I noticed a character from the prior book in the series had disappeared from the story line. Doubting myself, I went back to the older book to confirm the character had survived the “big” battle—he had. The writer sent me an Amazon gift card to show his appreciation.

Recently, I read an Advanced Review Copy of a very good post-apocalypses novel by R.E. McDermott entitled Push Back. This author does his research, and I was hesitant to raise an issue as an ARC reader, but he’d asked for feedback. He used the word “blank” as a verb in a line similar to, “…we’ll have to blank the old pipe.” It threw me for a loop, and I shared my stumble with him. He kindly explained that to blank a pipe was to bolt a solid or “blank” flange over an open-ended conduit to seal it and was a common industry term. I learned something in the exchange, but he changed the verb to something like “cap” to avoid confusion. Experiences like these make me volunteer to beta read.

Have you been a beta reader? Do you want to be? Please share your thoughts.

By: David P. Cantrell (c) 2016

 

National Novel Writing Month

htb-225-px-for-2016-banner-boxEvery November I participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Around our house it is also referred to as “National Pot Pie Month,” an homage to my culinary efforts during November.

For the last five years I have been a Municipal Liaison for the Olympia, Washington Region. Last year indie author Lee French agreed to be a co-ML with me, which really took the pressure off in regard to small ML duties. We had 165 active novelists at that time and are gaining new wrimos all the time.

The primary goal of participating in NaNoWriMo is to produce a 50,000 word novel in the space of 30 days. That sounds crazy but it can be done–I do it every year. The first draft of Huw the Bard was written from start to finish during November of 2011 as my nano-novel that year.

HOWEVER:  I spent the month of October 2011 outlining the novel. After the first draft was completed, I spent the next three years getting HTB ready for publication, rewriting it through 3 more drafts, having it edited professionally, and finally it was published in March of 2014. Mountains of the Moon was written in 2012, and published 2015.

Many people use the concept of NaNoWriMo to jump-start their noveling career, but there are just as many who spend the month of November writing family histories or memoirs, writing daily blog posts, writing essays, or even working on their dissertations. I know two people who write screenplays during November.

The month of November is when we celebrate the act of creative writing, and encourage every person with an inner author to let that creative energy flow.

Last year, I am worked on a series of mixed genre short-short stories, all of them written during National Novel Writing Month. Altogether I wrote 42 short stories, one of which, View from the Bottom of a Lake, was selected as a finalist in the annual PNWA literary contest. It didn’t win, but hey – I got the honorable mention. That was pretty amazing!

So I am doing it again.

My intention is to write one tale a day, or two or three longer tales a week, many of them set in a Medieval village, but some set in the fantastic future.  Robots, Spaceships, Dragons, Fairies, even Mad Scientists and Crazed Wizards–all will be fair game.

crest-bda7b7a6e1b57bb9fb8ce9772b8faafb

This year there will be no novel in the traditional sense, but hopefully a LOT of short stories will emerge from my fevered mind, things I can use for contests and submissions to magazines and anthologies. For me, writing the first draft of anything  is only the beginning. Once that struggle is out of the way, the real work begins–making it fit for others to read. Getting it through the editing process with Carlie Cullen and Dave Cantrell are tough but necessary steps.  I don’t rush the revisions. I have nothing to lose by taking the time to do it right. Right now, I have three books on the back burner in various stages of dismemberment, but I am setting them aside for NaNoWrMo and in December I will return to getting them through that process.

Contemplations on the Theater of the Mind

I love poetry because I love the many ways words can be manipulated on a blank page. To me, poetry is something beautiful and visually simple, a thing that looks like it should be uncomplicated. But nothing could be farther from the truth.

I guarrantee you, this post will not scratch the surface of why poetry is so much more than naughty limericks (which I do know a great many of and which are quite hilarious).

Bad poetry can be written by anyone, but writing great poetry takes a certain genius–I don’t consider myself a poet, although I do sometimes feel compelled to attempt poetry.

Poetry doesn’t always rhyme and it frequently involves complicated aesthetics that are both auditory and visual. This is because the reader may not always be reading the poem aloud, and so the visual art of the piece comes into play.

Sometimes, poetry is long, epic in actuality. Consider Manfred, by George Gordon, Lord Byron (From Wikipedia, the font of all knowledge): Manfred: A dramatic poem is a poem written in 1816–1817 by Lord Byron. It contains supernatural elements, in keeping with the popularity of the ghost story in England at the time. It is a typical example of a Romantic closet drama. (end quoted text)

Byron himself referred to his works as “closet dramas,” since they were intended more for the theater of the mind than the actual theater.

manfred-lord byronExcerpt from Act III, scene I of Manfred

There is a calm upon me–
Inexplicable stillness! which till now
Did not belong to what I knew of life.
If that I did not know philosophy
To be of all our vanities the motliest, 10
The merest word that ever fool’d the ear
From out the schoolman’s jargon, I should deem
The golden secret, the sought ‘Kalon,’ found,
And seated in my soul. It will not last,
But it is well to have known it, though but once.

And a “theater of the mind” is what Byron’s work sparks in me.

Words are bent and shaped by poets to evoke meanings, bent and formed into precise shapes. We novelists and writers of short fiction have the luxury of creating a long narrative. In poetry, space is intentionally limited by the author, forcing the the poet to write within narrow constraints. Thus, allegory, allusion, and indirection are common motifs in poetry.

Traditional forms have precise constraints: Sonnets are fourteen lines, following a set rhyme scheme and logical structure. Sonnets use iambic pentameter, which is characterized by the familiar “da dum da dum da dum da dum da dum” cadence of five sets of syllables.

Even in free verse, one must pay attention to the meter, the basic rhythmic structure  of a piece, the rhythm and cadence of the syllables. A clear example of this can be found in Walt Whitman’s poems, where he repeats certain phrases and uses commas to create both a rhythm and structure.

I love the poem,  When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, written in free verse in 206 lines. Whitman used many of the literary techniques associated with the pastoral elegy. He composed it during the summer of 1865, a period of profound national mourning. The country was reeling in the aftermath of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, that occurred on April 14, 1865.

Despite the poem being an elegy to the fallen president, Whitman neither mentions Lincoln by name nor does he mention the circumstances of his death. Instead, Whitman used allegory–symbolic imagery:  the lilacs, a falling star in the western sky which was the planet Venus, and a shy bird, the hermit thrush. It is most definitely an elegy because he employed what scholars consider the traditional progression of the pastoral elegy: moving from grief toward an acceptance and knowledge of death.

It is is a beautiful poem, and is one I often return to. Lines 18-22 of Whitman’s leaves of grass-whitman When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d:

In the swamp in secluded recesses,
A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song.

Solitary the thrush
The hermit withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements,
Sings by himself a song.

And how has poetry evolved into the 21st century? For one unique direction of evolution check out the works of Seattle poet, Bill Carty on Pinwheel

For more famous contemporary poets, check out 31 Contemporary Poets You Need to Read.

I have always been a fan of the classic masters: Dickinson, Browning, the Brontë sisters, Byron, Shelley, Frost, Whitman. Wordsworth, and my beloved Yeats, among many.  I was raised in a home with their works proudly displayed on the bookshelves in the living-room, massive tooled-leather volumes from Grolier, smelling of romance and ideas.

I didn’t always understand the works of the great poets, and I still don’t–but I love them.

I leave you with a rhyming poem, The Song of the old Mother by William Butler Yeats:

I rise in the dawn, and I kneel and blow
Till the seed of the fire flicker and glow;
And then I must scrub and bake and sweep
Till stars are beginning to blink and peep;
And the young lie long and dream in their bed
Of the matching of ribbons for bosom and head,
And their days go over in idleness,
And they sigh if the wind but lift a tress:
While I must work because I am old,
And the seed of the fire gets feeble and cold.


This essay, Contemplations on the Theater of the Mind, was first published on Life in the Realm of Fantasy, by Connie J. Jasperson under the title But what about poetry? © Connie J. Jasperson

Delving Into History To Discover The Truth Behind The Vikings Lagertha And Ragnar

Lagertha and Ragnar as depicted in History's 'Vikings'

I know my last blog post was on research when writing. But, here I am again, writing another post on the virtues of research. Actually, to be honest, this one is more about my latest book series, The Truth Behind.

When I started writing TV articles for the Inquisitr, I never thought it would lead me to my next novel. But, thanks to one of History Channel’s shows, Vikings, I have managed to find out an awful lot about a group of people I previously knew very little about. Vikings tells the story of Ragnar Lothbrok, based on a character from Viking lore that may, or may not have existed, Ragnar Lodbrok. Season 1 started with Ragnar and his wife, Lagertha, as farmers. Ragnar, being a typical inquisitive Viking, decides to travel West to raid rather than East and manages to wind up in England. While there he does the normal Viking thing — pillaging and murdering — before returning to Norway with his loot.

 Ragnar and Lagertha as depicted in History's 'Vikings'

Ragnar and Lagertha as depicted in History’s ‘Vikings’ [Image via HISTORY]
By Season 4 of Vikings, Ragnar is a king, having quickly traveled up the ranks because of his adventures in England. His wife, however, has left him thanks to an affair Ragnar had with Aslaug. Yet, their love story still keeps fans of the show swooning. And it is this story that has brought me to researching the sagas as I delve into the real story of Ragnar and Lagertha.

While it seems very likely that Lagertha is not a real person that existed during the Viking era, there is one recorded story about her. This tale comes from book 9 in Saxo Grammaticus’ History of the Danes (you can read this story for free via Sacred Texts). Saxo was a scholar who lived in England. He was tasked with recording the Viking stories up to two hundred years after the actual events. So, if this is the only record we have of Lagertha, it seems likely she doesn’t exist since none of the Viking sagas mention her.

Regardless, for the sake of a great love story, I have been using this one story, along with the many stories about Ragnar (that may or may not be about several men named Ragnar), to formulate the true story of Ragnar and Lagertha rather than the current romanticized one. Along the way I have come across some very interesting facts about the pair. For example:

 Ragnar wears his hairy breeches to protect himself against a dangerous snake

Ragnar wears his hairy breeches to protect himself against a dangerous snake [Image via AngloSaxonNorseAndCeltic]
  • Ragnar’s surname literally translates to hairy or shaggy breeches. This name came about after Ragnar wore shaggy pants in an effort to get past a dangerous viper that breathed venom. In some instances of this story, it is a dragon Ragnar has to pass. In both stories, Ragnar was trying to impress a lady (or her father anyway).
  • Ragnar first met Lagertha in a brothel. But it’s totally not what you think. Ragnar was merely saving a group of women that had been taken hostage by Frø, the king of Sweden, after he killed King Siward. Frø placed these women in a brothel to publicly shame them. Ragnar, a fan of Siward, decided to avenge his friend and rescue the women. During this battle, many of the women in the battle decided to dress in men’s clothing and fight on Ragnar’s side. And so the myth about the shield maiden called Lagertha was born along with the prose below.

“Lagertha, a skilled Amazon, who, though a maiden, had the courage of a man, and fought in front among the bravest with her hair loose over her shoulders. All-marvelled at her matchless deeds, for her locks flying down her back betrayed that she was a woman.”

Lagertha on a ship
Lagertha (as the goddess Thorgerd) in battle [Illustration by Jenny Nyström (1895).
  • Ragnar attempted to woo Lagertha after he saw her fighting ability. However, Lagertha was not one to fall at a man’s feet. She made it quite the task to win her hand and Ragnar ended up having to kill a bear and a hound just to reach her house.
  • Lagertha really did love Ragnar though. In fact, many years after they had divorced (Ragnar had taken a fancy to Thora Borgarhjört, the daughter of King Herraud, that resulted in his surname), Lagertha chose to fight for Ragnar once more when he needed support in a civil war. Being the independent woman, she brought 120 ships to his aide.
  • What ever happened during that final battle together is not mentioned. However, the final part of her tale is very revealing in that she returned home and slayed her husband rather than be with him a moment longer. It is unclear why she killed her husband or what happened after this other than she went on to rule independently.
  • It seems likely Lagertha may actually be based on a Norse goddess called Thorgerd. It is also possible Saxo made the story about Lagertha up using his knowledge about the Amazon women from Greek mythology.

My research into Ragnar and Lagertha is far from complete, however, I have already created a page on Goodreads. So, if you are intrigued by the story of Lagertha and Ragnar, why not add The Truth Behind the Vikings: Lagertha and Ragnar to your reading list.

Have you watch History’s Vikings or read any of the Viking sagas? Let us know by commenting below!

The Story So Far

Having recently completed my own writing challenge, namely finishing a series of fantasy books that I set about commencing six years ago, I’ve taken the opportunity to reflect upon the journey. Before you worry that this’ll turn into a mawkish post about what I learned about myself, and the industry, and all the wondrous people I’ve met (I have, but that’s not what I’m blogging about), console yourself with the title of the post. The Story So Far…

One of the difficulties of writing a six book series is deciding what to put into each book with regards the prior events. The problem spirals as the sheer complexity of events expands throughout the epic. Now, not being a vastly successful mainstream author, it’d be unlikely that anyone would pick up my series half way through, although possible. And the books themselves are meant to be a part of a series, not standalone with a common thread/ milieu running through. Yet, given the books came out roughly one a year, I don’t flatter myself that my readers are so obsessed with my work that they remember very last detail from the prior one… I know I don’t!

When I began editing and rewriting sections of book two to cope with the fact it had originally being the last 40% of a mega-volume one (for those that don’t know, Darkness Rising 1 and 2 were originally Dreams of Darkness Rising, and clocked in at Tolstoy length, so was split) I began considering my ‘story so far’ options. Option 1 is some slightly clunky prose between characters where they reminisce and ruminate on recent events to the degree that the reader can catch up. That’d read like…

Emelia smiled wrly at Jem. “It’s funny to think that my latent Wild-magic powers were so successfully manifested at the time you and Hunor sneaked into Lord Ebon-Farr’s rooms, fought that hidden Air-mage, and procured that darned blue crystal that turned out to be part of a prism of power.”

“And all the stranger that that would then lead to Ebon-Farr’s niece, Lady Orla pursuing us across to Azagunta and capturing us, before flying to Thetoria, fighting a demonic humour, and setting Aldred on a course of investigation that would lead him far away.”

With a flicker of nostalgia, Emelia began to recall all the events that had lead up to that fateful day…

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AAaaaarrrggghh! Stop, just stop. No-one talks like that out with TV fantasy series. Yet it’s slightly preferable to the… ‘Story so Far’ info-dump that by book six would run to eight blooming pages!

It was our own literary goddess Alison DeLuca who edited Darkness Rising Book 2, and when faced with the info-dump story so far section I’d written to start the book, she got her virtual red pen, drew a big line through the forty paragraphs, and simply commented ‘we’re writers, we can find better ways of doing it than that.’
Challenge accepted.

Six books, five ‘story so fars’ and because of the plotlines and structure, several disparate groups and POVs , often in ignorance to one another. How to maintain originality…?

Well, here were my top five:

1. The Dream Play (book 3: Secrets)

Emelia, whose dreams are so significant to the plotline, and who through dreaming becomes linked with the main protagonist , Vildor, recants a ‘story so far’ by dreaming she is watching a play.

I know this place. It is a hall of deception, and for this I am glad. For all here wear cloaks of secrets, which wrap around their souls with the strength of iron.

I am seated in the decayed stalls, and before me the first Act has commenced. At my side sits Emebaka. She holds my hand with her own tiny scaled one. Her eyes glitter like diamonds in the winter sun. I make to speak, but she shakes her head. The dream must command my attention. My wayward mind needs order—I need to reflect on all that has passed.

There are children on the stage, stuttering their lines like nervous suitors. The faded backdrop is of the Splintered Isles. A man is taking a sack of gold, and the children are wailing as they are carried off stage.

My father is selling me. To the Eerians.

No more spoilers!!!

2. The Prayer (book 4: Loss)

In this ‘story so far’ the knight, Sir Unhert, offers a prayer for his companion, Aldred. This allows a reflection on their actions, and the second ongoing plotline in the series.

Blessed Torik, hear my prayer.

I have never been a devout man. I placed my faith in the strength of steel and the might of griffons, yet this day I ask for your forgiveness in this matter, and your aid. There is one I hold dear who lies dying before me, every passing day taking more of his vitality away, stolen like a thief in the dark.

And though we are far away from the majestic peaks of Eeria, and your great temples in Coonor, I know that my prayer will carry on the four winds, across the ravines and gullies of the Emerald Mountains, to your omniscient ears.

final-front-cover-only

3.The Crystals (book 5: Broken)

This one was quite random: the crystals, the focus of the quest and the goal of both Vildor and Jem, begin discussing the current situation. I was proud of this one, as it was fairly off the wall, and I think worked well.

That, and more. We must understand if we are to prevail. We must understand if we’re to be whole again—our four primary facets, and our newer darker aspect.

Then I shall go first, sister. For is it not the wind that drives the water, the wind that fuels the fire? I was first to be found, two centuries from when we were cast asunder by the jealousy of a son.

The emperor who bore me, whose blood is barely dry?

Hush, brother, let our sister speak. Let her tell you how she came to be here in this desert of flame.

4. Words (book 6: Redemption)

This was a tiny bit of a cheat, as I used a character from a prior book (Orla’s old flame, Muben) as a storyteller, who learns of the historic events and their precursors by meeting a goddess. Very Greek. I figured by book 6 most readers would just want a recap of key events that are relevant to the finale.

Words. Words as keen as a magnate blade, or as dull as a mace. They can freeze a man’s heart, or ignite his soul. And words… words are all I have.

When I was a young man I craved books. The intricacies of the script held such majesty, such power, that even before I could read them they made my spirit soar. Their wonder became my life, my livelihood, as I slipped the chains of my Eerian masters and took to the infinite roads of Nurolia.

The druids of Artoria, they carry their words on their flesh. Whorls and swirls of ancient scripture cover them like walking parchments. I often wonder if you took the contents of my skull and smeared it across the ground would it leak ink not blood. For words, dancing together in fables and tales, flow through me.

I sit watching as the fire peters out, my audience dwindling back to their farmsteads, I reflect upon one word. Ty Schen—that’s what they call me in Mirioth. It means ‘chronicle.’ They come from miles to hear the stories, the histories, and the legends. Yet once I had another name, one given to me by my late father, in the tongue of my homeland, the Sapphire Isles.
“Muben?”

Oh, I know, I’m a tease… leaving you with that excerpt… of a recap! And finally, I used this device in couple of books…

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00032]

5. The Journal (books 2 and 3)

Very similar to the letter idea (which I used in book 4, and turns up in a later book for someone else to read), I used the idea that some of my characters would write a journal as a recap device. It felt less contrived than the joking dialogue method I tried above, and served the purpose in earlier books where the plotline was perhaps easier to realistically summarise from a key character’s point of view.

It feels odd writing this in the pages of Livor’s journal, but it’s what he would have wanted, what he would have told me to do if we had had a chance to speak more in life.

Is there folly in conversing with the dead? Once I would have said so. Once life was simple—you lived life to the full, embracing every moment as if it were your last—and then you died. You died like my mother did, rotted by a wasting disease. You died like my father did, killed by his traitorous servant, a Dark-mage


So now I’m editing the sequel to my sci-fi/ steampunk series, The Nu-Knights, I’m toying with different ideas: files/ dossiers, diaries, confessions… The nature of the series makes it easier to do succinctly, and as a gradual dialogue in the story, so perhaps I’ll not need one for book two.

What about you other authors out there? How do you tackle it? And for the readers, is info-dump a big turn-off, or do you accept that fantasy=massive amount of summarised plot detail in first five pages?

And that length of post, probably needs a summary of its own!!!

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