Category Archives: Genre – Historical Stories

Historical Novels, Novellas, Novelettes and Short Stories for all ages

New Titles for March!

March has been an exciting month. First, at the very beginning of the month, Cat and I attended a workshop together on the beautiful Oregon Coast … our first in-person meeting! It was a delight to get to know her in the real world after all the experiences we’ve shared online 😀

Now, I’m excited to announce that my publisher, WDM Publishing, has released two new titles for March … one for each of my pen names 😀

First, Deb Logan gives us a new Faery adventure. I’m hoping you’ll enjoy this reunion with Claire and Roddy.

OF DRAGONS AND CENTAURS“Dragons”
by Debbie Mumford
Audience: Contemporary Fantasy | Young Adult | Short Story

Claire’s 15th birthday brings a huge surprise: she’s inherited her grandmother’s dragon! Imagine her surprise when the toy her grandmother carries with her everywhere turns out to be a real live dragon. One who looks like a toy when any uninitiated person is around. Life is about to get very interesting.

Buy Now: Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

*~*~*

Next, Debbie Mumford gives us a collection of her historical fiction. From the early 20th century to the Highlands of Scotland in the 1400s, we know you’ll enjoy this new edition!

TALES OF BYGONE DAYSBygone
by Debbie Mumford
Audience:
Historical Fiction | General Audience | Collection

From the struggle for women’s suffrage in the early 20th century (“Sisters in Suffrage”) to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado in the late 19th century (“Incident on the High Line”) to an account of the Cherokee Removal in the late 1830s (“The Trail Where We Cried”) and ending with a time-travel romance in 15th century Scotland (“Her Highland Laird”), this collection of three short stories and one novella will take you on a journey through history.

Buy Now: Amazon | Apple | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Smashwords

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New Releases for Debbie Mumford!

FR16 Hidden in Crime ebook cover
I’m thrilled to announce that I have a short story in this anthology!

Edited by the incomparable Kristine Kathryn Rusch, this volume focuses on historical crime fiction–specifically, stories about crimes that are no longer against the law.

Writing “Sisters in Suffrage” was a departure for me since I don’t write mysteries or crime fiction. My usual genres are all speculative in nature, so I was stymied about how to approach this story. When I realized that the crime didn’t have to be solved, that I could simply tell a story about something that horrified me, I was on my way.

I had written a blog post several years ago encouraging women voters to exercise the rights that our foremothers suffered to earn for us. I knew when I began my research that my right to vote hadn’t come freely, but I hadn’t realized the extent to which “suffrage” and “suffering” had been related. When the memory of my research surfaced, “Sisters in Suffrage” was born.

I hope readers will enjoy this anthology, but even more I hope the stories will make people think about what’s legal, what isn’t…and why.

And in other news…

Astromancer-Cover-2x3

My short story “Astromancer” is now live on Amazon and will be coming soon to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and all the Smashwords affiliates!

Apprentice Alchemist Wyot is an astrologer of the third rank. He dreams of becoming an astromancer, one of the elite few who move starships between the known planets, but knows he lacks the innate magical talent required to fulfill his lofty ambition. When the Thrice Great commands his presence, Wyot has no idea what to expect from the leader of the legendary Emerald Enclave.

It’s been a very good week!

Juma’s Rain – new release

Yes, I know I’m late again. That happens often with authors since we all have ur head in the clouds (actually in stories to tell the truth). I’m participating in NaNoWriMo (= writing a novel of 50K words minimum in a month) again this year (for the 8th time) and have been writing like mad. I managed to get more words down already than in any NaNo I did before. So, please forgive my tardiness in all things aside from that.

Today, I present to you my next book, a YA love story set in Stone Age Africa, Juma’s Rain.

Juma's Rain cover

Yes, I do know that Juma’s buttocks are visible, but people in Africa didn’t wear all that much in the Stone Ages. I assure you though that there is no graphical sex in the book (although a little smooching occurs). The story is about a girl who wants to become the next clan leader but is apprenticed to the village witch instead because she can see the gods. Her talent is urgently needed to wake the rain-goddess and stop the fire dæmon from destroying the earth. Falling in love with the current clan leaders’ son wasn’t part of the plan…

You can pre-order the book on Amazon so that it will be delivered to your Kindle on Sunday 15th of November. Or you can buy the print book if you prefer. And if you like the story, please let me know.

Author Interview with Lori Fitzgerald- The Dragon’s Message Blog Tour

I never try to hide my methods: the horror of my interrogation chamber is so graphic it should probably come with a warning. Yet the victims keep trooping in- thanks this time once again to the offices of my good procurer, the Magic Appreciation Tour, we have ensnared Lori Fitzgerald making the rounds for her latest work, entitled The Dragon’s Message. I have eagerly anticipated her arrival, not just because I have a new branding iron I’ve wanted to try out, but for several other reasons. My spies inform me that Lori is a devotee of Medieval Lit (sooooo close to Medieval History!), has excellent taste in books and television, and even frequents Ren-Faires (one of the only places in the Alleged Real World where I can blend in). No more delay, let’s get cracking… and I do mean that literally

:: whip-cracking sound :: confess, benighted reprobate, and it will go easier for you!

 Q: OK, first of all… a novelette, seriously? I was barely seated, just getting warmed up on this cool tale, and suddenly I’m nearing the end. Is this some new form of torture for your fans? Perhaps I should take notes! Or is there a devious method to this idea of yours. Tell us how you hit upon the notion of publishing something so bite-sized.

The cover art gets you halfway there by itself!

The cover art gets you halfway there by itself!

A: Finding a peaceful block of uninterrupted time during daylight hours in a household with two young children is quite the dropping of the gauntlet. In fact, can you untie me for a second so I can break up the light-saber battle going on in my living room? (Anachronistic, I know, but explain that to a 6 year old and an 8 year old.) Perhaps one day I’ll be able to concentrate on a lengthier work (I do have novel ideas), but right now I feel a great sense of accomplishment with my novelettes. I find snippets of time here and there throughout the day to write, in between errands or while dinner is in the cauldron. This type of “scheduling” I think lends itself better to a shorter form. Never fear, there will be more stories in the world of The Dragon’s Message. I have both a prequel and a sequel in mind. I would love to bundle all three stories together in a longer form, perhaps even a paperback.

Q: I can name one tale there had BETTER be a sequel to! At the risk of spilling all the magic beans, there be dragons here. I want you to rank these creatures in your world, along the following Eat-to-Greet scale: Tolkein’s Smaug = 1, LeGuin’s Sobriest = 4, McCaffrey’s F’lar = 8. Where do the scaly ones of your world rank in their relations to humans? (Ed. Note. The dragons of the Lands of Hope rate about a 2. On a good day.)

A: I would say that my dragons are most like LeGuin’s Kalessin. Although the details of their backstory is for another tale, I can tell you that dragons are scarce and mistrustful of humans generally because they have been hunted for the magic in their blood. Out of necessity for survival and to share their true nature, they have bestowed their knowledge to one human of each generation. One special human. In The Dragon’s Message, this is Lady Rhiannon, and she is the only human who knows their secrets and can decipher the language that is written in the Dragon Tome. Here be dragons (and an excerpt):

 When Rhiannon was small and had just learned to read, her mother brought her into the hall one day when her father was on campaign, and led her to the large table upon which a great map of their lands lay. She instructed Rhiannon to read the words of the landmarks: castle, road, mountain, forest, village. The young girl touched words inscribed over a place where trees met craggy peaks. “What does that say, my love?” her mother prompted.

“Here be dragons,” Rhiannon answered, glancing up at her mother.

Her mother nodded, smiling. She knelt down in front of Rhiannon so they were at the same height. The lady’s hazel eyes sparkled as she whispered, “I have a secret to share. But I can only share it with a little girl with red and gold hair,” she pulled playfully on Rhiannon’s braid,” who knows how to read.” Rhiannon giggled. “Are you a little girl such as this?” Rhiannon nodded eagerly, and her mother laughed. She stood up and gestured at a tapestry on the wall. “Come, child, the dragon guards our treasure.”

Hand in hand they walked to the tapestry of the sleeping dragon. “Your great-great grandmother wove this tapestry when she was an old woman. It took her a long time to complete, with her hands gnarled so, like the twisted oak by the drawbridge.” The dragon was curled up in front of a turret, with stone dolmens in a semi-circle behind it, interspersed with trees and a mountain peak in the background and bright blue sky above. The dragon’s scales were crimson and woven through with glittering gold thread, and its curved horns and talons were gold. As they paused in front of the large tapestry, Rhiannon looked closely at the eyes of the dragon; she thought perhaps she could see a slit of gold, as if the dragon were only pretending to be asleep.

Rhiannon’s mother stood on tiptoe and moved part of the tapestry to the side, revealing a slit in the stone wall. With her free hand she reached in and drew out a large leather-bound tome. She motioned her daughter to come sit with her on one of the benches that lined the walls. “Look and listen well, my daughter,” she said, and ran her fingers along the smooth cover, “this book is our special treasure, and it contains many secrets within its pages. I am going to teach you how to read them.” She opened the book as Rhiannon snuggled closer to her, her mother’s loose red-gold hair falling over the girl’s shoulder and brushing the crinkly parchment pages of the book which she turned until she came to the picture of a girl.

“The first secret is a story…”

 Q: I was very taken by the unfolding liaison between your two main characters. It’s an April-October relationship, quite touching- the girl who long ago gave a knight her scarf as a favor is now grown. We see a lot through Rhiannon’s eyes- what can you tell me about the knight Gwydion and his feelings? And importantly, how old would you say he is now? I wonder that he stayed unmarried in this society, especially as renowned as he’s become.

A: Gwydion is about my age…and no amount of torture gets a lady to reveal her age! In my head I have Gwydion around 15-20 years older than Rhiannon. When he takes the quest to bring Rhiannon to

My acolytes thought her too cute to torture. I must remain resolute until she confesses!

My acolytes thought her too cute to torture. I must remain resolute until she confesses!

safety he is simply fulfilling his liege-lord’s orders, although he has a fondness for Rhiannon from when she was a child, as readers will see from a flashback as well. However, on their journey Gwydion quickly realizes that she is not a child anymore and (luckily for him) is also quick to change gears and respect her as a lady. Once he sees her more as a peer he allows himself to fall for her. Sir Gwydion is the champion knight of Rhiannon’s father, basically his general, and so between fulfilling his duties to his lord and also running his father’s estate as the eldest son, he has had a lot on his trencher and thus never got married. And there’s also the dragon’s actual message to consider…you know, destiny and true love and all that written in flame can’t be ignored. It’s a scorching hazard.

Q: Yowch! Quite correct :: sucks fingers :: You’ve already given ample evidence of your guilt in this writing-fantasy matter. But now we come to the most grievous of crimes- you help to spread the word on the internet! Tell us more about your involvement with Once Upon a Fan.

A: I’m so proud to be a Staff Writer for the website Once Upon a Fan, the top-rated fansite for ABC’s show Once Upon a Time. One of the popular features of our site is the Origins articles, where we compare and contrast literary characters with their portrayal on the show. I’ve written Origins articles on Sir Lancelot, the Sword in the Stone, and Robin Hood, among others. I’ve tried to show how the symbolic landscape of the medieval mind comes into play in various aspects of Once Upon a Time as well. You can find the Origins library here. I really owe my publication to the show and the fandom. Once Upon a Time inspired me to create my own worlds again after 20 years (oops, is that an inadvertent clue?) in which I stopped writing to focus on my teaching career and having a family. The website and all the writers, artists, and crafters I met in the extremely creative Oncer fandom encouraged me that my lifelong dream of publishing could become a reality.

Once Upon A Fan Logo 1000px SquareQ: Aha, confederates, we shall have them arrested shortly. Where does all this leave you for your writing schedule? Have one, much? I see evidence of two children in my spies’ reports. Egad. Do you have a sacred space with a locked door? Set times to jot your thoughts? If I could take away any money-trouble with a wave of my wand- no wait, that’s my cat-o’nine-tails, hold on- there, supposing you COULD devote full-time to writing, would much change about your writing life?

A: I would love to have a sacred space, but alas, my laptop and I are wandering minstrels. Sometimes I write at the kitchen counter, sometimes in the attic, on rare occasions in the dungeon where the library and playroom are located. I would prefer to have a set time and schedule to write, maybe a few hours every morning, but that just doesn’t fit with my lifestyle right now. Sometimes the kids wake up sick and the actual storming of the castle has to wait a few days (after all, that’s what sieges are for).

Q: If I had to use the old infiltrate-through-the-garderobe trick, a mother of little kids is the one I’d send. I suppose that will have to suffice, for now. So many instruments, so little time… You may go. But be certain that you leave ample contact information here- your book and web links for reader-interest, should we need to drag you back for further interrogation. Thanks, Lori!

A: Thank you, Will…I think! But it’s never truly torturous to talk to a fellow medievalist.

The Dragon’s Message, a Dragon Tome Novelette, is available on Kindle and Nook for $1.99.

A dragon writes a cryptic message with its ember breath in the evening sky…

Lady Rhiannon watches from the turret wall with an ache in her blood. She’s the only person who can decipher the message as the sole keeper of the Dragon Tome. When an old enemy threatens the castle, her father charges his knight with escorting her to a safe haven—the same knight Rhiannon had a crush on as a girl. But she must now convince him to change his plans, for she has her own sacred charge to fulfill…

So begins a journey to hidden ruins where magic slumbers in the stones and love lies in the heart, waiting to awaken. As Rhiannon and the knight face seemingly insurmountable odds, only the dragon knows if they can fulfill their destiny…

 Here are the magic links:

Amazon: http://www.amzn.to/OCTcq9

Barnes & Noble: bit.ly/1epYuBC

 

My blog http://www.whiteravenwriting.blogspot.com

You can also find me on Twitter @MedievalLit and on Facebook at my author page White Raven Writing.

 

Rafflecopter Link:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/share-code/YzZiMWJiNDVkMzNkOGZhZDZjMjQzNmEwZTJjZDFlOjE=/

 

Author Spotlight: Chrystal Collier

Chrystal CollierI’m happy to be able to host a writer that I have known and admired for quite a while already: Chrystal Collier. With the release of her new novel Moonless, she is touring the world (virtually of course, who could afford anythign else) and popped in here for a short interview.

Why did you choose a socially challenged heroine?
MOONLESS is written for young adults. As a teenager, I remember that being one of my greatest struggles—figuring out my place in the world and feeling like I just didn’t fit in. Who doesn’t feel that at some point?

What makes the world of your novel different from ours?
Call this an alternate history if you will, but what if there was another race of people hidden just below the surface of society? Now let’s say these people are gifted and unique, but nature is all about balance, so they have an antithesis or predator. Keep in mind they don’t propagate as easily as humanity which makes them a minority, and their discovery in the past has led to wars, racial cleansing, etc. Because of that, they’re very interested in remaining unknown, even while their battle for survival rages in the shadows.

What was the most exciting thing happening when you wrote your novel?
Some people write dozens of novels before they get published. I rewrite the same book again and again and again until I get it right—or at least, that’s how it worked with Moonless. During rewrites we’ve lived in 3 different states, had two kids, worked on and off with producers for a Broadway aimed musical, and I’ve been a composer/writer for an audio/video production company. Do we need to add any more excitement?

Tell us about your writing day schedule.
My days starts with study, then I’m getting kids fed, dressed and into a home school day. After a couple lessons (and while the littles are occupied with assignments), I check in with email, the blogosphere, maybe even some critiquing. Finally, mid to late afternoon my littles get free time and I dive into writing, with regular interruptions, praying for a solid two hours.

If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be?
I believe we are infinitely powerful beings. We can accomplish anything through hard work and perseverance. My only complaint is the need for a time-stopper. (Which the scientists locked in my Floridian basement are desperately working to complete.)

Thank you for answering our question, Chrystal. We wish you a lot of success for your books.

P.S. I started reading, and it’s really good. Go and check it out right now: Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Smashwords, iBooks, or Sony

P.S.S. Chrystal is giving away three copies of Moonless. Visit this post for details (You need to scroll a bit).

P.S.S.S. Remember that you can still sign up for our free Advent calendar.

Classics You’ve Never Read cont.: Why Pretend? Part Two

I might set a record for confusing new readers before they even finish the title. If you just came in, I’m blogging about works of heroic fantasy everyone would recognize, but few of us may have read. So you might wish to return to Part One before continuing, where I used the work of the Baroness d’Orczy to explore the theme of the secret identity. And I promised there, that this theme would cover two great works of heroic derring-do, fairly close in time but far apart in geography (though both are set in the alleged-real world). So, who ranks alongside The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of the earliest heroes with a secret identity? Of course, it’s the main character of that incredibly famous tale… The Curse of Capistrano!!

Subtitle: The Mark of Zorro

Indeed, one of the all-time bad title choices in history, I’d say. Johnston McCulley published this immortal yarn under a name that makes me think of swallows pooping on your car, back in 1919 as a serial in five installments of the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly. I’ve been keeping an eye on the way the written works wend into other forms, and this is one of the great good luck stories for any aspiring author to remember. Who knows what would have become of this little tale with that title and publisher: but the great movie stars Fairbanks and Pickford saw it and decided it would make a great debut movie for their new studio. The rest is certainly history- a big hit for United Artists (!), causing McCulley to re-issue the tale as a novel, and the title we’ve all known has stuck ever since. Whew.

whisk-whoo-whask !

whisk-whoo-whak !

In the Solar System of Fantasy, Zorro clearly ranks as Cinematic Heroic for its rollicking style and humorous escapades. I smiled practically the whole time reading, much as I did during The Princess Bride. Where Percy plans, Don Diego seems only to act- he barges into a room, he conducts a duel, hurls an insult, whistles up his horse, rides like the wind. Both men, in their mild-mannered alter egos, refuse to duel a hothead in a way that makes them seem ridiculous. But The Pimpernel never once draws his weapon or throws a punch, whereas Zorro cannot seem to keep his sword in its scabbard.

This brings me to one main point- Zorro is REAL. I mean, he’s got a mask, he rides a horse- he’s actually THERE in the scenes, taunting his foes and daring to speak words of love to the gorgeous Senorita Lolita. People see him, take a shot at his back, duck his blade- the Pimpernel is a name, but there is no “him” there, just his many disguises. The contrast between Zorro and Don Diego Vega is shown to the reader, often within the breadth of a single fast-paced page. Time and again, the poetic, disinterested, weak Don Diego begs the need to retire and rest, trudging from the room- and mere seconds later, the dashing masked outlaw has arrived through a window, to announce another breathtakingly bold and honorable intention. The hero pledges his love, or promises revenge, laughs, leaps, disappears- and here just a moment later the tired caballero Don Diego returns, complaining of the noise and horrified to hear that Zorro just left.

So we come to another big point- our hero not only has a secret identity, he uses it to stay close to the action as well as far from suspicion. Don Diego complains of any exertion, even the need to woo Lolita, but most of all he bemoans how this masked menace ruins any chance for quiet contemplation. Seldom has an alter-ego been so openly disdainful of his heroic side. If this was a stage-play, you’d need your costumes fitted with velcro seams to get on and off in time. Though the action of the tale is fast-paced and seems random, we find by the end that Don Diego, like Sir Percy, has been planning this meticulously. Everyone believes he cannot be Zorro because he’s been acting this way since he was fifteen.

zorro1The differences between Zorro and the Scarlet Pimpernel are legion. Blakeney has a cadre of followers from the start, and acts to save them. Zorro only recruits the other young caballeros very near the end, and they play a key role in rescuing him. British and Spanish honor aim at somewhat different targets but both men pursue them with vigor. Taking a lady’s arm is about as far as they go in Britain, but the Spanish dare to hope that they may kiss her hand. Yeah, me either. I was surprised to note how many times Zorro wielded a pistol; the writer made it clear each time that he was only balancing the odds before forcing a man to duel him unaided (at which point the pistol in his other hand becomes a liability for Zorro). The Pimpernel leaves his mark in red, but only on paper, and he uses a pen: Zorro, of course chooses a somewhat more dramatic medium and settles for a single letter.

But the biggest difference, to my mind, is in the writing. Ms. D’Orczy really reaches some literary heights with her comparisons and descriptions, whereas Mr. McCulley aims only for a riotous romp filled with action but very little scene-setting and almost no reflection. Zorro would be sword and sorcery except the entire country is imperiled by the corrupt government and cruel soldiers who run it as the story opens. He is Robin Hood without the bow, breaking the law to serve justice. Blakeney risks his life as the Pimpernel but has an entire nation to run to for safety. Zorro has only his mask and wits to hide from his enemies.

I procured a digital copy of the original book from Amazon on my laptop Kindle; the full title is Zorro: the Curse of Capistrano and Six Stories, all by Johnston McCulley. The usual missed words here and there, a couple of repeated phrases- it happens with these quick transcriptions, but I’m happier with that when it’s free than this time when I paid $2.99. . I was interested in the other tales, but oddly, while the plots were interesting the level of the writing came nowhere near that of Zorro. The tone of McCulley’s other stories runs closer to Robert E. Howard and other pulp

OK, I surrender

OK, I surrender!

writers of the day- darker, less fun, and I’m sorry to say less inspired. Again, good plots and some nice touches but overall stick with Zorro.

I was just too young to enjoy the Disney TV serial version: I can only see Guy Williams wearing a spacesuit. I grew up expecting to see The Fox with the  bullwhip, not a pistol, alongside the rapier, and the movie-versions I’ve seen did not disappoint. Using Antonio Banderas in the most recent movies (as a “Zorro 2”) was as natural a choice as taking Michael Jordan for pick-up basketball: and as for Catherine Zeta-Jones… my Lord, what words could suffice? I really enjoyed those movies and think they truly carried the spirit of the book (in a somewhat different- certainly more explosive- setting). It’s hard to name a character from a century ago who has seen more rebirths on film, TV, comics and elsewhere.

In “straight” heroic and epic fantasy, the characters seldom resort to disguise or secret identity. Frodo and Sam try to sneak into Mordor wearing orc armor, and sometimes one of Arthur’s knights or Robin Hood would don a disguise for adventure. But to create another character or persona is rare- as a fantasy author, you have enough to do introducing a new person (and his or her world) to your readers, without layering on more! This is one reason Feldspar in Fencing Reputation can get away with his many guises- no one around him in the city of Cryssigens would consider hiding their “real” selves, they spend all their time and money advertizing exactly who they are for fame and influence. So the infamous stealthic can adopt not just one, but a dozen guises and no one is the wiser- including Feldspar, who comes to have a bit of an identity crisis in the tale when he decides to “just be himself”.

Secret identity as usually seen in the comics provides the hero with a safety-valve, a way to interact with people without endangering their lives, and sometimes a chance to collect information which they then use in hero-guise. Also, wearing spandex all day can raise issues in the mall bathroom. Finally, we’ve seen themes in the comics lately to indicate that if heroes “came out” on a more full-time basis, the world itself would react and change: becoming more of a straight fantasy or sci-fi setting. Keeping a hero under wraps and letting a regular guy do the work allows the author to stay grounded in a “default real world” background, and limits dreaded world-building to a minimum (things like hiding the lair, managing the costume change).  There could easily be fantasy stories where evil has run so far amok that a secret identity would be useful to the hero.

I’d be interested to hear your recollections of such instances in “pure” fantasy. I’m sure I missed some examples- after all, I’m only human. Which will lead me to my next theme…

Classics You’ve Never Read, Part One: Why Pretend?

I’ve wanted to do this for some time and I hope you enjoy my attempt to create a series of blogs around great works of heroic fiction that most folks haven’t read. Several of these I have mentioned before in one forum or another but now I want to try and do several things: amuse you, get you interested in checking them out, and perhaps find a window into the writer’s craft through these past works that resonate with us so well in other forms.

There’s no shame in seeing the movie, let me hasten to mention that. In nearly every case I can think of, I found the book to be better, but usually that was only after seeing the tale. When a classic is redone, it’s interesting to see whether the basic inner stuff of it has changed. I find, most often not; even Hollywood doesn’t always screw that up!

For my first theme, I want to look at two great classics that share one such common idea. Their heroes, set in almost the same time period but halfway around the world, do the same thing when faced with evil. They adopt a secret identity. This raises a great question, one that classic heroic and epic fantasy seldom touches on- why pretend?

Most folks know why Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent took on a mild-mannered alter ego- freedom to act and the need to protect loved ones from harm. But Superman and Batman, it turns out, were far from the first.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is widely thought to be the first hero in history to have a secret identity. It’s also one of the first heroic fantasy tales authored by a woman, the Baroness d’Orczy in 1903. There’s definitely something up with that, and if I say much more I’ll be accused (with justice) of chauvinism. But I’m here to tell you, guys aren’t nearly as interested in hiding their powers as women are in believing this dope before them truly has hidden talents. Deep water here, and I don’t swim well…

Tiny flower, BIG action.

Tiny flower, BIG action.

This is a gorgeous tale of death and danger in the blackest days of the French Revolution, when the Reign of Terror was eating people by the hundreds. Faking his disinterested, foppish life as a useless English dandy, Sir Percy Blakeney conceals from everyone- including his beautiful new French wife- that he secretly commands, as one of his followers puts it, “nineteen men who would lay down their lives” for him. Guided by his brilliant mind, the Pimpernel and his gang outwit the horrid, cruel, secular (!) French soldiers and agents to save dozens of innocent French aristocrats from the guillotine’s embrace. Then he returns to English society sporting the latest fashions, on the arm of his wife making witty remarks and annoying everyone- especially her- with his “inane laughter”.

We discover as the story moves briskly along that there has been a terrible misunderstanding crossing the main characters, one that probably won’t be happily resolved and which could lead to Blakeney’s death. He had only started his career of rescuing French nobility when he married the gorgeous Parisian actress Marguerite, whom he secretly still worships. For her part, Marguerite defended her beloved brother Armand by speaking down about a leading aristocrat, and her denunciation led to the death of that entire family- staining her with suspicion of sympathy for the Revolution. Blakeney adopts the guise of a flaccid fool, always honoring his wife and giving her every luxury but never letting on that he could be the mysterious hero capable of leading such daring and intelligent escapes. She is stung by the change in her husband and resorts to sarcasm, making fun of him in an effort to rouse the man she thought she knew. All this makes her look even more guilty to Blakeney’s heartbroken view. And when the dastardly French agent Chauvelin gets wind that Marguerite’s brother Armand may be helping the Pimpernel, he blackmails her with the young man’s life in order to enlist her help in exposing the enemy of the Revolution.

"Chicks dig that romantic crap!"

“Chicks dig that romantic crap!”

One remarkable aspect of this secret identity theme is that the hero is so obviously torn; he dare not let Marguerite know the truth because she appears to side with the enemy. Yet Percy is hopelessly in love with his wife still. After a moonlit encounter on their veranda where Marguerite implores him to be more truthful with her, he holds firm as the lazy, disinterested dandy until she turns to go. Then he throws himself to the tiles and kisses the ground whereon she walked. I’m telling you, chicks dig this stuff!

But the other aspect that may be of interest to the writer is that this situation compels us to see almost nothing directly from the hero’s point of view. For at least three-quarters of the story, you search for the Scarlet Pimpernel along with everyone else (you do better than they do). Nothing is told from Percy’s perspective until close to the end; there is a level of remove where you don’t read what he thinks or feels, only what he says and does. This increases the tension and reveals his character beautifully, whereas an omniscient third-person view would struggle hard not to seem maudlin or cute. Much of the heart of the tale is really from Marguerite’s point of view. The moment when the awful truth finally breaks down the doors of her mind- when she realizes that she has already led her husband, the man she always loved, into Chauvelin’s death-trap- is the height of the story.

Hugh Grant did well enough in the movie-version I would say, but the earlier flick with Leslie Howard (who played Ashley Wilkes in “Gone with the Wind”) sticks in my head. Ironically, it was Howard who immortalized the phrase “Sink me!” coming from the dandy Sir Blakeney; yet in the first book of The Scarlet Pimpernel Blakeney never uses that phrase. Also Merle Oberon perfectly matches my image of Marguerite.

Sink me! Nice cravat, wot?

Sink me! Nice cravat, wot?

In summary, we have a tale in which the hero adopts a secret identity specifically to prevent his plans from being overset and to keep his men from even greater danger. And he takes this foppish guise chiefly to keep the tale away from his beloved- not because he fears harm to her, but because he suspects she is his enemy. This sets up tremendous pathos and conflict in every scene they spend together, and d’Orczy exploits this original idea with fabulous prose that cuts to the heart of the scene each time. Her descriptions, dialogue and turns of phrase are uniformly apt and convey the emotion without slowing the pace too much. I think like any reader, I had moments where I “got it already” and was a bit impatient when she lingered on an image or reinforced an emotion, but there was nothing here to take me out of the tale for a second. I would rank The Scarlet Pimpernel as classic Heroic Fantasy (using my Fantasy Solar System taxonomy), shading towards Cinematic mood in places, particularly where Percy adopts an ingenious disguise despite his enemies knowing what to watch for.

Final bit of trivia- it was first put up as a stage play and evidently struggled, but the novel was published in the same year and did wonderfully right away. And I would rank The Scarlet Pimpernel as one of my top three ever Broadway shows- “Into the Fire” still makes me stand up and cheer out loud.

I downloaded The Scarlet Pimpernel for free to my phone from Amazon Kindle Classics- this is a wonderful value for me because I’m often traveling or without my laptop and can still read quite easily on the phone. I can change the background and font-size to suit my failing eyes, and the only feature I miss from the laptop version is the automatic dictionary. The free versions do suffer from imperfect formatting and there is the occasional mis-spelled word or even repeated phrase, but it’s nothing to pull down your enjoyment of the tale. Here’s another site to get it as an e-book, and you can also listen to it as an audio-book.

So, which tale is set at the same time, but far away and also makes use of a secret identity? Stay tuned for Part Two! And let me know how you reacted to any version of The Scarlet Pimpernel you may have seen or read.

Why Write? Because Your Life is… EPIC!

I think maybe we have kids so we can be reminded of that time we forgot, back when we were children- that phase where every answer was followed by another “why”? Our parents all gave up, just like I did, when it got somewhere around Bill Cosby’s immortal question “why is there air?”. But just this week, my daughter got on the phone with me- during a rare business trip- all in a lather about an ending she had just seen on the TV, one I knew very well and which doesn’t make sense. She’s sixteen now, the pace of “why” has settled down to where I almost miss it. I was rather busy, and this was too tough to answer on the phone. But I promised her I’d talk it through when I got back.

Before that happened, I finished the book I was reading on the train. And I answered a question for myself. WHY was I writing?

Not that I’ve done much recently- things have been quite unsettled but I think the new normal is coming around. And I never stopped feeling the hunger, to get back to this particular story and face its intimidating and alluring heroine again. Once I got started, I never really needed motivation to write- I wasn’t asking why in that sense. But I had honestly lost my compass a bit- this priestess, she’ll throw you for a loop too! And I’m very thankful I decided to read the book I had with me. There are no accidents…

It’s called “Epic” by John Eldredge and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to write, especially any kind of fiction. Fair warning- the author is a religious man and his thesis is rather startling. I’d be sorry if that drove you off by itself- the book is very accessible, and it flies right by even for a moderate-pace reader like myself. But I’ll give you a couple of points from it by way of explanation.

John wasn’t asking why we write, but why we read, or watch, or listen to tales ourselves. His answer was alarmingly simple. We go after these tales because at their heart ALL good stories are showing us elements of OUR story. And our story, of course, is a part of THE story: this is where he gets more spiritual, but as a Catholic that doesn’t bother me a bit.

We feel the thrill of the heroism, the struggle, the romance in tales- and we recognize, deep down, that somewhere something has gone seriously wrong in the tale we’re living through. Who can fail to notice how much suffering, frustration, and yeah, betrayal exists? For us and for the world, I mean. We work for the happy ending- yeah, the happily-ever-after ending, any good person does that. We often don’t feel like it, but our lives are epic! That’s a meaningful word, of course to me- in epic fantasy the likes of which I’m trying to chronicle, things come around, the story means something, lots is at stake and needs to be saved.

It thrilled me and brought me back to really focus on my current tale. THAT’s why I’m writing- because it helps me to chronicle the specific aspects of my world, the characters I’ve come to know, gives me clues about how to bring my own epic life to a happy conclusion.

And we all do this for each other. Probably Eldredge’s best quote is the way we likely feel, at least sometimes, about the story we are starring in:

For most of us, life feels like a movie we’ve arrived at forty-five minutes late. Something important seems to be going on… maybe.

But we’re lost, or behind the plot so often, and here’s the key of all human existence. (Pretty cool claim, huh? When you write epic fantasy you get to go after stuff like this) We cannot find our place in our story- in THE story- by ourselves. So we turn to each other and ask “what’s happened?” We watch romantic TV series, we can’t get enough super-hero movies, we check out the horror titles in the bookstore; and we listen to that crazy uncle who’s never told the truth in his life but man, can he spin a yarn after dinner.

I need an answer; so I read and I listen, and most of all these past five years, I write. And I think it’s a big part of why you read or write too- I can’t wait to see your next part, because when I enjoy it, you’re helping me to get “there” in my own epic tale.

Don’t think so? Hey, free country- but I really recommend this book. It restored my spirits, and that has to be good for me. One more quote from Eldredge- I don’t think anyone can deny that we devour tales (and with fiction tales especially, that begs the question why), or that we have this haunted feeling of being lost. Where else in the alleged-real world can we find THIS kind of answer? Eldredge quoted a fellow named Neil Postman:

In the end, science does not provide the answers most of us require. Its story of our origin and our end is, to say the least, unsatisfactory. To the question, “How did it all begin?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident”. To the question, “How will it all end?”, science answers, “Probably by an accident”.  And to many people, the accidental life is not worth living.

Like I said, there are no accidents. It may not matter whether there is a guiding mind behind the cosmos of the alleged-real world. Maybe I’m mistaken, maybe Eldredge is. But that point about the scientific view is dead-on, to tempt the pun. And to not wander around feeling lost on the plot, to live a life with some purpose, is surely better. I’ve remembered that recently- and I will certainly begin to write again soon.

After all- my life is EPIC.

How about you?

P.S.: What ending did Genna want to know “why” about? The ending of Monty Python and the Holy Grail which her mother and I had finally allowed her to see. We talked about parody and satire, and I said things a bit like I have here. Maybe straight-out medieval virtues don’t exactly “fit” in our story today- Arthur and his knights would probably have to go to jail. But if that’s true, why did we laugh so hard? What was so TRUE about courage, and faith, and even chastity that we can chuckle when it’s made fun of? And more importantly, what ending are we replacing the quest for the Grail with? That might be more analysis than the troupe figured it could stand- the Muppet-master Jim Henson once said of his comedy sketches “When you’re stuck for an ending, you can always blow something up, or if that doesn’t work, throw penguins in the air”. Sometimes the ending is senseless, but it doesn’t make the story worthless- it just means it isn’t truly over yet. If you’re still alive, you know what that feels like.

I Remember Robin (Hood, That is)

Nerd confession, incoming.

I’m the kind of guy who re-reads the same book- and the longer, the better. Tolkein, maybe six times; even the Silmarillion a couple of times (which really isn’t fair, he didn’t mean for it to get published in that form! But I loved it anyway.). Count of Monte Cristo and Cyrano de Bergerac every three or four years, which at my age… a lot, OK, let’s just drop it. So these tales, many of them stretch back into my childhood. And this time around I’m beginning to realize, in my chronicling, how much they influenced my thinking from as early as I could remember.

I know you’ve seen the movie (one of them, anyway). Have you read Robin Hood? I mean the Pyle version with the fabulous illustrations. I had them read to me by my father around age five, and the illustrations might as well be branded on my forehead.

It’s been a revelation to me how much of my own efforts are really aiming to revisit the feelings I got from this version of Robin Hood (and if you’ve seen the movies, believe me, they’re trying to reach this same sentiment). I re-read it this time in the Kindle version.

  • Good news- it’s free!
  • Bad news- no illustrations.
  •  Good news- double-click on any olde-Englishe word and get the definition!!

Since I recall the illustrations anyway, that’s a win-win for me. Think about it- is your experience of heroic fantasy the same as mine?

Robin almost never kills anyone. One arrogant forester in the beginning (which makes him an outlaw), but he’s defending himself. Then Guy of Gisbourne near the end (who the tales make very clear is a monster). In the Lands of Hope they slay monsters without mercy- but other people are considered off limits until they prove their evil intent. And that reminds me…

Hardly anyone is that bad, and neither is their punishment. Pyle pulled his punches to make his tales safe for kids. So the worst that happens to the greedy sheriff or bishop? A little well-deserved humiliation, and he loses maybe two-thirds of his purse (one-third to Robin’s band, one third to the poor). Sometimes the bad guys stay for feasting and hunting and end up having a great time. Which leads me to…

The outlaws are called the Merry Men for reason. They’re having a blast- time and again, even people who have every reason to be furious can’t help but laugh. Check out the scene with Midge the Miller’s son, see how the four doughtiest warriors in the Midlands are defeated by a man with a sack of flour, and tell me you don’t chuckle. The stories just drip with good will- they tease each other and banter incessantly. Lord, how I love that, all my heroes banter like maniacs. And there’s an obvious contrast between living the high free life of the forest and obeying the laws of corrupt lords and selfish men of the cloth. Friar Tuck is, not to put too fine a point on it, a roaring, belligerent drunkard. But he’s miles closer to a proper priest than the establishment orders. Speaking of which…

– Filed away under I Don’t Know and I Don’t Want to Know“… there are many instances in Robin Hood where one of them declares another to be a fine fellow, which is great, but then follows up with a kiss. And plenty of embraces, and more than a few declarations of “I love you well” and sometimes tears. I’m thinking “wow, Victorian era book, are you sure?” I can only say that as a child I didn’t pay it the slightest mind. Even now, it’s only a cause for more smiles, in between the adventures. And that brings me to…

– Robin and his crew only get into scrapes because they can’t stand the lack of adventure in the forest. Once the Sheriff stops coming after him, Robin has to go into disguises, sneak back into the city, try the archery tournament with a patch on one eye, etc. for some excitement. That one trait, the desire to seek adventure when wealth and fame are already assured, is at the heart of the lives of the heroes in the Lands of Hope. Now that I see it in Pyle’s book, I’m struck with wonder. How did I not see that before?

So Pyle’s Robin Hood is right at the heart of me, right at the start of me. His tales, and others I could name, continue to inspire my work. {P.S.: One of the best computer games I’ve ever played? Legend of Sherwood– it’s thrilling and hilarious!}

Which books have driven you onward? Do you consciously write in another author’s style, or go for the same kind of characters? Is there a sense of right and wrong you believe someone else got perfectly? What’s there at the heart of you?

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