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Whatever’s an e-Reader For?

I came into publishing at probably the most misleading time of the last hundred years. Yeah, that sounds like a good excuse.

When I started chronicling in 2008, I was following the pure desire to make something of these tales I had lands-of-hope1bound up inside me. I identified with not just paper pub, but the traditional route to it– getting an agent, breezing through one of the Big 5, the book tour, the fame, the groupies. Forty rejections later I woke up, admitted fantasy was the genre, not the life-path. But I kept chronicling, that’s the thing. If I thought about my future as anything I had control over, it was of course going to be in all media, analog and digital, video and audio. The movie, particularly, I really grooved on that.

By the time I started publishing it was summer of 2011. What we tentatively called Year 4 AK (After Kindle). Remember? People were going to convert completely to e-readers, just a matter of months. Print was DEAD, I tell you, everyone knew that. And I had tablet envy bad. I self-published my first four tales in digital format, and figured I was done. What loser would chase paper? Paper books were supposed to be the new Betamax (yeah, I know) or like 8-tracks, vinyl records. As in, you only saw them in movies. Black and white movies. I read all kinds of stuff on my PC, even on my tiny smartphone. As old as I am, I can say with honesty I’ve gotten used to screen reading, it’s pretty normal for me now. More on that below.print-is-dead

Wha’ Hoppen?

But the revolution I expected, that lack of e-reader I was still so jealous about? Didn’t really happen, did it. Hey, not the first time I’ve been a fool. I did what many of you did, only in my case it involved less time and talent. Flogged my platform, made announcements, kept chronicling, tried new things like a trailer, blog tour, writing about cool stuff. Hoping to catch fire somewhere. But still thinking entirely in digital.

You can probably see where this is going. My publisher gets me under contract (best piece of paper I’ve signed since my marriage license), and right away she starts talking crazy. How the next book, the big one, the once-trunk novel Judgement’s Tale should come out not only as novellas, but after the e-books, also in paper.

 

And I thought– paper? That dead organic stuff? It was this moment that I woke up (again) and really understood what others were shouting, that the Big 5 weren’t going to fold, and that paper books served a purpose for many people. Um, in fact, the vast majority. The rest is fast becoming history. People responded to JT in print quite viscerally, and my sales are starting to count with people I regard now the way an ERB hero would discovering a lost race. Paper book reader, I presume?

Circling Back to the Future (of Reading)

Definition of irony: I have a tablet now.

JT_at_BetBks_Jul_15

A store shelf. And my book. In the same place!

That e-reader I was always chasing is now in my grasp, every day, and I still do much more reading on it than in any paper form. But I realize it’s not the predestined winner in any near future on this planet. Most of my energy these days, outside of writing the next one, is focused on what’s going to happen to my tales in paper. My publisher is taking good care of that, and this opens up a world of possibilities at libraries, book fairs, maybe signings. Meeting real folks, shaking hands and giving out business cards, letting them thumb through the pages and hearing them ask the Dread Question (“So, what’s this one about?”). Because I have books in paper, no thanks to me.

What’s an e-reader for then? As an author, how to use it to improve your reach or your art?

I have several answers for you, things that have worked for me and which I recommend:

Come to it for the Cheap

Tablets and e-readers are becoming very affordable, and if you play your cards right you can basically steal one. I got my current tablet when we took Genna into the carrier store to get her a smartphone (at long last! she’s 18). We knew that college required her to stay in touch via email, Twitter, etc. so we put her together with an iPhone5. Genna mentions to the clerk the old household joke about how her Dad has tablet envy, and he says “you know, you can get a tablet for ninety-nine cents”. Yeah, it requires a data plan, but Genna and I share 1 Gb apiece and I lock the account so it just stops when we get close. Wi-Fi, we love you. And if you take a Kindle with a year of Amazon Prime, Jeff Bezos will personally fly to your house via drone and buff your toenails, or something pretty close.

Stay for the Stuff

There’s hardly any such thing as an e-reader anymore, everything is multifunctional, including Kindles and even Nooks (though admittedly, not as much). I gauge what to bring when leaving the house, based on how cool-tablet-cartoonmuch idle time I’ll have. Laptop for writing, tablet for reading: the former weighs a couple pounds and goes in a padded case (belongs to my employer), the latter fits in my jacket pocket and I forget I’m carrying it. So what? So check your email, catch up on blog posts and reading related to your work as an improving author. Think of the cyber-things you can’t do because you’re not at your desk; even research for your next book. I have a couple of games too, of course. Because games! No worries– I know my mind is continuing to integrate thoughts on the WiP in the background.

Round Up the Usual Advantages

Just because paper books refused to do the decent thing doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from having a library in your pocket. I have free online e-book copies of everything I’ve done for my “Classics You’ve Never Read” series. A few touches to reach any book, any chapter; I know reading it in a spine is more fun but what if you just want to find that place where Jonathan Harker said goodbye in his last letter to Mina? You seriously going to argue you can do that more easily? A book on tablet has choice of fonts, and you can alter the SIZE (oh boy, that’s key for a guy who forgot to bring his reading glasses) as well as the background light (eye damage? what idiot reads in bed with the setting on daytime brightness? Two taps). You can read seven other books and come right back to where you were (bookmarks), you can tap to define a word (online dictionary), you can Copy and make notes (easier on your PC, but it’s all the same to the Kindle app). You invested a boatload of hours getting used to reading on a PC. It’s like riding a bike, you just have to spend a little time to get used to it. And watch out for trees.

The Occasional Surprise

The tablet has also proved useful to me in one other, rather sneaky way. As I became accustomed to reading on screen, I also realized it was sometimes tough for me to proof, or scan my drafts for polishing purposes. I re-read my stuff repeatedly when I’m drafting, it’s like the bobsled guys rocking back and forth in the track before the next run. But between the time when I THINK it’s ready and when it actually is… I’ve realized I can “self-pre-publish”! Just take the draft in document form and send it to your screenname @ kindle.com, and it shows up in your library!

Honestly, you won’t believe how much more seriously you take your own works when they LOOK like “the real thing”. The Kindle has become so much second-nature to me that I find myself automatically treating the draft like published work. It gives me confidence in what I’ve done well, and exposes what still needs redress even more clearly. And the PC can stay at home until I actually-factually decide to rewrite it.

Print is Dead-Egon

 

So long live paper. And get a tablet anyway.

On Further Review…

With a nod to what the refs say during football season… I want to tap the collective wisdom of our readership on a topic we’ve been hearing about recently. Amazon appears to be cracking down on paid reviews and I think most of us would cheer that idea. But what’s the real problem here? And what’s the best solution? Take the poll below and comment.

Briefly- Amazon moved against several paid review sites recently, to shut down people posting five-star reviews that were bought and paid for (and presumably inauthentic). You figure Amazon can do what they like, and you figure they’re ticked off their own star-rating system is being gamed, sure. But here’s a twist, as pointed out in this online article I saw via a colleague today: Amazon is now going after individual reviewers, and evidently is suing for a “remedy” that includes the information to find out who those reviewers got paid by. Everybody still cool with that?

Layer on this, which many of us are familiar with: the Zon also removes reviews if they judge that you “know the author personally“. The criteria they use to determine this is something they refuse to share, and the take-down they apply is irreversible. You can complain when it happens to you. I did, and got bupkus back. For an honest review of a book I had read, penned by a fellow author who is indeed my friend (as a result of our online collaboration, not because I am her kid’s godfather or we go bowling on Tuesdays). I can tell you, I took THAT personally.

And through it all, the part that I really love to hate- ignorant, hateful, racist/sexist/ageist trolls can come crashing through an author page and wreck the place with no penalty whatsoever. Just scratch up $3 of sourdough money to buy the first title: download, write a one-star/one-line review, then return the book. Get all your money back, while your review stays up naming you as a “Qualified Reviewer” forever! Use the same money to lather-rinse-repeat through every title, just because the author’s a woman, or dared to praise Reagan, or said something nice on Facebook about the football team you hate.

Hahn_critic_1So, what’s the right and just thing to do, will Amazon ever get around to doing that, and what would be best for all of us anyway? Take a shot at the poll to get your juices flowing, and then by all means leave a comment (use pen-names so the Zon doesn’t figure out how well we know each other!).

Vote for the statement you think is most true ! Then comment.

Author Interview: Jamie Marchant, “The Soul Stone”

Will you look at all the dust in this dungeon! How long has it been since the last vict- er, guest author was here? Let me just clear out the worst of it over in this corner, by the sharp things. Gad, if she’s allergic to mites it will be enough just to bring her in here. And by the way, bring her in here.

We are delighted to welcome– yes, that chain around the ankles, fool, have you forgotten your job– Ms. Jamie Marchant, who fell into our clutches during her blog tour for The Soul Stone. I don’t believe we’ve had the pleasure previously, but we’ll soon get everything we need from her. Just let me find my favorite bullwhip- ah there, covered in grime. Let us begin.

Q: So where do you come from, author-person? Your location in the Alleged Real World is of no consequence here; we want to know your roots as an author. When you were young and still contemplating your life of crime, whose temptations swayed you the most in reading? Was it always fantasy for you, or did you come to the genre late in life?

Jamie: As is often the case, my family first led me astray, especially my older sister who told me fairy tales and encouraged me to write ones of my own. In my teen years, I fell under the influence of Piers Anthony and Stephen R. Donaldson. As an adult, Mercedes Lackey and Jim Butcher completed my corruption until I was irredeemably a fantasy fan, but as you see, the seeds of fantasy were planted in me before I was old enough to read for myself. I really didn’t have a chance.

Q: I completely understand, blaming others is typical in these cases. Bailiff, fetch us this sister and we shall have a talk next. Tell us a bit about Korthlundia where your tales are set. Your main characters seem neck-deep in royal intrigues, on their guard every minute. Is the world also at war all the time? Do regular folks suffer from whomever it is opposing the goddess who has picked your heroes to help? I mean, what kind of a world are we dealing with here?

The Soul Stone front coverJamie: Korthlundia had enjoyed over fifty years of unbroken peace because of its geographical isolation and the wise rule of Samantha’s father, King Solar. Both the nobles and common people prospered. The troubles in Korthlundia began when Duke Argblutal murdered the king and attempted to usurp the throne. Samantha was only nineteen years old, but she and Robrek put him in his place, six feet under, at the end of my first book, The Goddess’s Choice. However, the nobles aren’t too keen about a young woman and a common young man taking the throne, and the unrest is starting to affect regular folk as well. This is especially true when, in my second book, the Soul Stone breaks loose from its ancient bonds and begins to kill indiscriminately.

Q: Excellent! Always good to hear that a villain with an unpronounceable name is dead. Removes so much worry. Coming back to your heroes, you make it clear that Crown Princess Samantha and Robrek, the common-class sorceror, are from very different walks of life. They have very separate talents too. And busy! Saving the world makes for a crowded calendar, I suppose, but if these two are destined to marry, do they happen to see anything in each other along the way? Or is this going to be a marriage of fate and not the heart? (That is, assuming they make it long enough!)

Jamie: As the crown princess, Samantha had always believed that she couldn’t marry for love. This becomes especially difficult for her when she meets and falls for a common peasant boy at a horse fair. Although she comes to learn that Robrek is a powerful sorcerer and nowhere near as common as she first believed, she thinks an unbridgeable gap divides them. Only in bard’s tales do peasants marry princesses. At the end of The Goddess’s Choice, she is overjoyed when the Goddess reveals Robrek to be her choice for her consort. Theirs is very much an affair of the heart as well as of fate. However, in The Soul Stone, it appears that Robrek won’t live long enough for them to enjoy their love.

Q: You mention getting all geared up on literature in school, but then putting the writing itself on hold for a long time before taking up the pen to write about places like Korthlundia. I accuse the Alleged Real World of criminal trespass into your free time! Bailiff, take the ARW into custody, we’ll deal with it later. But what does the victim have to say? Did you not know this was what you wanted, or were you always thinking about it.

Jamie: I knew since I was a young child that I wanted to be a writer, but this ARW you speak of seduced me with the idea of making money. It took a few years for me to realize I was the victim of a con. Yes, one has to eat, but professional success can’t compensate for the absence of the creative muse.

Q: How would you describe your success so far, and what have been the keys to further exposure in your opinion? Are you happy with sales, with new outlets, and professional connections you’ve made? Are you mainly a paper book author, or did you lean on e-book sales early on?

Jamie: I’m not sure that any author, especially one published by a small press, is ever happy with sales. Getting sufficient exposure for my work is difficult, but I’ve been making progress with connecting with other authors and bloggers via the internet. While my books are all available in paperback, it is the e-book sales that make up the greatest portion of my books sales, which seems to be typical.

Enough, we are satisfied for now and hereby order your release. You may keep the manacle as a souvenir. Just leave us your information, where we can find your confessions (I mean, writing) and the proper links to seek you out for further punishment in the future.

Author Bio: Jamie Marchant

From early childhood, Jamie has been immersed in books. Her mother, an avid reader, read to her, and her Jamie Marchantolder sister filled her head with fairy tales. Taking into consideration her love for literature and the challenges of supporting herself as a writer, she pursued a Ph.D. in American literature, which she received in 1998. She started teaching writing and literature at Auburn University. But in doing so, she put her true passion on the backburner and neglected her muse. Then one day, in the midst of writing a piece of literary criticism, she realized that what she wanted to be doing was writing fantasy novels. Her muse thus revived, she began the book that was to become The Goddess’s Choice, which was published in April 2012. The second volume in the series, The Soul Stone, was released this June.

She lives in Auburn, Alabama, with her husband, son, and four cats, which (or so she’s been told) officially makes her a cat lady. She still teaches writing and literature at Auburn University. Her short fiction has been published on Short-Story.Me, and my story was chosen for inclusion in their annual anthology. It has also appeared in the anthologies—Urban Fantasy (KY Story, 2013) and Of Dragon and Magic: Tales of the Lost Worlds (Witty Bard Publishing, 2014)—The World of Myth, A Writer’s Haven, and Bards & Sages.

Links to Jamie’s Books

Black Rose Writing

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Contact Jamie Everywhere

Jamie’s Website
Blog
Facebook
Twitter: @RobrekSamantha
Goodreads

 

 

How to Create Original Fantasy Creatures & Beings

Guest post by Vanessa Finaughty, author of the Wizard’s End Series available below!

ryokinThere are as many ways to create original fantasy creatures as there are creatures to be created. I still love my dragons and elves, and other familiar fantasy creatures, but it’s always good to add an original flair to your fantasy stories, something that has the potential to make readers sit back and think, wow, that’s cool!

There are no hard and fast rules to restrict your imagination, but here are some tips if you aren’t sure where to start:

Use existing creatures – fantasy or real life – and add fresh attributes. How much you alter the existing creature/being is entirely up to you. You could take the attributes of a lion or dragon, for example, and create a new physical appearance that looks nothing like the original creature/being. In my Legends of Origin sci-fi fantasy series, the magical ryokin’s physical appearance comes largely from the extinct sabre-tooth tiger – except the ryokin has golden fur with no stripes, and massive wings that enable it to fly. It’s also an intelligent, telepathic being despite its animal appearance. In the short story, Ereolon’s Day of Demons (part of the Sorcery & Subterfuge anthology), the main character is a winged elf – with ogre genes and the ability to bend others’ minds to his will.

Create something solely from your imagination. This can be difficult, but it’s definitely worth it if you do it right. You don’t need to add too many details either, if what you’re creating is a common animal that’s minor to your story. For example, I created a few animals for Wizard of Ends. There are gabbertok, which are dangerous night creatures with slanted yellow eyes that usually live in the woods. The females are protective over their young, but the males will eat their own offspring if the mother is not around. I also created ferocious hound monkeys, which have the bodies of hounds and torsos of monkeys, with sharp, curved teeth and deadly claws. They stand man height on all fours and travel in packs of ten. Each of these has a few more attributes, but nothing too detailed, because they are only there to add flavour to the story.

Visualise the creature or being you’re describing. It might sound okay as you write, but that doesn’t mean it won’t look ridiculous. Unless your story is humorous, you probably don’t want the visuals you give readers to make them laugh.

Eye abstract background

Consider how common fantasy creatures might evolve over a few million years and create the evolved version. You can use any creature/being from dragons and elves to ogres and unicorns, and everything in between.

Other Tips:

When creating your fantasy creature or being, consider some of the following:

* Is it weak or strong? If it’s weak, how does its species survive? If it’s strong, does it dominate the region and, if not, why?
* What temperament does it have?
* Does it have any special abilities?
* What colour are its eyes and skin?
* What texture is its skin?
* Does it have hair? If it has hair, what colour is it, and is it soft or coarse?
* Is its kind social or solitary?
* How does it reproduce? Eggs? Live birth? Other?
* Where does it usually make its home?
* What does it eat?
* What do its teeth look like?

Also, when naming your creature or being, try to keep the name simple and easy to say. There’s nothing worse than reading a fantasy story only to be constantly interrupted as you battle to ‘say’ the name in your mind each time you read it in the book.

I hope this post helps some fellow fantasy authors. Happy writing!

Thanks Vanessa, good advice to get started! Vanessa Finaughty’s new series, “The Wizard of Ends” is out this month and you can get them through the links provided here.

Wizard of Ends Book  I

WoE 1A powerful sorceress wants the Queen of Ends dead, hoping her demise will render the king unable to defend his crown. Only the wizard Lashlor Leaflin is in a position to protect Queen Narraki Dragonsbane, but he avoids using magic – at almost any cost. With creatures of darkness hunting the queen, however, he may be left with little choice but to call on the power he holds within.

Wizard of Ends Book II: Dark Creature

The Queen of Ends has been cursed into a rabid creature of darkness. Only Lashlor’s old flame, Rune Arcana, might be able to remove the curse. Lashlor believes he can find Rune in the WoE 2Mountains of Eclador. The only trouble is – Rune now despises him, and, in all of recorded history, no one has ever returned from these mountains. Fearing the Wizard of Ends will not be able to bring help, the king goes against Lashlor’s advice by enlisting the aid of other magic users.

 

Author biography

Vanessa Finaughty is an author of many genres who now focuses on fantasy and science fiction. She’s published 15 books, of which 6 are fantasy. Vanessa grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and still lives there with her husband of fifteen years, her baby daughter and plenty of furry, four-legged ‘children’.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES         {This is Vanessa…}       

Vanessa Finaughty2{…and this is Vanessa on Fantasy}

{ANY QUESTIONS??}

Vanessa has always been passionate about books, and knew from a young age that she wanted to write them one day. She loves animals, coffee and the smell of wet grass, and hates liars, sweltering weather and long queues. Her interests include reading, photography, the supernatural, mythology, aliens and outer space, ancient history, life’s mysteries and martial arts, of which she has five years’ experience.

Links

Author blog
Goodreads
Twitter
Facebook
Smashwords
iBooks
Barnes & Noble

Publication dates

Wizard of Ends, Book 1: 9 October 2014
Wizard of Ends, Book 2: Dark Creature: 23 October 2014

 

Games of Chance Blog Tour Itinerary

LoHI_JT_GoC_Cover_frontIn case you rode in late, here’s an updated list of the sites visited by the blog tour for Judgement’s Tale Part One: Games of Chance in June 2014. This tour preceded the release of Games of Chance on July 4th. It’s a who’s-who of cool fantasy authors and bloggers who are helping shape the internet and the indie publishing world- I’m privileged to have been a guest on these sites.

As they go live I will update the schedule with specific links: check back here if you missed a day or want to revisit a topic from an earlier post.

Ar Aralte! (Hope Forever)

DATE     HOST           TOPIC

6-14-14             Tracy Falbe, Her Ladyship’s Quest

Chapter One Podcast– the first meeting with Solemn Judgement, in the chronicler’s voice

6-15-14             Karen Woodward

Being a Writer: What Does it Take and Where Will it Take You?– advice to writers? Maybe good for a chuckle!

6-16-14             Lori Fitzgerald, White Raven Writing

Introduction to Prince Gareth of Shilar– one of the main characters of the novel makes his debut appearance.

6-17-14            Katharina Gerlach

Introduction to Solemn Judgement– the title character, known to the Lands as the Man in Grey, on his first day an orphan and alien

6-18-14             Susan Stuckey, Kalieri Tales

Author Interview– the one and only for this tour, not for lack of trying!

6-19-14               Day Off, Resting the Tour-Horse

6-20-14             Daniel Marvello, The Vaetra Files

  Magic and Miracles in the Lands of Hope– a view of one background element of the world setting, for the enthusiast

6-21-14              Sher A. Hart, Written Art

An Interview with Solemn Judgement– or as close as anyone can get to such a thing

 6-22-14             Mathew Reuther

An Interview with (not About) Cedrith Fellareon– the tale’s principal guide to the mind of Solemn Judgement discusses his protege

 6-23-14                Matt Graybosch, A Day Job and a Dream

Technology and Despair– the bad guys don’t show mercy, and they’ve got better stuff!

 6-24-14                Robin Lythgoe, The Series that Snuck Up on Me- because all my stories are going to connect eventually

6-25-14                 Peter Cruikshank, Introduction to Treaman the Woodsmanone of the main protagonists revealed, and already fighting for his life

6-26-14                 Karin Gastreich, How to Write about Combat– you could say I struggled with this one…

6-27-14                 Mysti Parker, World Building on the Sly-a familiar topic for me, am I actually getting subtle in my elder years?

6-28-14                  L. Blankenship, Character Interview with Cedrith Fellareon– a major supporting character, talking about anyone other than himself of course

 

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=/

 

Guest Author/Character Interview: Louise Blankenship’s Disciple series Prince Kiefan

We are very fortunate to have a guest post this week from author Louise Blankenship, an interview with one of the protags in her “gritty romance” series. I say “we” are fortunate just as a courtesy- actually, it’s ME who’s the luckiest guy on earth, because this lady is hitting the target right on the little black circle thingy at the center. The Disciple series has already run three books, and the fourth installment just went live at the start of March. I’ve wondered how to get people cranked up if they only discover you in the middle of a series- I’m chipping away at one right now myself- and here’s a great answer. Louise has combined the first three books into an epic-value tri-pack called the Disciple Half-Omnibus (I took Latin in high school, Louise, I see what you did there). So now with a single purchase you can be all caught up. I’m thinking “yes!” (you know, loud and punchy like a cheerleader), but also “yyyeesssssss” (like the evil genius who’s just had another brilliant idea).

So to whet your interest even further here’s a terrific character interview with Prince Kiefan.

Interview with a prince

Prince Kiefan is the only surviving son and heir of the king of Wodenberg. Like his father, he has a reputation for discipline and stern expectations — and he’s eager to prove himself now that he’s come of age. I had some questions for Prince Kiefan at the beginning of Disciple, Part I. He’s about to leave on a vital secret mission to find allies for the kingdom.

L: You’re an alpha male in training and this secret mission is your most important command yet. Do you feel ready for this?

Kiefan: I trust the saints’ judgement. Though Father and I disagreed over the cavalry charge that I led some months ago, he cannot deny that it won the battle. The saints have judged me fit to lead and I will not fail in my duty to them or my people.  

L: You didn’t expect the master healer to send his apprentice, though.

Kiefan (frowning): No, I was told he would be with us in this, and then he brought Kate in his stead — but the saints affirmed her, gave her charge of our well-being. One must work with what’s given.  

L: It’s not because she’s a girl, is it?

Kiefan: (he laughs) I squired with Captain Aleksandra. Any who dares doubt her will be put straight on the matter of a woman’s strength and courage. But Kate’s no disciple of the sword. She’s a healer. It’s clear enough this will be no easy journey across the mountains — none have made it and returned, that any know of. The saints ask much of us, as it is.

L: So the problem is more that she’s — bookish?

Kiefan: Kate has never even been in the saddle before today. Surely she’ll learn it, but yes, she’s spent more time among books than —

L: I hear you’re fond of books yourself.

Kiefan: Father’s seen that I’ve studied tactics and —

L: No, I mean those philosophy essays you’ve been sneaking peeks at.

Kiefan (frowns): Father’s kept my days busy enough with serious matters.

L: There’s nothing wrong with a little philosophy, surely?

Kiefan: The king of Wodenberg must be a knight, firstly. He must see to duty. We’re at war.

L: Yes, it’s always duty for you. Including a political marriage someday.

Kiefan (gets up from his seat, impatient): The privileges of the throne have their price. I’ve a mission to lead. (strides away, armor clinking)

L: You’re not concerned about traveling with a cute, philosophy-reading healer?

Kiefan (circles back): Pardon?

L: Well, she is cute.

Kiefan (spreads one hand, confused): Yes, certainly she’s… cute. Philosophy?

L: Oh, yes. She’s been reading those essays too. Her teacher might’ve sent some homework with her on the mission.

Kiefan (doesn’t know what homework is, but he gets the gist): Why should that be troublesome?

L: I’m sure it won’t be, Mr. All Work And No Play.

Kiefan: Which books is Kate bringing?

L (shooing him off): It’s not part of your duty, is it? Go, you’ve got a mission to lead.

Thanks so much Louise- I really like Kiefan, though I can just TELL he’s headed for… eh, he is out of earshot now, right?

Let’s have you back in person- did I just write that?- to talk about the saga, the travails of marketing yourself, and other Herculean Labors. Until then folks, click on these links and get in now on a terrific-looking series right on that cusp of romance and fantasy.

Back cover blurb

War is coming. Kate Carpenter is only a peasant girl, but she’s determined to help defend the kingdom and its bound saints against the invading empire. Her healing magic earned her a coveted apprenticeship with the master healer; now she must prove herself ready to stand in the front lines and save lives.

She’s not ready for the attentions of a ne’er-do-well knight and the kingdom’s only prince, though. This is no time to be distracted by romance — the empire’s monstrous army will tear through anyone standing between them and the kingdom’s magical founts. All disciples must put aside their tangled feelings and stand in the homeland’s defense.

Available at

AmazonNookOther major retailers

DISCIPLE, PART IV arrives on March 10th!

Get a reminder by joining L’s mailing list

Try PART I for only 99 cents!

AmazonNookOther major retailers

Disciple-PartI-cover-2000.jpg

Author Interview: Kristen S. Walker

To my ongoing amazement, we continue to lure aspiring authors to the Independent Bookworm for interviews. Even with the incontrovertible evidence of our perfidious cruelty right before their eyes, they come- driven by passion, by desperation or perhaps just a terminally short attention span. And who are we to complain?

Next up in the chair of interrogation is Kristen S. Walker, whose new novel “A Flight of Marewings” is debuting this month. Perhaps she believes her previous acquaintance with the eminent Ms. Gerlach will save her. Perhaps she is grievously, tragically mistaken… now where did I put that YA-sized strappado…

In the sky, behind her... are those wings?

In the sky, behind her… are those wings?

Q: All other questions must wait! What is Wyld about your world’s Magic, besides the spelling. And most important please, how soon can I start to use it?

A: Wyld Magic is actually the forces of Nature on steroids to fight back against the advancement of human civilization. It twists normal plants and animals into deadly monsters, from marewings to stranglevine, virtually all of which are hostile to humans and are actively trying to destroy farms and settlements. Humans in Seirenia have to band together in the safety of cities, or get the aid of priests to bless their fields and keep back the encroachment of the Wyld. As for humans harnessing that power for their own purposes, well, I will tell you that some of the characters in this book try to do just that. You’ll have to read the novel to find out what happens, but I don’t think you’d want to mess around with it lightly. The effects of Wyld Magic on human society will be an ongoing theme for the series.

Q: You describe the world of Seirenia and Marewings as epic fantasy. Does that mean it’s not YA? Can kids read epics?

A: Epic, high, or heroic fantasy are all terms used to describe a flavor of fantasy that focuses on magical quests or adventures with dangerous monsters. Some of it is written for the YA crowd (see Tamora Pierce’s Tortall novels for a bestselling example), but A Flight of Marewings has almost entirely adult characters, so it’s not aimed at that age group. However, many kids and teens (including me when I was younger and my own teen girls now) read above their age group as well, so I wouldn’t say that my novel could not be enjoyed by teens. After all, the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy is considered non-YA epic fantasy, but many people read it for the first time in middle or high school, and it’s often their introduction to the fantasy genre.

marewings-tour-banner

Q: What would you say is the biggest difference with trying to interest a younger reader- in any kind of story?

A: Well, the contrary thing about younger readers is that they often don’t want to read something that you’re “trying” to tell them to read. In general, YA, MG (middle grade) and children’s books are just those stories with younger characters who are also probably trying to deal with issues that kids of that age can relate to, from school bullies to first love. Otherwise, these books shouldn’t be written any differently than novels for adults, especially when you’re writing for teens—they can handle complex concepts and advanced vocabulary at that age, and they really don’t like to be talked down to. That means you can still tackle difficult issues and dark themes in YA, to some extent in MG, and delicately in children’s books. (I remember being seven years old and reading about one of the characters in the Babysitters’ Club when her grandmother had a stroke, and how that affected her family. This was two years after my own grandmother had passed away, so I was no stranger to those kinds of issues.)

 In the end, every reader is different, and they’re going to be interested in different things. I would say that my approach has been to talk to a few teens and ask what they think of my ideas or what they want in a story. I’m lucky to live with two of them who are very vocal in their opinions, and teen readers are also easy to find online.

Q: I see that you, madam, not satisfied with owning an entire fantasy world, need to invade the ARW (Alleged Real World) as well. “Small Town Witch” sounds pretty close to magical realism, yes? Everything’s the same except we have, um, a few thousand spellcasting monstrous beings running around in Northern California. I wonder if anyone would even notice! Did you have more world-building to do with a small town in this world, or in describing an entirely new one?

A: What can I say? I love world-building and I never know when to stop! I think that I did more world-building for Seirenia for two reasons: I’ve been working on that world since I was thirteen (although it doesn’t resemble its original incarnation much at all by now), and I cheated with my small town because it’s actually mostly based on a place where I grew up—in Northern California. It prides itself on being weird, so there’s already plenty of strange things running around, but I do think people would notice if magic suddenly started to show up. (There would be photos up on the community blog, like the escaped parrot that roosts in neighborhood trees and sightings of the alleged “ghost” in a certain hotel.) I don’t know if magical realism applies, though, because the magic is front and center without too much of the realism. I call “Small Town Witch” alternately Urban or Contemporary or Modern Fantasy to emphasize that it’s in our time and our world. (As a joke, I once said that it was the opposite of Urban Fantasy because it’s not in a city, and wanted to coin the sub genre of Rural Fantasy, but I don’t know how many other books would join mine in that category!)

Q: Tell us more about the series (“The Fae of Calaveras County”) that you started with “Small Town Witch”, and particularly your decision to serialize the later volumes (available now on her Facebook page). Would you recommend that publication plan?

A: Well, I self-published “Small Town Witch” first on all of the traditional digital platforms like Amazon and Smashwords, but it’s been tough to get visibility with so many other books out there. I knew that my friend, Jimena Novaro, was releasing her novel “The Withering Sword” as a serial on both her website and on Wattpad—a website that lets writers share their stories for free. I learned from her and a few other writers that Wattpad is a good community to connect directly with readers, especially teens. So when I started to write the sequel to “Small Town Witch”, I decided to experiment with sharing the novel as I wrote it. Other than writing too fast for many readers to keep up with (I managed a rate of a chapter a day for the whole month of November), I think it was successful, and I’ve made some new friends and fans that way.

 I know many authors wouldn’t like this approach, because it means giving away your work for free. I don’t personally plan on leaving up my entire story there indefinitely—in the next few weeks, I’ll remove it from Wattpad and start revising the story to publish it as an ebook later. But for getting visibility, one of the major hurdles of a self-published author that doesn’t have the backing of a big publishing company or a huge marketing budget, I do recommend sharing at least some work with readers for free, on Wattpad, your own site, or any of the other similar communities. You get direct feedback. If you share the first part of a longer series, you can get people interested in later books. And not just self-published authors use this to find new readers—Margaret Atwood and Brandon Sanderson both have entire books on the site. Every author has to find their own plan that fits their work and their goals, so I don’t think it’s ideal for everyone, but it’s worth looking at as one option among so many available today.

Q: Are you a disciplined writer, with a regular schedule and habits? Notes, much? How about a Muse, did you pick up one of those along the way? And how are the two people inside your head getting along- Kristen the author and Kristen the marketer? Any fistfights, and if so who won?

A:I do try to keep up the habit of working on something every day. Sometimes I write a story, sometimes I work on outlines or world-building, other days it’s revision—but I keep my momentum going better when I do some kind of writing and my stories stay fresh in my mind. I’m trying to cut back on my massive amount of notes that I do for each project, because I can spend too much time planning and never get to the actual story. My Muse is a hyperactive child who gets easily distracted by shiny things, but when she’s focused she hovers over my shoulder to demand everything from explosions to unicorns.

 Kristen the writer has been a strong force since I was eight and started my first notebook (which was blue and had a unicorn on the front). It’s been much harder to learn how to be Kristen the marketer. I hate trying to talk about myself in job interviews or self-evaluations, and I’m very shy about asking for anything like “buy my book”. I try to approach it as I’m excited about my stories and I want to share them with other people, so I think about what I can say to explain why I think they are interesting. Marketing is still a very new skill for me, though, and Kristen the researcher has been hard at work to dig up virtually every article and book on the subject so I can learn more. But when it comes to any kind of decisions that I have to make, like what’s the best kind of cover art (something that follows bestselling trends versus something that I think represents my story), then Kristen the writer has been winning every time. As a result, I might not be making the best plans from a marketing perspective (I am giving away stories for free on Wattpad after all, and I don’t think the cover of “A Flight of Marewings” looks like any traditionally published fantasy book released in the last five years). That kind of stubbornness is probably not going to make me as much money.

Q: You seem quite open to sharing space on the web at your site and on your blog with other authors. Names, we must have the names for future interrogation purposes. What’s your theory about sharing interests with other authors- is it United We Stand, or I Am a Rock/Island? And BTW, is this strictly a Hear Women Roar deal, or is the Y chromosome set also welcome?

A: So far, I’ve hosted fantasy author Jimena Novaro, science fantasy author Nadine Ducca, superhero author Thomas Healy, and recently, fantasy romance author Juli D. Revezzo. It’s been a lot of fun to hear about their different stories and approaches to writing, and I hope to host many more in the future. (If you’re an author looking for a guest blog spot, please contact me!) Now, I think it’s much better for authors to work together instead of standing alone—we can all use the help and support, and readers benefit by finding more stories they love. After all, it’s not really a competition between us, where I have to fight Jimena or Nadine to sell more of my books. I know from personal experience that no single writer (even the crazy prolific ones that you hear about releasing a book every month) can keep up with the rate of an enthusiastic reader (I know people who read two or more books a week, and I myself read a four-book series in about two days when I was sick over Christmas break). Also, while I’ve only hosted one man on my site so far, this is simply because I know more women who write. When I offer to host someone, it’s because I like the kinds of stories that they write, not which chromosomes they have or any other physical differences.

Q: OK, before I work another 60s rock ballad into my questions, you may go for now- but don’t leave the, um, multiverse, we may wish to question you further. Let us know how we can get in touch with you and your work, and thanks again for your cooperation, Kristen. Sergeant, take off the cuffs.

A: Hey, I have no problems with 60s rock ballads! I love classic rock (along with a lot of other music). I have an eclectic music collection, and classic rock even features in my karaoke song rotation (when it fits into my soprano range). The best way to find me is through my website, kristenwalker.net, which links to my current books, has a blog for updates on future works, and also points to my Facebook, Twitter, and Wattpad accounts. You can even contact me directly through blog comments on a form. Thanks for the friendly interrogation, Will!

Korinna’s life gets turned upside down when the ghost of her father suddenly appears. Her father was duke of Kyratia City and he wanted Korinna to marry his warlord, the foreign mercenary Galenos, and inherit his title–but the city’s Council has other plans. When the Council denies Korinna’s right to rule, she decides to join Galenos’s mercenary company and tame a wild marewing in order to take the city by force. But people whisper that the late duke’s untimely death was murder, an induced madness that forced him to dance himself to death–and now that madness is spreading. Can Korinna become a marewing rider and conquer Kyratia in time to save everyone?

A Flight of Marewings at Amazon

A Flight of Marewings at Smashwords

Author Bio

Fantasy author Kristen S. Walker dreams of being a princess with a flying horse, but she settles for writing stories for teens and adults. Her new epic fantasy novel, A Flight of Marewings, tells the adventure of a duke’s illegitimate daughter who must stop her father’s murderers–by taming a dangerous monster. A Flight of Marewings is now available in print from Amazon and digitally from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords and other ebook retailers. To read a sample chapter or check out Kristen’s world-building references, please visit kristenwalker.net. You can talk Sherlock, horses, and crochet with Kristen any time on Twitter (@KristenSWalker) or Facebook.

Classics You’ve Never Read, Part 4- So Wrong, They’re Right

This one took me forever. Not to read, but to figure out. How to classify this classic work?- and yeah, no shot you’ve read it, dear reader, none- that question puzzled me until, to use the words of the season, my puzzler was sore. The movies clearly ranked it science-fiction: of course, because they wanted to play with the special effects. A horror tale? I really thought so, because the main character is such a threat- but I found myself chuckling so loud and often as I read, I knew it wouldn’t be honest to say so. The  author’s opinion on the flyleaf subtitle calls it “A Grotesque Romance”, but being written in 1897, I knew full well that was only going to confuse people. Back then, neither word meant what it does today. The synopsis definitely doesn’t go “ugly-boy-meets-girl, etc.” In fact, for most of the last half of the book. no one meets the main character at all! Hence the chuckling, amidst which a realization fell on me like a bolt. This story is really all about the crowd– the others, the bit characters and how incredibly wrong they get it (while still being right).

That’s the theme that runs throughout The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells.

I’m not going to pretend there’s a vast trove of unknown lore you need to catch up on by reading this book. The plot would fit on the back of an airmail stamp.

Now you see him...

Now you see him…

Obsessed amoral scientist turns himself invisible, tries to get back to normal, can’t, hurts people and causes chaos, dies. With that title, there’s no whopper of a mystery going on! But that’s where the thread picks up. As with some of his other works, Wells chooses to describe and judge his main character to you through the eyes of everyone else in the story. A mysterious man wrapped from head to toe arrives at a small town inn, and never comes out of his room. So it’s not his thoughts, but those of the tavern-crowd we are treated to. Mrs. Hall the innkeep’s wife is thrilled to have a “gentleman” boarder, but of course insatiably curious, henpecking her indifferent husband to invent excuses for knocking on the door. The regulars at the bar look on, as the guest’s increasingly aberrant behavior comes out onto the landing or is shouted through the walls.

And what do they guess? These sleepy village folk, simple rustics with that classic stolid sense of “what’s right”, do they come close to figuring out what the title character is up to? Not by a country mile: an ‘arful accident, p’raps some nasty disease, that’s what brung him into those wrappings, surely. The story continues- the mystery guest becomes ever more combative and erratic. Windows open and close by themselves, the local prior is robbed, nosy landlords appear to eject themselves from the second-floor guest room. Still no one can make heads or tails of it- you’re screaming “INVISIBLE MAN, IDIOTS!” but it does no good. The crowd continues to bumble and guess wrong- yet somehow, they manage to flush out the IM, brilliant scientist or no. Because

Not this one!

Not this one!

he’s the bad guy- treats people arrogantly, never pays up (“put it on the bill!”), loses his temper. T isn’t right- and while the full population of the village can’t assemble one clue between them, yet there’s a kind of righteous tide, simple questions pile up and the villain is unmasked, forced from his rooms with some of his criminal intent exposed.

Wells is not faithful to any particular individual in the crowd- your PoV jumps from one stubbornly inane opinion to another, sometimes for the length of one line and never to return. A fair bit of time is spent with an unfortunate hobo, a poor fellow accosted as the IM roamed “naked” through the countryside (what are the odds?) and beaten, petrified into helping him along for a while. In the final third of the story, we settle in the house of IM’s former school-mate, another scientist fortuitously living in the vicinity, to whom he can at last begin to explain his progress.

Here the veil of humor drops away, and I must say the story of his experiments are not appropriate for all audiences. The IM coolly describes how, from his London apartment, he first tried his experimental process on the landlady’s cat- and only later discovered how agonizingly painful it was. “So that was why it meowed so awfully all those hours”- this more than anything coming before or after shows me what a beast he always was. It’s a dreadful scene: perhaps even his fellow scientist is affected by IM’s ruthless, sociopathic attitude. An attempt at betrayal leads to another rampage from the IM, who without clothes always has the advantage (or seems to). The ending is unimportant except for how it reinforces some of the themes I’ve been harping on- the many in the crowd, the entire district roused to action by the threat of an invisible menace who has declared war on mankind, and eventually they get him. In the process, they don’t do much that’s right, and some make horrible mistakes as usual (the laughter is gone from the tale by now- and I STILL don’t know what genre this really should be called). In the end, the IM reappears, which is to say, he dies.

I totally see Kevin Bacon

I totally see Kevin Bacon. You?

Good.

Hollywood seems to have followed the same general idea, both in the 1930s version with Claude Rains and the usual steroid-pumped remake (“The Hollow Man”) with Kevin Bacon. I haven’t seen all of either one, but it seems clear this theme of the common folk is preserved in the first, lost in the second. Without these untrustworthy narrators, without the gaggle of wrong-footed yokels to stare and puzzle and go off on tangents when they theorize, the tale loses a vital something.

This is something you see in epic fantasy all the time- on either side of the village’s only street as the strangers arrive, in battles and at church, and ESPECIALLY of course inside the tavern. They drink, they argue, and most of all they get it comically, horrendously wrong. Through their beloved bigotry and hackneyed catch-phrases I learned a lot about the world, the problems facing the heroes. One tavern scene I chronicled in The Ring and the Flag had so much going on, I visited it again on the same night in Fencing Reputation. {All different material, all still wrong!} And the famous Mark’s Inn of Wanlock sees repeated action in The Plane of Dreams. Some of the greatest heroes the Lands will ever know passed through its door and the regulars hardly noticed, yakking on about adventurers, crime, and the ever popular what’s-wrong-with-the-world-today. They’re totally off about who the heroes and who the villains are, much more often than not. But they get it right in the end. Things ARE going all sideways, and those adventurers (wherever they are), they don’t belong here.InvMan33

More than that; I realized from reading The Invisible Man that Wells was really double-casting the entire process of reading a great adventure. Get this, it’s brilliant. The main character isn’t really there, right? Because he’s YOU. The writer: struggling, trying for genius, losing it- and desperate to keep people from finding out your story until it’s done. And the crowd? The inn-folk, the villagers standing around and apparently too silly to guess what two and two add up to- they’re the readers of your tale. You WANT the reader to be just like them- not catching the whole thread, but very curious and grimly determined to find out more. They press you, they don’t get it, annoying yet persistent. They’re good people. And in the end, both crowds inside and out get it right. That famous saying about how often the customer is not wrong? It applies.

Whenever you hear from the crowd in a fantasy tale, you can see the readers right in their place- it’s a wonderful way to draw them in, make them feel as if they’re standing by the bar, or in the second row. None of them understand your main character, but they’re getting interested in finding out. The Invisible Man teaches a lot about people, the common character of what you might call human nature. And that’s really good news- unless of course you’re a bad person like IM himself, trying to spread chaos and evil with your tale. Then they’ll hunt you down and kill you. But that’s not your problem, unless you’re George R. R. Martin…

Where is the crowd in your story? Are you pulling readers into the book by using the masses?

The Haunted House in Jericho- a Thinning Line Between the Worlds

I thought a little Halloween tale would be appropriate for us in the writing tribes. You might call this an epilogue to the Supernatural post I sent in earlier, where your belief in the Alleged Real World momentarily breaks down. We pretend, at this time of year, that the elements of classic horror tales are “living” among us- and we pretend that we’re not pretending with each other. This is a tale of an older time- by which I mean, the 1960s- where let us just say the options were more limited. Maybe we were narrow-minded as well. I think with so much less choice around us, we pared down to the things that really mattered. Like feeling and inflicting terror.

You need to picture the scene. The mid-1960s in rural northern Vermont: Jericho at once quaint and Biblical, site of the famous Red Mill and birthplace of Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley, who between them populate two-thirds of all greeting cards exported from New England. More dirt roads, fewer TV channels, and simply acres of open space between houses. Less to do, more to imagine- snow on the ground by Halloween. Our house, a sprawling manse of bricks and white shutters, looms on a small rise just off the road where the first settlers came through in the 1600s. Nine people live inside- five sisters, two parents and “Uncle Don” staying with us in those days- and everyone knew the Hahns of Jericho. We decided- no, give credit, Uncle Don talked us into one of his many harebrained and hilarious acts of creation- to host a haunted house for the trick-or-treaters. No one did that in Vermont in the 1960s. It would be ten more years before any of those classic slasher movies came out (and then, only in the theaters, not on TV or your phone or projected on the wall by a kid with some snazzy new wristwatch). But late night walking on rural Vermont roads, holding hands and seeing your breath better than what was behind that bush: we were IN the movie.

Everyone had a part to play and honestly, any kid today old enough to walk would have just laughed at us. Again, remember it was the 60s- if you weren’t alive back then,  think of the Stone Age and add bad suits with thin ties. And one more thing- high school kids did NOT trick or treat like they do now. Slouching up to your door with their hands out, saying, “yeah- huhuhh, I’m dressed as a public school student, huhhuh”. Approaching the house in Jericho was a line of kids- and pretty soon a stream of them, and the next year a rising tide- all under 13. And it was the 1960s, and no one had ever had a haunted house. We used cardboard and tin foil, and lipstick and candle-light. And we scared the stuffing out of them.

Uncle Don greets you at the door, dapper and delighted, directing your attention to the closet opposite, where my youngest sister Frannie thrashes about under a wool blanket that felt scratchy and in the lantern-shadows looks reasonably like Cousin It from the Adams Family TV show. Guided to one side, they see my eldest sister Stephanie in a white gown, lying in state on the couch- while nearby the piano plays on its own, thanks to a miracle of modern technology in the form of our cassette tape recorder inside the bench. “Her last concerto” Uncle Don mournfully intones- and indeed she had played it herself. Suddenly up jumps the ghost, my next-youngest sister Monica under a plain sheet, running from the corner of that room into the next, when she simply hides behind the door and where not a single one of the dozens who come through ever thinks to look for her.

They are no doubt distracted by the dragon on the bed in there. Me, age eight I think, green pajamas, red work gloves with cardboard talons, and a painted box over my head with teeth and flames- but I roared real good, and some kids squeal. On into the bathroom that connected back to the main hall, where my sister Mary in a black leotard posed as a cat in the tub. So perfect! Just black tights and a few pipe-cleaners for whiskers, but Uncle Don says “oh no, we have to cross its path” and some kids won’t go unless older siblings hold their hands.

In the final room, my sister Michele flits past dressed as a harmless butterfly, on and up the stairs while next to the back door stands my mom holding a bowl of candy, dressed as the nicest witch since Glinda. I usually trail along behind the pack (without my box-head I’m just Billy Hahn), and I can see everywhere kids starting to relax.

Clump- Clump!CLUMP! Booted steps on the basement stairs, a door across from the rear exit. Again, Uncle Don makes the mood, shouting that we have forgotten to chain him up. The last step, every kid frozen- an endless moment’s pause, then the door slams open to reveal my father- a strapping fellow around 6’2″, his arms thrust a half-foot through short jacket sleeves, and two bolts on his neck.

The panicked rout was audible for miles. In the country, everyone CAN hear you scream: they just don’t care. A wave of waist-high humanity, urged by the friendly vampire, ran from our back door, flooding past the queue waiting out front, thus setting the stage for their own visit. One group fled into the night where the line between worlds had been thinned to near-transparency. The others waited on bobbing feet, eager to have that barrier shaved for them next. Lather-rinse-repeat, probably forty times in one night.

And the following two years we did it again, with variations in theme but not budget. When we finally stopped, we still got more door-ringers than anyone in the village, disappointed the way only rural folks without Sci-Fi channel could be.

This is the life we are still living, I firmly believe that. We look around this Alleged Real World, eagerly seeking places where the line is thin, and just another step, or a turned page, takes us before the heroes of the past, or monsters from another planet, or nameless horrors crusted in grave-dirt and longing to drag us back with them. Someone goes to a little trouble, like Uncle Don- my godfather and one of the most creative influences in my life- a bit of effort recruiting us to his mad scheme of terror, and what happens. We eagerly assist, letting his mind guide us to the same master plan; and little kids practically beat down our door to get in and be sent forth screaming- no really, screaming their lungs out- a few minutes later. I could see them back on my bed through the side window, as I waited for the next crew. No laughing, no rib-pokes of “gotcha”, just throats and feet at full throttle. After reaching our driveway, a few split off from the rest, did a hairpin-turn, and came back to wait on line.

We write fantasy, and science fiction, romance, horror, mystery- for those kids who turned back for more. It’s a noisier world; I’ve been in a mood to complain about the competition this summer (and hey, no writing on my WiP- coincidence? I think NOT). But I still believe there are many- maybe most- who really enjoy being carried away, across that thin line between the worlds. We don’t have the flash-paper, the CGI, the crowds of extras. By comparison to movies and the internet, we writers are working with cardboard and tin foil. But a book is not unlike a rural road, right from the first page it brings a separation from the comfort zone of the world’s noise and choices. And once you get them alone, or in small groups, your pen or fingers on the keyboard are like a plane, shaving that line between this Alleged Real World and the one that’s yours.

They want to go there. Do it well, they’ll come back. Stop and they’ll miss you. But if you just sit and complain, eventually there will be other choices. And THERE’s a scary tale, if you’re in the writer’s tribe.

Happy Halloween!

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