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Newsletters and Other Madness

My short stories are starting to be published in anthologies! That’s exciting in and of itself, but the fact has brought to light a serious short-coming in my career planning: I haven’t planted and nurtured a newsletter list! And now I need two of them *headdesk*

This is what happens when you have a split personality and write under two names. Of course, it’s also what happens when you have your head down writing and forget to pay attention to the realities of business!

So, for the past week or so, I’ve been scrambling to decide which mail carrier to use (there are several excellent ones out there) and whether I want two lists or if one will do. The very thrifty Scot in my gene pool advocates for one list, but the practical Brit in my lineage scoffs. Why bother with dual pen names if you’re just going to lump everything into one newsletter?

And so two newsletters were born!

Each will be for special announcements only (new releases, special sales, exciting news, and reader perks) and each features an exclusive, published-nowhere-else FREE story for its subscribers 😀

Here’s the scoop:
Debbie Mumford writes for adults – romantic fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction … all sorts of things. She’s offering a contemporary paranormal romance set in Yellowstone National Park as her incentive: “Reality Bites.” Click here for Debbie’s newsletter.

Deb Logan writes for middle grade and young adult, or anyone who’s young at heart! Almost all of Deb’s tales are contemporary fantasy / paranormal. Deb is offering a modern day fairy tale complete with a prince and princess…or two: “Beauty or Butterface?” Click here for Deb’s newsletter.

In other news, I’ve expanded my “Spun Yarns” imprint! I’m now publishing individual short stories as well as collections. My most recent releases are:

DreamFlying-2x3SilverTipped-Cover-2x3Spinning-Cover-2x3HighLine-2x3

That last one is so new, it doesn’t have a link! Be sure to look for it (and all of my stories!) at your favorite e-tailer 😀

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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.

Valentine’s Day, Birthdays, and Other Exciting Events…

The second week of February is always an exciting time in our household. It not only brings my birthday, but Valentine’s Day, and finally my youngest’s birthday. Whew!

This year, in the midst of all that family celebration, I applied for and obtained a new job!! Same company, same department, but a different team, a step (or two) up the ladder, and a nice pay increase. Yep. February has been amazing this year!

PLUS…in anticipation of an upcoming workshop, I spent the month of January and the first two weeks of February writing a short story per week. Specific stories for themed anthologies. Most of them were SO not in my chosen genres, but…well…stretching is good.

I’m really proud of each of those six stories. A couple of them are so far beyond my comfort zone I was tempted not to even try. But I pushed past my fear of failure…or worse, mediocrity!…and produced stories that I’ll be proud to send out to markets if they don’t make the cut for the anthologies they were written for.

So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, birthday celebrations, new jobs, and a very productive start to 2015, let me share with you a flash fiction romance from my SPUN YARNS collection, Love In a Flash

Fairly Godmother

by Debbie Mumford

Crowds of happy people thronged the streets and sidewalks of the weekly farmer’s market. Evelyn floated among them, a stranger in a sea of good-natured jostling. She should have come earlier. She’d never find a place to set up in this ocean of humanity. Hugging her violin case close, she drifted to the edge of the flow and anchored herself in the relative safety of a flower seller’s stall.

Heavenly scents and rich, earthy colors tempted her from every surface. Bouquets of roses, buddleia and lavender dragged her attention from lush baskets dripping with fuchsia and delicate baby’s breath. The flora of her native Montana paled to insignificance when compared to the bounty and variety of Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

“May I help you, my dear?” A tiny gray-haired woman peeked out from between immense buckets of cut flowers, making Evelyn wonder if a fairy had been harvested with the blooms.

“Oh, no thank you,” she said, smiling at her whimsical thought. “I’m just resting. I hadn’t expected so many people.”

The petite woman laughed. “Yes, the crowds can be overwhelming if you aren’t accustomed, but they’re excellent for business.” She stared pointedly at Evelyn’s violin case. “Are you looking for a place to busk?”

Heat scorched Evelyn’s face. Her father considered buskers lower than slug slime. “Beggar,” he’d said whenever they had come across a young man playing his guitar, case open for contributions. “Get a real job.”

“No, I mean, not really.” Evelyn sucked in a deep breath and pushed her father’s disapproval to the back of her mind. “I’ve just moved here. I teach violin. I thought I’d try some creative advertising.”

“That’s an excellent idea. Why don’t you set up right where you’re standing?” her fairy godmother asked.

“Oh! I couldn’t. I’d block your sales.”

“My dear,” she said, “if you’re any good, you’ll draw folks like nectar, and they’ll stop, even linger while you play.” She winked at Evelyn, enhancing her fairy godmother image. “That’ll give my flowers a chance to enchant them. It’ll be good business for both of us.”

The rest of the day passed in a blissful mixture of performance and quick conversations followed by an exchange of business cards. Mrs. Spenser, her fairy godmother, proved to be an acute businesswoman. Her prediction came true; people seemed entranced by the intoxicating combination of sprightly Irish jigs performed by a grateful musician, colorful flowers and heady aromas. By the end of the day, Evelyn’s supply of business cards had dwindled significantly.

“What a boon you’ve been to my business today,” sighed Mrs. Spenser, wiping her hands on the towel she’d tucked into the waist of her twill trousers. “If you haven’t filled your schedule with students before then, come back next week,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “I’ll save you a place, and who knows? I might even have a surprise waiting for you!”

*~*~*

The next week, Evelyn arrived early, before the hordes of eager shoppers. She picked her way carefully through the craftsmen and merchants setting up their booths until she reached her fairy godmother’s flower stall. Her sprightly little benefactress was nowhere to be seen, but something new had been added since last week. A comfortable canvas folding chair complete with positionable umbrella stood in a place of honor just to the left of Mrs. Spenser’s stall. A stunning bouquet of lilies and Shasta daisies rested on the seat.

“You must be Evelyn.”

The deep baritone voice startled her, but she held tight to her violin case and turned to face its owner. A tall young man with auburn hair and sparkling green eyes smiled down at her.

“Gran said you’d come. She told me to set up a special place for you and picked out each of these flowers with her own hand.” He deposited the tub of cut flowers he’d hauled from his van on the ground near her feet and plucked the bouquet up from the canvas chair. Pausing for an instant with the blooms near his face, he closed his eyes and inhaled before handing them to Evelyn with a flourish. “Gran certainly knows her flowers. I hope you’ll enjoy them.”

She accepted the bouquet, smiled and held out her free hand. “I certainly will. I’m Evelyn Connor, by the way.”

“Edmund Spenser,” he said, taking her hand in a warm, firm grip, “but everyone calls me Ned. Gran tells me you’re new in town.”

“I am,” she said, already looking forward to a day of music and fragrant flowers spent in Ned’s company, “but I’m feeling more at home every day.” Almost like I had a fairy godmother watching out for me, she thought, with a very likeable grandson.

~The End~

Change

Change is one of those catch-22 elements. We all dislike it, but we all need it.

Without its stimulation we settle into cozy habits, establish comfort zones, and fight tooth-and-toenail to stay inside them…despite the fact that comfort zones rapidly disintegrate into ruts. And NO ONE wants to admit they’re in a rut.

The fact is, much as change disturbs us, it’s a necessary part of life. Without change we fall into stagnation, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go there.

Why am I blathering on about change? I recently spent a little over a week with my daughter and her family watching them step into the deep end of a major life change. I flew across the continental USA to stay with my preschool grandkids so that my daughter could accompany her husband to a job fair specifically designed for military officers who are exiting the service.

Lots of change in store for that young family, but when they emerge from the turmoil of indecision, the upheaval of moving who-knows-where, they’ll have a new stability, a new family dynamic. Daddy will not be missing from the little ones’ lives for months at a time. It will be a good change, but at the moment, their lives are filled with anxiety and the discomfort that change brings.

Closer to home, I’ve been thinking about my experiences in an anthology workshop I attended in late February. Everyone who participated had the opportunity to submit stories for six anthologies. Each story had to be written specifically for the workshop, and we were given limited time to create them (about a week per story). This was to ensure that we didn’t have time to edit out what makes our stories uniquely our own, that the editors experienced our authentic voices.

Six stories in six weeks in six different genres. It was a frightening experience, but at the same time, exhilarating. Five of the genres were ones I’ve never attempted to write – talk about blasting past your comfort zone! The last one was young adult. Ahhh! At last…my genre.

I only sold one of the stories. You guessed it: the YA. My voice and skills are established there. I know what I’m doing.

Was it worth it to move out of my comfort zone and attempt to write in those unfamiliar genres? You bet! I received feedback on each of those stories from six professional editors. I learned an incredible amount about my own strengths and weaknesses, and, even though those stories weren’t accepted for these particular anthologies, I discovered that I have a flair for writing mysteries and steampunk 😀 Thrillers and gambling fiction — not so much, but at least I know the basics of where I fell down.

Change can be unsettling, even downright uncomfortable, but when you emerge on the other side you discover new strengths and gain additional knowledge that will inform the rest of your life. So let me encourage you to step beyond your comfort zone every now and then. After all, you don’t want to let those ruts get so deep you can’t even peer over the top.

Remember: Change is good!

My Writing Process Blog Tour: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Obscurity

Folks who know me have heard already about the odd spot I occupy. I’m deep enough in to know the e-pub/self-pub indie process, and put several books out there. I’m coming up on three years in the business (anniversary announcement later), and know my way around an Amazon author page, online interview, or Smashwords coupon.

Most important, I have rubbed virtual elbows with terrific, successful and deeply gracious online authors ranging from complete and former strangers (met in the past year) to beta-critiquers (some over five years’ friendship, and already “old” friends in that sense) as well as best-selling “colleagues” I knew back in college (and who’ve had time to become strangers again). I’m the writing equivalent of a rock-band groupie who riffs a little guitar in his basement between concerts, and once in a while gets called up onstage to dance badly in the background during his band’s encore. I dream a lot, but not when I’m asleep!

So yeah- it feels a bit pretentious to be tapped for this writing tour (not once but twice! Thanks Kat and Peter). My keys to writing or publishing success? As if. But provided you have your salt shaker with you, read on. Actually, maybe one of those fifty-pound salt blocks you use for your water purifier, or the cattle herd…

 

1. What am I working on?

My WiP is well known to readers here, the third installment of the Shards of Light series, called “Perilous Embraces”.

Nicknamed The Forever Tale, Sub-Title How to Let Your MC Put You in a Sleeper Hold

I nudge the manuscript forward in moments of clarity, with long gaps between. The main character is without question the most difficult I have ever encountered- she sees the future, for one thing, all the time, so guess what happens to her grip on reality? But the feedback I’ve received on the first two pseudo-chapters has been quite encouraging. I cannot give a time-line for publication yet (this is NOT the anniversary announcement I promised), but I can tell you that fans of Justin and Feldspar, who have already seen a little bit of W’starrah Altieri, are in for a treat. Someday.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

“Differ”, bah, I don’t know or care really. After much thought, I’ll settle for the one word I was most moved to hear from others, to describe my work.

Heart.

I have seen this word used a couple of times and I treasure it. I think it means that I have been able to show the reader how admirable these heroes and heroines are, to peek into their lives and empathize, root for them, to curse their mistakes but not their intent, and rejoice with their victories in spite of the costs. Is this rare, does it stand out compared to other authors? Pardon me, but I think that’s a blind alley. How many times is too many to be inspired? If I can show you the situation they faced, and get you to agree with the decisions they made, I succeeded. To me the word “heart” means simply that you read about these heroes and were moved. Just as I was when I first saw them, and have been ever since.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Nit-Pick Department: I don’t “write”, I chronicle and it’s a very important distinction to me, because I saw and studied the Lands of Hope for thirty years before I started to take down the events in story form. This point will also no doubt interest the guys in white coats, when they arrive to fit me out for the lloooong-sleeved cardigan. But putting the Tales of Hope on paper (OK, you know what I mean) has become a vocation for me. As in the Latin, meaning “job you would do for nothing”, I feel called to chronicle these stories and I’m pretty sure that whatever my talents I’m the only guy for the job. But it’s not a job- I have a great one, thanks- it’s what I do by preference, for love of doing it. Which brings me to another Latin word, “amateur” and therein starts a tangled skein of temptation.

4. How does my writing process work?

No better or worse than any other contradiction in terms.                  :: rim-shot ::

The Lands of Hope on DVD is running in my head at all hours, frequently punctuated by the email pinging for work or the sound of my lovely wife saying “did you get that?” I spend every waking moment falling in and out of a daze, but it’s probably not as disorienting or depressing as I make it sound. You get used to the dual-view, after a couple decades… And on an infrequent morning or evening hour I can tap away another paragraph, or maybe just reverse the order of two sentences. I won’t lie- rarely, I enjoy a torrent of productivity, where the manuscript rolls forward during some portion of every waking hour. I write down thousands of words, usually fairly polished, and hardly any work gets done for job or family. But that’s a thin, short sparkler, and well before I can start to feel like a prolific writer, it burns down. I spend a day or so catching up on my life-obligations, and then it’s back to a half hour, a nudge.

Point is, I’m living here. If writers write to live, then yes I’m alive. And well. If they truly had to write to eat, I’d be starving, but I’m far more fortunate than that.

In a moment, the announcement. But first I must play Typhoid Mary and pass along the joy of self-description to three other folks. I’m tempted to escape via honesty, and just say “here are the folks to who influenced me most”, naming Stephen Donaldson, Ursula le Guin and Robert B. Parker. Of course, not one of them knows me from a hole in the wall, none blog that I know of and one of them has already passed from the world. So I’ll have to knuckle down.

How about Tia Nevitt, EPIC-award winning author of The Sevenfold Spell? I interviewed her in ancient times, further back than I dare to go in our archives, so it’s high time we saw her work again.Tia also has one of the coolest blog titles for a guy like me to admire, and I urge you to check it out- Anywhere but here, anywhen but now

Continuing down memory lane, Tracy Falbe is the prolific author of the Rys Rising series and others, another of the first indie/online authors I got to know in this genre and somebody who knows a thing or three about the biz. Check out Her Ladyship’s Quest while we wait for her turn.

And in the sleeper category- no, I mean it, she hasn’t written back yet and could be asleep- I call on Mary B Kaley, evil genius behind the rogue’s asylum at the Writers Extreme critique group and the owner/operator of I am Not an Editor blog, but also a tremendous author in her own right, featuring works of urban fantasy and the dystopian future. {Post-Script: Mary has just sent her regrets, but I’m stubborn and keeping her on the list.  Go to her blog and bug her to publish the story about Asia, which she’s had on the shelf for YEARS- it’s incredible.}

Now for the Funny Thing that Happened

At last (at THE last) my news. There I was writing through another long winter, minding my own business when the darnedest things started to happen. The weather got no warmer, but I’ve been invited WriteOutLoudto speak at a writer’s gathering and I signed a publishing contract, so it might as well be spring!

The invite comes from the Write Out Loud student group at the local university, who are sponsoring their first Reading Gala next month and asked me to speak. I am so jazzed! If you’re from the tri-state area near Newark Delaware, check it out, scheduled for May 9th. The publishing contract- I almost have to go look at the thing every time I think of it, just to convince myself- is quite real, a single sheet of paper that means so much to me I’ll have to blog about it separately. I can say this honestly- being “under contract”, as hilarious as that seems, makes me want to put in my very best effort ever, to promote my upcoming work and the cause of epic/heroic fantasy in general.

For now, I will say only:

This July,

The Man in Grey

approaches.

 

 

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!

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.

lucky me — or health insurance surprise

As of late, I find myself wondering if I’m spreading myself too thin. I’m doing so many things at once that I often find myself confused. Did I do this already? Did I forget this or that? My kids complain because some of the things I told them we’d do take longer than anticipated. So, last weekend, I sat down and thought long and hard. Do I really want to give up any of the things I set in motion?

The answer is clearly, “NO”

So, do I have someone who can help? The answer was, “No”, too, but then I got a letter from our health care insurance company (obligatory in Germany), and suddenly the answer was, “at least a little.” Due to my kids disabilities, we will get a small sum per month that will allow me to hire someone who can clean my house once a week.

That means, I’ll have less trouble keeping up with household chores, and it also means I can really reach for my goals with all I have. Some of my blogposts will still be late, but I’ve got a notebook where I write down all the tasks I need to do and cross them out when they’re finished. That will keep me on track — mostly.

Hopefully, you will have luck smile your way once in a while like I did this week.
Keep growing.

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