Why I will never worry about what I write, ever again

Myselfiewithstuart

Sometimes when I am in the valley of the shadow of self-doubt about my writing, I think, "I write ridiculous things in my novels. Who would ever believe them?"

One book has talking bears and a parallel universe, another a kind of Pez dispenser that does magic if you know Latin grammar. In my latest book, the hero defends a mystical goal against a hockey-puck-spitting pelican.

Weird, right?

But I'm here to declare that I will fear no idea that comes from my muse, ever again. That is because I have just re-read Stuart Little by E.B. White, and I'm going to tell you, he has us all beat.

E.B. White is probably more famous for Charlotte's Web, which has a talking spider and talking pig, but that type of weirdness is nothing compared to that of Stuart Little.

I don't remember reading Stuart Little all the way through as a child, though I'm pretty sure I was impressed by his toy sports car. I just went along with everyone who thought the book was adorable.

Adorable it may be, but it's just straight-up bonkers, too.

Now let me be clear that I'm not dissing the classic status that Stuart has achieved. There's a lot of whimsical fun in the book. It's charming and witty. There is much food for thought and respect and love for those who are different.

I'm just saying what happens in the book strains the boundaries of credulity in a thousand ways, small and large.

First of all, and this has been noticed before, the book claims that Stuart came to the Little family naturally:

When Mrs. Frederick C. Little's second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse. The truth of the matter was, the baby looked very much like a mouse in every way.

I usually read books before bed, when I'm already sleepy. But this shook me wide awake. I was sure that Stuart had been adopted and was all ready for that fact to be announced in Chapter One.

But no.

So Stuart is genetically a Little, but in substance a mouse. Right there, any New York editor would stop reading and have his or her assistant prepare a rejection notice. But E.B. White wasn't a peon from Peoria. He was in the inner circle of the New York literary world, a respected writer for the New Yorker magazine.

So he got a pass.

Now Stuart gets into a number of scrapes and has a number of charming adventures, but it is natural that a mouse have a love interest, and that love interest is a bird.

Stay with me, here.

The bird's name is Margalo, and she is one of those talking birds you see quite often in Manhattan. Margalo is responsible for a number of charming acts, including saving Stuart's life, but she flies the coop (the Littles' Manhattan apartment) when a pigeon writes her a note warning her that a cat is plotting to eat her.

This motivates the action of the book, which is Stuart's quest for Margalo. He obtains his transportation from his friend Dr. Carey, a dentist, who claims that Stuart will be less noticeable as an anthropomorphic animal driving a toy sports car when he activates the car's invisibility function.

Yes, indeed.

When Stuart tests out that function, hilarity ensues, but the author never explains whether Stuart himself will be invisible when he drives the car, or whether he will seem to others to be sitting in thin air being self-propelled, which would definitely be noticeable.

It's actually more astonishing that anyone in this book would think that anything strange would, in Stuart's words, "attract too much attention".

Are you getting the message, here?

I'm going to pass over the charming scene where Stuart takes over a one-room schoolhouse for a day, although I find it highly unusual any school district would allow such an unqualified substitute to teach children.

Then again, maybe that's not so far-fetched.

But I do have to mention the two-inch tall Harriet Ames, a tiny human equally as tiny as Stuart. How does a local storekeeper explain her presence in the world?

"...All of her clothes are specially tailored for her... Yes, Harriet's quite a girl. Her people, the Ameses, are rather prominent in this town."

Harriet almost but not quite makes Stuart forget about Margalo. Clearly, she is a more suitable partner for a mouse than a bird, but their love isn't to be, mainly because Stuart can't get over the fact that his miniature canoe, in which he was going to take Harriet for a ride, has been smashed, presumably by malicious boys, though this is never confirmed.

Okaaaaaaay.

Finally, and most incredibly for the story, Stuart Little peters out at page 131 in my edition with this sentence:

But the sky was bright, and he somehow felt he was headed in the right direction.

In other words, Stuart never finds Margalo. Not even close. He just drives off into the sunset with the quest still unfinished.

I kept stupidly looking for more pages, as if I'd find another chapter in a hidden trap door of my paperback.

Unreal.

Again, I'd be the first to say, "Whatever! This is a children's book, and in children's books, anything goes. As long as the spirit of the writing is true, children (and adults) will love it."

And so that must be the case with Stuart Little, though I'm going to tell you it creeped me out when I read it this time.

But all of this has taught me a valuable lesson: if E.B. White can write from his imagination and succeed, then by golly, I'm going to write from mine. No more self-censorship, no more self-suspicion. My cup of weirdness runneth over. And I will dwell in the house of--

You get the idea.

Now go out there and write some puck-spitting pelicans into your book.

Image: my selfie with Stuart.


Collateral Damage by Bob Mustin: intimacy amidst loss

Collateral-Damage-NEW-Cover-copy-2Bob Mustin was last seen in near-future Appalachia, musing on an America gone wrong. That was 2015's We Are Strong, But We Are Fragile.

Mustin is now ranging over new territory. Collateral Damage and Stories, his just-published fiction collection, showcases the author's considerable talent-- for observation, for a well-turned phrase, for sensing the significance of a moment. But it's hardly a solemn affair. There's weirdness, myth, the supernatural, baseball, over-the-top stuff, keenly felt yet wry at the same time.

My favorite story was "Object of Affection," an elegy for Carlos, a star baseball player who has succumbed to Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a simple idea, the memorial for a hero taken before his time, but the means by which it is delivered is anything but. The narrator performs a subtle alchemy throughout, taking the spoken memories of the star's mother and reporting them, through the ether, to the absent Carlos:

The Game. She tells me that by six you were on the diamond, slapping the ball with authority, bouncing it from the child's tee through a maze of soprano crow calls along the red dust infield and onto the grass beyond.

The result is a kind of intimacy amidst loss that is wickedly difficult for any narrative to attain, and a great pleasure to read.

The title novella is tough to get through-- not because it isn't written well, but because it is. The narrator is John, a schizophrenic freelance political journalist. Mustin takes the reader fully into John's skewed perspective and his multiple "figments," characters that pop from nowhere in a jangly soap opera gone wrong. The story, which seems to take place during the first invasion of Iraq in 1991, reads like a "No Exit" type of stage play, with John's house as the set, and with his wife, Janet, his mother, and his teenaged son, Ted, as the characters trapped in hell. "Collateral Damage" refers to that regrettable phrase conjured by the American military during the war, referring to unavoidable civilian casualties. It's an apt metaphor for the havoc wreaked by John's illness as the family battles over the possession, not of land, but of Ted.

If there is a theme to this collection, I would say it is elegy-- all of the stories except for "Collateral Damage" itself have a voice-over quality to them, with a let-me-tell-you-how-it-was storyteller anchoring the narrative. It's a look back over many years, wistful, grief-tinged, but not nostalgic. There is a sense in these stories that you shouldn't ever want to go back to the past, or have things be the way they were. Life was what it was, had its joys and sorrows, and the impulse to tell the story comes not from longing for the lost moment but from the compulsion to declare, "This was significant. It mattered. It bears remembering."

The collection ends with "The Phantom," an homage to a magic baseball that follows its possessor's life, the narrator, and almost but not quite rubs off its magic on him. Could the baseball be a metaphor for writing talent, that phantom that follows us all our lives and changes them depending on the way it bounces here or there?

Well, all I can say is, keep swinging, Bob Mustin. You hit a home run with this effort. Time to get back to the plate.


...and Breakfast with Pandora Books giveth away...

Check this out from superstar author H.L. Burke. We are participating!
 
 

 
 

Six YA Fantasy authors.
A chance to win SIX awesome YA Ebooks.

 
Kick off your Summer Reading right with these awesome titles.
Enter to win on the Rafflecopter below, or click the links to purchase the books on Amazon.com! 
 

Click on the link below to enter the giveaway:

 


Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors

 
by H. L. Burke
 
When reformed cat burglar Nyssa Glass is framed for murder, her only hope is to commit one last heist to prove her innocence. However, breaking into the "abandoned" house of an eccentric professor may very well be the last thing she ever does. 
 

The Mirror and the Mage

 
by D. W. Frauenfelder
 
Fourteen-year old Lucius Junius Brutus yearns to join the Roman army, but Lucius' father directs him to guard the dusty, grammarly scrolls of Numa Pompilius. Lucius thinks he is in for the most boring job in the world-- until he discovers the scrolls' true purpose...
 

Finding Prince Charming

 
 

by Jessica Elliott

Allegra is shocked to discover that rather than wait in a tower for her Prince Charming, she must embark on a quest to rescue him. She must face untold dangers and overcome her greatest fears. Her enchanted prince, Adrian, deals with match-making frogs, a flirtatious mermaid and an unknown enemy who will stop at nothing to prevent their happily ever after.
 

Called Warrior

 
by E. J. McCay
 
Preacher's Kid MacKenzie Bryan is called by God to be a warrior. Now she has to battle a church elder at the helm of a sex-trafficking ring.

The Firethorn Crown

by Lea Doue
 
Princess Lily, the eldest of twelve sisters and heir to a mighty kingdom, desperately seeks a break from her mother's matchmaking. Fleeing an overzealous suitor, Lily stumbles into a secret underground kingdom where she and her sisters encounter a mysterious sorcerer-prince and become entangled in a curse that threatens the safety of her family and her people.
 

The Collar and the Cavvarach  

 
by Annie Douglass Lima
 
Bensin, a teenage slave and martial artist, is desperate to see his little sister freed. But only victory in the Krillonian Empire's most prestigious tournament will allow him to secretly arrange for Ellie's escape. As danger closes in, can Bensin save Ellie from a life of slavery and abuse?

 


Borschland colonizes Amazon

Talesofborschlandcover_promotionalBig news about the Borschland Hockey Chronicles for all fans and future fans of Sherm Reinhardt.

For those familiar with Sherm's ice hockey exploits, Breakfast with Pandora Books has just released a new Tales of Borschland anthology, Sherm Reinhardt and the Black Rose, including the first story involving Sherm Reinhardt since The Skater and the Saint

Sherm journeys to Zimroth, one of Borschland's neighboring nations, to scout a new goalie for his Te Staff hockey team, but he soon finds out why, as one Borscher puts it, "Going to Zimroth is like going back in time."

There are six other tales in the anthology, each one opening up the world of Borschland in various ways: you'll learn about the Borschic way of romance and Borschic spirituality.

There's also the origin story of the Flowering Branch which is the centerpiece of The Skater and the Saint.

And there are chilling tales as well, one about the Loflins, native people of Borschland, and about why there are no movies in Borschland.

But wait, there's more.

In celebration of the new release, for a limited time the entirety of the Borschland Hockey Chronicles (Skater in a Strange Land, The Skater and the Saint, and the Tales of Borschland anthology) will be available to read for free in the Kindle Unlimited lending library.

And here's an offer for you: anyone who reads one of these three selections and leaves a review somewhere online (e.g. Amazon, Goodreads, your blog) will be among the first to receive, absolutely free, an e-copy of the third and last installment of the Borschland Hockey Chronicles, The Last Phase Shift, which with any luck will be available to give as a Christmas gift this year.

Utter fabulousness.

And if you've read this far, then you deserve further insider information, which is that the cover of the Tales of Borschland anthology shown here is actually a beta cover, and if you yourself want to or know someone who would want to design a better cover, please let us know in the comments or email us at teenage underscore heroes at yahoo dot com.


Here's to Shelley, Myst, and H.L. Burke

12557822_1148142651892799_1635258862_oA spotlight for H.L. Burke, who is, for my money, one of the coming author-personalities in indie publishing today. She writes good books, but she's also an engaging person who's fun to follow on social media, especially if you like dragons and cats.

Burke's latest is an attractive YA steampunk novella called Nyssa Glass and the House of Mirrors. The title protagonist is (according to Burke) "a reformed cat burglar turned electrician's apprentice, settled into a life repairing videophones and radio-sets. However, when her past comes calling, she finds herself framed for murder and forced into one last job."

Nyssa Glass has a lot of things going for her, as does the book itself. She's smart, tech-savvy, and tender at the proper times, and Burke has presented for her in this first book of the series a worthy set piece in the elaborately wired and booby-trapped mansion where mirrors are used in an innovative way. 

I got attracted to Nyssa Glass because of my Steampunkish series, the Borschland Hockey Chronicles, which is not what you'd call classic steampunk. In fact, I never intended it to be Steampunk, but it sort of fits in the genre.

Burke's take on the genre is similar. She told me in a recent email that she came to Steampunk in high school through the computer game Myst, which has "a definite steampunk aesthetic (gears, levers, goggles)... I'd keep detailed notebooks as I struggled to solve the complex problems and gather clues. I read the 'Myst Reader' which involved a young girl finding an advanced society living under the earth. A society with geothermal power and massive tunneling machines … I really wanted to live there. Well, not necessarily under the ground in D'ni, but in one of the ages Atrus wrote and settled."

Burke says she's read and likes three Steampunk novels that differ amongst themselves quite a bit, first "Romulus Buckle and the City of the Founders ...[which] has a lot of Steampunk trappings, but the world is post apocalyptic and added in aliens … so not completely traditional.

"Then I read Dream Eater's Carnival, because I knew the author mainly. It had some wonderful Steampunk flair, with a circus of rogues and freaks, a heroine who had amber embedded in her arm she could use to do magic, and a carnival performer who may very well be stealing the life force of those around him...

"Finally I picked up Lady of Devices. This was by far the most traditional Steampunk I'd read yet. It had Victorian social issues and a feisty heroine who rises above social mores while still managing to be very proper. 

"So between all that, I never had a real guideline for what the genre ought to be, which probably works out for the best. You give me rules and guidelines, the urge to break, bend, and twist them becomes pathological. I tend to write my books first, then find a genre box I can sort of stuff them into rather than write to the conventions of any one particular genre."

I agree.

For Nyssa Glass, Burke makes several bends in the whatever might be considered the classic Steampunk structure:

"My characters use mostly modern speech. While I appreciate an author who can hold up 'old timey' dialogue for long periods of time, my characters tend to speak to me in whatever voice they darn well want, and I just let them.

"I cheat and use electricity … my characters have computer technology that is way too advanced for your average Steampunk setting. A lot of the story-line features strongly around a character who is a computer, in fact." 

That probably would be one of my few objections to this book as Steampunk-- that there is twenty-first century tech in it without being explained by steam and gears.

But there are a lot of stories with improbable technology that people swallow whole, including original gothic works like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

Not coincidentally, Burke considers Nyssa "Shelley meets Verne meets Wells, but there's also a taste of the adventure games (such as Myst) that I love so very very much. I hope people can lose themselves in it, the way teenage me longed to visit the Ages of Myst. That's my goal in this series."

I'd say that is the distinctive characteristic of Nyssa, putting the story front and center without a lot of background fuss about worlds and tech. Check out all her other books as well on her website. Dragons abound.

Some other links for the inimitable Mrs. Burke:

Website

Blog

Twitter

Facebook Author Page

Amazon Author Page 

 

Fantasy Winter Escape!

Fantasy_Winter_EscapeIt's winter... it's gray... it's cold...

It's time for a Fantasy Winter Escape!

What is a Fantasy Winter Escape? A chance to lose yourself--absolutely free-- in 16 vivid fantasy worlds and root for 16 fantasy heroes in 16 stories that excite without the bite of objectionable content. 

And by the way, one of the books included in this giveaway is The Mirror and the Mage.

All these fabulous reads will be loaded onto a brand-new seven-inch Kindle Fire that you can win just by adding your name to one of the participating indie authors' social media list-- liking a Facebook page or following a Twitter account, to name two possibilities.

This blog's social media page is Twitter @truenorthwrite.

Audience ranges from middle-grade to YA to adult, so there's something here for every reader in your family.

Here's the link to the Rafflecopter so you can enter: 

a Rafflecopter giveaway


The Staff and the Shield black tie event!

Fly-693663_1280Well, Black Tie Optional, but we here at BWP Books are pleased to announce author D.W. Frauenfelder will be reading from the newest in the Master Mage of Rome Series, The Staff and the Shield, on January 30, 7 PM at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, NC.

Quail Ridge Books is one of the leading independent bookstores in the US, regularly bringing the best of the best authors through its doors. It also specializes in handpicked book selections from some of the most knowledgeable staff around, and autographed books galore.

The big advantage for this date and time: no big local football or basketball games to compete with. The possible disadvantage: you never know when a "wintry weather event" will close down civilization in central North Carolina. 

The Staff and the Shield, along with the first book of the series, The Mirror and the Mage, are available at Quail Ridge now, and if you are not a Raleigh-Durham local, you can buy the book through indiebound.org. Just click on the links to the right.


"Far from the Spaceports" among Abbott's best

FarfromthespaceportsProfessionals in the traditional publishing business advise that authors should stick with the same literary genre in order to maximize their name recognition. If your debut novel is science fiction, then your tenth novel (and all the ones in between) should be as well.

I've never liked this stipulation. I've always thought that fans will follow a good author wherever he goes, if that author stays faithful to what makes his books good.

Which is why I'm pleased to report that Richard Abbott's Far from the Spaceports is vintage Richard Abbott, a splendid good read, even if it is science rather than historical fiction, the genre of his three previous novels.

Abbott's work has a characteristic flavor profile: less emphasis on plot, more on character and world development. The action is satisfying enough, but it is never earth-shaking. Abbott does not send his characters off on impossible missions that require multiple dei ex machinibus for the resolution to take place.

This is particularly gratifying for me as someone who last delved into the science fiction genre by way of the movie "Interstellar." Ugh.

The plot of FFTS orbits around a kind of interplanetary economic fraud case somewhere in the future (AD 2100? No year is given), investigated by the one and only Mitnash Thakur, a swashbuckling coding genius who works for the Economic Crime Review Board, an agency I can only hope will be created by a future, benevolent technocratic government.

Sound underwhelming? Well, maybe. It's not going to involve a lot of laser cannons, tempting fembots, and journeys to the center of a black hole.

Instead, you have Mit, who uses computer programming the way Indiana Jones uses his whip. You also have Mitnash's "persona," Slate, a fascinating AI computer who (have to use that pronoun, it's really not an it) combines some of the aspects of the HAL "2001: A Space Odyssey" computer with what can only be termed sexy geek girl partner. Slate is linked with Mit through a neurotransmitter, so "she" can practically hear his thoughts. The result is quite an intimate portrait of hand-in-bot computer sleuthing and hacking.

The world Abbott creates is no less engaging: a set of asteroids in linked orbit called the Scilly Isles, remote outposts used as a base for miners. Think Antarctic Research Station, but without the penguins, or the oxygen. 

But the real star of the show may be the hyperauthentic codespeak, which is indicative of the kind of science fiction this novel represents: a reasonable, plausible future where computers and computer hacking are by an order of magnitude more important in everyone's day-to-day life than is now true.

Here's a quick sample from a Slate communication to Mit about an enemy persona: 

"Carreg's a very recent model Sarsen, with all upgrades to date, and some custom work done just a few weeks ago. Nothing unusual that I can see, but then I can't access most of the real content across the Pebble interface. Response time is quite a bit faster than I'd expect, but erratic. He's busy doing something else in the background, I guess. There's some kind of Dust code running some kind of daemon service, can't make out what it does. And there could be anything outside his public zone."

It gets more specialized than this, but as with Shakespeare (particularly Henry V, my favorite Kenneth Branagh movie, where you start out with an unintelligible prologue and end with the stirring "band of brothers" speech), the learning curve with the vocabulary smooths out by the end, and enhances the immersion in the world.

Add to this a number of well-drawn supporting characters (including the dashing South Asian spaceship captain Parvati and her partner Maureen, and Mrs. Riley, who is more than just an old lady B&B proprietress), a non-obvious economic mystery to unravel, and an ugly little persona that hacks in to Slate, and you have a nifty and entertaining short novel with much room for further adventures, possibly the best thing the author has done to date.

In short, another bottle of Richard Abbott, perhaps this time a Pinot Noir rather than a Cabernet, but all from the same winemaker and the same literary terroir.

Bottoms up.


Quail Ridge Books has The Master Mage of Rome series!

QuailridgebookslogoBook II of the Master Mage of Rome series, The Staff and the Shield, has released at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, NC. Quail Ridge is also carrying The Mirror and the Mage, the first book of the series.

Quail Ridge Books is one of the leading independent bookstores in the nation and regularly hosts events and readings with the most sought-after authors and national personalities-- people like President Jimmy Carter. Chelsea Clinton will be the next big name on Thursday, November 12.

QRB is also one of the best places to get lost in a very carefully curated selection of excellent books and music.

If you're local, take a visit and support a local business that matters to all of us.


The Staff and the Shield releasing soon

The-Staff-and-the-Shield-800 Cover reveal and PromotionalWe are proud to announce the upcoming release of the second book in the Master Mage of Rome series, The Staff and the Shield.

The short tease:

In 500 BC, the dream of Rome is small enough to fit in the heart one youth: Lucius Junius Brutus, Master Mage of Rome. But that dream is in jeopardy. Etruscans have stolen the sacred symbols that guarantee Rome's greatness, and only a Master Mage can get them back. But the greatest challenge of all may be saving Demetria, Lucius' best friend, from an arranged marriage!

If you've already read The Mirror and the Mage, you're familiar with Lucius and Demetria and their adventures with the mysterious scrolls of Numa Pompilius and the power of the Latin language that they encode. The Staff and the Shield picks up where the first book left off, and there will be plenty of twists and turns on the way.

This historical fantasy is appropriate for 10-13 year olds and anyone who wonders about the history and mythology of the ancient Roman and Etruscan peoples.