Sneak peek at The Seal Whistle

The Seal Whistle is the name of my newest Tormay story. I just passed the 100 page mark and I’m not sure where the end is. It could turn into a regular novel or just a long novella. We’ll see what the characters want to do. I’m fairly pleased with this one for various reasons. For one thing, it answers a big question that was left unanswered at the end of the Tormay Trilogy. I can’t say what the question is, as it would reduce a certain amount of the story’s fun. However, the question concerns what happened to one of the main characters of the trilogy, after the trilogy ended. The Seal Whistle involves the sea, of course, which you probably already figured out from the title.

I’m finding it an interesting thing to revisit Tormay. The land exists in such detail in my mind that I’m discovering the story refuses to simply unfold in a straight and quick fashion. Rather, characters intrude and have their say and then go back to whatever they were doing: herding cattle, fishing, chatting in a tavern, several doing rather evil things, a young boy trying to earn enough money for a pair of boots.

If you’d like a sneak peek at The Seal Whistle, I’m going to release the first eight pages next week. However, you have to be on my email list to get them.


Rosamonde: the real story of Sleeping Beauty

the real Sleeping BeautyThe old stories about Sleeping Beauty never got it right. I’m sure you suspected that. I’ve written the real story. The genuine article. It all began in a little Central European country called Bordavia with a princess named Rosamonde. Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. You’ll have to read the story for yourself and find out about Rosamonde and the family curse. It’s actually more of a novella than a story, being a length somewhat in between a story and a novel. Now, I’m off to work on my newest Tormay tale. It can’t wait any longer (actually, I’m about 2/3 of the way through the first draft).


Delayed by disappearing airplanes, etc.

One of the laws of thermodynamics states that higher temperature always flows toward areas of lower temperature. Something like that. The same idea can be applied to custard. Or culture, I suppose.

I’ve been meaning to write something for this here blog of mine (not to be confused with Guns and Roses’ sweet child of mine/Axl Rose), but I’ve been delayed by life. Disappearing airplanes. Kendo lessons with Offspring #1. Gophers. Troublesome hot water heaters. Tax returns. The entire state of California, which I think should be sold on Groupon at a big discount.

My latest manuscript, Rosamonde, is currently in the hands of my editor (the inimitable Jen Ballinger–what does inimitable even mean? does it matter? do words matter anymore?). It’s not novel length. It’s a novella, which places it somewhere in between a very long story and a novel. 1/3 of a novel, perhaps.

Never again will I write a story from a girl’s perspective in first person. Rather difficult for me. My writing has limitations and, one of them, besides declining to write New Adult, erotica, romance, historical fiction about Canada, and cookbooks, is that I cannot write from a girl’s perspective. At least, not in first person. First person is quite different from omniscient. I wrote quite a few female characters in the Tormay trilogy, but it was always from an omniscient perspective. That’s a great deal easier for me.

Speaking of easy, what is with the hordes of people who think they’re going to win the Voice and become happy ever after? Life does not work that way. That said, I think Blake Shelton is going to win this year. He’s a canny guy, and he’s from the midwest.


Looms, Weaving, the Fates and Story

My mother is the quintessential picture of the renaissance woman. She’s never been fond of institutional education, having walked out of college on the first day of school, never to return. Yet, she is the consummate artisan in many disciplines: stained-glass, painting, weaving, tailoring, and other pursuits. A rather large loom sits in her studio. Occasionally, these days, she will set up a weaving, which involves a great deal of planning and the mysterious work of threading yarn through different eyelets on the loom, all in preparation to the actual weaving itself (the shuttle, pedals, etc).

While I’ve dabbled in painting over the years, as well as a few stained glass pieces, I’ve never tried weaving, as it looks too complicated for my patience level. However, the work of shuttling the yarn back and forth, twining the different colors with each other and then tightening and adjusting and tweaking…it all reminds me of writing stories. I imagine the Greeks were onto something when they pictured the Fates as weaving the stories of our lives together in their cave.

I’m currently neck-deep in another Tormay story called The Seal Whistle. It’s turning out a rather beautiful shamble of a tale, full of the sea and the north and lostness and the dark. I think about 2/3 of the way through the first draft, but what I’m looking forward too is tightening the threads. Like a weaver, I suppose, adjusting and tweaking and snipping here and there until the blanket comes out warm, practical and, hopefully, somewhat beautiful.

I can’t weave, but I can write stories. I’m glad to be back in Tormay, and I’m already teeing up the next Tormay story in my mind, as soon as I’m done with this one. The current one takes place about ten years after the end of the Tormay Trilogy, borrowing a few characters here and there from that story. The next tale, however, will jump off directly from an incident that happened in the second book of the trilogy, and incident involving an ogre. I’m looking forward to it, because I’ve often wondered what happened…


Hometown Paper Review of The Fury Clock

My hometown newspaper, the Salinas Californian, just did a nice review of my book The Fury Clock. Bit of a relief. You never know how reviewers are going to take a story, particularly one as odd as The Fury Clock. Humor, as we all know, is highly subjective, and, if you mix humor and fantasy together like I did with that book, you get an even more subjective cake.

One more falling rock happily dodged on the trail to…where is it that I’m going?


Fantasy should be written for Children

Fantasy should be written for children, not adults. Have you ever sat down and read a child a fantastical story? If they aren’t the sort of child who’s had their imagination ruined by a vigorous schedule of television and video games, their eyes will grow wide and sparkle, they’ll listen avidly, and they’ll laugh and nod and be full of questions. Full of faith that marvels can happen. They have the capacity to believe that dragons might still be lurking under the mountains, dwarves still mining for silver and mithril, elves wandering the forests, shadows creeping in the darkness.

Children still have the capacity for wonder.

Adults, on the other hand, do not. Most adults, I’ll grant an exception out of the goodness of my heart and the knowledge that it’s always chancy to claim 100% when dealing in statistics. Adults are stunted and jaded. Jaundiced and weary. They do not have the capacity for wonder. They have a capacity for sensation, which is why so much of the adult fantasy inflicted on the reading world these days is full of violence and gore and sex and a great deal of mind-numbing sensory overkill.

I rather think that most adults are a lost cause in this respect. But children? No, they’re still willing to suspend the dreary bonds of mundanity. Write fantasy for them, if you’re going to write it. Perhaps some of the adults out there, those with younger minds, will read your stories as well. If they do or if they don’t–that’s irrelevant–save your creativity for the children, for they’re the only ones who truly understand about hobbit holes or white rabbits who are in dreadful hurries or flying bedsteads or black cauldrons that should really be left alone.


Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories

If you write fantasy or if you read fantasy, if you’re a Tolkien fan or if you wonder about the limits of reality versus the limits of the imagination, you must read Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories.

If you enjoy spicy chicken wings or drinking merlot, or if you’re a fan of Kevin Costner or Justin Bieber (well…I might have to draw the line with him), or if you participate in synchronized swimming or throw pots (either on a wheel or out of pique), then you should read Tolkien’s essay.

If your name is Jim or Katherine or Herbert or some other name, you should read it.

What I’m attempting to make clear is that you should read it.


The Evolution of Fantasy Sub-Genres

Fantasy began as myths, legends, tales boomed forth in smoky caves by the tribal storyteller. Fairytales and epic fantasy, the stuff of Andrew Lang and Tolkien, were the soup du jour for long years. Then came Stephanie Meyer and her sparkly vampires…and voila! Urban fantasy was born.

To be honest and precise, however, urban fantasy existed long before Stephanie Meyer. Perhaps the most popular pre-urban fantasy urban fantasist was Susan Cooper and her Dark is Rising series (fantastic books, by the way–full of creativity, excellent writing and devoid of sparkly anything). There were also writers such as John Gordon and his Giant Under the Snow (another amazing book, well worth pursuing and owning). Reaching further back, GK Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday clearly qualifies for the mantle of urban fantasy, as do several of Charles Williams’ books, such as The Greater Trumps, The Place of the Lion, and Descent Into Hell (the only caveat being that most readers would find them rather difficult to read).

That said, urban fantasy as a sub-genre has been around for quite some time and, frankly, I’m getting rather tired of the narrow confines of such a niche. It is high time that fantasy evolve some additional sub-genres, some additional branches grafted onto the old apple tree (speaking of apple trees, some would argue that the Bible qualifies as the original fantasy, but I would argue in return that truth is much more effective and dangerous when conveyed by a vehicle so fantastical and outlandish as the Bible that it could only be true, being too bizarre for anyone to come up with on their own). I would modestly propose, therefore, that two new sub-genres of fantasy hereby be initiated: rural fantasy and anti-nihilist fantasy.

Rural fantasy, of course, would always involve rural settings, farmers grimly clinging to their shotguns, confused urban dwellers out for a visit, barnyard animals, crops (subsidized or not), Monsanto, and efficient farm boys and farm girls able to drive tractors and learn swordplay with equal aplomb.

Aplomb is an odd word, isn’t it?

Anti-nihilist fantasy would be just that: stories possessing anti-nihilist philosophy. No grimy anti-heroes allowed, as they’re far too smelly and far too irritating to ride along with for three hundred pages. Anti-nihilist fantasy would be rather retro, a throwback to Tolkien, but not just in desperate plagiarism, but in true acknowledgment of absolute truths and the greater trumps of courage, honor, sacrifice, devotion and redemption. Beauty as well, but beauty with a meaning and beauty for a reason.

Call me crazy, but I think I’m onto something here.


On Pre-Writing Fantasy: the Iceberg Below

The iceberg below the surface is much more important than the iceberg above the surface. It’s the edifice below that’s going to sink your ship. It’s also that mass that keeps the smaller, visible mass above the water stable. Without it, the smaller mass up above will sink, sag, topple over, etc.

I think the iceberg idea is one of the main problems with fantasy these days. You need to do your homework first before writing your book. And by homework, I mean create the history of the story. Write a history that no one will ever read except you (or, if you become famous like Tolkien, you later publish as your own Silmarillion). You must figure out What Happened Before. If your farm boy (named Ned or Zingo or S’lart) lives in a little town way out in the middle of enchanted nowhere, how did your town come to be? Who first moved there, two hundred years ago, built himself a cabin and began farming turnips? Why did he move there? Who rules the kingdom in charge of his town and where did they come from? Who murdered whom five hundred years ago? How did evil come to dwell in the mountains to the north?

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

You must write this kind of history. It will be the hidden part of the iceberg that will keep the visible top stable enough for visitors (readers, not penguins or polar bears) to tromp around without getting tilted off into the drink. If you possess a history before you start writing your magnum opus, you will be able to write in serenity; you will be able to write with proper motivations for why such-and-such a kingdom behaves in this diplomatic fashion, why this elf would respond in this way to that dwarf, why evil behaves the way it does, and on and on.

Your story motivations, whether they are hidden or not, must be consistent and stable and logical. If they are not, your story is going to be a half-baked piece of limp Baked Alaska. Seriously. Writing by the seat of your pants only gets you so far. It might be fine if you’re Jack Kerouac and you are writing some drug-addled piece of road trip asphalt. If you’re writing fantasy that involves world-building, civilizations, good and evil, you need deep foundations or you’re in trouble. Without those foundations, without the hidden iceberg, your story will ring false and feel like a juvenile scrawl.

So, before you start writing about Kloogle and his band of misfits, off on a quest to save the world, sit down and write your history. Write the whole blasted thing and then stick it in a drawer, never to see the light of day, before you deal with Kloogle. I realize this approach will take you a lot longer. You won’t be able to get your manuscript uploaded onto Amazon or shot off to an agent (good luck with that) in several months time. It might take twice as long. It might take a year more. So what? If you’re going to write a book, do it well, for crying out loud.

Build your hidden iceberg first. If you don’t, you’ll be standing on your visible iceberg, proudly surveying the ocean, when it’ll suddenly flip over (due to not having that natural keel) and the killer whales will feast on you.


A Different Turn of Events: when Jute and the Hawk returned to Hearne

I dug up another portion of the Tormay Trilogy that didn’t make it into the published version. This section (rather long) is intriguing for me to look back on because the events it describes morphed into something entirely different when I finished writing the book. The hunt for the Harlech soldiers was one of the areas that changed almost completely in rewrite. There were quite a few of those, but this one had a lot of reverberating ramifications. Always a fragile thing to deal with when editing…