Monday, December 15, 2014

Author Kristin Gleeson's Children's Book Inspiration

Kristin Gleeson, already the author of Selkie Dreams and Anahareo, has just released an even more magical (if that's possible) novel, Along the Far Shores. In it, a twelfth-century Irish woman travels to American shores. Even more amazing to consider, the story is based on an ancient legend that may just have a grain of truth in it. Kristin stopped by to share what inspired such an unexpected mixture of cultures.

Inspiration for novels can come from almost anywhere, some unexpected places. For Along the Far Shores, it was especially unusual. When I was a children’s librarian outside of Philadelphia years ago, I was doing some much needed weeding and I came across this book that told about the legend of Prince Madog of Wales’s voyage to America in 1170. It wasn’t a beautifully illustrated picture book; it was a nonfiction text that investigated the legend in order to substantiate its truth.

I was so intrigued, I took it home and read it in a night. I have to confess I’d never heard of the legend before this. I’d heard of Leif Ericsson’s eleventh century voyage along Labrador and that area and of course I heard of the sixth-century voyage of St. Brendan, which again was most likely up in the northern areas of the Americas. Madog’s voyage apparently ended up in Mobile Bay, in what is now Alabama, and he sailed up what is now called the Mad Dog River. All very intriguing.

At the same time, I was writing a novel that looked at the red-haired plaid-clothed mummies that were discovered in the Xinxiang Province in western China. They dated back to about 1500 BC, long before any archaeological evidence of “Celts” or what we group as Celts, though they seemed to share many of the same characteristics in their burial patterns, clothing composition and other items. I loved the idea of it and my novel evolved as two parallel narratives, one in the ancient past that brought a small proto Tlingit group and a proto Irish/Celtic group together, and the present that brought an Irish woman and a Tlingit man together. In the many centuries in between those periods I thought I would write other novels that told the story of similar encounters between the two groups where I could show the two cultures in different periods and the aspects of prejudices and assumptions that each time period might have. Linking all this was a medallion passed down through the centuries and back and forth and appearing in each novel as a connection that means something strongly to one of the characters. 

When I read the Madog tale, it seemed like a wonderful event to use as part of this novel chain. Aisling, an Irish noblewoman, escapes the turmoil in her country only to find a similar situation in Wales, where her brother is serving one of the many princes. She stows away on Madog’s ship in order to be with her brother and is tossed overboard during a storm. She is rescued by a Tlingit trader, Caxna, who reluctantly takes her along his trading journey, first to the declining Mayan city of Xicallanca and then later to Etowah, the powerful city of the Mississippian empire.  For Caxna a successful journey means his clan’s freedom. But Aisling changes everything. 

Very exciting! Along the Far Shores is available in ebook. Visit Kristin's site to learn much more! 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Six Years of Christmas

Having a full time job has made me into one of those people who just can't do it all. This blog has suffered most. I've worked hard on it for years and appreciate every single one of my readers, so my New Year's Resolution will have something to do with establishing a regular schedule here again.

Looking back on the year at this holiday time has brought to mind all the travels (and accompanying emotional ups and downs) my husband and I have done since we met. And so, enjoy photos that represent Christmas through the past six years.

We had been living together in Massachusetts for half a year when Christmas 2008 rolled around, and it was a small apartment and so had only a tiny potted Christmas tree at home. But we had love, and my husband was determined to fulfill a promise he'd made sooner rather than later, so we also had Mickey! At Disneyworld! An unbelievable Christmas.

Christmas 2009 was bare-bones. We had moved to Pennsylvania only days before. But at least we had love, and Saxophone Santa (still our favorite holiday toy). See Saxophone Santa in action here and with a friend here.

The following year, we had placed our stuff in storage and moved in with my gracious sister-in-law in Arizona the previous month. It was the beginning of an explosively creative period in all aspects of my life, but I wasn't aware at the time. Holiday 2010 is represented by fake snow for the wondering Arizonans at the Winterhaven lights display.

By 2011, we had moved to our own apartment in Arizona and both had interesting jobs, and I was writing like crazy. But we hadn't been able to get our stuff out of storage, so at home, we decorated a tree with candy canes and a beautiful compass rose ornament I received from an author who had already become a good friend. This year, we had even more fun at the Winterhaven display because we found this gorgeous Christmas rhino!


We moved from Arizona to Georgia in 2012, but didn't make it to Christmas there. Instead, we went from the boiling pot of water that was summer in Georgia to the icebox winter of Illinois. This was the Christmas my husband realized that I own four giant tubs worth of Christmas decorations, enough to decorate our tree several times over. My mom got me started when I was a kid, and you can't throw away memories like that. I accomplished the amazing feat of finishing my first novel, Seven Noble Knights, in November 2012, and it's commemorated with the cake and the thumb drive, and the new ornament.

Christmas 2013 was probably the most surprising of all, as my husband and I had been living in a hotel in North Carolina since May. We never expected to stay there for so many months, and yet again, our stuff was in storage. We got a little tinsel tree and set it on top of the dehumidifier I insisted on earlier in the year. Those North Carolina summers might be even wetter than the one in Georgia!

And that brings us to this year! In the photo, our tree with a lot, but not all, of the ornaments from the four tubs, stands out in front of a medieval Christmas banner I picked up at a museum in New York City and stacks and piles of other memories. Note the Fight for Rhinos sustainably sourced wooden ornament, front and center.

Finally, this photo was taken on Thanksgiving Day, but the bare trees, the church tower, and roofs covered in snow scream Christmas.

Coming soon: The Other Shakespeare and a guest post from outstanding author Kristin Gleeson!

Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving with Waterfire

Happy Thanksgiving! When I first showed this excerpt to my critique group, one member said there was too much good stuff going on and I should add some bad stuff back in. I didn't think Thanksgiving was the time to punish my main character, Kelly, who already has a lot of rough life issues to deal with. 
Kelly and Brian attend the school for fire starters (the PMA), where they are watched and curbed and reigned in at all times. They have to wear patches that contain substances that prevent them from randomly setting things on fire. At Brian's house, things are a little more relaxed.

Brian took me into the kitchen for a snack and oh my God, there were like a million potluck dishes steaming away on the counters. The ovens and burners were cooking away, too. It was like an army was coming through, and Brian pointed to each dish and told me what it was and whether I could dig in yet. Most of the things were pre-dinner lunch-snacks. We each took a plate of roasted chicken and noodles to the back deck, where they would be able to see the planes coming in if only it weren’t Thanksgiving Day with its small number of flights. No one else was out there—it was freezing!
We ate our food and talked about stuff. He complimented my piano playing and I complimented his singing, and because I smelled wood smoke in the air, it made me think of Waterfire.
“Brian,” I said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about how you can put fires out with your Talent. Do you think it’s something any pyro can learn?”
“Yeah,” he said, setting his plate on the railing. “Let’s try it now. Make a fire on my plate. It’s stoneware.”
“I can’t. I’m wearing my patch. Aren’t you?”
He reached inside his sleeve and pulled out his tungsten patch. “Where do you have yours?”
I set my plate down next to his and lifted my shirt a little to reveal the patch next to my bellybutton. The location had worked well yesterday for scratching unseen at the dinner table.
His hand was strangely warm as he lifted the side of the patch and tore it off. I guess it was the feel of skin on skin? We gravitated toward each other, I lifted my face and he bent down a little and like magnets, we were all of a sudden kissing.
I heard an explosion near my ear and pulled away in time to see sparks falling onto my plate and settling around the leftover noodles and bones, smoking just a bit, and making a decent little blaze.
“You didn’t have to do that to get me to make a fire,” I said.
“No, I wanted to do that, didn’t you?” he said.
“Right now you should put out the fire,” I told him.
“No, it’s your fire. You try.”
A few adults had come running to the back door at the sound of the explosion, so I felt watched. Brian waved them away, and finally Brian’s dad told them we had it under control. All the while, of course, the blaze was growing in strength and I was getting more and more stressed.
“You can put it out now,” said Brian.
Easier said than done. I stared at the flames until they looked dark, but couldn’t wrap my head around the way to take them out of existence. I’m still not sure how I get them into existence, after all! I squinted and strained, then looked at Brian for help. “How do you do it?”
“I just reverse the process of setting a fire. It’s very intuitive.”
I sighed and tried sticking my hand out the way he had at Waterfire, but the only thing that happened was my arm got cold away from my body.
“I give up!”
“See, this is why we need practice rooms at the PMA. How will any of us ever get familiar with how we operate, how can we focus our intentions, when all they ever do is throw flame retardant at us?” He held his hand out and sucked my fire into his finger with no apparent effort, like he’d been doing it all his life.
He blew on the end of his finger like it was a pistol or something and came in for a hug.
“Back to the piano for a while?” he asked me.

I nodded, and when he went to open the back door, I scooped up the patch he’d ripped off me and pressed it under my shirt again. It had some dirt and twigs, but it was a lot better than setting fire to his family home.

Waterfire, the middle story of Awash in Talent, will be published in 2015!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Magical is Here in Softcover and Kindle!

Even earlier than anticipated, Magical: An Anthology of Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Other Magical Fiction for Adults is ready to be read and enjoyed. Bring some magic to your holidays or to the reader in your life. 

This is a collection of 31 stories from writers around the globe. Whether retelling classics like "Little Red Riding Hood" or inventing new tales of goblins, dragons, witches, or singing frogs, these stories will take adults back to the innocent enjoyment of a well-told tale. 

And the cover is gorgeous, too!

I tell about the inspiration for my contribution here. I'd like to thank the hotel for the creativity it permitted me. I'd also like to send my gratitude to the Eckleburg Workshop in Magical Realism.

At this early date, Magical is available here and here (with other venues sure to come soon). The best thing about buying your own copy (aside from getting 31 mind-bending tales of the highest quality) is that 10% of the proceeds from this link go toward Tim's Team, cystic fibrosis research and awareness! You can check off your holiday charitable donation while indulging your brain (no calories!). 

UPDATE: The Kindle edition is now available here! Cheaper and more portable!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Coming Soon: Magic!

Image by Keller at Deviant Art 
Just in time for Christmas, I'm pleased to say that a story of mine will appear in Magical: An Anthology of Fantasy, Fairy Tales, and Other Magical Fiction for Adults. It's shaping up to be quite an impressive anthology. Anyone who's into magical realism is sure to find something to love! Three of the stories are featured as prize winners! I can hardly wait to read them.

My contribution, titled "The Residents of the Inn," is a playful take on the Arachne myth. It was inspired by the eight months my husband and I lived in a hotel in North Carolina last year and a little spider who persisted in making a web in the corner behind the door. We never saw any insects fall into it because every day, it got cleaned away. By the end of the day, it would be back again. I admired the sticktoitiveness.

Because we lived in the hotel for so long, we got to know some of the staff, and a certain one of them inspired the main character in the story. My husband and I make fictionalized appearances, too. Be sure to check us out when the anthology is available.

I'll debut the cover and provide links as soon as I can. Thanks for sharing my excitement!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

I may well be the last person to read Vampires in the Lemon Grove. (I hope not! I hope many more readers discover its delights!) But I just heard the news of the title story from Karen Russell's first collection being developed for ABC. That is a beautiful event that deserves celebration: a wonderfully strange piece of literature of the type I most admire and aspire to, translated to other, more popular media! So I'm going to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about her second story collection, which happens to have a title appropriate for the week before Halloween.

It's hard for me remember that Karen Russell is a bestselling author. Of course I'm glad she is and don't begrudge her any other honors—just the opposite. It's just that when I read her stories, I always think she's speaking directly to me and no one else could possibly enjoy this writing as much as I do. That illusion of intimacy when apparently the books appeal to tons of other readers is the sign of literature that will last.

There are some pretty creepy stories in Vampires, if you like that kind of thing. Each story is memorable for its startling way of presenting weird images as familiar. Take, for example, a mangy seagull. Anyone who's spent time living near the sea knows them to be pretty annoying. But as annoying as the seagulls in Karen Russell's world? I had no idea. And most readers know that if a character bullies someone, he'll be haunted—but never before quite like this.

I don't lean toward the darkness in general. While there's plenty of darkness here, in contrast to the first collection, in Vampires it serves to cause real change in most of the characters and, in some cases, to contrast with the light at the end of their journey.

For me, the most amazing journey takes place in "The New Veterans." A massage therapist with her own issues comes into her power as a healer when working on a man with PTSD. In her dealings with him, the implicit question is whether it is more important to uphold "the truth" or to heal. I know what I think, and apparently Karen Russell agrees.

If you've missed Vampires in the Lemon Grove so far, don't hesitate to pick it up now. There's something here for every reader.

Monday, October 13, 2014

New Pictures of the Rarest Rhino

Five species of rhinoceros survive today. The smallest in number is the Javan rhino.

It is often said that the Sumatran is the most endangered species of rhino, even though at least three times as many of them live in the wild. Javans may be considered less under attack partially because of their elusiveness: in order to poach a rhinoceros, you have to be able to find it. No Javan rhino has survived more than a year in captivity since a male at the London Zoo, which passed away in 1885. Many recent expeditions have spent weeks on the trail only to come back without a single camera-trap photo. About 35 of these rhinos are estimated to live today in the jungles of the Ujung Kulon Peninsula. This is a geographical area of 1206 km2 on the western tip of Java, in stark contrast to their former range all over Southeast Asia.

Here’s where the story gets crazy: Ujung Kulon is in the path of destruction if/when the Krakatau volcano erupts again. This is the reason the area has been mostly abandoned by humans, allowing extraordinary flora and fauna to flourish in their absence. It also creates the terrible possibility that entire species—including the Javan rhino—will be utterly wiped out. My flash fiction “The Last Ultrasound” originally included a breakneck plot in which Krakatau erupts, but I abandoned it as too unwieldy for such a short story. Plantations of invasive palm trees that the rhinos can’t use further jeopardize their modest habitat.

To say that it’s unlikely I will ever see a Javan rhino in person is an understatement. Until recently, grainy low-res camera-trap photos were the only glimpse anyone ever got of these mysterious beings. The wonders of crowdfunding recently permitted professional photographer Steve Belcher to spend unprecedented patience floating along the rivers of Ujung Kulon in search of these rhinos—and he’s returned with some gorgeous treasures.

Also known as the lesser one-horned rhino, Javans have the same basic shape and coloring as Indian rhinos, but tend to be much smaller. Their skin lacks the bumpy quality of the Indian rhino and their features look softer, perhaps more juvenile. Unique among the species, it appears that females never grow the trademark rhino horn. Javans are also the best swimmers of all the rhinos. Rather than just standing in shallow water, they appear to be able to stay afloat and travel with purpose through the waterways of Ujung Kulon.

These pictures allow us to appreciate the finer details and perhaps some of the life force behind Javan rhinos even though we will never be in their presence. Let’s hope human beings and the massive volcano can leave these lovely creatures to flourish for much time to come.