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Friday, June 29, 2012

Last Day for Free EBook

It's the last day to pick up your free copy of The Abencerraje for any Kindle platform you desire: ereader, PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, and any other technology imagined and unimaginable. Get it here while you still can! Remember, this book is endorsed by two extremely good judges, Stan Coombs and Seymour Hamilton. Add your opinion to theirs when you've read it.

Amazon Prime members can (pretty please!) still borrow it for free and make me the happiest publisher on the planet until August 22. Thank you!

As you know, this free book is in celebration of an astounding two decades having passed since I first went to Spain. It was 1992, The Year of Spain: the 500th anniversary of Columbus's voyage, the Olympics in Barcelona, and the World Expo in Sevilla. Sixteen years had already passed since the death of Franco. It was a great time to be in Spain. I wandered the streets of Granada, dipped my toes in the Mediterranean, and felt the awe of the Alhambra palace, which is on the front cover of The Abencerraje. I took the cover picture myself when I was visiting with my dear mother in 2005. So yes, it's a real place. I didn't make up all that beauty. This is non-fiction, folks. Whether or not you think the events in The Abencerraje could really have happened, I know in my heart that the beauty of the place makes them completely possible.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Free EBook, Endorsed by One of the Great Writers of Our Time

The Abencerraje is still free on Kindle -- but not for long -- in commemoration of my having set foot in Spain 20 years ago. Sometime before 5 pm on the first day and all the way to after 3 pm on the second day, it ranked in the top 20 downloads on Amazon in Literary Fiction! I'm awed that my name appeared on the same page as some of the most venerable titles today: The Language of Flowers, The Paris Wife, Water for Elephants, Bring Up The Bodies, The Help, and War Brides. This is definitely my nearest brush with fame so far.

In addition, The Abencerraje is now endorsed by not only Independent Judge of Niceness Stan Coombs, but also a writer I truly admire, Seymour Hamilton. Get it for free, or Amazon Prime members, please borrow it for free (thank you!) here.

What Seymour Hamilton has to say makes me incredibly happy! Please see the whole review.
Excerpts: "I was transported into a heroic medieval past that may or may not have existed, but surely should have. It is a tale that recalls the stories in the Arthurian cycle in which bold and true knights defending their honour and lady-loves. I know no Spanish beyond the ability to ask for more beer, but it seems to me that Jessica Knauss has captured the flavour of the language and the time in her translation, without resorting to pseudo-medievalisms -- such as "quoth" , "doth" and "forsooth" -- that mar so many historical novels. She gives us the story, "straight up" in the voice of the anonymous Spanish narrator, with no modern asides or explanations save for a few useful footnotes that do not impede the flow.... Abencerraje is a good story that deserves the fresh translation Knauss offers."

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Twenty Years Ago This Week...

As I was going through some old files after the move, my husband helped me realize that this week marks the twentieth anniversary since I first set foot in Spain, making real and beginning the maturation process for a love that I do not remember ever being without. My first entrée into that land I adore was on an AFS summer program in Granada, where I lived with a sweet host family who was sending their daughter to Montana in the fall. There, I first tasted tortilla de patata and arroz cubano, went to Catholic mass, admired the works of Fernando and Isabel, absorbed the quiet grandeur of the Alhambra, and fell head over heels for ruffles and polka dots.

In honor of this astounding milestone, this week my English translation of The Abencerraje is free - gratis - no charge - in Amazon Kindle format, today, June 26 through Friday, June 29. Get it here! It's all about peace, love and Granada!

Amazon Prime members, please borrow this endearing Kindle book. It's free to you and helps support all my publishing ventures in intricate ways no one will ever fully comprehend. Thank you. Seriously, I appreciate it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Interview with Mark Tierno, author of epic fantasy Maldene

Mark Tierno is a man with a story to tell. Just how much of a story sets him apart. 

MT: Maldene spans 13 novels, 5.2 million words, some 250 characters, about a hundred main plot lines, and stretches across several thousand years of time.  It is a story that redefines the concept of "epic."

JK: It may not be easy, but can you condense the story for my readers?

MT: Maldene is the name of the world where it all takes place, and starting around the second novel elements of Science Fiction start to work their way in as well, leading to a unique mixed genre blend, which is what I prefer to write in. It is a story for anyone who likes magic, wizards, epic plots, drama, and the fantastic. It is the passion of my soul.

Maldene is a world of fantasy and science, a world of fantastic creatures, characters that range from the crazy to the wise, and home to many astounding secrets. It is also home to the most villainous evil known: Miro (pronounced MY-RO). It is said that even the gods fear Miro, though they aren't saying why, and stories of this evil wizard go back many thousands of years. As powerful as Miro is, it is his cunning and patient planning that are to be far more greatly feared.

The Maldene series spans several continents of this giant Earth-swallowing world, crosses to other dimensions, and later on in the series other worlds and even far distant periods in its history. But it all begins in the first book (currently published as Volume I and Volume II), in which we follow Sabu, Eldar, Sindar and their companions on a search for secrets, destiny, and discovery of what really goes on in the world. Three different continents, journey to a second world, the Sea of A Thousand Islands, Tedelnosho (The Great Whirlpool), the mysterious King who is the only one willing to stand up to Miro's forces, over a dozen main characters, several alien races (from the sea-going Thirdocians to the avian-evolved Kÿecians), and this is just the first book, as but the first chapter in a story that spans several books.

Preview of the new cover of Volume One
This first book in my Maldene series is currently undergoing a renewal: new cover and soon a new release. More information about Maldene, the world, its characters, and updates on the forthcoming new release, as well as live phone interviews with other authors and a few things to download, can be found at my blog.

JK: Tell us a little about where you grew up and what you do/have done besides writing.

MT:  I grew up, and still live in, Monrovia California.  Never really had a chance to move out and get a life of my own, since my Dad got Parkinson's Disease when I was in High School so I ended up being the one to help out my mom for a couple decades, then after he passed away it was my Mom's turn, and...  well, you get the idea.

I have degrees in Physics and Math, which does figure into my writing from time to time.  

JK: When and why did you get started writing? What characteristics from your first efforts survive today?

MT: Thinking back, I wonder if I was just born to it.  I always hated the physical effort of handwriting, so a good wordprocessor was essential to get me started, but I always had a phenomenal imagination-- the kind most people lose with childhood-- but I kept mine around.

As far as what survives today, there are some ideas I came up with back as far as 12 years old that I since fleshed out and pulled together into what are now different components of the Maldene mythology. 

I'd had a few story ideas in the back of my head since about seventh grade but never put them to paper until two things happened. First, I'd finally gotten a computer with word processor: me little Amiga 500.  I knew that an old typewriter and liquid paper just wouldn't do for the extensive story I had in mind, so a computer was just the thing. Then the Eaton Canyon fire of 1994 burned down my grandpa's old house (he'd been long dead), giving the house some money and me a bit more free time.  So, while simultaneously helping out with my Dad, I started writing. This also brought some much needed joy back into the household.

JK:  What made you decide to publish? What was the journey to publication like for you?

MT: With a story like that, the desire for publication is inevitable.

My road to publication was, to say the least, torturous.  Agents do not like taking in new authors, and as it turns out SF and Fantasy is considered a specialty that most do not want to take in either. So put "new guy" and "Fantasy" in the same sentence and it's like death on wheels. I contacted about 150 agents and the only nibbles I got were one guy who didn't know what he was doing and hadn't gotten anything published for about five years at the time, another author-turned-agent who was more concerned with his own career and suspicious contracts, and a last that, while they did steer me to getting a professional critique, then just put me into a database unless I would pay them for their "active agent" program. Never pay an agent anything other than a percentage.

When I finally got a publisher, I soon discovered that was the equivalent of the light at the end of the tunnel suddenly disappearing.  They did nothing to promote and tried to get me to pay all sorts of fees for the least little thing (like taking my book to a book fair to show off with the others).  As such, I am currently formulating other plans, starting with a brand new (and very spectacular) book cover even now being finished up.

JK: How does real life affect your fiction?

MT: I write in fictional worlds, but they must seem to the reader as real as the one we live in.  As such, I will have a lot of background details, and even more about the world recorded in my notebook, details that don't always make it specifically into the novel but whose presence affects the way I will write certain things. It may be a world of wizards, but it must contain enough detail and self-consistency to make the reader believe in its reality.

But not just the world itself, but of course the characters. They must be drawn with enough detail, from how they act to how they speak, to be real enough to leap off the page. In fact, I keep a database with all the details of my characters, from eye color to personality quirks; more info than I might use, but all ready at hand.

To give you an idea of the amount of detail and background stuff I use, each Maldene novel has some appendices: an alphabet, dictionary, and a changing array of others depending on which novel it is,  from the local zodiac to Maldene tarot cards.

JK: What is your favorite book? What other things influence your work?

MT: You want me to pick just ONE favorite book?  Impossible.  

JK: That's the right answer, of course.

MT: I was one of those kids that when the school had its monthly Tab or Lucky book order, while everyone else ordered maybe one or two, I always came out with an armload.  everything from Isaac Asimov to A. E. van Vogt (author of Slan).  everything I have read, seen, and heard influences my works, including the music I play while I write.

JK: Do you use language to differentiate your fantastic characters?

MT: Everyone has its own way of speaking. Some speak more formally than others, some with different verbal affectations. I have an ogre than has yet to string more than 4 words together at a time, another than never uses contractions, and in a different story of mine I had one guy with a lisp where I replaced every "S" with an "SH." The spell checker on my word processor was going nuts with that last one!

JK: What inspires you?

MT: My inspiration? My imagination never quits. The Maldene project was pieced together in my head over 15 years time before I started actually writing. Another series of stories got its start when I was talking to a friend. He was trying to start up a fanzine with a shared universe for the stories, and from a comment he made about the Middle East getting nuked into a parking lot I got a strange idea that became my first Inspector Flaatphut story, Project Looking Glass (currently viewable on

If you locked me away in a hole in the ground, cut off from everyone and everything in the world, then maybe I might stop finding inspirations, but I doubt it.

JK: What is your work area like? Do you have any methods that might seem unusual or inspiring to
other writers?

MT: My work area is me and my desk, and a stereo.  I put on a stack of movie sound track CDs and that gets me started; things like the soundtracks from Star Wars, Chronicles of Riddick, Sleepy Hollow, Lord of the Rings, and a whole lot more.

A new chapter is about a three-day process. Day one I start at about 7:30 in the morning and go until around 5 pm or so. I do around 12,000 to 13,000 words during this time, then break for a trip to the health club, and edit what I wrote later that night. Day two I finish up the rest of that chapter, which usually around 3000 to 5000 words; done by lunch, then of course edit what I wrote that night. Day three is my "chapter edit" day: I go over the entire chapter to make sure things flow together, any more typos, then run the spell checker. This usually takes about two hours. Then I outline the next chapter so I'll be ready the next morning to start the whole process all over again. At the end of a section (my books typically have three sections each) I skim through the entire section to make ceertain things flow from one chapter to the next and that I haven't missed anything, then at the end of a book I give the entire thing a last once-over.

As far as other tools, I run two databases while I write.  One for characters, and in the case of Maldene, one with the local dictionary so I can look up some native word that might be appropriate for a scene (like local cuss words, for example).

JK: What kind of feedback do you get? Do you have a definable fan base? Are your family and friends supportive?

MT: My favorite tag line for the book-- and the one which I have now started using-- came from my yoga teacher after she read the first book and posted a reader review...  "A world beyond time... adventure beyond imagination."

Feedback has been generally very good. From one person comparing my first Maldene book with the first Harry Potter book and saying that it makes the Potter book seem boring in comparison (note:  I myself have great respect for Rowling and her creations), to comparisons with Lord of the Rings, to my favorite reader review from a retired copy editor turned author. He pointed out my typos (since corrected) but went on to say how much he loved it and how amazing he found the whole thing.

I'm working on that "definable fan base" thing.

My parents were very supportive. My Dad kept wanting to show my stuff off to relatives (as it turned out, he'd wanted to become a writer himself in his younger days, but he never told me this), and my mom would keep sneaking in to take a peek from three to four feet over my shoulder.  I miss them both.

JK: Where can we get your books?

MT: The site has more info on the book, a sample chapter, an audio of me reading out the sample chapter, and updated links on where my book might be found (just hit Amazon or Barnes & Noble).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

SSS: Arriving to Play in the Fountain

Imagine this big enough for seven guys to splash in.

I only meant to be away for a month, and now that I'm finally back I find the official Six Sentence Sunday has announced that it will soon come to an end. I've not only got all my stuff but moved across the country, so changes are everywhere.

This segment picks up a bit after the last one. The travelers have come to Barbadillo and Lambra is meeting the head of the estate, Ermenegildo Antolínez:

* * *

He kissed her hand deferentially. “You have my fealty, doña Lambra.”
“Thank you, don Ermenegildo. We’ve come all the way from Burgos. Would you be so kind as to show us where we will be eating and sleeping?”
Before she had finished her last sentence, the seven brothers had abandoned all solemnity and darted to the fountain, where, like dogs, they washed the dust from their faces and drank out of their cupped hands, then splashed each other and made such a noise that the hunting hounds emerged from the hills, barking and howling.
“You would never know that the oldest of them is a score and five years old,” Ermenegildo Antolínez said, waving the rest of the travelers toward the farmhouse. 

* * *

Not to spoil anything, but this is the calm before the storm.

Thanks so much for stopping by! I return all comments as I'm able. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Search for Artemis by P. D. Griffith

Imagine a world in which kids who can move objects telekinetically get into an epic snowball fight! In this book, it's our own world. Certain children have been found to possess a gene enabling them both to control objects with their minds and to hear others' outward-projected thoughts. Landon Wicker has no idea that these kids exist, much less that he is one of them, until a terrible incident that kills both of his parents and sends him on the run from the law. Eventually, he's found by a recruiter for a special school that develops the abilities of just these types of kids.

The story is very imaginative and kept me reading. Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, some twist would surprise me. Some parts of the time Landon spends in school recall Harry Potter, complete with a Ron and a Hermione, but shortly after the already mentioned awesome and perfect for sports-inclined readers snowball fight, the plot takes a completely new turn that has nothing to do with Hogwarts.

This is not a fast read. The author has a gift for detail that s/he may employ just a bit too much at times, but since this book is partially a mystery, I wondered which details were important and which red herrings, which is a fun way to read. This is merely the first book in what appears to be a trilogy, with the plot thickening steadily toward the end.

Highly recommended for readers who love a detailed story and a mystery they can sink their teeth into.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Divorce of Henry VIII (Review)

I've always found the termination of Henry VIII's first marriage to be much more fascinating than all the beheadings to follow. The marriage was to Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Queen Isabel who sent Columbus on his voyage in 1492, all figures dear to my own heart. Catherine never acquiesced to the divorce. To make matters even more exciting, in order to complete the divorce, Henry would have to establish an entire new church and proclaim himself its head. This divorce changed the Western world forever.

Catherine Fletcher's The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold History from Inside the Vatican finally focuses on the behind-the-scenes characters who did all the political schmoozing, financing, backstabbing, and running for their lives that made the final outcome possible. Fletcher is our eye on English concerns at the Vatican, which at the time was run in a manner indistinguishable from the other power states that surround it. The insults and bribery may or may not surprise readers, but they make for a great story.

Like most books of original historical research, this is dense with names, places and dates, but if the reader looks carefully, she will find all her favorite Tudor characters and many colorful Italian ones besides. It is written in a readable style with the kinds of conjectures about character motivation and the feel of place that will keep steadfast fiction readers involved to the very end.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Interview with Baer Charlton, Author of The Very Littlest Dragon

On Monday, I reviewed the unique book The Very Littlest Dragon. Today, not coincidentally, its author, Baer Charlton, is here to chat.

JK: Where did you grow up?

BC: I was born and raised in the mountains/forests of California. My father was a forest ranger.

JK: That makes us practically twins. My father worked for the paper mill instead of in the forest. What you have done besides writing?

BC: Although in the early years, helping my mother with setting type and printing, one would have thought I would become a printer, the woodworking won out and I became at a very early age, a picture framer. I have done it off and one for over forty years and have become an internationally recognized award winning framer, teacher, consultant and photo journalist for the international picture framing industry.

Over the years, the demands of the job, economy or just boredom, drove me to try many other jobs, and to travel. Having a camera in my hands by age 8, started an interest that would be best described as “ancillary” to my journalistic writing.

Having a strong background of dealing with people, combined with my degree in Social Anthropology, it is no wonder that I would turn to telling stories. For decades, I have helped people tell their stories through picture framing, as well as telling stories about how to do things, places of interest, history or even straight out telling fiction that resonates with people in their own lives.

Having done many different jobs that ran a gambit from picture framing people’s lives, to driving trucks, tending bar in blue collar towns in Colorado and Louisiana to hard helmet welding, 80-120’ deep, 200 miles off-shore from New Orleans; you get to meet a lot of different people. When that work is performed in the “less than pretty” side of life, the people become a lot more “interesting” and diverse. I guess that is really why I wrote The Very Littlest Dragon: it is the book for all of us that will never appear in People magazine, or be interviewed on Good Morning America. But the truth is, we are all different, and it is that difference that makes us all the same.

JK: The book looks like it’s for children or young adults, but you say it isn’t. How would describe your target audience?

BC: I think Laura Reynolds, the Illustrator said it best; it’s for ages 8 to death. I’ve have gotten great feedback from kids, youth parents and even a few great grandparents. Everyone likes the book, but they all are reading a different story.

The little kids, really get it about the dragon who is different, and is even getting picked on or bullied. But they really light-up about the adventures, the 28 illustrations in the book, and many more images on the web site are also a fun source for them. And parents should know, that Laura and I started this project with three rules: First, no scary animals. (We have Congress for that.) Second, no magic -- things need to be worked out. Kids need to know that if you get yourself in a bind, you can’t just whip out a stick and say “disperso” and solve the problem; life doesn’t work that way. Third and most important, is that the book has to be fun for anyone to read -- even a parent who is reading it for the fifth time.

The young adults like the story because they have been around the block a few times already, and have had a few years of feeling different and maybe even picked on because of that difference. They are reading the story, looking for a “pay-off”. They want to know that there is at least hope that there might be a light at the end of that tunnel of feeling different, being bullied and just growing up. (I can’t guarantee it, but things to look a bit better.)

Adults of all ages enjoy the many levels of the story, and the interesting different characters that came to the party. They also read it from the long view of having suffered all of the angst, and now they can look back on it and enjoy the journey.

JK: How does your real life affect your fiction?

BC: I have met and worked alongside many interesting and different people. Some of the places I have traveled to or through lent themselves to the descriptions of locations. You can look at a photo or even hundreds of photos of high mountains, but until you have climbed above the true tree-line and breathed in air so cold that hurt from your nose to the bottom of your lungs, brushed away ice at the corner of your eyes where your tears froze from your blinking, you can’t describe it.

It is easy making up a blue or red dragon, because whatever you say about them is what they are. But when you go to make them work/fly, that was Laura’s wheel-house. She is the animal expert. And yes, even how a dragon must be, to fly, walk or even breathe. So I had to clear some of the characters through her; like Boomer, Tink’s brother. I needed him to fly extremely fast because I didn’t want him just magically popping around the world. So for him to fly at Mach 3, I had to figure out a few physical things to clear it past the flight master. Luckily, I’m a creative guy, and we have Boomer as a High Speed Messenger.

But when you start to give your characters, dragon, dog or even human, their personalities, it helps to draw from real people. Yes, I know there is that disclaimer “I made them up,” but we don’t just pull personalities out of thin air, we draw them or parts of them, from people that we have met or known.

The more diverse your life experience, the more diverse your locations and characters become.

JK: What has been the book that most influenced your writing? What other things influence your work? 

BC: In the third or fourth grade, I read The Hunchback of Notre Dame. At the time, I was the largest kid in the class, and the shyest. My stuttering was becoming a problem and so the combination made me identify strongly with Quasimodo. I also ran through the rest of the books on my parents’ bookshelf, Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. These were all the foundations for my understanding the nature of the person inside the monster or just someone we don’t know.

As I got older, the summer I was reading The Hobbit and grinding my way through the adventure of the Rings, the movie Lawrence of Arabia came out. For adventure, I think I draw a fine path weaving through those two stories.

In my next book, “Death On A Dime,” a murder mystery set in San Jose, CA, I still draw character treatments from those stories and people I have known.

JK: What is your inspiration, and what specifically was your inspiration for The Very Littlest Dragon?

BC: When I was growing up as the stuttering fat kid in the class, there was a great book called The Ugly Duckling. It gave me, and millions of other kids hope that one day, we too, would become our swan. By the time we grow up, and understand that we won’t become a swan, nor were we an ugly duckling, it doesn’t matter. But we had that hope, that story to hold on to.

Today, that story and hope is taken away. The politically correct police would only approve it to be in schools and libraries if it was “The Aesthetically Challenged Adolescent Water Fowl.” Seriously.

I could tell you about the little girl two doors away, who will never stand taller than her sitting in her electric wheel chair, but there are thousands of other Shine Children like her. I could tell you what it feels like to be the only white boy to ever stand in a black church in Mississippi, and sing loud next to a woman and her family that I will never forget, but then there are people who do that every day, and live their whole lives as the only person “of color” where they are, work, shop or live. I can tell you about meeting people in such different cultures and countries, but then I would have to also tell you that the only time I was truly struck by culture shock, was upon returning home to Los Angeles.

My inspiration is my life, and the amazing people I have experienced, and that unless I introduce those characters to people, then those people may never open their eyes and see the diversity in front of them, and the amazing world that opens up to them.

JK: How much time a day do you devote to fiction writing?

BC: It doesn’t matter whether it is fiction or non-fiction, stories or articles, my average day is about 4-6 hours of writing a day. That can look like a lot of emails, and a 500 word side bar that then needs polish, or could be as high as 20,000 words that spewed from my gut and fingers… it’s all writing.

JK: What is your work area like? Do you have any methods that might seem unusual or inspiring to other writers? 

BC: Some or most of the better writing, such as the bulk of The Very Littlest Dragon, and almost all of Death on a Dime were written between the hours of midnight and seven am. To some, and sometimes me, insomnia can be a harsh disorder. When it’s at its best, it gets together with its harsh sister, Muse, and they work me over until I quietly get up, walk down two flights of stairs into my dungeon of an office, wake up the computer and let the gut and fingers do what they obviously want to do. I have even woken up in the basement, with my fingers typing, and I’m staring at stuff that I can’t make heads or tails of… Until I get some coffee and start the writing forensics. Like, what story was I working on? And that could be anywhere from a few to a dozen. Right now I have three books I pick at, as well as four to eight articles.

One thing that I do find that works for me, is that I print out large sections of my manuscripts, double spaced, single-sided; throw them into a three-ring binder and head for a restaurant. (Luckily or unluckily, I have to travel a lot with my day job as a territory manufacturer’s representative.) As I eat, I edit and re-write my manuscripts. Sometimes this can turn into a very fortunate event.

About a year ago, I was working on Death on a Dime in a small coffee shop that is very local color. A man asked if I had a screen play. “No,” I said, “it’s a murder mystery that takes place in San Jose.” He sits up real big and says, “I’m from San Jose”. Turned out, he was the owner of a small deli that has been around for 100 years that I want to use for their great Sicilian sausage. “Of course you can use us. And when you bring out the book, we host your first signing at Chiaramonte’s.”

It really doesn’t get much better than that. And I look forward to that sausage and angel hair pasta.

JK: I never heard a better reason to write in public. When and why did you get started writing?

BC: When I was young, there were many long nights helping my mother print. We had a small press, and a larger one. So while she printed not cards on the larger, I did thousands of business cards on the smaller. As we went through the mindless routine, we talked. The talk usually got around to one of the stories we were “working on”. These stories were outlined on yellow 3x5 cards wrapped in two printers rubber-bands; a red and a blue. That was as far as my mother was comfortable putting actual words to paper.

My mother was a perfect speller (something I didn’t inherit). She also could type well over 100 word per minute (something else I didn’t inherit).

So there we were, two very similar peas in a back room, working over two presses, and talking about writing stories.

Many years later, after she had passed away, my father handed me a packet of 3x5 cards, bound in a red and a blue printers rubbers. He said that he thought my mother had wanted me to have them. He was right, and I took the little bundle, and carefully pitched it to the back of my desk drawer.

A few years later, when I had gotten my first computer, and a single floppy program called Word, I sat cleaning out my desk. There in the back of the drawer was that bundle. Slowly, I stripped the bandage off the wound of my heart that 30 years later, still misses her.

As I split the bundle in half, to the two cards that were facing each other, like hundreds of times before, a small piece of yellow paper fell from between the halves. If Sticky notes had been around, she might have used one. But, there, lying on the floor, was a tiny piece of yellow paper … with one word written on it.

It was my entire true inheritance from her. It was her reaching back, and guiding me forward. It was also the one thing that had scared her, her whole life. I reached down and picked it up. There in her thin beautiful cursive script was the single most powerful word between the two of us.


Two weeks later, I had sold my first article to Rider Magazine.

JK: What kind of feedback do you get? Do you have a definable fan base?

BC: The feedback I have gotten has been all over the board, but mostly that they enjoyed the book. Which was one of the goals we had set out at the start: a fun read. I understand what you are asking here, but it’s not so easy. The Very Littlest Dragon is getting read by 8 year olds, and 80 year olds, and they don’t read the same story as the other, so only time and a lot more feedback will tell.

JK: Are your family and friends supportive?

BC: My first line of editing is my wife. So, yes, she is very supportive of my writing. But there is a line as to how much reading she is willing to do, and also what she is willing to read about. So, dragons and articles about picture framing and travel she’s good with. But with Death on a Dime, that got shipped out to my main editor Mar Griswold. She’s also a picture framer, so a little bit of blood doesn’t bother her at all.

I suppose I might have a good friend or two that doesn’t read my work, but for the most part, they are all up for looking at the raw works, I guess I may have something to do with my being open to changes, suggestions and any other cockamamie things they want to tell me. And if they rub me too much the wrong way, they know I might eventually stick them in a novel just to kill them off.

Then there is the good friends that are great characters. I think it’s called “writer’s choice.”

JK: Thank you so much for sharing your book and experience with us today.

For more on the world of The Very Littlest Dragon, visit its website. It is available for purchase from Tiny Lightbulbs and Amazon as well as select custom picture framers and bookstores. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Very Littlest Dragon

The Very Littlest Dragon tells the story of a multitude of dragons, especially the one who thinks he's the smallest, Tink. Tink's size and apparent lack of special skills in the frame shop where he works with many talented dragons and a talking bear make him feel less than special. But that is before he attends the dragon wedding of the century. From there, the reader is catapulted into a labyrinth of dragon history and folklore that result in Tink becoming the most special dragon of all. 

The enchanting pictures by Laura Reynolds make the book worth just about any cover price. The writing is rich in detail, making the fantastic world of dragons perfectly plausible at the level of physics and answering all the questions you ever had about picture framing techniques. I enjoyed the interplay of dragon culture with the few humans we meet and the vast distances the dragons can travel because some of them (including Tink's brother, who acts as a willing chauffer) are capable of supersonic flight. The story is told obliquely through conversations over coffee, fish balls, and biscuits when not in frenzied action, and so the plot is not heavy-handed like it can be in some children's lit.

The editor in me won't let me end the review without noting that there are numerous textual errors in the paperback edition, ranging from misplaced commas to type-o's and misused words. Anyone who is not an editor will be able to pass these right by, as they never impede the intended meaning.

Overall, this book is for anyone from the ages of eight to one million who's looking for an imaginative, whimsical ride around the world and a sweet, positive message.

Tune in on Wednesday for a fun interview with author Baer Charlton.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review of Selkie Dreams by Kristin Gleeson

In the late 1800's, Maire believes she is the child of her Irish father and a selkie who had to abandon her for her own seal folk in the sea. The stars align and allow Maire to follow her heart to the wilds of Alaska, ostensibly to teach English language and Christian values to the native Tlingit tribes there. The grand scale of the landscape astonishes her, but she feels more at home there than anywhere else. This is partly a story of the spirit's liberation, but elements of the plot are based on the selkie myths, so in hindsight, I might want to go back and warn Maire about the consequences of returning to where she belongs. The ending in particular is surprising and mystical.

Selkie Dreams combines the charm of Irish folktales with the grandeur and pride of Tlingit myth, which is no small feat. The author writes with both sensitivity and authority about two places with which she is intimately familiar. I enjoyed the wide array of characters who were complex mixtures of their upbringing and their innermost desires. I would have liked to know a bit more about William, but since he is a mystery to Maire, it's appropriate that he's mainly a mystery to the reader.

The novel overall is realistic and historically accurate, with interesting parallels between the social place of the Irish in Britain and the circumscribed role of the Tlingit and other Native Americans in Western Civilization. But through it all runs an undercurrent of lore. I highly recommend this book for readers who appreciate history with a twist.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Selkie Myth: Guest Post by Kristin Gleeson

The Selkie. The name conjures up romantic images, even if you’re not quite sure what they are--seals that come ashore and take on human form at midsummer’s eve.  You can almost believe it when you look at their baleful eyes with their long lashes that look so human.  And their mournful cries that convey such sadness.  Is it a myth?  Some people, especially in times past would have said, ‘not so.’ 

The myths of the selkie are usually found among people who inhabit the coastal waters of Scotland, Ireland and even far flung areas where the Saami (Laplanders) and the Inuit live.  One of the theories used to explain their existence is that selkies are the souls of dead fishermen and other people lost at sea. Another theory is that they are fallen angels, doomed to live out their days as animals until judgement comes; or that they are humans forced to take animal form for some grave misconduct. 

The various myths that feature selkies show them as either men or women who come ashore either Midsummer’s Eve, “every ninth night,” or “every seventh stream.”  I use both types of selkies in my novel, Selkie Dreams.  A myth of a woman selkie tells of a fisherman who spies a selkie woman on the shore and compels her to go with him after he steals and hides her seal skin.  She bears him a child, but eventually she finds her seal skin and she returns to the sea, leaving her child behind with the promise she will come when the child calls. 

Yer mam left but she had no choice, so,” Cook would tell me as she watched Polly, the kitchen maid, chop the vegetables, or Annie the house maid collect the tea tray.  “She went back to the sea, back to her seal folk.  They live ashore for a brief spell, following human ways, until after a while the pull from the sea comes over them, strong and forceful like.  It’s their true folk, the selkies, who call them home, so it is.” 
Excerpt from Selkie Dreams.

A male selkie myth is also a running theme in my novel and comes from the song The Silkie of Sule Skerrie, the song that frames the novel.  It tells the story of a selkie man who comes ashore and seeks out a lonely woman.  After spending only one night together the man departs and the woman spends her days searching the shoreline awaiting his return.  Eventually, after she gives birth to a son, the man appears and gives her a gold chain for the son.  Years later, when the son is seven years old, the selkie comes again to claim him.  Though she mourns her son and lover, she marries a hunter who, not long after their marriage, shoots two seals, one with a gold chain around its neck.  

With all the many versions of the myth, each contains the unmistakeable theme of transformation and the idea of humanity’s unbreakable link with the sea.  That idea underpins the novel as well as the song. 

It wasn’t just the song and the myth that influenced the novel.  Though it starts out in Ireland, in the north, the main character, Máire travels to Alaska, another place that seals inhabit, to teach the Tlingit.   I was inspired to select that area and the Tlingit to set the novel from my work with the Tlingit when I was an administrator at an historical society.  A Tlingit elder phoned me and asked for help trying to prove that Tlingits inhabited a section of land in Alaska when the U.S. government appropriated it for their own uses in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  He also wanted information about some of the land assigned to Presbyterian missions that had fallen into disuse.  It seemed incredible since the archives contained so many reports and letters from that area stating the contrary.

Author Kristin Gleeson
While I worked to assist the Tlingit elder and his clan I learned much about the Tlingit view of the effects of settlement and missionary efforts and realized how much that view was lacking from books and official records.  I was fascinated.  Some of it was heartbreaking.  Children were often ripped from their families and sent off to boarding schools.  When the children returned to their families sometimes they couldn’t even communicate with their families because they forgot the language.  It was clear that the missionaries, though often well intentioned, were driven by the idea that they were the superior culture and race and treated the native people for the most part as barbarians in need of civilizing. I’m not saying the Tlingits were peace loving angels, but their culture at that time period I felt need to be seen in context.  What better way than through a novel?  And like my main character, Máire, the Tlingit have myths that influenced their lives and how they saw the world, it seemed a good match. Then add American mission views and racial myths and there is much to make for an exciting story. 

Kristin Gleeson

Selkie Dreams will be published June 7, 2012, by Knox Robinson Publishing $23.99 hardback and  $5.99 ebook and will also be available from Amazon, Book Depository, the publisher’s website and wherever fine books are sold.

Purchase links: hardcover

Check this blog on Thursday for a review of Selkie Dreams!