Storytellers: New Cover!

Like interior decoration and wardrobes, book covers can need updating. Bjørn Larssen has a new cover for his haunting novel Storytellers, and I’m pleased to show it to you today.

If you don’t tell your story, they will.

Iceland, 1920. Gunnar, a hermit blacksmith, dwells with his animals, darkness, and moonshine. The last thing he wants is an injured lodger, but his money may change Gunnar’s life. So might the stranger’s story – by ending it. That is, unless an unwanted marriage, God’s messengers’ sudden interest, an obnoxious elf, or his doctor’s guilt derail the narrative. Or will the demons from Gunnar’s past cut all the stories short?

Side effects of too much truth include death, but one man’s true story is another’s game of lies. With so many eager to write his final chapter, can Gunnar find his own happy ending?


My 2019 Review:

Set against Iceland’s harsh but beautiful landscape in the late 19th and  early 20th century, Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel Storytellers explores the multi-generational effect of the evasions, embellishments and outright lies told in a small village. The book begins slowly, almost lyrically, pulling the reader into what seems like situation borrowed from folktale: a reclusive blacksmith, Gunnar, rescues an injured stranger, Sigurd. In exchange for his care, Sigurd offers Gunnar a lot of money, and a story.

But as Sigurd’s story progresses, and the book moves between the past and the present, darker elements begin to appear. Gunnar’s reclusiveness hides his own secrets, and the unresolved stories of his past. As other characters are introduced and their lives interweave, it becomes clear that at the heart of this small village there are things untold, things left out of the stories, purposely re-imagined. Both individual and collective histories – and memories – cannot be trusted.

The book was reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, in both theme and mood. Both books deal with the unreliability of memory; both are largely melancholy books. And perhaps there is allegory in them both, too. Storytellers is a book to be read when there is time for contemplation, maybe of an evening with a glass of wine. It isn’t always the easiest read, but it’s not a book I’m going to forget easily, either.


Bjørn Larssen is an award-winning author of historical fiction and fantasy, dark and funny in varying proportions. His writing has been described as ‘dark,’ ‘literary,’ ‘cinematic,’ ‘hilarious,’ and ‘there were points where I was almost having to read through a small gap between my fingers.’

Bjørn has a Master of Science degree in mathematics, and has previously worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). He currently lives with his husband in Almere, which is unfortunately located in The Netherlands, rather than Iceland.

He has only met an elf once. So far.


Purchase links on Bjørn’s website.

WHAT THREE THINGS?

By Helen Hollick

Hello Marian, thank you for inviting me onto your blog. You asked me to tell you and your readers about the books I write. Where to start!

I used to write straight historical fiction: my first Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy was about King Arthur with a setting in Roman Britain in the 5th to 6th centuries. These were originally published back in the early 1990s – so I’ve been writing for a lo-o-ong while now! My intention for the trilogy was to strip away all the myth and magic of then Medieval Christian-based tales and write the books as ‘what might have happened’. Not for me the familiar ‘love triangle’, there is no Lancelot in my story, no Holy Grail, no Merlin either. I saw Arthur as an ambitious but capable war lord, Gwenhwyfar (Guinevere) as an equally capable woman. They love each other but are two people with intelligent minds – and firm ideas which often clash. I used the earlier Welsh legends, which are far more interesting and very different from the later Medieval tales.

Following these, I moved to the 11th century and the events that led to the Battle Of Hastings in 1066. I am a firm supporter of King Harold II, so this story is written from the English point of view – stripped of all the Norman propaganda. The other book is the story of Emma of Normandy – Queen Emma of Anglo-Saxon England. She was married to Æthelred the Unready and then to King Cnut. One of her sons was Edward the Confessor, so a prequel story to the people involved in the subsequent Norman Conquest of England.

I turned to crime during the months of lockdown – fictionally, that is. I branched out into writing cozy mysteries. My Jan Christopher Series are quick read novellas set in the 1970s against the background of my years of working as a library assistant – with the twist of a murder mystery included. There are two in the series published so far, I plan more!

My favourites, however, are the Sea Witch Voyages. I wrote the first, Sea Witch back in 2005/6 when I wanted to read something as good as the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie – but for adults (with some adult content, some adult scenes and language, and some violence.) I couldn’t find what I wanted to read so I wrote it myself. I have just published the sixth in the series, Gallows Wake, with a short read novella prequel, When The Mermaid Sings as a bonus read.

So, three things that I care passionately about in my writing?

1) My Characters. I fell hopelessly in love with ‘my’ Arthur, mind you, I was in that man’s mind for more than ten years (it took me that long to write what eventually became The Kingmaking and half of Pendragon’s Banner!) I am even more in love with my pirate (well, ex-pirate now,) Captain Jesamiah Acorne.  Funnily enough, I did notice, a while ago, when looking through bits of The Kingmaking, just how alike Arthur and Jesamiah are! They are both rough, tough guys. Both formidable when angry, but quick to laugh, both determined, both loyal in their own way – both would willingly die for the woman they love, even though tempers often flare between them. Honour is important for both of them – although both are also ruthless when needs must. They both have a solid, reliable friend and I wanted to portray them both as men who cared, who hurt when their hearts were broken and who drowned their sorrows …

2) I care about creating a feeling of believability. ‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’ both had a lot of historical fact to base the outline of the stories on: history tells us that this, this and this happened, and when and where it happened. The novelist has to decide (OK, make up) the whys and hows. For ‘Arthur’ there is nothing to go on – let’s face the truth, King Arthur did not exist (although he might have been an amalgamation of several notable post-Roman war lords.) So for the ‘facts’ I researched post-Roman Britain and used what little we do know as the basis for my trilogy. I also extensively used my knowledge of horses.

For ‘Jesamiah’ some of the elements in the Voyages are supernatural or fantasy – the love of Jesamiah’s life is Tiola, a White Witch, a Wise Woman of Craft. To balance the ‘made-up’ bits I was as careful as I could be to get the ‘real’ bits right, in particular the sailing scenes aboard Sea Witch. I also used quite a bit of factual history from the early 1700s – although some I did ‘bend’ a little to suit my timeline (but I mention what I changed in my author’s notes.) I have absolutely no knowledge of sailing Tall Ships, though. Fortunately there are a lot of good books to use for research and I have a wonderful friend in the author James L. Nelson who checks my sailing scenes for me – and doesn’t laugh too loudly at my bloopers!

3) I suppose my third passion is for writing the book I want to read. ‘Arthur’ I wrote because I have never liked the later Medieval tales. I could never see Arthur as the sort of king who would go off and leave his country for years (although Richard I, did). Nor could I see Gwenhwyfar as being so stupid as to have an affair with Lancelot (who, actually, I didn’t like anyway.) The familiar tales, I believe, were written as propaganda to get men to go off on Crusade, and to justify Richard I, the Lionheart’s obsessions.

‘Harold’ and ‘Emma’, were the same, I wanted to write their stories as they ought to have been written. As for Jesamiah, well, he’s entirely made up, but as I said earlier, I wanted to immerse myself in a swashbuckling, enjoyable and engrossing adult nautical adventure … I didn’t expect that first Voyage, however, to turn out to be such a successful series!

Choose an excerpt or two to illustrates one of your three topics.

1a. From The Kingmaking

With a short, exasperated sigh, Cei strode over to the drunkard. As he was about to shake the man’s shoulder, he broke into a chuckle. Ah no, the poor tavern keeper could not give this one to the street.

Roused by Cei’s persistent nudging, Arthur staggered unsteadily to his feet.

It was only a short journey to the palace but, hampered as he was by the almost dead weight of his companion, it took Cei a while to reach their assigned rooms, where, laughing, he waved Arthur’s sleepy servant aside. “Go back to your bed, I shall tend your master.” He seated Arthur on the bed and pulled off his boots. “An enjoyable evening, I assume. Trust you to spoil it by getting yourself over full of wine.”

1b. Excerpt from Sea Witch, the first Voyage

Waking several hours into the fore noon to a thundering headache, Jesamiah staggered to his feet. He tottered to the  door, peered out, squinting at the brightness of the morning sun.

Rue stepped forward offering a pewter tankard. “Drink this.”

Hesitant, Jesamiah took it wrinkled his nose at the foul looking liquid. “What is it?”

“Old French recipe. Brandy, ground garlic with ’alf a pint of ale. Deux œufs – fresh-laid is that cackle fruit – a pinch of gunpowder and melted pork lard.”

Jesamiah sniffed again at the concoction. He poked a finger into it and picked out a piece of floating egg shell. “I don’t care for raw eggs.”

“Just drink it.”

Doubtful, Jesamiah raised it to his mouth. Changing his mind, offered it back.  “Later perhaps.”

“Écoute mon gars,”  Rue said finally losing patience. “Look, my friend, you lead us like the brilliant captain you are or we leave you ’ere in this God-forgotten emptiness, with as many bottles of rum as you please.”

Jesamiah looked from Rue to the tankard. Hesitant, he raised it to his lips. “It smells foul.”

The fouler the medicine, the quicker the cure, or so ma mere used to say.”

“What was she? The village poisoner?”

Both these scenes get across to the reader that the men have good, reliable friends, and that broken hearts can be dulled by drink, but not mended. The mending, of course, comes later in the stories!

THE VOYAGES

SEA WITCH   Voyage one

PIRATE CODE  Voyage two

BRING IT CLOSE  Voyage three

RIPPLES IN THE SAND  Voyage four

ON THE ACCOUNT  Voyage five

WHEN THE MERMAID SINGS  A prequel to the series

(short-read novella)

And just published…

GALLOWS WAKE

The Sixth Voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne

By Helen Hollick

Where the Past haunts the future…

Damage to her mast means Sea Witch has to be repaired, but the nearest shipyard is at Gibraltar. Unfortunately for Captain Jesamiah Acorne, several men he does not want to meet are also there, among them, Captain Edward Vernon of the Royal Navy, who would rather see Jesamiah hang.

Then there is the spy, Richie Tearle, and manipulative Ascham Doone who has dubious plans of his own. Plans that involve Jesamiah, who, beyond unravelling the puzzle of a dead person who may not be dead, has a priority concern regarding the wellbeing of his pregnant wife, the white witch, Tiola.

Forced to sail to England without Jesamiah, Tiola must keep herself and others close to her safe, but memories of the past, and the shadow of the gallows haunt her. Dreams disturb her, like a discordant lament at a wake.

But is this the past calling, or the future?

From the first review of Gallows Wake:

“Hollick’s writing is crisp and clear, and her ear for dialogue and ability to reveal character in a few brief sentences is enviable. While several of the characters in Gallows Wake have returned from previous books, I felt no need to have read those books to understand them. The paranormal side of the story—Tiola is a white witch, with powers of precognition and more, and one of the characters is not quite human—blends with the story beautifully, handled so matter-of-factly. This is simply Jesamiah’s reality, and he accepts it, as does the reader.”

Author Marian L. Thorpe.

BUY LINKS:

Amazon Author Page (Universal link)https://viewauthor.at/HelenHollick

Where you will find the entire series waiting at anchor in your nearest Amazon harbour – do come aboard and share Jesamiah’s derring-do nautical adventures!

(available Kindle, Kindle Unlimited and in paperback)

Or order a paperback copy from your local bookstore!

ABOUT HELEN HOLLICK

First accepted for traditional publication in 1993, Helen became a USA Today Bestseller with her historical novel, The Forever Queen (titled A Hollow Crown in the UK) with the sequel, Harold the King (US: I Am The Chosen King) being novels that explore the events that led to the Battle of Hastings in 1066. Her Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy is a fifth-century version of the Arthurian legend, and she writes a nautical adventure/fantasy series, The Sea Witch Voyages. She is now also branching out into the quick read novella, ‘Cosy Mystery’ genre with her Jan Christopher Murder Mysteries, set in the 1970s, with the first in the series, A Mirror Murder incorporating her, often hilarious, memories of working as a library assistant.

Her non-fiction books are Pirates: Truth and Tales and Life of A Smuggler. She lives with her family in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in North Devon and occasionally gets time to write…

Website: www.helenhollick.net

Newsletter Subscription: http://tinyletter.com/HelenHollick

Blog: www.ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/HelenHollick Twitter: @HelenHollick https://twitter.com/HelenHollick

Writing for Effect

A Dialogue with Eva Seyler

Eva Seyler is the author of four historical novels or novellas. Here, we discuss how she weaves emotion and reaction into her books, while maintaining a simple style.


Eva:

“Writing for effect”, in my books, is all about the characters.

Snogging 

I’m notorious for writing gratuitous snogfests that (often) don’t make it into the finished projects (for example, there’s an extremely un-kid-friendly RageSex scene that did not make it into The Summer I Found Home because it’s designed to be appropriate for kids). 

The scenes that do make the cut have to meet a few criteria: they need to signify something about the characters’ development, and they need to be focused on emotions rather than mere physicality. The goal is for what I don’t say, what is left to be read between the lines, to be as punchy as what I do say.

His voice caught as he wove his fingers into my hair and searched my eyes. “I am abominably drunk but I will show you things…” 

He bent close, his mouth exploring my throat and shoulders and breasts. His restless, certain fingertips called forth blissful whimpers from deep within me. Clothing shed, skin on skin, fingers of one of his hands interlacing with mine while the other hand like a magician’s called forth sense and life I hadn’t known existed. His mouth on mine, tasting of brandy and cigarettes and heaven, layer upon layer of feeling, sinking—drowning, but never dying, curiously alive, singing strings within. He was intense and he was focused and he knew what he was doing. 

Marian’s reaction:

My sense here is that the narrator is inexperienced, if not virginal: ‘sense and life I hadn’t known existed’. Perhaps she’s taking a risky step here?  And that the man is experienced, and both cultured and perhaps a little disreputable: – ‘abominably drunk’ – not the language of an uneducated man; the brandy also suggests this.  How far off am I?

Eva:

Right on every count. She’s been married before, but the husband was, shall we say, unimaginative at best—and it is a risk because this man is her best friend’s husband. (This snippet is from Ripples, the companion novella to The War in Our Hearts.)

Snappy dialogue 

Louise and George’s banter in The Summer I Found Home and its sequels has segued into an experiment: trying a brand-new (for me) style of dialogue that is intended to evoke the frenetic energy of 1930s-40s screwball comedy. I’m trying to perfect this for a WIP that’s third down the release pipeline: basically, using as few dialogue tags as possible, but still making it clear who’s speaking. 

Just one example of many from the WIP in question:

“I mean, friendship is wonderful. Everything is more fun with a friend. But imagine having, say, me for a friend, Miss Shipton.”

“I wasn’t aware we were friends. Anyway, I’m home now, you needn’t linger—”

“We could be. Friends, that is. Not home. We could be that too. I mean. Together.”

“Are you this eloquent and seductive with all your lady friends?”

“Oh no. Much more with them.” 

“You flatter me.”

“You hoover all the panache right out of me.”

“How romantic.”

“As I said.”

“Will you stop leaning in that impertinent way?”

He was too close, his forehead nearly touching hers. “What kind of person do you want to marry, Miss Shipton?” 

Marian’s reaction:

The short and sometimes interrupted sentences are very effective here, and it’s easy to follow who’s speaking by the inclusion of ‘Miss Shipton’ and/or ‘lady friends’. And then at the end the tone changes to more serious, simply by the dialogue becoming slower and a full sentence, and, the inclusion of an action tag prior to the dialogue. Was that your intent?

Eva:

I’m not sure I thought it out that thoroughly, but it’s true!

Simplicity 

Another strong aspect of my style is staying sharply on point. I don’t write flowery descriptions of scenery or events. I’m not against such things, by any means—it’s just not something that comes naturally. This Great Wilderness, at over 90,000 words, is incredibly long for me. Usually my books (including my two earliest, experimental novels) run considerably shorter. The Summer I Found Home is only around 62,000 words. 

I attribute this to focusing on character development and the specific events that drive that development. 

As with my snogfests and sex scenes, setting descriptions must enhance character development. Here’s an example from This Great Wilderness that encapsulates the scenery in a few short paragraphs, and the description is directly related to the state of Leni’s mind. 

The scenery is stark and incredible. There is the brown, desert-like landscape going one direction, like what the American West always looked like in the cowboy pictures we sometimes sneaked out to see when I was little. 

But face the other direction, and it is saw-toothed mountains, and snow, and ice, and vast lake. 

Two worlds. The desert is my life with Mauritz. The mountains are my life now. Both of them are terrifying to me, and the solitude is immense.

Marian’s reaction:

I’m sure this has a formal definition in writing (it’s not quite pathetic fallacy), but I couldn’t find one – the landscape reflecting the emotions of the narrator. It’s one I use a lot myself. I particularly like the starkness and simplicity of the contrast here between the desert and the mountains, and the threatening aspect of the mountains: ‘saw-toothed’ and cold. But the lake – water is usually a symbol of life and renewal – modifies that. Was that your intent, to suggest to the reader that there is hope for Leni In this new environment?

Eva:

I had not thought of the water aspect! At least not consciously, but that’s an absolutely legit interpretation, and it’s true that the wilderness does bring her back to life.


Eva’s contact information is at https://linktr.ee/theevaseyler  Find out more about her and her books at https://www.evaseyler.com/

September’s Books

OK, it’s a little late…but here’s a roundup of books I read/listened to in September, along with some I’ll be starting soon, with some brief thoughts on each.

The Lion of Skye, by J.T.T. Ryder.  The sequel to his debut Hag of the Hills, set in iron-age Skye in a world where myth and legend walk with humans, for those with eyes to see. Fast paced, sometimes bloody, and definitely not a 21st C worldview. Full review here.


Gallows Wake, by Helen Hollick. The sixth book in the Captain Jesamiah Acorne series: piracy with a touch of the paranormal. Expert writing, engaging characters, a solid plot, and no need to have read the first five. Full review here.


Something to Hide: A Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George. The 21st Lynley novel; competent, twisty, the plot focused on FGM among Nigerian and Somali communities in London. Readable, but overall it felt tired, as if the author is putting her characters through their paces reluctantly.


The Wind in His Heart by Charles de Lint. I’ve been a huge de Lint fan for many many years; this one, set well away from his usual fictional city of Newford, had some interesting elements, but overall was too similar in theme and some aspects of plot with others he’s written, even if the mythology was primarily Native American and not Celtic. Enjoyable, but not his best.


A Prayer for the Crown-Shy: Monk & Robot Book II, by Becky Chambers (audiobook). Along with the first book in the series, A Psalm for the Wild-Built, hands down the most delightful, hopeful, and subtly thought-provoking novellas I’ve read in a very long time. Highly recommended for those tired of dystopias (and perhaps real life).


Begun but not yet finished (NOT DNFs)

The Welsh Dragon, by K.M Butler. A historical novel about Henry Tudor, focusing on the years before he defeated the Lancastrian forces at Bosworth, ending the Cousins’ War (The Wars of the Roses) and taking the throne as Henry VII. So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying it; review to come.


Fairy Tale, by Stephen King. (audiobook).  I have a long way to go in this…like most of King’s books, it’s not short. Reserving my opinion for now, because this is a book with two distinct parts, and I’ve only just begun the second story. 


Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World, a collection of essays by the late Barry Lopez. Like authors Annie Dillard and Robert MacFarlane, Lopez’s nature writing goes far beyond a set of empirical observations. I’m only not finished because I’m pacing myself, giving myself time to think about what he’s saying about human societies, the importance of place and belonging, and our relationship with the rest of the planet.

Although there are one or two statements among all the gems that don’t ring true, overall, a thought-provoking and sometimes lyrical book.


In the Queue:

Singing for Our Supper: Walking an English Songline from Kent to Cornwall, by W.R. Parsons. I’ve been following Will Parsons on his modern pilgrimages around the UK for some years, via Facebook, Twitter and his website. Walking in Britain has been both a place of peace and a source – the source, probably – for my novels, and my own walk across England, from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, a highlight of my life.  I, however, can’t sing a note. I am very much looking forward to this book.


The Last of the Atalanteans (The Drowned Kingdom Saga, Book II) by P.L. Stuart. The second book in Stuart’s magnificently imagined world, with that hardest of protagonists to do well (and Stuart does) – an unlikeable one. Will Othrun’s hubris and ambition lead him to glory or to the ashes of his dreams? I’ll find out soon.

Inspiration and Memory

Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixabay 

I had an aunt (well, my father’s first cousin, but as she was of his generation we called her aunt) who lived a life that seemed to me both exotic and exciting. Born an estate-worker’s daughter on a large rural farming and shooting estate in Norfolk, England, her mother died in a death pact with her lover when my aunt (I’ll call her Polly) was very small. Her father remarried, and sent the girls (Polly and her older sister) away to a boarding school which was a female equivalent of Dotheboys Hall, from what I can tell. Perhaps his new wife didn’t want them around. Perhaps he wondered if they were his at all.  But away they went.

But my family was and is full of strong women, so as soon as she could, my grandmother rescued Polly from the boarding school and basically employed her as an au pair, helping take care of my father and his sister while my grandmother cared for her dying father. (Older sister had left by then, found employment, soon married and disappeared from the family.)  And probably because of connections through the family who owned this large estate, Polly found herself taken on by a very wealthy industrialist’s family as a nursemaid, and then by another as a companion/secretary….and somewhere along the way she met a very eligible, well-placed Danish man and married him. Just as World War II broke out.

He and she were part of the Danish resistance: he spoke fluent and impeccable German and had connections in Germany, so he was thought to be a collaborator. She was his English wife, and beautiful, and ferried gun parts and more around Copenhagen strapped under her skirt. When dementia was taking its toll on her mind in her last years, she’d tell these stories over and over again: how she learned to take the guns apart and put them back together again in the dark; about flirting with German officers while carrying false documents, remembering the danger.

They survived, the war ended. The business he worked for flourished, and when they came to North America (via Cunard steamers – she hated flying) to mix business and pleasure, hobnobbing with the Kennedys at Hyannis Port (she didn’t like Jack), they took time to visit her cousins – my family, and that of my actual aunt in Alabama. Then her husband died, suddenly, and she was left well off and well connected.

She took herself of on an around the world cruise, had an affair, thoroughly enjoyed herself. For the next twenty-five years or so she travelled, entertained, mixed with people who were the equals of that family who owned the big estate in Norfolk. And then age and dementia took its toll. She died at 95, well taken care of in a private nursing home in England.

“Polly” is the inspiration for the grandmother of one of my two MC’s of Empress & Soldier, Eudekia. When she said to her granddaughter ‘My dear, how lovely to see you,’ and offers her cheek for a kiss, I heard that—unexpectedly—in  Polly’s voice. And I thought what a perfect model for this character, who is ambitious for this granddaughter of hers, who knows the power of sexuality and how to use it, who won’t listen to those who say that the man Eudekia loves is socially beyond her grasp.

I’ve written before how my mother’s and my aunts’ service during WWII inspired the first book of the Empire series, Empire’s Daughter. This inspiration is a bit more direct!

Show, Tell, Hint

Working with one of my editorial clients a few weeks ago, I pointed out to him that he had several dropped story threads in his novel.  “But,” he said, “the entire action takes place over only a few days. Not everything can be resolved in that time.”

My response?  There’s a difference for the reader in leaving a story thread in a place where the reader can speculate about it, and just dropping it.  In one case in my client’s novel, the protagonist had expressed (to himself) his interest a woman he worked with. And that was it. The brief scene was there for a number of reasons, but mostly to show that, regardless of personal grief and a building complex political situation, the protagonist wasn’t entirely wrapped up in those two things. But it went nowhere, leaving the reader unsatisfied.

I made a few suggestions, and in the next draft there were a two more brief scenes of interaction between the two which fit smoothly into the narrative, and leave the reader with the hint that this relationship’s going somewhere. We don’t know it, but we can sense it, and that’s enough. Readers don’t need every thread tied up neatly; in fact, it’s good to leave a few minor open-ended questions for them to speculate about, a technique that helps keep a book in their minds.

In my own work, I have a few of these, the most prominent being a question of what happened to two of my characters. No one really knows, but suggestions are made, the search for them has a role, but in the end, I leave it to the reader to decide whether they’ve survived or not.

There’s another way to use ‘hints’ instead of showing or telling, again to leave questions in the reader’s mind, and that’s to be ambiguous. Not often, but this is the classic ‘is Deckard a replicant or not?’ question from Blade Runner. But the ambiguity doesn’t need to be that central; it can be about a characters’ motivation, or the nuances of a relationship.

Here’s an example from one of my books:

“Cannot we both just be content with what we have, at least for a little while?” I said, straightening. “You are alive, and recovering, and you have Lena, and the baby very soon.”

His hand was still on my arm. “And you, mo duíne gràhadh?”

My beloved man. A sudden restriction in my throat made my voice hoarse. “I have enough,” I managed to say, “being here. With you.”

The first-person narrator here interprets the question ‘And you?’ to mean ‘can you be content?’ – a reasonable response to the first statement he makes to the second character.  But there’s a second interpretation: he has gone on to say ‘you have Lena, and the baby…’  The question ‘And you?’ can also mean: ‘Do I have you, too?’ 

In this case, I know which of these two questions was really being asked (and no, I’m not telling.) But occasionally, I don’t know the answer, or not at the time I write it. And sometimes these ambiguous hints get clarified later in the story, and sometimes they don’t – allowing, again, for speculation.

I believe that for a reader to be fully immersed in a story, there needs to be these unanswered questions that involve them in the world, not just show it to them. What did happen to the Entwives in The Lord of the Rings?  What was it Ada Doom saw in the woodshed? Does Shane ever return?

(By the way, I think Deckard is a replicant. Your thoughts?)

Let’s Talk Success – Again

I spent half an hour yesterday consoling? advising? a new indie writer about ‘success’.  They have one book out, another on its way. They’re worried about sales, about marketing, about making a name for themselves. Here’s what I, the ‘seasoned indie author’ told them.

We live in a world where the popular measure of success is celebrity; fifteen minutes of fame and making the big bucks. But the chances that you can make a living from writing novels, and only writing novels, is miniscule. Look around you, I said. In this very bookish town in which we live, we had three nominees for the Governor General’s Award (Canada’s major literary fiction award) this year. All but one have other careers, and the one who doesn’t is a retired professor. In the ‘before days’, when there was an open writing space freely available to all on Monday mornings, I’ve shared table space with yet another Governor General’s Award short-listed author (who also has another career) and an Edgar-nominated mystery author (who also has another career) and a Stephen Leacock award short-listed writer (who also, etc….). I’ve read at literary festivals with some pretty big names, too – and almost all these writers do something else other than write novels: teach, practice law or work in warehouses, are system analysts or build houses.  And these examples, I will note, are all (except two) traditionally published authors.

This doesn’t mean your writing is a hobby. It doesn’t mean it isn’t viable. It doesn’t mean there aren’t a few people who can make a living at it. And maybe you’re one of them.

And maybe you’re not. But if you’re not, you’re in very good company in the literary world. You shouldn’t think less of yourself, or that you’re a failure. I consider myself a successful writer, but the actual profit from my books isn’t a major part of my yearly income.

But:

  • ‘your books got me back into reading’
  • ‘your books are my go-to when I need to escape this world for a while’
  • ‘I dread the day when you stop writing this series’
  • ‘I’m waiting for your new release more than any other book in 2022’

and many other similar expressions of what some people find in my books is my measure of success. If your stories resonate with a few readers; if they bring smiles to their faces or make them ask themselves hard questions; if they read until 3 a.m. because they can’t put them down, or leave the light on to sleep because you terrified them – isn’t that success?

Did the new author take this in? I don’t know. But I hope so. Because they are talented, and have stories to offer to the world that some readers will fall deeply into. I’d hate them to waste their time and energy and talent worrying about only one definition of a successful writer.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Enchanted Ground

London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City, by Tom Chivers

London Clay

All my life I have had recurring dreams of paths, of underground tunnels and caves, of the liminal space between land and water. And so I am drawn to explorations in prose of these places, other writers’ experiences. London Clay: Journeys in the Deep City is one of these books.

But it is more than a record of author Tom Chivers’ experiences in exploring what lies beneath the ever-changing city – the layers of history and prehistory exposed by construction, reimagined from old maps, seen in the lines of minor streets. (This too attracted me to the book, landscape history and archeology, as many of you reading this will know, is an avocation of mine.) London Clay chronicles the author’s experiences in the wastegrounds of London – sometimes literally in sewers, sometimes in the abandoned expanses of what was once the industrial docklands, sometimes in the sterility of modern developments, as he searches for traces of the past.

London Clay kept me both entranced and contemplative, thinking of what lies under other cities I know – York, Seattle, my own. History both visible and invisible, traces left from names we know and names we don’t. Throughout the book, Chivers returns to holes: entrance places into the underground pushed up by geology or dug down by humans through the London Clay of the title. Like Orpheus, he goes down into the dark, returning with only shards and shadows and stories to tell – both of London and himself. In his own words:

London is enchanted ground…a glorious hyperreality: a hundred million possible Londons, present and past, imagined, intended, forgotten and reborn. Time is all around us….

I had set out, armed with a tattered map, to discover what lies beneath the streets. But I have found myself descending deeper into the layers of my own life than I had expected…

As I embark on a modest project on the history of the city on which I live – not a book, simply a collection of articles for our community newsletter, only some of which I will write – I cannot help but think Chivers’ book will influence it. Mine is a much smaller city, and much younger, its visible history easier to find. An intended city, imagined on paper, planned. But it too has the past hidden below what is seen today, and I can’t look at it the same way as I would have before reading London Clay.

Jati’s Wager, by Jonathan Nevair: A Review

I’m pleased to be participating in the Storytellers on Tour blog tour (Aug 29th – Sept 4th) for Jonathan Nevair’s second novel in his Wind Tide series, Jati’s Wager.

A space opera heist brimming with action, twists, and turns that doubles as a story of personal growth, mentorship, and sacrifice.

Ailo is a streetwise teen surviving alone on the remote moonbase, Tarkassi 9. She wants nothing more than to flee into the wider world of the Arm. When her chance arrives, she makes it no farther than the first ship out of the system. That’s where Jati, the Patent War veteran and general fighting the Monopolies, gives her a second chance. It’s an unlikely partnership, but Ailo’s rogue status is just what Jati’s People’s Army needs to drive the final spike of victory into a weakening Garissian Council.

A team of experts assembles and hope rests on Ailo’s skill, stealth, and tenacity to pull off the impossible. It’s a wild gambit, and a moral code may need to be bent, or broken, to achieve success. When an internal shadow rises, casting doubt on their plans, Ailo and Jati are forced to weigh the cost of revenge against honor and justice.

My Review

Your own survival is paramount when you’re a street kid. You learn to be fast, to be silent, to move in and out of the shadows; to trust your instincts; to rely on your own judgement. You develop coping mechanisms, too; mental ones, to give you support, advice; a friend you can rely on. But all your experience and all your wiles aren’t foolproof.

When stowing away on a ship leaving the moonbase she’d grown up on doesn’t go the way Ailo had hoped, she becomes part of a crew under the legendary Jati, general, Legionary, idealist.  Ailo has to learn to trust more than the part of her mind she calls Gerib, her ‘imaginary friend’ who guides and counsels her, and to see herself not only as an individual but as part of a team with a larger purpose.  As the links between her hidden past and the cause Jati is fighting for are revealed, skills that have lain latent in Ailo’s mind: skills of tactics and strategy, of language, and the fusing of the two that make for skilled diplomacy, begin to emerge. But those are not the only reason Ailo is valuable to Jati. Is she the last piece in the puzzle that will bring them victory against the Garassian council?

Fast paced and complex, Jati’s Wager is a book that needs your full attention. Packed with action, the story moves forward rapidly, but the action invites deeper moral questions, not just for Ailo, but for the reader. There is a war to be won, but can it be done in a way that leaves the long history of violence, of conflict and retribution, behind?  What is the moral path for a warrior? – not a soldier, someone who follows orders, but a warrior, making mindful, conscious choices, aware of the myriad consequences. Is vengeance – or sacrifice – ever appropriate? The questions of personal survival versus the collective good; the role and meaning and restrictions of history, and the power of language are woven throughout the story, reinforced in many ways, large and small, creating layers of meaning and contemplation in both the reader and Ailo.

Jati’s Wager is the second book in Jonathan Nevair’s Wind Tide series, but it can be read as a standalone. Links to his first book, Goodbye to the Sun, are present and important, but sufficiently explained that the reader does not need to have read it (although I strongly suggest you do!) In the background, not only do the myths of the Trojan War have a presence, but the author has quietly included references to classic science-fiction, ideas from Carl Sagan, and – in a sentence that made me bark with laughter – a nod to Apocalypse Now.

Highly recommended, both for lovers of space opera, and readers that like books that make them think.

Like a chance to win a copy?

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/e832e988101/?

Prize: A print copy of Jati’s Wager by Jonathan Nevair – US/UK Only

Starts: August 29th, 2021 at 12:00am EST

Ends: September 5st, 2021 at 11:59pm EST

Book Information

Jati’s Wager (Wind Tide (#2)) by Jonathan Nevair,

Published: August 18, 2021 by Shadow Spark Publishing

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera, LGBTQ+

Pages: 425

CW: death of parent (mentioned), death of mentor, verbal abuse, graphic violence and death, blood, homelessness, trauma, guilt, kidnapping (mentioned)

POSSIBLE ULTIMATE TOUR EXPERIENCE TICKETS: Let’s Get The Party Started, Represent, Lost In Space, Snark It Up, The More The Merrier, The Wings Of Change

Book Links

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58579886-jati-s-wager

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B099QM63SQ

Author Info

Jonathan Nevair is a science fiction writer and, as Dr. Jonathan Wallis, an art historian and Professor of Art History at Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia. After two decades of academic teaching and publishing, he finally got up the nerve to write fiction. Jonathan grew up on Long Island, NY but now resides in southeast Pennsylvania with his wife and rambunctious mountain feist, Cricket.

You can find him online at www.jonathannevair.com and on twitter at @JNevair

Website: https://www.jonathannevair.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JNevair

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jnevair/

Publisher Info

Shadow Spark Publishing

Website: https://shadowsparkpub.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShadowSparkPub

Instagram: http://instagram.com/shadowsparkpub

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/shadowsparkpub/

Release Day Reality

My sixth book is out today.

The cat just loudly deposited a hairball on the rug. Her retching woke me.

The dishwasher needs emptying; the birdbath filling.

My day planner tells me I have a guest post due today, reading to do for a book review, and various tasks related to my volunteer job as editor of our community newsletter, as well as feedback notes to write for a first-time author I’m mentoring.

In other words, the world hasn’t stopped because I have a new book out, and, you know, that’s ok.

Brian and I will go out for ice cream at our favourite place by the river a little later today, to celebrate. (Normally, we go out for a meal, but as it’s also our 40th wedding anniversary this week, we’ll do that on Friday.) Friends are sending congratulations. I am suffused with the sense of accomplishment and pleased with the book’s reception so far. It’s the sixth book in a series; there will be a small spike in sales this week, and then it will trail off, to be purchased as people work their way through the first five. Six years and six books into the life of an indie author, I know it’s a long game.

Next week I’m taking a holiday, travelling a couple of hours north to Lake Huron and Georgian Bay, for a few days walking and birding, leisurely brunches on outdoor patios, some pleasure reading, and whatever else catches my fancy. After this short break. Heir will take up some of my time – guest blogs, interviews, a blog tour, perhaps some readings, but it’s out in the world, no longer mine alone but belonging too to its readers, to make what they will of it. Both the next two books – Empress & Soldier and Empire’s Passing – are nudging me: work needs to start in earnest there.

As it will. Alongside dishwashers to empty, and meals to cook, and community work…and hairballs.