“More Tea, Please”

Yes, that is a teacup on Kirstea’s head. She is a tea-loving Shopkins™ Shoppie doll. And yes, her name is Kirstea.

I love hot beverages, even in the summer. Seventy percent of the time, I’ll go for coffee. The other 30 percent is divided between tea (20 percent) and hot chocolate.

The post title is a quote from one of my favorite animated characters of all time—Uncle Iroh from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. He’s known for his love of tea.

There are certain tea flavors I enjoy. Mostly I love a robust tea. But my tea tastes have changed over the years.

Do you have a favorite tea? If so, let me know through this poll or in a comment below:

When I was a kid, my mother always had a box of Lipton tea around. That was the only tea we had. Good old, reliable Lipton black tea. Back then, I was not a big fan of tea. I only drank it if I had a cold or some other illness. So, Lipton tea was the extent of my tea knowledge at the time.

When I was a freshman in college, I discovered Earl Grey, and drank it like it was water. I can’t help thinking of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, who loved that tea. But after my freshman year, I dropped tea, and began mainlining coffee until someone introduced me to Constant Comment—another black tea.

I went through a berry tea phase briefly (like Wild Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings), before moving to peppermint tea. After that, I fixated on Lemon Zinger by Celestial Seasonings for a time.

While in Shanghai earlier this century (sounds weird to write earlier this century), I discovered green tea. Drank a ton of it, especially at Starbucks, which served green tea lattes long before they debuted in the U.S. But in the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward chai, rooibos teas, and this one, which I’ve written about before.

I started this post thinking I would just talk about tea. But I can’t help equating tea with fantasy books. Many times, when I’ve mentioned that I’m writing or reading a fantasy book, I have received one of two responses:

“I hate fantasy books. Always full of names that are hard to pronounce.”

“Not my cup of tea. They’re too long and boring.”

You see why I equate fantasy books with tea? Now, if you’ve mentioned either of those statements to me, please don’t think I’m putting you down. Many people, even strangers, have told me the same thing. But for me, fantasy books are like tea, because there are so many different varieties—from historical epics to contemporary urban thrillers. Yes, there are books with names that are difficult to pronounce. But Harry Potter, a kid in a fantasy book, has a name that’s easy to pronounce. And Ursula Le Guin has at least two fantasy books under 200 pages in length.

These are older editions. Wizard ends on page 199.

If you don’t like fantasy books, I know I won’t convince you to come to my side of the fence. I’m not here to do that. After all, I don’t like licorice, and wouldn’t want anyone to try to sway me to like it. Instead, I’ll continue to enjoy the rich flavors of the fantasy books that come my way.

A good article on the most popular tea flavors is here.

Uncle Iroh from medievalotakuwordpress.com. Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard from startrek.com. Bigelow Constant Comment tea from Wikipedia. Lemon Zinger from the Celestial Seasonings website. Lipton tea from chromedelivery.com. Kirstea Shopkins™ Shoppie doll and book covers photos by L. Marie.

Check These Out: Books for a Thrilling Christmas

Greetings! With me on the blog today are two authors already known to many of you: the fabulous Andra Watkins and the equally fabulous John Howell.

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They’re here to talk about the latest books in their series. Click here and here for series information.

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Hard to Die was published by Word Hermit Press. Our Justice was published by Keewaydin Lane Books. Stick around later for the giveaway info.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andra: 1. I’m afraid to answer FaceTime, because my parents like to call when they’re either naked or scantily clad.
2. Once I break the seal, I eat SweeTARTS until my mouth turns raw. I cannot stop.
3. My favorite movie of all time is The Princess Bride. My husband thinks that’s inconceivable!

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

Vizzini, Inigo Montoya, and Fezzik in The Princess Bride

4. I love to meet my readers. The furthest I’ve traveled to meet a reader is Australia. She was delightful. But all my readers are.

John: 1. I have written a thousand words a day for seven days a week since 2012.
2. I began writing after turning seventy, five years ago.
3. I love to write poetry but won’t show it to anyone.
4 I live with my wife and three rescue pets on an island in the Gulf of Mexico.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

John lives somewhere on this map. Perhaps you see him waving.

El Space: What was the inspiration behind your series?
Andra: What if you disappeared? Or no one knew exactly how you died? And because nobody knew what happened, you couldn’t fully die?

I’ve always been fascinated with unresolved deaths. Somebody, somewhere, knew what happened, at least for a little while. Both Hard to Die and To Live Forever give real people with unresolved deaths new adventures. It’s speculative fiction at its ‘what if’-iest. If you’re skeptical about giving me a try, here’s what real readers say about this series:

“One of the most imaginative books I’ve ever read.” Jen Mann, NYT best selling author of People I Want to Punch in the Throat
“I LOVED this book!” Nicole Knepper, author of Moms Who Drink and Swear: True Tales of Loving My Kids While Losing My Mind
“Absolutely thrilling read!”
“My new favorite.”
Hard to Die is hard to put down.”
“Riveting.”
“One of the best reads I’ve seen in a long, long time.”
“A magical tale.”

John: My sister and I were touring the Aircraft Carrier Lexington moored in Corpus Christi. [Photo below.] Our father was a naval aviator during World War II and served on the Lexington. We wanted to walk the halls and in some way get a sense of his experience. While standing on the flight deck, it occurred to me that this symbol of American military strength was unarmed and vulnerable to anyone who would want to destroy this treasure. Although my series is not about the Lexington, it did set the stage for the subsequent terrorist quest to embarrass America.

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El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Andra: Several books informed my Nowhere Series. Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind was a white-knuckled tour through Barcelona. I loved the fantasy, the inventive ties to forgotten books, and the homage to the landscape. I hope Zafón taught me how to keep a reader turning pages.

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Sum: Forty Tales of the Afterlives by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist, is a slim gem of speculative fiction. His short afterlife tales are so tight and inventive. He first made me think about what an alternative afterlife could be.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is a grounded fantasy tale I wish I’d written. Gosh, the writing is gorgeous. I love how she chose to deal with loss, death, and the afterlife, all through the eyes of a mute little boy. I’d read this book over All the Light We Cannot See.

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John: I am inspired by Nevil Shute and his book On the Beach. I was impressed in the manner that he could make up a fictional situation and characters and craft the position so that it seemed real and did not have a happy ending. Kurt Vonnegut inspired me in several books by how he could use actual situations as backdrops to a fictional story. John Irving gave me the courage to write about whimsy, and did it with a boldness that allowed the reader to believe the appropriateness of a sometimes outrageous situation to the storyline. Finally, Andra Watkins continues to inspire me through her determination to bring her stories to life in spite of all challenges to her personally.

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El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently?
Andra: Keep writing. 2016 has been tough for many people. It’s been especially hard on me. I launched a book a week before the election while I was afflicted with a significant illness. I don’t think I need to tell anyone how that launch turned out. I’ve cried and raged and questioned myself ten thousand times, but in the end, writers must write, even when writing makes no sense. Especially when writing makes no sense.

John: A talented writer, Craig Boyack, wrote a post on how to add suspense to a story. Although sometimes we don’t think of adding suspense in certain situations Craig pointed out a way to add a small portion even though it has no meaningful outcome to the story. The reason I thought this was great advice is we often think of suspense elements as some core plot elements and not a way to raise the enjoyment level of a story. I think his opinion changed that concept for me.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Andra: I Am Number 13 is the third book in the Nowhere Series. It will be available in Spring 2017. I have at least three more characters lined up for future installments, though I no longer say how many books that will be. These characters become their own very insistent people. Hard to Die wasn’t supposed to be part of my Nowhere Series. That’s how insistent Theodosia Burr Alston is. And the male narrator, Richard Cox, wasn’t in the first three drafts. I look at Hard to Die now and can’t imagine it without him.

John: I am currently wrapping up the editing on a book titled “Circumstances of Childhood.” It is a story about a guy who is very successful until he runs amuck with a Security Exchange Commission audit. He needs to rely on a childhood pal for help but the question remains can the friend help him. The book goes to beta readers in January.

I have also started a thriller about a couple who find a cell phone on the beach. The phone contains some valuable information encoded into the contact list. The guy who lost the phone has been punished and now the boss wants his phone back. The chief of police is right in the crosshairs since he turned the phone over to Homeland Security since he thought some of the photos looked suspicious. The first draft should be finished by May.

Thank you, Andra and John, for being my guests!

Looking for Andra? You can find her here and here.
Looking for John? You can find him here and here.

Looking for Hard to Die and book one in the series? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
Looking for Our Justice and other books in the trilogy? Check Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Another place you can look is your front doorstep, because I’m giving away a copy of Hard to Die and Our Justice to a commenter. The winner will be announced on December 15.

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What is Kitty up to? No good, I suspect. Stay tuned. . . .

Author photos courtesy of the authors. Book covers from their websites and Goodreads. Still image from The Princess Bride from moviereviewland.blogspot. Gulf of Mexico map from worldatlas.com. USS Lexington at Corpus Christi photo from tourism-review.com.

Lift Ev’ry Cup of (Butter)beer

The night was warm and the beer was butter.

It was the return of The Party That Shall Not Be Named. I went with a friend to meet up with more friends in downtown Naperville, Illinois, where sixty businesses teamed up with the ring master—Anderson Bookshop—to throw the biggest party of the year around these parts. All to celebrate the release of this book:

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My copy. Wheee!!!

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The Party That Shall Not Be Named was a regular occurrence during the series’ heyday. On Saturday, there were Harry Potter-themed contests, plays, crafts, merchandise, and a ton of butterbeer. Check out this article in the Chicago Tribune or click here for more details about the festivities.

Several streets had been roped off and traffic diverted for this event. Thankfully, I only had to wait five minutes for a parking space!

To say there were thousands of people in attendance is an understatement. If you read the Tribune article, you know how many people were expected. By the way, that article provided old information about the number of books sold. By the end of Saturday, employees at Anderson had taken orders for well over 2,000 copies of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I know, because a friend of mine had number 2073. I bought my copy at Barnes and Noble and was number 678 in line.

Actors stood in the windows of Anderson Bookshop and simulated the wizard cards you get in the Chocolate Frogs boxes. (Sorry about the quality of many of the photos in this post. I had to snap each photo quickly. We were on the move a lot. And there were so many people dashing in and out of the shots. Sometimes, I couldn’t move closer due to the size of the crowd.)

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After walking around a bit, we headed to the candy shop near Anderson, which had been turned into Honeydukes Sweet Shop (naturally).

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The line to get in was a block long, but we were willing to wait. This is where we purchased our butterbeer, which was part ice cream, part cream soda, and butterscotch flavoring. But I totally avoided Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, having ingested some pretty disgusting ones in the past (like the vomit one).

We then watched some live performances of scenes from the first seven books. Then after grabbing a snack at Jimmy John’s, we watched the judging of the costume contest for adults (the kids’ portion of the contest having been judged earlier in the day).

Jimmy John’s contribution to the cause:

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Some photos from the contest are below. Wish they were better! I failed to get a good photo of the winner: a woman in a Mad-Eye Moody costume. The crowd favorites (Moaning Myrtle [the person at the far right in the second photo below], Hagrid, and Voldemort) did not win, so the result was a bit controversial. Another crowd favorite was a couple who called themselves Expecto patronum (first photo, the people at the far right). The guy dressed as Harry Potter, while a woman dressed as Harry’s patronus had a white, filmy cord attached to her that led to “Harry’s” wand. If you know about the Patronus Charm from the Harry Potter books (particularly Prisoner of Azkaban), you’ll see immediately how clever that costume was. Most of the crowd expected them to win. But they came in second.

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I know there have been some awful things in the news lately. That’s why I loved seeing so many people rallied around something fun. Everywhere, people smiled and talked to one another, instead of gazing at their phones. While I stood in line in various places, I talked to a number of people, some with kids in tow. Kids and adults were in costume, making wands, answering trivia questions, drinking butterbeer, and cheerfully waiting till the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

I especially love that everything centered around a book everyone was eager to read. How wonderful for an author. But how wonderful for us too. We had a great time on a perfect summer night, a night for making memories. Now to avoid internet spoilers until I can finish the book!

Party flyer from visitnaperville.com.

Check This Out: A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads

It’s always great when friends introduce you to their friends, especially if those friends are authors. Thanks to Lyn Miller-Lachmann, I learned about Zetta Elliott, an educator with a Ph.D. in American Studies from NYU, who also is a playwright. Awesome, right? And she’s written several books for children, including Bird, her award-winning picture book. Zetta is a hybrid author—one who has been traditionally published and indie published. She’s here because of her young adult time travel series, the first two of which are A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads.

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After I chat with Zetta, I’ll fill you in on a giveaway. So for now, grab a cup of coffee or tea and hang out with us. We won’t bite. Much.

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Zetta: I’m an immigrant [from Canada]. I’m a Scorpio. I’m middle-aged (43). I’m a medieval geek.

El Space: How did you get started writing speculative fiction books for children and teens?
Zetta: I guess the seed was the fantasy fiction I read as a child—mostly British, entirely white. Ducks believe the first creature they see at birth is their mother and they pattern themselves after that creature. Well, I read so much fantasy fiction about faeries and dragons and wizards that it wasn’t hard for me to “go there” when I started writing for kids in 2000. That was my imprint and it took a long time for me to hybridize those Western conventions so that the genre worked for me and my young readers of color.

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El Space: What inspired you to write a time travel series? Which time period, if any, would you travel to if you could?
Zetta: Learning about Weeksville inspired me to write Wish and Crossroads. I was still new to Brooklyn, and when I learned about the historic free Black community—second largest in the U.S. prior to the Civil War—I knew I wanted to make that history relevant to teens. I was writing my dissertation on racial violence and also wanted young readers to know that wasn’t limited to the South, so the novels became an opportunity to talk about domestic terrorism and the NYC Draft Riots.

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Weeksville in Brooklyn (New York)

Life was pretty rough for women in the past, so I don’t know if I’d want to trade this era for another. I was obsessed with Ancient Egypt as a child, though, so if I had some type of perfect immunity that’s probably where I’d go.

El Space: In a recent Huffington Post article, you stated, “Self-publishing is, for me, an act of radical self care—and self-love.” Could you unpack that a little for us?
Zetta: Audre Lorde once wrote that self-care is political warfare because it is an act of resistance. When you live in a society that is committed to destroying and/or denigrating Black people—and Black women in particular—then choosing to be gentle with yourself means a lot. It means you reject all the messages you’re receiving about your worth. Self-love insists that you are worthy and deserving of care and kindness and compassion. Black women do a lot for others but we don’t always remember to make ourselves a priority. Then add publishing to the mix and you’ve got an industry dominated by white women that largely excludes Black women. When I self-publish, I’m pushing back against the implicit message that my work doesn’t matter to them. It matters to me and it matters to the members of my community, so I don’t need to look outside myself and my community for permission to tell my tales.

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El Space: How has mentoring been a help to you as a writer? How do you mentor others through your books or through the college classes you teach?
Zetta: I generally think of mentoring as a sustained, long-term relationship and I don’t really provide that to any one person. I’m an educator and so my students can call on my anytime, and some do long after they’ve graduated or grown up. I’m happy to provide whatever advice I can to aspiring writers and I get lots of email queries about self-publishing. I see hundreds of kids every year and I try to embody possibility for the one hour I’m in their school. I never saw or met an author when I was a kid, so I let them know that I’m not some special person from far away—I’m a member of their community. Anyone can be a writer if they choose to be—my high school English teacher told me that in Grade 9, and that changed the course of my life.

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El Space: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received recently? Why?
Zetta: I don’t think I’ve gotten any advice recently. I’m always learning about myself as a writer and I try to keep learning about the publishing industry so I know what I’m up against! My friend Maya Gonzalez always says, “The revolution is now!” and that reminds me not to wait for change, but to be the change instead.

El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Zetta: Octavia Butler blew my mind with Kindred and I admire Jamaica Kincaid a lot. I like writers who take chances. Gayl Jones has had a challenging life but her first novel Corregidora is a Black feminist classic and stands the test of time. James Baldwin inspires me because he was an activist and author, and his books didn’t generally improve as he aged, but he kept writing what he felt compelled to write.

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El Space: What are you working on next?
Zetta: I’m hoping to publish The Ghosts in the Castle next month, which is Book #3 in my City Kids series. Next I have to finish The Return, which is the sequel to The Deep and Book #3 in my “freaks and geeks” trilogy. And then I hope to start my Black girl Viking novel, The Ring—if I can find a way to get over to Sweden to do some research!

Thanks, Zetta, for being my guest!

You can find Zetta at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

A Wish After Midnight and The Door at the Crossroads are available at these fine establishments:

Amazon (Wish) (Crossroads)
Barnes and Noble (Wish) (Crossroads)
Indiebound (Wish) (Crossroads)

But one of you will win a copy of both books! Just comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on May 6 (because I have other giveaways coming).

Author photo courtesy of the author. Book covers from Goodreads. Weeksville photo from creativetime.org. Self-love image from veenakaur.com. Dragon from fanpop.com. Indie image from michaeljholley.com.

Cover Reveal: A More Complicated Fairytale

Today is the Ides of March. And what better reason is there to check out this cover for A More Complicated Fairytale by Emily Witt.

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Nice huh? A More Complicated Fairytale will release on April 2, 2016. Here’s the synopsis:

Most of the young women in Nardowyn swoon over Crown Prince Felipe, but Caitlin has never seen the appeal. When she catches his eye during a royal festival, she has little choice but to begrudgingly go along with his attempts to form a friendship between them, and soon learns that there is more to him than meets the eye.

When Felipe goes to war to avenge the death of his brother, Cait enlists as a nurse to be nearer to him. Here, Cait’s connection to the prince will put her in more danger than she can imagine. But Cait’s never been one to take the easy way out, so if her life is going to turn into some sort of fairy tale, with a prince and a happily ever after, it’s no surprise it will be a more complicated one.

And check out this excerpt:

Towards the middle of the afternoon, they came across a wooden stage with a banner across the top bearing the words ‘Alfonso the Magnificent, Grand Illusionist’. On the stage, a man was describing the great feats of illusion that the crowds would witness when the show started in ten minutes. Neither Cait nor Ava had ever seen a magic show before, so they bought tickets and found themselves good seats.

For the next three-quarters of an hour, they witnessed mind-reading, card tricks and even a woman being sawn in half! Even Cait had been on the edge of her seat for that finale.

When Alfonso the Magnificent had taken his final bows and disappeared from the stage, Cait turned to Ava. “What did you think?” she asked.

“That was spectacular!” Ava replied. “How do you think he did that last one?”

“There were two women in the box,” said a hooded man who had been sitting on Cait’s other side. “That’s the only way it could be done.”

“Do you think so?” Ava leaned across Cait a little to speak to the man and in doing so, recognised the face under the hood. She sat back again, quickly. “Cait, it’s—”

The cloaked man held up a finger to quickly quiet her. “Please don’t give me away. I’m trying to avoid my guards at the moment.”

He lowered his hood and Cait realised why Ava had been so surprised. She looked at Ava. “Well, won’t Ginny and Bridget be jealous?” She looked back to Prince Felipe with a wry smile. “Our younger sisters are big fans of yours, your Highness. We tried telling them it was unlikely any of us would see you here, but they kept their hopes up. I’m sure they’re going to be frightfully upset about this.”

“Well, I suppose you were right to discourage them. I’m not supposed to be spending my time at magic shows designed to entertain the masses. In fact, I believe I should be dining with the Princess Royal of Brellalan at this very moment.”

“Then why aren’t you?”

Cait didn’t mean to ask such a direct—and perhaps slightly accusatory—question, not to the prince, but it was out of her mouth before she could remind herself who she was talking to.

The prince did not seem too perturbed, though. “Have you ever had to spend time with women who have been raised only to aspire to one day marry a prince?”

“I can’t say that I have, Your Highness.”

“Then count yourself lucky. I would much rather spend my time at magic shows in the company of such charming ladies as you and your friend, than dining with any of them.”

As he spoke the words, a yell was heard behind them, and the prince looked up with a start. Someone shouted “There!” and a group of red-uniformed men of the palace guard pointed towards Cait, Ava and Prince Felipe.

Glancing back at Cait and Ava, the prince quickly stood and replaced his hood over his head. “It’s been lovely,” he said with a nod, and then leapt across three benches and off in the opposite direction to the guards. They shouted again and ran after him, but Cait saw him quickly blend in with the crowds and silently wished the guards luck. They were probably going to need it.

author-photoAuthor Bio
Emily has been writing since the age of six, but only recently developed the skill of finishing the projects that she starts (and even then, only sometimes). She is currently studying for a Master’s in Museum and Heritage Studies and works at the National Library of Australia. In her spare time she can be found watching Doctor Who or curled up on the couch with a hot chocolate and a good book.

You can visit her blog for more information: http://keysandopenmind.wordpress.com

And also her Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/keysandopenmind

Cover design: Thanks to the very awesome K. L. Schwengel—http://klschwengel.com

Sights to Inspire

After reading an article on fantasy stories last week that annoyed me, though I agreed with some of the points made (go here if you’re curious), I was going to write a post about that experience. But rather than vent my spleen, I decided to take a more positive tangent.

The other day while heading to a four-year-old’s birthday party (you may not believe how often I get invited to those), I caught a faint shimmer in the sky off to the west. A rainbow on a sunny winter afternoon. I had never seen one on a rainless day. But there it was. And there it remained, uncaptured by my phone’s camera, since I was driving at the time. But it reminded me of a rainbow I saw last month. This was yet another first for me: I saw almost the whole rainbow from west to east. A cloud covered the top part of it. I could only capture part of both sides (sorry that one is so faint):

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But I was at the right place at the right time to see both sides. Oddly enough both of my rainbow experiences occurred while I was in my car. At least for one instance—a rainy day last December—I had time to get out of my car twice to photograph.

Something as serendipitous as seeing a rainbow reminds me of what I love about fairy tales and other fantasy stories. Some of these aspects are what inspire me to write fantasy stories. (See, here’s that tangent I mentioned earlier.)

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You can’t read this blog for too long without knowing that I love Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings or the fact that my father used to read a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales to me at bedtime. So I grew up feeling comforted by these familiar stories that took me to places where giants roamed and wily dragons hunted. They fueled my desire to see adventures unfurl around every corner. And when I eventually grew into a nerdy kid who was bullied by other kids at school, the desire to escape into a magical realm like Bastian Balthazar Bux does in The Neverending Story escalated.

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Every book I read became my own private movie theater of the imagination and fueled my desire to write the kinds of stories into which kids could escape. The tales based on the mythology of myriad cultures (Welsh, Greek/Roman, African, Chinese, Japanese, Scandinavian) helped fuel the fire.

As a writer, I can only do my best to impart my vision as vividly as possible in order to come across in high definition on the screen of a reader’s imagination. That’s why I’m grateful for the flashes of inspiration that occasionally come my way. They’re like those glimpses I had of the rainbow the other day, which made a commonplace journey extraordinary. When I’m inspired, every sense is heightened, every moment fraught with possibility. (I’ll bet you’re thinking of Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” right about now.)

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Because of a pressing curriculum project recently and the holidays, I haven’t written much in the way of fiction in the last few weeks. But I hope to return to my story and the wonder to be had in a magical place somewhere over the rainbow.

What inspired you recently?

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This wolf howls because he’s not one of the three wolves on a T-shirt sold by Amazon.

Book cover from Goodreads. Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz from vickielester.com. Dragon image from dragonwallpapers10. Wolf image from fanpop.

Keep Your Promise

Ever have a dream where you’re being chased by a serial killer? You’re racing along, certain to be caught, your breath ragged with fear. But suddenly, you launch yourself into the sky. You have the power of flight! Woo hoo! Yeah, baby!

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Psychotherapists have many interpretations of this sort of dream. But this post isn’t about those. The flying dream came to mind as I thought about the way paranormal aspects are introduced in a novel.

I usually get into a snit when I’ve read several chapters of what seems to be a realistic novel only to discover a sudden turn toward the paranormal. Don’t get me wrong. I love fantasy stories. I also love realistic stories. But if several chapters where everything is normal go by before even one fantastical element is introduced, my bait-and-switch meter starts ticking. My irritation doubles if the book jacket mentions paranormal, but the first 50 pages of the book fail to show anything that could be construed as fantastical.

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You can thank author Jen White for helping me understand why I feel irked. She wrote a great post at Through The Tollbooth that I highly recommend: “Survival Strategies of the Best First Chapters.” You can read that post by clicking on the post title. White talked about a promise made between an author and a reader. Here’s a quote from that post:

As an author you promise to stay in character and to stay in genre. You promise to keep story threads alive and fruitful. The first chapter says: This book is about…(and then stay true to that statement).

You promise . . . to stay in genre. . . . When a novel pivots toward a different genre than the one the first chapter sets up, the author has broken his or her promise to the reader.

In a dream, think of a sudden ability to fly as the introduction of a paranormal element into a story. The compressed time frame of a dream makes for a swift integration of the fantastical element. Our minds readily accept it. An author has to work harder in a book to get a reader to suspend disbelief. Though an author has more time to lay out a plot in a book, he/she has to help a reader see the integration of the fantastical elements and the realistic elements early on, especially if the book is set in our world. Otherwise, acceptance of the elements won’t come as readily.

DarkestPartoftheForest_coverHere’s the first paragraph of Holly Black’s young adult novel, The Darkest Part of the Forest:

Down a path worn into the woods, past a stream and a hollowed-out log full of pill bugs and termites, was a glass coffin. It rested right on the ground, and in it slept a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives.” (Black 1)

With a beginning like this, a reader would know that this world is not exactly like our own. And Black follows through on the promise inherent in this paragraph: that the reader will be taken on a fantastical journey. But does this mean every author has to introduce fantasy elements in the first paragraph? Nope. Instead, foreshadowing is a great tool an author can use. It’s like a promise an author makes to a reader early on that a story eventually will pivot toward the fantastic. For example, in the first chapter of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, when the Pevensie kids arrive at their wartime home, we’re told

It was the sort of house that you never seem to come to the end of, and it was full of unexpected places. (Lewis 4)

Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

Unexpected places. With those two words and the introduction of the wardrobe in the same paragraph, Lewis sets up the promise of a fantastical adventure, one that he keeps in the first chapter. If that’s not enough evidence for you, look at the foreshadowing in the first paragraph of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. I won’t print it here, since I’ve quoted quite a bit in this post. Chances are, you have a copy of this book handy and can see for yourself. 🙂

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Both of these books have delighted people of all ages for many years. Our books can do the same if we keep our promises.

Works Cited
Black, Holly. The Darkest Part of the Forest. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2015. Print.
Lewis, C. S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. New York: HarperTrophy, 1950. Print.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Arthur Levine/Scholastic, 1997. Print.
White, Jen. “Survival Strategies of the Best First Chapters.” Through The Tollbooth. N.p., 09 July 2015. Web. 09 July 2015.

Book covers from Goodreads. Flying man from azokey.blogspot.com. Bait and switch image from theamericangenius.com.