“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.

Advertisements

Good by Whose Standards? Exploring the Gap between Critics and Consumers

Hope you had a happy Easter! ****WARNING: If you wish to avoid reading anything about what critics have said about Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, stop reading right now. You have been warned.****

By now you’ve heard that one of the most anticipated movies of 2016—Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice—opened to dismal reviews. It earned a stunning 29% on Rotten Tomatoes. (By comparison Zootopia earned a 99%.)

batman-vs-superman-dawn-of-justice

I was surprised at that score. But what interested me more than the reviews I’ve seen was the reaction of fans in regard to the critics who viewed the film with such disfavor. Even director Zach Snyder and some of the cast reacted to the criticism.

The New York Times addressed the gap between fans and critics in an article by Jonah Bromwich that you can find here. Bromwich proclaims

Critics who have panned the film have been met with fury online, with angry fans sneering at their reviews, their writing and even their motives.

512px-Thumbs_down_font_awesome.svgThis is not the first time fans and critics have failed to see eye to eye. Undoubtedly, it won’t be the last. While Bromwich’s article mentioned that a critical thumb’s down won’t deter diehard fans (case in point: a teen I know saw the movie and loved it), a steady onslaught of critical reviews can sometimes take a toll. As of the writing of this post, the box office take for the movie had not yet been posted. So who knows? Perhaps the fans will have the last word if the film rakes in a ton of money. (Wired.com has what I think is a fair take on Batman v. Superman and the critical drubbing it received. You can find that here.)

Reactions to any artistic endeavor can be subjective. But when so many people pan a project, thus inspiring another group to pan them for panning said project, I can’t help wondering who decides which elements make a project “good” or “excellent.” Is beauty truly in the eyes of the beholder (the consumer) or in the eyes of the gatekeepers (critics, agents, movie studio executives, publishers—whoever)? Is the gap between consumers and gatekeepers widening?

gap-20clipart-gap

Many people have written books on what makes a piece of writing “good.” I’m sure you’ve seen some of those. You’re probably thinking of Strunk & White right about now, or Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing. I think of Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft (a personal favorite). As for films, you have only to look at the lists of the “best” films of all time and books like Agee on Film: Criticism and Comment on the Movies to see what many have regarded as “good” films.

33514     10569

68024   113088

If I’m serious about seeing a film, most of the time there is no critic alive who will deter me from seeing it. In fact, I try to avoid reading reviews until I’ve seen the film. But I’m not always successful in avoiding them; consequently, negative reviews sometimes sway me. With books, however, I often check the reviews (including verbal praise from friends) beforehand. I’ve been burned too many times in the past not to.

I have opinions, yes, about what I consider “good.” Sometimes I judge by the way a book or film made me feel as I read it or viewed it. Many of the books and films I’ve loved over the years haven’t had all of the bells and whistles of a critically acclaimed, National Book award finalist or Academy Award nominee. Yet I found something endearing about them. On the other hand, I’ve loved some extremely well written books (All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, for instance) and films.

All the Light We Cannot See

The jury’s still out on whether or not I’ll see Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I have to chalk some of my reticence up to my inability to escape some of the negative press. How about you? Have you ever been swayed against seeing a film or reading a book because of a negative review? Do you, like some fans, believe that critics don’t understand what the average person likes? Why or why not?

47b5c7d88d9fa09ac1ad099a2cf052a4
Batman v. Superman poster from thegg.net. Book covers from Goodreads. Peeps from Pinterest.com. Thumb’s down image from commons.wikimedia.org. Gap image from clipartpanda.com.

Tiny Treasures—Blogoversary Time!

004Ever have one of those weeks when you almost forget your own name? Last week was a really busy week for me, which culminated in a jury summons. So on February 19, I was taken aback when WordPress sent me this note:

anniversary-2x Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com!
You registered on WordPress.com 3 years ago!
Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!

Thanks, WordPress! I had totally forgotten my blogoversary!

You might wonder about the post title—“Tiny Treasures.” Don’t let the photo at the beginning of the post fool you. The kitty in the teapot is less than two inches tall. This is a tiny treasure—one of the Littlest Pet Shop blind bag pets. (Um, I can totally see you yawning or fidgeting. There is a method to this madness. Really.)

When I was a little kid, I loved to collect tiny things. This was one of the reasons also why I loved to visit the Colleen Moore Fairy Castle at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. It’s filled with miniature furniture!

Colleen Moore Fairy Castle @ the Museum of Science and Industry

Colleen Moore Fairy Castle @ the Museum of Science and Industry

One Christmas I was given a box of 100 small, pink plastic ballet dancers. I played with them for hours. I’m glad I found a picture of them on the internet, since I no longer have the set. Some internet wag referred to these as the girl version of those little green Army men.

plastic-army-men-for-girls

These days I still collect tiny treasures, but mostly in book form. (Okay, yes, I have a few Shopkins and characters from series like My Little Pony and the Littlest Pet Shop. I also have a small throwing knife and like to crochet tiny envelopes. Eclectic is my middle name.)

008  012

004

I love fantasy and science fiction books. I realize these types of books are not everyone’s cup of tea. But to celebrate my blogoversary, I’d like to give away a tiny treasure—a book under 200 pages in length—to a commenter. Normally I love a long book. But some books pack a punch in a short amount of time. I chose two that have inspired me over the years. They’re oldies but goodies.

674749   13642

Why these books? Well, The Ordinary Princess represents everything I love about fairy tales. And I love the way Le Guin explores the different cultures in her tightly written classic, A Wizard of Earthsea.

Comment below to let me know which book you would like to receive if your name is chosen. (Do not be alarmed. I am not giving away my old, beat-up copies of these books.) It’s okay if the answer is “neither,” and you just wish to comment without participating in my book giveaway. Just know that I appreciate the fact that you found your way to my little corner of the internet. 🙂 You deserve some cake for that. Feel free to take a huge bite.

cake-hi

I’ve enjoyed writing this blog. Still, I never imagined I’d reach a third year! Thanks for putting up with me over the years.

What tiny treasures, if any, do you collect?

015  023

Book covers from Goodreads. Plastic dancers from onemoregadget.com. Cake from clker.com. Fairy castle from msichicago.org.

Check This Out: A Gift of Shadows

Welcome back to the blog where my guest today is the très fabuleuse Stephanie Stamm. She’s here to talk about A Gift of Shadows, book 2 of her Light-Bringer trilogy, which launches today!

Steph_2_copy_(2)

Woot! Here’s a synopsis:

shadows_promoSome Gifts come in Dark packages.

The Making gave her wings, but two months later, Lucky’s Gift has yet to appear. When it finally does, she’s in Lilith’s Dark world, and the Gift comes as a deadly power that causes Lucky to question everything she thinks she knows about herself. Her only support is her boyfriend’s brother. While Lucky struggles with her Gift and her feelings for Kev, tensions escalate between Dark and Light, and the barriers between worlds start to fail. Can Lucky and the Fallen find their way through the deepening shadows?

006

Jordie received a dark package and wonders if his Gift is in it. Or is this just a gift?

Um, moving on, isn’t that cover très cool? But wait. There’s more. You can have this very book, thanks to a giveaway I’ll mention after I talk with Stephanie.

Happy-Release-DayEl Space: Happy Release Day! Though you’ve been on the blog before, I still have to ask you to supply four quick facts about yourself.
Stephanie: I can pretty much live on different kinds of soup during the winter.
I’ve never been able to write a fast first draft without editing as I go.
I’m fascinated with psychology, spirituality, and the inner journey.
I get cranky when I’m too busy to have time to read fiction.

El Space: Tell us about this next part of Lucky’s journey. Nonspoilery of course. 🙂 How has Lucky grown?
Stephanie: Lucky has gotten stronger, tougher. She’s impatient to learn more. She has more agency. In the first book, she was more reactive, doing what she had to in response to what happened around her and to her. In A Gift of Shadows, she acts as well as reacts and makes more independent choices, some of which cause problems for her.

El Space: How has your world expanded in this book?
Stephanie: Lucky spends some time in Lilith’s world in this book. There, she learns more about Lilith and Luil and makes some friends and some enemies. Kev gets to explore more of the Dark and Light Realms. Some events still take place in Chicago, but the larger world Lucky now knows she’s a part of starts impacting the city as well.

light-vs-dark

El Space: This is the middle book of your trilogy. What did you find challenging about writing a bridge book?
Stephanie: Recapping enough of the first book to refresh the reader’s memory without restating too much, and at the same time setting up for problems to come in the third book, while still wrapping up enough to give a sense of an ending. It really was a challenge. Whenever I found myself struggling, I took comfort in the comments I’ve read or heard from other trilogy authors about the difficulty of writing that middle book.

books3

El Space: In an interview with urban fantasy authors Kelley Armstrong and Carrie Vaughn here, the interviewer asked them to respond to the accusation that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy. How would you respond to that allegation? Remarks like that make my blood boil, by the way.
Stephanie: I’m picturing a “No Girls Allowed” sign tacked on a tree house.

no girls allowed 1

I’m not sure what it even means to “destroy” a genre. I would assume the people who make those accusations are referring to the growth of paranormal romance novels. I would call that an expansion of the urban fantasy genre, not a destruction of it. And the popular novelists in both urban fantasy and paranormal romance have both male and female fans.

men-vs-womenSome male writers have long complained that women can’t write science fiction—leading to the distinction between “hard” and “soft” SF, a not-so-subtle gendering through adjectives. The claim that women are destroying science fiction and fantasy is just a continuation of that argument, and it rests on an unquestioned evaluation of the “male” or “hard” version of SF as somehow better than so-called “soft” SF. The supporters of that claim seem to me to be fearfully clinging to their particular idea of what the genres can or should be, instead of allowing those genres to encompass whatever authors can bring to them. Frankly, I don’t even understand how one genre—or sub-genre—can be threatened by another. Each sub-genre will have its own readers and fans, some of which may cross over to the other. Seems like a win-win to me.

Incidentally, I loved Kelley Armstrong’s YA Darkness Rising series.

11864728

Dont Stereotype MeEl Space: I agree with you! What stereotypes, if any, bother you in sci-fi/fantasy? How does your series challenge those stereotypes?
Stephanie: I’m bothered by the helpless or over-sexualized female. That’s changed in a lot of contemporary writing, with the kickass heroine becoming more of a norm. While the strength of that kickass heroine is a move forward, she can become a female version of the male idea of toughness, where any show of vulnerability is “feminine” or “weak.” The willingness to be vulnerable actually exhibits a different kind of strength. I tried to write female characters who are both tough and vulnerable. And I tried to write male characters who are both as well.

I’m also troubled by female characters who see other females as rivals instead of friends. I wanted to show strong female friendships in this book too. Romance is more central in Shadows than it was in Wings, but those female friendships are also very important.

El Space: What’s next after this series for you?
Stephanie: I’m incubating the seeds of a standalone fantasy novel based on figures from two different ancient religious traditions. I’ve got some research to do to figure out exactly where that book could go and how it will be shaped.

I also want to spend some time working on poetry, polishing some existing poems for submission and writing new ones.

Thanks, Stephanie, for visiting! You’re always welcome.

And thank you to all who dropped by. Since you’re here, check out this book trailer for A Gift of Shadows:

Looking for Stephanie? Look for her at her website and on Facebook. A Gift of Shadows is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Also, the eBook for A Gift of Wings is on sale for $0.99 to celebrate the holidays and the release of Shadows. You can get A Gift of Wings at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

You can be entered in the drawing to win one of two prizes Stephanie is offering—a paperback or an eBook of A Gift of Shadows—just by commenting below. And just because Christmas is around the corner, I’m offering a second eBook of A Gift of Shadows to a commenter. If you like, share with us your favorite female science fiction or fantasy author. I’ll start with some of my favorites: Lois McMaster Bujold, Juliet Marillier, Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, and Robin McKinley. Winners will be announced on Tuesday, December 16.

Christmas Ornaments 019

011

A Gift of Shadows has the Supervillain Seal of Approval.

A Gift of Shadows cover courtesy of Stephanie Stamm. The Rising cover from Goodreads. Book release image from mywrittenromance.com. Books from bellschool.org. No girls sign from whispermumstheword.com. Men vs. women sign from diniprathivi.wordpress.com. Christmas ornaments from ezdecorating.blogspot.com.

A Public Declaration in Favor of Fantasy

I’m Laura Linney, your host for a new season of Masterpiece Classics. Except I’m not really Laura Linney. But don’t change the channel just because I’m not. I felt the post warranted an authoritative air.

Picture-13-600x335

The real Laura Linney

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time (five seconds will do it), you’ll discern that I’m a fantasy fan. I read fantasy. I write fantasy. I read and appreciate other genres and have written other types of fiction. Nonfiction too. But I gravitate to fantasy like a moth gravitates to a light fixture. I’ve written about my need for fairy tales, now it’s time to go on record that the greater genre umbrella—speculative fiction, specifically fantasy—is my genre of choice.

Fantasy-Creature-Wallpaper-900x1600

You might say I already made that abundantly clear when I wrote about fairy tales. I would say I haven’t, because I’ve run across a few who, based on their suggestions about what my next fiction project should be, still hold out hope that I’ll someday snap out of this fantasy obsession and write something else. Sorry. You’re in for a long wait. . . . But feel free to send chocolate just in case.

choctruffles2

I first declared my commitment to fantasy back in my undergrad days. Those were challenging days, since we often had to hide from marauding dinosaurs. Early in the morning I would grab my trusty club and brave the wilds on my way to my writing core classes. Back then, saying you wrote fantasy usually garnered you the type of look Oliver Twist received when he asked for more gruel at the workhouse. Of course that was before even cuneiform writing was discovered. I was ahead of my time.

T-rex_Wallpapers 7

A typical day at school . . .

Over the years, I’ve heard people complain about fantasy and cite the unpronounceable names, weird animals, and “fantastic” situations as reasons why they “can’t get into fantasy.” One of my ex-coworkers from years back said, “The stories are too made up.”

28876Last time I checked, all fiction stories are “made up.” Otherwise, they would be nonfiction. But I take the meaning. Fantasy stories are a clarion call to the imagination. A skilled fantasy writer snatches you off to an imaginary world and makes you believe this world is as real as your own. Or perhaps the writer skews our world a little differently by the addition of a fantastic element. (For example, dragons in the Napoleonic era ala Naomi Novik’s series.)

If you read Andra Watkins’s April 18 post on the effects of sustained reading on the brain, you came across this article: “How Reading Lights Up Your Mind” by Christy Matta. The article cites two fantasy realms: C. S. Lewis’s Narnia and J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. If you’ve read these authors’ series, I don’t have to say much to get you to picture in your mind some aspect of these worlds. You’re already there, aren’t you, roaming the roads in search of Aslan, Mr. Tumnus, hobbits, or elves. Perhaps you’re thinking of ways to dodge or defeat orcs. This is the type of mental firing the article discusses.

           c-s-lewis-2  jrr-tolkien

C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien

If you’re not a fan of fantasy, I get it. You don’t want to be proselytized any more than I want to be told what I should be writing. You don’t care that George R. R. Martin, Catherynne Valente, Brandon Sanderson, N. K. Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, Ursula Le Guin, Patricia A. McKillip, and others are critically acclaimed, award-winning fantasy authors. (And let’s not forget a writer named J. K. Rowling. You may have heard of her.) Maybe for you, even science fiction is more palatable because its roots in science point to a semblance of rules and measurable boundaries. Even if the action takes place “in a galaxy far, far away,” a galaxy entirely made up, the story seems believable to you because our solar system is situated in a galaxy (the Milky Way) and men and rovers have traveled to the moon and Mars respectively. Maybe you have a cousin at Cal Tech studying jet propulsion who helps you wrap your head around the possibilities of warp speed.

           n-k-jemisin Jemisin_Hundred-Thousand-MM

I’ve made peace with the fact that if you think fantasy is icky poo, maybe you wouldn’t crack open a book of mine out of fear that you’ll find some unpronounceable name or a weird creature—a justifiable fear, since you will find both. If so, you’ll miss all the fun I’m having, because fantasy writing is mind-blowingly fun. It’s like being a kid watching clouds and imagining that she sees all kinds of things. But beyond the whimsical aspect of writing, there’s also the need to ground the story, to provide frames of reference to help readers understand the world and relate aspects to what they know. That’s the hard part.

So knowing that, maybe our paths will cross someday on the pages once I finish the book and send it out into the world. See? I’m truly a fantasy writer if I believe that maybe someone who dislikes fantasy will look my way. I can dream, can’t I?

A good post on the fantasy genre: http://childliterature.net/childlit/fantasy/

Laura Linney photo from celebs.com. Tolkien photo from the-hobbitmovie.com. Lewis photo from pjcockrell.wordpress.com. N. K. Jemisin photo from opionator.wordpress.com. T-rex from animaltheory.blogspot.com. Chocolate truffles from thefoodsite.net. Fantasy creature from findwallpaper.info.

Check This Out: Legends of Windemere (Part 2)

Welcome back to the blog. Glad you’re here. Help yourself to a beverage. With us is the cool and clever Charles Yallowitz, here to continue the discussion of his series, Legends of Windemere. Charles also is a poet, so I’m sure he appreciates the alliteration I just used. 😀 If you’re a first timer, you  might want to check here for part 1 of the interview with Charles.

                    wattpad_beginning rsz_prodigy_cover_final

rsz_1allure_final_cover

And of course, there’s a giveaway. Two of those who comment today will win the first three books of the series. But first, let’s talk to Charles.

El Space: How do you decide how much back story to include in each subsequent book of the series?
Charles: Since I write in present tense, I can’t do a narrative that goes over what previously happened. I have to remind readers about prior events through character dialogues. This creates a basic overview of the back story from the perspective of the continuing characters. I try to touch on the big events of the past and bring them up if it makes sense. For example, there is a betrayal in Prodigy of Rainbow Tower and it gets brought up from time to time, either by remembering the deceased character or somebody brings up the traitor. The trick to carrying over back story in present tense is really to make it appear natural within the course of a conversation. If you can’t fit it in, then don’t do it. You can either wait for an opening to appear or create an earlier conversation to bring it up.

Luke_Cross_SwordsEl Space: Which character is most like you? Least? If you were a character in your series, what powers would you have?
Charles: Luke Callindor [left] will always be the most like me, but he’s in much better physical condition. We share the same ability to become frustrated, and we think in ways that can confuse people. He does it in battle while I do it in my writing. The character that I’m the least like is probably Sari, since the one I’m really not like hasn’t shown up yet. Sari has a level of flirty confidence that I’ve never had. There’s a true sense of freedom that I get from her whenever I write her scenes.

In Windemere, I would train as a warrior, because I love swords. I don’t know if I’d develop any powers, but I would love to have Luke’s ability to see sound. It’s a small power that I randomly rolled in the game [Dungeons & Dragons] and kept for the book. His sound sight has turned into such a versatile ability that it’s become my favorite to use. This answer just turned into “I would be Luke Callindor,” didn’t it? My second answer is that I’d learn illusions and use them to tell stories in taverns and festivals.

long-sword2

El Space: You have several female characters. What are the challenges of writing across the gender line?
Charles: I’ve never really thought about the challenges when writing my female characters. Their gender is only a guideline to help me remember pronouns and a few habits. I think a challenge for many is to make a female hero strong and feminine. There’s this habit of making a woman in fantasy either fragile with femininity or tough as nails with a more masculine attitude. The term butch gets thrown out there a lot, but I think it’s better to say that they’ve been androgenized. It’s very much about balance and pulling out the right aspects of a character for the right situation.

             Kira_Cute    Trinity_Magic

Kira and Trinity

Nyx_GlowingOne thing that I have gotten in a little trouble for is that I don’t shy away from my female characters getting injured. I’ve read a lot of fantasy where the women will come out of a battle either unscathed or a little banged up, while the men are nursing some pretty bad wounds. I couldn’t see many of my female characters doing this, especially Nyx [right]. This has led to a few scenes where Nyx takes a beating while doling out enough destruction to avoid being called weak. So it is a risk to have a female hero who gets hurt in the same way as a male hero, because it touches on a sensitivity of some readers. The trick is to not do it often, not overdo it, and make sure it has a point for the plot instead of only gaining sympathy for the character.

pile_of_booksEl Space: I agree with that! Now let me ask you this: How has indie publishing changed since you first started? What advice do you have for an indie publishing newbie?
Charles: I haven’t seen much of a change since I’ve only been at this for a year. Amazon seems to come up with new promotions and rules every few months, but I think that’s part of the evolving system.

My advice to new indie authors is simple:
(1) Keep writing! Cliché, but true. I’ve seen a lot of indie authors stop writing and then wonder why people forgot about them.
(2) Connect with other authors to get support and talk shop. Many authors have paved the way for other indie authors. They know about the formatting, marketing, and other aspects of the business. Also, you never know what a new indie author will stumble onto and share with a veteran.
(3) Never publicly react to negative reviews, because that will make you look unprofessional. If it really bugs you, then find a friend or another author to vent to through emails. Just make sure they want to hear you rant first.
(4) Some people will tell you that this is a competition between authors. Well, it isn’t, because we’re all in the same boat. You will get farther and help the overall indie author community by sharing knowledge, joining blog tours, and supporting other authors. With every successful indie author, the choice to self-publish becomes more accepted as a viable path.
(5) Have fun. I don’t really have to go into detail here, do I?

El Space: Great advice. What authors inspire you?
Charles: Many authors inspire me, so it’s hard to pick a handful. I actually take a little from everything I read and watch, but I’ll try to give some kind of list. There’s the fantasy greats of Tolkien, Lewis, Saberhagen, and Le Guin. I love the characters written by John Flanagan in the Ranger’s Apprentice Series and Rick Riordan’s various series. To name a few others, Orson Scott Card, Edgar Allan Poe, Hiromu Arakawa (Fullmetal Alchemist), and Mel Brooks. As you can see, I’m all over the place with my inspirations. It’s a miracle I can write a coherent sentence.

           870   13642

16488

El Space: How many books do you anticipate for your series? What are you working on now?
Charles: Legends of Windemere will have 15 books and another book will be done to clean up a potential loose end. After that I will have to decide on the next series to work on, but I’m probably going to start in on my vampire series. The Windemere vampires have an interesting history and that series is going to be a lot more brutal than what I’m doing now. I currently have two WIPs at this moment. One is preparing Legends of Windemere: Family of the Tri-Rune for a March release. I’m waiting on cover art and final edits to be done. I’m also writing Legends of Windemere: Sleeper of the Wildwood Fugue, which is the 7th book of the series. I figure I’ll be able to relax around book 15.

Thanks, Charles, for hanging out on the blog with me! I’ve enjoyed your visit!

Looking for Charles? Head to his blog, Facebook, Goodreads, Wattpad, or Twitter. Legends of Windemere can be found at Amazon. Two of you will win the first three books of his series. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on March 7.

Thanks for stopping by!

Cover art of the Legends of Windemere series by Jason Pedersen. Character art by Kayla Matt. Legends of Windemere covers courtesy of Charles Yallowitz. Other covers from Goodreads. Sword from knife-depot.com. Books image from onkaparingacity.com.

Check This Out: Falcon in the Glass

Happy Halloween, folks! Instead of a trick, I’ve got a treat for you. . . . No, not this.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

In the house with me today is the one and only Susan Fletcher, one of the faculty members of VCFA.

DSC00790

Susan in Venice!

Susan is represented by Elizabeth Harding of Curtis Brown, and has several novels in her arsenal, including Alphabet of Dreams, Shadow Spinner, the Dragon Chronicles (series), and others. She’s here to talk about her latest middle grade fantasy, Falcon in the Glass, published by Margaret K. McElderry Books. Here’s the synopsis:

16074605

A boy risks his life to save some very special children in this fantasy adventure, set amidst the rich backdrop of Renaissance Venice.

In Venice in 1487, the secrets of glassblowing are guarded jealously. Renzo, a twelve-year-old laborer in a glassworks, has just a few months to prepare for a test of his abilities, and no one to teach him. If he passes, he will qualify as a skilled glassblower. If he fails, he will be expelled from the glassworks. Becoming a glassblower is his murdered father’s dying wish for him, and the means of supporting his mother and sister. But Renzo desperately needs another pair of hands to help him turn the glass as he practices at night.

One night he is disturbed by a bird—a small falcon—that seems to belong to a girl hiding in the glassworks. Soon Renzo learns about her and others like her—the bird people, who can communicate with birds and are condemned as witches. He tries to get her to help him and discovers that she comes with baggage: ten hungry bird-kenning children who desperately need his aid. Caught between devotion to his family and his art and protecting a group of outcast children, Renzo struggles for a solution that will keep everyone safe in this atmospheric adventure.

One of you will win a print copy of the book. So, let’s get this party started!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
205205Susan: 1. I make a mean vegetarian chili (with 2 secret ingredients).
2. I have read Beowulf in the original Old English.
3. I can do the hula hoop.
4. To research Alphabet of Dreams, I followed the Silk Road through the Zagros Mountains in Iran.

El Space: You are awesome! Falcon in the Glass was a joy to read. What inspired you to write it?
Susan: I fell in love with Venice maybe twenty years ago. One day when I had a bad cold, I wrapped myself up in a blanket, settled myself on the couch, and turned on the TV. The first thing that came on was a video documentary of Venice. After that, I was hooked.

San_Marco_(evening_view)What is it about Venice? I mean, aside from the fact that it’s flat-out gorgeous. I think part of what gets me is the water everywhere, and the reflections on stone that give the whole city a sort of rippling evanescence. And it’s partly the history of Venice, with its intrigues and over-the-top opulence. To me, St. Mark’s Cathedral looks like something out of a fantasy novel. And it’s partly that when you wander through those old streets and canals, you can almost imagine that the 21st century has dropped away and you’re living hundreds of years ago.

So I started reading about Venice, and eventually I stumbled upon the fact that if Venetian glassblowers took their professional secrets abroad, the authorities would send assassins to do them in. Wow. Talk about your industrial espionage. And what a great seed for a story!

El Space: What was the most challenging aspect of writing it?
Susan: Seems like every novel I’ve written has been full of, er, challenges—a polite way to put it—of one kind or another. Falcon in the Glass was no exception. The challenges were legion, but here’s one example: When I went to Venice in 2008, I toured the dungeons, which were built in the 16th century. The book was in a very early, formative stage at the time, but I had a vague idea that one of the characters might be put in prison. This turned out to be the case. But when I pinned down the dates of my story, I found that the dungeons I toured were built after the story takes place. Ack! I would have loved to have returned to Venice, but couldn’t swing it. So I had to dig out the information from secondary sources.

800px-Photograph_of_of_the_Doges_Palace_in_VeniceWhat were the prisons like before the 16th century? With the help of an historian—Patricia Fortini Brown of Princeton—and a librarian—Jim Nolte of Vermont College—I found pictures and descriptions of the earlier prisons, which were housed in the Doge’s Palace. One of the best sources was the notorious womanizer Casanova, who escaped from that same prison and described it in detail in his memoir, The Story of My Life.

El Space: I need to read that! How did you come up with Renzo? Letta and the other green-eyed children?
Susan: My first thought was to have a girl glassblower. But historically, though some girls painted glass, it would have been almost unheard of to have a girl working side by side with men in a Murano glass factory during the Renaissance. So I took a deep breath and decided to inhabit a boy, for once. I was also interested in writing about atonement, for reasons I don’t completely understand. I wanted to explore what happens when you do something that harms someone, and then you try to make amends. So I just . . . asked myself questions. Whom did the main character hurt? And why? And what does he do to try to make amends? And why is that difficult for him? You know, like that. And eventually, through my questions and through the actual writing, Renzo emerged.

dragonsmilk_169lA long time ago, when I was writing Dragon’s Milk, I came up with the idea of bird kenners, people who could communicate telepathically with dragons and who understood the language of birds. I think I got the idea from the old legend of Sigurd, who slew a dragon and, roasting its heart on a spit, tasted some juice from the dragon heart. And after that, he could understand the language of birds. In my dragon books, bird kenners all have green eyes. I chose green because it’s rarer than blue or brown, but not really weird, like yellow. I figured, kids might imagine that bird kenners might exist in the world today. In one of my favorite fan letters, a boy wrote me, “Ever since reading your book I have been looking for a green-eyed girl. Some have come close, but not close enough.”

13642El Space: Which authors inspire you?
Susan: I could give you a super-long list, but I’ll whittle it down. I got excited about the possibility of writing children’s books when my daughter was young, and a children’s librarian introduced me to some of her favorite children’s books, books by Katherine Paterson, Virginia Hamilton, Susan Cooper, Robin McKinley, and Ursula Le Guin. I was knocked out by what I found in the children’s department, and knew that this was what I wanted to do.

491204Later, I had the good fortune to be in a critique group with Eloise McGraw. In addition to being a consummate writer, she became a wise and beloved mentor and friend. I still aspire to write as well as she does, but I don’t think I’m ever going to make it.

Another stroke of luck: Ellen Howard and Margaret Bechard were also in that group, and both have also become dear friends. Ellen’s beautiful language and uncompromising emotional honesty continue to inspire me by setting the bar well beyond my grasp. Margaret’s spare, sharp prose and humor do the same.

6334Many other novelists for young readers continue to inspire me, but I’m going to list the authors of a few novels for adults that have mesmerized and inspired me: Khaled Hosseini. Charles Dickens. Mary Doria Russell. Kazuo Ishiguro. Louis De Bernieres. Liam Callanan. Jane Austen. Harper Lee. Barbara Kingsolver. David Guterson. Leo Tolstoy. And I think I’ll just stop there.

El Space: What tip would you offer to a writer who might be stuck in a writing rut?
Susan: When I’m in a rut, my natural tendency is to just keep beating my head against the same old wall. Bad idea! Over time I have learned to step away from the wall. Get out and take a walk. Go for a drive. Listen to some music I love. Go to a museum. Read a really good book in a completely different genre from the one I’m working on. Meet with some friends over coffee. Persistence is necessary for writers—especially for novelists—but ruts happen, and sometimes it’s best to open up new possibilities rather than try to just bull your way through.

El Space: What are you working on now?
Susan: I’d really like to do a sequel to Falcon in the Glass someday, but right now I’m working on another historical novel, one that takes place a couple of centuries before Falcon. It’s based on a little tidbit of historical fact, and I’m having lots of fun imagining the parts that are lost to history but which might have happened.

Thanks for being my guest, Susan!

Looking for more of Susan? Check out her website. Falcon in the Glass is available here:

Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Powell’s Books

Comment below to be entered in the drawing to win a copy of Falcon in the Glass. Winner to be announced on Saturday.

Book covers from Susan’s website and Goodreads. The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark and Doge’s Palace photos from Wikipedia.