Writing Update

So now I find myself writing a horror story.

Well, horror-ish.

I didn’t plan things this way. I guess it’s what I get for writing about The Great Snake. I mean, did I expect it to be nice?

So, just a warning to anyone who is planning to read all the way through my trilogy … it’s heading in a sort of horror direction. Sorry if that’s not your thing.

And More About Our Favorite Cave People

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

So, apparently, I now have you guys trained to send me links about Neanderthals. Which is great. It saves me a lot of time.

Here’s the latest, sent in by a fellow author. (By the way, go buy his book: The Accidental Spy. It’s about a submarine and stuff).

Anyway, this link, “Neanderthals may have used their hands differently from humans,” apart from distinguishing Neanderthals from humans in the title, makes claims that I find impressively modest; you might say, impressively unimpressive. The general idea is that Neanderthals’ thumb bones appear to be a little different from those of modern humans, such that they may have found precision grips a little more difficult. But the article points out that Neanderthals did have a precision grip, and were able to make yarn, thread seashells for jewelry, etc. So, there you go.

As a layperson, it seems to me that these are still guesses based on reconstructing a hand from the bones and using 3-D imaging of how the joints would have worked. Again as a layperson, as far as I can tell, 3-D imaging is just a really sophisticated, computer-aided series of guesses. So it isn’t necessarily accurate. I remember that time that we thought the T-rexes stood upright and put their tails on the ground to support themselves, and then we changed our minds and decided that they ran with their weight leaning forward and the tail stuck out behind for balance.

But, whichever. I have no problem with Neanderthal thumbs being a little bit clumsy, or not a little bit clumsy. I suppose we will find out some day.

“Things Happened with Horrible Timing”

Hello everyone! To my American readers, I hope your holiday weekend was restful. I hope it went fantastic. (Mine did.)

But perhaps your holiday weekend didn’t “go fantastic.” Perhaps it went horrible.

Thanksgiving has betrayed me just enough times that I get nervous around it. I can think of three or four past Thanksgivings where there emerged, on that very weekend, a crisis of life-and-death proportions. I’m not sure why, but holidays and other non-ordinary times seem to attract these things.

In my upcoming book, The Strange Land, the tribal chief notes ruefully that moving days are subject to the same phenomenon:

Enmer had seen this time and again. If anyone was going to get sick, if anyone was going to get pregnant, if anyone was going to miscarry or commit a petty crime or simply snap under the pressure of survival, they were more likely to do it at the exact moment of transition. These in-between times [when the tribe was getting ready to move] were dangerous.

Enmer had given this a lot of thought and had concluded that though he could — and did — blame his people for their actual actions, he could not blame them for their bad timing. Things happened with horrible timing. That was the way of the world.

The Strange Land, chapter 10

I hope this Thanksgiving was kind to each of you, though. See you next time!

Warning Labels

Some books need warning labels. Especially history books. Heck, history needs a warning label! Heck, this entire world needs one! It should read something like: Fallen World. Danger, Difficulty, Death.

For all these reasons, the brilliant graphic artist Nathan Hale puts warning labels on the the brilliant historical books he produces for children. The labels are tailored to each individual story. For example:

This is from the back of Big Bad Ironclad.

Note the delightfully specific terrors promised, such as “underwater toilets” and “Swedish swearing.” (And yes, the book delivers those very things. It makes sense in context. So does the bomb on a stick.)

This is from the back of The Underground Abductor, about the life of Harriet Tubman.

Besides the horrors and heroics that we all know her life contained, we get “supernatural visions” (Harriet’s and, before her, Nat Turner’s); “massacre” (led by Nat Turner); “muskrat trapping” (more of a hardship than it sounds); and, of course the “drugged babies” are so that the escapees would not be caught.

Now, I write fiction, and it’s pretty dramatic and everything, but nothing I or anyone else will write can compare to the drama and poignancy of Harriet Tubman’s life.

With that disclaimer, here — and you can tell that I worked really hard on this — is a warning label of my own, done in the style of graphic artist Nathan Hale, applied to my book The Long Guest.

In the comments, please post a goofy warning label of your own about your own book or a favorite book.

The Finally Fall Tag

I thought this image looked sort of autumnal.

Today I will be doing the Finally Fall Book Tag, which I got from Riddhi. A tag is a series of prompts that the blogger responds to, usually by naming one or more books. At the end, we are supposed to “tag” other bloggers, but we all know that I don’t do that because it just gets too complicated, what with not wanting to leave anyone out, not wanting to hand anyone a task they hate, etc., etc. It’s sort of like planning a wedding that way.

In fall, the air is crisp and clear: Name a book with a vivid setting.

The Lord of the Rings.

OK, look, TLOTR could actually be the perfect answer for every one of these prompts, am I right? So I’ll just name it for each of them, and then one other one that is my backup answer.

Beyond Middle Earth, I suggest you check out the setting in Ursula Le Guin’s Hainish cycle. It’s on a planet that, because of its orbit, experiences seasons that last for lengths of time that we on Earth would call years. The people who live there have eyes with no whites to them. After intermarrying with immigrants from Earth, they develop a skin tone that is navy blue in the upper classes and “dusty” blue in the lower classes. It’s fascinating, brutal, and beautifully written.

Nature is beautiful… but also dying: Name a book that is beautifully written, but also deals with a heavy topic like loss or grief.

The Lord of the Rings. They kill off Gandalf.

The 6th Lamentation by William Brodrick

Also, this book. The Holocaust, survivor’s guilt, lost children, neurological disease. Are those topics heavy enough? See my full review of it here.

Fall is back to school season: Share a non-fiction book that taught you something new.

The Lord of the Rings will teach you terms like weregild (“person-money” – money paid in compensation for someone’s death).

The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell

Everybody please go read this and as many other Thomas Sowell books as you can get your hands on.

In order to keep warm, it’s good to spend some time with the people we love: Name a fictional family/household/friend-group that you’d like to be part of.

I would like to live with Tom Bombadil and the River Daughter.

Failing that, I would be honored to live and work with Mma Potokwane, the forceful woman who runs the orphanage in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

The colourful leaves are piling up on the ground: Show us a pile of fall coloured spines!

I didn’t intend it, but every book in this pile except for The Family Mark Twain is indie published.

And Neanderthal Woman is homemade.

Also … the golden-leaved mallorn trees of Lothlorien.

Fall is the perfect time for some storytelling by the fireside: Share a book wherein someone is telling a story.

One of the best things about Lord of the Rings is the way you keep getting hints of yet more ancient places, people, and stories.

And for my backup answer, we have Ursula Le Guin again. In her Earthsea trilogy, there is a very creepy story told about a stone that if you so much as touch it, steals your soul. In her book Left Hand of Darkness, the main story is interspersed with short myths to help us get a feel for the culture of the planet the story is set on, where glaciers cover about half the landmass and people are sexless for most of each month.

The nights are getting darker: Share a dark, creepy read.

The Balrog, and Shelob, and the Ring and the effect it has upon people, are all pretty doggone creepy.

Also, The Dark is Rising and the whole series that follows it deals with pre-Roman paganism still alive in Britain.

The days are getting colder: Name a short, heartwarming read that could warm up somebody’s cold and rainy day.

The Hobbit. Annndddd …

Allie Brosch’s new book Solutions and Other Problems.

It’s not heartwarming in the sense that it presents the universe as a rational or hopeful place, BUT it did make me laugh so hard it brought tears to my eyes. It’s not short in the sense that it’s a big, thick hardcover, BUT that’s only because it is packed with her funny (and actually very artistic) drawings. It’s a fast read.

Fall returns every year: Name an old favourite that you’d like to return to soon.

THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

Also, this book, The Everlasting Man, by the ebullient GKC. I recently ordered my own copy so that I could mine it for future quotes on the blog, and I quickly discovered that GKC was the original source of all my suspicions about ancient people having been just like us, but smarter.

Fall is the perfect time for cozy reading nights: Share your favourite cozy reading “accessories”!

Bears and coffee.

Quote of the Week from Anne Lamott

As a reminder, I am posting this purely in fun.

I remember one year my friend Carpenter and I had books out on the same day. We talked about it all summer. We each pretended to have modest expectations. I had modest expectations for his book; he had modest expectations for mine. The week before, we talked almost every morning about how excited we were and what a long time we had waited, and how it was just like being a little kid waiting for Christmas Eve. Finally the big day arrived and I woke up happy, embarrassed in advance by all the praise and attention that would be forthcoming. I made coffee and practiced digging my toe in the dirt, and called Pammy and a few friends to let them congratulate me. Then I waited for the phone to ring. the phone did not know its part. It sat there silent as death with a head cold. By noon the noise of it not ringing began to wear badly on my nerves. Luckily, though, by noon it was time for the first beer of the day. I sat by the phone like a loyal dog, waiting for it to ring. Finally, finally it rang at four. I picked up the phone and heard Carpenter laughing hysterically, like some serial killer, and then I became hysterical, and eventually we both had to be sedated.

Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird, p. 213

My Wish for You: A Welcome Distraction

So, tomorrow is election day in the United States. It’s going to be hell for everyone.

But don’t be sad, because The Long Guest goes on sale today!

So, strap on your face mask and your riot gear, venture out and vote … and then come home and curl up with a hot beverage and a book about an apocalypse you can enjoy. Leave everything else in the hands of God.

Buy TLG on Amazon

Buy TLG on Bookshop

This, Too, Is the Reader I Write For

People say that food is the good girl’s drug. But now I realize it was just one particularly cheap and sticky strain of my real drug of choice: distraction.

When I was a little kid, it just meant that I was daydreamy, or imaginative, running around performing whole musicals and movie scenes for the cat. When I grew up into a voracious reader, then great! Who would discourage a twelve-year-old from rereading The Catcher in the Rye? In high school, I was a devoted theater student, and in college I was serious about film study.

All that was true. Then there’s the truer version.

I wasn’t just rereading The Catcher in the Rye. I was rereading everything, constantly: in the car on the way to school, at recess, waiting for Karen to pick me up, and then all the way home. … Those teenaged nights I spent alone in my dorm singing along to CDs weren’t just about musical appreciation. They were about not being there, not being me. I was long gone, deep in my head, buried in the drama of “Someone Else’s Story” (from the original Broadway cast recording of Chess).

Kelsey Miller, Big Girl, pp. 210 – 211

So, guys, this was absolutely me when I was a kid as well, minus the musical talent. I can identify with wanting to immerse yourself in someone else’s story … and I don’t think it’s always a bad thing. Especially for kids, it’s a way to quickly learn a lot about the world. And, frankly, I can’t imagine anyone becoming a voracious reader without this hunger. I strive to make my books an immersive experience for the reader. Surely, without that, reading would be boring?

I do understand that reading can be used as form of escapism. In Miller’s case, her distraction addiction was so extreme that she realized it was becoming a major obstacle to her personal growth. After discovering mindful eating, she began to train herself in mindful walking to the subway without a podcast, and in mindful being in her apartment without the TV on every second. I get that.

But I have two things to say about books as a distraction.

One, sometimes we do need to escape from our troubles. This is true especially when we are kids and have few other outlets or coping mechanisms, but also at other times when we need to rest and re-group. I am reminded of a (possibly apocryphal?) Internet quote about how the author has a responsibility to entertain because readers are people sitting on busses and in hospital waiting rooms.

Secondly. The engrossing book that is an escape from reality, can also be a secret tunnel back into reality. You can “escape” into C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, or his Space Trilogy, but you will come out the other side with a renewed desire to face your own fears and responsibilities. And if you don’t actually emerge with the hope that there is an Aslan who could help you in this process, you will certainly, fervently wish there was one … which, as Lewis would say, is the first stage in Joy.

That’s what I hope my books will be. An immersive, entertaining experience that, while you’re not looking, also opens your eyes to aspects of the world that you had not considered before.

What do you guys think? Is it always wrong to use books and other media as escapism? Do kids have more leeway to do this than adults? At what point does voracious reading become pathological? And who gets to say?

Call for ARC Reviewers for The Long Guest

“The year is 10,000 B.C. All mankind was united in one project: to build a great city with a magnificent tower that reached to the heavens. But the tower fell; God confused their languages, and overnight, their world dissolved into unimaginable chaos.

Family groups, still tied by language, salvage what they can and flee to the countryside to survive. On the way, the family group of Enmer stumbles upon a highborn man, who does not speak their tongue. He lies paraplegic and near death, having survived a fall from the tower.

The matriarch of the family insists they save him; he is a human being, is he not? But he is also hateful, demanding, and useless. But if they don’t save him, who are they? And, if they do, he will leave them forever changed.

This sweeping epic starts at Babel and carries the action across the continent of Asia, even to the ends of the earth.”

That’s the official back cover copy. Coming November 1! But you can get the book before then.

ARC means Advance Review Copy or Advance Reader Copy. Here’s how it works. You use the contact button on this blog to send me your snail-mail address. I send you a free copy of the book. If you manage to get through it, you post a review on your blog or on Amazon or Goodreads or wherever else you typically post reviews. If you are a fast reader, your review might even go up around the time that the book is coming out. Either way, you get a free book, I get a review (probably); everyone’s happy!

And yes, sorry, the book is only available in hard copy at this time, not as an e-book. You will want to hold it in your hot little hands, flip back and forth to view the maps and family tree, mark your favorite passages for memorization, etc., etc.

My love to all of you! Especially to advance reviewers!

How Strange Was It?

Was it merely dark and ominous, but kind of normal?

Did it have this freaky rainbow pool that you couldn’t even tell what it was?

Or was it … both?

Faithful blog readers will know that this is my third (count ’em) cover draft for The Strange Land. And now, I am going to have to stop for while. Between the learning curve of teaching myself how to format The Long Guest for publishing, and the need to start school soon, I am fairly going crazy here.

You may notice that I have put a trilogy name on this cover draft. That’s at the suggestion of a librarian friend. Apparently, multiple interlocking series of books are hard to shelve unless they have distinctive series names and numbers. This would be a problem if I call them all “A Tale out of Babel.” And I’m thinking I don’t need that for this series, since the publishing company is already called Out of Babel.

So, as drafted, the first two books in the series would look like this. I am going to try to make them small so I can show them to you next to one another:

I can’t quite get them to be the same size, but I hope you get the idea.

So, what do you think? I worked hard on this painting, and I really like it, but I can always re-do it. Some day. Should I use a restricted palette like I did for The Long Guest? Maybe mostly greys as TLG was mostly reds?