Monday, September 18, 2017

Collaborating With the Dead

Early this month, The New Yorker published an article entitled, “The Complicated Backstory To a New Children’s Book by Mark Twain.” The book in question has the rather unwieldy—but very 19th century—title, The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine (c.1879). Now before you get too excited, expecting something along the lines of Tom Sawyer or The Prince and the Pauper, here are the facts: sixteen pages of notes were unearthed by a scholar at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, notes which were not a finished story but a mere outline of a tale Twain used to entertain his daughters. Worse yet, the outline was unfinished. The scholar who uncovered it, John Bird, stood face-to-face with the find of a career. But what should he do with it? Publish it as is, perhaps in a journal article with contextual notes about the circumstances of its composition, its relation to other stories in his canon, etc.? Or actually complete and flesh out the sketch, so that everyone could enjoy a forgotten piece of the Twain puzzle—incomplete and insubstantial though it is? 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Download Two Kindle Books for the Price of None!

My two novels, The Dark Backward and The Winged Turban are free to download today (Friday) for all Kindles or with a free Kindle app. The links and blurbs for each book follow...

The Dark Backward: "A cynical thief has to apprentice herself to a sly magician, but the thief doesn't believe in magic...and the magician is already dead."

The Winged Turban: "The young Countess of Cinquefoil is haunted by a painting of a strange woman in a turban: the former mistress of the house? Or her own self-portrait lost for two hundred years?"

Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Myth of Posterity

In 1945, the great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius prepared a major bonfire of several of his unpublished works, including his still-incomplete Eighth Symphony (which he had promised to a variety of American orchestras for well over a decade). It was a major loss for music, since Sibelius remains one of the most innovative 20th century composers and symphonists. However, some sketches and possibly even a complete score of the Eighth remained—glimpsed by some—on his bookshelf. But he consigned this to secrecy and made his family promise never to release it to the public. He died in 1957, and no mention of the symphony or any subsequent material appeared, despite repeated requests to his estate. Some rumored that at the turn of the 21st century new works would materialize, but other than some found sketches among his published papers and notes, no discovery was forthcoming. Today we only have 3 minutes of music that may have been intended for the Eighth Symphony. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Download My New Fantasy Novel from Amazon: The Dark Backward

I just released my fourth fantasy novel, The Dark Backward, as a Kindle e-book on Amazon (sorry, no print yet) for 99 cents. I like to call my novels the fantasy novels that Jane Austen would have written if she had lived long enough to read Tolkein and Rowling (and maybe Lovecraft, as well). I try to combine period detail (the 17th/18th centuries) with classic fantasy often verging on the pulp--I love stories of enchanted books, bottomless chests, and wizards from other worlds and dimensions. Silly stuff, but if you treat it properly--and aren't afraid to laugh at yourself--it sort of works. Maybe? 

Though this is my fourth novel, it's not the fourth in a series, but is set in the same world as my other three books, and shares one of the main characters--the wise, yet duplicious sorcerer, Hildigrim Blackbeard, whose ambitions always get the best of him (and those who trust him). It's a loose sequel to my first book, The Count of the Living Death, as it showcases the two main characters, Leopold and Mary, much later in life, though you certainly don't need to read the earlier book to read or appreciate this one.

You can find the novel here, along with a brief synopsis and 7 sample chapters:

Remember that even if you don't have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle reading app for your phone or computer. If you read it, please leave a review, even the most cursory one, since the more reviews, the more traction my novel gets. Thanks for checking it out! 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Authors and Writers: One and the Same?

When I first started teaching in 2000, I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to do the very thing I was being paid to do: teach college-level writing. It was my first year of graduate school, and as part of my assistantship, I had to teach two classes a semester, for which I would be paid a small stipend—enough to keep me alive until next semester. Being ambitious and curious, I opted to teach two sections of non-native composition, meaning the students had all come from other countries (in this university, mostly South America and the Middle East) and had a fair command of the language. I vividly recall the first day of teaching...once I mustered up the strength to ascend the stairs to the third floor and actually enter the classroom, I met a sea of faces who stared back at me with equal trepidation. Somehow, I muddled through, reading the syllabus, taking roll, offering some insights for how to do well in the course. By the time it ended, I felt elated, relieved, confused, excited; after all, now I was a teacher! Or was I? 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Original Grimdark: King Harald’s Saga

Fantasy literature uses the word “saga” quite liberally, as if any story with wizards and battles qualifies. Yet sagas refer properly to the old Icelandic sagas, a vast collection of histories, tales, and legends dutifully recorded by Medieval scholars and poets. Though most of these writers saw themselves as writing factual accounts of the heroic past, they were quite willing to stretch the truth when necessary; thus the legendary King Harald of Norway becomes almost eight feet tall, and can rush into a battle without shield or armor and hack down a horde of foes unscathed. It certainly sounds better than what must have been the still remarkable, but far more mundane reality. Not surprisingly, given the fuzzy distinction between truth and reality, Icelandic sagas touch on a number of modern genres: history, fantasy, romance, folklore, even horror—it’s all here, written in succinct yet extremely colorful language. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Learning to Re-Read the Novel

In Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), often considered the first English novel (as we now define the term), the book opens with the words “I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family...” and ends some two-hundred pages later without a single chapter break or exchange of dialogue. Though one of the most influential books written in English, everything about it now seems hopelessly old-fashioned and a tedious chore for the modern reader (weaned on YA lit, especially) to wade through. For this reason it appears less and less frequently on college syllabi, and not at all in the high school classroom, where it was once enjoyed a popularity similar to—and perhaps even rivaling—Harry Potter.