I’m not even remotely claustrophobic. (This wasn’t a surprise, you don’t get to be a puppeteer with claustrophobia.)
I don’t have a thyroid issue.
My bloodwork is in really good shape.
I don’t have any tumors.
The inside of my head is beautiful.
And what an Essential Tremor is.
It’s the most common movement disorder, affecting some 10 million people in the US alone. That’s 1 in 30 people, including me. It’s what Katherine Hepburn had. Hers was in her head. Mine is in my hands.
This has, as you might imagine, caused me some consternation. Puppeteer. Writer. Letters. Before either of those, violin and art. I’ve pretty much always defined myself by what I could do with my hands. Now, mine is mild. Really, really mild. My neurologist says that I probably only noticed so early because of what I do with my hands. Unless I point it out to you, you’re not likely to notice the shaking at all. Even on a video monitor.
How do I know this? Because they’ve been shaking, off and on, for at least two years.
But there is a difference between “Hm… I wonder why my hands are shaking right now?” and “Oh. There’s the tremor.” It’s a progressive disorder, which has absolutely no impact on length of life or other health issues. It progresses at different rates for different people. I might stay at exactly this point. There’s no way to know.
To be honest, I debated on whether or not to mention it. My fear was that people in the puppetry industry might decide not to hire me because of concerns that my hands will shake. Realistically though,I’m doing so little puppetry these days that, even if the tremors were obvious, it’s sort of a non-issue.
The reason I decided to go ahead and talk about it is that, it’s such a common disorder and yet– most people don’t know about it. There are a lot of “invisible” disabilities ranging from chronic pain to depression. I’m coming to realize that the more we decide to be secretive about our imperfections, the more we stigmatize and marginalize the people who suffer from them.
Nicholas Kaufmann is joining us today with his novel Die and Stay Dead. Here’s the publisher’s description.
In this pulsepounding sequel to Dying Is My Business, Trent, a man who can’t stay dead or retain his memories, tries to uncover his connection to a deadly doomsday cult bent on destroying NYC.
A brutal murder in Greenwich Village puts Trent and the Five-Pointed Star on the trail of Erickson Arkwright, the last surviving member of a doomsday cult. Back in the day, the Aeternis Tenebris cult thought the world would end on New Year’s Eve of 2000. When it didn’t, they decided to end it themselves by summoning Nahash-Dred, a powerful, terrifying demon known as the Destroyer of Worlds. But something went wrong. The demon massacred the cult, leaving Arkwright the sole survivor.
Now, hiding somewhere in New York City with a new identity, Arkwright plans to summon the demon again and finish the job he started over a decade ago. As Trent rushes to locate a long-lost magical artifact that may be the only way to stop him, the clues begin to mount… Trent’s past and Arkwright’s might be linked somehow. And if they are, it means the truth of who Trent really is may lie buried in the twisted mind of a madman.
What’s Nicholas’s favorite bit?
It’s such a pleasure to be back on My Favorite Bit! When I was here last year talking about my novel Dying Is My Business, I chose as my favorite bit a scene where the fantastic and the real world collide with catastrophic results. Now that the sequel, Die and Stay Dead, is out, my favorite bit for this book also features the fantastic meeting the real world, albeit in a different way.
Back in 2011, I started doing my daily writing at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue (you know, the one from Ghostbusters). Before then, I had worked from home for years. Generally, working from home had never been a problem. I was pretty disciplined and almost always reached my word count goal. But over time, that changed. Working from home became unexpectedly difficult. All of a sudden I was too easily distracted by the dishes in the sink, the cats who wanted attention, that show I’d been binge-watching on Netflix. When you get in a rut the best thing you can do is shake up your routine, so I figured a change of scenery was what I needed. The New York Public Library was the perfect choice for my new “office.”
It’s a beautiful building whose distinctive Beaux-Arts architecture, marble halls, grand chandeliers, and soaring ceilings can’t help but inspire the creative mind. But more than that, it’s a quiet place where I can work without distraction. (And where the presence of others doing the same thing keeps me honest, keeps me producing instead of just spending the whole day surfing the Internet on the library’s wi-fi.) I wrote the entirety of Dying Is My Business and Die and Stay Dead in the library. In fact, the library has become such an important part of my writing process that I decided to thank it by giving it an important role in Die and Stay Dead.
In the novel, our hero Trent, the man who can die but never stay dead, is racing against the clock to find and assemble the three fragments of a dangerous magical artifact known as the Codex Goetia. This artifact is the only thing that can stop a madman named Erickson Arkwright from summoning a world-destroying demon into the streets of New York City. The Codex Goetia’s fragments are hidden in secret locations around the city, sites that Trent and his colleagues must locate by deciphering the cryptic clues found in a murder victim’s notebook. At the risk of spoiling a plot point, I decided to make one of those locations the New York Public Library—or rather, beneath it, in a room no one knew was there, a room that had once been the sanctum of a doomsday cult.
Every day when I arrived at the library to do my day’s writing, I would climb the front steps and my eyes would go to the building’s abundance of gorgeous, elegant statuary. Not just the famous marble lions out front (their names are Patience and Fortitude, by the way) but also the statues and fountains you can find all over the building’s façade. I decided to make one of these lesser-known statues the key to entering the secret room beneath the library. (I won’t tell you which statue; I’ve already spoiled enough!)
In this short excerpt, Trent manages to find the way inside:
The edge of the pedestal had been carved in the form of a horn of plenty, its mouth spilling forth a selection of marble fruit. I ran my fingers down the widening shape of the horn, feeling for anything out of the ordinary like a seam or a loose part. I stopped when I came across a single ram’s head carved amid the apples and grapes. That was odd. What was it doing there? It was hidden in the design, but didn’t fit with the rest of it. I poked at the ram’s head, thinking it might be some kind of button or switch, but nothing happened.
Bethany looked over at me. “Did you find something?”
I changed tactics. Instead of pressing it like a button, I tried spinning it like a dial. The ram’s head turned easily, shifting clockwise. A soft groan came from the back wall of the alcove. I turned around to see a section of the wall slide aside. Beyond it was a narrow, empty space. There was no floor, only steps leading down into a thick darkness.
I gawked at it, astonished. A hidden staircase inside the wall of the New York Public Library. The secret parts of this city never ceased to amaze me.
That last line, that’s what really makes this my favorite bit. Sure, I was happy to find a way to work the New York Public Library into the novel, but that line! The secret parts of this city never ceased to amaze me. When I wrote those words, I knew right away they were the beating heart not just of this scene, not of just this novel, but of the entire series. Showing the secret parts of New York City, both real and imagined, to readers who have never been here, or who only know the city from what they’ve seen on TV or in movies, that’s my favorite bit. That will always be my favorite bit.
Nicholas Kaufmann is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated, Thriller Award-nominated, and Shirley Jackson Award-nominated author of Walk In Shadows: Collected Stories, General Slocum’s Gold, Hunt at World’s End, Chasing the Dragon, Still Life: Nine Stories, Dying Is My Business, and Die and Stay Dead. Over the years, he has worked in publishing, owned his own bookstore, managed a video store, and been a development associate for a well-known literary and film agent. He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and two ridiculous cats.
Beth Bernier Pratt is joining us today with her anthology Storage World. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Most storage units hold furniture, books, clothes, and all manner of junk, old and new. The Braxton family’s Storage World provides all that plus storage for … a different kind of goods. Behind the doors of Storage World one can find things magical, mythical, fantastic, and terrifying. In this collection of stories by Albuquerque’s Cyberscribes writers group, the dark emanations from the weird things stored behind Storage World’s carefully guarded doors reach out into the ordinary world, tempting and ensnaring mortals, and even bringing on the end of the world. Some doors shouldn’t be opened. Will you look inside the mysterious vaults of Storage World?
What’s Beth’s favorite bit?
BETH BERNIER PRATT
Ideas can come from anywhere. In the case of Storage World, the initial idea came from a building I drive by every morning, one of the ubiquitous businesses renting storage units to Americans who have accumulated too much stuff. It’s a funny thing, this business of renting space to store excess junk. A few generations ago it would have barely been imaginable for most people to have more things than they could store in their own home.
A funny thing about the storage place I drive by every day, I never see anyone there. The parking lot is always empty, and the razor wire topped gate is always closed. I rented a storage unit once, when I was getting a divorce and had to put my stuff somewhere when I moved out of the shared apartment. I don’t remember ever seeing anyone at that storage place when I went there either. Even in the middle of a huge urban area, it was a zone of total isolation. I often got the feeling that no one wanted to be there, because we all sensed that those units stored mostly sadness and badness.
I read and write a lot of fantasy, and it occurred to me one day, driving past that storage place, that if there were powerful beings from other dimensions living in our world, they would probably need someplace to store their powerful and weird items of magic. They’d want somewhere accessible, but not somewhere that mortals would get in and pilfer. An urban storage unit would be perfect.
I wrote my first Storage World story about a family feud over ownership of a storage business that caters to those otherworldly beings and their storage needs. I expanded the concept with a story about the first family member to rent out storage space in London in the era of gas lighting.
Did you ever have that dream where your toys came alive at night and went on adventures? As a child I used to imagine that my Barbies continued their storylines when I wasn’t there, feuding and making up again, trading dresses and shoes, raiding the refrigerator (my Barbies may have lived in a world of non-stop slumber party antics). It just never made sense to me that the party would have to stop just because I had to sleep or go to school.
At the end of a story, I sometimes feel the same way. One Monday evening I came to my writers group, plunked down my notebook, and asked if they’d like to write in a shared universe, the Storage World universe. In a group so full of talented writers, everyone has their own projects and priorities, so I had no idea what they would say.
A few weeks later, they started showing up with stories about the maddening powers contained in Storage World, and that was it, my favorite bit. My toys had started to come to life, walking and talking and having adventures I’d never imagined. Reading the stories by my collaborators revealed things about the universe, and things about my own writing, that I didn’t know before. I saw the similarities between my stories, even when they had wildly different characters and settings. Every writer who contributed a story to the anthology added something new, different, and indispensable to the whole.
After the fun part came the tricky parts, the editing and formatting and the endless discussions of continuity. Did it matter if two stories in the anthology contradicted each other, or if there were two totally different end of Storage World as we knew it stories? Ultimately I had to decide, and I came down on the side of letting my toys play. After all, how often do you get to watch a childhood dream unfold in front of your eyes?
Beth Bernier Pratt has written two novels, Emotimancers and the Impending Feline Overmind, a fantasy with magic and cats; and Toast Points of View, a contemporary story of the ties between friends and family. She finds that her readers strongly prefer one or the other. In a previous life, Beth lived in Los Angeles and worked at Central Casting. After escaping the gravitational pull of Southern California, she settled down in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to write and raise a family.
I am hoping that this picture of Sadie’s fluffy little paws will induce you to forgive me for the long delay between the cliffhanger of Chapter 14 and posting Chapter 15.
I’ve been recording audio books and going through the copy-edits for Of Noble Family. Things they don’t tell you when you sign up for this writer gig is that you have to pay attention to more than one book at a time.
Jonathan L. Ferrara is joining us today with his novel The Guardians of Sin. Here’s the publisher’s description.
Seven deadly sins have been unleashed, and the only one who can defeat them is the boy who set them free.
Nicholas Blackwell has no idea he is supposed to fulfill a destiny. All he knows is that he draws trouble like a magnet. Orphaned at seven when two demonic men killed his parents, he copes with the strict rules of his new home, St. Christopher’s academy, unaware that he has been the real target for the killers and that his guardian angel has saved him in the nick of time. And now, his problems are only beginning when a mysterious serpent lures him into the woods and tricks him into a demonic ritual that will unleash the Seven Deadly Sins to destroy the humankind. Nicholas has no choice but to correct his mistake–or die trying.
Aided by Amy, a shy but determined girl who seems to know more about his task than she should, Nicholas’s quest is to travel into the City of Demonio and defeat the Seven Guardians of Sin. To succeed, he must confront demons, monsters, and lost souls, learn the mysteries of the Chapel of Dreams, discover the true meaning of friendship and love, and face the darkest secret of all: the Blackwell Family Secret.
What’s Jonathan’s favorite bit?
JONATHAN L. FERRARA
Sixteen-year-old Nicholas Blackwell knows plenty about the Seven Deadly Sins, After all, he lives in a world renowned Catholic boarding school: St. Christopher’s Academy. With nuns for teachers, and a grumpy priest for a principal, Nicholas is forced to learn about a religion he cares nothing about.
I’ve always found the Seven Deadly Sins to be a morbid, but fascinating subject. As a human, in one time or another, we have had these infamous sins clouding our better judgement. These seven powerful words have the ability to darken our morals, and stray us from what makes us good. My character, Nicholas Blackwell finds himself literally facing each of the Deadly Sins, but they are far from what he had been taught at school.
Growing up in a Catholic family, I was taught the Seven Deadly Sins at a young age. Quite frankly, they terrified me, which to me meant I was intrigued. I needed more. I craved to know their beginning. Why were Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride so connected to evil? Who picked these sins, and how did they originate? With a strong love of fantasy and the supernatural, I discovered the secret of sin and thus began this story.
With one bite from the forbidden fruit, Nicholas, alongside his new friend Amy, is swallowed into the City of Demons; a dark, whimsical world filled with mayhem. The only way for them to find their way back home is to defeat the Guardians of the Seven Deadly Sins. They follow an old serpent through the city, finding first a lustful vampire, a starving troll, and a greedy little leprechaun hoarding all demon gold. One by one the sins are revealed, leading Nicholas closer to his family’s dark secret found by none other than the King of Demons himself — Lucifer.
My favorite passage from the book is between the archangel Gabriel and his fallen brother Lucifer: the old serpent.
A man appeared out of nowhere, walking along the school building, making his way through the wet grass. The new moon sat above him like a smile in the sky, as though someone in the Heavens thought the night a curious one. Fog rolled toward the gate, stopping at its bars as if aware that the gargoyle statues at the gate entrance would not allow passage. The cool night air brushed gently across Gabriel’s face as he started toward the gate, picking his way through the dark forest. His purpose was much too important to delay any longer. There was no time even to change out of his janitor uniform. He waited. An old serpent pushed its way through the fog, slithering across the grass. Only the gate stood between Gabriel and the snake. The serpent rose out of the fog, its body twisted in the grass as its huge head swung toward Gabriel, hissing.
“You are not welcome here,” Gabriel said with more power in his voice than he normally cared to use. “Leave this place and never come back!”
“Do not mistake it, Gabriel, whether it be tonight, or years from now, I will taste his blood.” A forked tongue slid out from the serpent’s thin mouth.
“It is the will of our Father.”
“I have no Father!” the serpent hissed. “And you, my brother, are nothing more than His puppet.”
“As long as I stay within these gates, my light becomes this school’s haven, which means you are not allowed to cross here, understood?”
The serpent smirked. “Every light goes out, even yours, brother. Our epic battle might have been fought eons ago, but I will have my revenge, and my vengeance starts with that boy. You can’t stay there forever. I will not rest until the Guardians have reawakened.” The serpent’s head hit the grass and it slithered on into the woods.
Thank you Mary for allowing me to be a part of your Blog. That is my Favorite Bit!
Jonathan L. Ferrara was born in San Pedro, California to an Italian fisherman and a mother from New York. Growing up with one older brother, Jonathan had several hobbies: finding the best hiding spots to jump out and scare his mother, discovering new fantasy book series, and imagining outrageous, whimsical worlds full of magic. He is now happily married, residing in California in the City of Angels. He has two wonderful children—his dog Koda and cat Merlin.
Greg Byrne is joining us today with his novel Nine Planets. Here’s the publisher’s description.
In the world of despair, Father Nick’s Day is the only hope…
Peter Blackwell wakes from a coma into a world he doesn’t recognize. Without memory or identity, all he has are nine random images. Nine planets. Eight he can see, although he does not understand them, but the impenetrable ninth is the secret that two opposing and hidden brotherhoods have been seeking for nearly two millennia. Pursued, betrayed, Blackwell has twelve days to unlock his Ninth Planet and prevent terminal worldwide suicide. And his only ally is a manic assassin sent to extract the secret and kill him.
What’s Greg’s favorite bit?
My favourite bit about Nine Planets would have to be the inspiration. At the time that it happened, I was deep into book three (still untitled) of a high fantasy tetralogy that had consumed me for many years. I loved this thing, dreamed about it, pondered it as I took the dog for a walk, spent hours and days working out plot problems and character arcs. It not only consumed me; it was me. My DNA was engraved into every word. At the time, I was completely happy with my writing life and not even considering a new path.
But then Nine Planets ambushed me and, believe me, it was a head-on, take no prisoners, full body armour ambush. You don’t escape unchanged from such things. I never saw it coming but, when it did and in the most incandescent ten minutes of my writing life, it changed me completely, immediately and wonderfully. I abandoned Untitled on the spot and have never gone back.
Nine Planets was miraculous in its inspiration. It was the stuff of fireworks and every writerly cliche you can imagine. It was all of those but better. I can tell you the exact time and place that the novel tumbled into my head, almost fully formed, with a bunch of plot elements I would never have thought of otherwise.
Here’s how. I was teaching English as a Second Language to a group of overseas adults in a Perth ESL school in mid December a few years ago. We were finishing a class with a discussion about Christmas and the way different countries view it, and a Korean man said this, “Santa can’t possibly deliver all the presents the night before Christmas, so he hires a network of retired postmen to help him.” Possibly this man had carried that thought around with him for many years. Possibly he had explained Christmas this way to his own kids. Perhaps he just meant it as a joke. He certainly had no idea the effect it would have on me. I never asked. I only remember the sudden brightness in my mind, the wonderful bursting of images, story ideas and characters. I hurried the students out the door, found pen and paper and started madly scribbling notes. I knew right away that this was a treasure of a story but one I could not claim as my own story. I was just the teller.
I went home and started writing, and what happened next continues to surprise and delight me. SOOOOOO many plot elements were wonderful, serendipitous joinings (coincidences sounds so existentialist and random) where names, places, plot elements and characters just fitted together perfectly. For example, one of the novel place names is so perfectly named (in reality) that it was as if the early explorers and settlers who named it all those years ago knew the book would need it. The main street of this place is also – quite amazingly! – named after the main character. I could not have planned it better.
Now the book is finished. It’s a book for everyone. I’ve written it as I needed to. It’s a miraculous thriller and, in the same way that it was a gift to me, it is now a gift to you. There won’t be a sequel. When you read it, you’ll know why.
Greg Byrne is seriously unbalanced. He has no ability in cooking, dancing or singing, but loves nothing more than teaching grammar to primary students, primary teachers, and university students. He takes much more pleasure than is deemed polite in tunnelling into the deeper caverns of the English language to find all its hidden secrets. He also writes novels about people, places, events and actions that are most un-ordinary, but is paid much less.
When he is not pondering grammar or planning novels, he enjoys exploring places, ideas, history, languages and science, dinners with friends, watching his family grow, and living life’s great adventure. His next projects are a young adult thriller with a twist, developing a grammar teaching system for schools, and writing a grammar text for ESL students. He lives in Perth, Western Australia, the most isolated capital city on the face of the planet, with his beloved wife and family and an overweight British Blue, and wouldn’t live anywhere else.
I finished my reread of the first part of the novel and made adjustments to my plans. Fortunately none of them are structural, only refining. I did wind up reordering some of the earlier scenes, but it shouldn’t affect anything for those of you who have already read them.
For those of you reading along, I’ve done a revision of Chapter 4 to try to stave off some of the questions you’ve been asking. There are changes in the 1st scene and then an entirely new 2nd scene. The last scene is more or less unchanged.
Mmm… pie. I tried a cardomom pie recipe the other day and the cardamom just overwhelmed the apples, but I liked the idea of it. So… here’s my tweak to add a little wintery spice to an apple pie.
Makes 2 crusts
12 ounces bleached all-purpose flour (2.5 cups) 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoon sugar 1 cup butter, frozen and then grated 1/2 cup cold plain whole yogurt 2 tablespoon Grand Marnier (more as needed)
Keep everything cold. I make the crust next to the refrigerator and anything I’m not actively using goes into the freezer to stay cold.
Mix dry ingredients together. Grate butter with a coarse grater and toss with fork.
Mix wet ingredients and then drizzle over dry, stirring gently until blended. Add more water or Grand Marnier to get desired consistency.
4-6 crisp apples
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon cardomom
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoons lemon juice
Toss all the ingredients in a bowl. Taste and add more lemon juice or honey depending on the type of apples and if you want it tarter or sweeter. Add to crust. Make lattice for top. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Let stand to cool before cutting.
I just crossed the NaNoWriMo finish line, which is not the same thing as having a completed novel. I have the first 50,118 words of a novel with another 30k or so to go.
This is the point at which I will take stock of what I’ve written thus far. This is not necessarily an approach that I recommend for everyone, but it works for me. Basically, what tends to happen to me is that I bog down at about the 2/3 to 3/4 mark of a novel. Every time, I think, “Ugh! Why am I having so much trouble writing?” And then I remember. That’s, in fact, one of the reasons I keep track of my writing metrics. It’s much easier to spot when I’m slowing down when I can actually look at the numbers.
I believe that, mechanically, what is happening is that I’m moving from the middle to the end. More specifically, from the point at which I have been raising questions to the point at which I have to begin answering them.
What I do now is go back and reread what I’ve written up to this point, making note of promises that I’ve made, plot threads I laid but am not going to use, and giant gaping holes. I don’t necessarily fix them right then, but I do look at the outline for the rest of the novel and make certain that it’s going to meet the promises I’ve made. I adjust it.
Then I start writing again. Generally, that bogginess clears up and then it’s the mad dash to the end.
My dear fellow white science-fiction fans, let me use an analogy to try to explain one reason why people are so angry about what’s happening in Ferguson.
If you only watch one episode of Star Trek (original series), the fact that a guy in a red shirt dies is tragic, but eh— that’s television. But when you watch the entire series, you realize that a disproportionately high percentage of people wearing red shirts die.
It’s not that Captain Kirk has it out for people in red shirts. Heck, one of his best friends wears a red shirt. And Scotty never gets killed, so clearly not all red shirts die. And bad things happen to Kirk, too. But still— when you start paying attention, it’s pretty clear that wearing a red shirt in Star Trek is a death sentence.
And this isn’t a television series that we can reboot and magically fix the problem. I’m lucky; the casting department didn’t hand me a red shirt, but I’m still living in a society that has a systemic problem. It effects everybody.
When you say, “But other people are killed, too,” you’re missing the point. Wearing a red shirt hurts some of us at a disproportionately high level. And in the US, being born black is like being handed a red shirt by the casting department. Sure. You might be Uhura or Scotty. But they’re outliers and statistically, in a red shirt you’re more likely to be killed the moment you leave the ship.
This is, among other things, why people are upset. Because they know that they’ve been wearing red shirts and white people keep denying that there’s a pattern.
I actually posted chapter 11 yesterday, but the post wound up on the wrong date– long story, and boring. SO! Here is Chapter 11, along with Chapter 12. I am noticing that these chapters tend to be shorter than the ones in the Glamourist Histories, which I think is because this has more thriller pacing. Though I did still manage to work in a dance scene, because reasons.
The map just arrived this week. I picked Le Havre as the location for the novel for a number of reasons that relate to the plot of the book, and also because it was almost completely destroyed in WWII, which means that there are fewer people who can tell me that “No, such-and-such a thing was NOT there.” Selfish?
But I didn’t want to be completely free with history, so I found a map of the town from 1913. The novel takes place in 1916, so it gives me some structure without confining me.
This picture of Sadie, huddled for warmth on the radiator, has absolutely nothing to do with Chapter 11 being posted. I just thought that those of you who are not reading along might like a picture of a cat as compensation.
In theory, I’ve just hit the mid-way point on the novel. I say “in theory” because I often find that I need to add or delete scenes in the end chapters. So far the beats of the novel has stayed true to what I had planned in the outline. I’ve added a scene here or there, and certainly have fleshed out the outline as I’ve gone along, but the overall shape is staying pretty much dead on.
There’s a plot thread that I’m tempted to pull out. I can’t quite tell if it is a useful one, or if it is just distracting people to no purpose. I’m going to wait for a bit before I decide. That’s what revisions are for.
Acclaimed fantasist Mary Robinette Kowal has enchanted many fans with her beloved novels featuring a Regency setting in which magic–known here as glamour–is real. In Valour and Vanity, master glamourists Jane and Vincent find themselves in the sort of a magical adventure that might result if Jane Austen wrote Ocean’s Eleven. After Melody’s wedding, the […]