Josh Rountree is joining us today to talk about his novel, The Legend of Charlie Fish. Here’s the publisher’s description:
As always, Floyd Betts rides into town alone. He arrives for his father’s funeral, but he is returning to Galveston, Texas, with two orphaned siblings he has rescued. Nellie, who is descended from a long line of witches, has visions from other people’s minds. Hank, her impulsive younger brother, just wants to break out his outsized revolver.
Along the way home, Floyd, Nellie, and Hank encounter a dubious traveling salesman, Professor Finn, and his henchman, Kentucky Jim. They are struggling to capture a fish-man in order to put him on cruel display. When Nellie taps into the peril of the gentle Charlie Fish, Floyd’s makeshift family expands to include the lost, two-legged amphibian.
With the circus charlatans in pursuit, ominous winds are picking up from an impending hurricane. Meanwhile, all Charlie Fish wants is to return to his home at sea.
What’s Josh’s favorite bit?
Let me tell you about Nellie.
She’s a witch. A twelve-year-old orphan, with no family remaining apart from her gunslinging little brother, Hank. Nellie is unfailingly polite, wise beyond her years, and brave enough to face down scoundrels and befriend monsters with little concern for the consequences. Nellie is headstrong and anxious. She is often overcome by her own emotions.
But it’s not her fault. It’s all because of her whisper talk.
That’s my favorite bit about Nellie, and about The Legend of Charlie Fish.
Ask Nellie and she’ll tell you it’s a curse. Her mother would tell you it’s a gift, passed down through generations. Ask me and I’ll say both of them are right. Whisper talk is a talent that Nellie can’t control. The ability to feel other’s emotions, to tune into their thoughts. Sometimes the ability to study the near distance and discern possible futures. A constant rush of sensations and omens and unwanted knowledge.
Gift or curse, whisper talk is overwhelming. Nellie’s fondest wish is to simply turn it off, or at least learn to control it. Her mother could have taught her, but her mother was murdered.
Nellie won’t admit it, but she’s overwhelmed by guilt and grief. So perhaps you can forgive her those occasions when she turns the whisper talk away from herself, and wields it like a subtle weapon. Uses it to place worrisome and terrifying thoughts into bad people’s minds. Twists their insecurities like a knife in the gut.
She’d never do it to someone who didn’t deserve it.
But lest you think whisper talk is only a curse, let me tell you what I love about it. Whisper talk is the magic that let’s Nellie connect with her world. When she befriends the book’s eponymous hero, Charlie Fish, the whisper talk allows her to communicate with him. Charlie is half man, half amphibian, all weird. He smokes cigarettes, bleats like a sheep, and can’t speak a word. But through whisper talk, Nellie and Charlie can communicate. They bond on a level that transcends friendship and family. Together, they become something more.
The whisper talk allows Nellie to soothe her brother’s fears, to realize she can trust the kindly man who rescues them from an uncertain fate, and to understand the raw power of the hurricane that approaches the island of Galveston where they’ve taken refuge. Nellie cannot read the future with any degree of certainty, but the whisper talk prepares her for the most violent storm to ever hit the Texas coast, and for the inevitable loss the hurricane will leave in its wake.
Without her whisper talk, Nellie would never have found Floyd Betts or Abigail Elder. You don’t know them yet, but I promise, they’re good people. Nellie would certainly not have become so close to Charlie Fish.
So, it’s a curse, yeah. But I think it’s more of a gift.
Hope you love Nellie as much as I do, whisper talk and all.
Blue Sky @joshrountree.bsky.social
Josh Rountree has published over 60 stories in a wide variety of magazines and anthologies, including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Realms of Fantasy, Bourbon Penn, Polyphony 6, PseudoPod, PodCastle, Daily Science Fiction, and A Punk Rock Future. A handful of them have received honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror and The Year’s Best Science Fiction.
Wheatland Press published a collection of his rock and roll themed fantasy fiction, Can’t Buy Me Faded Love, in 2008. Fantastic Americana: Stories is his second collection. Josh lives somewhere in the untamed wilds of Texas with his wife and children.