Words to Live By – Where Lie Your Roots!?

Jeff Version_Words to Live By 2

The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.

Where Lie Your Roots?

It’s been a slow week for me out here on the Colorado prairie. Not planning to announce any upcoming book or music releases, no urge to get out of the house and see the world again. I assume it’s right where I left it. Such a long time ago! Do they still have fast food out there? Do children still laugh? Asking for a friend.

I did finish the rough draft of a new book the other day. I’ve been working on it for three and a half months, so it was gratifying to finally type THE END. About 70,000 words in total, and guess what else? I wrote it without any preparation, no outline or notes or character sheets or research conducted the hard way. And I like how it’s turned out. Kind of proud of myself, actually. I think it would’ve been a very different book if I’d had no clue how good stories are put together. My family gave that to me, the freedom to ponder and learn and express, regardless of whether or not they figured it would, quote unquote, “Get me somewhere”.

This is at the heart of Words to Live By for this month. Where lie your creative roots? Reaching deep into the nutrient-rich soil, I hope. Have you been making time for inspiration? Have you lately nurtured those people and circumstances essential to your own creative growth? I believe every one of us has common mythic imaginations. Joseph Campbell spoke about it all the time, and so for that matter did Carl Jung. If not for that thick, tangled, extra-nerdy root system of mine, I doubt I’d have had the confidence to improvise a whole book. Think I’m going to call it Emily Greer’s Resurrection Mixtape, which sounds dumb until you realize what it’s about. I’ve documented my writing habits elsewhere on Writing to be Read, but because I developed Schizoaffective Disorder about five or six years ago, I’ve had to lighten my daily workload considerably. For me there’s a fine line between healthy production and the kind of overproduction that only exhausts and triggers me.

Have you ever met a writer who’s lost his or her ability to be a fan of stuff? Like they broke that button a long time ago and never bothered to have it repaired? I’d hate always feeling that way. As long as they keep making movies for nerds, I’ll doubtless keep paying to see them. It was something we always did together, my family and I, the magic of a darkened movie theater, popcorn, candy, soda; complete and total escape into stories bigger than the side of our house! I started borrowing amazing science fiction novels from my brother, started singing for the other kids on the playground, developing that taste for performance. By the time I got to college, I was hooked. My biggest leap forward at that time was to write a full screenplay for one of my theater classes.

“This isn’t bad, Jeff,” my instructor told me near the end of the semester. “You’ve got a knack for writing. You ought to continue developing it.”

So I did. I worked hard, studied hard, and yes, that did include watching movies and TV shows many people at the time considered junk. I knew this stuff was cool then and I’m certain of it now. There are a lot of cultural touchstones to keep track of when you work in genre fiction. I’m a nerd, which means I’m already full of useless trivia. But what about you? In what ways have your experiences with storytelling shaped what you do and the way you do it?

I get much of my writing style from comics. Big surprise there. Comic books are dynamic, bombastic, colorful. They’re also short, which is perfect for a mind like mine. From the likes of Marvel and DC, I learned the value of punch-you-in-the-gut storytelling. Can’t say I took personal instruction at the feet of masters, but just read some of my work and tell me you don’t see far more super than man.

Heh, that’s a good one, more super than man. Going to have to remember that.

Because I write relatively little each morning, I end up with a lot of free time on my hands. I’m also a bit of a homebody, which has only become more pronounced in the days of COVID. What do I do all day long if not to write? Because honestly, ten years ago I’d work for hours on end and never bat an eye. I read comics, of course, and I watch movies I’ve seen a million times before. I’m a huge fan who also writes and occasionally gets paid for what I create. The point is not to elevate my tastes above anyone else’s. I do like some pretty awesome stuff, but that’s subjective. I’d rather you elevate yours over mine. What catches your imagination most? What gets you excited to be creative? Watch Captain America or Batman for the umpteenth time and pretend you’re immune to feeling bored, frustrated, disagreeable. How deep do your roots go?

The things I love charge me up and make my work possible. Do you feel the same about the stuff you love? If there were no Avengers, no Justice League, no Star Wars, I might not have ever become a writer. Thank god I did. It’s been one hell of a fun life so far. 😊

I’ll be back next month with another Words to Live By. Until then, everybody!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Day #5 of “The Click of a Pebble” Book Blog Tour: My Review

The Click of a Pebble Book Blog Tour

What they are saying on Amazon:

“This was a great coming of age fantasy story. I really enjoyed seeing these young characters struggle to survive in the aftermath of the massacre that leaves them only each other to depend on. Their journey drew me in and had me reading this entire book in one sitting, I’m looking forward to reading more books set in this fascinating world.”

The Click of a Pebble

In her Day #3 post for this tour on Robbie’s Inspiration, author Barbara Spencer talks about magical realism. I really loved her definition. She describes it, “Magical realism takes place in our world and follows its rules, except occasionally those rules are skewed.” I haven’t read a lot of magical realism, but what I have read have mostly were silly stories that were just kind of fun to read, with no real buy in because they were so ridiculous.

Not so with this skillfully crafted tale, which begins to lay a solid basis for the magical elements of the story. The Click of a Pebble had my buy in from the first pages and maintained it throughout the story. It was sweet and tragic, but there was nothing silly about it.

The Click of a Pebble is the tale of three children, Yost, Zande and TaTa, the only survivors of a massacre of their people. Ripped away from all they have ever known, they must stand together and go on, holding on to who they are in a place where things are new and different and try to fit in. They quickly learn that they dare not reveal their true origins, or risk falling prey to the same bigoted thinking that brought on the demise of their clan, because they are different, gifted. As they grow to know the family which welcomes them into their home, they begin to develop attachments with those around them and feel as if they belong. But, they are carinatae, children of Zues and what lies ahead for them is very different from the futures imagined by those who take them in.

The Click of a Pebble

Barbara Spencer has done a marvelous job of drawing the reader in and making her care about the characters, masterfully weaving historical detail into this wonderful coming of age fantasy. It touches on issues that ring true for many of us, at the same time portraying a time and culture in detail, with well developed characters readers will relate to. As the first book in her The Children of Zeus trilogy, Spencer does not tie everything up with a nice bow, but instead chooses the perfect point in the story to close off this chapter and leave the reader with a need to learn how all the loose ends will be resolved. I give it five quills.

Five Quills

In case you missed a blog stop along the way on The Click of a Pebble Book Blog Tour:

Day #1: Writing to be Read

Day #2: Patty’s World

Day #3: Robbie’s Inspiration

Day #4: This is my Truth Now

The Click of a Pebble

Get your copy of The Click of a Pebble today.

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Book you WordCrafter Book Blog Tour today!


Dark Origins – Hansel and Gretel

Most people are familiar with the story of Hansel and Gretel, a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm and published in their Grimm’s Fairy Tales in 1812.

In summary, the story goes as follows:

Hansel and Gretel are a brother and sister whose starving parents decide to abandon them in the forest. Hansel overhears his parents plotting and drops pebbles on the path so that he and Gretel can find their way home later. The family’s plight does not improve and a short while later the mother [or stepmother depending on the version] persuades the father to take the children into the forest again and leave them there. This time, Hansel drops a trail of breadcrumbs but the birds eat them and the two children become lost in the forest.

The starving children come across a gingerbread house and they begin to break off bits and eat it. The house, however, is a trap set by a wicked witch who captures the children, enslaves Gretel and locks Hansel in a cage. She sets about fattening Hansel up so that she can eat him.

Gretel saves Hansel by shoving the witch into the oven which she has heated up in order to cook Hansel. The pair escape and manage to find their way home with the witch’s treasure. In the meantime, their mother [or stepmother] has died and their father is a broken man having abandoned his beloved children. The family live happily ever after.

Hansel and Gretel - Wikipedia
Picture from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hansel_and_Gretel

The real history behind this already rather grim story, is even more grim.

The true story of Hansel and Gretel may have its roots in the great flood and great famine of 1314. 1314 was a year of continuous rain and this continued throughout 1315 and 1316. The wet conditions resulted in crops rotting in the ground, harvests failing and livestock drowning or starving. Food prices increased dramatically as a result of severe food shortages.

The great famine is estimated to have effected 400,000 square miles of Europe, 30 million people and to have resulted in the deaths of up to 25 percent of the population in certain areas.

The famine was so bad that during the winter of 1315/1316, the peasants resorted to eating the seed grain they had stored for planting in the spring. People resorted to begging, stealing and even murder in their quest for food. Parents abandoned their children to fend for themselves and their were rumours of cannibalism. An Irish chronicler wrote that people “were so destroyed by hunger that they extracted bodies of the dead from cemeteries and dug out the flesh from the skulls and ate it, and women ate their children out of hunger.”

In the story of Hansel and Gretel, the pair are taken into the forest by their father and abandoned. They are taken in by an old woman living in a cottage. When the old woman starts to heat the oven, the children realise she is planning to roast and eat them. Gretel tricks the woman into opening the oven and pushes her inside.

It is interesting to note that this time of famine coincided with the end of the medieval warm weather period and the beginning of the little ice age. The changing climate with its cooler and wetter summers and earlier autumn storms damaged the harvests. Given the strange wet and cool summer South African is experiencing, coupled with severe cold in the northern hemisphere, this really is food for thought.

Another grim early tale along the lines of Hansel and Gretel is a Romanian story called The Little Boy and the Wicked Stepmother. You can read this story here: http://www.planetofbirds.com/the-story-of-the-little-boy-and-the-wicked-step-mother

The story of Hansel and Gretel was the inspiration for my recent twisted fairy tale Covid-19 cake which featured a gingerbread house and a witch who is trying to keep children out after they are declared to be vectors for the virus.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle has published nine children’s books under the name of Robbie Cheadle. She has branched into writing for adults and young adults and, in order to clearly separate her children’s books from her adult books, is writing for older readers under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle.

Her supernatural stories combine fabulous paranormal elements with fascinating historical facts.

Supernatural fantasy YA novel:
Through the Nethergate

Horror Anthologies (edited by Dan Alatorre):
Spellbound
Nightmareland
Dark Visions

Paranormal Anthologies (edited by Kaye Lynne Booth):
Spirits of the West
Whispers of the Past

Murder mystery Anthology (edited by Stephen Bentley)
Death Among Us

Find Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Blog: https://wordpress.com/view/robertawrites235681907.wordpress.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobertaEaton17

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/robertawrites

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Roberta-Eaton-Cheadle/e/B08RSNJQZ5

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Craft and Practice with Jeff Bowles – Throw Away Your Outlines FOREVER!

Craft and Practice

Each month, writer Jeff Bowles offers practical tips for improving, sharpening, and selling your writing. Welcome to your monthly discussion on Craft and Practice.

My wife recently showed me a new favorite anime series of hers that perfectly illustrates a point I’ve been making about storytelling for years. I didn’t used to like anime all that much, and I’m not sure how you feel about it (if you feel anything about it whatsoever), but like many writers from my part of the globe, I had a certain bias toward a more Westernized approach to storytelling. I didn’t much like the aesthetic of anime, the tropes or the style, but I also wasn’t seeing the big picture. Anime is often judged on its aesthetics, but it should be praised for a preference for bold storylines, creativity, color, imagination, a kind of libertine approach that is no-holds-barred, that exceeds and usually subverts audience expectations.

The truth is there are a million writing advice columns saying it’s a bad idea to head into a writing project without some kind of plan. Sometimes, especially in speculative fiction, copious amounts of planning are advised. Character sheets, outlines, beat sheets, world building tools, map making, story bibles, and a number of other idea-gathering methods are common, and for good reason, I suppose. But in the traditions that gave birth to a medium like anime, form follows function, structure often inhibits form. In other words, rigidity and an unwillingness to let stories guide themselves is at the heart of lots and lots AND LOTS of bad writing.

To produce an animated television show, of course, quite a bit of planning is required. Scripts have to be written, art must be created, there’s a need to hire actors and hold recording sessions, and then post production is always a long process. Large groups of very talented people make this stuff. The animation industry is a machine, one so well-oiled the product itself is viewed and loved all over the globe, regardless of culture or regional storytelling preferences. In contrast, someone who writes fiction or poetry or who dabbles in screenplay, stage production, or even video game writing, is very much a free agent. But I’d like to ask you to throw all that out the window for a moment, because I want to direct your attention toward something crucial. Storytelling can and perhaps should be artful in addition to being solid, confident, and competent. Storytelling, the best kinds of it anyway, should meet and then exceed audience expectations, and I know of one sure-fire way of doing that: be the author who surprises the author.

Surprise yourself. Anime is an interesting medium to study because it absolutely loves the element of surprise. I know that in the new show my wife introduced me to, every episode contains a wealth of sea changes that completely redirect the flow of the narrative, creating an experience audiences simply cannot predict from one half-our segment to the next. It’s an intense ride, one that has equivalents in Western storytelling. Stephen King, for instance, is famous for espousing a very seat-of-the-pants approach to writing novels. He’s struck by an interesting what-if scenario, starts writing an introductory scene, establishes some initial paradigms, a few working story dynamics, and then he’s off to the races for the next couple months, having no clue where he’ll end up or how he’ll get there.

It’s worth noting that story synthesis requires the introduction, development, and resolution of disparate elements. For example, if I tell you to write a first chapter including a gun, a nun, an assassin, and a vengeful widow, you’ve got four disparate elements that must follow that exact line: introduction, development, resolution. So let’s say the widow is on a quest to kill the assassin who took the life of her beloved, but her religious convictions lead her to a local church where she gets down on her knees and begs a nun to talk her out of committing the ultimate sin of murder.

Where does the story go in chapter two? Imagine the possibilities, reason out the next most likely scenario to occur, given what’s just happened in chapter one (have to use your reasoning, logical brain for this). Repeat that method throughout approximately thirty or forty chapters, and you’ve got yourself a book. Again, if the author of a great story is surprised while they’re in the process of telling it, the reader is likewise guaranteed a similar reaction. It doesn’t mean you’re a sloppy storyteller. It means you’re willing to take a leap of faith, play jazz a little bit, stretch your abilities and find out in an improvisational way what works and what does not.

As you come up with ideas in the moment, you’re likely to want to check them against a few basic questions: does this concept make sense in context? Would my characters really do this and why? How does this dynamic irrevocably change the narrative, and does it take the story in a direction I’m not prepared to go? Constant alterations, redirection, redactions, and tweaks will be required, and you may also find your finished rough draft is in need of serious inserts, deletions, and edits, but the benefits outweigh the grief. Stories that surprise, that don’t hold the audience’s hand, that respect the audience’s intelligence, that’s what can result.

To return to Stephen King for a moment, there is a preponderance of disappearing, reappearing elements in his stories. Some of his most famous novels set, break, and then reset paradigms constantly and consistently. In The Stand, for instance, notice how a story initially about a small group of disparate and scattered pandemic survivors becomes a tale of strong familial community and then a post-apocalyptic holy battle of good vs. evil. King wrote that book without any planning at all, and whenever he got stuck because, you know, he hadn’t planned anything, he simply did something drastic and unexpected to break paradigms he himself had set. Gathering all the pandemic survivors in Boulder, Colorado and setting them up with good lives isn’t enough. There has to be a traitor in their midst, and if a bomb suddenly goes off and kills some fairly important protagonists, what’s the difference? At least we get some more breathing room to play with that wicked story.

Anime also teaches us paradigms can be created and implemented with the intention of shattering them and reassembling and continuing a story on the fly. Just like, I’m afraid, too much outlining can turn an otherwise well-written book into a predictable mess. Decent surprises telegraphed and ruined, characters that behave irrationally because they were and are slaves to dense, inhibiting structure, it’s a bit of a nightmare. It must be noted that in the professional world, a writer isn’t always given the opportunity to create stories on the fly. Publishers and studio executives, game developers, whoever you’re writing for, they like to be sold on ideas before they see a finished product. Call it an insurance policy. But if by chance you don’t care too much about impressing or working for these folks, if you’re of a more independent disposition, I urge you to try a writing approach that eschews too much planning and allows for absolute spontaneity. You may just be thrilled with the results.

I’ll be back next month for another Craft and Practice. See ya, folks, and thanks for stopping by!


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


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The Santa Claus Stories: Where the legend begins

The Santa Claus Stories of L. Frank Baum

I love reading origin stories, which set the groundwork for all like stories which come after. Although the legend grows and changes down through the years with each retelling. The legend of Santa Claus is one that I hold near and dear to my heart, and I truly enjoyed allowing The Santa Claus Stories of L. Frank Baum take me back to where it all began.

Did you ever wonder where Santa Claus comes from, or how he got to be Santa Claus? Ever wonder how he came to deliver toys to children all around the world? Or why he only delivers one night out of the year? Or why he wears red? Or why he comes down the chimney? Or where his magic comes from? The Santa Claus Stories of L. Frank Baum answer those questions and more. And I’m guessing that not many people today are aware that Santa Claus was in attendance for Princess Ozma’s birthday party in the land of Oz, along with Dorothy and Toto, the scarecrow, the lion man, the tin man, and many other of Baum’s colorful and memorable characters.

The literary value of classic stories such as these is beyond my abilities to describe. Although I feel unqualified to rate classic gems, such as this one, these stories left me with a good feeling inside. Here is born the true spirit of Christmas and you can see the origins of the Santa Claus legend offered here in many contemporary Santa Claus stories. In Baum’s telling, his reindeer don’t fly, but they do wear bells, and magic is in the air, as Santa toils to make all of the toys for the children year round by himself. Over the years things have changed a bit, but I think the magic is still in our hearts, if we look for it.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Spirits of the West Book Blog Tour

Spirits of the West Book Blog Tour

Welcome to the first official WordCrafter Book Blog Tour featuring the WordCrafter western paranormal anthology, Spirits of the West. We’ve got a great tour lined up, so let me tell you a little about this unique anthology and the stories featured within. I hope you’ll all follow along with the tour as the week progresses, to learn more about this colorful story collection.

It’s no secret that I love ghost stories, which is why the theme each year for the WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest always seems to lean toward the paranormal genre, although other genres may be involved. It’s also no secret that my first novel was a western and I enjoy writing and reading this genre, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the 2020 theme was western paranormal. I didn’t get a lot of submissions, but the ones I did get were top notch stories, and the resulting anthology, Spirits of the West, contains eight stories with western and paranormal elements, from six very different author’s worlds. The theme for the contest was not a traditional genre mixture, and there’s not much that’s traditional about the anthology.

My story, “Don’t Eat the Pickled Eggs”, is a western paranormal mystery, to confuse the genres even more. It’s a colorful story, about the disappearance of a saloon owner, a ghostly nighttime visit to leave a warning, and a young boy named Stinkweed, who holds the key to the mystery. You’ll be able to learn more about the inspiration behind this tale on Jessica Bakkers.

Roberta Eaton Cheadle contributed two South African western paranormal tales, which help to make this anthology very unique. “The Thirstyland Journey” and “The Ghost in the Mound” tell stories of pioneers, traveling across the South African wilderness – a different type of western, but with just as many ghosts. Both are powerful stories of survival, courage and determination and are welcomed additions to Spirits of the West. Robbie will be telling us more about both of these stories on Roberta Writes and Robbie’s Inspiration.

Jeff Bowles, the author of the winning story in 2019, contributed “Wenekia”, an excellent story of Native American folklore and traditions. When two young boys sneak out to eavesdrop on the tribal council gathering, they learn more than they bargained for when they witness the reality of legend. Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo will have a post for us about Jeff’s story on Saturday.

“The Clouds in the West”

Arthur Rosch contributed a science fiction western paranormal story, “The Clouds in the West”, which takes the cowboy to another world, where the rider may not always control of his mount, and leaves the ending open to reader interpretation.

The winning story in Spirits of the West was submitted by Enid Holden. “High Desert Rose” is a more traditional western tale of revenge, but Holden does it with a heroin, rather than a hero, and the spirits are watching. Patty’s world will feature an interview with Enid on Wednesday and wrap up the tour on Sunday for us.

“Gunsmoke”

Also included in the anthology are two stories that were not contest submissions. Tom Johnson’s story, “Gunsmoke” really doesn’t have a paranormal element, and is included as a tribute to Tom as his only western story in a lifetime of science fiction and pulp titles, as the author is no longer with us. And Enid Holden contributed a second story, “Queen of Spades”, which didn’t make the submission deadline, but is every bit as good as her winning story.

“Queen of Spades”

Time constraints did not allow for posts on some stories, but I hope you’ll join us on the tour this week to learn more about this very special collection of stories and their authors.


 

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Exciting Happenings for Writing to be Read and WordCrafter

2021 is off to a great start and today, I wanted to take a minute to update you on the really cool stuff scheduled on Writing to be Read in the coming months. I’ve talked about some of these new additions previously, but one or two have only come together recently and I can’t wait to share them.

Dark Origins

You’ll find Robbie Cheadle’s new series, “Dark Origins”, posted on the fourth Wednesday of each month, and the first post will be this coming Wednesday, January 27th. Robbie will be delving into the origins of nursery rhymes and fairy tales, which can be very dark indeed, so be sure and watch for it.

Jeff’s Game Reviews

Jeff Bowles already shared the first post in his new video game review series, “Jeff’s Game Reviews”, where shared his thoughts on Hitman 3. This series will post the fourth Friday of each month, and each post includes a link to the video version of the review.

WordCrafter Book Blog Tours

Last but not least, February will see the launch of WordCrafter Book Blog Tours. The first tour will be for the Spirits of the West western paranormal anthology. Later in the month, tours are scheduled for Arthur Rosch’s poetry and photography collection, Feral Tenderness, and Barbara Spencer’s first book in the Children of Zues trilogy, A Click of a Pebble. I do hope you’ll all join us in learning about these wonderful books and their authors. Tours include interviews, book reviews and informative posts by the authors. You’ll find the complete tour schedule, as well as instructions for scheduling your own book blog tour on the WordCrafter Book Blog Tours page.

Where Spirits Linger

I’d also like to remind everyone that there is still time to submit your story in the 2021 WordCrafter Paranormal Short Fiction Contest, and to have it included in the resulting anthology, Where Spirits Linger. See the full submission guidelines for details. There is a $5 entry fee, which you can pay with a button right on the contest post, and the winner receives a $25 Amazon Gift Card and guarenteed inclusion in the anthology. But don’t wait too long. The deadline is April 30th.

2020 was a pretty good year for Writing to be Read and WordCrafter, in spite of the unusual circumstances of the pandemic and the “new normal”, which isn’t normal at all. After all the lock downs and mask mandates and social distancing, I think everyone needs a little makeover, and this blog is no exception. Writing to be Read may be getting a facelift with new types of content which will change it’s appearance a little, but the end result is that the blog will be so much better for them. Jeff’s and Robbie’s new series, the WordCrafter Book Blog Tours, and this year’s contest and anthology, are all welcome improvements, and I for one, can’t wait.

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“The Wolf Leader”: An origins story of sorts

The Wolf Leader

The classics were written in another era and literature was viewed differently than it is in modern times. The language, although often lavish and eloquent, can also be pretentious and difficult to decifer. There are some sixteenth century words that are just plain confuddling to my twentieth century brain. Over the past year, I’ve tried a few times to read the classic authors. After all, their works survive them over centuries, and set the historical standards of contemporary literature. But I couldn’t get through The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft due to all the pretentious purple prose, and although I finished the first story in The Mysteries of Edgar Allen Poe, I had to put it down or risk dying from sheer boredom. While clearly a predecessor to murder mystries which came later, such as Sherlock Holmes, I found Poe’s style too dry to be considered entertaining.

With The Wolf Leader, by Alexandre Dumas, I did not find this to be the case. In spite of a few words which required defining, I had no trouble following the flow of the Dumas’ story. Alfred Allison did a fine job of translating this classic novel and Jonathon Maberry does the literary world a service by bringing it back into print. Dumas’ style is more along the lines of a Don Quixote, silly but entertaining type of story, than the borishness of Poe’s Detective Dupin, or presumptious fluff and verbage of LoveCraft’s Chtulhu Mythos.

The Wolf Leader is a Faust meets The Wolfman story. Contempory werewolves have grown well beyond what Dumas envisioned, but in his work, one can see the origins from which they sprang. Thibauld is a peasant shoemaker, angry at the injustices he feels he has suffered under the hands of French burgious land owners, who makes a deal with the devil, or in this case, the black wolf, to have all of his wishes granted, for the price of one hair per wish. Each time he wishes for something, one hair on his head turns fiery red, and his wishes seldom turn out as he intended. Instead of being rich and loved, as he had desired… well, you can see where this is headed.

The reason we can foresee what’s to come in the tale described above is that we are familiar with the story of Faust, so we might read it and think it a bit tropish with the ‘deal with the devil’ thing. There are no silver bullets or full moons in this tale, but Thibauld does eventually take the form of the black wolf and there is a lot of howling, so it may even be the first werewolf story ever penned, as Jonathon Maberry points out in his introduction. As such, it could could be the trope setter for an entire genre.

How many quills do I give to a classic work of literature? I’m not sure I’m qualified to rate this work which has survived the centuries. The very fact that is has survived speaks volumes more than any opinion I could ever give.

Buy Link: https://www.amazon.com/Wolf-Leader-Alexandre-Dumas/dp/1680570935/ref=sr_1_1?crid=114AEZE3A6ZPK&dchild=1&keywords=the+wolf+leader&qid=1609757995&s=books&sprefix=The+Wolf+Lea%2Cdigital-music%2C200&sr=1-1

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Looking Back on 2020 and Forward to 2021

2020 has been an difficult year for all of us as Covid 19 turned lives upside-down. Here at Writing to be Read and WordCrafter, we saw some great accomplishments, in spite of the fact that my genre theme schedule fell apart half-way through the year on the blog and content was a little more sporadic. I had to figure out how to adjust to my own “new normal”, which life changes brought my way, but they also led me to remember who I am. Now, I’ve analyzed and regrouped, and I’m ready to head into the new year with new ideas and projects.

WordCrafter’s 2020 Virtual Writing Conference

One of the biggest things for WordCrafter was the 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference back in April. We ended up with twenty-two distinguished authors, offering live stream and video lectures, and interactive workshops and discussion panels, with free content for the Facebook event and a Zoom platform for the interactive stuff. We had a good turn-out with only a few glitches, and we’re preparing to do it again in 2021.

WordCrafter Press releases in 2020:

Ask the Authors

In April, the Ask the Authors writing anthology was released after two years of compilation. This book is an ultimate writer’s reference with tips and advice from twenty-two authors, and it started right here, from a 2018 blog series of the same name. In November, the print edition of this book, (and all WordCrafter Press books), became available, as well.

Spirits of the West

The Spirits of the West western paranormal anthology resulted from the 2020 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest, and was released in October. The winning story, “High Desert Rose”, was written by Enid Holden and is included in the anthology. The theme for the 2021 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest was announced and WordCrafter Press is now taking submissions to be considered for next year’s anthology, Where Spirits Linger.

Hidden Secrets and Last Call

Two of my own books were also released. Last Call and Other Short Fiction is a collection of my short stories, and my paranormal mystery novella, Hidden Secrets, is now available in print on Amazon, but the digital edition can be purchased through other retailers. In the coming year, I will have a story in the Where Spirits Linger anthology, and I’m working on a new book, The Outlaw and the Rockstar which I hope will be ready to release before the end of 2021.

Raise the Tide

WordCrafter Press‘ first stand alone author’s book was released in December, Raise the Tide, a devotional book by James Richards. We also look forward in anticipation to adding the January release of a massive poetry collection by Arthur Rosch, Feral Tenderness, to this list.

Feral Tenderness

Writing to be Read 2020:

We had some great guests on Writing to be Read. On “Chatting with the Pros”, my author guests featured Diana Raab, Amy Cecil, Cherokee Parks, L. Deni Colter, and Kevin J. Anderson. I’m hoping to transform this blog series into a podcast, which can be accessed through the blog, in the coming year, and I hope you all will join me there. Other authors interviewed in 2020 included Mark & Kym Todd, Jade C. Jamison, and Alan Dean Foster. The most viewed interview was with erotic romance author Nicky F. Grant. Interviews fell by the wayside along with the genre themes, but I’m planning to bring back author interviews for 2021, and I’m working on a new blog segment, “The Authors’ Covid Coffee Clache”, which will address issues of the pandemic specific to authors.

Treasuring Poetry

Robbie Cheadle’s poet guests included Sally Cronin, Colleen Chesebro, Victoria Zigler, Sue Vincent, Annette Rochelle Aben, Christy Birmingham, Kevin Morris, Frank Prem, D. Avery, Geoff Le Pard, and Balroop Singh. Of course, each segment on “Treasuring Poetry” are filled with poetry examples and includes a review of the poet’s latest poetry collection.

Growing Bookworms

Robbie Cheadle’s “Growing Bookworms” has great ideas for promoting literacy in children. Topics discussed “Making Learning the Alphabet Fun“, “Reading and Mathematics“, obtaining a balance of parental approval, “Sir Chocolate and the Valentine Toffee Cupid“, the benefits of singing and rhyming verse for children, “Teaching Children to Read“, “Introducing Non-Fiction to Children“, “The Future of Education“, “The Great Roald Dahl“, “Chapter Books vs. Short Stories for Children“, “The Joy of Nursery Rhymes: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Bat“, and “Incorporating Reading into Christmas Activities“. The post with the most views this year was a “Growing Bookworms” post from 2019, “Developing Imagination and Creativity Through Reading“, and in fact, it is also the post with the most all time views.

Words to Live By

On “Words to Live By”, Jeff Bowles offers up his thoughts on writing and life, and writing life. In 2020, he reflected on “The Creator in the Creative“, “The Kid in the Machine”, “Sex, Love, Warfare and Death“, “Fear, Creativity, and that Pesky Pandemic“, “Love in the Time of Covid“, “Be Here Now (Sanity for the Modern Writer), and”Creative Legacy“. The most viewed “Words to Live By” post was “The Big Chill“.

Mind Fields

With Art Rosch’s “Mind Fields”, you never know what the topic will be, but in 2020, they included “T.V. Addicts Annonymous“, “Nightmare with Tracphone“, “The Power of Villians in Story Telling“, “The Big Grief or Computer Wipe-Out“, “The Air in the Sky“, “Obsession: Craving Flashlights“, “Curvature: An Essay on Discernment“. The most view “Mind Fields” post was “Am I Real“.

Super Heroes and Supervillains

In May, Jeff Bowles took over the spotlight as he took over the Super Heroes and Super Villians theme, with a look at “The History and Evolution of Comic Books“, “The Rise of the Comic Book Film“, “DC Comics Gets Animated“, “D.C. Comics vs. Marvel – Rivalry and Inspiration“, and a celebratory posts for comic books and super heroes, “Look Up in the Sky!

Craft and Practice

Also in May, Jeff introduced a new blog series “Craft and Practice”, filled with great writing advice, which covered topics such as “The Revision Process“, “To Self-publish or Not to Self-publish“, “Writing for Catharthis“, “Story Synthesis: The Ultimate Tool in the Tool Kit“, “To Comma or Not to Comma“, “The Odds and Ends of Worldbuilding“, and “What’s the use of Trunk Novels“. The most viewed “Craft and Practice” post was “Should You Write Every Day?“.

Jeff’s Movie Reviews

Jeff’s Movie Reviews” covered The Invisible Man, Birds of Prey“, Hamilton on Disney+, Bill and Ted Face the Music, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Queen’s Gambit, and The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. The most viewed movie review post was for 1917.

Arthur’s Visual Media Reviews

“Art’s Visual Media Reviews” covered Homeland, Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why, Just Mercy, 13 Reasons Why (the later seasons), a critique of Marvel movies, and The Secret: Dare to Dream, but the most viewed review was a life review in “My Life with Jazz“. Unfortunately, “Arthur’s Visual Media Reviews” will not be appearing in 2021, but Art’s “Mind Fields” will be appearing twice a month.

My book reviews included Missing: Murder Suspected: True Crime Stories Brought to Life, by Austin Stone On Being a Dictator, by Kevin J. Anderson and Martin L. Shoemaker; Saint, by Amy Cecil; Heat: Book 1, by Jade C. Jamison; Old One Eyed Pete, by Loretta Miles Toleffson; Death Wind, by Travis Heermann and Jim Pinto; Severed Wings, by Steven-Elliot Altman; X Marks the Spot, an anthology of pirate fantasy tales edited by Lisa Mangum; Indominable, by J.B. Garner; Echo One, by Mercedes Lacky, Denis K. Lee, Cody Martin, and Veronica Giguere; the audio edition of Shadow Blade, by Chris Barili; Love/Madness/Demon, by Jeff Bowles; In the Shadow of the Clouds, by Jordan Elizabeth; Keeper of the Winds, by Jenna Solitaire with Russle Davis; Inspirational Visions oracle cards, by Judy Mastrangelo; The Freedom Conspiracy by Nathan B. Dodge; Disappeared, by Lucienne Diver; Fool’s Gold Rush, by Tim Baker; Terminal Sequence, by Dan Alatorre; Gunslinger, by Edward J. Knight; and Clay House, by Jordan Elizabeth. The top viewed review was Hold Your Fire, an anthology edited by Lisa Mangum.

Judging the Spurs

I was also honored to be a judge for the Writers of America’s Spur Awards and I reviewed my top six picks, and the winner of the western romance category, The Yeggman’s Apprentice, by C.K. Crigger. These were the best of the best, and I was honored to be given the opportunity to read and review them.

WordCrafter Book Blog Tours

Also, in 2021 Writing to be Read will be a host for the WordCrafter Book Blog Tours, so we’ll be keeping you up to date on several new releases as they come out. Robbie Cheadle will bring us a new blog series on nursery rhymes and fairytales, “Dark Origins”, and I plan to bring in a new series, “Writer at Work”, which will talk about different issues that writers face. Subscribe to this blog with one of the buttons in the upper right-hand corner to be sure not to miss this great new content or the tried and true content of continuing series on Writing to be Read in the coming year.

Dark Origins

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!

From Writing to be Read and WordCrafter

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Fish Store

Mind Fields

Trevor Joyce made sure that the two hundred foot extension cord was securely fastened too the outlet in his garage. Carefully he measured out the length to the swimming pool. He walked with the plastic reel, paying out the line, around his Ferrari, past his Bentley, and when he came to the last of his car collection, the Silver Ghost Rolls Royce, he kicked the cord firmly under its rear tire so that it wedged there. Backing up the driveway, he tugged at the line, ensuring that it was firmly seated under the tire and would not come loose. 

The driveway angled steeply upward under a line of cypress trees. From the top, Trevor could see the ocean and a big chunk of Malibu Canyon with its winding roads and private gated houses. He stopped and scratched at one of the tattoos on his right arm: it was the band tattoo, the famous one-eyed cat that rock fans instantly associate with the heavy metal group, Fish Store.

For eighteen years, Trevor had been the lead guitarist with Fish Store. As of last week, some snaggly little kid named Keewee Bonior was the lead guitarist with Fish Store. One by one, the old members were being squeezed out. Trevor had seen it coming; first it was the keyboard player, Pierce Holling. Okay, Pierce had lost  three fingers in a car crash. But that was just a bullshit pretext for booting him out of the band. Pierce didn’t need ten fingers to play rock and roll. It was really the paunch and the wrinkles, that’s what  it was all about.  He just wasn’t fucking cute anymore.

The extension cord reached all the way to the hedge at the far end of the pool. Plenty of length for Trevor’s purposes. He wound it in long loops between his thumb and his elbow and returned to the garage, laying the cord carefully on the trunk of the Rolls Royce. 

He went upstairs and got his favorite guitar and his little amplifier, the Boogie, the one he used for rehearsals, “the little screamer”, as he called it. The guitar was the pearl-inlaid Flying Vee, once owned by the late guitar legend Claxton Wanko. It had played many immortal rock hits in Claxton’s band. It had played “Eat My Heart Out”,  “Work Me To The Bone”, it had played “Tough Love Tonight” and “Willng Pussy”.  Trevor had bought it at auction for six thousand dollars in nineteen eighty five. 

He gave it a little wipe with a polishing chamois, flipped it around on its strap button, inspected it from the top tuning peg to the green serial number etched into its bifurcated body. He hefted the guitar in one hand, the amp in the other, and returned to the garage. Trevor placed the guitar and amp carefully on the work bench that ran the length of the left hand side of the cavernous chamber. He returned to the interior of the house, walked up the soft purple carpet, past the billiard room and the theatre room to the master bedroom.

He went into Lynda’s bathroom; Lynda had been gone for weeks. She wasn’t coming back. There was nothing to indicate her eight years of residence in the house, but a hairbrush with a few wisps of blonde hair, a chunk of glycerine soap and a bottle of Jack Daniels, half empty. Trevor took a swig from the bottle, wiped his lips, then looked at his reflection in the mirror.

“The fuck,”  he said, mumbling to himself. He splayed his fingers and ran them through his long, lanky, thinning black hair. “Kick me out of my own band ‘cause I’m going bald. I’m not going bald.” He could not, of course, see the round circle of flesh at the very top of his head, like a monk’s tonsure, from which his flowing locks seemed to emerge as if they were rivers running off some invisible glacial lake. 

He took another swig from the bottle of whiskey and went across the bedroom to his own bathroom on the other side. He opened the medicine cabinet and took out a little sealed glass bottle shaped like a bell.  Morphine Sulfate, Two Hundred Milligrams.

“That should do it,” he said, tapping the bottle with his fingernail. From one of the drawers he withdrew a rubber tourniquet and a twenty two gauge insulin syringe. He took these items back into the garage, and set them carefully next to his guitar and amp.  He then got the end of the extension cord from atop the trunk  of the Rolls and unwound enough of it to reach the work bench.

From the far corner of the double-doored garage, he pulled a blue plastic tarpaulin off his gleaming Harley Custom. The motorcycle stood there like a science fiction insect about to ingest some screaming prey. Its headlight was like the eye of a cyclops. Purple swirling paint swept in flames down to the One Eyed Cat logo painted on each side of the silver gas tank. 

Trevor pushed it off its stand and wheeled it around his cars to the tool bench. There, he put it back on its stand and straddled its bulk. He reached for a roll of duct tape and pried a few inches from the fat cylinder and hung  the sticky part from the bar of the motorcycle. Then he placed the amplifier in his lap, settling it as comfortably as possible, dividing its weight between the bike’s saddle and  his thighs. Methodically, he began taping the amplifier to his chest. Holding it with his left arm, he wound the tape around the amp, then switched off to his right hand and continued winding around  his back, over and over again, until he had the electronic device reasonably secured to his torso. 

He picked up the guitar and used a patch cord to connect it to the amp. Cumbersome, he decided, but certainly do-able. He put on his shades. He tied a bandana around his head. He was already dressed in leather pants and a sleeveless leather vest that showed all his obscene tattoos.

He plugged the amp’s power cord into the long extension cord. He turned on the amp. The light glowed green.  Clumsily, he strummed a C Chord. Thwong! It echoed hugely in the garage.

“Yeahhh,” Trevor drawled. “Ready ready ready.”

He kicked the motorcyle into life. Its engine roared and he throttled it so the noise of the bike and the noise of the amp blended into a single savagely gleeful thunder.

Then he took the vial of morphine and filled the syringe with its contents. He had forgotten to tie off with the rubber tourniquet, so he used the guitar’s patch cord to raise one of his few remaining useful veins. He had collapsed the big one inside his elbow and the big one that ran down the side of his arm, and most of the medium sized veins, lower down near his wrist. But there was still the inch-long minor vein about two inches down from his elbow;  he had been getting hits there for the last couple weeks, he knew he could hit it, even with all this stuff strapped around him. It took a few jabs, a few misses, but finally he found the blood and mainlined that huge hit of pharmaceutical dope right into his bloodstream. It took only a few seconds to feel its soft blanket spreading from his innards to the periphery of the nerve endings at his fingertips.

“This is it,” he thought. “The perfect rock and roll suicide!”

He gunned the motorcyle. He turned the amplifier all the way up and thwanged a huge chord. He was going to accelerate into the swimming pool, electrocute, overdose and drown himself all at the same time. Someone would find his corpse in the next couple weeks, sitting there at the bottom of the pool on his Harley, with his Claxton Wanko guitar strapped around his shoulder, his Boogie Amp short-circuited, his blood full of dope.

“Yeehaaaa!”  he yelled, strumming the guitar. He managed to roll the bike out of the garage, extension cord trailing behind him. He went to the very bottom of the sloped driveway, just inside the swinging metal gate, gunned the engine, twanged the guitar, turned the motorcyle around and roared up the drive towards the swimming pool. 

He strummed as he ascended. B flat Chord, A flat Chord, F Chord, the famous intro to Fish Store’s biggest hit, “Slam Me, Ma’am”. He fought to keep his balance. He got to ten miles an hour, fifteen, twenty. He got to the very top of the drive and the extension chord snagged on a bit of outthrust pavement and whipped loose.  The sound of the guitar suddenly died. The lip of the drive acted as a ramp and Trevor flew over the pool like a stunt rider, landed in the hedge, passed through it, tore through his downhill neighbor’s fence and wound up on Malibu Drive, stoned out of his mind, but not dead, carrying his guitar and his amplifier on his Custom Harley. 

“Aw fuck,” he said aloud, as he swerved across the dividing line on the serpentine road.

A Mountain Springs water truck honked at him and managed not to squash him.

Unable to control the motorcycle any longer, he gunned the throttle, closed his eyes and simply let fate carry him. He hit a curb, went over some rocks, crashed through rhododenron bushes, flew into the air and finally landed with a gigantic splash in someone else’s swimming pool. 

He was still alive. Hands came to the bottom of the pool, pulled at the amp, pulled at his armpits,  hauled him from the pool. A dozen teenagers avidly surrounded his stunned form.

“That was fuckin’ great, dude!” One of the youngsters said. “Awesome! Did my mom set this up? Fucking great…..hey. Aren’t you Trevor Joyce? Aren’t you, like, Fish Store, dude?”

The kid did a naïve imitation of Trevor’s duck-walking stage style, mocking the chords to “Slam Me, Ma’am”, playing air guitar with his tongue hanging out.

Trevor handed the Claxton guitar to one of his young admirers. He took the bandana from his head and wrung it out. 

 Not today, he thought. Not today. I’ve still got fans.

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A Midwesterner by birth, Arthur Rosch migrated to the West Coast just in time to be a hippie but discovered that he was more connected to the Beatnik generation. He harkened back to an Old School world of jazz, poetry, painting and photography. In the Eighties he received Playboy Magazine’s Best Short Story Award for a comic view of a planet where there are six genders. The timing was not good.  His life was falling apart as he struggled with addiction and depression. He experienced the reality of the streets for more than a decade. Putting himself back together was the defining experience of his life. It wasn’t easy. It did, however, nurture his literary soul. He has a passion for astronomy, photography, history, psychology and the weird puzzle of human experience. He is currently a certified Seniors Peer Counselor in Sonoma County, California. Come visit his blogs and photo sites. www.artrosch.com and http://bit.ly/2uyxZbv

Arthur’s books include The Road Has Eyes, The Gods of the Gift, and Confessions of an Honest Man. His lifetime collection of poetry and photography, Feral Tenderness, is soon to be released by WordCrafter Press.

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