Authoring Around

Lately I’ve been bouncing around the internet (cause bouncing around in person is not happening right now, sigh). I’ve been having lots of fun with these interviews and such. If you are into a bunch of authors spending some time talking about books, you may be interested.

Here is a Youtube video from the Books in Common discussion that I had recently with author Rosanne Parry. It was lots of fun – she was discussing her book A Whale of the Wild, and I was talking about The Artifact Hunters – but the nerdy book stuff was wide ranging. Rosanne and I were debut authors together. If you’re a book nerd too, you might find it interesting.

 

And here’s a discussion that four Spooky Middle Grade Authors had featuring the 10 Most FAQs from readers. Lots of laughs in this one!

And Kim Ventrella interviewed me on Facebook Live talking all things “spooky”:

And just in case you are more into audio than visual, I was interviewed reently by author Susanne Dunlap on her “It’s Just Historical” podcast.

Enjoy!

Stay the Course

Writing is hard. It’s hard even when life is going smoothly, when your kids are in school and happy, when your finances are secure, when you have a support system/beta readers/great computer. When you’re not being chased by a pandemic or a fraught political and social climate.

But now…WRITING IS HARD.

So, if you are struggling right now, please don’t beat yourself up.

A puppy pic. Cause who doesn’t need a puppy pic?

I’ve been watching as my writing friends admit that they haven’t written in weeks (or months). Watching as sometimes they have a breakthrough (yay!) only to fall into despair days later when no more words will come. Watching (and, yes, experiencing myself) as their books march out into the Covid world to be met with a resounding echo of silence, because there are few opportunities to promote, and no one is really interested in paying for anything.

If there ever was a time that a writer might contemplate quitting, this is it.

But, please don’t quit. Kids need us, now more than ever. They need our hope, our tales, our worlds to escape to. Librarians and teachers need us. They need to have a place to send kids to that is safe and fun – and even if it might be scary, it’s still safe and fun. Parents need us, because reading provides a haven, and a book that is enticing may draw in even the reluctant reader.

Take time for self-help. Watch a rom-com. Take a long hike. Take a nap. Read a book just for fun. Exercise. Breathe. Be easy with yourself, especially if the words won’t come.

Write one sentence. Any sentence, about anything. Don’t push too hard, don’t make yourself stare at a blank page.

These are hard times, and yes, writing is hard enough in good times. Go easy on yourself, go easy on your writing. This too shall pass, and when it does, you’ll be ready to write again.

Please share your thoughts.

 

Writerly Craft Advice: September

As promised, I will continue to write about the craft of writing, and share those essays with you. They appear over on Medium, and when I can I’ll post the free-to-read link. If you like what you read there, will you please give it a “clap”? Thanks!

World-building

This article is the first by my writer son, Kevin Fox. He writes science fiction and his approach to world-building is unique and interesting. His approach is to treat your world as you would a character. You can read his article here.

The Opening Hook

In this essay, I write about what it takes to hook an audience – especially that all-important audience of one: an editor. Three things are required: a question, great voice, and the right tone. It’s important to study the “greats” and work harder on your opening sentence than any other in your story. Check out my article about this here.

Character as Gateway to Emotion

Kevin has also written an article on building characters, and on seeking the emotional engine that drives a story. Read more of his advice here.

Cliche

And here you can find a post on the value of cliche – which might be surprising!

Creative Productivity

I subscribe to Shaunta Grimes‘s articles because they are filled with logical advice. Here’s one on how to be a productive creative.

I hope you enjoy reading these articles – please let me know if this is working for you!

A Change-Up

Dear Dedicated Readers…

I’m changing a bit of what I share on this blog.

As you may know, I love to write about the craft of writing. I have lots of thoughts – hopefully helpful! I also love to host other authors here, share favorite book lists, and other fun stuff.

Recently I became a Medium blogger. Medium is a subscription platform that attracts an amazingly huge audience, allowing writers to gain attention from new readers, and (here’s the kicker) pays the writer by the number of views the post gets. As a subscriber, you can view a certain number of posts each month for free, but otherwise subscription income is given back to the content providers.

Like me.

While we are not talking huge sums, income is income. My first post surprised me by gaining modest attention, and a few bucks. One catch with Medium is that the posts there must be completely original. I don’t think I can come up with two different craft posts every couple of weeks or more without exhausting myself.

So…I will be moving my writing craft posts over to Medium.

But!

Don’t despair – I am allowed to share links that will allow you to read my posts for free. And I will do that here, each time I post on Medium, with a description of the content.

This blog will still host fellow authors. And I’m adding content for teachers, librarians, and home-schoolers – things that will help them in their work in these tough times. And I’ll talk about my favorite craft books. And, yes, I’ll talk about my own books, too, as it comes with the job description. I’ll still talk about writing, just not quite at the same level or frequency.

So please stick with me so you can retrieve the links as I do share craft thoughts over on Medium. Speaking of, here’s the most recent. It’s an article about why it’s important to let the writing mind rest, with a craft tip for how to see deeper into the story.

Thanks for hanging with me!!

Just For Fun!

I am part of a collective of authors who write “spooky books.” I love these other authors – and their books! Kim Ventrella, who is part of this group, is super-savvy when it comes to social media fun, and she turned me on to this cool site.

Take a look at what I did to have fun with the cover of The Artifact Hunters

For those rainy fall nights when you are taking a stroll downtown:

 

And here’s where I’d love to be! Broadway, up in lights (maybe some day…)

 

Or how about here! Option, anyone?

 

And last but not least:

 

Hope you enjoy!! Don’t forget to preorder at one of these fine vendors:

Authors in the time of Covid need all the help we can get. If you enjoyed The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, and think you’d enjoy The Artifact Hunters, please consider pre-ordering from one of these fine book sellers, with my thanks.

Country Bookshelf (signed copies! With fun stuff included!)

Amazon

Bookshop

The Scottish Celts: The Faerie Courts and The Ring of Brodgar

The Artifact Hunters is a story about magic and is set in Scotland so naturally I wanted to include aspects of Celtic mythology and history.

The Faerie Courts

In Scottish mythology, the Realm of Faerie is inhabited by two types of fae: the “good” and the “wicked”. The good faeries are members of the Seelie Court, and generally get along with humans, playing pranks but also acting in helpful fashion. The Seelie behave in a fun-loving or “silly” way (the word silly is derived from the same root as Seelie).

Mystical Scottish Highland view.

But the Unseelie Court is made up of malevolent fae who are also known as the sluagh, or the Host. The Unseelie fae are cruel, and at their worst they steal the souls of unwary humans. Humans are cautioned against speaking their true name (sluagh) aloud, especially in the dark, lest the creatures think they are being summoned.

The Celtic regions are rich with tales of magical creatures, who can be either benign or wicked, and who inhabit every glen, burn, croft, or cave. In Scotland, many of the supernatural beings are associated with water, which makes sense given Scotland’s many streams (burns), lakes (lochs), and its rugged coastline and rough seas.

The Ring of Brodgar

Skara Brae, an ancient village

The Orkney Islands lie off the northern edge of Scotland, between the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea. Windswept and barren but fertile, they were inhabited as long as 5000 years ago by a people capable of building complex structures for both housing and worship. Sophisticated stone houses in a village inside massive stone walls lie near ritual sites of standing stones that are similar to the more well-known Stonehenge in England.

A testament to the astonishing craft skills of these early peoples is that the standing stones, as well as residential and ceremonial structures like Maes Howe and Skara Brae, remain today. The Ring of Brodgar is only one of these sites, with a ring of stones that stand as tall as 15 feet. Nearby, the Stones of Stenness rise to a height of 19 feet. The culture and civilization – and their disappearance – remain a mystery, but active excavations reveal more every year.

You can see an image that I took of the Ring of Brodgar on my Rookskill Castle website. Scroll to the bottom of the page.

Resources:

An Illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairy Tales, by Theresa Breslin, illustrated by Kate Leiper, Floris Books, 2012.

“Before Stonehenge”, National Geographic Magazine, August 2014, pages 27-51.

 

The Old-New Synagogue and the Golem of Prague

I was lucky to visit Prague just as I was editing The Artifact Hunters, and we spent four days researching for Isaac’s backstory and childhood experiences. Prague is a beautiful city, occupied by the Nazis, who turned the country into a “Protectorate”.

The Old-New Synagogue and Josefov

Terezin in morning fog. An eerie sight of the graveyard of prisoners next to the camp.

Isaac Wolf, my main character in The Artifact Hunters, is a secular Jewish boy growing up in the Josefov sector of Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). Before the Nazis occupied the country in 1939 Isaac would have been very familiar with the Old-New Synagogue, but the Nazis closed it during the occupation. Built in 1270, it is the oldest surviving synagogue in Europe. I don’t have a picture good enough to share – it is a small old building.

Of course, the Nazis dealt harshly with the Jewish people of Czechoslovakia. We also visited the concentration camp of Terezin outside of Prague, a haunting experience. The book by Michael Gruenbaum in my Resources, below, is set in Terezin.

Stumbling stones in Prague.

One of the things that caught my attention while we toured the Josefov sector was something called “stumbling stones”. The streets of Prague are still largely paved with rough ancient cobbles. The stumbling stones were made to commemorate those who were victims of the Nazi regime, and are brass replacements for the cobbles, and inscribed with the names of the dead.

The Golem of Prague

A view of the cemetery in Josefov, which frightened Isaac in my story. It is odd – people were interred over the centuries on top of previous generations.

The Synagogue also contains a mystery of sorts. Legend has it that in 1580 Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel made a creature out of clay and brought it to life by placing the sacred name of God, written on parchment, in the mouth of the creature which he called the Golem (other stories say that he inscribed a word on the creature’s forehead, but the result was the same). He made the Golem to protect the Jewish people of his time from persecution.

But the Golem became an out-of-control monster, killing at random, so the Rabbi tricked his creation, removed the parchment, and the Golem fell to pieces. It is said that Rabbi Loew placed those pieces of the Golem in the attic of the Old-New Synagogue, where it remains today.

Resources:

Somewhere There Is Still A Sun, by Michael Gruenbaum with Todd Hasak-Lowy, Aladdin, 2017.

“A Legendary Protector Formed From a Lump of Clay and a Mound of Terror”, by Edward Rothstein, The New York Times, September 11, 2006.

Also: https://livingprague.com/inspirational/prague-stumble-stones/

 

Ancient Clocks, From Greece To Prague

Because the Death’s Head Watch and time travel play such an important role in The Artifact Hunters, I used other time pieces in the story.

The Antikythera Mechanism

In 1901, in the Mediterranean Sea off the Greek island of Antikythera, an artifact was retrieved from an ancient wreck. It is a complex clockwork from ancient Greece capable of predicting astronomical events, and is now known as the Antikythera mechanism*. It is also one of the magical artifacts depicted in The Artifact Hunters, as time plays a huge role in the story.

Derek J. de Solla Price(1922–1983) with a model of the Antikythera mechanism

This mechanism, which may date as far back as 60 BCE, has 37 gears that track the movements of the sun and moon, allowing ancient astronomers to predict eclipses. Some have even called it an “analogue computer.” X-ray imaging has allowed a reconstruction of the device, whose history is lost in time.

The Prague Astronomical Clock

Naturally, in this story that features time travel, an Antikythera mechanism, a Death’s Head Watch, and a boy from Prague, I felt it was important to include the fascinating Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square.

One of Prague’s most well-known and arresting attractions, it is more than a timepiece, and because it dates from 1410, is also the world’s oldest operating clock. In addition to an astronomical dial, which follows the cycles of sun and moon, there is, on the hour, the “walk of the Apostles”, and figures flanking the clock that also move. You can find videos of the clock as the Apostles move through the chiming of the hour. I was lucky enough to watch it in action one morning a few years ago.

In this image that I took while watching the clock you’ll see four figures flanking the clock. The skeleton, representing, naturally, Death, is a figure that also is featured in The Artifact Hunters.

The astronomical dial is an astrolabe (an astronomical clock) that includes a moving zodiacal ring. There are numerous stories about the clock and its importance to the Czech people, including the significance of the skeleton of Death which nods its head as the clock strikes. The clock is silent between the hours of 11 PM and 9AM. Try to watch the clock in action on one of the many videos available – there is one in the detailed article below that also explains the mechanism.

Resources:

“The Jewel of Prague: The Oldest Astronomical Clock in Use”, by Stefan Andrews, The Vintage News, March 8, 2018.

*Fun fact: A replica of the Antikythera mechanism can be seen in the American Computer and Robotics Museum in my own hometown of Bozeman, Montana.

And a Reminder!

Authors in the time of Covid need all the help we can get. If you enjoyed The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, and think you’d enjoy The Artifact Hunters, please consider pre-ordering from one of these fine book sellers, with my thanks.

Country Bookshelf (signed copies! With fun stuff included!)

Amazon

Bookshop

Time Travel

One of the more popular science fiction tropes is that of time travel. Is it possible? What would happen if it were? How, in fact, does time work? The idea of time travel is exactly what I wanted to explore with the Death’s Head Watch in The Artifact Hunters.

Einstein’s Theories of Time

Physics professor, and genius, Stephen Hawking

Albert Einstein, in his theories of General and Special Relativity, has a lot to say about time. Specifically, Einstein suggests that all time is relative, looking from one fixed point in time or space to another. In addition, gravity affects time by bending space so that objects move on a curved path, causing what physicists refer to as “time dilation”.

These two concepts – relative time and time dilation – explain why an astronaut returns to Earth a tiny bit younger than if she’d remained on the planet. This is a concept that’s been explored frequently in science fiction, for example in movies like the 2014 film Interstellar in which an astronaut returns to find his daughter an old woman near death after he encounters time dilation.

Is Time Travel Possible?

Is it possible to travel through time? Theoretically yes, but no actual method of travel has been shown to exist, and those that may be possible (like worm holes that intersect bent space) are likely to end in a bad way for the fragile human body.

Time travel paradoxes, like the law of unintended consequences, are also science fiction staples. For example, if you go back in time and accidentally kill your grandfather, how will you exist in the future? And if time travel is shown to be possible sometime in the future by some means we have yet to identify, where are the time travelers from the future right now – are they sitting next to you on the bus?

As much fun as it is to speculate, that’s all we can do with time travel for the moment – play with it in fantasy and science fiction.

Resources:

A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, by Stephen Hawking, Bantam Dell Publishing, 1988

How To Build a Time Machine, by Paul Davies, Penguin, 2001