Book Launch Soon to Come

My newest novel, The Twisted Towers, an epic fantasy, will be launching soon. ebook cover

I’m planning an online launch party, and all my blog followers are invited. I want to welcome those of you who have signed up recently to follow this blog. I’ll be writing about a lot of things–raising monarch butterflies, the dogs in my life, the writing process, the revision process, novels I’ve read recently, grammar and how to get it right, and many other things.

This blog has the specific purpose of telling you about the upcoming online launch party. The date is June 28, and the party is scheduled for 7:00 to 8:30 p.m.  I’ll hold it on my Facebook author page, E. Rose Sabin’s Books. If you can’t spare the entire hour and a half, drop by for a few minutes at least during that time period and help me celebrate the debut of my newest book. (It will be number 17, but who’s counting?)

During that time period I’ll be answering questions about the book and anything else you want to know. You don’t have to send me questions in advance, but I hope at least some of you will. I very much want to have at least some questions to start off with, and then take others as the time moves on.

But I won’t just be answering questions and talking about my book. There will be videos, opportunities to win prizes, and general merriment. Sorry, no actual refreshments, but possibly virtual ones. I’ve invited five author friends to share a bit about their books and answer your questions to them. A couple of those authors always have marvelous recipes to share. Those are Carol J. Perry, author of the very successful paranormal Witch City Mystery Series, and Diane Sawyer, author of mysteries and her most recent a prize-winning thriller, The Tell-Tale Treasure. Diane may also have something to say about her next book, Trouble in Tikal, and her travels in Guatemala, where she gathered the material for that book. Incidentally, Diane and I are critiquing partners, so she gets to read my books before most anyone else, and I get to read hers, and the help we give each other makes us both better writers, though I should clarify that Diane was a successful author before I met her and well before we became critiquing partners.

Another attendee will be Nathan Van Coops, author of the excellent In Times Like These time travel series. He’s a real whiz when it comes to promotion, and I can’t emphasize enough how much help he’s been to me along that line. Everything I’ve learned about promotion I’ve learned from Nathan. He’ll be launching the latest book in his time travel series in his online launch party on July 3. I’m sure he’ll have something to say about that.

Another guest is the multi-talented Tenea Johnson, a poet, novelist, and musician, who does marvelous performances that combine dramatic readings from her novels,  short stories, and poems, often set to music she composes, plays and sings. If we’re lucky maybe we can get a short audio or video clip from one of those performances, though I can’t promise that at this point.

The remaining guest is Monique Desir, daughter of West Indian parents but born and reared here in Florida, who may share her unfortunate publication experience of her very fine vampire novel, Forbidden, which she intends to be the first volume of a series, and what she’s doing to overcome a temporary setback in her career. She’s working on a Young Adult novel that weaves together Haitian lore and the very real tale of a young teenager coping with a dying parent to produce an intriguing fantasy tale.

I’m just as excited about hosting these wonderful guest authors as I am about the advent of my own novel. I’ll be posting some brief excerpts from the novel just to give you a taste of what it’s about in a future blog.  For now, I want to urge you again to visit my web site, erosesabin.com, and sign up for my newsletter.

And above all, please put the launch date of Thursday, June 28. And send questions for me and/or for my guests to rose@erosesabin.com. I’ll try to answer every one of those for me–if not during the launch party, then in a later blog. I’m sure my guests will do the same.

 

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Posted in Books, fantasy novels, Learning, Promotion, Publication, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What I Do All Day

I retired from teaching many years ago. Shortly before I retired I was getting my hair done in the beauty parlor and commenting to the beautician about how wonderful it would feel to retire. A woman who happened to be standing near us spoke up. “Oh, honey,” she said, “you don’t want to retire. You’ll be so bored with nothing to so all day.”

I don’t recall how I answered her. It was probably something to the effect that I didn’t plan on being bored. I’m sure I wasn’t as polite as I could have been. I hate being called “honey” by someone I don’t even know. But whenever I’ve since thought of that woman I’ve felt pity. How sad, to have nothing to do all day. Bored I have never been.

So what do I do all day?

Well, of course, as soon as I retired I began writing in earnest, spending most of my days sitting at the computer. I also spent a good bit of time researching markets for my writing. I was just getting started then, and I knew I had a lot to learn, so I also spent time reading books on writing. I took a noncredit creative writing course at what was then St. Petersburg Junior College. (It’s now St. Petersburg College, a 4-year institution.) I attended writing workshops and started going to science fiction conventions. The cons are great fun, but the best part was, and still is, the opportunity to meet and talk to published writers. (Now I can say, other published writers.)

As I wasn’t at that time making much money (okay, any money) from my writing, I applied to teach Spanish at SPJC as an adjunct. I taught evening classes, usually just one a semester, on a few occasions two, just enough to supplement my teacher’s pension. Of course that took more time than just the two or three hours per week spent teaching the class. I had lessons to plan and papers to grade. Although I enjoyed the teaching, I found myself resenting the time it took from my writing.

Writing is a talent, yes, to some degree, but it is mostly a skill that must be learned. Like any skill, it involves practice. It means writing stories, sending them out, accumulating rejections but refusing to give up, recognizing that the rejections mean you haven’t yet acquired sufficient skill. It takes years of hard work to become an overnight success. It may also take a few lucky breaks.

I’ve written previously about how I got my first novel published by Tor, a major publisher. I won’t repeat that story here. I will say that, flush with that success, I thought I had it made! The novel did well. I no longer had to teach classes. I went on to sell my second and third novel. I finished my fourth, was proud of it, sent it to my editor at Tor, and he loved it.

But …

I learned the hard way that the sales department, not the editor, has the final say on whether to publish or to reject a manuscript. I discovered that the second book had not done as well as my first, and sales of the third were also disappointing. So the sales staff said no to the fourth book. Then my wonderful editor left Tor.

Of course I was discouraged and disheartened by this turn of events, but I didn’t—couldn’t—quit writing. I had already written a prequel to the trilogy published by Tor, and I found a small press willing to publish it. I also wrote a sequel to that, which was published by the same small press. These books were all part of what I call my Arucadi Series, for the name of the country where these fantasy novels take place. But I felt the need to branch out. I wrote a science fiction trilogy, and sent it to the same small press (Double Dragon), which published it. I wrote the novel that became Seduction of the Scepter and got it accepted and published by a different small press. It did quite well. But I still had that fourth book, the book that followed the fantasy trilogy published by Tor. Knowing that no one was going to pick up the fourth book of a series, I decided to self-publish.

I’ve discovered that I like self-publishing. It no longer has the bad name it once had. It’s easy to do through Amazon’s CreateSpace. And it gives me far more control over cover art, interior styling, presentation, and pricing. So I don’t view it as a step down, but rather as a step up. The one drawback is that the author must do a great deal of promotion—no relying on a publisher to do it for you. I’ve had to learn how to promote my work, how to market. It’s been a big learning curve for me, and I’m still struggling with all the nuances and ins and outs of it.

So what do I do all day? I write blogs like this one. I write a newsletter. I post to my Facebook Author page (not as often as I should), I work on the novel in progress. I wrote letters to get my rights back to the three books Tor published, got them, and will be reissuing the books starting early next year. They’ll have new covers, and I spend time working with the cover artist to get just the right art work for them. I’m reformatting them—editing as I do so to tighten and clarify. Right now I’m editing and reformatting Mistress of the Wind, the first book of the Arucadi series. I’ll do Bringers of Magic next. Those were published by Double Dragon, and I don’t yet have the rights back to them, but I will have in November and December of this year. As soon as the rights revert, I’ll be ready to reissue the updated versions. Those will be followed by two self-published books, A Mix of Magics, published previously, and another I’m currently working on, and then the three books originally published by Tor, followed by that 4th book, redone. I’m also working on a novel to follow that one.

Does all this work pay off? Well, it’s starting to. I’m reaching more people with my newsletter and this blog, so more people are learning about my work. And …

Ta-da! I will celebrate the publication of my newest novel with an on-line launch party on June 28 at 7:00 p.m.! And you’re invited!

The novel is (as I’ve previously announced) The Twisted Towers. It’s an epic fantasy, currently a stand-alone, not related to the Arucadi books. (I may decide to do a sequel at a later time.)

Here’s the cover: ebook cover

Here’s what some Beta readers are saying about it:

The Twisted Towers is an exciting, delightfully engrossing read, with fully realized and fascinating characters, a plot that grabs hold and won’t let go, and a satisfyingly “Oh WOW!” conclusion!  You will plunge into this world of unexpected heroes and boo-hiss villains, high adventure and edge-of-your-seat wide-eyed action, and not want to leave – take a deep breath and JUMP! —Jean Brown, Beta reader and reviewer

Sabin delivers a breath of fresh air to the fantasy genre with a twisted plot that mirrors the winding setting her compelling characters trek through. A heart-pounding ride from beginning to end. –M. L.Desir, author of Forbidden

The Twisted Towersmany characters lead readers on a fascinating journey through the pages to the very end. Sabin’s mesmerizing vocabulary, details of daring escapades, and thoughtful differences between the old ways of a conquered kingdom and the new ways of the conquering Empire will give readers something to think about. –Diane Sawyer, author of The Telltale Treasure

 

Do you subscribe to my newsletter? If you don’t, please consider doing so. Visit my web site: www.erosesabin.com and right there on the landing page will be a place to subscribe by submitting your email address. Doing so will get you a free e-book right away, and other freebies will be offered later. And, of course, it will keep you up-to-date on What I Do All Day!

Posted in Books, Creativity, editing, fantasy novels, Learning, Promotion, Publication, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Promotional Ponderings

Like many authors I know, I love writing but hate the job of promoting what I’ve written. It takes time away from writing, and to be frank, I’m terrible at it. But when you’ve an indie author, you have to do it. No one is going to read your book if they don’t know about it.

So I’ve resolved to learn how better to promote my novels. I’ve taken a couple of courses, I’ve gotten advice from other authors, and I’ve read books on the subject. I certainly haven’t mastered it. I still have a lot to learn, but I am learning.

One of the things I’m doing is setting up a pre-publication promotional campaign, using a newsletter, a free e-book as a reward to those who sign up to receive my newsletter, beta readers who read the book in advance of publication and tell me what they think works in it and what doesn’t. And also to catch any typos or missed punctuation marks I overlooked in all my read-throughs. (Some always slip through. Gremlins at work!)

If you are reading this blog and would like to receive my newsletter and take advantage of the free e-book offer, here’s the link to my web site, where you’ll see on the opening page a place to sign up for the newsletter and be sent the link for the book:

erosesabin.com

Another thing I’m learning is the importance of categories and keywords to help people find my book. Categories are the broad, general slots into which your book fits. My next novel is an epic fantasy. I place it in that category, which is a large one, because general fantasy is even larger. And according to definition, epic fantasy is fantasy that deals with problems not just affecting individuals but a world or an empire. Many such novels involve wars or world-changing cataclysms. No wars are currently being waged in my novel, but it does concern a kingdom that, a couple of centuries earlier, was conquered and brought into an empire by force. Its people are suffering under cruel edicts and are rebelling against imperial rule. It’s protagonist is not part of that rebellion until she is dragged into it by her need to rescue her sister.

If after my book is published, you go to Amazon and put “epic fantasies” into the search bar, you’ll see a page with the most popular books in that broad category. My book won’t be on that list unless I get very, very lucky. It will be so far down in the pages of novels in that category, you’ll probably lose patience long before finding it. I could also use “fantasy adventure,” which might not be quite as broad but still too large for my book to be anywhere near the top.

That’s where keywords come in. Keywords are words people who read books like mine are likely to enter into either a search on Amazon or on Google. They can take readers to more restricted lists where my book has a better chance of showing up. When you publish on CreateSpace and/or Kindle Direct Publishing, you are asked to list keywords. For my upcoming novel, some of the key words and phrases I might use are “evil empire,”  “gods and goddesses,” “princess in peril,” “clever thief,” “street gangs,” “rebellion,” “impostor,” “towers,” “dungeons,” “unlikely heroine,” “secret passages,” commoner princess,” “evil ruler,” and–well, you get the idea. I must choose carefully, as CreateSpace, through which I will publish the print version of my novel, only allows five keywords, while Kindle Direct Publishing, which I will use for the electronic edition, allows seven. That’s still not many But there are other ways of getting keywords that Google will recognize. One is by using a subtitle. The title of my forthcoming novel is The Twisted Towers, and I’ve given it a subtitle: Where Gods and Mortals Meet. So a search for “towers,” “gods” and “gods and mortals” could lead readers to my book.

Book descriptions on the back of the book, on its Amazon page, and in other locations (such as this blog) can also provide search terms. I’ve learned the importance of having a catchy tag line to introduce a description. How’s this one? “A Princess in peril! A Kingdom in revolt! An Empire at risk!”

Or this? “She’s told that only the gods can help her save her sister. But Sefis doesn’t trust the gods.”

Or this? “Would you risk your life and the life of four strangers to save someone you love?”

Which of the above would be more likely to draw you in? Let me know.

I’ve also learned the importance of an eye-catching cover. Here’s the cover of the new novel:

ebook cover

Again, if you’d like to learn more about The Twisted Towers and my other work, both published and to come, do visit my web site, erosesabin.com and, to learn about those novels to come and get in on other offers, please sign up to receive my newsletter.

 

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Our Changing Grammar

As a fan of the original Star Trek series, I well recall Scotty saying on occasion, “Ya canna break the laws of physics, Captain.” Well, the laws of physics may be immutable, but the laws of grammar definitely are not. Rules of grammar I learned way back when I was in elementary school have changed. Having been thoroughly indoctrinated as a child in the importance of correct grammar, I refuse to change with them. But try as I might to stem the tide of grammatical change, I know I cannot.

Changes in language usage do not come suddenly. They are gradual, sneaking up on us like a thief in the night. And so it is that I find myself asking the following questions:

When did “than” become a preposition?

I learned that than is a subordinate conjunction. To the grammatically challenged, for whom that sounds like gobbledygook, a subordinate conjunction is a conjunction that connects a main or independent clause to a subordinate or dependent clause. Examples of subordinate conjunctions are although, as (more about as later), as if, as though, because, if, since, than, that, though, unless, whereas, and whether. Generally speaking, most people use most of these conjunctions correctly without knowing or caring what they are called. However, than presents a problem. As a conjunction it is followed by a clause that has a subject and a verb. But often after than, the verb is omitted. It is merely understood. In this sentence, for example, “My brother is much taller than I am” the word “am” is often omitted, so that the sentence is shortened to “My brother is much taller than I.” Now ’fess up. How many of you would say it that way rather than saying “My brother is much taller than me”? But me is in the objective case, being used as the object of a (gasp!) preposition. But “than” is not a preposition. Or at least it never used to be. However, through frequent misuse, following “than” with an objective case pronoun has become so common, that poor, innocent “than” has been transformed (dare I say transmogrified?) into a preposition.

When did “like” become a conjunction?

Did you notice that in the list of subordinate conjunctions above I did not include “like”? I left it out because it is not a conjunction. Not in my grammar, anyway. It is a preposition. It is followed by a noun or pronoun object of a preposition. (I refuse even to discuss the horrendous and totally meaningless insertion of the word “like” into any sentence anywhere and the utterly inane use of it with a form of the verb “to be” as a substitute for “said” as in “I was like ‘Get out of here!’”) Here’s an illustration of the use (or misuse) that I am referring to: “Watch carefully and do the work exactly like I’m showing you.” In that sentence “like” serves as a subordinate conjunction. But it isn’t a subordinate conjunction. This would be the correct use: “Watch carefully and do the work exactly as I’m showing you.” This distinction has, however, apparently fallen by the wayside. “Like” should be used before a noun or pronoun not part of a clause, as it is above. For example, “Watch carefully what I’m doing and do it like that.”

When did it become a symbol of politeness (or possibly faux humility) to substitute “myself” for the grammatically correct “me” or “I”?

I see sentences like this more and more often: “The Senate committee consists of Senator Jones, Senator Smith, Senator Black, and myself.” Or this: “My friends Rhonda, Joanne, Kate and myself attended the tea.” In place of “myself” in the first example, “me” would be correct, and in the second sentence “I” would be correct. Myself is a reflexive pronoun. Reflexive pronouns reflect back on the subject and must be in the same person as the subject. For example, “I excused myself from attending the tea.” In this case, the subject is “I” and the first person reflexive pronoun “myself” reflects back to “I.” It is something I do to or for myself. I don’t see why people think it’s more polite to use “myself” in the way it is used in the first two examples above. Perhaps they believe it is a demonstration of humility. Or possibly they believe it is more emphatic. There is a correct way in which “myself” or any other reflexive pronoun can be used emphatically, and that is as an appositive. So what’s an appositive? A noun or, as in the case of “myself,” a pronoun that follows and explains or limits the preceding noun. In this example, “Mr. Jones, my former employee, entered and cursed me,” “my former employee” is an appositive explaining who Mr. Jones is.  An example of a reflexive pronoun used in this way would be “I myself gave the order to fire the employee.”

Do people who talk about feeling “badly” about something not feel bad about using “badly” incorrectly?

No, I suspect they believe they are being conscientiously correct. However, unless they are complaining about an impaired sense of touch, which prevents their feeling some surface correctly, they are using an adverb in a situation that calls for an adjective. In a sentence like this—“I feel so bad about having to miss the party”—“feel” is a linking verb (also known as a copulative verb). (I heard that snicker.) A linking verb is a verb that links the subject of a sentence with either a predicate noun or a predicate adjective. A predicate noun is a noun that refers to the same person as the subject, as in “Mr. Jones is the principal of the school.” Mr. Jones and the principal are the same person. The verb “is” links the two. A predicate adjective is an adjective that follows a linking verb and modifies the subject, as in “That handsome young man seems vain.” The adjective “vain” modifies, or describes, the subject “man” just as “handsome” and “young” do, but unlike them, it follows the verb “seems,” which is another linking verb. Still another linking verb is “feel” when it refers not to the sense of touch but rather to a state of mind or an inward impression. Used in this way it must be followed by an adjective, not an adverb. Therefore, you should say, “I feel bad about not always using correct grammar,” or “I feel bad that you are angry with me.”

You should, but many of you will pay no attention whatever to all this. Why? Because you now see these particular items used incorrectly so often that you may believe them to be the norm. And that is indeed what they are becoming. So I shall continue to use the forms that I still regard as correct, but you may adopt the now common usage and simply say, “The laws of grammar have changed.” I won’t hold it against you, though I’ll cringe when I see it on your written page. If I were editing your work, I’d probably give these errors a pass.

Just don’t let me catch you saying, “I was like, ‘she hates me; I know she does.’”

Incidentally, I do edit manuscripts for authors. If you are interested, visit my editing website, www. arucadienterprises.com

Posted in editing, Spelling and Grammar, Writing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Mythic Fantasy? What’s That?

I posted on my Facebook author’s page a notice that I was temporarily removing the paperback version of Deathright from circulation in order to make some minor changes. The changes mostly have to do with formatting and do not represent any alteration of text beyond a few insignificant corrections. So what have I changed?

For one thing, I’ve rewritten the blurb on the back of the cover. I hope the new description will be more attention getting. Time will tell. That is the only change to the book’s cover.

For the book’s interior I rewrote the “About the Author” page at the end of the book. And I added a subtitle to the book’s title page. The subtitle is “A Mythic Fantasy.”

I did that for several reasons. One is that it provides another term for search engines to pick up on and might therefore generate a bit more traffic for my book. Another reason is that it tells the reader not only that the book is a fantasy but also what type of fantasy it is. A third is that although there are many sub-genres of fantasy, “mythic fantasy” is seldom named by those listing the sub-genres, and I feel that it should be. It’s certainly not that myth doesn’t play a prominent part in many fantasies. I think the term may be little used because even novels heavily based on myths can be placed in other sub-genres. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, for example, can be classified as an urban fantasy, but it features Norse gods, placing them in a modern setting. Gaiman’s novel Anansi Boys is a wonderfully humorous novel that places gods from Caribbean mythology into a modern setting. Then there’s the YA series of Percy Jackson books, featuring Greek gods but also in a modern setting. These books are immensely popular, and they are unquestionably mythic, yet they are rarely referred to as “mythic fantasies.” In fact, if you visit Amazon.com through Google’s incognito mode and put “mythic fantasies” into the search bar, the first page of results will be almost entirely role playing games. Following that will be a large number of titles of books and magazines, both fiction and nonfiction, but not many true mythic fantasies. There are, of course, some that are most definitely mythic fantasies, one example being works of Charles de Lint based on Native American myths. And that’s another thing. Many writers find story material in the myths of other cultures less familiar to most of us than are the Greek and Roman myths and the Norse myths. Mythic fantasies may use Hindu, Chinese, Japanese, African, Jewish, and Christian mythology, to name just a few sources of the vast number available from around the globe.

Finally, I call Deathright a mythic fantasy because it is based on a myth of my invention but inspired by and patterned after the Egyptian myth of Isis and Osiris. The book’s prologue recounts the myth as a tale told by a village tale weaver. The novel brings that myth to life through the experiences of its protagonist, who is unwittingly made to play a part in the myth.

I hope readers of this blog who are not familiar with my books will take a look at Deathright. It should be back in print within a week of this writing. The Kindle edition will be revised about the same time. If you are familiar with the myth on which my novel is based, the influence of the myth of Isis and Osiris will probably be obvious. If you are not familiar with the myth, in it Osiris is slain by his brother Seth (or Set), who chops the corpse into pieces and strews them along the Nile, where Isis sends her sacred bird the ibis to gather them so that she can reassemble and reanimate her unfortunate spouse. As with most myths, there are many variations of the story, but in all of them what stands out is the love Isis bears for Osiris. It is that love that allows her to restore her husband. I borrowed only the basic elements of the myth in adapting it for my novel, those elements being the enmity between two brother gods, the slaying of one by the other, and the bereaved goddess determined to restore her slain spouse.

I should add that even those who are not enamored of myth as I am can read Deathright and find it a good time travel adventure or general fantasy tale. Knowledge of or interest in myths is not necessary. And please, if you read it, leave a review.front-cover

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Small Miracles of Great Beauty

This morning when I went to check on the butterfly pupae that are hanging from a Christmas cactus on the room divider just beside my back door, I discovered that a butterfly had emerged. Usually the emerging butterfly grasps and clings to the sides of its now empty chrysalis and hangs there while its wings dry. Unfortunately, this butterfly had lost its grip and fallen. It lay on its back, a sight I hate to see, because if the wings dry while folded or crushed, they will never straighten and the butterfly will die. I put my finger where the butterfly’s feet were feebly waving in the air. They grasped my finger, and I lifted the butterfly, its wings still not descended, and let it cling to a branch of the milkweed plant just behind the Christmas cactus. I left it there, having little hope for its survival. I checked on it ten or fifteen minutes later and discovered that its wings had descended just as they should! Apparently I had found it only minutes after its emergence and fall, and the wings had not begun to dry. The descent of the wings had allowed it to become a beautiful, perfect monarch butterfly.

I first became interested in monarch butterflies after seeing photos of the area in Mexico to which huge numbers of monarch butterflies migrate and reading articles about their endangered status due to pesticides and habitat loss from encroaching development that threatens that migratory area. Also, in the U.S. the milkweed on which the monarch caterpillars live is becoming scarce due to urban development. To preserve the butterfly, people are urged to plant milkweed, a flowering plant so called because when a leaf is plucked or a branch broken, a milky liquid oozes from the place of the break. Also known as butterfly weed, the proper name for the plant is asclepia. There are many different varieties of asclepias, but they all have in common that they are the only food source for monarch butterfly larvae, or caterpillars.

I bought some potted milkweed plants and set them in my side yard. Sure enough, I began seeing monarch butterflies come to the plants, and then I began to see the caterpillars, small ones at first and then larger ones. But I soon learned that many of the caterpillars did not survive, either because they consumed all the leaves on the plant and then had nothing more to eat or because they fell prey to predators such as wasps, which carry the caterpillars off to their nests to provide food for their own larvae. According to Wikipedia, commonly fewer than 10% of monarch eggs and caterpillars survive.*

To improve those odds a bit, I began bringing one or two potted plants into the house and putting them on top of the bookcase room divider by my backdoor. On those plants I put caterpillars I find on the outside milkweed plants. And yes, it’s messy, since all caterpillars do is eat and poop. I put large sheets of plastic under the pots to catch the droppings. I also have a Christmas cactus on that bookcase, and it has proved to be an ideal place for the caterpillars to pupate.

I got into this hobby to further the conservation of the monarch butterfly, but I soon became utterly fascinated by the life cycle of the insects. It strikes me as one of nature’s most miraculous processes. The butterfly lays its eggs usually on the underside of the leaves of the milkweed plant. The eggs are tiny white spheres no larger than the head of a pin. From the egg the caterpillar emerges as a tiny green worm. It immediately begins to eat—first, its egg case and then the leaf on which it was born. It is scarcely recognizable as a caterpillar in this stage. It will go through four more stages, molting after each stage. After the first molt it is recognizable as a caterpillar, is banded, but of a uniformly yellow color. After the second molt it is larger and its bands are now alternating yellow and black. It becomes considerably larger after the third molt, and after the fourth it is not only larger but shiny, almost appearing ceramic. I find it quite pretty at this stage.

It is after this fifth stage that the amazing miracle occurs. The caterpillar stops eating and becomes restless, searching for a place to pupate. It wanders about, its instinct leading it to look for a place safe from predators. It is not always easy for me to persuade it to pupate on the Christmas cactus. One does get away from time to time, and I’ve had a caterpiller pupate on the underside of a chair or table. But for the most part they do eventually settle on the Christmas cactus and form their “J.” That is, they spin a silk pad, the “legs” on their hindmost segment fuse into a sturdy “stem,” and they hang upside down with their head end curving upward. They may hang in this position for several hours or close to a day. Then a green liquid oozes from the head and pushes the head and skin before it as it creeps over the body of the caterpillar. The caterpillar writhes and twists until the head and skin are a black bundle at the very top of what is now a lime green globule. That bundle falls off, and the pupa takes shape, becoming a beautiful green ornament with a row of gold dots toward the top and two slightly larger gold dots at the bottom. This is the chrysalis, actually a transparent case enclosing the liquefied green remains of the caterpillar. After nearly two weeks during which this pupa hangs like a lovely Christmas ornament, a shadow appears at the top of the green globe, and then the green becomes cloudy, taking on a milky appearance. If you look closely you can see that the milky color is wings forming within the chrysalis, and the shadowy portion is the body of the butterfly-to-be.  A day after this becomes apparent, the chrysalis turns dark. The butterfly has acquired its coloration, and as it is squeezed within the chrysalis, that coloration looks dark red, almost black. The nascent butterfly awakes, pushes, and the chrysalis splits. The butterfly squirms out of the now transparent shell, its legs grasping and, if all goes well, clinging to the sides of the shell. In about two weeks the liquefied insides of the caterpillar have reformed into an entirely different creature with beautiful orange and black patterned wings and a black head and body adorned with stylish white spots. This wonderful transformation never ceases to fascinate me, and I am always awed by the intricate and mysterious process that transpires within the chrysalis, unseen by human eyes. To think that I am privileged to witness such a miracle in my own kitchen!

Oh, and the butterfly that came out this morning? It was a very dark and rainy morning, so I left it inside as long as I dared. When I saw it exercising its wings, I knew I had to take it outside. As rain was still falling, I took the butterfly out the front door under the covered walkway to my carport. Right beside the carport I have potted milkweed. I got a flowering milkweed plant, put it in the carport, and put the butterfly on it. It climbed up onto the flower (actually a cluster of small flowers) and there it stayed most of the day. new butterfly feedingLate in the afternoon, long after the rain had stopped and the trees were no longer dripping, I moved the plant it was on out of the carport and back into its place. The butterfly flew off, onto a chain-link fence and then over it and onto the lantana I have growing there. I had witnessed its first flight! I guess it got a meal from the nectar in the lantana blossoms, as it lingered on the flowers for some time. Then it flew off, stronger now, soaring high above the roof of the neighboring house, circling, and then flying into the neighbor’s oak tree, where it could find a safe resting place for the night—and leaving me with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure from having witnessed this beautiful creature’s entrance into the world.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarch_butterfly

 

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Not a Harry Potter Knockoff

SCHOOL compMy novel A School for Sorcery was published in hard cover in 2002 and came out in trade paperback as part of Tor’s Starscape series of fantasy and science fiction novels for teens in August 2003. Given those publication dates, it’s no wonder that many readers and some reviewers saw the book as having been written to appeal to fans of Harry Potter. In the Amazon reviews you’ll find these statements: “It is clearly inspired by Harry Potter,” “It seems that everyone is trying to out-Potter each other,” “This novel is a teenage Potter-like tale, “ It ends up retreading a lot of the same territory as the Harry Potter and “College of Magics” books,” and (I love this one!) “a thrilling novel about what happened if Harry Potter was female, a few years older, and in a completely different world.”

I can’t criticize readers for coming to these conclusions, given the publication dates of schoolpbk2the hard cover and paperback editions of the book. However, the truth is that I wrote A School for Sorcery well before the appearance of the Harry Potter books and also before the publication of A College of Magics, by Caroline Stevermer,  published in 1994. Whatever resemblance it may bear to the Harry Potter books, and, if any, to A College of Magics, is purely accidental. Unfortunately, A School for Sorcery languished in manuscript form until Tor bought the manuscript in 2000 for its newly launched Starscape line. There is no question that the YA line was launched by Tor in response to the popularity of the Harry Potter books, but that doesn’t mean that the books published in that line were written after Harry’s appearance on the scene.

In the case of my novel, I wrote it in 1991-92 for the specific purpose of submitting it to Andre Norton’s Gryphon Award competition for the best unpublished novel by a new woman fantasy writer. (This is not the same as the present day Andre Norton Award, which, according to Wikipedia, “is an annual award presented by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America [SFWA] to the author of the best young adult or middle grade science fiction or fantasy book published in the United States in the preceding year.” That award began in 2006 as a memorial to Andre Norton, who died in 2005.) The earlier award, sponsored by Andre Norton, offered, along with a monetary prize, a reading by an editor from a major publishing house. I won the award in 1992, and my manuscript did get readings not from just one but from at least three editors of major houses. Gryphon Award 1992.jpgHowever, they all had the same reaction: they liked the work, but the manuscript was too long for a book for teens. At that time the thinking was that a novel for teens should be no longer than 60,000 words. That thinking changed as a result of the Harry Potter books; the major publishing houses added teen fantasy and science fiction lines, and my novel was bought by Tor.

A School for Sorcery did quite well. It earned out its advance, was named to the list of best books for teens in 2003 by the New York City Public Library system, and was translated into two European languages, Dutch and Romanian. I received many emails from fans, some of whom still keep in touch. Although the print editions are no longer available, the book is still available in electronic form for the Kindle and the Nook, and I’m still receiving royalties for it. It’s a book I’m still proud of, although I’m sure if I were writing it today, there are many things I’d write differently. But its message is still current.

Tria, the book’s protagonist, has always been a good daughter and a good student, obeying rules at home and at school. She’s excited to receive an invitation to attend a special school, the Leslie Simonton School for the Magically Gifted, glowingly described in the brochure accompanying the invitation. While her parents are aware that she has special abilities, they have forbidden her to use those abilities and she has obeyed. But when she shows her mother the invitation, her mother reveals that she too has special abilities, which she has stifled throughout her life. She does not want her daughter to be forced to do the same, so she persuades her husband to allow their daughter to attend if they can find the money for tuition. Tria’s father no doubt feels safe in making this concession, since he knows of no way they could come up with the amount of money required. However, he has been tricked. Tria’s mother has a hidden cache of money she has saved through the years and kept secret from her husband. Tria’s father grudgingly agrees to keep his word and let Tria go to the school, though he warns her that the invitation is almost certainly a scam.

Little notice is made in the book of the mother’s deception, but in a sense it underlies all that follows. When Tria arrives at the school, she is greatly disappointed to find it nothing resembling what the brochure had depicted. Tria’s initial interview with the headmistress is unsettling, and ensuing events convince Tria that her father was right—the school is a scam. But she resolves to stay rather than return home and admit that she and her mother have been played for fools. Thus she enters into the deception. But the school is not a fraud. Its dilapidated appearance is another deception. Even Headmistress’s stern demeanor and harsh treatment of Tria is a deception, intended to test Tria’s mettle.

This is a coming-of-age story, in which Tria must peel away the layers of deception and discover truth, if in fact truth is to be found. Along with learning to distinguish truth from falsehood, she must also learn when to follow rules, even ones that make no apparent sense, and when to rebel against authority and follow her own instincts. Does Tria ever succeed in peeling away all the layers of deception? Are the rules she breaks rules that should be broken, and how can she truly know, since the results aren’t always immediately apparent? The book’s conclusion does not definitively answer these questions, because these are questions that require a lifetime to answer fully, if they can be answered at all.

I tried to tell a good story, one that has plenty of action and intrigue and that anyone who is or has ever been a student in a school that is somewhat less than perfect (which is pretty much any school) can relate to. At the same time, the story offers the astute reader an exploration of existentialism and situational ethics. It’s a book that can be read on various levels, one that I hope will stimulate the imagination and also provide food for thought. Indeed, I am always delighted when a reader finds some bit of meaning that I never intentionally put there. It is often said that a writer cannot interpret his or her own work, and there is truth in that saying. A reader brings to a book his or her own personal experiences and interprets the book according to those experiences, which will of course differ from those of the author.

If you haven’t read A School for Sorcery, I hope you will, and will let me know what you find in it.

Find it at Barnes & Noble or at Amazon.com.

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