Book Review: On the Isle of Sound and Wonder by Alyson Grauer

Book:  On the Isle of Sound and Wonder
Author:  Alyson Grauer
Pages:   309
Format:  Hardcover, Paperback, Kindle, Kindle Unlimited
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  company project
Category:  Steampunk
Style:  Literary prose with complex characters, strong plot, and vivid world-building

Synopsis: 

All but alone, wild but resourceful Mira dreams of life beyond the shores of her mystical island. Isolated by her father, a dark sorcerer bent on vengeance, she has only his servants, an air spirit and a misshapen cast-off, to share her company. When Dante conjures a terrible storm to wash ashore his mortal enemies, Mira must chose between her loyalties to her father and what she knows is right.

Sail the skies and soar the seas surrounding this Isle of Sound and Wonder as Alyson Grauer masterfully retells William Shakespeare’s classic, The Tempest, bedecked in the trappings of Steampunk.


About the Author:  

Alyson Grauer is a storyteller in multiple mediums, her two primary canvases being the stage and the page. On stage she is often seen in the Chicago area, primarily at Piccolo Theatre, Plan 9 Burlesque, and the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Her nonfiction work has been published in the Journal for Perinatal Education for Lamaze International. Her short fiction can be found in Tales from the Archives (Volume 2) for The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and in two anthologies from Xchyler Publishing, "Lavenza, or The Modern Galatea" in Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology (MMSA) and "The Brother-Sister Fable" in Legends and Lore: an Anthology of Mythic Proportions. Alyson is a proud graduate of Loyola University of Chicago and hails originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This is her first novel.


Author and Thespian Alyson Grauer

The Process:

I first "met" Alyson (by the interweb definition) when she won one of Xchyler Publishing's first short story competitions. Her "Lavenza, or The Modern Galatea" anchored MMSA. Besides being a brilliant writer, I found her witty, intelligent, and a delight to work with. I wanted to see more of her work.

When I asked her to send me her current work in progress, she hemmed and hawed. I found it impossible to believe that such a great writer had nothing to show me. (That was then. Now, I marvel that she actually found the time to enter the competition. It must have been a slow week.)

As it happens, the previous November, Alyson had participated in National November Writer's Month (NaNoWriMo), an Internet site for writers, half social media, half support group, that challenges them to write a 50,000-word novel in a month. She had something gosh-awful that she had whipped up, but it really wasn't share-worthy. I told her to show me anyway. She sent me her initial take on a Steampunk rendition of William Shakespeare's The Tempest

I don't recall it being as terrible as she professes it was, but that was . . . wow! . . . close to two years now. In any case, it was good enough (or I had faith enough in Alyson) for me to pass it on to one of our senior editors, Jessica Shen, asking if she wanted the project. Jess said 'gimme', and the rest is history. A long, tumultuous history, but history none the less. They got 'er done.


Alyson and Jess have spent the past eighteen months hammering away at this project, starting from the ground up and rewriting the entire thing. Alyson has done a magnificent job, and Jessica has been with her every step of the way. They make a fantastic team, and are what I encourage all my authors and their editors to be: great friends. Their end result: a much lauded book that Xchyler is proud to have in our catalog.



Cover Artist Egle Zioma
Of note, when Artist Egle Zioma agreed to work with The X, (after jumping for joy) I knew exactly which project I wanted her to start with. Like Jessica, she was the perfect fit for Alyson and her vision. The three of them worked together developing this marvelous cover, and we couldn't be more pleased with the end result.

I first met met Alyson last August at Salt City Steamfest. You can read about that event here. She's just as fun, energetic, and genuine in person as she is online. Then, just two weeks ago, I finally got to meet Jessica (equally charming) when we all converged on Madison, WI, for Teslacon 5 (a premier Steampunk event I highly recommend). You can read about that event here. Seeing them together, it's easy to see how this work came about, a result of their amazing synergy.


My Take:

I don't post reviews of Xchyler books on Goodreads or Amazon because I don't want my bias to influence the ratings. I think it best for readers if they can trust the reviewer not to have a vested interest in the success of the project; that they will get an honest review.
Alyson and Jessica at Teslacon

But, this is my blog so I get to say what I want. And, while I do have a bias toward these fun and fabulous women, I hope I'm capable of being honest in my review. I won't let anything I'm not proud of wear the Xchyler logo on its spine, and in the case of OISW, I like to shout it to the world. WE PUBLISHED THIS BOOK!

Alyson's masterful world-building engrosses the reader from the start. Her approach to Steampunk is light and refreshing, without the mechanics of it all being the sole point of the story. Rather, her richly drawn characters and dynamic, complex plot claim all the reader's attention and refuse to release them even after the last page has been turned.

Of course, the skeleton of the plot isn't hers. It's Shakespeare, plain and simple. Anyone familiar with The Tempest will identify it more sooner than later. However, Alyson calls this a "re-imagining," and indeed it is, for she takes the plots and the characters places Shakespeare only hinted at. The reader need not be familiar with the original text to become engrossed in this book. 

Alyson also claims the names of people and places as her own, and it's fun to mark how she has changed them to suit her own sensibilities. As much as the soul belongs to The Bard, the heart belongs to Alyson.

At Teslacon, we loved to tell parents of teens and tweens that we only published books they'd be happy to have their children read. Thus it is with OISW, but I would caution that Alyson does carry through the themes that Shakespeare mentions in The Tempest

There is a deftly handled attempted rape, and a same-sex relationship between two of the minor characters. While not physical, it is there, the dynamics of the relationship explored. Likewise, the attempted rape is more discussed than anything, and the actual action experienced through a sort of dream sequence, something the mentally challenged Karaburan doesn't even understand he's doing. It's very well managed.

Actually, as enjoyable as Heroine Mira is, my favorite character is Karaburan, or Kabu, as Mira calls him, not for any great or noble acts, but because Alyson does such an amazing job portraying him. While he is simple, he is not evil. Although an orphan and outcast, he is loyal and true. With the looks of a monster, he would never knowingly harm Mira or anyone, the aforementioned assault the product of the air spirit, Aurael's bad intentions. In discussions, Alyson called Kabu 'the fish monster,' but in her prose, he steps off the page as her very best human.

His mother, Corvina, is also a favorite, as you can probably surmise from my blog post here.

Bottom Line:

I strongly recommend this book to lovers of Steampunk or Shakespeare, or Shakespearean Steampunk, or those looking for a fantasy with heart. While there are some elements that require caution to parents of readers aged 10-18, they also provide an excellent opportunity for discussion of the issues at hand, which I would strongly encourage.

Alyson is a fine author. There are one or two things I may have changed (usually along the lines of more more more!), but this first full novel promises truly great things from her in the future . . . if she can step off the stage long enough to do them.




Find Grauer on the web:



Book Tour: On the Isle of Sound and Wonder by Alyson Grauer (Character Interview)

Neapolis, 1854

I am not a courtier, by any means, and so you can well imagine my desire to serve my king well when he gave me such a critical commission. He came to me in the nursery late one evening, when all the children were abed. I never retire early; Mira betimes stirs in the night, tormented with strange and curious dreams. Not until she is well and truly settled do I myself seek my humble repose.

Often times, when King Alanno Civitelli has come to the nursery to check the children before he himself retires, we have shared a quiet word, a cup of tea, a bit of consultation. I know he loves his children dearly, especially his son and heir, Ferran. It warms the heart to see a father so devoted, especially one so powerful as he, especially as he is so beset with the troubles of rule.

Perhaps this explains his choice of ambassador. Secrets never stay long at court, and I fear His Majesty knows not whom to trust in this affair, the matter of utmost delicacy. Who would suspect a lowly governess conducting important matters of state?

Thus, it breaks my heart to have failed him. I had hoped to find the answers he sought, but instead, I return empty-handed, my quest a failure. I could not find Psychoraxx. She has simply vanished, probably drowned with the rest of the ship upon which she was last seen.

Probably, but I cannot be certain, for my own dream continues to plague me. I have told no one lest they think me mad. Indeed, I cannot, for once or twice I have attempted to tell the king, but the words will not come. As if by some enchantment, I find myself back in the nursery without knowing why, having never uttered a word to His Majesty. Perhaps if I commit it to paper, it may purge my torment.

It begins with a mighty storm. I am at sea, alone in a skiff, tossed about on tumultuous waves. I know not how I came to be there, but only violent strikes of lightning illuminate the night. I believe I see the silhouette of an island on the horizon, but it is too far and I have no way to navigate my craft. Without hope, I am certain I am lost. I cross myself and finger my rosary in fervent prayer. I am about to meet my Maker.

Then, for some inexplicable reason, in a brilliant flash of lightning, I find myself in the warmth of a cave, in the company of Psychoraxx herself―Corvina her true name. Somehow, I know herself the source of my rescue, but I cannot recall it. We chat like two women over a garden gate. The conversation is always the same.

Myself: Thank you for guiding me safely ashore, Mistress Corvina. I despaired of any rescue out there on the shoals.

Corvina: You are welcome here, traveler, though only for a short time. The island does not tolerate too much of a crowd, I’m afraid. There are questions you would ask of me, I think.

M: You seem to have comfortable accommodations for all your isolation. Did you create all of this yourself?

C: This cave was a natural occurrence of the isle, but I have made it somewhat bigger to house me safely from the elements. It is not… ideal, but it is certainly not the worst home I’ve ever had. I rely on the island for all other things―food, tools, mending my clothing, and so on. I had not intended to retire myself here, but it provides as well as any host in any inn, and for that I am grateful.

M. Fascinating. Perhaps a cup of―oh my. Is that how it works? Just ask and it appears?

C. You see? And people are so hesitant to trust in the forces of nature.
M. Funny you should mention that―the forces of nature―as that is exactly what I came to speak with you about; specifically, the mysterious occurrences surrounding the birth of Lady Mira, daughter of Duke Dante. That storm lives on in the memory of us all. Do you recall it?

C. I cannot remove it from memory. There are few who have that power, and I would not wish it even so. I remember the night you speak of, and I remember that woman, and that child, as I remember each woman and each child whom I have helped in my life.

M. But this child. She is . . . peculiar. I have met her, you see, in the court of King Alanno. Pretty, lively little girls there are a’plenty, but Mira seems so much . . . more―a force of nature, if you will. Did you not note it?

C. . . . She is young . . .

M. I have heard it whispered amongst the menials that her soul was too strong for the woman who bore her, and thus, she is motherless.

C. That . . . is one way of seeing things. I would not say, however, that her mother was weak. What I would say . . . I would say that it is not our place to say what souls are stronger than others.

M. You hesitate. You choose your words with care.

C. We all must choose with care. Worlds are built and destroyed on words, you know. And besides that, the island listens.

M. <glances about nervously> Rumors would have you here on the island alone. . . . Are there others here?


C. There are many beasts, bugs, and birds that call this island home. And things unseen that fill the night air with sounds and strange songs. But yes, it is true I am not alone. My son lives here with me. I’d ask you to remain quiet, if you will―he sleeps a little further on in the cave. He is very young still and sleeps a great deal.

M. Forgive me, madam. I would not intrude into your personal affairs. To return to that other child―Mira―some say the storm brought her. Otherwise say she brought the storm. I, of myself, have seen something akin to lightning in her eyes, a manner of divine spark, as if some sort of magic lit the child’s soul. You left quite abruptly after her birth. In your short time with her, did you notice such as this?

C. Listen, traveler. The child is young. This spark, this lightning may pass, if she grows healthy and does not trouble the waters of her spirit and mind. But her father is a powerful man. . . . He may surely spot it before it has gone, and if he uncovers that . . . I cannot pretend to predict what he might do. But the girl is strong and there are no singular factors to have caused that strength―some is her own self, some from the storm, some from her mother, some from her father, and yes, perhaps some from me. But she is who she is now, and she will grow and become her own self. What she does with that strength is her path to choose.

M. Again, you anticipate my questions, as if you had some sort of prescience. Or, perhaps, considering the subject, it is to be expected. It is all one, is it not? Of a truth, I must confess. I am not merely an idle traveler seeking safe harbor from a storm. I came here seeking you out, following every rumor, every waft of Psychorrax on the breeze. King Alanno begs whatever information you might have on Duke Dante. His concerns grow by the day. But, again, I would not overstay my welcome. May I proceed?

C. You may ask, but I can only tell you what I know, not what I do not have to give you.

M. Dante abandons his lordly duties. Since the death of his wife, he shuns all companionship, even that of his toddling daughter. He bars himself behind the doors of his chambers and scarcely emerges for the necessities to sustain life. 


The child to whom he professes his devotion languishes in the nursery. Her attendants are devoted, to be sure, and the young prince proves a congenial playmate, but with her father so near, she lives as a foundling. And the king takes his children away betimes, excluding the little girl. I fear only that child’s fire prevents her from becoming a cipher. Can you shed any light into this dire situation? What drives the duke so?

C. <a slow, deep frown forms on her face> Ambition, as it is with all men of his kind. Ambition to be greater than he already is, to seek what must be kept hidden, and to overcome the trappings of his mortal mind. Dante seeks to own what is not his to even dream upon, and if he does not come to that realization himself, it will be his downfall.

M. What is to be done? Is he . . . dangerous? to the king? to his daughter?

C. If Dante does not cease this journey, the king will try to derail him. He might not succeed in that, but the king’s decision will forge a new path for Dante and his child. I cannot see the future. But Dante’s passion will quickly turn to madness if the love of his friends and family do not bring him to a halt.

M. <brooding silence> . . . It sounds to me . . . As much as he neglects the child, she seems to have the greatest hold on him. She draws him out when nothing else can. She is his only hope?

C. Most assuredly. Not the only factor of this equation, but must assuredly, she could be his salvation.

M. It seems a heavy burden for anyone to bear, let alone a lisping child.

C. <faint smile> Does she lisp? Sweet girl.

M. A lisp indeed, which she will certainly outgrow. But, truly I have not ever a brighter, more erudite child. Her wisdom seems well beyond her years. I begin to see the truth in your own words. She has the strength of soul to accomplish this task.

C. May it be so. I hope . . . I hope the love of a daughter for her father reminds the father of his love for his daughter.

M. I thank you, mistress, for granting me safe harbor, or calming the storm. Indeed, the waves did cease their rambunctiousness when you did appear on the shore. I shall return with my report to His Majesty, the King. Mayhap there still be hope for the duke. Would you travel with me?

C. I cannot go apart with you from this place, traveler. It is not the way of this story to return me to Neapolis. I ask that you do not tell the king whose lips these words came from, and speak not of how you found this island. Let this island become a single cloud in a field of sky―let it drift away in the empty space of your memory and be hidden from maps and minds when you return home.

M. Indeed, good lady. For your graciousness and patience in the face of my coarse and bumbling manner, this is the smallest of favors to grant you. I shall entrust your care to this enchanted place, then, and bid you with all fondness, adieu.


C. Travel with safety and haste, friend, but forget me when you are home. Remember not this place or my voice, and let your own paths take you forward.

Author Alyson Grauer
My memories of that voyage are hazy, at best. I am told the vessel on which I embarked upon my journey was lost in a mighty gale. I was rescued by a passing merchant ship, found unconscious and fevered, just clinging to life. The physicians tell me the illness and trauma account for my loss of memory, but I am not convinced.

I have proven of no use to the king, and what will become of Duke Dante I cannot say. I pray that sweet Mira is not caught up in the maelstrom that seems to surround that man, but I fear it may not be so. May God and all the Forces of Nature see her a woman grown.

Corvina: Alyson Grauer
Governess: Penny Freeman
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Book Review: Legends and Lore: An Anthology of Mythic Proportions

Author:  Alyson Grauer, Sarah Hunter Hyatt, Emma Michaels, R. M. Ridley, Sarah E. Seeley, Lance Schonberg,  Danielle E. Shipley, A. F. Stewart, M. K.Wiseman
Pages:   404
Format:  Paperback, Kindle, Kindle Unlimited
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  personal project
Category:  Fantasy, Paranormal
Style:  Broad range of styles from Aurthurian fantasy to darker paranormal elements.

Synopsis:

     Delve into myth and legend, where the Fates force post-modern man into a world of the unknown—a world long since dismissed as ignorant superstition.
     The Brother-Sister Fable by Alyson Grauer: a young boy disappears into a realm where only his sister can follow.
     Faelad by Sarah Hunter Hyatt: Claire Whitaker didn’t even know she was Irish, let alone The Morrigan, the goddess of war.
     By Skyfall by Emma Michaels: a mer-couple from Atlantis find themselves in the middle of a human murder investigation.
     Charon’s Obol by. R. M. Ridley: Jonathan Alvey didn’t believe in gods, until he helps a lost child find her all-powerful parents.
     Peradventure by Sarah E. Seeley: a jinni must choose between the woman he loves and destroying the city that persecuted her.
     Natural Order by Lance Schonberg: when Carlos Vasquez is kidnapped, he discovers powers within himself to change the world.
     Two Spoons by Danielle E. Shipley: A little girl’s soul meets its match in the family diner’s most mysterious patron.
     Grail Days by A. F. Stewart: Living forever has its drawbacks, especially when you spend it clearing away the messes of other immortals.
     Downward Mobility by M. K. Wiseman: they say love conquers all, but can it save a Valkyrie when she breaks all the rules?

My Take:

One of the most fun and most difficult aspects of filling the role of editor on an anthology is getting to choose which stories to include. Three times a year, Xchyler Publishing holds short story contests, including Steampunk, paranormal, and fantasy genres. For each contest, we provide a theme; in this case, Mr. and Mrs. Myth. Time and time again we get asked the same question: what do  you mean by that? Our answer is always the same: what do you mean by that. This year, over forty authors decided they wanted to tell us.

Narrowing the field down to these nine titles was extremely difficult. It entailed reading every story, rating it, filling out a 92-question evaluation form, averaging the sum of scores from a number of editors and marketers, and then figuring out how many stories we could fit in and still stay within our target word count. It's not as easy as it sounds. However, the end result is worth it.

Then, the work begins.

Book Feature & Giveaway: The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

DON'T FORGET THE GIVEAWAY AT THE END OF THIS POST!



Author:  Anika Arrington
Pages:   220
Format:  Paperback, ebook
Publisher:  Xchyler Publishing
Book Source:  responsible for project
Category:  Young Adult to Adult fantasy
Style:  Easy, conversational style, added depth to appeal to mature readers

Synopsis:

Brilliant and ambitious, Rezdin the Wizard has one goal: impress the king, but he answers to Baron von Dappenshien who refuses him access to Court. Before Rezdin can maneuver himself into the limelight, the king charges von Dappenshien for treason, and Rezdin goes to ground. The wizard finds himself dependent upon the wits and good will of a starving street urchin. But what can he offer little Tommy in return? When old dangers and new alliances rear their menacing heads, Rezdin must decide where his true loyalties lie, and what to do with his new-found entourage of one.


My Take:

Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology
Anika Arrington first came to my attention when she submitted her short story, "Sense and Cyborgs," to Xchyler Publishing's first Steampunk anthology competition requesting extensions of classic literature. Anika's writing so delighted me, I placed her offering as the leading story in the resultant book, Mechanized Masterpieces: A Steampunk Anthology.

With the title's release, we asked her what other projects she may have in hand. More than a year later, Accidental Apprentice is about to be unleashed upon the world.

Because I have been directly involved in the editorial process and publication of this novel, I refrain from reviewing it. However, on a personal level, I find it charming, imaginative, and everything I expected from Ms. Arrington and more. This is even more remarkable considering she is a mother of six children and still has found the time to write and release this book.

I am certain lovers of fantasy of all ages will enjoy reading this book. It is something appropriate for family reading time for middle-graders as young as ten or eleven, with engaging characters and a compelling plot, yet textured and nuanced enough for more mature readers, fecund with the promise of rich character development and intricate plot lines in coming installments.

As part of Anika's book release, she has created a Pinterest board to help bring her readers into the world of The Accidental Apprentice. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Rezdin, a brilliant if self-absorbed wizard.

Crispin, a former student of Rezdin

Marzena, Head Maestra of the Wizard Academy
Damir, a wizard bent on vengeance


Follow The Accidental Apprentice Blog Tour 

and enter our giveaway as much as you like!



The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington Blog Tour

Monday, 9/29: Kick-off tour – www.theauthorvisits.com
Tuesday, 9/30: Interview – www.dabofdarkness.com
Wednesday, 10/1: Guest Post – www.mindventures.blogspot.com
Thursday, 10/2: Excerpt – www.originiquequanimity.blogspot.com
Friday, 10/3: Interview – juliastilchenwrites.blogspot.com
Saturday, 10/4: Pinterest Review - www.amindwandering.blogspot.com
Tuesday, 10/7: Guest Post – www.iuchiatesoro.wordpress.com
Wednesday, 10/8: Interview and Excerpt – www.thehouseai.wordpress.com 




Milestones

I find myself at an interesting point in my life where all sorts of things are happening, doors have closed, windows are opening, I'm well down paths I never imagined I would take.

Not quite two years ago, I had a discussion with my son about life choices I had to make secondary to my husband's medical retirement. Basically, he wanted me to throw in the towel, metaphorically speaking. It would have been an easier road, but I refused. I'm not finished yet, I insisted. I still have a lot I want to do with my life. I'm not ready to say that's all there is of me. (I was a wizened 48, so you can understand his concern).

Fast-forward nearly two years—two very intense, very trying, and sometimes seemingly hopeless two years—and here I am a published journalist, author, and content and developmental editor. Here I am, the co-owner and editor-in-chief of a micro publishing house that is fast developing a reputation for quality fare. Who would have thought it?


A review of Mechanized Masterpieces: a Steampunk Anthology came out today, published by Ricky L. Brown of Doctor Fantastique's Show of Wonders. He was kind—so kind that I can't help but share a bit of it here.


Write Mr. Brown:
          The smartly titled A Steampunk Anthology: Mechanized Masterpieces (sic) is not just a description of the stories collected in this anthology edited by Penny Freeman. The book’s forward reinforces the theme of the stories with, “Steampunk is revisionism, and what better material to expand upon than literature that bespeaks the universal human condition and has withstood the test of time?” In the spirit of brilliant classics, Xchyler Publishing has taken this definition to heart by using characters, ideas, little snippets and whole stories from literary “masterpieces” and opened up fresh new Steampunk perspectives.
          There are only eight contributions with varying lengths in this collection, with only nine authors to their credit. But be assured, each selection exemplifies the revisionist theme by introducing new angles on old ideas. Here are brief rundowns of what you can expect.
          Anthologies are tricky in that editors are encouraged to put their best foot forward if they want to grab the reader’s attention for the entire volume. Tropic of Cancer by Neve Talbot is the first installment of the collection, and a strong candidate in letting the reader know just what to expect in the rest of the book. Fashioned around the moral awareness of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, the familiar character Edward Fairfax Rochester is the determined protagonist this time around. With the industrial challenges of a Steampunk era mixed in with a little mystical romance, the hero battles atonement to an estranged father, an ambitious brother and the empowerment of love. Charlotte Brontë would approve. (read more)
As an editor, I find this intensely gratifying. As one drags through the tail end of an arduous rewriting/coaching/cheering process, after the fourth or fifth read-through, one becomes convinced that the whole thing is drivel and will be universally panned, simply from one's overexposure. One becomes shell-shocked, as it were: a supreme case of editorial battle fatigue.

To have a well-read Steampunk aficionado not only "get it" but to stamp it with his seal of approval provides all the validation a person requires. (The seven five- and one four-star ratings on Amazon only three days after the launch don't hurt either).

As for Tropic of Cancer, "Charlotte Brontë would approve." What better praise could Author Neve Talbot require?

No, Son. I'm not done yet. You're only old when you stop saying, "Some day . . ."

Tidbits: Tropic of Cancer

Tomorrow marks the release of my short story under the pseudonym of Neve Talbot (to honor my father, Glen Tarbet, and step-father, Leslie Neves). It will appear in Mechanized Masterpieces: a Steampunk Anthology, published by Xchyler Publishing. We will be having an online launch party on Facebook. Anyone can join in the fun here.

Be sure not to miss a thing by liking Xchyler Publishing on Facebook, and following on Pinterest and Twitter.

As part of the festivities, we will give away prizes to the first person to answer various questions. To that end, I offer a tiny sampling of my short story, which is an expansion of the classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.

I sat at the breakfast table across from the very picture of feminine modesty and conjugal devotion. I could not stand to look at her. Ire coursed through my veins, hot and quick, and I dared not speak. I stared at the fish on my plate.

“You are not eating, my love,” my tender bride cooed. “I had thought you swam this morning.”

“Indeed.”

“Then you must be famished, especially after . . . last night.” She eyed me through her long, dark lashes. “You must keep up your strength.”

 “I told you, Mrs. Rochester, I do not care for the whole of the fish. In England, we gut it before we cook it.”

“But we are not in England, my darling. Cook knows nothing of such food. We must go there soon, that she may learn—”

“No.”

“Fairfax, darling, you promised to take me to England to meet your family. Do I so shame you that you hide me away? I am good enough for your bed but not your friends? It’s because my father is in trade, isn’t it?” Her voice grew shriller as she spoke, until it spiked through my brain. “You are so much higher than me. You treat me like the dirt beneath your boot.”

I simply eyed her. Her face screwed up into a petulant pout. Tears rushed her eyes. Her hands slapped down on the table. The crystal and china jumped. “I want to go to England!”

“When I trust you within five thousand miles of my family, we will go to England, but not a day sooner.” My voice sounded cold and flat.

“Trust me? Trust me?! You are a monster—a horrid, beastly monster!”

“Better to say an ape.”

She started at the words and glanced up at me. I stared at her blandly. She rose and went to the sideboard. She feigned concealing a fit of tears, but I knew it a ploy to add rum to her orange juice. My mind filled with images of my brother sharing his morning with the polar opposite of my angel wife. I jabbed my fork into the fish on my plate.

The tines hit something hard and screeched across the china. The exposed and torn gut glinted in a stray shaft of sunlight. Dumbfounded, I stared at the mess.

Bertha returned to her seat, glass in hand, once again the very image of a model wife. I carefully slit open the fish’s gut and spooned out the innards.

“That really is the best part, you know,” Bertha instructed, her cheeks pouched with gobbets of her own mackerel. “After the eyeballs, of course.”

I scraped away the offal, and there it was: Yvette’s pendant, chain and all. It felt as if the sun burst free of heavy clouds the moment I laid eyes on it. A freshening breeze cleared the cobwebs from my mind. I could breathe again. I still tumbled in unforgiving surf, but I thought, perhaps, I could at last get my feet beneath me.

I hope you enjoy the book, and the party. It is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. 

Tidbits: Crossroads

As discussed in my previous post, this short story sprung from a few exercises in flash fiction and grew from there. For more on the history of this composition, read this blog post.

Crossroads by Penny Freeman


Rob understood his brother’s love for the road, especially, as then, in the dead of night. Like himself, Nate had never been one for large crowds. On the road, one was utterly alone. The growling four-fifty-four V8 of Nate’s cherry 1977 El Camino Classic and the steel-belted radials humming on the blacktop lulled to silence all the demands that sucked the life out of Rob. They slipped away like the endless blur of the dotted, white line that streamed beyond the windshield. The highway soothed. Mesmerized. It held life at a safe distance where Rob could nibble off bits at a time, or ignore it altogether as the mood suited.
Except, there he was, returning with his brother’s ashes, hurtling at 75 mph toward the madness: the boss, the job, the mounting bills and overdrawn bank account. The labyrinth of life with no easy way out. Toward Annabelle—his own Nan—and that look of dread in her eyes: anguish that assaulted him and reticence that held him at arm’s length.

Rob jerked awake, jolted from a deep, dreamless slumber by something—the baby? He couldn’t remember. Nan had argued with him, and he put off going to bed until she slept to avoid a demand to hash it out. He turned in very late, and the fog of somnolence melded to his brain like his kids’ sticky hands to his skin. Scarcely lucid, he ignored his transient bob to the surface of consciousness, and surrendered again to the depths of sleep.
Her voice prevented it, however . . . a low murmur . . . hesitant . . . wary—scraps of sound distorted by the cobwebs of his sleep-deprived brain. He rolled over, pried open his eyes, and forced the numerals of the digital clock into focus. 04:00. Good grief. He had to be up in two hours. Couldn’t she cut him some slack?
He turned toward the wall and fended her off with the silence of feigned sleep. He was tired of bending over backward to make her happy, and for what? No matter how he tried, he couldn’t figure out what the devil she wanted.

Editor's Notes: The Editor's Editor

I need to write. I need to keep up with this blog. I need to chisel away at the stacks of books piled up on my nightstand awaiting my review. Fortunately, I’m able to steal a minute now and again to return to this project. I appreciate the kind patience of all the authors who have been put on hold for so long. Hopefully, within the next few months I’ll be able to provide the content they were promised, although not quite as quickly as I had hoped.

~*~

Today, I offer one of those “everybody needs a good editor” posts, a subject I love to harp on, as any reader of this blog knows. However, this one comes with a twist: every writer needs a good editor, even editors who also write.

A few months back, I whipped up a short story. It sprung from some flash fiction and grew from there. Then, since it seemed to fit into the theme of a short story competition, I polished it to the best of my ability and entered it. It didn’t get picked for their anthology. Despite my repeated references to readers whose opinions I trusted, countless adjustments, and a precision word count that met the maximum limit with exactness, the two judges didn’t think as well of my work as I did.

Their evaluations sat on my desk unopened for a few months because I dread (just as much as any author) the red pencil of death which I knew awaited me within. Not so; I received just a 1-5 grade scale in seven different areas. The judges gave me numbers, little else. One kindly left a positive comment. The other felt I tried too hard to be artsy and had inadequate tension or conflict (I still don’t get that). I got a 4/5 from the kind one, a 3/5 from the more critical.

Sr. Editor McKenna Gardner
But, since I wrote this months and months ago, I’m giving myself a bye for not following my own advice. I have since corrected that egregious error, with happy results. The trick here, my friends, is to use an editor whom you both respect and trust. It’s not about who will be the most kind or who will give you the most strokes, but who will help you produce the best work within you. Who will properly guide you to your goal? I turned to the senior editor at Xchyler Publishing, McKenna Gardner.

A good editor is like a good coach. They identify strengths and help the author stretch their muscles, build their stamina, and fine-tune their literary muscle memory. They identify weaknesses and drum them out of the author. Like the coach, the editor doesn’t replace the author. They do not rewrite their stories; they draw them out of the author. They assist the author in fulfilling their own highest potential. They’re the author’s personal cheering section. 

All that said, I required no fewer than thirteen separate versions to make my short story worthy of public consumption. After all that trouble, what did I change? I added a grand total of 131 words to the manuscriptone hundred and thirty one excruciating words wrenched out of me with painstaking care. 

Months after the short story competition had come and gone, why bother? Simple: I wanted to explore the possibilities with such a coach in my corner as those that we have at XchylerPublishing.

If you would care to review the product of our exertions, you can review my separate post, Crossroads, here. Leave a comment and tell me what you think.


Book Review: One Boy No Water by Lehua Parker

Book:  One Boy, No Water
Author:  Lehua Parker
Pages:   185
Format:  Hardcover, paperback
Publisher:  Jolly Fish Press
Book Source:  Provided by Publisher
Category:  Youth Fantasy
Style:  Easy, conversational style with lots of Hawaiian pidgin usage

Synopsis from GoodReads:

On the surface, despite his unusual allergies, Zader is an average eleven year old boy with typical challenges of fitting in with his peers, getting into a good prep school, and maintaining his relationship with his surfing crazed brother. In reality, Zader is Niuhi, a shark with the ability to turn into a person. As he matures and begins to adapt to his “allergies” in ways that make it easier to live a normal life, Zader’s world begins to turn upside down—he will not only have to come to terms with who he is, but what he is. . . . more

My Take:

What is the recipe for a really big hit in children's literature?  Below, I list what has been proven to work in the past.

  • Make the protagonist a defacto orphan.  Kahana, an aging, skinny Hawaian steeped in the ancient ways, finds a baby boy out on a reef just hours after birth and convinces his great-niece (who has just given birth to a boy herself) to adopt him.  They name him Alexander Westin and call him “Zader” for short.  Surrounded by a loving, supportive family cannot make Zader anything but a fish out of water.