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Upcoming Release: Suntosun Circus


I’m thrilled with the cover artwork for Suntosun Circus! Once again, Merel Pierce Designs has done amazing work!

I’m equally delighted that AdeCiro Publications has made this steampunk/historical fantasy so dear to my heart now available for preorder. Release date is set for February 4, 2022.

“As demon doubles of global leaders begin breaching reality’s borders, Sophie Asher and her family join a paranormal circus of covert hunters. Their goal: destroy the doppelgängers before the demons unleash worldwide terror & destruction.

But even as Sophie struggles with her growing love for the aleksei Kazimir, her passion for the circus, and her own identity, turmoil is raging within the troupe.

Can they overcome the challenges mounted against them, or will darkness obliterate everything they know and love?”

Excuse me while I decide whether to happy-dance or swoon!

0

A Change of View

Sophie & Kazimir

Two eye surgeries later, I’m catching up.

Additional artwork for Tools of the Trade by Merel Pierce Designs for AdeCiro Publications came through just ahead of the first surgery, but it wasn’t until both eyes were done that I saw—really saw with clarity—how amazing the work actually was. The characters may not look exactly the way they live in my imagination, but the artist’s interpretation is pretty darn close. The clothing, the background—spot-on. The overall effect—solidly in the story and the era.

The first thing I noticed after surgery #1: the clear sky was blue. Stunned is an understatement. My brain told me the sky was blue, only blue, always blue.

By comparison, the eye not yet done saw pre-storm teal.

For two weeks until surgery #2, I winked a lot. Close one eye, then the other. Compare. Repeat. Compare.

Blue is blue instead of teal. My kitchen tile is white, not buttery off-white. The concrete driveway is grey rather than pale raw sienna. Oncoming headlights no longer look like approaching sunbursts. Porch lights don’t have haloes (except in fog), & stars don’t have long spikes of light extending from them.

When a vision change happens subtly, you don’t realize what you’ve become used to seeing. The brain adapts to the slow transition without conscious thought. Perception is redefined.

Whether literal or figurative, cataracts are sneaky.

Sophie and Kazimir stand back to back, alert to danger. Sophie carries the flamethrower she designed. Though less apparent in the image, Kazimir has one of his favorite weapons: a bearing scraper, a workman’s tool.

Evocative. Shadowy but vibrant. True colors.

6

A Time Machine Detour

I’m a messy writer. I don’t think it’s evident in published works. I juggle multiple stories/ essays, and my handwritten first drafts include scribbles, side-notes. Sketched illustrations in margins, between paragraphs, and sometimes in the middle of sentences. But the messiness really shows up in my personal time machines (yes, plural): diaries, journals.

As I tackle a nonfiction project, I’ve been digging through my time machines. There are gaps. A couple of journals succumbed to fire; floods turned a few nonsequential diaries turned into papier mache blocks. Sporadic rather than regular entries in those remaining, they chronicle trials & triumphs, questions & revelations, the state of my psyche or my hangnail. True to what I knew & thought at the times.

No clue what triggered a few entries or what they were about. (She did it again! Now in the top 10 stupidest things to come out of a grown-up’s mouth! Who was “She”? What did she say?) Others prompt vivid recalls of things left behind, forgotten. Some show what a double-life I had at times.

In a few entries, I must’ve dodged rants or interrogations from a grandparent, aunt, or uncle about why I didn’t date in high school. My reply—“They like football and cars; I like books and animals. What are we supposed to talk about?”—apparently satisfied them enough to shut up or change the subject.

Although publicly true, the double-life reason was this: I had no idea who I was or wasn’t related to in my parents’ hometown. When my folks moved back there, I’d pieced together partial genealogies, local gossip, & enough surname connections to realize that by blood or marriage I was related to at least a fifth (possibly a fourth) of that small farming community. There were already plenty of odd trials with my folks and mystifying tensions with the closest relatives. Challenging. Confounding.

Because some relatives got along like slightly civilized Hatfields & McCoys sans shotguns, and because some were considered longtime pillars of the community, the façade of everything being glitch-free was absolutely required. Cheerfully peachy amid their hostilities & meltdowns. Without a doubt, I knew I’d draw the combined wrath of known & unknown relatives down on me if I even accidentally stepped a toe out of line. I had more than enough to handle without adding to it.

Off & on entries puzzle over training a 13 y.o. terrier the Sit & Heel command. Along with feisty stubbornness hardwired in her breed’s brain, she was also, of course, too old for such adolescent nonsense. Ultimately, it was an exercise in frustration. Not until my family moved from the small town was I around anyone who could show me what to do. By then that terrier had died, but my parents got a young dog. I had a fresh chance at learning something I’d so much wanted to do.

And since my concept of journals meant everything should be written on their pages, my first short story— an attempt at a Western—was there. A Western fan in general & a Louis L’Amour fan in particular, I was sure I could work that Old West magic. Every possible cliché appeared in the story, & every one of them rode off into the sunset to die of embarrassment.

Music was another facet of double-life. Secretly, I thought most popular bubble-gum rock of the day sucked. With somewhat guilty glee, the first LPs I bought myself were Irish ballads by The Clancy Brothers & the flamenco guitar of Carlos Montoya. Played over & over, they swept me away, elated. My singing voice has always constituted audio assault, but I could brogue along with “Jug of Punch” & “O’Donnell Abou” just fine. I tried but never could master more than the opening notes of Montoya’s “Malaguena”.

Around the same time, I was discovering science fiction. I knew nothing about amputations, prosthetics, or phantom pain. Precious little about space travel beyond what I’d seen on Star Trek, The Outer Limits, & late-late night B-movie reruns (when I was supposed to be asleep). Yet another entry records a dream so haunting that, some 20+ years later, it grew into the world of my cybernetic navigators. Hindsight may be 20/20 but it can be nonetheless mystifying.

Versions of a frequent social media question appear in my newsfeed. “What advice would you give your childhood/teenage/younger you?”

Navigating a double-life, the teen me could’ve used a bit of reality check: you’ll never solve or understand all the family mysteries.

A bit of hope for a smidgen of resolution: a major puzzle piece hidden from you will come to light in 40-some years.

A bit of patience counsel: you’ll learn to train your dogs, you’ll find your genre(s), hit your stride—it just takes time.

A bit of encouragement: it’ll be okay—chin up, kiddo.

On the other hand, the last wouldn’t have been necessary. According to my time-machines, I did it anyway.

2

Writing & Sliding Tiles

My assistant for this post.

Tools of the Trade is live, introducing some of The Suntosun Chronicles cast members. The sequel novel, Suntosun Circus, is slated for release this fall. As I roll forward with writing the next book (tentatively titled Suntosun Seasons), I dig again into inner territories. Discover anew links between my fictional stories and the masks worn in autobiographies of the psyche.

Literal and figurative puzzles recur in my stories. But it’s amazing how some children’s toys teach us how to deal with adult challenges and tasks. The sliding tiles puzzles I enjoyed when I was young proved especially useful.

With the assistance of my beloved cat, here’s how a fiction/real-life connection works for a quest story.

Because she loves climbing, I learned the domestic housecat can find every possible route into a basement’s drop ceiling.

So, I (protagonist) move one ceiling tile (obstacle, setting), and cat (goal) backs across tiles to another section. Central plot. Also approaching badlands/cave/et cetera where setting complicates goal.

Pull down two more tiles hoping to intercept cat. Simple plan: achieve the goal without venturing into badlands/etc.

Cat skirts the gap to a different part of the basement. Simple plan failed.

Move more tiles and take down others to widen the gap, possibly cornering the cat. Plan #2 is better, right?

At this point, not too many tiles are removed. I’m already encountering dust, cobwebs, and dead bugs. The badlands become more dangerous, the goal even farther & further from sight.

Cat displays unsuspected athletic prowess as she leaps the overhead chasm. More desperate pressure for achieving the goal.

Cat pauses to sniff a decomposing mouse. Lull before the final conflict or confrontation.

Move another tile. Oh, so close! Cat is now intensely interested in a ductwork section where a former homeowner cut a vent hole. Plot twist.

Our eyes meet. Oh, no! Don’t you dare! Cat scurries just out of reach and kicks a petrified skink into my hair. How’d that get up there‽ Cat dives for the hole! Focus on goal. Gross out later.

I break a tile and knock down part of the tile frame as I lunge for cat. Cat wriggles head and shoulders into the vent hole, but I grab cat’s back legs. Cat is captured. Success! Victory! Resolution!

I wipe cobwebs from her face and remember a sliding tiles puzzle I enjoyed as a kid. Eyeing the mess above and on the floor, I consider taking down the entire drop ceiling. Satisfied with her adventure, cat snuggles against me and purrs. Epilog.

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Review: The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe by U.L. Harper

What draws a reader back to a story again? Perhaps repeatedly?
Pondering this as I finish the fourth rereading of The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe by U.L. Harper.

The Secret Deaths . . . is a deceptively simple storyline. Arthur has the magical ability to animate the inanimate, an ability that includes restoring the dead to life. Yet raised amid frequent neglect and rejection, he strives to understand the impact and consequences exercising this ability has on others. On neighbors. On his wife who committed suicide and who he brought back to life.

Just because he can restore life to those dying around him, does that mean he should? Is holding on to someone at any cost more damaging than letting go?

But as he navigates questions about his ability, a deadly stench spreads through his town. The pressure surges as children, adults, and pets succumb to the mysterious miasma. He must resolve these questions and more to decide whether to give aid with his gift. Can he find even a modicum of peace for himself if he does—or doesn’t—use it for the dying?

Harper’s prose is lean and well-crafted. He balances the shifts between the present-day adult Arthur and the past child/adolescent Arthur with exquisite timing to illuminate scenes both preceding and following whatever is currently happening in the story. Yet none of the foreshadowing made the story predictable.

Although The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe is adult speculative fiction, the story bridges more than a single subcategory. It is magical realism and literary eerie as well as dark urban fantasy and quiet horror. It’s an artful examination of nature vs. nurture, of the right to die, of possessiveness vs. unselfishness (and how painful either can be), of the outsider psyche. Of a person who wants to do what’s right yet makes mistakes. Right and wrong are not always clear to him. Like so many of us, he finds his often unguided way by trial and error.

The Secret Deaths of Arthur Lowe has joined the ranks of books I read again and again. Excellent work, U.L.!!!

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Upcoming Release: Tools of the Trade

Relief? Elation? Maybe a bit of shock?

As I stare at the cover, I’m not sure which is in the lead.

“Tools of the Trade” is now available for preorder on Amazon from AdeCiro Publications. The release date is set for June 23, 2021.

From the moment I penned the first words, I knew this story would lead to more.

By itself, “Tools of the Trade” is an adventure filled with demons, magical beings, and a clever heroine at the helm. It also launches The Suntosun Chronicles, a historical fantasy series set in the dawn of the 20th century. The “Tools…” cast unites with a circus striving to destroy demons intent on unleashing global terror and destruction.

I didn’t expect the journey to take as long as it has, but it’s been an exhilarating one.
And it hasn’t ended.

1

Blurring the Line

First, bad words & cussing.

No, this isn’t a post about cursing in stories. Not yet. That’s a future post.

This is me realizing that putting a date on prepared posts isn’t the same as scheduling for those busy stretches of time when I can’t closely tend them.

Square one: review instructions & tutorials.

*grumble, grumble*

Moving on.

Although AdeCiro doesn’t normally consider reprints, the publisher felt re-releasing the prequel novelette “Tools of the Trade” would be a good introduction to the historical fantasy world of Suntosun Circus (pending release later this year).

Creative license allows writers to twist facts, to blur the line between fact & fiction, to fit story. In some genres, though, it can compromise the believability the writer strives for. Most kinds of historical fiction rely on verisimilitude.

Verisimilitude.

A pretty word, almost musical when said aloud.

You wouldn’t think it carries as much weight as it does. But verisimilitude—derived from Latin words meaning truth & similar—influences a story’s believability. It affects whether a reader becomes enthralled in a reader’s trance or kicked out of a story by gaffes.

Underpinning my historical fantasy world with real people, places, & events meant staying true to the real so the blurred line between real & unreal seemed more believable. Here are examples of blurring the lines in “Tools of the Trade”, set in 1899 Kansas City, MO.

Fiction: Sophie (the MC) and her brother Bruce, both adopted as children, were delivered to their adoptive parents via one of the Orphan Trains.

Fact:  From 1854 to 1929, Orphan Trains from the east coast carried thousands of orphaned, abandoned, and parent-surrendered children west to be adopted. Some of their stories turned out well, the children cherished and cared for by their adopted parents. Others didn’t fare so well, treated as little more than extra farm hands and servants.

Some of them processed through a church orphanage called “The Little Sisters of Mercy Asylum” in New York City. Nowadays, we often think of the word “asylum” in terms of mental institutions, but the broader meaning is a place of refuge, a shelter, a haven.

Fiction: One of the minor characters is taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, while another is taken to a children’s clinic.

Fact: This hospital did indeed exist. Back then, it was called All Saints Hospital (est. 1885). The name changed to St. Luke’s Hospital in 1903, four years after this story takes place. Because St. Luke’s is the more recognizable name, especially for readers in the Midwest, the shift of timing for the name is creative license.

The other clinic mentioned was founded by one of two sisters (Dr. Alice Berry Graham and Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson) who set it up to help children of those too poor to afford medical treatment. At the time, women doctors weren’t common, and there was much bias about hiring them to work in hospitals another reason for founding their own. A few years later, that clinic became Children’s Mercy Hospital.

Fiction: The character Kazimir cauterizes a wound with an “untinned” brazing bit.

Fact: “Untinned” means that the brazing bit hadn’t been coated with a solder mixture of tin and lead. This mixture helps transfer the bit’s heat so solder flows properly to make a good metal joint. Essentially, he uses the equivalent of a bare-metal branding iron to cauterize the wound.

Fiction: Sophie, Bruce, and Kazimir set out from the Kansas City Yacht Club building to battle the water demons.

Fact: A surprise fact for me! While researching railroads running through KC, I happened upon a sketch showing a building with the sign Kansas City Yacht Club. After some archive digging, I found it really did exist in the 1890s and had a lively membership among local boaters. The club held regattas and fish fries, and they even bottled their own beer. There were a number of smaller clubs in and around the city, but the KCYC was the largest.

When publication of Suntosun Circus draws closer, I’ll post some ‘behind the scenes’ facts for it. In the story, I touched upon a few more controversial things I found during research. Digging through history yields facts that shouldn’t be forgotten.

4

Charmed, I’m Sure

Message from AdeCiro, the press that’ll be publishing my novel Suntosun Circus: “Do you have any author branding of any kind? logos and such?”

(Cue: deer-in-the-headlights stare.)

Fumbling, I replied about social media sites & interaction.

Of course, info I found about author brands called to mind my charm bracelet. (Not as farfetched as it may sound.)

It’s odd how autobiography of psyche creeps into a story. In Suntosun Circus, the character Sophie Asher has a charm bracelet that eventually provides clues about her past.

I’d forgotten about my own bracelet. Received when I “graduated” from 6th grade, the bracelet was too big for me. I wore it later, but it wound up tucked in the back of a jewelry box, long-term storage due to so many jobs where wearing jewelry wasn’t allowed or safe. Out of sight, out of mind.

A vague memory of it resurfaced by the time I finished the novel’s first draft. In the strange Lost & Found tent of the circus, Sophie finds her bracelet, though she doesn’t know it’d gone missing. She ponders the attendant’s question–“What did you find?”–and realizes the bracelet represents defining facets of her life symbolized by charms on a chain. She found herself.

The charms on my bracelet are different from Sophie’s. Over the years before I’d packed it away, some had been lost, some broken, replaced. Gifted or purchased, new ones added. A tortoise celebrates years involved in turtle rescue. Rather than gambling or games, the dice symbolizes problems resolved by chance. The pen represents my passion for writing, my love of story.

I often wonder what bits of autobiography show up, intentionally or accidentally, in other writers’ stories. For me, the writing as well as building my author brand somehow begins in the meaning of each tiny charm. They are biography & autobiography in silver. I found myself.

6

Confiteor, Redux

With the approaching re-release of my fantasy novelette “Tools of the Trade” and later publication of the sequel novel Suntosun Circus from AdeCiro Publications, I revisited thoughts on story, on writing.

So take this as explorations interwoven on itself like knotwork. Or ruminations of a mind rabbiting down twisty bunny trails. Hippity-hop down lagomorph lane.

Or take this as a confession.

I’ve long held the belief all writing—fiction as well as nonfiction—is autobiography.

It’s easy to spot in nonfiction. These events happened in my life. Let’s say, though, that it’s the history of someone else. That’s biography, right? Technically in one sense, yes. In another sense, it’s autobiography of an interest. Ditto for nonfiction about some other thing. My interest drives it. Ergo, autobiography.

Fiction, though—that’s made up. Fabrication. Most of my writing is speculative: science fiction, fantasy, and sub-genres under that wide categorical umbrella.

Autobiography?

My characters and stories would not exist without me. A damaged drifter wouldn’t find his missing son. An odd young man wouldn’t fight botanical vampires. An elf in space couldn’t save her beloved’s life, and another wouldn’t cause catastrophic tragedy in his dying madness. A circus of covert defenders wouldn’t battle demons threatening our world.

These story worlds have touchstones within my life. Each is built on places I’ve experienced, however tenuous the construction material may seem. A moment’s focus calls their fullness to my mind as sharply as the taste and smell of my breakfast, the colors of last evening’s sunset, the texture of my dog’s fur.

Hallya’s cooling world is every late autumn I’ve known extended across millennia. A trip to the Grand Canyon produced the labyrinthine canyons of the Kahall, and the grasslands of Kamanthia grew from the prairies of Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. My years as a machinist informed details of my spaceships. The first incarnation of Rhapsody, Tuscan Red, Mind the Trees, and more  was the nameless little boat I rented once to sail on the Pacific Ocean.

More importantly, what characters feel echoes something I’ve felt, reflects some facet of me. Transparent or masked, exaggerated or subdued, the source is genuine. I may acknowledge a few, but I rarely connect the echo/reflection to the facet for anyone else. Even I’m not always sure of the exact connections. Some are sharp and vivid, but many shimmer at the outermost borders of memory.

Facts underlying the fabrications are no easier to discern than how I make associations, what synapses fire in inspiration. For purposes of my stories, it’s not vital to know where the realities are.

Fiction is the tales of worlds existing between a pair of ears. Fabrications, yes, but no less true. It’s autobiography of the psyche.