3 New Books for June


I’ve been busy since school let out less than a month ago. I’ve edited two books and published them, plus one more. All of them are outside my usual genre. Now it’s time to promote them and try to convince you to buy them.

First up is A Light Beyond. This is one I imagined several years ago, when I still had an agent who didn’t really believe in me. He shot the idea down, but it wouldn’t leave me. I wrote the book last semester, putting down a little over 50,000 words in a pretty short time for me during a school year. This is the story of Robert Prince, who meets an older woman when he’s 13 and falls in love with her. He has a friend who is a bully and a home life that is less than good.

Structurally, I tried something different with this short novel (or long novella). Each chapter is from a different stage of Robert’s life. We begin in a Cincinnati subway tunnel, where he’s been severely beaten. We then move to the summer of 1978, when he’s 13 and meets Alia, the older woman down the street. The third stage stretches over a much longer period of time, beginning when he’s about 18 and concluding with the chapter that reveals why he’s in the subway at age 51. Every third chapter goes back to one of these stages of his life.

For the few who are interested, there is a lot of nostalgia in this book for me. The chapters with young Robert are set on the street where I grew up and characters visit real places like Longfellow Junior High School, Bob’s Cone Corner, Hendrie House Buffet, etc. There really was a woman living in the house described who a “frenemy” of mine insisted was a hooker. Like Robert, I spent a lot of summer afternoons working puzzles, playing board games, and reading. But pretty much all the major plot elements are fiction.

A Light Beyond is available in both paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app.

This next book is pretty special to me. My first genre love was for the Western, though it was more for movies than books. I’d wanted to write a Western novel for many years, but frankly, was afraid to branch out. The research seemed intimidating, too. And yeah, that same agent who dissed A Light Beyond didn’t want anything to do with Orphan when I proposed it to him.

This one is also told from three perspectives, but it’s three different characters. First is Ramsay, a wanted man just trying to get west, away from his old life and all the disappointments it held. When he catches a man cheating at cards in a small east Kansas town, the man pulls a gun and Ramsay has to kill him. This leads the man’s nephew, Jack, to decide that Ramsay is now responsible for him, so he tags along. Back in Chicago, Les finds out his lover isn’t who she claimed to be, and she’s pregnant. If he wants to maintain his relationship with her, he must leave his job as a packinghouse foreman and use his old Pinkerton skills to track down a meat baron’s missing grandson. Eventually, Ramsay, Jack, Les, the grandson, and a bounty hunter all meet up. There’s some shooting.

About the only other thing I can say about this one is that it’s dedicated to the memory of Johnny Quarles, Johnny lived in my hometown when his first novel, Brack, came out in about 1988 or so. I was about 22. Surprisingly for my introverted self, I picked up the phone and called him shortly after his book came out and found him to be a warm, helpful man with a wonderful family. He gave me a lot of good advice and let me interview him for various newsletters and such. In the early days of the Internet he even paid me to create and maintain his first Web site. My character, Ramsay Quarles, takes his name from Johnny and Johnny’s character Brack Ramsay. I hope my book is a worthy tribute to a great man.

Orphan is available as both a paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app. The audio version is in production at the moment.

The third book I released this month is a really old manuscript. I’m talking like 25 years old. Songbird was written when my wife was pregnant with our first child. We never asked to learn the gender of our kids before they were born, preferring to be surprised. I know, that’s unthinkable today with all the elaborate gender reveal parties, but … whatever. We knew if we had a boy he’d be named Alexander and if we had a girl she’d be Rebecca. So the songbird of the story is named Becca and the wandering sailor who rescues her from the Trolls is Zander.

As you may have guessed, this is a children’s fairy story. Becca trades her freedom to save her village and she’s locked up in the Troll king’s Fang Tower, where she has to sing every time a Troll rings a bell. Zander hears her one day and vows to rescue her, but the Troll king’s ransom requires that Zander find the legendary land of Farin and bring back Queen Roshell’s wedding ring. Can he do it before the Troll king forces Becca to marry him? Well, it’s a fairy tale, so you can probably guess the answer to that one. It’s a chapter book, so I guess the target audience here is probably grades 3 to 8. The font is bigger than normal, so the page count is higher than the word count would suggest.

You’ll find several homages to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander in this one.

Songbird is available in both paperback and for Kindle and the Kindle app.

Thanks for sticking with me!

 

Christmas. Enid, OK. 1970s.


Christmas. The end of the year. It’s time to look back and be nostalgic, right? Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. But I didn’t grow up in the late 1940s like he did. My childhood was the psychedelic and disco-infused decade of the 1970s.

Enid, Oklahoma, didn’t have big department stores downtown with windows full of toys like where Ralphie first sees his Red Ryder BB gun. Heck, Enid didn’t even have a book store. Can you imagine a city of 45,000 without a book store? But I digress. We had Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Wards and their massive, magical Christmas catalogs. Every year Mom would put those out and me and my sister would pore over them, folding pages and circling items we wanted. I can remember going to the Montgomery Wards pick-up center for boxes, but I don’t remember going to the Sears store for boxes.

One year we were downtown at Woolsworth’s and an employee thought my sister was trying to shoplift because she had a kid’s book under her coat. She was just hiding it from me, though, until she could ask Mom if she could get it for me for Christmas. Mom got mad and we left the store.

Santa Claus came to Enid, but this was before Oakwood Mall opened, so Santa sat in a metal shed temporarily set up in the center of town … on the same property as the county courthouse and jail. We’d wait in line to see him and get a small candy cane after telling him our top wish list item. All of downtown was decorated with lights and tinsel images of snowmen and candles on the light posts.

We mostly had artificial trees that me and my sister would assemble every year. I never really cared for that part. I already did a post about five memorable Christmas gifts, but there were others, like the year I got a small erector set, a Hoppity Horse, and books my mom had to order from the local office supply store. The Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Prydain Chronicles, Where the Red Fern Grows (in hardcover!). One year I got the Six Million Dollar Man action figure (not a doll!) and the rocket that turned into the lab where Steve Austin was put back together. He became buds with GI Joe.

Like Ralphie, one year I did get a Red Ryder BB gun. There was  no compass in the stock. I loved that gun! I got it from my dad’s parents, who had a dairy farm in Ripley. After that, every time we went I would roam the farm with the gun, looking for things to shoot. I still have the gun, but it no longer works. It came with a Red Ryder poster, which I unfortunately do not still have.

It was a happy time.

Libraries and librarians


So, I finished up my library book tour yesterday in the nice little town of Blanchard, Okla. I had a good time at each stop and met some great readers (Heidi, Kyler, Lauryn), aspiring writers (Kimberly and Amanda), and some fantastic librarians each time. For the record, I suck at remembering names and have included the above because they’ve Facebook-friended me or e-mailed me or something. If you were there, I enjoyed meeting you, too!

Anyway, my point in all this was to talk about the influential role a librarian can play, and what one in particular did for me. As a writer, librarians are invaluable resources when it comes to research. You have to remember there’s more out there than what you’ll find on the Internet. In many cases, you can simply let a librarian know what you’re looking for, give him or her some time, and they’ll find material you never dreamed existed. For general readers, though, the most important role is turning you on to new books.

Every librarian I meet has to be compared with Virginia Atchinson, the librarian at Longfellow Junior High School in Enid, Okla., when I was there. She was an older, petite woman with red hair and a real passion for books. The last half or so of my seventh grade year, because I was an advanced reader, I got to go with a few other kids to the library for that period and Mrs. Atchinson was our teacher. That’s where I first learned to analyze literature beyond plot and setting. For eighth and ninth grade years, we convinced her to allow us to come back during homeroom (we had that back then) to keep teaching us. The woman assigned some books that are still among my favorites. Here’s a list of what I can remember off the top of my head:

  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams
  • Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach
  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles (okay, this one is still the worst book I’ve ever read, but it’s the exception on this list)
  • Bless the Beasts and Children by Glendon Swarthout
  • The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (I can still remember sitting in Mr. Ogletree’s Algebra class when I started Fellowship of the Ring and being transported back to Middle Earth.)

Oh, there was more, but I can’t recall them right now. These books, of course, led me to other books, particularly by these authors, but then books with similar themes. Her influence was like an infection that just kept spreading tendrils through me as book after book that I read was somehow related to those she assigned.

Librarians can do this for you, too, and will be happy to if you just ask.