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Monday, December 19, 2022

Hand of Maradona

  To my surprise Donal called out after him, “Just for the record, mate, you lot most definitely stole the World Cup.”
  He stopped in his tracks and turned to face us.
  “The cast on van de Kerkhof’s wrist was completely illegal,” he said with annoyance.
  “Bollocks. You were stalling for time. You were doing anything you could to throw the Dutch off. You had your own referees, and they were so one-sided it was a bloody joke.”
  “What the hell are you two talking about?” I asked.
  “The 1978 World Cup. It was here in Argentina, and they bloody well stole it.”
That exchange from Chapter 14 of Searching for Cunégonde is about the first time Argentina won the World Cup in 1978. It is between Dallas Green’s English friend Donal and Alberto, one of a number of people the pair encounter in Dallas’s quest to find his long-lost friend Antonio. As they anticipate the next World Cup, Alberto tells Donal to watch out for an up-and-coming player named Maradona. Of course, Alberto has the full benefit of this author’s hindsight, but in fairness the young Maradona’s promise would have been apparent to most Argentine sports fans.

That promise would be borne out eight years later in Mexico when Argentina won its second world soccer championship thanks to Diego Maradona and his “Hand of God” goal and his “Goal of the Century.” I reflected on that two years ago when Maradona died suddenly at the age of 60.

For Argentina’s third World Cup trophy, it would have to wait until, well, yesterday. This time the World Cup was held (somewhat controversially) in Qatar, and it was Lionel Messi (born the year after Argentina’s previous most recent championship win) who led his country to victory in a knuckle-biting match with penalty shoot-out for the ages. I would like to think that, somewhere out there Alberto and Donal are still around and were watching like 14.9 million other viewers. Alberto would, of course, be crazy with joy over the triumph of his team, called la Albiceleste for its colors. Donal would be disappointed that England’s team (called the Three Lions for its insignia) crashed out at the quarter-final stage. Perhaps, though, he would take some consolation that his team did pick up the tournament’s Fair Play Award.

In other life-sort-of-almost-imitates-art news, Chile’s Láscar volcano rumbled back to life a bit more than a week ago. That wasn’t a complete surprise, as it is one of the most active volcanoes in the northern Chilean Andes. It is 38 miles from the Licanabur volcano, which isn’t believed to have been active for the past thousand years—and as far as I know still isn’t.

As readers of Last of the Tuath Dé will know, the interior of Licanabur is where the Grisial was created and is the the weakest point between our world and Tír nAill, otherwise know as the Otherworld and home of the Old Ones.

Speaking of Last of the Tuath Dé and Searching for Cunégonde, as well as my other novels, if you are stuck for gift ideas with only a few shopping days left until Christmas, books definitely make nifty presents.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Colonel Mustard’s Return?

I have always loved the tone, quality and entertainment value of readers’ letters to The Times (“of London”). It was sort of a dream come true for me nearly a year ago when a letter of mine was actually printed in that newspaper—though it was “only” in the paper’s Irish edition. (In case you’re wondering, I was exhorting readers to sample as many diverse news sources as possible—even ones they might disagree with—in the interest of avoiding information blind spots.)

I didn’t actually sit down and write the letter on a piece of paper and then drop it in a mailbox. It was originally a comment on an article on the Times web site, and an editor contacted me to verify my identity and to ask for permission to use it in the print edition. I don’t know if anybody actually writes letters to the editor on paper anymore. My guess is it’s all electronic now.

There was a good example yesterday of a classic Times reader’s letter or, rather, comment. It was beneath an article about new information on an old murder case suggesting the crime did not happen spontaneously but, in the words of an investigator, “it makes me think the whole thing was pre-planned.”

The most highly rated comment (with 114 recommendations as of this writing) on the article: “Isn’t planning pre-planning?” Say what you want about Times readers, but they care about the language.

You may wonder why am I am taking up space with all this on my book blog. It’s because the presumed murderer in the article was a certain Lord Lucan. He has been an object of fascination for the UK (and by extension the Irish) media since he vanished without a trace in 1974. This was immediately after his wife and his children’s nanny were attacked with a lead pipe. The wife survived, but the nanny, who was attacked first in a basement kitchen, died.

The newly revealed information is that three Cluedo game cards were subsequently found in a Ford Corsair that Lord Lucan had borrowed and which was found abandoned at Newhaven in East Sussex, suggesting he may have taken his life by leaping into the sea. The cards matched ones missing from a set owned by the lord. Which cards were they? Colonel Mustard, the lead pipe and the hall. Like Lord Lucan, the fictional Colonel Mustard is a former military man with a mustache. How very Agatha Christie.

The article further reveals that subsequently a woman insisted to police that she later met Lord Lucan at a party at a villa in the Algarve in Portugal. Today’s Irish Independent (like The Times, drawing from original reporting from The Daily Mail) informs us that a facial recognition expert, using AI photo analysis, has made what he claims is a 100-percent match between photographs of Lord Lucan and an 87-year-old pensioner in Australia. If they’re not the same man, says Professor Ugail, then they’re certainly identical twins.

On the other hand, my own neighbor here thinks I solved the mystery five years ago with the release of Lautaro’s Spear. His first comment after reading the book was that “you should have never killed off the other fella.” (He never forgave me for the demise of his favorite character from Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead.) His second comment was, “We finally know what happened to Lord Lucan.”

The name of the infamous lord (born Richard John Bingham) never appears in Lautaro’s Spear, but in Chapter 3 Dallas Green and his friend Linda go to a restaurant called Balthazar’s in San Francisco where their waiter is a dapper Englishman named Richard. Later in Chapter 13 Dallas has a chat with Marty, the mysterious proprietor of a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in the Mission District. Dallas is taken aback when Marty brings up Balthazar’s.
  “You would be surprised at the interesting stories lots of ordinary-seeming people have in their pasts. Here’s an interesting one. You ever been in a restaurant near Union Square called Balthazar’s?”
  “Yeah…” I said suspiciously.
  This was a perfect example of the weirdness that went through my conversations with Marty. Balthazar’s was the only restaurant in that area I had ever been in. What were the odds of that?
  “There’s a waiter there. His name is Richard. He’s an English guy.”
  “Yeah, he waited on a friend and me.”
  “You don’t say? Well, don’t tell anyone where you heard it, but that guy is a murderer.”
  “You’re joking, right?”
  “It’s true. I swear it.”
  “If you know this for sure, shouldn’t you tell the police or somebody?”
  “Nah, there’s no need for that. He only killed one time, and he won’t ever do it again. He was a British lord back in England—and a professional gambler—but things just didn’t go well for him. He was separated from his wife and children. One night he slipped back into the house and killed the nanny. Beat her to death with a lead pipe. Poor girl wasn’t even supposed to be working that night. Not sure if he mistook her for the wife or if she just got between him and the kids. Anyway, he took off and no one has heard of him since.”
My guess is that this exchange, which has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the book’s narrative (other than to establish Marty as a man with unusual connections and mysterious sources of information), went right over the heads of most readers. It would take someone, like my neighbor, who would be the right age and who lives on this side of the Atlantic to pick up on that reference. I believe this is what is known as an Easter egg.

Speaking holidays, it’s only 48 more shopping days until Christmas, so it behooves me to point out all the links on this page that will lead you to places to buy all kinds of great holiday gifts, including not only Lautaro’s Spear but also the other Dallas Green books as well as The Three Towers of Afranor, The Curse of Septimus Bridge and my newest tome, Last of Tuath Dé.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Stamp of Approval?

In a generous gesture to honor a humble writer residing on its soil, Ireland’s national postal service, An Post, has released a new commemorative stamp in honor of Last of the Tuath Dé.

Okay, actually not. I only wish.

It’s just an interesting coincidence that, at the beginning of September, An Post issued stamps featuring the mythical namesake of one of my latest novel’s characters. As the official blurb explains, the stamp is “based on Balor, a legendary figure in the Formorian supernatural race in Irish mythology.” It continues:
    According to the Irish folklore tales, Balor caused great pain and anguish to the Tuatha Dé Dannan, the other supernatural race in Irish folklore.
   The legend centres on Balor having an eye that, when unleashed, could cause instant death or poisoning. Balor’s Poisoned Eye is the main focus of one stamp. The second stamp relates to the legend that claimed Balor had only to look on the landscape to cause damage, such as in the Poisoned Glen in County Donegal.
   In both cases, contemporary colours are used to create the impression of poison almost leaping off the stamp.
A domestic postage stamp depicts Balor’s Evil Eye, while an international one illustrates the Poisoned Glen. They are part of PostEurop’s collection of stamps across Europe celebrating this year’s theme of Stories & Myths. The collection includes a whole array of mythical and legendary figures from various European countries.

Other examples include Saint Hubertus from Belgium, the mermaid Melusina of Luxembourg, the Bogeyman of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Emperor Charlemagne of France and Switzerland’s William Tell. Who knew that post offices could be such a great source for potential character names for future fantasy novels?

To be clear, the authentic mythological Balor does not actually appear in Last of the Tuath Dé. That Balor is my own creation, inspired by the Irish myths. The narrative conceit is that the Tuath Dé and the Fomóire in my book were the true inspirations for the Irish stories—even though in the real world it’s the reverse that’s true.

Quite a coincidence that An Post would be highlighting Balor within just a couple of weeks after the release of Last of the Tuath Dé, eh? But wait, it gets better.

It so happens that Greece’s entry in the Stories & Myths stamp collection is none other than Orpheus. As my readers will well know, Orpheus is the Demon Hunter name—or as Hadrian the Necromant would dashingly put the term (see Chapter 12), nom de chasseur de démon—of none other than the title character of The Curse of Septimus Bridge. Sadly, the two Greek stamps depict Orpheus’s demise as he’s about to be ripped to shreds by the Thracian Maenads for having forsaken his former deity patron Dionysus in favor of the sun god Apollo. A further reminder, if any were needed, that it’s always a bad idea to tick off a Greek god.

That’s a fate even worse than being trapped for eternity in the Netherworld.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Who’s Who?

Madame Bovary, c’est moi.

That is what 19th-century French novelist Gustave Flaubert is reported to have replied when asked if the title character of his best known novel, Madame Bovary, was based on a real person. He himself was she, he said.

That seemed strange when I first heard it lo these many years ago in my student days. How could a 37-year-old bachelor writer, who was a frequent customer of prostitutes, base a young, sheltered, convent-educated female character obsessed with romantic novels on himself? Now, however, it makes perfect sense to me.

I once read or heard from a source that seemed authoritative that, when we dream, all the people in our dreams are versions of ourselves. We might think we dreamt about a friend or relative, but it was really us. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds like it might be. I suspect something similar goes on with creators of fiction. I find it plausible that the inner lives of every fictional character is essentially an extension of that of its creator.

These thoughts are prompted by my previous post in which I anticipated—and shot down—the question of whether the character Antonio, who features in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and its two sequels, was based on my longtime Peruvian friend Mañuco. If I think about it for very long, the real basis for Antonio becomes obvious. Antonio, c’est moi. Or more appropriately, Antonio soy yo.

No, of course, I’m not—and never have been—an abandoned Mexican street kid living by my wits on the streets of Los Angeles. But look past that. Antonio is an avid reader of comic books. He loves movies and the Spanish language. If you read Chapter 10 of Max & Carly carefully, you’ll even find circumstantial evidence that he’s a fan of the 1960s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. The case is open and shut.

A lot of readers, including those who personally know me well, have assumed that it is the narrator Dallas who is me, and to be sure I did make Dallas’s circumstances close to my own—even to the point of having him be born in the same month and year. That, however, was to make it easy for myself in terms of getting the history right and to minimize my own need for research. What can I say? I’m basically lazy. But why waste time denying whether or not I’m Dallas? I’ve already bought into the idea that all my characters are me.

If that’s true, this has interesting implications for a literary debate that raises its head from time to time. Is it some kind of inappropriate appropriation for a male writer to attempt conveying the female experience through a fictional character? For a white fiction writer to write at length about the African-American or Hispanic experience?

For that matter, what about a California-born, straight, Scandinavian-American, male writer attempting to portray in fiction a Japanese-Canadian bisexual woman who happens to be a Demon Hunter? Yes, I had to bring the conversation around to my latest book, Last of the Tuath Dé, lest anyone forget that it is still out there and available for purchase.

Basically, I feel about fiction-writing the way I feel about the acting profession. In principle, any artist should be able to portray any character in any medium. In practice, though, it doesn’t cost me or anyone else anything to try being sensitive to legitimate issues people may have when it comes their own experiences and to history. In the end, though, my philosophy in artistic matters is to err on the side of creative freedom.

If I have my own escape clause for slipping through the imagined tentacles of the so-called political-correctness police, it is that I am either writing fantasy or else focusing on what I know personally—and none of my characters are meant to emblematic or representative of an entire group of people. I’m just telling stories.

That is why I feel secure in proclaiming, Izanami et Sapphire, ils sont moi.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Traduttore, no Traditore?

Sometime during the past few days, as I write this, my words are being or have been read out at a poetry festival. This is not something that occurs for me often. In fact, virtually never.

But wait. Are they really my words being read out? That’s a fertile subject for discussion.

You see, I have this friend. I met him years ago when I was making my way home from a year’s study in Chile and found myself with several hours to kill during a layover in Lima. Through a series of events too complicated to go into right now, I wound up being invited to his family’s home for Sunday dinner and to pass the time until my evening flight to Los Angeles. Despite a significant gap in our ages, Mañuco (as he was called within the family) and I hit it off and formed a friendship that has endured through decades, marriages, parenthood and international relocations. He has lived many years in Paris, while I have dwelled these past score of years in rural Ireland. He is a poet, designer, dancer, all-around artist and general purveyor of Peruvian culture in the City of Lights.

If his name rings a bell with my readers, it is probably because he was one of the people to whom I dedicated my very first novel. And in case you are about to ask, no, he is not Antonio, the young traveling companion of Dallas and Lonnie in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead whose presence also weighs heavily in the two subsequent novels. Of course, any insights I gained from having a friend from a different (specifically, Latin American) culture informed the fictional character, but Antonio himself was more directly inspired by various Mexican and Mexican-American friends and acquaintances I had in my younger days. Still, the long-lasting bond between Dallas and Antonio does echo that of Mañuco and myself.

My Paris-based friend has always been a spinner of poems, and he has always written them in his native Peruvian Spanish. For years he has submitted them to various academic and literary journals. Many of these journals require works submitted in languages other than English to be accompanied by an English translation. At some point he asked me to translate one of his poems, and always up for a challenge, I gave it a go. He was delighted with the result and happily submitted it along with the original version. Since then, these requests have become a somewhat regular thing.

To be sure, I undertook this job with no small amount of trepidation. For one thing, I am not trained as a translator. My Spanish is pretty good (if I do say so myself), but translation is a whole different skill from simply understanding and communicating in a foreign language. Translation requires a specialized sort of training. Furthermore, I can in no way be considered a poet. I do read and appreciate poetry and have even churned out the odd bit of doggerel when the occasion required, but I am totally ill-equipped to write serious poetry of my own.

Despite this, I willingly produce translations of Mañuco’s poems because, for one thing, he is happy with and grateful for them. For another thing, it just seems to work because of the long and unusual mental bond between him and me. It’s a wondrous thing, as he and I are products of such different cultures, are native speakers of different languages, are different ages, and have actually spent precious little time in each other’s company. The vast majority of our communication has been through letters and, later, emails and internet audio conversations. Despite all this, when I read his poetry, I have some kind innate understanding of what he’s thinking, something he himself confirms. I do have to do a lot of research, sometimes painstakingly word by word, to find the right words or phrases, but only rarely do I have to consult Mañuco directly about his intentions or nuances. I doubt I could do the same for any other writer.

Part of the challenge of Mañuco’s poetry for a translator is that is tends toward themes of nature, earthiness and ribaldry along with a serious dose of surrealism. He tells me that my translations are invariably well received, although once he delighted in telling me a submission resulted in feedback that went roughly like this: your poem is pornography, and your translator is even more pornographic than you. It was never made clear to me whether this was contained in a letter of rejection or acceptance.

From Mañuco’s point of view at least, the old Italian aphorism traduttore, traditore (translator, betrayer) does not apply. He insists my translations make me a poet in my own right. Personally, I’m not so sure about that. Translation is definitely an art, but I’m not convinced that the translation of poetry is itself a form of poetry. I confess, though, I don’t mind the flattery.

Poetry or not, though, my English version of Mañuco’s words are being read aloud this weekend—along with the original Spanish words—at the inaugural edition of La Tour Poétique organized by the Association Apulivre in Paris. Hopefully, no fastidious listeners will be offended.

I’m definitely more comfortable with prose. And speaking of prose, allow me again to thank those of you who have purchased and read Last of the Tuath Dé. While the sales numbers certainly pose no competitive threat to the likes of James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, I’ve been gratified by the numbers of people who have sought out the book at the various online stores. I’ve been particularly impressed by the numbers of people who have gone to the expense of buying the paperback version.

Thank you all. (A translation of gracias a todos.)

Monday, August 29, 2022

Time for a Cover Story

At a similar point as this three years ago, I shared some of the influences that went into creating the story of The Curse of Septimus Bridge. I also shared the unadulterated illustration that was featured on the cover.

Since I am all about consistency and tradition, let me now do the same for Septimus’s sequel, Last of the Tuath Dé. Embedded in this blog post is the original artwork that was provided for the book by the rather talented Tamlyn Zawalich, who also created the cover art for Septimus. I was delighted that she was willing and able to do the same for the new book. As I just recently said, I’m all about consistency and tradition. So you can see the two illustrations together, the original art for The Curse of Septimus Bridge is embedded in this blog post as well. Enjoy.

So what were my influences? Was it mainly Dark Shadows as was the case with Septimus? Well, there’s a bit of that, but this story doesn’t really do the Gothic schtick. There’s no old, mysterious house on a cliff with waves crashing on the rocks below. Well, at least except maybe for a page or two.

No, this time around my mind was infused with the creepy, otherworldly horror of H.P. Lovecraft. And now that I’ve mentioned him, let me just acknowledge that some people have been put off by Lovecraft because of certain things he wrote and certain beliefs he held. Fair enough, but the man is dead and buried, and in mentioning him, I only mean to honor the work that inspired me and which still exists—and not endorse everything said and done by a flawed man who is now dead and consigned to history.

On Last of the Tuath Dé’s dedication page, I acknowledge Lovecraft as well as his fellow early-twentieth-century pulp-fiction writer Robert E. Howard and also the immortal J.R.R. Tolkien, who is always in my head.

Who else is on the dedication page? The German guys behind the Netflix series Dark and French writer/photographer/filmmaker Chris Marker. I could have also included the many minds behind the venerable BBC series Doctor Who. Hmmm… what do all of those—and Dark Shadows for that matter—have in common? Well, if you’re familiar with them all, then probably something that comes to mind is time travel.

Does time travel exist in the Septimus/Tuath Dé world? The question was actually posed, though not answered, in Chapter 24 of The Curse of Septimus Bridge:
   As the three rested and shivered on the pier, Kyle could not stop laughing. “That was the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me! How did you do that, Lola? Was it hard? How does it work? Can you teach me? That was amazing!”
   Maria was less impressed. “Would you have a trick up your sleeve for drying us off or warming us up, like?”
    “Hey!” said Kyle. “Can you turn back time? That would be cool. What about time travel? Is that real? This is so unbelievably amazing.”
So is time travel real in this world? Spoiler alert: technically, no… but perhaps there are exceptions?

I’ve never been particularly interested in writing a time-travel story (though I obviously do love consuming ones created by others) because logic and coherence very quickly become trampled casualties unless you simply require readers to suspend disbelief and not ask too many questions. What does particularly intrigue me, though, is the way the aforementioned writers seriously attempt to deal with the logical—and emotional—consequences of time displacement.

By the way, if you want to see a good attempt at a complex but totally consistent time-travel movie (and on a shoestring budget), then Shane Carruth’s 2004 flick Primer is what you need. Its escalating paradox-on-conundrum narrative becomes mind-numbingly overwhelming.

Last of the Tuath Dé is not like that. I like to think it’s just a good old-fashioned adventure story with epic pretensions—and maybe with a bit of temporal inventiveness.

Oh yeah, and a really cool cover.

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Shop Around

   “The journalists. They’ve been here the whole time. They know there was no terrorist attack. We came to rescue the child you kidnapped. I’ll tell them myself if I have to.”
   Izanami was bluffing, but it didn’t matter. Bob only laughed.
    “Do you think they’d listen to you? Who do you think pays their salaries?”
    “You own a television network?” asked Sapphire.
    “No, but a good friend of mine does. Another owns a major newspaper. Others own the main social media sites. We’re all united in the effort to save the planet.”
    “Do you know what you’re supporting?” asked Izanami. “Do you understand what this whole thing is really about?”
    “I know there’s no point in having one of the largest chunks of net worth in the world if I don’t use it for something monumental, something to fundamentally change history. If you want to debate specific merits, Alaric’s your man. He’s the vision guy.”
One of the characters in Last of the Tuath Dé is a tech billionaire who is the head of a software company. As evidenced in the excerpt above, a fellow tech billionaire friend of his owns a newspaper and is apparently not adverse to suppressing or filtering information if it is in service for what he believes is a good cause.

Let me emphasize that these characters are fictional and exist only in service to the plot of a fantasy novel. If you want to consider whether anything remotely like this could happen or has happened in real life, that’s entirely up to you.

Still, I find myself wondering if someone at Amazon chanced to read that portion of the book and took umbrage. (In an entirely random and unrelated real-life coincidence, Amazon founder and chairman Jeff Bezos happens to own The Washington Post.) If they did, they shouldn’t have. That plot element was a pure invention of whimsy on my part in an effort to concoct an engaging story. Nothing more. No inference was intended about any real person, living or dead. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

Why am I even pondering this question? Well, I’ve noticed some strange goings-on with the pricing of the paperback version of Last of the Tuath Dé on Amazon’s US website. The book’s price has gone through some gyrations, but generally has been well above the official suggested retail price. Also, if you want free delivery, you are told not to expect the book until September. Maybe this is because the default purchase choice is through a third-party seller. Actually, if you click through to the extended purchase choices, you do find that you actually can order it directly from Amazon at the SRP (with free Amazon Prime delivery) but you are told to expect it even later in September. Also, there is a whole range of other third-party with widely varying prices, some even offering used copies of the book—which blows my mind because the book has only been out now for a week and a half.

To be clear, this isn’t just happening with the new book, and this isn’t a new thing. But why? A possible clue may be found just beneath the bad news about prices and delivery times: “As an alternative, the Kindle eBook is available now and can be read on any device with the free Kindle app.”

It almost sounds as though Amazon would prefer you to buy the Kindle version rather than the paperback. Well, it’s hard to argue against the fact that it is indeed faster and easier to acquire and read the book on your Kindle device or app. And I am grateful to each and every reader who does that—and also to Amazon who has made that platform available. That’s how most of my books get sold.

At the same time, it’s interesting that the company seems to be discouraging purchases of books printed by someone other than themselves. You see, I could have Amazon print those paperback versions of my book that are sold through Amazon. Many author/publishers do just that because it means less hassle and delay for their paperback readers. I, on the other hand, have chosen to have all copies of my paperbacks—whether sold by Amazon or not—printed by a single company (it’s called Ingram) simply because the quality is better. I don’t feel that disadvantages buyers of my book (well, too much anyway) because, unlike Kindle readers, paperback readers aren’t locked into a single seller. Actually, Kindle readers aren’t either, but it’s more hassle for them to buy a digital book from someone else and then get it loaded onto their device or into their app.

So, my advice is that if you are a person who prefers to read my (or anyone else’s) books in paperback form, then shop around. There’s a whole choice of sellers over on the right-hand side of this page as well as many others out there. For example, you can buy paperbacks from my own Afranor Books—at least if you’re in the US or Canada.

A more interesting option for you, though, might be, which was launched at the beginning of 2020. They provide centralized ordering, delivery and customer service for a network of local independent bookstores. They are mostly in the US, but recently they have begun expanding internationally, specifically in the UK and Spain. Their website claims they’ve raised nearly $22 million for local bookstores.

This is how it works. On their website you select a local bookstore (there are more than 1,400 to choose from) you want to support. Once you’ve done that, any online orders you make from the website are fulfilled by and the local bookstore gets 30 percent of the retail value.

Given where I live, I haven’t had an opportunity to try out their service yet, but as described, it sounds like a pretty good idea to me. You get the convenience of online browsing and ordering while at the same time knowing that the cozy, friendly neighborhood bookshop down the road just might survive so that you can still drop in to them in person from time to time to do real-world browsing.

Sounds like a win-win to me.

Sunday, August 21, 2022

A Question of Order

Besides questions about the title, the most common inquiry I get about the new book is this one. Since it’s a sequel, is it absolutely necessary to read the first book, The Curse of Septimus Bridge, first?

Allow me go into analytical-personality mode and say, no, there are no laws on the books or anything else that would prevent you from reading the second book without first having read the first one. It’s not as though you have to swear an affidavit or pass some kind of knowledge test about Septimus in order to be issued a copy of Last of the Tuath Dé. Of course, people aren’t really asking if it’s possible to read one without having read the other. They want to know if it’s a good idea.

At least half the answer to that question depends on you, but I can do my best to fill in the other half, which may help you do your half.

People like me, who have a compulsive element to their personality, prefer to read things in order. If there is a series of books, movies or television episodes, I want to read or view them in the order they were created. Or maybe in whatever order keeps the overarching narrative chronological. Or maybe not. I actually dealt with this conundrum 13 years ago on my movie blog when I pondered the question of whether a new viewer should watch the Star Wars movies beginning with A New Hope or The Phantom Menace. I came down on the side of experiencing the movies in the order they were created and in which the world originally experienced them, as opposed to following the saga chronologically.

So, if you’re that type of person, then the answer is clear. You should read Septimus Bridge first and Tuath Dé second.

But not everyone is that type of person. I’m not even that type of person all the time. Maybe the descriptions of the second book sound more interesting to you, and those of the first one not so much. Maybe you’re just not as interested in reading books that have been around awhile and you like your reading material to be new and fresh.

Still not sure? Here’s what else I can tell you. I wrote Last of the Tuath Dé, as I do all my books, with the intention that it stand on its own and be a complete and satisfying reading experience all by itself. Though many of the characters were introduced in the earlier book and events in that book have a bearing on occurrences in the new book, I did my best to bring new readers up to date without boring established ones. It’s a new story with its own beginning, middle and end. Though there are characters and events referred to—sometimes quite significantly—from the previous volume, that was also sort of true of the first book. People were referred to in that book whom we had not met, and prior events were mentioned that we had not experienced. That’s how I approach my storytelling. The characters are not born full-grown (like Athena emerging from Zeus’s forehead) the minute you start reading about them, and their lives don’t stop when you get to the last page. Yeah, if you read Tuath Dé first, you’ll be playing some catch-up, but there’s always catch-up to play with three-dimensional characters.

I made a deliberate choice not to organize any of my books as part of a series—even though that’s a particularly trendy thing to do these days, particularly when it comes to YA lit. I discussed this topic here in some detail five years ago when I declared that the Dallas Green books—and now, separately, the Septimus/Sapphire/Izanami books—are part of a novel sequence rather than a series. That kind of gives readers permission to read the books in whatever order they want.

So, here’s the bottom line. If it were I, I would read Septimus first, but if for whatever reason, you really want to just read Tuath Dé, I think you’ll be okay.

For what it’s worth, my beta readers didn’t find the question any easier to answer than I have—and for the same reason. It’s hard, if not impossible, to put yourself in the place of someone who hasn’t read something that you’ve read. Even people who had read the first book didn’t necessarily remember all the detail of it anyway.

And here’s something else. A couple of those early readers said they thought that Tuath Dé was a better book than the first one. On the other hand, at least one other preferred the first one. In case we needed reminding, choosing what to read and when—and whether we’re happy with those choices—is very individual and pretty darn subjective.

Of course, my wish is that you will read both books and in fact all my books—in whatever order you prefer—and that you will enjoy them.

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Two a Day

What else can I tell you about the new book?

One source of additional information might be the interview I did with myself on my movie blog. I won’t repeat that experience here because I’ve learned that self-interviews can quickly turn weirdly passive-aggressive. Also, I addressed the question of whether there is political satire in the book in my expat blog if you’re interested in that. As for this blog, let’s spend some time dealing with other questions that potential readers might have. For example, what is the meaning of the book’s title?

To give them their full name, the Tuatha Dé Danann were a supernatural race of beings in Irish mythology. The name translates as the people or folk of the goddess Danu. She was a primordial mother goddess. Tuath Dé is an older name for them, and it translates as tribe of the gods.

These beings dwelled in the Otherworld, but they did interact with mortal people. Their enemies were the Fomorians, or the Fomóire in old Irish or the Fomhóraigh in modern Irish. Disclaimer: Despite a couple of decades in this country, I make no claim to be an expert on the Irish language (or on anything Irish for that matter), as my wife and daughter are all too eager to remind me. If you want more authoritative information, do your own research.

To be clear, my book is not actually about the Tuath Dé of genuine Irish tradition. My book’s mythology is my own invention, though I obviously used themes common in most mythologies. As for the names of my supernatural beings, I borrowed (okay, appropriated) them. This is explained in Chapter 9 when an old Master tells Izanami and friends about the Old Ones:
  “Is that what’s happening now?” asked Izanami. “Are the Old Ones coming back?”
  “Perhaps,” said the old woman gravely.
  “All of them?” asked Peter. “Or just the ones who wanted to get rid of us. You know, the bad ones. Are they coming back? Sorry, do the two circles have names?”
  “Whatever names they have for themselves are beyond our ability to conceive and enunciate, so we have had to invent our own names for them. The most useful names to have survived down through the ages are in the Irish language. It is in that tongue that the old stories have come closest to surviving intact. That’s not to say that the Irish legends weren’t embellished or combined with other historical events, but it’s their names that have been adopted by Masters who research the lore. …”
I suppose the novel’s title could be misleading, especially for people who have some familiarity with Irish legends and might be hoping for a treatment of that subject. On the other hand, people with a particular interest in the Mexican emperors Maximilian and Carlotta, the Chilean freedom fighter Lautaro or Voltaire’s literary heroine Cunégonde could well have been similarly disappointed by the titles of my other books.

The main thing to know about the Tuath Dé, at least when it comes to the mythology in my book, is that among the Old Ones the Tuath Dé are the good guys—and we are apparently down to the last of them. Who or what is the last of the Tuath Dé? Well, finding that out is pretty much the point of reading the book.

Never mind the meaning of Tuath Dé, though. The first question I usually get when someone sees the title is… how do you pronounce it?

This too is dealt with (sort of) in Chapter 9:
  “So to answer your question, lad, the circle of Old Ones that wanted to purge the universe of humans is called the Fomóire. The entity which guides them—their leader if you will—is called Balor. Many are the legends that have survived of Balor of the Evil Eye. We call the other circle—the ones who argued for our survival—the Tuath Dé.”
  “The ‘two a day’?” asked Peter.
  “Not too bad an attempt at the pronunciation.”
Young Peter is not given any further instruction on the pronunciation, and I suspect most readers may be happy enough with the “two a day” approximation. (It’s also not a bad target frequency for mixing evening martinis for oneself.)

If you really want to know the correct pronunciation, don’t expect me to embed an audio clip with me pronouncing it on this page. As mentioned above, the women in my house have done their best to forbid me any attempt at pronunciation of Irish words or names. My efforts only seem to hurt their ears. (This is quite a blow to the ego of someone who has gotten many compliments on his pronunciation of Spanish and even French over the years.)

The best I can do for you is to transcribe the pronunciation of Tuath Dé in the International Phonetic Alphabet. In Old Irish, it’s [t̪uaθa d̪ʲe]. In Modern Irish, it’s [t̪ˠuə(hi) dʲe] in Connacht and Ulster, and [t̪ˠuəhə dʲe] in Munster.

If you don’t want to get that technical about it, the New York-based website, which styles itself the news hub for the Irish diaspora, in an article titled “The Tuatha De Danann: Were they Irish gods or aliens?” offers a simpler pronunciation: “Thoo-a day.” Personally, to my ear, though, names beginning with “tu” (at least in my part of the country) sound like they begin with a “t” followed by a lightly aspirated “h” or even no “h” at all.

Yeah, probably easier for us Yanks to just stick with “two a day.”

Monday, August 15, 2022

Answering the Musical Question

Now that Last of the Tuath Dé has been released, I can’t wait to write and talk about it, you know, to give you some background and insights into the creation process.

First, though, it’s become sort of a tradition for me to share a Spotify music playlist to go along with the new book. My playlists for Lautaro’s Spear and The Curse of Septimus Bridge were basically collections of selected tracks that I listened to while I was writing those books, you know, to put me in the frame of mind for the time and place and mood. Then with my playlist for Searching Cunégonde I tried to do something clever (so often a mistake in my case) and strive to make the list of track titles match (as closely as possible anyway) the book’s table of contents. That definitely made for some interesting choices. Who knew it would be so easy to find songs called “Toque de queda,” “Querétaro,” “Paperasse” and “Algeciras” but impossible to find one called “Reports of a Murder”?

The following-the-table-of-contents thing was definitely not going to work for Last of the Tuath Dé—at least not for every chapter—so I opted instead for a track list that followed the book’s plot sequentially by including character names, chapter titles and themes—as well as the one song actually mentioned in the book itself. Needless to say, this provided ample opportunity to include a few of the surprising number of tunes out there that deal with the topic of the world ending. R.E.M. and Elvis Costello are just a couple of the myriad artists who have employed Armageddon as subject matter for songwriting. It also allowed me to sneak in a favorite Doctor Who track by Murray Gold.

So without further ado, I give you the official Spotify playlist for streaming while reading your copy of Last the Tuath Dé

Oh yeah, and if you want to try making your own musical playlist based on the book’s chapter titles, here they are…

Friday, August 12, 2022

Today’s the (Tuath) Dé!

It’s finally here. It seems like I’ve been talking about (and more to the point, working on) this book forever. And now it’s suddenly crossed the finish line.

Last of the Tuath Dé, sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge, is at long last released and available for your perusal.

You may well have questions, like… Can I read this without having already read The Curse of Septimus Bridge? How the heck do you pronounce the title? Will we find out what happened to Lola Blumquist’s parents? Did Sapphire ever master teleportation?

Some of the answers will be found in the book. Others I will address in coming blog posts. Right now, the main thing to know is that I think this is pretty darn good adventure (if I do say so myself) that will entertain you and maybe even get you involved emotionally with characters. The cast, the scope of the action, and the stakes for our heroes, the world, the universe and existence itself are bigger than ever. Several characters are back—including perhaps ones you may not have expected to see again. There are also some intriguing new characters. At the heart of it all, though, are the last two remaining Demon Hunters, Sapphire and Izanami, and the fate awaiting them.

So, where can you get the book? All the usual places, of course.

Most of you will read it on a Kindle device or app. The digital version is now available in the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia and everywhere else Amazon sells Kindle books. If you don’t find a direct link on this page for your country, just search for the book on your usual Amazon page.

Other online sellers have it too, including Barnes & Noble and Rakuten Kobo. Or if you don’t mind just downloading an epub file yourself for your preferred gadget or app, you can click on the portal at the top of this page and purchase the book from my very own Afranor Books store.

As of this writing, it still hasn’t shown up in the Google Play or Apple Books online stores, but it should only be a matter of time until they appear there as well.

But what if you’re one of those people who prefers to have a real book made of paper in your hand? No problem. Generally, online sellers of books should have it if you search by title, author or the ISBN number, which is 978-1-7331947-6-1. Theoretically, you should be able to get your local neighborhood bookshop to order it as well, although from what I hear, they (the big chain ones anyway) are likely to tell you to just order it yourself from their website.

Online sellers that definitely offer the paperback version right now include Barnes & Noble, and Books-a-Million. And of course, Amazon has it worldwide, including at their sites in the US, Canada and the UK.

So what are you doing still reading this blog? Go get the book already, read it, and then let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

At Last… the Tuath Dé!

Hey, everyone! I am happy/thrilled/relieved/excited to announce the impending release of my sixth novel. It’s called Last of the Tuath Dé, and it’s a sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge.

Here is the official description (as submitted to the various sellers):

The world has changed. Septimus Bridge, greatest of all Demon Hunters, is gone forever. Only two of his former disciples remain to confront hellion invaders from the Netherworld. A far greater threat, however, looms, and the portents are impossible to ignore. Izanami, who has not dreamed in decades, is plagued by nightmares. Her partner Sapphire has gone missing. As hysteria takes over the airwaves and social media, law and order breaks down around the world. In the most worrying sign, the dead have returned to walk the earth. What is the secret of the mysterious crystal that has fallen into Izanami’s possession? Who are the Zen’ei, and what explains their relentless control of so many minds all around the world? Why are ruthless Mercenaries hunting a young boy, who has no memory of who is or where he came from? Can Izanami, alone and on the run, keep him alive long enough to solve the mystery? As the truth is revealed, all hope appears lost. The Old Ones, who held sway long before recorded history, are stirring again—and they want this world back.

And here’s the cover, featuring another wonderful illustration by Tamlyn Zawalich:

The official release date for the paperback and e‑book versions is just a couple of days away. Specifically, it’s Friday the 12th of August, although digital versions sometimes show up slightly earlier than advertised in some places. Epub versions will be available for purchase from Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Rakuten Kobo, Apple Books, and of course, my own Afranor Books site. If history is any guide, though, most of you will be getting the Kindle version from one of the various Amazon sites around the world. The paperback version will be available to order from major online sellers, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million among others.

More information/teasing/coaxing to follow.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Septimus Successor

This is the month!

After weeks/months of promising/teasing, my next book is now scheduled for release. I am just waiting to get a proof copy of the paperback in my hands before announcing the title and release date. If the UK’s Royal Mail, Ireland’s An Post and the Brexit gods are all willing, it shouldn’t be much longer.

In the meantime, here is a teaser detail from the cover.

Nearly time to crack open a new bottle of Writer’s Tears.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Sextus Opus

It’s getting close now.

In fact, it’s so close that it might even be time to announce the title. But I won’t just yet. Once again I’ve settled on a moniker that comes up easily in web searches if people are actually searching for the title, but it has the problem that most people aren’t going to be sure how to pronounce it. As with Searching for Cunégonde up until that book’s publication, I still haven’t abandoned the idea of a better, more marketable, more searchable title. But I have a feeling this is its title. For one thing, I’m kind of attached to it. If the late J.R.R. Tolkien was able to sell a whole bunch of copies of something called The Silmarillion, then maybe I can sell a few copies of my book with Gaelic words in the title.

At this point I’m just waiting for a wee bit more feedback and, mainly, a block of time to do one final pass to find any remaining typos or problems staring at me right there in plain sight. Then begins the pre-press gauntlet where I try to remember all the things I did the previous time I went through it—now coming up on two years ago now—plus deal with all the things that will be different because things change over time. I love that part. If the truth be told, that’s the sort of stuff I’m built for.

Editing, copy-editing, formatting, pre-press prep and publishing are all basically about problem solving. At least in the way I personally view and approach those tasks. You’re taking something that’s been written and removing (ideally all) the flaws and delivering it to the audience. Generally, those are things that can be done right—or not. That’s my comfort zone.

I suppose you can view the writing task the same way: you’ve either done it right—or not. But the rightness of any piece of writing is ultimately subjective, isn’t it? When it comes to the creative process, rightness is in the eye of the beholder. And that’s kind of scary for someone like me whose mostly worked (for pay anyway) in areas where things are done right—or not.

Okay, now I’ve made it sound like I am, in my work life at least, one of those robotic personalities with no imagination. That’s not true. Hopefully, my five books to date demonstrate some level of imagination and penchant for story spinning. But, as I’ve previously confessed on my movie blog, I am not by nature a particularly visual person. My skill gifts were always more in abstract concepts. Having a brain that is attuned to images is useful for, say, filmmakers—and novelists.

The good news is that few if any of us is completely one kind of person or another. Our weaknesses can strengthened. We can learn and can train ourselves to do what we need or want to do.

Okay, that was a pretty major digression. Mainly, my message was going to be that the sixth book and sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge is getting very close now. The idea was to get you all excited about it, but now I’ve probably succeeded in putting you off. Did I mention that one of my other skill blind spots was marketing and self-promotion?

Anyway, keep watching this space for more teasers and, ultimately, announcements. I’m very excited about this new book and can’t wait to tell you more about it.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Fantasy Come True

Yes, I finally got back to work on the new (and sixth) book. I had an extra break from writing because, for Christmas and my birthday, my daughter and wife surprised me with a full pass to the Dublin International Film Festival, which was held in March. So, for a few weeks my film blog got a more attention than my novel. I’m not complaining. Just explaining.

Once I finished writing about the 15 feature films and 49 short films I saw—and recovered from pulling an all-nighter to watch the Oscars and write about those—I threw myself back into the book. This week was something of a milestone in that I now have the manuscript in a form where I am largely happy with the story and am not completely embarrassed to have other people look at it. Much work still remains—the copy editing, fixing, polishing, improving—but this juncture gives me a chance to take another pause from novel-writing and do what I really like to be doing: blogging about novel-writing.

While it may look like I’m just bad at time management, it was actually deliberate this time to take a longer break between finishing the initial rough draft (way back in late September) and beginning the second pass a couple of months ago. The truth is that I kind of envy people who read my books. That confession isn’t intended to be as self-congratulatory as it may sound. What I mean is that my main motivation in writing is to create books that I myself would enjoy reading. The irony is that I am the one person in the world who is not surprised by anything I read in my own books. It seems that it would be helpful in the editing and rewriting to be able to peruse the manuscript with the eyes of a virgin reader. Leaving more time than usual between one pass and another was my attempt to roughly approximate that experience.

Did it work? Kind of. A little. Obviously, when I’ve put so much thought and time into the conception and initial writing of the story, it’s not realistic to think that I’ll easily forget much of what my brain was at. To be real, no plot twist or surprise reveal is going to catch me off guard. This is especially true in the case of the very first chapter and the very last chapter. Those invariably get the most attention because it’s only natural that I want the book to make a good first impression and to leave a good final impression.

Surprisingly, though, there were portions in between those two chapters that did manage to surprise me. In its current manuscript form, the book consists of 31 chapters and runs on for 364 pages. (It will inevitably be shorter in print form.) That’s a lot of narrative and description and text to keep track of. So, yes, in the reading sometimes I was caught by surprise when a certain thing happened at a certain point. A few times I found myself laughing at the comic relief. And something else kind of wonderful happened a couple of times. At two different points I unexpectedly got a bit emotional. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. After all, as I’ve said, I’m my own target audience. But it was nice to find myself reacting the way I hope other readers might.

The sequel to The Curse of Septimus Bridge has turned out to be a rather complicated story. This novel has more significant characters than I have ever crammed into a book before, as well as more plot developments. Actually, I don’t know if that’s really true since I haven’t bothered to try to formally quantify characters and plot events in this book to compare to say, Searching for Cunégonde, but it sure feels like this one has more of both things.

If you read and enjoyed the first book, then I think you’ll like this one too. On one hand, you could say it’s more of the same, and on the other hand, it’s a lot more than more of the same. I’ve indulged most of my favorite tropes of fantasy literature, comic books and twisty, complicated TV shows. At heart, though, like its predecessor, it’s first and foremost a love story.

The obvious question posed by the book—and one I myself cannot answer reliably, no matter how much amnesia I try to artificially induce in myself—is this one: does the book stand on its own or is it absolutely necessary to have read Septimus Bridge first? Personally, I tend to think Septimus was confusing enough and didn’t have a previous installment to help explain things, so maybe new readers will get through the confusion the way readers of the previous tome did.

Of course, the win-win solution to this conundrum is just to read The Curse of Septimus Bridge and then to read its sequel. In fact, according to a couple of comments I’ve already heard, you might want to read the two books with little or not interruption in between.