One Year Anniversary...

It has been one year since I self published my first novel. The Adventures of Phippen Abercrombie, Book I: the Dragon Egg Curse.

As a one year anniversary cerebration I am offering my book for free this week on Amazon. If you have a fondness for fantasy adventure fairy tales, hidden worlds, dragons, princesses and heroic deeds it might be for you. 

Here is the first chapter to wet your appetite. If you enjoy it head follow the link starting Tuesday, January 21st to get your free copy. All I ask is if you enjoy the book please take the time to leave a review on Amazon.

So let's get to it shall we? 

 

Prologue

Abercrombie’s Pantry 

Cover - Complete w-egg.jpg

          Phippen Abercrombie is a collector of adventures, and he keeps his collection in sealed jars in his pantry. Very few people have ever seen the inside of Phippen’s pantry, for that matter very few have ever seen the outside. Even if you were one of the lucky few, it is unlikely you would see anything other than a common pantry door. If you were to open the door you would probably see nothing more than a small room filled with what appears to be jars of preserves. There would be many jars, hundreds, maybe thousands but nothing more unusual than that.

          If, however, you were a very special sort of person, the sort of person who was certain there were dragons and unicorns still to be found in the unexplored wilds of the world; or, perhaps you were the sort who could hear Santa Claus walking on the roof at Christmas; or maybe you were the most clever type of person who understood that you never, ever, ever left your closet door open, even a tiny crack, after dark. If you were the type of person who always hoped for adventures and expected one to start at any moment, around any corner, you might begin to see something different in the very special pantry of Professor Phippen Abercrombie.

          You see, if you looked in the pantry with the right frame of mind you might become aware of some things changing before your eyes.  Subtle changes at first, but growing more dramatic by the second. Where at first you saw three walls with shelves from floor to ceiling you would begin to see many shelves stretching high out of sight; row upon row like a vast library of preserves. The small room, which started out like any pantry, now looked like an enormous, never-ending storeroom cluttered with millions upon millions of jars.

          Perhaps, now,  you might look closer at the jars and you would find what only seconds before looked like canned peaches or pickled carrots, would begin to metamorphous into something wonderful. Inside were no longer fruits or vegetables but colors and images, swirling and changing before your eyes. You might see a beautiful girl on horseback wearing silver armor or a school of mermaids playing in the sunshine. However, you could hardly be sure you had seen these things before they would disappear and transform into something else. Every jar you looked at would contain glimpses more amazing than the jar before. Yet they would remain utterly elusive, teasing you with the secrets each jar contained.

          The labels, which had moments before read things like Marmalade Aug ’02 or Cherries Sept. 03, ‘01, soon became illegible. The words swimming out of focus as if you had let your eyes cross. Then new words would swim into view and they would almost make sense before you would lose them just as the images had done in the jars. However, your curiosity would keep you reading the labels, walking farther and farther into the pantry, certain that you could almost make them out and equally certain that the next would become clear. 

          If you were normally a sensible person perhaps at this point a voice in your head would tell you to be careful, that too much time was passing, and you were walking too far into the pantry. You might feel the urge to look back and see if the door was still within sight. Yet somehow you knew that to look back would break the spell and you would never find what you were looking for. Few had ever turned back once they had entered the pantry, for if they were the type to lose their nerve before such a grand adventure they likely would never have found their way into the pantry in the first place. 

          However, there were a few who had looked back to get their bearings only to find the door a short step behind them. Sadly, when they turned back into the pantry, reassured by what they saw, the room had returned to its original form, three walls covered in shelves of common preserves.

When these sad souls left the pantry they would never tell anyone what had happened in the room. In part because they weren’t sure what had happened and in part because they were ashamed at having been frightened by the unknown. Most of these individuals would always wonder in vain, what would have happened if they had not looked back.

          Yet, most adventurous souls would continue reading the labels looking for the one that would mean something to them. Looking for the label whose words would suddenly swim into focus. This would simply state your name and your current age - Bobby Smith, 13yrs or Katie Grayson, 14yrs.

That is what you sought in Phippen’s pantry; your jar, which contained your personal adventure. It may have been sitting there, waiting for you since your birth, or maybe much, much longer.  Or it may have been sitting there since the last adventurer brought it back to Professor Abercrombie. You would have no way of knowing and it would not matter anyhow. It was yours and if you were looking at it now was your time.

You would pick the jar up staring at it in disbelief.  “How can this be here? How did my name and age get on this? How could he know I was coming now, that I would be this old when I found my jar?” But most of all, “what is in this jar in my hand?”

Well, those answers would have to wait, for first; the Professor would like to have a word with you…

 

If you want to know what happens next here is the link once again. The Adventure's of Phippen Abercrombie, Book I .

Remember, it will be absolutely free this week starting on Tuesday,January 21st.

Enjoy!!

 

National Novel Writing Month, Part 1

Day two, 6% complete.  (You can follow my word count in the header if you feel so inclined.)

So far so good. However, am I still working on my novel from last year's NaNoWriMo?

Yes.

Do I intend on finishing my novel from last year?

A resounding, Yup. 

So why start a new one? Why not finish the old one instead of piling up 50 000 new words on a different story? 

Honestly?  I have no idea.

All I can figure is there is something about the challenge that I can't resist. This will be my third attempt. This story is by far the least prepared I have been when starting. But it is also the story I most want to get right. It is something that has be percolating in my mind for many years.

It doesn't belong in my genre of interest, middle grade fiction. In fact I do not know where it belongs. Part autobiographical, part fiction, part fantasy (maybe?). We will see. I am hoping the story will guide me. 

That is the thing about NaNoWriMo that I find so appealing. You do not have the time to second guess yourself. You do not have the time to endlessly revise, re-evaluate and redirect. You can't go back every day and reread all that you have covered thus far. You simply have to keep putting down another word, then another and another and lose yourself in the story. It is in some ways closer the that act of reading than it is to writing.

I must get back to it. Still about 500 words short for the day and I have nearly wasted 288 here… (hmmmm, how can I fit these words into my manuscript?)

 

 

 

 

Abandoned

Even the word is chilling. Abandoned.

There is something about abandoned places which touches us in a very primal way. Often beautiful, sometimes sad and always haunting. Places once inhabited by humans, now left to decay, have always fascinated and intrigued us.

From ancient ruins to the city of Pripyat in the Ukraine, to any local abandoned farm house, the absence of human activity in places meant to contain life has always had an undeniable draw. Crumbling stone, peeling paint and the signs of nature reclaiming the raw materials of construction brings to mind ghosts and spirits of those who may once have inhabited these long lost dwellings.

As sources of inspiration for writing, the solitude and loneliness of abandoned places is an endless bounty. The long neglected Hotel de Salto in Tequendama Falls near Bogota, Columbia brings to mind all manner of deeply rooted fears and anxieties. We can sympathise with these places as if they were almost human. They bring to mind issues of abandonment carried through from infancy. One of our first fears is to be lost, left behind and forgotten. These fears themselves abandoned, until looking upon a structure succumbing to this inevitable this fate, they return to forefront of our minds.

We carry these fears with us all through life into our twilight years. Anything we strive to achieve, any accomplishments we can claim, are at the deepest level, an effort to not be forgotten; to leave a mark when we are gone. Even having children and grandchildren feeds this desire to be remembered.

When I look at Michigan Central Station it is hard not feel a deep sadness that something created with so much care, love and attention has been left neglected to one day fade completely from memory. Like a massive greying corpse slowly losing its life and vitality, this once beautiful, vibrant hub of activity will soon leave nothing but a barely discernible foundation to show that it had once existed.

As a source of inspiration, perhaps these places can live once more, if only briefly, in the stories we tell. Imagination can once again bring them to life in new and unimagined ways from when they were first constructed. If you are a writer look upon this fishing hut slowly being reclaimed by the lake it once sat on the shore of and feel the words start to flow. Feel the echo of warm nights by the fire after a long day fishing. Of laughter and good times shared by friends, lovers and family.

Now, ever so slowly and persistently, time and nature are stealing these things back, turning them to rot and decay. A physical reminder that nothing is permanent. That everything we love, everything we do, everything we are will one day be abandoned despite every effort to avoid this fate. 

Grandma's Fries

My Grandmother passed away recently. My parents had children at a very young age which meant I have been fortunate enough to have had a long time with my grandparents. 

The day after my grandmother died I was working, trying to stay on task, however my mind kept wandering to memories of Grandma. Particularly times I spent with her when I was a child. She was well known in our family for her gift of making unparalleled french fries.

What follows are my thoughts on her french fries. I read this at her memorial and I it is a little off topic from my usual content but I wanted to post it here. 

 

My Grandma's fries

My grandma would make French fries and she would toss them with salt in a white enameled bowl with a dark blue rim. It had a chip in the enamel which had been worn smooth from years of use. These enamel bowls, if you have ever known one, seemed to always have a chip or two and you can see the metal heart of the bowl beneath.

The enamel will shine and gleam, silky smooth to the touch. But it is really the metal beneath which is the heart of the bowl, unseen but for the chip. To me, that bowl is one of the most significant artifacts from my childhood.

In our family my grandma's fries were legendary. The promise of that particular delicacy was persuasive beyond description. The words "Grandma's fries" still signifies pure bliss in my mind. All other fries after have always been and will always be compared on a scale where hers are the unattainable pinnacle of achievement. The recommendation "almost as good as grandma's fries" is the five star recommendation for French fries to anyone who ever tasted hers.

She made many culinary items I loved. Sweet buns, slightly burned on the bottom, butter horns I always felt were a little undersized leaving me no alternative than to eat more than one… or two… okay maybe three. Then there were dough boys dipped in sugar on the days when she made bread. Cabbage soup with vinegar, admittedly not for everyone but I loved it. There were cabbage rolls, porcupine meat balls and on and on but her fries… Oh man, her fries…

I simply cannot adequately describe her fries. They were perfect; absolutely no room for improvement. Hand cut, hand peeled, always with the same paring knife against her calloused thumb. Then double fried in a pot on the stove. I believe one of the keys to her success was the double frying. Then, finally tossed in salt in that enamel bowl.

It could have been any number of these details which set them apart from any other fry I have ever encountered. Or perhaps it was something else entirely. Maybe the brand of lard she used. The way she would re-use the remaining lard and add to it each time as required. Or perhaps it was her choice of potato variety. Or that she often used potatoes she had grown herself and were kept in the wood sided box in the basement.

Perhaps, it was none of these details. Maybe it was all of them and countless more I have forgotten or never knew. Maybe it is just nostalgia and longing for a lost thing I can never have again. It maybe something else which eludes me, like the name of a grade school friend I can't quite remember. So close, yet just out of reach, so really a world away.

I remember the peelings bitter and sweet. I remember eating the raw cut potatoes with salt and pepper. How she would, often need to cut more because we would all have our fingers in there. I can still see my Dad eating those small, raw, potato discs she had not yet cut into fries. I can see him shaking salt and pepper on them and then doing the same myself. The crisp, cool, starchy snap of that first bite.

Then, after the first frying, I remember how we would once again raid the bowl. Often causing her to have to peel and cut more potatoes, cut her thumb again, further delaying supper.

We all knew they were better at the end, but there was a separate and in its own way, equal pleasure at raiding the process through its various stages.

However, I do not believe her fries were so delicious, so perfect, so pure because of any of those things. For me, it was then, and will always be that bowl. I think you could repeat every other aspect of preparing her fries down to the most minute detail but if you didn't have that bowl you would be wasting your time.

I realize I have not seen that bowl in more than two decades. That quite likely I have it completely wrong. Maybe the rim was black, not blue. Perhaps it had many chips, not the single chip I recall. Maybe she used different bowls on different occasions.

I was only a child and countless factors affect how and why we remember things. I truly believe there are very few resources at our disposal that we can rely on less than our memories. Particularly, our childhood memories.

However, in this case that all makes zero difference to me. This is how I remember it. Certainly part myth and part reality but every bit my memory of Grandma.

As a child, a teenager even an adult, grandma's fries were my absolute favourite food. Nothing else was even close. I am acutely aware, as I write this, how I lack the vocabulary, the skills and the ability to convey how great Grandma's fries were. But I am certain anyone who was fortunate enough to have had them remembers them. They were part of our lives as significant for many of us as any of our memories of Grandma.

So I can't think of Grandma without thinking of French fries and the enamel bowl; passing it around the table taking fries out with the tongs or by the handful if the tongs were out of reach.

There is one more part, I remember. After supper there were often some fries left over. These weren't put away in the fridge; that would be ridiculous. They were left on the counter in a bowl. Maybes sometimes even the bowl. Every time you walked by you would grab a few. Then later, as appetites returned, some of us could be found hanging around the bowl finishing them off. Maybe some made it through to the next day on occasion but I doubt it was very often.

My Grandma's fries.

I don't remember the last time I had them. I have been racking my brain trying to remember. I won't of course, because it doesn't really matter. All I know for sure is I won't have them again.

I was thinking how I wish I had known when I was having them for the last time. I would have paid more attention, relished every bite. But I know that isn't true, because I could not have enjoyed them more or appreciated her more for making them.

I hope she knew that and I believe she did.

 

 

                                                                                                                                  This is dedicated to my Grandma. I miss you. 

 

                                                                                                                                                          photo credits: Google images

A Ghost Story

the box

On this chilly morning I awake to find a small wooden box sitting at the foot of my bed. I do not recognize this box for I have never seen it before.

I shiver as I sit up in bed. The sheet falls away from my chest letting the cold air press against my skin. I stretch and I yawn and I rub my swollen, red eyes. I say good morning to my lab Trevor who is sitting near the foot of the bed staring at the box.

“When did this arrive?” I inquire of my constant companion.

She barks; one short, sharp, loud bark.

It may be in answer to my question. I have no way of knowing. I do not speak dog and she, sadly, does not speak human. Not that she has shown me.  Alas, we share a space together, a deep enduring bond, many memories and a rudimentary understanding of what the other is thinking at any given moment.

Most often we make this work pretty well.

However, there are times, like when you awake to find a small wooden box you have never seen before sitting on the end of your bed, that it would be handy to be able to communicate with the only possible witness to the arrival of the box.

I slide down my bed closer to it. Trevor gets up and shuffles her furry feet, nails clicking on the hardwood floor. She seems uneasy so I reassure her.

“Easy girl,” She cocks her head and turns her ears forward.  She does not look any more at easy.

I shrug and reach for the box. Trevor barks again, louder this time. There is no doubt, she is behaving oddly but I guess that is to be expected under the circumstances.

I touch the box anyway, in spite of her warning. It is finely finished, very soft and warm. That seems very peculiar. How can it be warm? This room is almost unbearably cold.

It is early spring; the temperature each day is wildly unpredictable. Jacket in the morning, short sleeves in the afternoon, sweater at night.  I have turned the furnace off already this year. I don’t want the boiler struggling to keep the house at the right temperature while I am struggling to pay the gas bills.

I pick up the box as Trevor whines and turns on the spot.

It is a very lovely piece. It has been inlaid with small angular cuts of some wood dissimilar from the main body of the box. The inlaid pieces seem to suggest some crude image.  A snake perhaps or a spirit, it may just be a random pattern.

I rotate the box in my hand. I feel something loose and heavy tumble in side. Trevor can take no more and she leaves the room. I watch her leave then turn my attention back to the box.

Approximately Five inches by five inches by five inches, it fits comfortably in one hand.

I heft it up and down. There is an odd weight to it. I think it is the loose item inside. I turn it upright again, the item settles on the bottom of the box.

There is a very thin brass hinge inset along one edge and a keyhole on the opposing side.

I set the box on the bed side table and get out of bed. I pull on some jeans and a t-shirt. I pick up the box and walk down the hall.

I set the box on the kitchen table.

“Trevor,” She doesn’t come.

I look around my small home, she isn’t there.  Sometimes she does that.

There is no sign of her unless you count the picture of her and my wife when Trevor was just a puppy. It sits on the partner’s desk at the window, between my dusty antique Underwood and the unfinished manuscript in my out box.

I walk back into the kitchen and sit at the table looking at the ornate wooden box. I run my finger gently over the key hole.

I walk back to my bedroom and pull open the drawer on my night table. The table is an antique my aunt gave me. She had been given it by my grandfather when she was a girl and she passed it to me shortly after my wife died.

Ten years ago today there was a freak spring snow storm. Heavy wet snow collapsed roofs and toppled trees all over town. Amy had taken Trevor for a quick walk. The weather was horrible but the dog still needed to go out. She said she wouldn’t go far. It turns out she lied.

A large branch, over burdened by the snow, fell across the sidewalk and into the street just after she passed beneath it. She must have thought for a moment how fortunate she had been. If she had been only few seconds slower that branch would have crushed her.

She must have felt the tug on the leash. Trevor was a puppy and had not yet learned how to walk on leash. He would pull behind frustratingly.

“Whose turn is it to take Trevor for a drag?” I would say. I was so clever.

That night it was Amy’s turn.

She must have turned back to see what had pulled on the leash. She didn’t see the car swerve to miss the branch. The driver likely hadn’t seen her in the darkness and heavy snow. He lost control trying to swerve and stop at the same time.  He slid right over Amy’s tiny frame and slammed into the very branch he was trying to avoid.

They said she died instantly. I guess that is supposed to make it better.

I remove the small, tarnished brass key which is the taped to the bottom of the drawer. I have always assumed it was the key for the drawer of the night table. I never tried it.

I walk down the hall back towards the kitchen. I sit down in front of the box.

I insert the key. It fits perfectly.

I remember hearing scratching at the door that night. It was only moments after Amy and Trevor had left. I recall wondering why they were back so quickly. I figured the weather was simply to treacherous for even a short walk. I was happy they were back so soon.

I opened the door and looked down at the small wet dog. She was dragging her leash behind her. Or rather what was left of it, it had torn in the middle. I reached down to stroke her wet fur and my hand came back bloody.

She wasn’t wet from the rain.

I look around the kitchen. The key sits in the box waiting for me to turn it.

“Trevor,” I call again.

I look back at the box.

I had slipped on my shoes and followed the blood soaked puppy back out into the slushy snow and wind. We walked around the corner and I could see the accident. The dazed driver was on his phone calling emergency services, rubbing his brow as he gave the dispatcher the pertinent information.

There were children in the car. I could see one girl crying. I could see part of my wife’s coat bunched up under the car just behind the front wheels and beneath the engine. I could see her small gloved hand reaching out from under the car at an odd angle. She still held the plastic end of the retractable leash in her lifeless fingers.

I looked at the branch, the small body of the lab puppy crushed beneath its weight.

I turned and saw Trevor still standing back on the opposite curb, blood soaked, broken leash attached to her collar.

I lost sight of that other Trevor as the rest of the night unfolded.

It is all a blur now. Police, ambulances, my parents, Amy’s parents, concerned friends, neighbors supposedly all there to help. I watched for the other Trevor to return. But she was gone. I figured I must have imagined her.

Now, I turn the key. I feel a satisfying click and I know the box is unlocked.

“Trevor. Come here girl. Time for breakfast,” I don’t even look around as I call this time I just stare transfixed at the box.

When I was home later that night, when everyone had finally left, when all the questions had been asked, all the crying cried, all the condolences given. I sat down at this very table in this very chair. I stared silently at the table top. I don’t know how long I sat like that; hours perhaps. Then the scratch came at the door again.

I got up and opened it. Trevor was back. She was clean now, and dry.

I let her in and I sat back down. She lay down at my feet and went to sleep.

We sat like that the whole next day. The phone rang. I never answered it.

As I place my hand on the lid of the wood box and prepare to open it Trevor walks in to the kitchen.  Nails click, click, clicking away. I turn and look at her.

“You don’t think I should open this do you?”

She barks. She steps closer and sits down.

After some time they all started saying I needed to move on. I needed to get out and meet people. At the very least, get a new dog.

But I had a dog. I didn’t have Amy but for some reason I still had a dog. Only no-one else knew I had a dog.

“How come you came back? Why didn’t she?” I ask her. Trevor does not respond. She just does the thing with the ears and the cocked head again.

I look at her a moment longer, sitting in the middle of the kitchen. She doesn’t need to speak I know what she is thinking this time.

“I am opening it. I don’t care what you say.”

She stands up and walks out of the room. I can hear her nails clicking on the hardwood floor for a few steps and then nothing. She is gone.

I look back to the box. I am pretty sure I know where it came from. I am pretty sure I know what is in it.

It is warm, my house is cold, my heart is cold, and my dog is gone.

I lift the lid.

Lab Photo by Amy Letts Via epicfail.xepher.net

Heroes

Alice, Wendy, Peter, Dorothy, the Pevensie's, the Baudelaire children, Lyra, Harry, Ron and Hermione; which hero did you connect with? 

As critical as good villains are, a hero we can get behind and believe in may be even more so. I believe in some ways a hero is much more difficult to write. Particularly as an adult writing a juvenile or child hero.

I am currently reading The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. In Lyra, I think he has created a brilliant adolescent protagonist  She has all the amazing qualities which set her apart from the rest of the characters. She has skills, abilities and the history to make her a perfect heroine but she also has all the flaws of a child. In one moment she can be doing something amazing and in the next she is completely childish.

As a writer, it is so easy to forget to let our children heroes also be children.

Harry Potter is, of course, probably the most beloved child hero ever created and rightly so. I believe he strikes all the required qualities of a child protagonist almost without fail. For every incredible act of courage Harry does, he behaves childishly on many more occasions. He evolves to be mature beyond his years as the war he is in comes to an end but he should. Just as our 17 year old grandfathers and great grandfathers did when they went to war. I have seen photo's of my grandfather before he went to war at seventeen, eyes full of childish wonder and I have seen the photo's of when he came back. That naive young man was gone and could never come back.

When Harry Potter ended I think many readers wept not for the things he had done or the sacrifices which were made but because we felt as if we were losing a family member. What would we do now? Harry had gone like a child leaving home for college. What could possibly fill that void?

That is the goal. That is what a writer is tasked with when creating the hero. Make the reader amazed by their actions, abilities and the events the hero find themselves in but more importantly make us forget they are fictional characters. Remove them from the collection of words on the page which bring them to life and place them in our hearts and imaginations.

The best middle grade fiction does this. It reminds us of how we felt as a child. Our fears, hopes and confusion at the world around us. Then it takes us and throws us into fantastic, sometimes terrible situations and lets the child in us face fears and challenges which only inhabited our dreams when we were young.

I look forward to every moment I have left to spend with Lyra and I hope that I find she is always with me as Harry, Ron and Hermione have stayed with me. As Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, whom I did meet when I was a child, have always stayed with me.

Perhaps, in some way, these fictional children have helped me keep at bay the fears I had as a child. The fears I have mastered as an adult but which never truly left me.

Harry Potter image found on Piccsy

Lyra image by Tallychyck

Who is your Bogeyman?

Mine was, is, will always be, Jaws.

As I have been busily working away on my second novel I have been spending a lot of time contemplating what terrified me as a child.

My mother took me to see Jaws at a drive-in when I was five or six. That was probably the most profound 'entertainment' experience of my life. I am still, to this day, afraid of open water. Particularly at night. Now, being that I live a block away from one of the nicest recreation lakes in Canada this is actually a fear I often need to face.

But I love Jaws. It terrifies me now in the same way it did then. When I watch a horror today or read anything with a frightening villain, that is my high water mark. That is the experience I am hoping for, to be that frightened by someone else's imagination once again.

As a child, sharks were far from the only thing I was afraid of. My fertile young mind ran the gamut. Under the bed, in the closet, under the stairs, the dark, being alone and oddly tornadoes (not sure where that one came from). There were monsters hiding around every corner. As it should be.

I always loved the real life creepy crawlies. Snakes, spiders, bats, all the usual suspects don't frighten me one bit. For proof the second feature at the Drive-in was Kingdom of the Spiders. That just made me want a pet tarantula. Although, I am certain my mother found that show immeasurably more frightening than Jaws.

Now that I have four children of my own you would think I had a built in resource for what scares a child. Well, in this, kids today are quite different. Mine anyway. There isn't much that scares these kids. My children's ages are 8, 10, 13 and nearly 15.  We all watch the Walking Dead together every week there really isn't anything in there that scares them as much as it scares me. They love fantasy, horror, sci-fi and the darkest, Grimm style fairy tales you can come up with.

I realize all kids aren't like this. My children were literally raised in a movie theatre. Their mother was a theatre manager for most of their lives so they slept under a projector as babies and grew up watching a broad range of films over the last fifteen years. As a result they have a very high tolerance for things that might otherwise terrify a child. 

The one thing I do remember scaring the pants off them was the Pale Male from Pan's Labyrinth. That sets the bar pretty high for creating a terrifying villain if your target audience is the Milton children. That creature was frightening by any standard. You have to love a beastie that snatches fairies out of the air and eats them alive. 

So I suppose as I work on my next novel, one that is full of villains and nightmares, that is my goal. I want to frighten my children in the same way that Jaws terrified me. If you can reflect back 35 years later and still feel like a child at the thought of something you read in a book or saw in a film; if you still need to look behind the shower curtain because whatever your bogeyman was may be lurking there; or you can't go swimming in water over your head even when it is an inland lake, then you have been good and properly scared.

As a writer, when you create your villain, that is the best you can hope for.

Brilliant Joker image created by K4II0

The Escape of Princess Madeline, by Kirstin Pulioff

Here is my review of The Escape of Princess Madeline by Kirstin Pulioff

**Mild Spoilers**

When I came across this book I was looking for MG fantasy/fairy tale fiction and the terrific cover art caught my eye.

I found this book very accessible and Kirstin set the characters up perfectly right off the start. I enjoyed that the story is largely told from Madeline's perspective. I felt her frustration with her situation was very accurately presented from the often overly emotional point of view of a teenage girl.

Before long Madeline finds herself in over her head. Although, I don't think she recognizes the danger she is in right away. She soon finds independence comes at a cost.

I loved how Madeline comes full circle on her own, in her own mind, in her own time. She doesn't need to be 'saved' by her knight in the traditional sense. Her experiences change her and she grows into her evolved world view organically.

As a father of two daughters I really enjoyed the use of the green dress as a symbol for bringing Madeline and her father's relationship through a period of transition.

This was great little story. I recommend it for any fan of fairy tales or middle grade fiction.

So please follow this link and buy this book . For little more than the price of a cup of coffee you can support this talented author.

Check out her author's page on goodreads.

An excerpt fom Book II, the Monster Purge

Hello everyone. #fridayreads is upon us again and many of us are deciding what we will read this weekend. I am reading a couple books I plan to review. My reviews will be coming soon.

I am also working hard at writing the second book in my Adventures of Phippen Abercrombie series. I am several chapters in and I feel I am ready to share one of them with you now.

In this book a dark and malicious presence has contaminated the collection of jars in Phippen's pantry. This evil creature feels a hatred of children and wishes to punish the children of the world for a perceived wrong done to it by one child.

Many pets have been disappearing. Unnoticed for some time until children start vanishing as well.

Destry Grey and his younger sister Rylar, have become aware of this plot and are tasked by Professor Abercrombie to stop it if they can. Each will need to use their unique gifts if they are to successful.

So if you will indulge me, here is the first look at The Adventures of Phippen Abercrombie, Book II: the Monster Purge.

Chapter 1

The House on Cutler Street

            The abandoned house on Cutler Street loomed, as always, dark, empty, and ominous. Blackened windows, like the soulless eyes of the undead, weighed down on fifteen year old Everett Turner as he approached. He felt them as sure as he felt the knot of fear twisting in his stomach, as sure as he felt the sudden need to go to the bathroom. He knew he would have to shuffle past as quickly as possible.

Everett generally avoided this route from his friend Cameron’s house but he was running late tonight. He had stayed longer than he should have. The sweet siren song of a new video game is irresistible to a certain type of boy of a particular age. They had been killing zombies with reckless abandon when Everett looked up and saw the darkening sky pressing in on the windows. He felt a lurch in his stomach as he realized he would need to take Cutler Street home to make it in time. He had grabbed his coat and was out the door in a flash.

Now he stole a furtive glance at the slumbering beast that was the decaying house and wished he was back in his friend’s room. He wished he was at home in his bed. He wished he was one hundred feet ahead and already past this horror of a house. However, wishing would not make it so. So he continued to amble along the deserted street trying not to look at the weathered, deserted house. As if by denying its existent he could rob it of its frightful power. The house would not be denied tonight.

Although the blackened windows and old gnarled trees were alarming enough, these were not what made this house particularly frightening to Everett, and the many neighbourhood kids who avoided Cutler Street. This house was by far the most feared and talked about place to all the children in town. The old house was the stuff of legend and nightmares. It was not the fact that no one could ever remember seeing a light on at the house or a single person ever coming and going. Nor was it the overgrown garden, weeds, grasses and countless old rose bushes gone to seed. It was something else in the yard.

Specifically, it was the enormous, overturned ship hulls which flanked the house, the first of which Everett was now coming alongside. The hulking masses were draped in rotten, moss covered canvas. In the dark they looked like massive burial mounds. Fifty feet long, fifteen feet wide and twelve feet into the air they loomed over the yard. Not a soul in town knew why they were there but every child knew about them. They had all grown up hearing the stories about the bodies that were buried beneath them. How the owner of the house had come out at night and had dragged children from their beds as they slept and had taken them back to be imprisoned beneath the hulls for the rest of eternity.

All the homes on the west side of the Cutler Street had frontage on the lake. Most were very large homes owned by wealthy families from Carson or Valmont which were the largest cities within driving distance. This picturesque, lakeside community was an irresistible draw in the warmer months. But summer was still around the corner and most the houses alongside the lake sat empty.

But the house with the inverted hulls was always empty, winter, spring, summer and fall. No one ever, as far as any soul in town could tell, crossed the threshold of the house on Cutler Street in living memory.

Everett knew, because he was a very smart boy, that when you passed the yard at night, alone, and in the silence, you could hear the fingernails of the undead children. Twisted and gnarled by the passing years, clawing at the inside of the wooden ship hulls. He hummed to himself now and willed his eyes to remain on the road ahead. He would show no sign of acknowledging the house or its tombs.

Yet still, one ear listened, scanning for even the slightest sound. None came. But ahead, on the road, he saw a movement. Something small was in the narrow lane crossing toward the yard of the shadowy house. It was a puppy. The small dog was limping, favouring one of its front paws. It was moving steadily toward the overgrown and weed infested yard. It moved as if drawn to the house; as if in a trance.

Everett picked up his pace as he passed the first ship’s hull, now unaware of it crouched to his right. All his senses were focused on the puppy. He wasn’t sure why, but he did not want the dog getting anywhere near the abandoned house.

“Here boy,” he called quietly to the small dog as it stepped over the curb and into the yard.

The dog did not look at the boy it simply started to push its way through the overgrown foliage. Everett was soon at the place where the dog had entered the yard. He stopped and looked up at the house. He called again to the dog. It didn’t look back.

Everett was in the middle of the yard looking up the pathway to the stone steps and the massive oak door beyond. He was midway between the two hulking mounds that were the inverted hulls. He looked up at the house. At the small black, dormered windows in the attic room on the third floor. He tried not to imagine what it would be like in that room. What monstrous entity was gazing back down at him from within the gloom hoping he would be foolish enough to come closer? Was it the old man who preyed upon the innocent children who had gone missing over the years? The old man who had dragged the terrified children from the security of their beds and entombed them beneath these godforsaken rotten hulls?

Everett looked from one hull to the other. Why would anyone have those? He wondered.  A shudder ran down his spine and he looked away, back into the overgrown yard.

The puppy was limping off to the right as if it intended to go around the house to the lake side. To do this it would need to come very close to one of the hulls. Everett didn’t like this. His stomach flipped and he really wished there was a public washroom nearby.

He stepped off the lane and onto the lawn. He felt a surge of energy run through his body; an electric tingle charging up and down his spine from the top of his messy hair to the bottom of his sneaker clad feet. Surely that must be his imagination. Anticipation and fear manifest in an uncontrollable shivering sensation all over his entire body. He nearly doubled over, sick from the feeling of it. He was about to turn and run from the yard, from the house, from the rotten hulls which haunted Cutler Street. He had made up his mind to leave when he heard the puppy whimper from somewhere around the side of the house. Everett hesitated and in that moment he knew he could not leave the poor animal to its fate.

He turned back. He looked up at the house. He took a deep breath to calm himself and stepped forward into the yard.

"Here boy," he called in his sweetest, dog beckoning tone. "Come on little guy, don't be afraid."

He made kissing noises with his mouth which he knew would often work with animals. Not this time. He could no longer see the dog. I had gone around the side of the house, past the hull, towards the lake.

He followed still gently calling as he went. As he came up to the end of the hull closest to the house, the only sounds were his own voice, a faint whimpering from the puppy in the weeds nearby, and a rustling from the wind in the trees overhead. The only light was the diminishing amber glow of the street lamps back on Cutler and pale blue moonlight coming from across the lake around the front of the house.

He passed between the bow of the hull and the corner of the house. He could smell a musty damp rot coming off the moss covered canvas draped on the hull. He refused to look at it or the house as he called once again for the dog.

"Come on boy," he pleaded, his voice nearly cracking from the strain of fear. "Please, let's get out of here."

He listened intently for the puppy as he gazed through moonlight shining from the lakeside of the house. The weeds on this side had taken over. Anything resembling a tended yard was little more than a distant memory in this place.

Everett strained, trying to hear for the dog he could no longer see. There was nothing. Only silence. Then he heard something, very faint at first like a rat in the walls clawing tunnels through the insulation. Everett leaned forward. He thought perhaps the injured dog had gone around to the front of the house and was scratching at the patio doors that led out onto the overgrown terrace. He looked around the corner. The wind had died. The lake was so calm there was no sound of the waves lapping at the shore. There was nothing on the terrace. No sign of the puppy. It seemed to have vanished.

Everett started to back away from the isolation of the lakeside and the quiet scratching noise. He needed to get back to the lane, back to safety. The scratching, he knew what the scratching was. He fought to keep his mind from forming the thought. He subconsciously felt if he acknowledged it he would have to deal with it. It grew louder as he edged back along the side of the house toward the boat. He knew it would. But louder wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t so much louder as it was more abundant. He struggled against the reality of his situation but he could not push it away.

In the darkness they scratched and clawed. Only feet away from his position. Countless undead children trapped beneath the rotten canvas and wood. It was not the moldy old covering, saturated with moss and mildew he could smell but the decay of the dead now trying desperately to take him down with them.

Everett was glued to the spot. He had turned to look at the hull, his back to the dark, empty house. The boat was now rattling and shaking. Whatever was beneath it would not be contained much longer. His young, terrified mind was screaming to run, but he could not move. Every fear he had ever imagined about the house on Cutler Street. Every nightmare from which he had awoke, sweating and shaking, was coming true. This was exactly as he knew it would be.

He suddenly realized why he could not find the dog. There had been no dog. No limping puppy in need of help, he had been tricked. The house had fooled him, had lured him into its clutches and now he would be devoured.

The rotten hull lifted slightly. He could see it clearly in the amber street lights. Green, grey, rotten fingers, the flesh barely clinging to the bone reached out from under the rim. Bloody at the tips from decades of clawing at the rotten wood inside the inverted tomb. In spite of himself Everett leaned forward, transfixed by what he saw. Numb with terror.

Run, run, RUN! His mind was screaming.

He turned to the street, his muscles coiled to spring into action. He would run from here, back to his home, to his bed, to safety. He would never walk this street again. Never talk of this house or even allow himself to think of it. His young, agile frame made to launch himself from the yard, away from the hull and it's hungry, clawing inhabitants but something strong and unyielding grabbed him from behind.

He did not move an inch. His energy expended in a wasted effort to escape. And he knew, just then he knew, as sure as he knew that there had been no dog. He knew that the moment he had stepped from the lane and into the yard all had been lost. He had broken the rules.

You never look under the bed, behind the shower curtain, in the closet. You never pull your head from beneath the covers, you never walk slowly up the stairs from the basement. You run, two steps at a time and don't look back. And you never, ever, ever step off the lane and out of the street lights. There are rules and if you follow the rules the monsters do not get you. Everett had broken those rules tonight and for that he would pay a price.

Slowly he was turned by whatever powerful, undeniable, terrible creature had a hold of him. His eyes came upon it in the dim light, he stumbled back as it let go and he fell to the ground at its feet.

Everett looked up into its bile yellow eyes. Its scaly lips curled back in a triumphant grin as the blackened, ominous, wretched house on Cutler Street loomed in the back ground; the beasts willing accomplice. This thing belonged here and Everett knew, as it reached down to claim its prize, that he would never leave this place again.

I hope you enjoyed that. I expect to have the book completed by late spring or early summer. So check back often for progress reports and possible another excerpt or two.

And, if you haven't already done so please check out the eBook for Book I: the Dragon Egg Curse or, if you would rather, it can be found here in paperback.

Image credits.

House:  An old abandoned house in southern Ontario, Canada (© Ron Erwin/Getty Images)

Old Boat: Burn Magazine

Nasty little Hobbitses...

I finally watched the Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey this weekend. I had very low expectations. Of course, I loved the Lord of the Rings movies. Simply the greatest fantasy adventure films ever made. Almost undeniably.

But something about the Hobbit wasn't sitting well with me.

The reviews were underwhelming and the trailers failed to get me fired up. The notion of turning this amazing, but smallish, novel into an nine hour+ epic seemed indulgent and unnecessary to say the least. So I did not go see it in the theaters. I missed the opportunity to watch it in 3D or 48 fps.

I was a fool.

I LOVED it! All 169 (too few) minutes of it was amazing. I did not want it to end. We were transported back to middle earth perfectly. Immersed, once again, completely in one of the greatest imaginations mankind has ever produced. I loved being there. I can't wait to go back. It was not simply a retread of familiar territory as it could have been. Yes there were familiar faces and sites but there were many more new ones. There was the playfulness which is characteristic of the novel here in full force and in opposition of the seriousness of the Lord of the Rings.

I felt the tone of the Hobbit was spot on for my feelings of the novel and I felt the expansion of the story, to take us deeper into that world, was executed perfectly. I mean, if you are going back to middle earth, than stop for a bit and take a look around. If we have decided to go to such expense to create this world again, then I want to spend as much time there as I possibly can. 

Perhaps, in some ways, this one was definitely more for the fans than the masses but I say it is all the better for it. I loved every minute detail and I can't wait to go back.

The world outside my window just doesn't compare  to Peter Jackson's Middle Earth.