Category Archives: Fantasy

A Great Middle Grade Read for the New Year

I am completely infatuated with this book. It is outstanding in beauty and nearly biblical in its perceptions. It is a story of magic, of beginnings and endings infinite in their proportions; it is the story of love.

The Day of Sacrifice waits for no one. A child, the youngest within the Protectorate, must be surrendered for the well-being of all. Though hearts are heavy, eyes are dry. It is a sacrament old beyond memory. The witch demands it, and the people obey. Until one day, one woman doesn’t.

Her baby is stolen anyway, and she is locked in the Tower.

But the baby, left to die in the woods, lives.

Luna is rescued by an old, old woman. A witch, but not the witch of twisted legend. This witch feeds the infant starlight until she can be delivered to those who will care for her. But the witch grows careless. In a mindless moment, she gathers moonlight on her fingers, sweet and sticky with magic, and the child gorges herself. It is a moment heavy with consequence.

For evil prowls the Protectorate. Evil that walks on padded paws and beats with the heart of a tiger. Evil whose treachery reaches back to the time of wizards and dragons and now feeds off the sorrow of bondage. Evil threatened by a woman who loved. A boy who questioned. A child who lived.

Luna’s story entwines with a host of delightful (and some not-so-delightful) characters. Antain, a young boy with goodness in his heart and sorrow in his future; Fyrian, the faithful, innocent, Simply Enormous dragon who fits in Luna’s pocket; Xan, the witch whose five hundred years never prepared her for an enmagicked child; Grand Elder Gherland, who can’t abide the selfishness of the people whose children he steals; and Glerk, the Beast who is the Poet who is the Bog who is the World. “They are all the same thing, you know.”

The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a story of family, of destiny, of hope and goodness, wrapped around with tendrils of blue and silver magic. If you pick up no other book this year, read this one. My absolute highest recommendation.

How Well Do You Know the Dogs of Harry Potter?

In honor of Rowling’s latest release and National Dog Day this Friday, let’s see how many dogs of the Wizarding World you can name….

A pair of adorable pups probably come to mind right away: Fang and Fluffy.

Fang is described as a BoaTitles for HP dog blogpostrhound, but that is actually another name for a Great Dane, so yes indeedy, Fang is an enormous, black, Great Dane. I imagine him like the tallest Great Dane in the world, George, who was 7’3” long from his rubbery nose to the end of his ouch-my-face-is-not-a-windshield tail. Sadly, George passed away in 2013, but he will forever live on in the scratches he left at the top of his family’s refrigerator. It doesn’t seem fair, but large dogs do not live as long as smaller ones. I hate to think how many raw steaks Hagrid will need to hold over his swollen eyes when Fang must leave him.

Titles for HP dog blogpostFluffy is the large, vicious, three-headed dog that guards the Philosopher’s Stone and can only be tamed through music. I love the idea of a three-headed dog. You get three times the adorable, loving stares and only one part of the . . . you know. In The Philosopher’s Stone, Hagrid explains that he got Fluffy from “a Greek chappie.” Rowling is showing off her impressive knowledge of ancient myths and legends with this off-hand remark, as Greek mythology is replete with three–headed canines, also known as hellhounds. The most famous of the pack, Cerberus, guarded the entrance to the Underworld.Herakles_Kerberos_Louvre_F204

This 2,500 year old Greek amphora shows  Hercules taming a two-headed Cerberus. I’m not sure what happened to head #3, but I guess you can afford to lose your head when you’ve got a couple of spares.

 

Titles for HP dog blogpost

Remember him? Maybe not, because despite his impressive name, he is a decidedly non-magical creature. Ripper is the favorite of Harry’s Aunt Marge’s twelve bulldogs. He once chased Harry into a tree, which wasn’t very nice, but he also sunk his teeth into Vernon’s leg, so there’s that.

 

Titles for HP dog blogpostWhat? You didn’t think of Crups? That’s okay, they only get one quick mention in The Order of the Phoenix, as creatFlying Jack Russellures studied in Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures class. Crups are wizard-bred dogs that look like Jack Russell terriers, except that they have forked tails. This Jack Russell may or may not have a forked tail, but he sure looks magical.   Accio Crup!!

 

Titles for HP dog blogpostThat’s right, Ron’s patronus, his alter-self, is a dog—a loyal if not altogether bright creature, AND a Jack Russell. The choice of a Jack Russell for Ron was a sentimental one, because Rowling once had one for a pet. I would have picked an Irish Setter, but that was probably too obvious. So obvious, in fact, that my patronus is probably a dog . . .

Titles for HP dog blogpostThe Grim is the omen of death in the form of aGrim image giant, shaggy black dog. Harry doesn’t actually see the Grim, but no spoilers.  Several dogs could be the source of Rowling’s Grim, including the Black Shuck of English folklore and the Cu Sith of Scottish mythology, both of which signal imminent death. There’s also the Church Grim of Scandinavian and English folklore, a guardian spirit that guards churchyards after being buried alive there for that purpose. Shudder. This description of the appearance of the Black Shuck at a church in Suffolk, England in 1577 begins with, ” A Straunge and Terrible Wunder wrought very late…” Gotta say though, looks more like a friendly sheep to me.

 

 

Finally, there is mention of two dogs owned by Hermione’s parents after she modified their memories and sent them to live in nice, safe Australia (and I’m going to pretend they were dingos), and Hagrid compares baby Aragog to a Pekingese in size. How sweet. Additional dog mentions occur in the Harry Potter films, video games, companion books, and on Pottermore. Learn about them here: http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Category:Dogs

 

It’s no surprise that dogs sniff their way into Rowling’s books. If humans cannot live Dinky tailwithout the furry, tail wagging wonderfulness that is dogs, why would wizards want to do so? Only problem is, Dinky, the Great Dane at the center of my literary world, can’t stop drooling over the fact that Fang is a fellow Dane. Talk about a Fang Fandog! Down, Dinky, down!  I will get you a Fang poster for your doghouse, but in the meantime, my face is not a windshield!

Ouch!

Drowning Out the Siren’s Call

music-note-clip-art-musical-notes-clipart-cropped1Out on a lonely island sits a group of women. Their song is so heartbreakingly beautiful that the mere sound of it is enough to override basic survival instincts. The moment that song reaches mortal ears, the listener throws away all restraint and flings himself into the sea in a mad desire to reach the singers. Only too late do they who are stricken realize that the island cliff’s are unassailable. All who swim for the Sirens drown, accompanied by the beautiful music of their own seductive funeral dirge.

Odysseusand-thesirensbywaterhouseHow did one resist these singers? Well, Odysseus strapped himself to the mast and plugged all of his sailor’s’ ears with beeswax. Even still, he nearly tore the mast down in a desire to reach the strange birdlike women. The Argonauts? Jason recruited Orpheus. The skillful musician was able to drown out the Siren’s song with music equally beautiful from his lyre. Butes, however, heard the song and leapt into the sea. Only the divine intervention of Aphrodite kept him from becoming another victim.

The Sirens and their song have long been used as a teaching tool. Usually, we apply it internally. We ask ourselves “What is my Sirens’ song?” “What calls me away from productivity and forward momentum?” “What keeps me from moving forward and realizing my full potential?”

Those are all excellent questions, and it can take a lifetime to find the answers. However, that is a discussion for another day. Instead of thinking about our own Siren’s song, I would invite you to ponder the Siren’s call to others. In lieu of taking the Odysseus route and tempting fate by immersing ourselves in the seductive sound, let us consider Jason’s solution.

NES_controllerIf we are Jason and our readers are the Argonauts, what are the Siren’s songs? Video Games? Electronics? Toys? Sports? Social Media? Yep, I’d have to say that those are definitely things that I compete with to win and keep readers. Are there more? Of course. Those are simply the songs that hit closest to home.

lyreSo, now I ask, What can be my Orpheus? Well, to be frank, I haven’t found a permanent solution yet. In competing with video game/social media/one-click downloadable app market, I am losing horrendously. Honestly, since those Siren’s also sing to me, I can’t really blame the readers. More than ever before, we are flooded with cheap (and not so cheap) entertainment. It is easy to be enticed by the song of a quick game of Clash of Clans, a dip over to Netflix for a binge movie watching session, or a late night game-a-thon.

As parents and teachers, we can help influence young potential readers. If we want to make our own songs heard above the cacophony of sound, we have to start with those we can influence. I know that I am preaching to the choir here. It is because of people like you that pleasure reading has not already been completely drown out with the more mind-numbing Siren songs. I can still remember reading days and read-a-thons in schools.

Perhaps they are still happening, but kids don’t seem to rave about them the way they did in the past. Maybe if we encourage and support similar events in the schools and even our own homes, it will increase the chances of seeing a teenager flip open a book during ten minutes of downtime instead of plugging away on a phone to check Facebook, Text Messages, or the latest app. Who knows, maybe one of those books will even have been written by an Emblazoner.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read!
J.R. Simmons (Author of the Ragesong Saga)

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A Cauldron of Herbs

Scary halloween laboratory
A Cauldron Of Herbs by Christina Mercer

In honor of this Harvest/Autumn/Halloween time of year, I decided to stir up some magic for you. Plant magic, that is! Nature is quite amazing, and humankind has utilized its wondrous magic since our beginnings.  I became a Certified Herbalist many years ago, and when writing my first Tween/Teen books, I enjoyed weaving herb lore throughout them. In addition to herb lore, I had fun with Celtic tree lore to show the marvelous magic of trees. I used the (totally fun!) folk names for herbs and trees, and had my main character use plant remedies for wounds and ailments that she and her loved-ones endured.

A little trivia about remedies found in nature . . .

The Doctrine of Signatures dates back to ancient times, and was studied in depth in Western Europe. The idea was that certain plants resembled the body parts they healed. Also, the names given to certain plants correlated to their healing properties. Some examples:

Walnuts—resembles a brain and helps memory

Ginger Root—resembles a stomach and helps nausea

Kidney Bean—resembles a kidney and helps kidney function

Eyebright—helps with “pink eye” and other eye irritation

Bloodroot—has red sap and helps purify the blood

In addition, herbalists found that certain “cures” grew near “causes.” An example is Jewelweed, an herb used to heal skin conditions, which is often found growing near Stinging Nettles and Poison Ivy.

Folk names were the early names given to herbs, and often eluded to their healing function. Some names, however, are perplexing or quite silly sounding. In fact, some of these silly-sounding herbs were used in healing remedies and not at all the literal meanings that their names may have suggested. Here are a handful of some fun “Halloween-ish” herb names:

Lion’s Tooth—Dandelion

Graveyard Dust—Mullein

Bloody Fingers—Foxglove

Little Dragon—Tarragon

Bat’s Wings—Holly

So, this year, while enjoying the festivities, if you happen to hear, “In the cauldron, Toe of Frog; watch it bubble with Tongue of Dog,” you might just find a neighborhood herbalist brewing up an herbal remedy.

ARROW OF THE MIST (currently 99 cents!) & ARMS OF ANU

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Christina Mercer is an award-winning author of fiction for children and young adults. She enjoys life in the foothills of Northern California with her husband, sons, pack of large dogs, and about 100,000 honeybees. For more about her and her writing, visit www.christinamercer.com

 

Blurb Blinging 101…

blingBlurbs. Stop groaning. You know you need one to help promote and market your book. And if you do up a blurb correctly, have an eye-catching cover, and wrote a great story, then you’ve done your job. The blurb is one of the most important marketing tools in getting your book ready for publication. In fact, you’ve already got a version of your blurb done—the synopsis in your query letter is essentially the same thing as a blurb. Here again, though, there are some significant differences. With a query letter, you’re relating the entire plot. With a blurb, you want to entice the reader—to get them engaged with your story so they can come along as you unravel the plot for them. So here again—while the forms look very similar, their purpose is quite different.

Here’s a surefire method to develop a quick, cohesive blurb. THINK THREE PARAGRAPHS. In the FIRST paragraph, introduce your main character. Now in the SECOND paragraph, introduce your secondary character— a BFF, love interest or antagonist—and the conflict. Remember, the conflict is what drives your plot.

Then in the THIRD paragraph, you bring it all together. This is where you pose a question to the reader—maybe not a straight out QUESTION but a rhetorical one. You want to give the reader a sense of urgency regarding the plot—what will happen if the characters’ attempt to resolve the plot fails. In other words, what the stakes are.

The blurb in its entirety tells its own little story—and that’s what keeps people buying and reading this book. You want to set up the protagonist, the conflict, the obstacles to resolving that conflict and to give the reader a sense of the risks involved in failure. What you’ve done is to create a microcosm—a tiny example of what your book—the macrocosm—is.

Writing a successful blurb is a test of any writer’s skills. It’s darn hard to filter down sixty thousand words into five hundred. But this is a skill a successful writer must learn to do. Throughout your career, whether this is your lone book or the first of hundreds, whether you stay in independent publishing or whether you move on to the Big Six, you MUST LEARN to write effective taglines and blurbs that work. That sell. Your. Book.

Below is the blurb to the prequel of my time travel series, Legend of the Timekeepers, just re-released on August 1st through Mirror World Publishing. Although I didn’t use three paragraphs, I used all the information stated above. Let me know what you think:

Lilith was a young girl with dreams and a family before the final destruction of Atlantis shattered those dreams and tore her family apart. Now refugees, Lilith and her father make their home in the Black Land. This strange, new country has no place in Lilith’s heart until a beloved high priestess introduces Lilith to her life purpose—to be a Timekeeper and keep time safe.

Summoned through the seventh arch of Atlantis by the Children of the Law of One, Lilith and her newfound friends are sent into Atlantis’s past, and given a task that will ultimately test their courage and try their faith in each other. Can the Timekeepers stop the dark magus Belial before he changes the seers’ prophecy? If they fail, then their future and the earth’s fate will be altered forever.

Intriguing? I hope so! If you’re an author how do you go about creating blurbs? And if legendofthetimekeepers-200you’re a reader, what blurbs have caused you to make that book purchase? Love to hear your comments! Cheers!

Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS, and is represented by Walden House (Books & Stuff) for her teen psychic series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercise, and anything arcane. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, TUMBLR, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.