I’ll Be Back!

I haven’t posted much lately for a few reasons:

(1) I’ve recently gotten back from a business trip and have needed to get back up to speed at my day job.

(2) I’ve been busy celebrating my little girls’s thirteenth birthday.

(3) The MERCER BEARS and their NCAA championship run have consumed a fair bit of my attention span.

But don’t lose hope. I’ve also managed to get a fair bit of writing done on The Devil’s Due, the sequel to Children of Pride.

If you have a question or a topic you’d like me to blog about, please feel free to leave me a comment!

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Carol by J. W. Becton

So a while back, Jennifer Becton, my former colleague and now an honest-to-gosh professional novelist, asked me to recommend some reading for a new fantasy series she was fleshing out. (For some reason, she thought I might know something about souls.) I jokingly told her she could “pay” me by writing me into the work when it finally comes out. Well, for good or ill, Carol is now available as part of a fantasy compilation called Naughty or Nice.

I honestly don’t know what might happen to “me.” The writer has my permission to kill “me” off on the first page if it will make for an excellent story! Whatever happens, The Naughty or Nice project sounds fantastic. I’ll let Jennifer explain:

I’m so excited to have been invited to write a short story for Naughty or Nice, a holiday-themed, fantasy collection whose proceeds will go to the charity Kids Need to Read. Here’s their mission: “Kids Need to Read works to create a culture of reading for children by providing inspiring books to underfunded schools, libraries, and literacy programs across the United States, especially those serving disadvantaged children.” Getting books in the hands of children is a goal I can support.

And so can I! So hop over to Amazon.com and get your Kindle edition today!

Thanksgiving 2013

I’m thankful for…

  • Faith, hope, and love.
  • The Mercer University Children’s Choir.
  • The most awesomely awesome wife in the universe.
  • A daughter who still likes me to read her bedtime stories.
  • Diyclomine.
  • Bills that are paid.
  • The innocence of childhood.
  • The ability to keep on learning.
  • The privilege of living near my parents.
  • Amazing friends with all their amazing interests and skills.
  • Grace.
  • Fond memories of my departed mother-in-law.
  • A bright and enthusiastic pastor.
  • Jim Butcher.
  • The cheeseburgers at Greek Corner Pizza.
  • Relpax.
  • The Bibb County Public Library.
  • Mr. Seredick.
  • A church where they let me lead a three-week Bible study on monsters.
  • Wonder.

What are you thankful for?

Favorite Fantasy Tropes

Christine Amsden has listed her top 10 favorite fantasy tropes over at her blog, Into the Dreaming. It’s a great list that tracks fairly close with my own. If I were to offer my own list, it would be (in no particular order):

  • Action Survivors. I like a protagonist who is in over his or her head and somehow comes through even though vastly outgunned by the bad guys.
  • Guile Heroes. Related to the above, I love love love it when the protagonist finds a way to use trickery to get out of a scrape rather than hacking, slashing, or blasting. Show me a hero who can think on his or her feet and gain the upper hand just by being sneaky.
  • Shapeshifters. Face it, they’re just cool.
  • Snark. If your hero isn’t going to be completely bewildered by all the wild fantasy stuff that’s going on (in which case, he or she isn’t going to last long as a hero!), then go for snark. It seems to be the only attitude likely to get you through when the next eldritch abomination comes knocking on your door. If you can’t do snark, at least give me some kind of comic relief.
  • The Fair Folk. Seriously, have you looked around this web site?
  • Magic that Has Rules. I not too picky what the rules are, but I love it when magic has definite, coherent limitations. It makes one’s wizards far more approachable as characters and can help to avoid using magic as a deus ex machina.
  • Societies that Work. Not everybody can be a warrior or a wizard. Most folks are going to be farmers or butchers or accountants. I like seeing how this aspect of a fantasy world has been fleshed out.
  • Hat Tips to Folklore. I don’t care if you’re doing something radically new and different with your wizards / vampires / werewolves / elves / etc. Please show me that you know how these creatures or entities worked in relevant historical cultures. THEN take me on a ride that skews or reinterprets that body of folklore.

What are your favorite fantasy tropes?

On Child-Proofing Harry Potter

In a word, don’t do it. Peter Damien explains why in a very thoughtful article at BookRiot, where he discusses the very experience I had several years ago reading Harry Potter to my then first/second grade daughter. I must confess, the thought never occurred to me to alter the details of the plot to make them more kid-friendly. What’s the point of reading a story if you’re going to change it?

The most I ever did is the same thing Peter confesses to doing: cleaning up the language every so slightly to tone down the “hells,” “damns,” and whatnot. My daughter is quite aware that people swear. She may even suspect that I swear when she’s not around. I prefer her to think that educated people can make themselves understood without recourse to vulgarity.

Anyway, Peter does an excellent job of highlighting this and other concerns so that parents can reflect on how to read material with their children that may just push their (the parent’s) comfort zones. And his bottom line is so blazingly obvious, it’s a shame he needed to say it: If you as a parent don’t feel comfortable reading something to your child, don’t. But there are benefits to reading stories like this “straight” (at the appropriate time):

My personal preference is, do read it, and do discuss it with your kids. You’re having a remarkable dialog which is itself a habit you want to continue for the rest of your lives. And there is a giddy high you’ll get when you go to discuss the book with your kids and they just get it. They get the plot, the people, they’re building theories. I’ve been tweeting with excitement my oldest son’s attempt to puzzle out the Harry Potter plots along the way, because it’s amazing and fun to watch his mind work, logically figuring things out.

I’ll suggest something else. Reading an early version of Children of Pride with my daughter, I later heard her comment about a particular detail of how my imagined faery world worked that I knew would resonate with things she was going through at the time. I realized that I had managed to give her a little bit of vocabulary with which to talk about things she was feeling. Looking back, I can see how Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and other fantasy heroes (not to mention their respective villains, sidekicks, and mentors) have also broadened her ability to name and thus to some extent control or at least endure the challenges she faces.

Finally, if I might say so, J. K. Rowling has already done a masterful job of “child-proofing” her own stories. Ron’s language, for example, doesn’t even become an issue until the later books. Themes associated with dating and romance are handled with considerable tenderness and reserve. In my opinion, children who are perhaps a bit younger than Harry and his friends are in any given book should have no problems dealing with what they encounter there.

Top TenEleven Cool Old Guys

Today is my birthday, and I’ve been thinking about the kind of old guy I want to become, because it’s happening faster than I would have imagined twenty years ago! In chronological order, here are some cool old guys from whom I could stand to learn a thing or two:

1. Yoda. He’s short. He’s not that handsome. But he’s got that whole “power of the force” thing going, and could kick some serious heinie in his (relatively) younger days. Plus, I think I edited something he wrote once.

2. Melchizedek. According to rabbinic tradition, he is the patriarch Shem under an assumed name. In any case, he is the ultimate mysterious stranger, “without father or mother or genealogy, without beginning of life or end of days,” who arrives out of nowhere to bless Abram and show him hospitality.

3. Nicholas of Myra. Lover of children, giver of gifts, exiled and imprisoned for his faith. He once even punched out an Arian heretic. According to some, he spends his retirement years distributing toys to good little girls and boys.

4. Atticus Finch. Loving father, brilliant lawyer, champion of justice.

5. Sherman Tecumseh Potter. Ex-cavalryman and exemplary army surgeon. Beloved father-figure to everyone under his command.

6. Emmett Lathrop “Doc” Brown. Inspired though eccentric scientist and inventor. If you’re going to build a time machine, why not put it in a Delorean? He realized his dream of living in the Old West, where men were men and women looked like Mary Steenburgen.

7-8. Arva S. Pursiful Jr. and Darrell T. Pursiful. What can I say? My father is and my paternal grandfather was a cool old guy. Devoted husbands, fathers, and grandfathers; among the top in their chosen professions; able to know when to be serious and when to joke around. They’ve given me some mighty big shoes to fill.

9. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Flawed yet honorable. He never stopped learning. He never stopped risking something big for something good.

10. Johnny Cash. An almost perfect synthesis of Saturday night and Sunday morning.

11. Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Just because I wish I could pull off that head slap thing he does and/or magically appear behind someone who’s talking about me.

By Way of Formal Introduction…

Some problems are worse than others. That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? What a lot of people may not understand is that some problems are actually pretty cool. If I’m going to have a problem, I want it to be a cool one. Like, What am I going to do with all this money I’ve unexpectedly inherited? Or, my website has become so popular it keeps crashing the server! Or, I really feel self-conscious about being the only person in my class/office/whatever who hasn’t come down with the flu! See? Those are great problems to have.

Try this one on for size: I have a daughter who reads WAY above her grade level. Why is that a problem, you ask? Because even though she has the vocabulary and comprehension of a high-schooler, she is just not ready yet for some of the “grown-up” content that I know she’ll handle like a pro when she is a little bit older.

Mind you, this is a girl who doesn’t check out books from the library; she checks out WHOLE SERIES!

Now, for the last several years, my absolutely wonderful problem has been finding books that interest my sweet girl without talking down to her. My wife and I are constantly picking the brains of our friends who are teachers and librarians. (“Has she read X?” “Yeah, she read that when she was in fifth grade.” “Well, how about Y?” “I haven’t heard of that one. Let me write it down.”)

Eventually, I started supplementing whatever treasures we could find at the library with little stories of my own. And since I have several friends who appreciate good teen/young adult fiction and share my (and my daughter’s) love of the fantasy genre(s), I usually asked one or two people to read behind me to help clean up my messes.

Well, to make a long story short (if it isn’t already too late for that!), somebody thought I might be on to something with Children of Pride, my latest effort. It was suggested that I release it into the wild and see what happens. That’s what this web site is all about.

And while everything is being formalized, I’ll also keep providing “bonus material” related to faeries, mythology, and the growing universe of “Into the Wonder.”

Thanks for stopping by!