The Farthest Shore: Reflections on Ursula K. Le Guin



Life rises out of death, death rises out of life; in being opposite they yearn to each other, they give birth to each other and are forever reborn. And with them all is reborn, the flower of the apple tree, the light of the stars. In life is death. In death is rebirth. What then is life without death? Life unchanging, everlasting, eternal? –What is it but death—death without rebirth?

-Ursula K. Le Guin

There is a lot one could write about Ursula K. Le Guin. She was a trailblazer in so many aspects of her life. She was a woman science fiction and fantasy author in the sixties when the genres were dominated by male voices. She was a feminist, an activist, a philosopher. She wrote deep thoughtful books in ways that were both accessible and engaging. You could spend pages diving into any one of her novels or causes and only scratch the surface on her impact on literature and culture more broadly. But, today I want to talk about what Ms. Le Guin meant to me, because even though I never met her, she is one of the few authors I feel a personal connection with.

Deep relationships are formed over many years. The first time I read about Frodo and Sam, a boy of ten sitting with my father’s red leather-bound copy of The Lord of the Rings splayed enormously in my lap, they were just characters in a story. By the time I was fifteen, I read the stories, not to see how they ended, but to spend time with old friends. Every time I got to the end and Sam said, “Well, I’m back,” I knew that was just his way of saying good-bye.

Some books take longer for me to connect to, and some image-2will always remain remote. I could read Elric’s saga a thousand times and never find peace with his strange otherness. This separation between reader and subject is not uncommon. In most fantasy, strange creatures abide in strange worlds: orcs and elves and dwarves live in places where dragons fly and vast armies battle and mountains of doom smoke ominously. The Earthsea Trilogy is different. Great deeds are hinted at, but the real focus of the books is on the same struggles that regular people have to deal with every day: paying for your mistakes, discovering your place in the world and learning that it may shift underneath you at any moment, facing your own mortality.

I picked up my brother’s copy of A Wizard of Earthsea when I was eleven. It was a tumultuous time for me. My parents had just separated. After spending my elementary years in public school and attending church only on Christmas and Easter, I found myself enrolled in a Catholic private school where church and belief were mandatory. I was struggling in ways that were disorienting. Never having been in the principal’s office, I spent my first several months of school in constant trouble. It was nothing that legions of middle school kids haven’t faced before, but it was all new to me and seemed insurmountable. This was my life when I met Ged. I identified with him immediately. His joy in magic. His restlessness. His feelings of inadequacy. His need to prove himself. This was not some ancient wise man I could never aspire to be, like a Gandalf, but a young man who went to school and made mistakes and got in trouble. He was me, and he lived in a world and faced problems I could identify with.

If stories about young wizards going to school sounds familiar—cough, Harry Potter, cough—you can thank Ged, or more appropriately, Le Guin. Before she burst on scene with A Wizard of Earthsea, mages were almost universally old white men with beards and heroes were larger than life. Her works opened the door to fantasy heroes of any gender, any age, any color, and just as flawed, and weak, and, yes, mortal as we are. In fact, mortality is a theme that is woven through many of Le Guin’s books. We are introduced to that shadowed world and its low stone wall early in A Wizard of Earthsea, and we learn quickly that there are places even mages cannot go. In The Tombs of Atuan she tells us that there are beings that cannot die, but neither can they live. This idea, that death is necessary to the existence of life, is the theme at the heart of the last book in the Earthsea Trilogy: The Farthest Shore. It was a hard lesson to learn when I was young and very much frightened by the idea that our time on this Earth was limited, and I imagine it is a truth that will be harder to accept as I grow older and that end comes nearer. There is a Paul Simon verse from his song The Leaves That Are Green that runs around my head every time someone I feel a connection to dies:

Hello, Hello, Hello, Good-bye,

Good-bye, Good-bye, Good-bye,

That’s all there is.

And the leaves that are green turned to brown,

And they wither with the wind,

And they crumble in your hand.

In its brutal succinctness, it may be one of the most image-3despairing bits of poetry ever written. We are born, we connect ourselves to other people, and then they are taken away from us one by one. We lost Richard Adams in 2016, and I couldn’t help but be sad for Hazel and Pipkin, and all the rabbits of Watership Down. This summer, while I was in London, Michael Bond passed, and it seemed inconceivable that Paddington Bear’s creator was no longer with us. Now, I must say good-bye to Ms. Le Guin, the author that created one of my oldest and best friends. It would be easy to despair. Yet, in one of those strange coincidences that makes you wonder if serendipity and fate are not long-lost siblings, I have been reading the Earthsea Triology with my eleven-year-old for the past couple of months. We were about half-way through The Farthest Shore when we heard the news about Le Guin’s passing. That night we read the following passage:

I, who am old, who have done what I must do, who stand in the daylight facing my own death, the end of all possibility, I know that there is only one power that is real and worth the having. And that is the power, not to take, but to accept.

There is no way I could have said it better. Rest in peace, Ms. Le Guin. You will be missed. Now, I need to go and spend time with my old friend Ged. I understand that he and Tenar have some unfinished business to attend to on Gont. Some advice old friend, I think she’s a keeper!



My First Princess

leiadeathstarShe was my first princess, and she is still the image I carry in my mind when the word princess arises in any context. The year was 1977 and I was eight when Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope was released. I watched in awe as Princess Leia and Luke and Han and Chewie zoomed across the big screen. A few years later when The Empire Strikes Back was released I would learn that my heroes could be cut and they could bleed and they could lose, but in that first movie they seemed indestructible. Darth Vader couldn’t catch them. The trash compactor couldn’t smash them. No matter how many blasters were aimed at R2D2 none of them would ever hit him. And the Death Star… well let’s just say it was no match for my heroes.

94b47cde0eAs a little boy I identified with Luke—even though I really wished I could be as cool as Han. And, of course, I fell in love with Leia, and by extension, Carrie Fisher. She was beautiful to be sure, but she was far more than just beautiful. She was tough and sharp-tongued and quick-witted. She was a rebel bad-ass who could take it and dish it out with the best of them, and was also more than a fair-shot with a blaster. She survived the worst torture that Vader and that sinister, floating, needle-carrying bot could dish out, and still didn’t give up the location of the rebel base. She watched her planet get blown from existence and still did not break. Even after what must had been a soul-shattering experience she was game enough to carry-on. It was she, not Han or Luke, that led them to escape through the trash chute, and it was she that ultimately brought them and the plans to the rebels giving the galaxy that “one-in-a-million” chance to defeat the Empire. In other words, she was an ideal princess for a new age.

89013How appropriately ironic that this princess of mine would—Sleeping Beauty-like–slumber for thirty-two years only to awake again in the aptly named Force Awakens episode of the Star Wars saga to thrill us once more. And, if she was less prone to wise-cracks and swinging across chasms, then so was I. She may have been sadder and wiser, but she was still my princess, and every time she was on screen I was reveled in her presence there. I also knew more about her. From her many autobiographical books like Wishful Drinking, and semi-autobiographical books like Postcards From the Edge, I knew that Fisher herself embodied many of the traits I admired in Leia. As Brian Jay Jones wrote in his new biography, George Lucas: A Life, “Fisher had a wicked sense of humor and a foul mouth — fueled at times by a drug habit she managed to keep mostly hidden — and she had no trouble at all playing a tough-talking princess.” If anything, the knowledge that she, like so many, had struggled to find their place in the world, only helped to make her more real, and more identifiable.

carrie-fisher-in-star-warsToday my princess left this world. Like all great fairytale characters she will live on forever in the stories she left behind, and she will continue to bring joy to millions, but knowing this doesn’t make today feel any better. She was my princess, and I will miss her. Rest in Peace, Carrie. Wherever you are may you live happily ever after, and may the force be with you—always.

Into the Heart of the Dark Lord


There are times that the inspiration of a story can be traced to a single point in time. Stephanie Meyer has revealed that her Twilight series was born from a dream in which she saw a person in a meadow who was “fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire.” Frankenstein is said to have resulted from a ghost story challenge among friends that itself arose from the boredom brought on by the extended winter of 1816. Most famously, Tolkien’s entire pantheon apparently sprung from a single sentence that popped into his head one day while grading English papers: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” Unfortunately, I have no pithy way of explaining the germinating idea for my forthcoming fantasy novel The Dark Lord, because the novel itself is a kind of aggregation of a lifetime of influences.


I was born into the world of the late-1960’s, and came of age as fantasy fiction (heralded by Tolkien’s works) emerged from the shadows and went mainstream. In my youth I marveled every time I read the slogan “Frodo lives” on the wall of a bathroom stall, and wondered why someone wouldn’t know that, but also how mean it was to give the ending away. From my earliest reading memories I can recall coveting my father’s beautiful green and red leather-bound Houghton Mifflin editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and though I know there are those that think it is sacrilege to actually read these volumes, from age 9 or 10 onward (as soon as my parents thought me responsible enough not to destroy them) my summer ritual involved reading both volumes cover to cover before school began again in the fall. And, Tolkien was just a gateway to an amazing run of fantasy literature authors like Le Guin, Pratchett, Eddings, Donaldson, Moorcock, McCaffery, Brooks, Jordan, Anthony, and so on that spanned my formative years.

An obsession with fantasy literature led me, as it did many children in the late 70’s and early 80’s, into the world of Dungeons & Dragons and roleplaying. These games opened up another layer of fantasy culture to me. I would rush to the hobby shops each month (when I had a little money to spend) to find new supplements and adventures to buy (or at least covet). I thumbed through every issue of Dragon Magazine I could get my hands on trying to learn about the latest spells and the newest (and sometimes silliest) monsters until they literally disintegrated from over use. I went through reams of graph paper and graphite pencils designing my own nefarious dungeons and adventures, most of which never went off exactly the way I’d planned. And my friends and I spent late nights surrounded by well-worn dice simultaneously laughing over the preposterous situation presented by the module we were being run through, and simultaneously terrified that we wouldn’t survive it.

All of these influences over all those years went into writing The Dark Lord. The novel is my ode to the genre that has given me so much joy over the years, and springs from all those observations and questions any avid consumer of fantasy culture from the past forty years is bound to ask:

9aba1349ef67c173ec309480e38d64b4“Why does every world seem to have elves, and why are they always so much cooler than everyone else?”

“Why do dwarfs tend to drink so much? Is it an inherited trait, and if so should we try and get them some help?”

“Why don’t they print book covers like this anymore?”687474703a2f2f75706c6f61642e77696b696d656469612e6f72672f77696b6970656469612f656e2f632f63332f436f6e616e5f7468655f416476656e74757265722e6a7067

“Why are there so many underground tunnel systems of such immense complexity, and why are they so often filled with vicious monsters or diabolical traps or both?”

“Why must our heroes always have to venture through those aforementioned vast underground complexes to get whatever it is they are looking for, and why don’t the aforementioned monsters, being as greedy and seemingly amoral as they are, never seem to grab whatever it is the heroes are trying to get first?”

“Whatever you want to call him, her or it, whether that be Sauron or Torak or the Dark One or Lord Foul or Voldemort, who are these villains? What are their motives? Why do they so often like to live in tall dark towers and breed orcs or goblins or the like?”

And, of course the ultimate question, “Do they think they’re evil?”

With respect to this last question, I turn back to my earliest roots. Most people would consider Sauron to be a being of pure evil, but Tolkien himself did not. In his letters to his son the author wrote:

In my story I do not deal in Absolute Evil. I do not think there is such a thing, since that is Zero. I do not think that at any rate any ‘rational being’ is wholly evil. Satan fell. In my myth Morgoth fell before Creation of the physical world. In my story Sauron represents as near an approach to the wholly evil will as is possible. He had gone the way of all tyrants: beginning well, at least on the level that while desiring to order all things according to his own wisdom he still at first considered the (economic) well-being of other inhabitants of the Earth. But he went further than human tyrants in pride and the lust for domination, being in origin an immortal (angelic) spirit.

In The Dark Lord I try to ask and answer as many of these questions as I can. And, I also ask a new question: What if Tolkien is right and all of it, all the bizarre magical rules and weird creatures, all the strange quests and legendary weapons with funny names, what if all the evil and strife suffered by all the inhabitants of all those imaginary worlds was less the result of a sociopathic mastermind, and more the product of someone trying to do the right thing very badly. Oh, and what if his name was Avery, and when he wasn’t terrorizing worlds he lived in a dorm with his best friend Eldrin (who is an elf, and really cool and beautiful… of course).

A Post-Facto PHXCC Running Diary

In a long tradition…that I am starting now, I’ve decided to do a post-facto running diary of Jack’s crazy couple of days at the Phoenix Comic-Con. Would it have been better to have done a diary that was actually running while I was AT the convention? Of course. Would it have been possible? I will let you judge for yourself as I lay out my crazy schedule.

But, before I begin that I want to start by saying that the best part of the con, apart from meeting people and spreading the word of the Charming Tales, was in interacting with the other wonderful authors at the various panels and signing events. I apologize in advance if I forget to mention anyone that I should have mentioned.

With that it is on to…



Time: 3PM (Sigh)

Opening day of the con I was scheduled to do a panel at 3PM called “Dragons and Rare Creatures”, which promised to allow us panelists to, “wax poetically about the winged creatures and the mythological beasts which influence and populate fantasy fiction today.” This would have been AWESOME, because The Charming Tales feature not one but two dragons quite prominently in their stories. (I mean check out these covers!)

Fairytale Endingpitchfork

Also, it would have allowed little old Jack to sit alongside some AMAZING authors, including Alyssa Wong (or as she should be called: Nebula Award Winning Alyssa Wong), Aprilynne Pike (Yes, that one that wrote the kick-ass fairy series Wings, but more on her later), Christina Henry (whose Alice books I spent the whole con trying to buy, but couldn’t because they kept selling out!), Gini Koch (whose Alien series looks amazing), and…drumroll please…Todd Lockwood! Yes, that Todd Lockwood, the one that did like ALL the art for DnD 3rd Edition.


And, where was I at 3PM?  Writing patents. Needless to say, the con did not start out with a bang for old Jack. (I would sad emoticon here if I thought it really expressed my true angst.)


Time: 8AM (Badges? We don’t need no… oh, yes that would be helpful.)

And the comeback began EARLY, because I was a little paranoid about getting my badge and finding my actual first panel–now having blown the panel of destiny from Day 0. Luckily, with a massive assist from Caroline Perny at Harper (publicist supreme)! In fact, I want to take this moment to thank everyone at Harper Voyager for arranging the con so wonderfully. This was a fantastic opportunity to get the word out on The Charming Tales and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Harper team.

Time: 10AM (The Exhibition Hall)

The great news about waking up so early was that Jack and Jack’s sidekick throughout the con (Isaac) were able to be at the doors of the main exhibition hall when they opened.  What a scene!

Exhibit Hall

Time: Noon (Romancing the Paranormal)

Time flew in the Exhibition hall and the next thing I knew I was sitting down for my first panel. Thankfully I had a second opportunity to meet Aprilynne. She had some very insightful comments on paranormal romance, which makes sense given her collection of work (I did mention she is the author of the popular Wings novels didn’t I?). She also revealed the cover for her next book Glitter which comes out in October and looks incredible!


Sitting next to me at the panel was Jamie Wyman who is my new hero.  In addition to some amazing work with her urban fantasy series that follows technomancer Catherine Sharp (I know super cool name) as she dices with the gods in Las Vegas, Jamie also writes a series of mysteries about a Depression Era Sherlock Holmes  who works in a traveling circus. That is range!

Also at the table was Leanna Renne Hieber, who is another of my new heroes, not least of which because she writes some wonderful ghostly romance in the Magic Most Foul novels, but also because she came to the con dressed like this:


…and I came to know that this was merely “slightly fancier” than what she might wear any other day of the week. Perhaps this doesn’t seem so extraordinary, but did I mention the con was in Phoenix… in June… and it was 115 degrees outside!

And last, but certainly not least, was Kevin Hearne, he of the Iron Druid  series, and epic beard!

In all we had a great discussion about what makes a romance a paranormal romance: basically Romance (with a capital “R” as Aprilynne insisted, which means happy endings [clearing throat] read the Charming Tales) with something beyond the physical world we know, like fairies, or ghosts, or vampires, or gods. And also what is NOT a romance: a book where the love interests (one or both) die. (Sorry Romeo and Juliet you all must stay firmly rooted in the realm of tragedy.)

Time: 1:30PM and again at 4:30PM (My First and Second Signing Panels)

After the panel many of us went down for a couple of signing sessions, which were great because I got to sit next to Christina Henry (see my comments from Day 0) and fall absolutely in love with her two Alice Books. I mean look at these beautiful books and tell me you aren’t also in love with them.


Oh, also at the signings was Patrick Rothfussyes, that Patrick Rothfuss. He was great, his children were adorable, and it was fantastic to see the enthusiasm of the crowd for his works. It is always a good thing to have something to aspire to.

Time: 7PM (Drinks with Harper)

After the con, Caro (Caroline Perny, remember the awesome publicist from before) took the Harper authors out for a drink. I got to meet so many of my favorite HarperVoyager authors I’d previously only known through Facebook. (More on all of them when we continue with Day 2 of the con though.) This evening was really Caro’s triumph. Again, what a great opportunity and all thanks go to Harper and its generosity throughout the convention.


Time: 10:30AM (Charming Takes the Stage)

And here we all were: Becky Chambers, Beth Cato, your own Jack, Lexi Dunne, Patrick Hemstreet and Sarah Remy in a knock-down battle for supremacy of the stage. The panel was billed as a chance for the audience to see each of our main character’s battle to see who would win in a fight.  Here is the character sheet I made up for Prince Charming:Bookish Battle Royale Character Sheet (1)As you can image, the entire thing was more than a little tongue-in-cheek, although Charming did win his battle against none other than Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim, a hitman from hell! How did Charming win? It was all in the eyebrows my friend. You can never underestimate the power of a well-arched eyebrow in facing all the demons of hell!

It was actually a wonderful event that allowed all of us a chance to tell the audience a little bit about our novels and characters.  I’ve put up images and links to the latest works from the authors below. Please check them out:

08eea4_a3ba154738d049158cad913e2c8a2d04BreathofEarth_1000x664SupervillainsAnn 1downloadtest21

But, beyond talking about our own books, we each also got a chance to talk about one of our Harper colleague’s books. Your friend, Jack, won that contest hands-down, because I got to talk about Bishop O’Connell’s American Faerie Tale series. There is nothing easier than talking about books you love so I definitely waxed on a bit about Bishop’s books and particularly Wraith, the main protagonist of his novel The Forgotten who is literally a math wizard. If that idea intrigues you even a little you need to read these books.


Time: 11:30AM-3PM (Walking the Con)

I had a nice long break after the session to unwind, which isn’t easy to do at a convention as big and wild as the Phoenix ComicCon. No matter where you look there is something you want to do. I checked out a couple of fantastic panels.

In “Fae vs. Foe” I got to hear about where faeries came from? What was their original intent? What have they become? And, why now they are so revered? This is obviously a topic old Jack loves to hear about and discuss. Later I wandered into a fascinating presentation about the evolution of Disney princesses over the years, another topic Jack’s written about now and then.

Time: 3PM (Signing and Chatting)

One of the best things about going to cons is meeting people that have just discovered your works.  I am happy to say at the next signing several people came up interested to hear about The Charming Tales and Prince Charming himself. In between selling people on the wonder of fairytales and fairytale humor I was able to chat with a couple more authors. Being the West Coast appendage of Jack I wanted to particularly mention Greg Van EekhoutBased mostly on his description of the premise: a fantasy exploration of magic and heists on the mean streets of LA, I had to get the first volume of his trilogy, California BonesWow! It lives up to its billing. What a fantastic world he’s created. If you like noir and you like fantasy, and you can’t figure out which you should read, then this is the book for you. Highly Recommended!


Time: 1:30PM (World Builders Gonna Build)

The last day of the con found me on a panel discussing how authors go about world building in epic fantasy. Greg Van Eekout, Michael MartinezSarah Remy and I spent a very fast hour discussing our very different views on how you go about building coherent (or as is often the case when dealing with egotistical fairytale characters, incoherent) worlds. Sarah and I were on the “pantsing” it side, while Michael and Greg were on the “plan it out” side, which only goes to show that, just like there is more than one way to skin a cat, there is also more than one way to write epic fantasy.

Time: 4:15PM (Gotta Go!)

As the plane lifted off from “Skyharbor” airport (a cool name for an airport, even if the reality doesn’t quite live up to it) I was exhausted, but energized to get back to talking about The Charming Tales and writing Jack’s next novel. Jack’s two alter egos will be going out into the world this summer to bring Prince Charming and Elle and Will and Liz to as wide an audience as we can. Check out for upcoming events and, of course, future releases!

A Premature Requiem for the Novel


As Jack Heckel basks in the glow of the release of the ebook version of The Pitchfork of Destiny (Amazon US, Amazon UK, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo), all the while hoping for good reviews, we have a new series of blogs that will start on on Monday, where a gentleman does some reviews… well, perhaps we will let him introduce himself.

A Premature Requiem for the Novel
Dusty Jackets

By Mr. Dusty Jackets, OM OB FEC Bsc(Cantab) MChem(Oxon)


Dear Sirs,

It was with notable dismay that I recently read of the “death of the novel.”  I am making reference of course to the article in The Guardian of May the 2nd twenty hundred and fourteen by Mr. Will Self entitled, “The novel is dead (this time it’s for real).” In his article the noted novelist and journalist bemoans the demise of the novel, going so far as to pronounce that, “The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes.”

I must at this point stop and apologize for the delay in my writing to you concerning Mr. Self’s article, however, the trains to my Vermont estate have been abysmally slow of late, which to be fair is not surprising given that the line was abandoned in nineteen hundred and forty-two. The lack of a reliable post line though has meant that the only means I have of communicating with the outside world is through hand delivery via my footman, Doddery Banks, the younger, who at sixty-seven years of age is beginning to stretch his title of “the younger” a bit beyond what strict propriety would normally allow, although to his credit his father, and my butler, Doddery Banks, the elder, is still terrorizing the staff at eighty-eight. Several of my more adventurous (some would say radical) neighbors have suggested converting future letters into an “electronic transmission” (a telegram I suppose), or uploading it to a “blog” (whatever that might be), or even sending it by motorized carriage (an absurdity on its face, though we can all admire the things that Mr. Ford is doing). I trust you know that I respect your publication too much to have taken seriously any of these suggestions.

With my thanks for your patience, I now return to the central tenet of Mr. Self’s article.  As I scorn to act in any manner that might bring reproach on myself as a thoughtless Acolyte of Moros,[*] I normally ignore writings predicting the demise of anything except the “interweb” (an obvious fad much akin to the sideburn) as the mere ravings of those with less to occupy themselves than they otherwise might. However, as I reflected further I realized with some distress that Mr. Self was not alone in his dire prognostications.  In fact, he joins an eminent list of literary luminaries in predicting the ruination of the novel, including, Professor Tim Parks (“Literature Without Style”, The New York Review of Books, 2013), Mr. Michael Gonda (“Where Have All the Mailers Gone?”, The Observer, 2010), Mr. Gore Vidal (“What I’ve Learned”, Esquire, 2008), Mr. John Updike (“Bech at Bay”, 1998), Mr. John Barth (“Literature of Exhaustion”, The Friday Book: Essays and Other Non-Fiction, 1984), and Mr. E. M. Forster OM, CH (“Some Books”, The BBC Talks of E.M. Forster, 1944), among many others. None other than Mssr. Jules Verne was recently[†] quoted in the London Mail  as saying, “I do not think there will be any novels or romances, at all events in volume form, in fifty or a hundred years from now.”

When a man as perspicacious as Mssr. Verne warns of a future with no novels it is in one’s best interest to pay attention. I began to wonder if perhaps Mr. Self, like Mssr. Jules Verne before him was a Cassandra[‡] to my skeptic.

A sudden terror of thought gripped me. Were novels dying? Were the shelves of my library nothing more than a paper necropolis filed with the corpses of literature’s past? I roused myself from my evening lethargy and flung myself into my study. There, as you may imagine, my eyes were met with rows upon rows of spines, each neatly labelled like a grim tombstone. The first book my eyes landed on was Zelazny’s Nine Princes of Amber. I was given to wonder, was this novel dead? Have its pages, like a later day Philomela,[§] been rendered mute and unable to rage against the apparent outrages inflicted on literature by our modern times?

With shaking hand I pulled it forth and studied the blue silhouette on its cover. Fingers numb, I fumbled through the pages until there my racing mind found refuge in the following passage:

“I like libraries. It makes me feel comfortable and secure to have walls of words, beautiful and wise, all around me. I always feel better when I can see that there is something to hold back the shadows.”

I exhaled a breath of relief. Mr. Zelazny had not been struck dumb. His voice, through his novel, still spoke as relevantly today as it did in nineteen hundred and seventy when it was first pressed. I looked about, nearby was Mr. Moorcock and his creation, Elric, raging at the world:

“We must be bound to one another then,” Elric murmured despairingly. “Bound by hell-forged chains and fate-haunted circumstance. Well, then—let it be thus so—and men will have cause to tremble and flee when they hear the names of Elric of Melinbone and Stormbringer, his sword. We are two of a kind—produced by an age which has deserted us. Let us give this age cause to hate us!”

On another shelf I found Ms. Le Guinn’s Wizard of Earthsea, and in it the quiet wonder as Ged discovered true magic,

“In that moment Ged understood the singing of the bird, and the language of the water falling in the basin of the fountain, and the shape of the clouds, and the beginning and end of the wind that stirred the leaves; it seemed to him that he himself was a word spoken by the sunlight.”

Around my feet a pile of books grew. Here was The Many Colored Land, the first book in the Saga of Pliocene Exile, and next to it I found Robert E. Howard’s bestial Conan. I laughed aloud at the cover of Mr. Pratchett’s Discworld novel with its elephants and turtle, remembering poor Rincewind, the worst student in the history of the Unseen University. Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth series landed next to Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and I longed for my reading chair and a glass of port so that I might dive once more into those rich worlds. I shuddered as Donaldson’s Chronicle of Thomas Covenant challenged me again to experience the adventures of one of literature’s great anti-heroes.

Book after book came into my hand until around me hung a cloud of dust, the motes dancing about in the dying light of the evening sun like a cloud of spice around God Emperor Leto II in Frank Herbert’s Dune Saga. I stopped and fell exhausted back into my chair, one last book clutched in my grasp. In the dimming light I saw that it was a reprint of Lovecraft’s The Nameless City. I opened it while around me the darkness grew and strange shadows formed and undulated in the corners of the room. With dry lips I read again the strange words of the mad poet Abdul Alhazred,

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”

I knew then that the novel would not, could not ever die. No matter how many years of dust may accumulate outside, always within those pages a reader may find joy and terror, ugliness and beauty, hope and horror. As long as we read on, the worlds in the pages can never truly end.  And, as long as we continue to find pleasure and enlightenment in their words, these books will never lose their relevance.

So, here I distinctly avow my intent to play my humble role, as best I may, to keep the novel alive.  And I fervently hope you will allow your readers to join me as I clear the dust from some of my favorite literary classics of science fiction and fantasy.

Your most obedient servant,

Dusty Jackets

[*] Editor’s note: Moros, and I am not making this up, is the Greek god of impending doom.

[†] Editor’s note: Submitted without further comment, the edition of the London Mail Mr. Jacket is quoting from was published in 1902.

[‡] Editor’s note: Cassandra in Greek mythology could predict the future, but was cursed by Apollo so that no one would believe her prophesies, which the editor would note is a kind of jerk move.

[§] Editor’s note: Yeah…he stumped us on this one.  May I suggest Google?

The Pitchfork of Destiny Arrives!

pitchforkIn the immortal words of the Scarlet Scoundrel, “Aha!”

On April 5th, the ebook version of The Pitchfork of Destiny finally arrives on iTunes, for the Nook at Barnes & Noble, and for the Kindle on Amazon. This is the sequel to Once Upon a Rhyme and Happily Never After (now happily combined in A Fairy-tale Ending). On May 17th, it will be available in paperback, and we hope if you aren’t a fan of ebooks that you consider ordering from your local bookseller.

This book tells the story of the dragon Volthraxus and his arrival in the Kingdom of Royaume. Old friends from the first volume return as Will Pickett has his wedding plans ruined by a vengeful Wyrm and must turn to the only man in the kingdom who has ever studied how to slay a dragon: Charming. However, it’s Liz who ends up encountering another threat to the kingdom in the form of the Dracomancer, and she learns that the only way to pierce a dragon’s scales is with a weapon that has been bathed in the blood of a dragon.

If only Will hadn’t misplaced his pitchfork in the first book…

So, in this election year, when you are wondering about democracy and you want to take a break from hearing about candidates with large egos, you may want to spend some time reading about a dracomocracy led by a Dracomancer with a large ego, opposed by Charming who has another large ego…

(Please note: Any resemblance between the events of this book and the American election cycle is purely coincidental. We thought we were writing a fantasy.)

In any event, it has a wolf named Beo, a dragon named Volthraxus, an ox named Goliath and a menagerie of other exciting fairy-tale creatures, along with one of the coolest bands ever to visit a fairy-tale world. We might even have a puppet show.

Please join us as we return to Royaume for The Pitchfork of Destiny. Besides, don’t you want to own a book with a name like Pitchfork of Destiny?

Thank you!



Clothing Your Novel: The Process of Creating Cover Art


As I always say, clothes make the man. Of course, it goes without saying that the sentiment applies to the fairer sex as well.  -Prince Charming, Happily Never After

Okay, I have a confession: I am one of those old dudes that happens to mourn the demise of the LP, not because I like to hear my music overlaid by the hiss and pop of vinyl, but because I loved to study the cover art while I listened. I think a lot of my current issues might be explained by how long I stared at that prism on the cover of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album contemplating the line, “You know there really is no dark side of the moon. Matter of fact, it’s all dark.”

Dark Side

I am also one of those people whose experience of a book can be shaped by its cover, and whose decision to buy a book can depend on its outward appearance. I was originally intrigued to read The Wizard of Earthsea, Elric of Melnibone and even The Lord of the Rings because of the books themselves, rather than from my knowing anything about the stories inside them. There is a beauty and artistry to well-made books that I find distinctly pleasurable. I also have noted that books I find a pleasure to hold become those books that I habitually reread. I read the1965 Houghton-Mifflin red-bound edition of The Lord of the Rings every summer for five or six years, and the feel of the leather cover and the smell of the volume still brings me fond memories.

EarthseaMelnibone LOTR

When Harper-Collins told me that they were going to do a print edition that combined my first two novels, Once Upon a Rhyme and Happily Never After, my thoughts immediately turned to the cover art. The original covers to my novels were designed for the world of thumbnails and ebooks, but for a print version I wanted something more classically fairytale. I was fortunate to run across an artist, E.C.T. Mills, with a lovely classic style and she, even more fortunately, agreed to work with me. I found the process of working with her on the cover art so fascinating I thought I would take you through the evolution of the cover for Pitchfork of Destiny.

To begin with I gave Ms. Mills some text to work from and a proposed set of elements: a dragon, a wolf and, given the title, of course a pitchfork. She came up with three rough sketches:

sketch 1sketch2sketch3

Although none of the sketches were precisely what I was looking for, each of them held elements I found intriguing. I liked the dragon’s head from sketch 1, I loved the wolf and overall arrangement of elements from sketch 2, and I laughed-aloud at the sardonic expression on the dragon’s face in sketch 3. I asked the artist to combine those features into a single drawing and we came up with yet another preliminary sketch.


Now I felt we were getting close. I focused on the details. I didn’t like the way the pitchfork was angled at the dragon. I felt the placement of the pointing claw of the dragon was a little awkward, and I wanted to see the dragon’s eye so the viewer could get a better impression of his expression. Ms. Mills took these comments and came up with a final sketch that I thought was perfect.


What remained was to make a final drawing and settle on colors. The artist came up with three color combinations split between green dragons (to harken to the cover for A Fairy-tale Ending), and blue dragons (to better match the description of the dragon in Pitchfork of Destiny).


In the end we all liked the last combination, a blue dragon and a brown wolf. Then it was a matter of arranging the text elements: title, Harper-Collins logo, and of course my name. I couldn’t be happier with the final result and want to thank Harper-Collins for humoring my quest for better cover-art, and E.C.T. Mills for her excellent work. I hope you enjoy both of my new works A Fairy-tale Ending and Pitchfork of Destiny, both inside and out.

Fairytale Endingy648

A Fairy-tale Ending is now available as an ebook, and comes out in print October 13th.

Pitchfork of Destiny is due for release as an ebook on December 8th.

Mapping the Imagination: Or How I Learned to Love The Compass Rose


Map Royaume: Harper-Collins 2015

“Writing has nothing to do with meaning. It has to do with landsurveying and cartography, including the mapping of countries yet to come.”

-Gilles Deleuze

In a letter from 1954 to what would now be referred to as a “beta-reader”, J.R.R. Tolkien answered a question about the geography of Middle-Earth as follows:

I wisely started with a map, and made the story fit (generally with meticulous care for distances). The other way about lands one in confusions and impossibilities…

How right he is. Indeed, I feel the same way about reading fantasy books as Tolkien feels about writing them: without a map I’m lost. When I read about Frodo and Sam’s journey through the Shire via Woody End and their harrowing flight through the mists to Bucklebury Ferry, or in the delay the black rider will suffer having to detour up and across the Brandywine Bridge, my fingers inevitably flip back through the pages to find the map. Inch-by-inch across the length of the wonderful fold-out provided in the back of Houghton Mifflin’s 1965 red hardbound edition of The Lord of the Rings I follow Frodo and the Fellowship’s slow journey from the Shire and Rivendell to Moria and Lorien, Fangorn and Isengard, Rohan and Gondor, and of course across Mordor itself to Mount Doom.

Map of Middle Earth: HMCO 1965

Map of Middle Earth: HMCO 1965

But, my experience reading Tolkien is duplicated across dozens of my favorite novels, and the inside cover page, where the map often lies, is inevitably well-thumbed in any fantasy book I’m reading. In Pern I must know where Ruatha Hold is, and how far the dragonriders of the Benden Weyr must fly to protect its people from thread. When I read about Ged’s travels through the hundreds of islands of Earthsea I cannot move through the adventure except by a careful examination of the Bantam volume’s exquisitely stylized wood-cut map. And, I’m not even sure its possible to follow the stories of Rand and his myriad companions, through The Wheel of Time, or Garion through the Belgariad volumes without having the maps of those worlds handy.

Map of Earthsea: Bantam

Map of Earthsea: Bantam

This is, of course, all in preface to my own adventure in publishing. When Harper-Collins told me that they were going to do a print version of Book 1 of the Charming Tales, A Fairy-tale Ending, my first thought, apart from “that’s amazing,” was to put together a map of the world and convince them to insert it into the book. You can imagine my surprise when they magnanimously said, “yes.”

Once my amazement had worn off, I turned my hand to making a map. I thought it would be a simple task, just put each location of interest onto a single page and making the distances, or at least the relative positions of the locations, somewhat reasonable. But, almost as soon as I put pencil to paper I realized that it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. This was partly because I failed to take Tolkien’s advice and wrote the story before drawing the map, and partly because my own mind’s eye map of Royaume was a little hazy when it got down to specifics. How far was Gnarsh’s bridge to the Cooked Goose? How did both Liz and Charming end up at the dwarves’ cottage coming from Castle White and the Beast’s house, respectively? For goodness sake, where the heck was Prosper and how did Will get up to the Dragon’s Tower?

Draft Sketch of Royaume

Draft Sketch of Royaume

My first several attempts were… disasters, locations that took characters weeks to travel somehow ended up next to each other and places in the West ended up in the East and vice-versa. However, eventually I ended up with a sketch, which, even if a little clumsy, at least had all the right bits and pieces in all the right places. From there it was necessary to find an artist capable to transforming my scrawl into something book-worthy. In this I was lucky to run across the website of Maxime Plasse, a real cartographer and artist. He was able to breathe life into places like Castle White and the Scoundrel’s Bridge, and to give a feel for that make-believe place of my dreams: Royaume.

As the release of the print version of A Fairy-tale Ending comes nearer and nearer (October 13 being the official date), I wanted to give my readers a glimpse of what is to come. Here then is my map. I hope that it gives you as much pleasure to look at as it has given me to make. I hope you find your fingers flipping back and forth between text and map to track the travels of Liz and Will and Charming and Rapunzel as they plot their own courses through their new fairytale world.

Map Royaume: Harper-Collins 2015

Map Royaume: Harper-Collins 2015

Once Upon a Time with… W.R. Gingell

Welcome dear readers to another fairytale story-themed interview, Once Upon a Time with… where we interview a fellow author.

Wolfskin - 2000

Today, we’d like to welcome W.R. Gingell, a Tasmanian author who lives in a house with a green door. According to her own biography, she spends her time reading, drinking an inordinate amount of tea, and slouching in front of the fire to write. Like Peter Pan, she never really grew up, and is still occasionally to be found climbing trees. Solid stuff and probably much better than working on a lighthouse in land-locked Vermont.

I ran into her during a Facebook interview I was having during A.F.E. Smith’s Facebook launch promotion for the epic fantasy, Darkhaven. W.R. was good enough to laugh at my jokes and knowledgeable about fairytales, so when I discovered she also wrote fairytale fantasy, I had to invite her to visit. Continue reading