Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “The Red Cap”

A bright red St. Louis Cardinals baseball cap glowed in the light of the morning sun as James rummaged through cardboard boxes to find a clean t-shirt, pair of jeans, and socks. His dad had bought the cap for him on the family’s last trip to Busch Stadium before the big move to North Carolina a week ago. After James got dressed, he smoothed his blonde hair and fitted the hat on his head. It made his ears stick out, but he wore it all the same.

He walked downstairs and faced the towers of cardboard boxes and plastic bins that cluttered the living room.

“Dad!” James called. His mother’s head popped over a stack of boxes labeled OFFICE.

“Good morning, love,” she said.

“Hi, Mom.” James looked around. “Where’s Dad?”

“At work.”

Again?” James groaned. “It’s Saturday. He’s worked every day since we’ve moved, and he promised he would take me to the park today to get some extra practice in before school starts on Monday.”

His mother’s eyebrows rose. “James, Dad did not make that promise. All he said was ‘We’ll see.’ We’ve told you several times his new job would make him work on the weekends sometimes. Why don’t you go outside? The front yard’s plenty big. Take your ball and bat and practice your swinging.”

“It would be better if Dad was here,” James muttered.

“James!” his mother’s voice was rising. “I’m sorry your father has to work today and can’t take you to the park. Things are not going to be like they were in St. Louis. Now, please, go outside or you can help me unpack. Your choice.”

They glared at each other for a moment. “Fine,” James huffed. He put on his sneakers and jacket and opened the front door, not bothering to take his ball and bat.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and stalked across the yard toward the oak tree next to the gravel driveway. The branches spread across the driveway, creating a canopy that barely reached the woods on the other side. The moss swayed in the cool breeze, and acorns crunched under James’s feet as he approached the tree. He slumped down at the base and tossed his hat on the ground in front of him. He picked up several acorns and lobbed them across the driveway into the trees on the other side. The acorns smacked the leaves of the low-hanging branches.

Through a gap in the branches, something moved. “Dumb squirrels,” James mumbled. He hurled a single acorn into the branches. They shuddered, and two human eyes stared back at him.

James blinked, startled. Then, the wind howled and whirled dirt, moss, and twigs around him. It lifted the red hat and carried it toward the woods. James reached for it, but the wind picked up and he had to shield his face with his arms. The wind and debris whipped around him for a few seconds, then stopped. James lifted his head to see his hat disappear into the woods beyond the driveway.  The eyes in the tree had vanished.

He sprang up and dashed toward the spot where his hat had disappeared. He crashed through the branches and stood facing the forest. The trees grew thick and tall, and James could barely see the forest beyond or the sky above. He walked through the dense woods, the twigs and leaves snapping and crunching beneath him. As he continued to walk, the forest began to change. The trees resembled wrinkly faces, which scowled at James, and he had to maneuver his way around their low bony branches. The sound of his footsteps seemed to echo among the thick, gnarled trees. He walked for several minutes until he came to space amongst the trees where a fallen elm lay. As James scanned the elm tree, he saw his hat emerge from the other side of the trunk—and so did the thing holding it.

James stepped back and gasped. A small man with a gruesome face surrounded by a thick mane of dark crimson hair stood and flexed his sturdy, hunched back. He wore a dirty, tattered traveling cloak, jerkin, and breeches, and held a walking staff with a pewter point at the end. It stared at James with unblinking blood-shot eyes. . . .

Creepy! What the heck is this thing that has stolen James’s hat? Discover the secret July 15! Lantern Hollow Press is releasing a revised edition of its short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “Destiny, Werewolves, and How I Might Have Helped Save the World”

Some people are meant to live happy, but ordinary lives, while some are dragged irresistibly into danger, glory, and the pressures of heroism.  It’s Fate or Destiny or Something-Even-Bigger-Than-Both. And there’s nothing that person can do to stop it. Well, in this story, that person whose Fate was sealed on the first day of her junior year of high school was not me.  My life is set on a track of the happy, ordinary, and completely free from glory or heroism.  The most dangerous thing that I am facing is college applications and I am perfectly happy for it to stay that way.

The girl dragged into adventure and glory and heroism and all that other stuff, the girl with Fate written on her forehead in shining letters, was the new girl at school with the locker next to mine.  So I guess you could say I had a brush with Fate, but mostly Fate just glanced dismissively at me before shouldering me aside so that it could get a better look at Katrina Starr.  Pretty much like every jock in school would try to do that year.

With a name like Kat Starr, you knew she had to be something special.  With platinum blonde hair, blue eyes that blazed defiantly at the world in general, and a tall, slim, athletic build that simply screamed I-take-some-special-form-of-martial-arts-after- school-and-could-kick-your-butt, it was surprising that no one else seemed to notice that she was marked for Greatness. But I guess that’s how it is with these heroes-to-be.  They don’t notice Fate until it punches them in the gut. Or kisses them passionately.  Fate can be awkward like that.

On the first day of school, when it all began, Kat and I were fiddling with our locker combinations and I was chatting with my good friend Colin. Colin is a girl, by the way, but her parents are that kind of people who think that mixing up names will make their children feel unique and special instead of giving them anger management issues.  Colin has an older brother named Ashley.

Colin and I were comparing notes on our summers holidays – she spent half of hers in Europe and I spent most of mine in my room reading (but I still maintained I visited more places) –  when a mysterious Entity was suddenly looming behind me. Colin didn’t really pay attention, but I found myself listening in on a conversation between Kat and The Stranger.

 

“Hello, Katrina Starr,” he began in a deep, sultry voice.  I had never described a voice as sultry before, not being a huge fan of soap operas, but his was definitely what I think a sultry voice would sound like. Kind of… throaty.

“Do I know you?” Kat responded, flicking her silvery blonde hair over her shoulder.  I wasn’t facing them, but it’s impossible not to catch the shimmer of that hair out of the corner of your eye.  “How do you know my name?”

We know a lot about you, Kat,” The Sultry Stranger continued, sounding pleased with himself.  “We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Well, get lost, whoever you are,” Kat challenged.  I admired the new girl’s spunk.  “Whatever your game is, I’m not interested.”  And she brushed past him and walked away.

The Sultry Stranger waited a moment to contemplate her disappearing form, and then stalked off in the opposite direction.  I spared him a glance.  Oh, it was only Jake, quarterback of the football team and senior stud of Gracetree High School.  He didn’t normally sound like that, I thought.  What had made him talk so weird to Kat?  Probably just an attempt to hit on her.  Typical.

“Ugh, this year is going to be awful,” Colin groaned.  “I think I can predict the future: homework, homework, and then more homework!”

“I like homework,” I said complacently.  I meant it, too.  Homework, college, grad school, successful career, book about my successful career, retirement on a beach somewhere.  I had dreams of being normal that I was eager to fulfill.

If Kat Starr had any dreams of being normal, though, she was being forced to give them up.

After first period, I ran back to my locker to grab my calculator for my next class and there was Kat, this time with three guys and a girl standing around of her, talking very intently to her.

I sidled closer, unwilling to eavesdrop if I didn’t have to.  I’m polite like that.  But her locker was right next to mine and Jake was leaning against the door of my locker so I had to request that he scoot over so I could get in.  He did, without looking at me.

“It’s impossible,” Kat whispered, sounding upset.  I thought about humming, to block out their voices and so they’d know I was there, since Jake already seemed to have forgotten.

“You can’t deny it any more than we can,” said the girl.  That was Paige from the cheer squad.  Jake’s ex-girlfriend as of last fall. Now she was dating Jake’s teammate Andre, one of the other guys who was looming over Kat. I wondered how they could all still be friends after that much drama, but who was I to judge?

“I’m a clairvoyant,” Paige continued, perfectly serious, “and you’re a hunter.”

“I don’t want to be a hunter!” Kat exclaimed.  “I don’t believe in werewolves!”

Want to know what happens next? Find out July 15 if you order a copy of Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

from “A Boy Named Forgotten”

There once was a boy born unwanted and who, therefore, was quickly forgotten.  By the time he could walk, the only person who had ever cared for him left.  Not because the child was a problem; on the contrary, the boy was sweet of temperament if not timid or shy.  She left in a huff, for her wages were unfulfilled and her virtue challenged by the very evil father. Being a moral sort, she could not bear the unsolicited advances.  Having no means of her own, she reluctantly abandoned the boy child.

Now there was no one to change his shirt and he was left to his own devices.  The boy stalked his father’s corridors, hunting for scraps from the tea trays.  The day he discovered the kitchen was so glorious a find that he nearly whooped for joy.  However fearing the stern, plump cook, he swallowed all enthusiasm and waited for his opportunity to pounce in the unsuspecting meat trays.  From then on, the boy’s life grew much simpler; he no longer needed to fear the dark, endless nights in which the distant sounds of frivolity combined with the near groans of his stomach kept him awake.

Another great day in the boy’s young life was the day he made a friend.  It had rained for several weeks and the days were finally bright and clear.  A brisk wind whipped the trees, snowing cherry blossoms.  The boy stole away up to the widow’s walk.  The walk was lined with grotesque figures of demons and gargoyles.  The boy ran his fingers over the sun-warmed stones and shivered.  They frightened him.

“They just stones,”  he said, taking comfort in the sound of his voice.

“They just stones,”  a voice quipped back.

“Who’s there?”

“Who’s there?”

At this the boy stumbled back—stopping only when a gargoyle’s horn pierced his shoulder.

“Ahhoowh”

“Ahhough…eck!”  The voice choked rather pathetically and then snickered gaily.

“Not funny!”  the boy replied sorely.

“Not funny?  Sorry.”  The voice came closer.

“Who’s you?”

“I’m me.”

“And you?”  The boy was feeling less afraid.  There was something gentle in the scratchy, little voice.

“Me!”  And the voice appeared as a tiny grey-blue lizard.  “Leviathan.”

“Lavathan?”

“Close…Le -VI – a – than.”  The lizard slunk forward and put his claws on the boy’s bare feet.  “And You?”

“I am Forgotten.”

“We should be friends.”

“Friends?” Forgotten moved, positioning himself more comfortably. “What’s that?”

“Never heard of friends?  Why that’s two pals—two of a kind talking, walking, stalking the house, grounds, woods, world…why everybody ought to have a friend.”

“Oh, I’d like that.”

And just like that, they were friends, companions, blood-brothers of a sort.  They uncovered the secrets of the basements, the treasures in the attic, and on pleasant days they studied the grounds, playing tricks on the gardeners, stealing pies out of cooling racks, and even snatching clothes off the line—only when needed.  Together they grew strong and cunning.

One day, Forgotten and Leviathan woke to the sounds of silence. Forgotten could never remember a time in which the house and grounds were so quiet.  He and Leviathan wandered through the corridors but found no tea trays going to random rooms, no maids scuttling about.  In the kitchen there was no shrewd cook barking at the scullery or sculleries to be yelled at.  Only a cold hard loaf of bread sat on the table.  Forgotten and Leviathan nibbled at it skeptically—not even the hounds yelped in the yard.  Forgotten ran to the door and flung it open.  The garden and chicken yards were empty.  Only a dusty layer of snow covered the place.  He shivered and closed the door slowly.

“They’ve gone!”

Leviathan jumped from the table.  “Gone?”

“Gone, gone!  No people, no animals…just you and me!”

“That’s the way it should be!”  Leviathan said and he stuffed the last of the crust into his mouth.

It was on this day that life became challenging. The last leg of winter was rather cold and hungry. But Forgotten considered all things to be good. He had the house, the grounds, the wood all to himself and Leviathan.  They did not have to sneak from corner to corner, room to room, hiding from the inhabitants—they were the inhabitants. He and Leviathan knew every nook and cranny and now it was theirs.  The first few weeks, Forgotten was leery of the whole situation—it seemed too good.  Leviathan assured him that they truly had gone and were not coming back.

And they did not come back. . . .

Want to know what happens to Forgotten and Leviathan? On July 15, you can! Lantern Hollow Press is releasing a revised edition of its short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!

Listen Up, Reader! How to Get Things Read!

Buried-in-BooksSo, we all have “The List”: the books we want to read before we die. I also have The List, and it is so long that I will inevitably die before I complete it. But I think the purpose of having The List is not so much completion as it is exploration. My List includes Newbery winners and honors books, with occasional deviations into non-winners or non-children’s books. Right now, I am “reading” Life of Pi by Yann Martel, not necessarily a children’s book, but it certainly appeals to my taste for children’s literature.

I put quotes around reading because I am not actually reading the book—I’m listening to it. My mother and I have had several discussions about the differences between reading and listening to a book. She argues that I have not actually read anything because reading requires an engagement with a text and processed with the eyes. Listening, on the other hand, uses an entirely different process, the ears. I assert that both need mental adherence, and both result in the completion of a story when finished. I think we both are right. Listening cannot take the place of reading, but bookworms should not scoff at audiobooks and radio adaptations. In fact, engaging a story aurally can be just as enriching an experience as curling up in your favorite armchair with a cup of Earl Grey and a copy of Jane Austen.

8365_73feBesides processing the stories differently with your faculties, listening occupies time more efficiently than reading can. How many of us have stated, “I would read more, but I do not have the time”? It’s one of the curses of The List: the number of books expands while your time diminishes. (It must be a universal law somewhere, next to Murphy’s and Godwin’s Laws. We’ll call it The Law of The List.) I found myself asking the same question—then I discovered audiobooks.

I once held a security job at a department store monitoring cameras while sitting in a small room alone. It was awful. I could not stand the silence, and there where many times I wished I had a book to read. I was allowed some music to play, but books and newspapers were discouraged for obvious reasons.

I think the idea of audiobooks came to me while I was shopping at a bookstore on break. I first learned of audiobooks long before I started working the security job. One summer during my undergraduate years, I traveled on a recruitment team for my university. During the long seasons on the road, we listened to C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia on audiobook. Each novel was read by a different British actor or actress, and I think I learned to appreciate Lewis a little more fully. I’m not sure when I started listening to audiobooks at the security job, but my time in solitary confinement was much more bearable because of the stories.

I can’t remember all the books I “read,” but I know I read some of the classics as well as contemporary ones. Some of the books covered include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Harry Potter series, a couple of Jane Austen books, Dracula by Stoker, Night by Elie Wiesel, The Last of the Mohicans by Cooper, and a Steven King novel that we stall not speak of.

I became a vivacious reader (listener?) because of audiobooks.  I couldn’t wait to visit the library or bookstore to borrow or buy the latest audiobook that intrigued me. Perhaps a classic here and a modern book later? Who cares! I’m reading—sort of! And I love it!

Audiobooks soon became less prominent when I left the security job and started teaching. I started annotating books so I could lead my students through them. However, I took some small work cataloging books for a school library one summer. Again, I found myself working alone with plenty of silent time.

listener_new_rectSo, I returned to audiobooks. Since I was in a school setting, I chose to read children’s books. I think I read about fifteen children’s books that summer, and we’re not talking about Dr. Seuss either. Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Pyrdain, three books from Madeline L’Engle, several other Newbery winners and honors, and some classics like A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, and The Wind in the Willows. I discovered Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, my favorite story read to me.

After the summer, The List began to grow, as The List will do, but the arduous task of completion has now truly become one of exploration. Now, I don’t care about completing The List—I have another way to enjoy books.

Movie Muses: Disney Princesses Have Sucky Home Lives

The last two weeks have been about new movies, and as much as I’d love to use this series as an excuse to continue to watch a new film every week, time and money are not on my side. One thing I had intended to do this month, though, is talk about a couple of older movies that I rewatched.

Before I do that, I want to say that nostalgia is a very dangerous emotion. We reflect on places, experiences, books, movies, etc that we once knew and loved and they become an ideal in our mind – the most perfect of perfect places/ experiences/ books/ movies/ whatever – and if we ever dare to return to that about which we feel so nostalgic, we run a very large risk of being disappointed, or at least disillusioned in some way. The fact is, we change and so our tastes and interests change; we mature, and what we loved when we were younger does not always come with us into maturity.

Fortunately, this is not always the case and many times, when we return to something we loved, it is just as lovable, if not more so, than when we left it. But sometimes, it looks just a little different.

When I decided to watch some old Disney movies, I was feeling especially nostalgic.  The two that I watched were The Little Mermaid, which has been my favorite since I was very little, and Beauty and the Beast, which comes in a close second. I’m a fan of the princesses who actually have some courage, some intelligence, and some personality (aka, I really don’t like Cinderella or Snow White).  Ariel and Belle have always been my favorites.

little mermaid ariel tritonWatching these two movies was an experience.  First of all, I wasn’t sure whether to be more disturbed or pleased that I knew nearly every song, word for word.  Second, I was startled to find that both princesses looked quite a bit… well… younger.  When Ariel pointed out that she was “sixteen years old – not a child!” I felt a little weird. After all, she gets married at the end of the movie… at sixteen!!!   And as I continued to watch these movies (and I did enjoy them!) I began to realize that there were some aspects of them that Younger Me simply did not pick up on. (Did you know that Flounder isn’t actually a flounder? All of my illusions are shattered.)

One defining aspect of both of these films is the lack of a stable home environment, something that is a common factor among all Disney princess movies, actually.  Now, I’ll say right now that the point of this post is not to claim that Disney movies are evil and children shouldn’t watch them because I like them and I have no problem with them in general.  What I want to focus on is the interesting pattern that these stories follow and to ponder the how’s and the why’s.

First of all, in the usual way of Disney fairy tales, neither Ariel nor Belle has a mother.  In their cases, they do not have to deal with evil step-mothers, which is a plus, but they have very interesting relationships with their fathers instead.  Watching this as an adult, one thing I realized, which is obvious now but would not have been to a child, is that the parents are not made to be admired.  We are supposed to root for the princess and so her parent is set up as an obstacle or complications in her rise to greatness.

little mermaid ariel ericAs a child, it never really occurred to me that Ariel was doing anything particularly wrong when she followed her dreams (come on! following dreams is what princesses do!), but when I watched the movie, I realized that she literally forgets or ignores every single thing her father asks or tells her to do, from attending a major concert as the lead singer to fraternizing with those evil fish-eating humans.  Her reason?  She’s sixteen!  Clearly old enough to make her own decisions.  Her father comes across as tyrannical and while he loves his daughter, he just doesn’t understand her.  The ultimate resolution to this tense relationship comes when he finally gives in to her wishes.

Okay, so maybe I’m moralizing just a little bit here, but I do think it is a little strange that our instinct is to rejoice in this reconciliation. The father is wrong about everything and Ariel gets everything she wanted with no apparent consequences.  There is no acknowledgment of mistakes on both sides, just a new “understanding” on the part of her father.  He now recognizes, as Sebastien points out, that “Children should be free to lead their own lives.”

beauty and the beast belle's fatherIn Beauty and the Beast, we have a much better relationship between the father and daughter in that each wants to save the other and there is clearly genuine love and affection.  But what we end up with in this story is a scholarly, clever, independent daughter who is left defending the actions of her old, foolish father.  He may be an inventor, but he’s not very bright.  The movie portrays him as a loving, but silly man who mostly just needs saving.   And, once again, because he is clearly the lesser intellect between the two, Belle does not listen to him and does not let him sacrifice himself for her.  Instead, she makes the decision and stays with the Beast.  It was very, very noble!  But when you think about it, it is a little backwards.  (Jasmine relationship with her father in Aladdin is a very similar example – and he’s in charge of an empire!)

belle-father-locked-up-300x249For both of these movies, the important child-parent dynamic is between the daughter and the father, in one case a matter of rebellion against a parent who just doesn’t understand and in the other a case of father who needs saving from his own foolish decisions.  In neither of these movies is the missing mother mentioned.  Whether she is dead or gone doesn’t appear to matter.  I find it interesting as well that neither daughter looks remotely like her father.  Therefore, these girls must take after their mothers, and yet those mothers are nowhere to be seen.  These films portray powerful, independent, clever young ladies whose bravery and self-sacrifice are admirable, but they utterly lack relationships of mutual respect with even the parent who is left, and the one with whom we presume they might most identify is absent.

Fairy tales with missing or abusive parents are quite normal, of course.  The hero(ine) needs something to overcome or needs to prove him/herself.  Children in healthy, supportive two-parent homes just don’t strike us as needing to improve their situation quite so much.  They don’t gain our sympathy right away.  They also don’t have an immediate motivation to go out and leave their perfectly nice homes to seek their fortunes.  A bad home is a concise and simple way to kick the child out the door and set them on their path to greatness. In the process, however, a somewhat negative stereotype has formed.

I don’t want to end with a generalizing statement claiming that I don’t think Disney films should be watched (I still love them!), but the environment characters are placed in is something to consider when you read or watch or write a story.  Where are the parents?  What role do they play?  Do they really need to come from a broken home, or could the hero(ine) just as easily be drawn into an adventure with both a mother and father watching anxiously from the window?  When a book or movie portrays parents (or adults in general) as cruel or foolish or absent, it does allow the children to rise up as the heroes, which for a story about children or young people is important; however, it might also perpetuate a view of adults as being generally cruel or foolish or absent, and as being not worth listening to.

What are your thoughts on these stories?  How much should we read into the parent-child relationship and what can we learn from this in regards to our own writing?  How should adults be portrayed in children’s literature or in fairy tales?

And the all-important question: Which Disney film is your favorite?