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!

Eating my way through Spain and other magical places

I could have eaten my way through Spain!

Melissa agreed, rather sheepishly.

But we didn’t.

We sure tried, though.

The food was just that good.  Every meal was a presentation of sensational delight, the aroma, the aesthetic arrangement and of course the favors.

There was not one meal or item of food that was not delicious from start to finish.  Half of the adventure was actually not knowing what we were eating.  It was a guessing game as we stared at the menus in Spanish and tried to remember what little Spanish we did or didn’t know.

Fortunately, there were some places that had an English translation below.  But, as we soon found out, the translations were a little off.  Prawns and wild garlic, were really prawns with wild mushrooms.  Though, I cannot complain; the dish was fabulous.

And sometimes there was no English translation at all. “Salchichon are salchinchon.”  Our waiter at one restaurant patiently said over and over.  Melissa and I stared helplessly at the waiter and gave each other quizzical glances.  Was there a way we could communicate to explain that salchichon meant nothing to either of us?  I fumbled with my travel guide book.  Finally someone from another table heard us laughing and pointing at the menu and the waiter trying desperately to understand.  He told us salchinchons are sausages. Sausages we understood and sausages are good.  So we ordered salchinchons much to the relief of our waiter.

But the food was not everything…it was partially the destinations and ambiance of the places that made the experience even better. Some times it was just a cafe in a plaza that caught our eye as a good place to eat.

Other times it was just a little shop that for some reason looks too inviting not to enter.

Sometimes the restaurant is down an ally and up a hill and were almost little holes in the wall…

And some places the views were just too stunning for words…

And then there were places that were just comfy and inviting. Sitting outside in a pleasant plaza watching the world go by while enjoying the pleasures of life: chocolate, sunshine, and good company…

There is magic in places like this.  The imagination doesn’t have to work so hard.  The atmosphere and the inhabitants of these places make for great world building.  These places can easily become haunts for characters in a story.  Their ambiance and flavor come to life through the pen, now that I have experienced them.  I have a taste of what makes a good pub great, a cozy cafe comforting, a noisy restaurant sociable, and a sweet little pasteleria so delectable.

You never know…something magical may actually happen…

 

Art and the Imagination – From Toledo to Toledo

I was 17, flipping through the pages of an art book on the great masters, having been commissioned by my art teacher to paint a picture.  It didn’t have to be original, in fact he would prefer us to look at famous paintings and try our hand at copying one.  My teacher had dozens of books.  I found one that looked moderately interesting and thumbed through it.  I had seen most of paintings before (well, never in person):  The Mona Lisa, Starry Night, Monet’s lilies, a painting by Rembrandt, a painting by Raphael…the list goes on.  Then I turned the page and saw a painting that at first glance was merely a strange mixture of dark blues and greens and stark whites. I thought it gloomy.  I paused, shook my head, and dismissed it by turning the page.  I was closing the book and about to put it away when the image of that painting came back to me. There was something about it.  The gloom, the dark colors, the movement of the clouds, all of these things spoke of something that I was missing. I had to see it again.

Frantically, I flipped through the book.  I couldn’t find it. Slowing down, I paged through, this time making sure that I didn’t miss a painting.  There, somewhere in the middle, was my painting…the “View of Toledo Spain” by El Greco.

A View of Toledo (c. 1596–1600, oil on canvas, 47.75 × 42.75 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) is one of the two surviving landscapes of Toledo painted by El Greco.

It seems silly now to think of the romantic connotations that struck my fancy concerning this painting.  But I grew up in Toledo, Ohio.  An industrial town, which I always saw as rather blue collar and unromantic.   But El Greco’s Toledo was vivid and alive.  The rich blues and greens, the stormy skies were marvelously contrasted with the bright whites of clouds and stones.  El Greco’s depiction of this Medieval city suddenly became my standard, my median for all such cities.  Every time I started to write a story – for some reason most of my fantasy stories seem to take place in rather Medieval/Renaissance-esque settings – I would  envision a city by a river and it would take the shape of Toledo Spain.  I put my hero on that long road up to the first gate and over the bridge and into the dark and winding streets that held mystery, murder, and adventure.

Since happening upon this painting, I have longed to see Spain.  To walk those streets of Toledo that I could only dream about.  Recently, I had the opportunity.

Everyone asks what was it like.  It is challenge to put words to emotions, feelings, sights and sounds that, even while experiencing them, one can only gape at in wonder and serenity.

I just grin.

This is my view of Toledo Spain. My heart trilled at the sight and I do believe I was rather giddy, like a kid at Christmas.

Just thinking about it brings a smile to my face.  How do you put this into words?  Suddenly the greens and blues and the sky of El Greco’s painting make sense.  I can see them and I can finally experience them.

I became the hero walking through the gates.

Puerta del Sol

I got to walk through those streets and see what adventures awaited…

Long, narrow streets led up hill and down, toward plazas, castles and a cathedral…

The Alcazar (castle to us) was once a fortress, now it is a military history museum. It was full of interesting facts and historical bits about Spain I did not know.

The Alcazar had lovely gardens and vistas that overlooked the beautiful countryside.

From the vista at the Alcazar
There, in the distance, you can see the cathedral.  …Now if only I could get there….

But before we found a way to the cathedral I found a lost knight…and my traveling companion, Melissa, found a marvelous bookshop.

Don Quixote lost his fight with the windmills but he stands guarding this hotel. If you cannot tell I am rather shocked.
Books, no matter in what language they are, are wonderful things, full of hidden treasures and…wonderful things.   Melissa is very happy to have found this little bookshop.
The cathedral…no matter how you try to capture the majesty of it…there are no appropriate words or  good angles.

I tried…Melissa tried…and no matter what we did, we were always missing something.  The height and splendor of that tower and the magnificence of the doors demand a better camera, a wider lens.

Inside was just as marvelously too good for words…maybe a few pictures will help articulate.

The Choir inside the Cathedral.
Behind the Nave

I wandered the city and found artists and craftsmen

A artisan doing damascene, often crafted into jewelry, it is the art form of inlaying precious metal such as gold or silver over steel.

Toledo Spain has a sense of humor too…

This is the Street of Toledo of Ohio. Just a little shout out to home.

And I found the “house” of El Greco!

El Greco’s house…which in now an art museum and has a reconstruction of his studio and living quarters.

There were even street performers…

This one man band reminded me of Bert from Marry Poppins. All the children loved him

Toledo is a city of history and art, music and culinary masterpieces…

This is a replica of Puerta del Sol made out of mazapan, a famous Toledo pastry
Melissa and I joked that we could have eaten our way through Spain, but with tapas like this we really weren’t joking.

…a city whose sky is textured with clouds, blue and the brilliant sun.

The sunset over Toledo

Words cannot express how much I miss Toledo Spain.  There was a part of me that feared my romantic imaginings of this city would lead me to disappointment, but Toledo Spain exceeded my dreams.

Be wary of the tapping on your windows

I am not a fan of the dark and scary.  I have an overactive imagination and I can scare myself better than anyone else I know.  As a child laying awake at night, staring up into the darkness, I could see the dancing shadows, feel the trees creeping and my heart would race.   I quickly realized I could have two responses: imagine the worst or imagine something different.

I choose to imagine the something different.

I had been told stories about faeries and otherworlds…I chose to see the gaps in the darkness; not as scary things of this world, but the good things of the other worlds.  The flitting shadows became naiads and fauns dancing in the moonlight.  The trees were creeping because they were being shepherded by the Ents or coming alive because they were actually dryads.  The tapping on my windows was nothing more than faerie’s invitation and the scratching on the walls became the brownies racing the mice along the floor boards.  Such fantasies let me sleep at night when my over active imagination wanted to take me places I really did not want to go.

But what about the “worst things”?  What if there really were monsters in the closets and things tapping on your windows trying to get in? What about those things that make no noise?

Artwork and Quote from "Silence" By Melissa Rogers; Illustrations Jill Johnson

Like I said I don’t do scary, but I must say sometimes a story comes around that talks about the things that tap, the voices on the wind and, even the things that “make no noise at all.”  Though most decidedly scary, that is the sort of story you want to read:  Where the things under the bed are actually there but there are real ways to defeat them…silver in your shoes and iron in your pocket.  These are stories that show how the dark dancing shadows can be overcome…if only  you have a cricket bat.

Since Halloween is coming and it is the time of year in which we like to talk about the things that go bump in the night, I’d like to recommend a very good creepy little story told with just a little snark: “Silence” by Melissa Rogers in the All Hallow’s Eve Edition of Gallery Of Worlds.  Check it out (for free) in our store this Sunday!

A Movie that is better than its Book

It is a fact widely accepted and acknowledged that a book will always be better than a movie.

I normally hold to this statement with my fingers tightly grasping the pages of said book daring anyone to tell me differently.  Books are always better!

Well…I have found that exception to the rule.

The other night a group of friends and I were enjoying one of those rare evenings in the middle of the week when all motivation for the chores that ought to be done are out weighed by the exhaustion of the day and so the only logical thing to do is invite friends over for a movie and ice cream. (It is the simple pleasures in life…)

After going through all of my movies twice we settled on one of my favorites, Stardust.

And if you didn’t know, Stardust is based off of a book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess.  The book is a sad sort of romance, which has been classified as an adult fairytale, with beautiful artwork that is both whimsical and grim.  I suppose I am not selling the book very well, but if you have read anything by Gaiman, I am paying the book a pleasant compliment. The original story, published in 1997, is almost a graphic novel with all the artwork but is not in the traditional comicbook style.  It was later published as a full length novel in 2000. (I’ll be honest I have only read the 1997 version).  I loved the book; it was everything that I have come to love about Gaiman – witty, magical, cleverly twisting the normal perceptions of characters and fairytales,and ever so slightly grimm.

But as Melissa and I started talking (aka analyzing the movie), we realized that even though we liked the book; the movie was better. Let me clarify: There are aspects of the movie that are better, with more fully realized characters and action. We both agreed that the film’s adaptation with the lightening pirates was much better than the brief mention of the flying merchant ship.  The pirates added an element to the film that made that part of the story come alive.  The flying ship was such an interesting part of the world of Stormhold that it was a shame that it was so overlooked in the book.  The pirates are entertaining and are the catalyst that makes Tristan (a rather pathetic boy) a young man worth the affection of the lovely star. I think Captain Shakespeare, though a little on the whoopsie side of things, is one of the best characters in the movie.

The added scenes with the pirates don’t distract from the story or ruin the nature of the main characters, which is what normally happens when a director wants to “improve” upon the book.   The film took all the best parts of the book and gave them life and vivacity while overlooking the worst parts of the book.  I think one of the reasons the movie turned out so well is because Neil Gaiman was a producer.  This is the third time through with the story and the screenwriters along with Gaiman understood what would work best on the screen and what should be left out.

So, for once, I will say that even if you don’t read the book (which I would generally recommend) at least watch the movie.  Stardust is one of those stories that reminds you that Faerie really is on the other side of the Wall and sometimes wishing on a falling star will bring you more luck than you expected.

A philosopher once asked, “Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?” Pointless, really… “Do the stars gaze back?” Now *that’s* a question.

~Don’t forget to check out Brian’s new book Waverly Hall