Monday, September 23, 2013

"Goddess Tithe" Cover Reveal!!

The Vengeful Goddess  Demands Her Tithe

When a stowaway is discovered aboard the merchant ship Kulap Kanya, Munny, a cabin boy 

on his first voyage, knows what must be done. All stowaways are sacrificed to Risafeth, the evil 

goddess of the sea. Such is her right, and the Kulap Kanya's only hope to return safely home.

Yet, to the horror of his crew, Captain Sunan vows to protect the stowaway, a foreigner in 

clown's garb. A curse falls upon the ship and all who sail with her, for Risafeth will stop at 

nothing to claim her tithe.

Will Munny find the courage to trust his captain and to protect the strange clown who has 

become his friend?

Dearest Readers,

    Let me introduce you to my absolutely-positively-most- favoritest author!

Anne Elisabeth Stengl makes her home in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband, Rohan, a kindle of kitties, and one long-suffering dog. When she’s not writing, she enjoys Shakespeare, opera, and tea, and practices piano, painting, and pastry baking. She studied illustration at Grace College and English literature at Campbell University. She is the author of the Tales of Goldstone Wood, including  Heartless, Veiled Rose, Moonblood, Starflower, and Dragonwitch. Heartless and  Veiled Rose have each been honored with a Christy Award, and  Starflower was voted winner of the 2013 Clive Staples Award.
  And I can't tell you how excited I am to host this event on my blog because I am her biggest fan. How am I her biggest fan? I named my only daughter after her. Not kidding. 
  Anne Elisabeth is the most exciting young author on the YA market, and I am so excited to share this moment with you: The cover reveal of her newest addition to the critically acclaimed Goldstone Woods series - GODDESS TITHE!!

That's right, ladies and gents - it has illustrations! (GORGEOUS, isn't it?) And more than that, the author herself talks about the creative process!!

Anne Elisabeth on the cover design: (See above)

I had the fun of designing this cover—finding reference photos, inventing the composition, applying the text, etc.—but the actual artistic work was done by talented cover artist Phatpuppy (, whose work I have admired for many years. It was such a thrill for me to contact and commission this artist to create a look for Goddess Tithe that is reminiscent of the original novels but has a style and drama all its own.

The boy on the front was quite a find. I hunted high and low for an image of a boy the right age, the right look, with the right expression on his face. Phatpuppy and I worked with a different model through most of the cover development stage. But then I happened upon this image, and both she and I were delighted with his blend of youth, stubbornness, and strength of character! It wasn’t difficult to switch the original boy for this young man. He simply is Munny, and this cover is a perfect window into the world of my story.You can’t see it here, but the wrap-around back cover for the print copy contains some of the prettiest work . . . including quite a scary sea monster! Possibly my favorite detail is the inclusion of the ghostly white flowers framing the outer edge. These are an important symbol in the story itself, and when Phatpuppy sent me the first mock-up cover with these included, I 

nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement!

Anne Elisabeth on the illustration:

There are eight full-page illustrations in Goddess Tithe featuring various characters and events from the story. This is the first one in the book. I decided to share it with all of you since it depicts my young hero, Munny the cabin boy, under the watchful eye of his mentor, the old sailor Tu Pich. Munny is on his first voyage, and he is determined to learn all there is to know about a life at sea as quickly as possible. Thus we see him utterly intent upon the knot he is learning to tie. Tu Pich is old enough to know that no sailor will ever learn all there is to know about the sea. Thus he looks on, grave, caring, and perhaps a little sad. He might be looking upon his own younger self of many years ago, fumbling through the hundreds of difficult knots his fingers must learn to tie with unconscious ease.

I enjoyed creating all the illustrations for Goddess Tithe, but this one was my favorite. I love the contrasts of light and dark, the contrasts of young and old . . . youthful intensity versus the perspective of age.

Excited? Enthralled? Desperate to read it this very day??? Me too. So our generous author has provided this excerpt from the middle of the story. In this scene, Munny has been ordered to Captain Sunan’s cabin to clear away his breakfast . . . an unexpected task, for a lowly cabin boy would not ordinarily dare enter his captain’s private quarters! Munny hopes to slip in and out quietly without attracting the captain’s notice. But his hopes are dashed when Sunan addresses him, asking how their strange, foreign stowaway is faring: 

“And what do you make of him yourself?”

Munny dared glance his captain’s way and was relieved when his eyes met only a 

stern and rigid back. “I’m not sure, Captain,” he said. “I think he’s afraid. But not of . . .”

“Not of the goddess?” the Captain finished for him. And with these words he turned 

upon Munny, his eyes so full of secrets it was nearly overwhelming. Munny froze, his 

fingers just touching but not daring to take up a small teapot of fragile work.

The Captain looked at him, studying his small frame up and down. “No,” he said, “I 

believe you are right. Leonard the Clown does not fear Risafeth. I believe he is unaware 

of his near peril at her will, suffering as he does under a peril nearer still.”

 Munny made neither answer nor any move.

“We will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly, won’t we, Munny?” the Captain said. But 

he did not speak as though he expected an answer, so again Munny offered none. “We 

will bring him safely to Lunthea Maly and there let him choose his own dark future.”

“I hope—” Munny began.

But he was interrupted by a sudden commotion on deck. First a rising murmur of 

voices, then many shouts, inarticulate in cacophony. But a pounding at the cabin door 

accompanied Sur Agung’s voice bellowing, “Captain, you’d best come see this!”

The Captain’s eyes widened a moment and still did not break gaze with Munny’s. 

“We’ll keep him safe,” he repeated. Then he turned and was gone, leaving the door 

Munny put down the pot he held and scurried after. The deck was alive with hands, 

even those who were off watch, crawling up from the hatches and crowding the rails on 

the port side. They parted way for the Captain to pass through, but when Munny tried to 

follow, they closed in again, blocking him as solidly as a brick wall.

“Look! Look!” Munny heard voices crying.

“It’s a sign!”

“She’s warning us!”

“It’s a sign, I tell you!”

Fearing he knew not what, Munny ran for the center mast and climbed partway up, 

using the handholds and footholds with unconscious confidence. Soon he was high 

enough to see over the heads of the gathered crew, out into the blue waters of the 

ocean. And he saw them.

 They were water birds. Big white albatrosses, smaller seagulls, heavy cormorants, 

even deep-throated pelicans and sleek, black-faced terns. These and many more, 

hundreds of them, none of which should be seen this far out to sea.

They were all dead. Floating in a great mass.

Munny clung to the mast, pressing his cheek against its wood. The shouts of the 

frightened sailors below faded away, drowned out by the desolation of that sight. Death, 

reeking death, a sad flotilla upon the waves.

“I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Munny looked down to where Leonard clung to the mast just beneath him, staring 

wide-eyed out at the waves. “How could this have happened? Were they sick? Caught 

in a sudden gale? Are they tangled in fishing nets?”

There was no fear in his voice. Not like in the voices of the sailors. He did not 

understand. He did not realize. It wasn’t his fault, Munny told himself.

But it was.

Coming November 12, 2013!!!! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Review: 'Dark Lord of Derkholm' by Diana Wynne Jones

   'Dark Lord of Derkholm' was published in 1998, and received the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children's Literature in 1999.

   A portal is opened into Wizard Derk's fantastic homeworld, and a scheming Mr. Chesney from the other side contracts the entire population into a live-action tourist destination. As part of Pilgrim Parties guided by Wizards, the tourists fight in planned battles, are captured by the Glamorous Enchantress, escape from besieged cities, and destroy the Dark Lord!  (Spoiler: this year, it's Derk).

   It's the perfect tourist experience and the perfect cash cow for Mr. Chesney -
                          perfect, that is, until this world's inhabitants have had enough.


   I'm not talking about the YouTube giggle fests (although I do love a 'Twilight'-mocking lipdub ). I'm talking about the subtle art of satire, the graceful use of irony, and the power to make a reader care while making them laugh.

   And I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.

   'Dark Lord of Derkholm' does more than poke fun at an insane bureaucracy in a fantasy world (the Dark lord is required to produce 109 specialty objects which can be found, deciphered, and then used by tourists in his demise), or the long-standing traditions of magical figures (the Glamorous Enchantress's contractually-obligated revealing wardrobe causes a great deal of consternation). There are flying pigs, (a magical experiment by Derk), unreasonably beautiful elves (who take themselves too seriously), a very grouchy dragon (woken from his 300 year old sleep), and my favorite, carnivorous sheep ("I got them a bit wrong somewhere", Derk admits).

    But more than these wonders, the book is a study in family dynamics (the griffins and children are raised side-by-side), and the difficulty of growing up coupled with growing into your own person. Diana Wynne Jones is a master of the omniscient point of view, brilliantly investing the reader in several different protagonists while keeping all the potency of action in the plot.

    And it is such a glorious plot.

    Be forewarned, that Ms. Jones is well known for treating her Young Adult readers as human beings with their own imaginations. She wastes no time explaining why a magical world operates the way that it does; she respects the reader enough to assume that they will:

     a.) know already or
     b.) make up a good reason for themselves!

   While her details will keep you gasping in awe at iridescent dragons and collapsing citadels, she never crosses the line between Author and Reader's Guide. I am always refreshed by her style, but I know that some readers may find her worlds confusing, so I think it only fair to mention it. But allow me to encourage that you try her anyway. The fact is, I find that not understanding every tiny point is a little more like Life, and makes all the Fantasy feel even more like Reality.

   And that is why she is one of my Beloved Authors.

   This review advises you to to buy 'Dark lord of Derkholm' and keep it handy for the next time you need a breath of fresh air, a hearty laugh, and a wonderful ending.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Review: 'Wednesday Wars' by Gary D. Schmidt

   'The Wednesday Wars' was published in 2007, and awarded a Newbery Honor Medal in 2008.
    (It lost to 'The Graveyard Book' by Neil Gaiman, which will forever remain a tragedy in the history of Young Adult literature. That's right, Newbery committee. I said it. I'm not afraid of you. Much.)

    Disclaimer: I hate reviews that spend all their time explaining the plot and characters. I can read the dust jacket if I want it ruined for me, thanks. I prefer to review the writing, the pacing, the artistry of the author and leave the glories of the book to the reader. So for all the reviews on this blog, you can expect that I'll give you the basics and (hopefully) convince you to read it on its greater merits.


   'The Wednesday Wars' is arguably the greatest American coming-of-age story produced in this century. The setting is 1967 Long Island, where a seventh grade boy's perspective paints the trials of middle school, and the travails of the world (the Vietnam War, protests, assassinations) around him. Most important is the complex relationship with the English teacher who introduces him to Shakespeare.

   Also, there are two enormous pet rats named Sycorax and Caliban. What more can you want?

   Gary D. Schmidt is one of my favorite living young adult authors. What sets Mr. Schmidt a world above his contemporaries is his incredible ability to capture the voice of a protagonist so completely. His use of language never stumbles into angst, while all the time pulling the reader so deeply into the heart of the character that every emotion is felt, not dictated.

    Fine. I'll admit it. I've cried both times I've read this book.
    And that's incredible, people, because I don't cry over books. I don't cry over movies. I can enjoy them, and engage both 'happy' and 'sad' without ever shedding a tear. But I have yet to escape a Schmidt work without bawling unashamedly, and - this is important - it isn't because the books are sad.
   'The Wednesday Wars' isn't sad, and isn't happy.
    It is true.

   And the glory of this man's writing is in his use of the clear and unexpected. Where certain authors insist on visually assaulting you with their every imagined color (*cough* *cough* Suzanne Collins), or clobbering the reader with a blistering pace (because YA readers are easily bored?), Mr. Schmidt's work is craftsmanship. His mastery of fresh language reminds me of John Donne's Holy Sonnets; English Literature buffs will tell you that the oft quoted No. 14 is exceptional because it uses secular language to describe the divine and sacred. The unexpected, the mixing of the incredibly dissonant, is what makes both authors unequaled.

    There is a moment in 'The Wednesday Wars', when a casualty of the Vietnam War hits close to home. Holling Hoodhood, the protagonist, is in the schoolroom doing chores while his teacher grades papers. The door opens and:

   Mrs. Baker stood. "Oh, Edna, did the find him?"

   Mrs. Bigio nodded.
   "And is he..."
   Mrs. Bigio opened her mouth, but the only sounds that came out were the sounds of sadness. I can't tell you what they sounded like. But you know them when you hear them.
    Mrs. Baker sprinted out from behind her desk and gathered Mrs. Bigio in her arms. She helped Mrs. Bigio to her own chair, where she slumped down like someone who had nothing left in her.
   "Mr. Hoodhood, you may go home now," Mrs. Baker said.
   I did.
   But I will never forget those sounds.

   Now look back over that excerpt, and search.

   What word do you NOT see?
   There is grief, unbearable agony, and the gut-wrenching bereavement that follows you even after you've turned the page. Did you feel it? Did you get goosebumps?

    But the word 'CRY' is not there. The words 'SOB' and 'WEEP' are not there.

    And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Gary D. Schmidt is unequaled. It's why you must read this book, because there is another moment, a glorious moment, when he uses the same idea to convey the opposite emotion:

   Think of the sound you make when  you let go after holding your breath for a very, very long time. Think of the gladdest sounds you know: the sound of dawn on the first day of spring break, the sound of a bottle of Coke opening, the sound of a crowd cheering in your ears because you're coming down to the last part of a race - and you're ahead. Think of the sound or water over stones in a cold stream and the sound of wind through green trees on a late May afternoon in Central Park. Think of the sound of a bus coming into the station carrying someone  you love.

    Then put all those together.
    And they would be nothing compared to the sound that [character] made that day from somewhere deep inside....

    Did you hear it? Did you see it? And did he ever say that the character was happy?

    He didn't have to.

    That's why the book is genius, the author is my hero, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


    Why are you still reading this?




Sunday, September 1, 2013

'Oywen' & 'Ray'

“We have not long to live in any event. Let us spend what is left in seeking the unpeopled world behind the sunrise.” 

- C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

     When I was a kid, I used to wake at sunrise and sneak out of the house with my best friend. We would  balance across a log bridge and scramble into the woods just as golden light pierced the trees and mist. We carried a bit of breakfast, a thermos of English Breakfast tea, and a book.

     Once, it was 'The Voyage of the Dawn Treader'.
     Then, 'A Wrinkle in Time'.
     And so many others.

     We made our way by secret signs marked on the trunks to our hallowed sanctuary: the Fallen Tree.

    The Fallen Tree was no ordinary tree. It was enormous, at least a yard in width, and it had been an ancient giant of the forest for so long that no other tree had dared to grow nearby. The clearing all around was a monument to its greatness, though the younger saplings showed no respect. We used their waving tops to guide us as we climbed it, for the Fallen Tree had cracked neatly in the middle and formed into a long, ascending path. It was just wide enough at the top for a body to perch.

    I remember the crackling bark against my shins when I sat cross-legged at the top, twenty feet up, and the ungainly manners at our precariously tilted breakfast.  'Oywen' and 'Ray' would share tea and savor the perfect silence --- I mean, the raucous sounds of North Carolina bugs and birds under our own constant chattering.
    We were girls, after all. 
    But when the crumbs were wiped away, and at least three items had fallen from the tree into the brush below, we would begin reading aloud in turns. At the most wickedly thrilling chapter endings, we would shriek and pass it to the other saying, "Hurry! Hurry! Read faster!" And when the long passages that described other worlds went on and on, I would lean back on the trunk and stare up at the brightening sky and wonder.
    I wondered whether I would find a wardrobe and step away into the fantastic.
    I wondered what sorts of worlds waited, and whether I would be brave enough to defeat IT. 
    I wondered how anyone could put pen to paper and create an aroma, a salty taste, or a shiver of goosebumps - and I wondered if I could be one of those Writers.

   I still wonder.

   But I think I might give it a try.
   I already write about my life as a walking comedy, and if you need a laugh, you can indulge in my daily catastrophes. But here, I am 'Oywen', the tree-climber, the reader, and, hopefully, the Writer. 

  Notes, notations, reviews, and thoughts to follow.

P.S.   'Ray' is already an award-winning author, and if you haven't read her Tales of Goldstone Wood, then go right now and buy them, find a tree, and don't leave it until you've read them all. (Better take a sandwich and some tea).