the young narwhal

A new story starring the real unicorns of the Arctic is up! The Young Narwhal is a tale of growing up in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Asavakkit (ah-SAW-vah-kit) is Greenlandic for “I love you”. It is a fitting name for a little character who snuggled his way right into my heart.

For me, nothing sets the stage for a polar tale like ‘iluliaq’ (ih-LOO-lee-ahk), or icebergs. They are dangerous to surface dwellers floating about in boats, but to narwhals like Asavakkit they provide shelter, safety from predators (like orca), and a sense of home.

eBooks: on fire

I thought I was being optimistic when I printed 100 flyers for my upcoming eBook DIY class at Writer House to pass out at today’s eBook session at Virginia Festival of the Book. Turns out, that wasn’t nearly enough. The class had to move from this room, which seated about 50 people:

To this room, which seated about 150:

And there were still people standing at the back. Wow! I talked with many people excited about eBooks, passed out all my flyers, and the flyer stash at the Writer House booth was quickly dwindling. So I’m more excited than ever about this class.

Two of the special guests who will be visiting the class were panelists at the session.

Mayapriya Long,  Owner, Bookwrights

“What works for a book cover doesn’t necessarily work for an eBook cover. Quotes don’t show up in a thumbnail. You can’t read subtitles. Simplify.”

“Discerning readers know when something is amateur.”

“Most covers are 600 x 800 pixels. The cover does not have to tell the whole story.”

Andy Straka, Author 

“I’m a ‘trindie’ author. Traditional + Indie gives you the most power to reach the broadest audience.”

“Writers: eBooks give you creative freedom. I was so drawn into an eBook I read recently that I didn’t know it was 600 pages long until I saw it later a bookstore.”

Needless to say, great stuff. I think everyone learned a lot from Mayapriya, Andy, and the other panelists. Myself included.

See you in class.

best of ireland: not on the map

I spent the summer of 2003 driving around Ireland, Scotland, and the north of England with my sister. The best parts of Ireland are the ones you can’t find on the map.

What you see in this picture in the lower right hand corner – where the grass is a little lighter – is literally the end of the road. On my old print map (since this was 2003, prior to the advent of the nav system), there is one word hovering in an ambiguous size, font, and placement, and in italics: Port. On Google maps, there’s nothing. Just drive due west from Ardara, Co. Donegal.

While in Ardara, we stayed at The Green Gate. I dream of going back. The smell of the peat fire in the hearth, the bathtub looking like it was filled with tea because of the peat, the thatched roofs and whitewashed walls. And that great Irish breakfast every morning.

We had to ask for directions about 20 times to find The Green Gate. The Irish aren’t terribly good at giving directions… what do you do with, “Oh, you can’t get there from here.”? But frankly, I look for any excuse to listen to the Irish talk, and they don’t need an excuse to begin. Perfect.

This was our trusty motor car. I can’t remember now if it was a Fiat, a Vauxhall, a Peugot, or what… but what I do remember is, if we didn’t tuck the side mirrors in when we entered a town, they would make a racket getting knocked back when I brushed a building. Village lanes in Ireland are tiny.

Can you tell that in this picture the car is filling up at the gas station? Yes, that is the gas pump. Outside the wine shop.

So, without further ado, here are some things my sister and I found while getting lost in the northwest of Ireland.

This waterfall:

This farmhouse:

These woolly sheep:

The road kept beckoning.

I’ve travelled all over the world. Seen all the continents except one, and even had a job offer in Antarctica. But there are few trips that I would love to relive day for day like my driving tour of Ireland with my l’il sis.

Oh, and – are you seeing this Trader Joe’s – part of the fun of travelling with my sister is the surprises that come out of her suitcase. Clearly I was enjoying this one.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

narwhals rule

Did you know that narwhal means “corpse whale”? (It’s because of the appearance their weird mottled hide.) Or that no one really knows what that horn is for? Apothecaries in London adopted the unicorn as their emblem because they made a mint selling ‘unicorn horn’ as viagra.

Narwhals are 50% blubber. And they thrive in the dark and cold of the arctic circle. They are one of the most enigmatic animals on earth, since, unlike their merry cousins the beluga whales, they cannot be kept and studied in captivity (despite their incredible survival skills in the wild, they die very quickly if contained). And their preferred habitat makes them very difficult to study in the wild.

I myself find them adorable, much like the sloth. So bizarre, it’s totally endearing. So, my next story, “The Young Narwhal”, features one of these fascinating creatures off the coast of Greenland.

If you want to learn more about narwhals, I highly recommend an article that has stuck with me over the years, “In Search of the Mysterious Narwhal” by Smithsonian Magazine. The best part is the world’s foremost expert in Narwhals is an ex Pacific Northwest Ballerina, Kristin Laidre. Enjoy.

it’s all about the usagi

As promised, The Black Rabbit is ready to read.

It’s about the friendship between the black rabbit, and Shiro, the white rabbit. Shiro is Japanese for ‘white’.

Shiro has a swimming race with a river otter, Yorokobi. Yorokobi is Japanese for ‘joy’.

A tanuki, or Japanese Raccoon Dog, starts the race.

She also has a nut-gathering competition with Isogashi, the squirrel. Isogashi is Japanese for ‘busy’.

Shiro’s brush with Fukuro the owl is fraught with danger. Fukuro is Japanese for ‘owl’. (Such a cool word!)

But ultimately, it is the black rabbit who helps Shiro find what she is looking for.

I hope you’ll enjoy The Black Rabbit.

Oh, and – usagi is Japanese for ‘rabbit’.

the black rabbit

“ ‘Look how they love the otter Yorokobi,’ said Shiro to the black rabbit. ‘If I am the best, they will love me.’ ”

-The Black Rabbit

I have always thought of rabbits as competitive (perhaps because of The Tortoise and The Hare). In the fable I’m working on right now, Shiro the white rabbit is always on the lookout for a chance to be the best.

I love this painted scroll, the Choju-jinbatsu-giga (“Animal-person caricatures”), from 12th-centry Kyoto. Credited by some as the first manga, it shows a wrestling match between a rabbit and a frog.

I’ll be posting The Black Rabbit sometime in March.

the rule of 10

The best thing I learned in screenwriting was The Rule of 10. Basically, if there is something that needs to happen in your story, come up with a list of 10 reasons why that thing happened. The first one will be cliche. The second one will be, too. The third will be pretty familiar. But by the time you’ve gotten to 10, you’ve come up with a couple of things that are pretty unique.

An example: in The Physicist (working title for the prequel to The Rival), Iago Andronicus’ brother Armando needs to be at the research station with Iago in Hawai’i. I did not use The Rule of 10. So my first thought was Iago and Armando grew up in a rough neighborhood, and Iago was getting Armando away from their abusive father. When I told my sister this on the phone, she was like “Ug! Cliche! Racist! Forget about it.” She was right.

This has been percolating for a couple of months now. The progression has been:

  1. Bad neighborhood / abusive father
  2. Orphaned in terrible car accident
  3. Distant, preoccupied parents usually send Armando to camp anyway
  4. Summer vacation
  5. Armando is interested in nature conservation
  6. There was a house fire, and while Iago was able to pull Armando out of the flames, the trauma has caused Armando to become withdrawn and uncommunicative. Perhaps a new setting will help him to recover.

I still haven’t made it to 10, but I really like #6 because, without giving too much away, there are some ways it ties nicely into not just the rest of the story arc for The Physicist, but The Emissary as well. I’ll still keep playing with this list. You get the idea.

So, how about some surf music?

a picture’s worth a thousand words

This bird is going to be in one of my stories someday:

There is just something really compelling and creepy about that steely head and those pointy claws. Love it.

The funny thing is, these birds are all over south Florida. I used to see them regularly at one of my favorite Coconut Grove dive bars, Scotty’s Landing. They would hang around the marina while the boats came and left, and try to steal my fish ‘n chips. But I only learned yesterday – thanks to stumbling across this photo on the internet – that this handsome little devil is a Boat-Tailed Grackle.