Tuesday, December 16, 2014

CSFF Blog Tour: The Fatal Tree

The Fatal TreeThe Fatal Tree is the fifth and last book in Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires series. After reading The Shadow Lamp (book four), I was skeptical that Lawhead could wrap up this series in one novel. There were so many plot lines and so many protagonists and the "End of Everything" of looming on the horizon. Lawhead does wrap up all the stories without resorting to a big crunch. Is the conclusion satisfying? Hmmm. I'm still thinking.

As The Fatal Tree begins, inexplicable events involving time and place are shifting random people from one reality to another. A group of software developers, for instance, find themselves transported to a battlefield in the midst of the Crimean War. The shift doesn't work out for them. The fabric of time and space is tearing. Ley travel is becoming unpredictible. Astronomists find evidence that the universe's expansion is coming to an end and their models say it will soon reverse direction and collapse in a matter of weeks. The Zetetic Society members decide the problem is connected to Arthur Flinders-Petrie's actions at the Spirit Well, which Kit stumbled into in an earlier volume. Kit, Cass, and Mina decide to go to the Spirit Well, although it's not clear what they can do once they get there. However, a massive yew tree has grown up on the portal Kit used. The tree contains so much energy that any living thing that touches it dies. Kit and company spend most of the novel trying to move from one place to another (ley lines are now unstable) and get past the tree. They experience the instability of the universe firsthand when they meet their dopplegangers. Kit does find a way to tie the collapse of the universe to Archelaeus Burleigh, but as his companions argue, it hardly matters at this point. Kit and company receive assitance in their quest from a very unlikely source.

The action in The Fatal Tree is fast paced. Impending doom hangs over every scene. In many ways the novel is a satisfying read but does it conclude the series in a satisfying manner? A lot happens at the Spirit Well. The actions and motivations of the characters make sense, but it's not clear how what happens makes a difference. The ramifications are never played out or developed. Four books preceded these events. I don't think we need four more books to wrap up the series but the end seemed a bit rushed to me. Much of the series involved the search for the skin map as the primary motivator. However, the skin map becomes irrelevant in the final stages of the story. No one uses it to find the Spirit Well. Perhaps Lawhead wants to show us how we often miss what's really important when we focus on acquiring something material. That theme could be brought to the fore if the characters reflected on the search for the skin map and its place in the overall story.

Despite these reservations, I highly recommend the Bright Empires series. It's been a fun ride. Will we see it at Kindle Worlds? I hope so. The ley-leaping concept seems ripe for fan fiction and further adventures. Happy ley jumping and may you always land where and when you hope to land.

To learn more about Stephen Lawhead and his works, visit stephenlawhead.com or like his Facebook page.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Fatal Tree from the publisher.

Check out what other CSFF Bloggers are saying at the links below:
Julie Bihn
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Karri Compton
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Jason Joyner
Janeen Ippolito
Carol Keen
Emileigh Latham
Rebekah Loper
Shannon McDermott
Meagan @ Blooming with Books
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Jalynn Patterson
Writer Rani
Nathan Reimer
Audrey Sauble
Jojo Sutis
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Shane Werlinger
Phyllis Wheeler

Monday, November 24, 2014

Word of the Week: Freelance

Robert de Normandie
at the Siege of Antioch 1097–1098
by J.J. Dassy, 1850
I was watching a documentary on the lance, the medieval weapon of choice for mounted knights. In the last segment, the host mentions that knights who became mercenaries during lulls in the Hundred Years' War were known as free-lances. The lance was their principal weapon and they were serving someone freely. The free part refers to the absence of a feudal obligation, not the absence of payment. Wow, I thought, what a fascinating word history.

Unfortunately, the story isn't true, at least not in the realm of historical reality. No one in the middle ages used the term free-lance to designate mercenaries. The term was an invention of Sir Walter Scott, who used it twice in the text of Ivanhoe (1820).
I?—I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them—I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment.
—from Chapter XXXIV

Trust me, Estoteville alone has strength enough to drive all thy Free Lances into the Humber.
—from Chapter XXXIV
Freelance combines a word of Old English origin with a word of French origin. Free derives from Old English freo, which meant exempt from or not in bondage as well as noble or joyful. Freo comes from Proto-Germanic *frijaz, which derives from PIE *prijos, meaning beloved or dear. The transition from beloved to the sense of freedom from bondage may have occured when the term was applied to members of a clan as opposed to slaves who served members of the clan. The sense of not costing anything developed in the 1580s from the idea “free of cost.” Lance entered English usage during the later half of the thirteenth century as Middle English launce, which derives from Old French lance and Latin lancea.

With the success of Ivanhoe, freelance took on a life of its own, sweeping into English usage with the force of a medieval cavalry charge. By the 1860s, freelance was being used figuratively. By the early twentieth century, it had morphed into an adjective, verb, and adverb. All thanks to Scott's historical inaccuracy.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Celebrate The Small Things - 21 November #CTST

It's Friday and time to Celebrate The Small Things (or big things) that happened this week.

Still awfully quiet around here. I promise to do something about that next week. And I'm still going over comments and corrections from my editor for a thriller novella coming out in the spring. Can't wait to get back to green field writing. We received an enormous amount of snow this week. The snow stopped being considerate and stuck to the pavement. It looks like January or February out there. I'm thankful the sun finally came out this morning. Blinding white outside.

The big writerly news is that Last Request the audio book is finally available everywhere (Amazon, Audible, and iTunes).

And there's still time to enter my contest for Last Request (details here). A $20 Amazon gift card is up for grabs.

Keep writing and keep hoping. What are you celebrating this week?

Want to join in the fun that is Celebrate The Small Things, sign up here.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Celebrate The Small Things - 14 November #CTST

It's Friday and time to Celebrate The Small Things (or big things) that happened this week.

Been awfully quiet here at the blog lately. I've been busy going over the comments and corrections from my editor for a thriller novella coming out in the spring. Lots of other projects to work on too. I've been playing with yWriter (a free alternative to Scrivner) and imported several projects into it. As the length of my stories grows, management becomes more of an issue. I have lots of ideas for blog posts. Even have notes for some, but it's a lot easier to think about them than to actually write them.

Lots of writerly items to celebrate over the past few weeks. Coffin Hop was fun and a great success. Give Me Your Teeth: A Fae Tale has been launched and I'm very thankful for all my writer friends who have offered reviews. You can't succeed in any endeavor without good friends. Readers seem to like the story, so I'm planning a sequel. (You'll find out why the Tooth Fairies need sharp teeth.) I also finished proofing the audio version of Last Request, which should be available on audible soon. It snowed here on Thursday and it was a very considerate snow, neatly sticking to the yards but not the pavement, as it should be.

And there's still time to enter my contest for Last Request (details here). A $20 Amazon gift card is up for grabs.

Keep writing and keep hoping. What are you celebrating this week?

Want to join in the fun that is Celebrate The Small Things, sign up here.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Insecure Writer’s Support Group: Post #8

It's the first Wednesday of the month again. Time for another IWSG post.

Yikes! I forgot all about IWSG until I saw the notice for Lexa's post. I've been busy launching a new story (Give Me Your Teeth: A Fae Tale) and a contest (go here).

Am I feeling insecure? Absolutely!! With a very capital A. Too early to tell if either of these endeavors is going to be successful. What if they both fail? I guess I can either scale back my definition of success or just lump it and move on, hopefully having learned something. So what do you do when it's not clear if the ship you're on is sinking?

Until next month, keep writing.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Coffin Hop 2014 and Last Request Contest

As promised in Coffin Hop post #1, here's the announcement and details for a contest running through the end of November. Last Request: A Victorian Gothic contains an allusion to a well-known 19th-century American female writer and one of her short stories. The prize is a $20 Amazon gift card. The winner will be selected from the entries that correctly name the writer and her story.

Here are some clues to help you.
  1. The writer in question is best known for a story she wrote about wallpaper, but that's not the story I referenced.
  2. The writer's last name and the word from her story's title appear in the same sentence in Last Request, only a few words apart.
  3. The clue word is the name of a living thing. Don't let its variant spellings trip you up.
Read Last Request to find the answers. Good luck. At under twelve thousand words, Last Request is a quick and fun read. Buy it, borrow it (it's part of Kindle Unlimited). Come back here to enter the contest. Here's the blurb:
“For the love of God, cut off my head.” The last request in Uncle Silas's will shocks everyone speechless, everyone except his favorite niece, Anna. More than death itself, the claustrophobic Silas fears a premature burial. Will her elders carry out his request? Anna is certain they will not. It's up to her to do the right thing, even if it is a bit grisly. Armed with butcher knife and candle, Anna heads for the crypt underneath the church in the dead of night. All does not go according to Anna's careful planning.

Step inside a dark story in the tradition of the penny dreadful, at times humorous and horrifying, but don't close the door behind you. Someone might lock you in.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
In Coffin Hop news, congratulations to Julianne and Lori, winners of my giveaway for Give Me Your Teeth: A Fae Tale. Thanks to everyone who entered the raffle. That was the best participation I've ever seen in a raffle, a sure sign of the strength of Coffin Hop. And thanks to everyone who stopped by my blog during the hop. Your comments and visits are much appreciated. There's still time to visit more stops on the hop, check out the other participants below.

Happy Halloween and don't eat your candy all at once.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Coffin Hop 2014: Post #3: Jack-O'-Lantern

If you hear the word Jack-o'-lantern, you likely picture a hollowed-out pumpkin with carved eyes and mouth lit by a candle inside the pumpkin. Some are scary and some are funny. However, the association between carved pumpkins, now an iconic image of Halloween, and the term Jack-o'-lantern is relatively recent.

In East Anglia and southwestern England, jack-o'-lantern was the name given to the flickering lights sometimes visible over bogs, swamps, and marshes. The lights resemble a flickering lamp. Witnesses claim that the light recedes if approached, drawing the hapless traveler off the safe path through the marsh. The phenomenon—technically known as ignis fatuus, Medieval Latin meaning “foolish fire”—is still a mystery with several competing hypotheses. The lights are known by various names including will-o'-the-wisp, jack-o'-lantern, and friars's lantern. (A wisp is a bundle of sticks used as a torch.) Jack-o'-lantern is short for Jack of the lantern. So who is this Jack guy and why does he stroll through bogs with a lantern?

Meet Stingy Jack, a lazy, drunken but wily character who has various dealings with the devil. There are many stories about Jack's encounters with Satan. In some versions, Jack tricks the devil into transforming into a coin which Jack places next to a cross, thus robbing Satan of his powers. Another version has the devil climbing an apple tree and becoming stuck there when Jack carves a cross onto the trunk. In any case, Jack gets bargaining power over the devil and Satan agrees not to take Jack's soul. When Jack dies, he is not admitted to Heaven because of his deceitful and drunken ways. Satan, keeping his promise, refuses to allow Jack into Hell and sends him back to earth. To light Jack's way, the devil gives him an ember from the fires of Hell, which Jack places inside a hollowed-out turnip. Jack was fond of turnips and stole one whenever he got the chance. Stingy Jack was condemned to roam the earth for eternity with his turnip lantern to light the way.

Traditional Irish turnip
Jack-o'-lantern from the
early 20th century.
It's not clear where or when the custom of carving faces into large turnips, rutabaga, or beets to create lamps originated. It's commonly believed that the custom originated in Ireland and spread to the Scottish Highlands and that the grotesque faces represented spirits and goblins. Samhain (October 31-November 1) is considered a very active time for spirits and fairies. Tradition suggests that guisers (someone going out in costume) used the turnip lanterns to light their way or that the lamps were placed at doors and windows to ward off evil spirits. As plausible as that explanation sounds, contemporary Irish and Scottish sources, such as Robert Burns's “Halloween,” don't mention the practice. The jack-o'-lantern tradition seems to be as mysterious as the ignis fatuus, which is as it should be.

There's still time to enter the raffle to win a copy of my urban fantasy novelette Give Me Your Teeth: A Fae Tale. It's in pre-order mode on Amazon, set for release on Halloween. Enter to win here (Coffin Hop Post #1).

Image Attribution: Traditional Irish turnip carving photograph from Rannpháirtí anaithnid at en.wikipedia [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], from Wikimedia Commons

Check out other coffins in the hop: