Gollum asks me an important question

“What has she gots on her bookshelveses?”

Why, thank you, Gollum, for showing an interest. Rather than simply listing off the books I currently possess, permit me a measure of self-indulgence in first explaining how my reading habits evolved and how it influenced my writing.

I have always been a voracious reader so it should come as no surprise that many authors have influenced my writing over the years. There is no way I can remember everything I’ve ever read, so I’ll just cover the highlights. From what I recall, during my earliest years I stuck primarily to nonfiction – particularly informational books about the systems of the human body and health, natural history books about animals but mainly books about dinosaurs, with which I was obsessed all through elementary school. The first “novel” that I ever wrote – and finished – was about a sibling trio of young orphaned dinosaurs trying to survive on their own in a dangerous world ruled by a “tyrannical” Tyrannosaurus Rex. Heh heh. That was in fifth or sixth grade and I think it was for a special school project. This book was most likely strongly influenced by A Land Before Time, since the movie came out in 1988 and I’m pretty sure I saw it in the theater. Too bad I can’t find that book anywhere now; I think I gave the only copy to the school librarian.

Foolish child that I was.

By the time I left elementary school, I had read every book in the school library by Dr. Suess, Bill Peet, Jean Craighead George, Jim Kjielgaard and any number of fiction books that were from an animal’s point of view, as well as Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Pippi Longstocking series. Those were my favorites, but I also read the Sleepover Friends series and the Trixie Belden series, from which I moved on to the mystery/thriller genre in middle school. I also read a lot of Stephen King and Dean Koontz because my mom owns practically every book by them. My favorite Koontz novel is a tie between The Watchers and Lightning. I love The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King (of course, what else?) above and beyond anything else that he’s written, and I think most of his work is excellent.

Middle school was also the time period in which I finally read The Hobbit in its entirety and understood it. My life was never the same again. From then on, I was hooked on Fantasy and Science Fiction. This is not to say that I never read other genres, only that I had found my favorite genre. I adore various classic literature (especially Jane Austen) and I’ve plowed through all the gothic romances by Victoria Holt and many by Joan Aiken. I also enjoy reading Daniel Silva novels every now and then, primarily those featuring Gabriel Allon. I tend to pull in elements from these other genres when I write, however fantasy is the framework on which I have chosen I hang my stories.

From The Hobbit I naturally moved on to the Lord of the Rings and everything else by J.R.R. Tolkien, William Sleator, Madeleine L’Engle, David Eddings, Piers Anthony, C.S. Lewis, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, as well as many novels set in the Star Wars universe by various authors (we have several bookcase shelves full of these in paperback). & etc. & etc.

A sampling of the books in our household.

I could probably argue that I am fairly wide read in the Fantasy genre. I tend to pick an author and – if I enjoy their style and the sort of tale they weave – read everything by them that I can find in the public library. And if I really like them, I actually purchase the books. For example, we have an entire bookshelf dedicated to Jim Butcher (just about everything he has published so far), and another for the complete Wheel of Time series in hardcover. All seven Harry Potter books (also in hardcover) share a shelf with my growing collection of Usagi Yojimbo graphic novels. Sara Douglass, Michael Moorcock, Terry Goodkind, Simon R. Green, Kate Elliott, Elizabeth Hadyn and Jane Lindskold are also pretty well represented as well.

For awhile space was a real concern. Our house is rather small and there are only so many walls that we can line with bookshelves. However – now that such things as Kindle exist – I don’t have to worry so much about buying more bookshelves. Of course, all else being equal I still prefer to read a paper copy of a novel. Who doesn’t?

You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t mention the Bible in the litany above. This is not because I don’t consider the Bible an influence over my writing – it very much is a strong influence! – but because I thought it should go without saying that I incorporate God’s Word in my Teharan Cycle novels.

More on that later.

Now that I’ve shared my reading preferences with you, what sort of authors and titles tend to dominate your bookshelves? What do you read for fun?

Shadows and Tall Trees

I “exercised” my freedom to take a walk on a State Trail with my family today…and also risked being eaten alive by mosquitoes.
Glacial Drumlin State Trail, about 1.5 miles from the trailhead.

I always enjoy traversing the Glacial Drumlin State Trail and taking pictures with my phone. It’s the scenic way to get exercise! Redwing black birds were serenading us in their harshly metallic fashion and the green frogs even decided to add a little banjo-string action to the mix. All told, the walk this morning with my boys was worth getting sweaty for and risking bug bites. Not that the mosquitoes bit us very much; we knew the blood-thirsty swarms would be voracious and came prepared with extra-potent bug dope!

Beware, for here there be faeries…I mean, MOSQUITOES!
Approaching the height of summer… natural beauty.
Algae-tastic. I wouldn’t recommend taking a dip, but it sure is nice to look at.
The sentinel trees have eyes and they are watching you!
Eight thirty in the morning and I am sodden with perspiration.
It was a beautiful walk. Thank you, God, for Deep Forest OFF!

I hope that you enjoyed my photos. Feel free to share about your own favorite natural and scenic places. I’d love to hear your comments!

Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Here’s a little something I wrote during my “salad days,” i.e. college

Originally, this was going to be a fantasy novel tentatively entitled Bride of Callahan, but then life happened.

The half moon glinted coldly down on the strange, shambling, three-fold figure dragging itself across the dormitory parking lot. Two young women walked stooped over with the weight of their drunken companion distributed between them, the toes of his sneakers scraping over the asphalt. Every so often, he would try to walk, throwing his friends off balance.

“Darn it!” Samantha hissed as she nearly fell. “This is the last time I help drag your boyfriend’s sorry butt home from a party.”

“Hey! Hey…it’sh not my fault…he drank so much.” The other girl giggled, staggering a little herself, her brown hair falling into her eyes. “Well, maybe it ishh…”

“We’re just lucky we got away before the cops came, Becca. Or have you forgotten that we’re underage?”

“Not like you drank nothin’ to get into trouble. Good old Sam, the deshignated driver!” Becca giggled again.

Breathing heavily, Samantha managed, with the fumbling aid of her inebriated friend, to muscle the young man up against the side of the building near the back entrance. Grinning inanely, he slid down until he plopped down on the lawn. “I’m a wee free balloony boy!” he crowed happily, and promptly keeled over on to his side and started snoring.

“Darn it, Joey!” Samantha restrained an urge to kick him.

Becca just laughed. “We can shtill take the elevator, right?”

Consternation writ large on her face, their sober companion looked around to make sure that no one was watching them, and then pulled out her key to their dorm building. “Not unless we want the RA at the desk to see how drunk you guys are.” She turned the key in the lock. “No sir. We’s gonna go up the backstairs m’dears.”

In spite of their predicament, Samantha couldn’t help but grin. Watching other people get drunk had been rather amusing, even though her efforts to restrain her friends had failed. She had wanted to leave long before they did, but she had felt honor-bound to make sure that Becca and Joey had gotten back safely.

It was with that thought in mind that Samantha and Becca doggedly dragged Joey up a flight of stairs to the dorm room he shared with a nice Irish Catholic boy named Eric Callahan, to whom they passed on their burden. He helped Samantha flop Joey down in his bed, and then dug the tarp and barf-basin out from underneath his own with an ease born of much practice.

“See if you can sober him up,” Samantha said, wearily rubbing her brow when they had finished. “Dunk his head in a toilet…or something.”

Becca laughed in delight.

“Oh, don’t worry.” Eric grinned with a mischievous glint in his eye. “I’ll make him regret he ever smelt alcohol.” He looked at Becca, appraising her condition. “Why’re you even dating him, Bex? He’s just turning you into what he is.”

“A leprechaun?” Becca snorted with laughter at her own joke.

“No, a freaking loser.” Shaking his head, Eric closed the door behind him.

Whaaaat? Ish he saying I’m a freakin’ loosher?” The dark-haired young woman turned to her friend.

Sighing, Samantha grabbed her hand. “C’mon Bex,” she said. “It’s time for bed.” With an arm around her waist, she helped Becca up the stairs to the women’s floor.  “Kim’s gonna be pissed at you, y’know,” she muttered. “I bet she’s sick of you coming home drunk every Friday night.”

“That’s what roomies are for. Getting pissed at. And with.” Becca groaned, clutching at her middle. “I think I’m gonna puke.”

There was one other student in the bathroom, brushing her teeth, when Samantha propelled her green-faced friend into a stall. She even held Becca’s hair back while she vomited; like Eric, she had gotten good at it due to the frequency of its occurrence.

“Bex drinking again?” called the other girl from her sink.

“Yeah,” Samantha called back.

“That makes four weeks in a row,” the other girl observed. “She ought to ditch that loser boyfriend. He’s going to get her into serious trouble.”

“Easier said than done,” Samantha grated out from between her teeth.

Why couldn’t she have dated Eric, instead? She wondered, and not for the first time. What does she see in Joey? And why am I still hanging around with them?

Disgusted with them and herself, Samantha helped her friend clean up and led her to her room. She knocked on the door. Fortunately, Kim wasn’t in. She had started playing it smart by going down to the community center—what students called “the Basement”—or watching movies with her friends on the weekend nights. Samantha envied her.

Becca managed to unlock her own door and trudged into her dark room. She collapsed onto her bed, burying her face in her pillow. “Dear God,” she groaned. She sounded almost sober. “What am I doing?” She rolled over on her side, gazing at her friend, limned in fluorescent light on the threshold. “Go ahead.  I can feel you judging, Sam. Say your piece.”

“What good will it do?” Samantha replied softly. “You’ll just do it again tomorrow night, and next week, and the weekend after that.”

Becca tilted her face to the side, her dark hair falling in waves against her pillow. She’s so beautiful, Samantha mused, but her eyes are filled with sadness.

“It’s not much fun for you, is it?” Becca said, and sprawled out on her back. “But you’re still here.”

Knowing that was the closest thing to an apology that Becca would ever give to her, Samantha went over to her and hugged her, golden hair mingling with brown on the pillow.

“Yeah,” Samantha said. “I’m still here.”

Becca pulled Samantha down next to her, squeezing her tight. Her body shook, wracked with sobs. Samantha held her until she quieted into slumber, and then rose from the bed. She smoothed her friend’s hair back from her face with gentle fingers.

This has to stop, she decided. You should be with Eric. He’ll treat you right and keep you on the right path. Resolved, Samantha left the room, closing the door softly behind her. She turned toward the stairwell, and saw Kim coming down the corridor.

“Is she out?”

Samantha nodded. “Yep. Like a light.”

“Thanks. G’night, then.” Kim smiled at her.

“G’night, Kim.”

Feeling waves of depression welling up inside her, Samantha walked past her own room, two doors down from the back staircase, and down the stairs to the men’s floor.

Eric’s face registered a pleased sort of surprise when he opened the door. “I didn’t expect to see you back here tonight.” He peered down at her distraught expression. “Is Bex okay? Are you okay?”

“I…I think so.” Samantha peered past him into the dimly lit room. “Is Joey…still sleeping?”

“Out stone cold.” Eric grinned. “Come in.  I’d offer to take you down to the Basement, but my cousin is coming over. We’ll go once he gets here.”

“Oh! I can go…”

“Nah, he won’t care.” Eric waved her in. “He likes meeting my friends.”

Samantha found herself sitting in an elderly orange bean-bag chair while Eric sorted through his manga collection for a volume he was dead certain that she’d find interesting. Behind her, Joey noisily sawed logs.

Samantha stared at the back of Eric’s head, the way his black hair tapered down neatly to the nape of his neck. “Eric,” she said. “You like Becca, right?”

He froze, a book in hand. He turned to face her, his blue eyes wary. “Yeah,” he replied slowly.

“I mean like like her,” continued Samantha, feeling lame.

“Yeah.” The young man glanced over at his roommate, as if to be sure he was still asleep. Snoring, Joey remained oblivious to their conversation. “What’s your point?”

Feeling her face heat up, Samantha looked down into her lap, confusion clouding her resolve. “You’re nice.  I just wish…Becca was with you.”

“Well, she’s not.” Eric’s voice was brittle. “We could wish the stars from the sky, but it’s not gonna happen.”

“Sorry.” Samantha felt ashamed for hurting his feelings. Eric wasn’t a close friend, but she cared about him all the same. Tears burned in her eyes.

“Shoot.” He crouched down beside her, an awkward hand on her shoulder. “Please don’t cry, Sam. You can talk to me.”

Her heart in her throat, Samantha looked up at him, and was just opening her mouth to speak when the call buzzer went off by the door. Eric mouthed an obscenity and went to the speaking grill. Samantha wiped her eyes with the hem of her T-shirt.

“It’s me, Eric!” A distorted male voice spoke loudly through the grill, and Samantha started, her heart palpitating.

“Okay, I’ll be right down. With a surprise!” Eric shouted back into the grill. He turned to the despondent young woman in the bean-bag chair. “He’s here.  Maybe you should come with me. I don’t want to leave you alone with my drunken roommate.”

“Are you sure? I could just go back to my room.”

“I already promised him a surprise. That’s you. C’mon.” Eric jerked his head toward the door. “We’ll cheer you up. And no booze, I promise.”

Samantha laughed and awkwardly lurched to her feet. Spontaneously, she hugged him. “Thanks, Eric.”

“No problem,” He said, blushing. “Hey! I’ll race you there.”

Suddenly feeling happier than she had for days, Samantha bounced down the stairs behind him, a strange giddiness bubbling within her breast. It was odd, the way her emotions were swinging around tonight. For a fleeting moment, she wished that Eric liked her the way he did her best friend, but she hastily banished that thought. She wasn’t even sure if she liked him in that way; the young man she was interested in was a fellow biology major with artistic aspirations. As far as she knew, Greg seemed like a nice enough guy. She grinned to herself as she rounded the last bend on Eric’s heels, and crashed into him when he stopped suddenly to avoid trampling a group of girls coming up the stairs.

“Whoa-ho, Callahan!” one of them yelled, leering at the two of them.

“Hey, it’s Samantha!” another girl exclaimed, reaching out to snag her arm and disentangle her from the embarrassed young man. It was Mary, one of her upperclassman friends. “You wanna watch a movie with us? Your cute friend is welcome, if he wants.”

“Uh, no thanks, ladies,” Eric responded, blushing furiously. “Sam and I are meeting my cousin…unless you’d rather go with them?” He glanced at Samantha.

“Maybe tomorrow, Mary,” Samantha told her friend. “I promised Eric I’d meet his cousin.”

“Have fun, Sam!” Mary winked at her. Continuing up the stairs, the other young women laughed amongst themselves, as if they knew a secret that Samantha did not.

“Sheesh,” she said. She felt her face heat up as her eyes met Eric’s.

Eric shrugged. “They’re just being girls. C’mon.”

With the echoes of the group’s laughter echo receding behind them, the two emerged into the lobby. As they passed the front desk, the RA on duty looked up from her paperback book—something by Stephen King, Samantha noted in passing—long enough to say “your cousin’s here again, Eric.”

“Thanks. And have a good night.”

“You too. Oh, hi Sam.”

Samantha smiled and murmured something polite before following Eric to the front door. Peering into the vestibule, she could see someone leaning up against the wall. Her heart froze in her chest.

It was a cop.

And that’s all I have. So, what do you think? Does it have novel potential or is it crap?