Of Cardinals and the Heroine’s Journey
As well as being a writer, I am an avid gardener. As soon as the snow melts and the mud dries, I am pulled between being in my yard and being at my computer. This year in Maine, April was warmer than usual. By the middle of the month, I was in the yard, picking up sticks, clipping trees, removing leaves, and generally reveling in spring chores.
I was having such a good time that when April sped by, and May arrived in a fuzz of spring green, I was completely taken by surprise when Clif asked, “Did you write and send an April newsletter?” No, I had not.
Ah, well! Onward to May, one of the most beautiful times of the year. Our yard is filled with the flutter of birds, the ones who remain here all year and the ones who come north for the summer. Cardinals, relative newcomers to Maine, stay the winter, and when a pair built a nest in the tall shrub outside my office, I was delighted. The nesting female was attentive, always shooting me a sharp look when I peered out the window. Outside, I once peeked into the nest when she was at the feeder in the backyard. I saw two eggs. But when she came flashing back to the nest, I hurriedly backed away.
Only one of the eggs hatched, but the male was attentive, feeding the hungry baby who greeted him with an open mouth. Lots of activity, and I waited eagerly for the baby to become a fledgling. Perhaps I could even get a picture.
Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. A few days ago when I got up, there was no female cardinal at the nest. No male coming with food. No open mouth waiting.
When I went out for a cautious look, my fears were justified—the nest was empty, and what a lonely sight. Something, perhaps even another bird, got the baby. This is the way of nature, I know. Many animals make their living by eating other animals.
Still, I moped. I missed the little family. My heart ached for the parents. But later, in the backyard, I saw the male cardinal, beautiful and red, searching for food. Despite the recent horrible event, he was carrying on. He and his mate will make another nest and raise another brood. Fingers crossed that this batch makes it.
The cardinals’ experience made me think about the theme of carrying on, which is commonly explored in fiction, especially in fantasy, where the hero’s—or heroine’s—journey is often featured. Adversity must be overcome. Usually there is destruction, bringing deep sorrow, which threatens to swamp the heroine or hero.
In my Great Library series, Maya has dealt with death and loss as she battles the fallen librarian, Cinnial. At times Maya has been devastated as friends and allies are killed, but she doesn’t give up. Maya never loses sight of what her goal is—helping to defeat Cinnial, a brutal tyrant who thinks that facts don’t matter.
In At Sea, the book I’m currently working on, Maya will be confronting more loss. In many ways this loss will be far worse than anything she’s had to face.
But like the cardinals, Maya will carry on.
My Great Library Series is available from
Hinterlands Press, Amazon, and Bookstores
Listen to the Tales from the Other Green Door podcast.
Announcing Episode 1 of Our Podcast,
Tales from the Other Green Door
Today, on this warm, sunny Wednesday in March, we are releasing Episode 1 of our new podcast, Tales from The Other Green Door. The podcast is an offshoot of my novel Out of Time, and it involves two elves—Jace Willowdale and her cousin Thirret Greenwood—and their adventures in Portland, Maine. They run a café called—ta-da!—The Other Green Door, where they not only bake tasty treats but also collect magical relics.
Each Wednesday, for the next eleven weeks, we will be dropping a new episode of “The Wings of Luck,” the first tale from The Other Green Door podcast. In episode 1, “A Grenog Comes to the Café,” an unexpected visitor turns up at The Other Green Door, setting in motion a dangerous chain of events.
In the interest of not bugging you with a newsletter every week, this will be the only podcast announcement I will be sending for this season. However, at Spotify and other podcast providers, you can sign up for notifications when a new episode drops.
Hope to see you at The Other Green Door, which has the best croissants and magical relics in town.
What? A Wrinkle in Time as a Graphic Novel?
“What?!” I exclaimed. “What?”
As I expressed amazement and surprise, I knew very well why the book was there even though I hadn’t selected it. Nick, the wonderful adult services librarian, had chosen and ordered this book for next month’s graphic novel club. Confession time: I am a word person and have been this way as soon as I learned to read well. Comic books have never really held much fascination for me because even as a child what I really wanted, was, well, words. For me, the pictures were always a distraction.
When Nick invited me to join The Argonauts Graphic Novel Book Club—such a snappy name!—I agreed readily, but I did wonder if I was going to have the same reaction to graphic novels as I had had with comic books. In short, the answer is yes. Graphic novels just don’t draw me in the way novels do. However, I find the club a welcome challenge during this time of the pandemic, and although I don’t get as much out of graphic novels as other members of the Argonauts do, I feel as though I am pushing myself in a different direction, a very good thing to do when home is pretty much where I am, day in and day out.
Nevertheless, I felt my willingness to be flexible waver as I considered A Wrinkle in Time as a graphic novel. In the late 1960s, reading Madeleine L’Engle’s extraordinary book was a seminal experience for me. I was perhaps ten or eleven, and I came upon A Wrinkle in Time by chance in the tiny library—hardly bigger than a janitor’s closet, it seemed—in the poor rural school I went to in Vassalboro, Maine.
From the minute I started reading about Meg Murry and her adventures, I was hooked, and I still remember feeling as though a sort of current was going through me. Physics? Traveling through time and space? Supernatural beings to guide the plucky Meg as she searches for her missing father? It seemed as though A Wrinkle in Time had been written especially for me, a young girl growing up on the cusp of the women’s movement and on the edge of a wave of books that would feature smart, brave female protagonists. In the late 1960s, books like that were not all that common. In most adventures stories, males were the main characters, and young girls just had to tag along in their imaginations, inserting themselves into the story, always on the sidelines.
Madeleine L’Engle was definitely on the vanguard when she featured a girl as the central protagonist in A Wrinkle in Time. When accepting one of the many awards the book received, L’Engle noted pithily, “I’m a female. Why would I give all the best ideas to a male?”
Why, indeed? My own Maya Hammond, the protagonist of the Great Library Series, is a direct descendant of Meg Murray, someone who doesn’t really fit in, someone who accepts the call to strike out on her own adventure. Like Meg, Maya has help, but she is the catalyst, the bright thread that binds the story together.
Can the graphic novel even begin to compare with the brilliant original? Time will tell.
The Strange Path to Elferterre
Here we are in January, one of my favorite months. I know. Many Mainers feel exactly the opposite during this cold, dark month. But after the rush of the holidays, I have always found January to be restful, a time to read and reflect. And perhaps clean the house, at least a little.
Then there is the clear, dazzling light of a sunny January day, which never fails to fill my heart with joy. My husband, Clif, took this picture. How can you not love a month when it gives you such a piercing light?
January also gives me time to settle down and focus on my writing. I have begun Book Four of the Great Library series. Uncharacteristically for me, the book does not yet have a title. My original plan was for Maya’s story to be told in three books, a trilogy, as sort of a homage to J.R.R. Tolkien and his brilliant The Lord of the Rings. I had the three titles all set, and I felt pretty pleased with myself.
However, for me, stories have a way of unfolding in an unexpected direction. With each book I have a notion of the plot arc, but I am not one for intricate outlines. Like Time in my Great Library Series, I want to keep my options open, and chance plays a major role in how my stories unfold.
In Book Three, which became Out of Time, I knew Maya was going to meet a character called the Accumulator, someone who would help her find a relic to trap the evil Cinnial, who has taken over the mysterious Great Library. At first I had envisioned the Accumulator as a janitor who works at a place called The Little Bard Theater. The Accumulator would lead Maya to an alternative dimension where she finds the relic.
But then a funny thing happened—the Accumulator somehow morphed into an elf. I must admit that I’m not exactly sure how the transformation happened. And, yes, I realize that this sounds odd. I should at least know how my own characters evolve. All I can say is that suddenly and mysteriously, the Accumulator stopped being a janitor and became an elf with a very different sort of job.
Once the Accumulator became an elf, a backstory was needed. For example, where did this elf come from? As it turned out, the Accumulator came from a place called Elferterre, a realm where Magic, rather than Time, rules. Once I came up with the magical Elferterre, I knew that my plot arc had dramatically changed. To borrow from my friends in the U.K., I had thrown a spanner in the works. Defeating Cinnial was going to take longer than I had planned, and the series expanded from three to five books.
Am I sorry about this unexpected turn? Not at all. Elferterre delights me as much as the Great Library does, and Out of Time even has an honest-to-God map, the way many fantasy novels do.
Therefore, onward ho to Elferterre and Book Four, which should have a title in the next month or two.
The 2020 Hinterlands Press Giveaway is over, and the names have been drawn. In part because of my blog Notes from the Hinterland, readers near and far entered the contest, and what a treat to note the different places of the various contestants, all around the world from Maine to Wales to Singapore. A wonderful example of how blogging really expands the horizon, especially during a time when we must stay so close to home.
Here are the winners:
A copy of Out of Time:
Going Batty in Wales, Wales
Shane Malcolm Billings, Maine
Ju-Lyn Tan, Singapore
JoAnne LaFear, Maine
Congratulations to the winners!
I wish everyone who entered had won, but alas that is not how giveaways work. However, as we Mainers would say, I can give you a wicked good deal just in time for the holidays. From now until December 19, for orders shipped in the United States, we are offering a 20% discount for Out of Time on our Hinterlands Press website.
Free shipping is still included. And you get a signed copy. (Unfortunately, shipping is too expensive to extend this discount to my out-of-country friends. So sorry!)
Again, congratulations to the winners!
Finally, I would like to end by tooting my own horn. A blogging friend from England very kindly put Out of Time at the top of her TBR list. Here is what she wrote:
“I had just got two award-winning novels from the library that I’d been waiting for, but yours was the one I was most interested in reading…. I really enjoyed [Out of Time]—yet another page-turner from you and I was grateful for some precious escapism. I just need to complain that you kept me up very late finishing it.”
Now, that is some compliment.
Happy holidays to you all! Along with a vaccine, may the new year bring many books that you keep you up late at night because you are so eager to find out what happens at the end.
In 2016, when we published Maya and the Book of Everything, I had planned to write a monthly newsletter, but something always seemed to get in the way, ranging from writing my next book to going around Maine to various events to sell and promote my novels. Somehow, there never seemed to be enough time to work on a newsletter, ironic when you consider how much I write about Time (yes, with a capital T) in my Great Library Series, where Time is a ruling force in our universe.
When Library Lost, Book Two in the Great Library Series, came out in 2018, I again resolved to write a monthly newsletter. But yet again, time (or Time?) slipped away from me, and there was no newsletter.
And now here we are in 2020 with a new novel, Book Three in the Great Library Series, aptly named Out of Time, currently available through Amazon. (At the end of November, Out of Time will be available directly through Hinterlands Press as well as through other vendors and book stores.)
Finally, finally my plans for a newsletter have come to fruition. What has changed? A not so little something called Covid-19, which has kept me extremely close to home. Among other things, we are no longer able to go from event to event with our books. There is no point in mincing words: This is a big loss for us as we sell many books this way. However, the pandemic has given me more time to focus on my writing, including the newsletter that I have put off for the past four years. I guess this falls under the category that it’s an ill wind that blows no good because no two ways about it, Covid-19 has been a very ill wind indeed.
Just in time for Out of Time, here is the first official Hinterlands Press Newsletter, which will now be published the second week of each month, with occasional brief updates if something cool happens.
Speaking of cool...here is the cover for Out of Time, created by the talented James T. Egan of Bookfly Design. I know we shouldn’t have favorites, but I do believe that of all three this is my favorite cover. And note how our baby has grown: Maya now looks like a young woman. But as Indiana Jones once famously said, it’s not the years, it’s the mileage, and zipping to and fro in our universe, Maya has put on some serious mileage.
In Out of Time, with her new team—Will, Jay, and Lexie—Maya sets out to a place called Elferterre, a dimension ruled by Magic rather than by Time. In Elferterre, Maya and her team embark on a quest to steal a magical key and lock from a powerful elf named Galli. In Elferterre—green and mysterious with a touch of steampunk—Maya, Will, Jay, and Lexie encounter allies and foes, including a talking cat, a witch, sprites, ogres, imps, and a mechanical horse. All the while, Magic swirls around Elferterre, enhancing the good and bad in every creature that Maya and her team meet.
To celebrate the publication of Out of Time, we will be giving away a signed copy of our new book as well as three calendars featuring a map of Norlander, Elferterre. To enter the giveaway contest go to Hinterlandspress.com.
Giveaway entries will be accepted from 11/14/2020 through 11/28/2020. The drawing will be held on 12/1/2010.
Please don’t be shy about entering this contest. I will ship Out of Time and the calendars anywhere on this planet.
Out of Time is available now from Amazon as paper and e-book.
We will have books on hand for selling signed copies by 11/28/2020.
Online vendors and your local book stores (who work with the global Ingram Book Group) should be able to order Out of Time starting next week.