Announcement

Well, with the editor's permission, I can now tell you that I have sold my story Four Days to David Afsharirad for inclusion in an upcoming anthology to be published by Baen Books. I'll hold off on the book title until it's officially announced.

D

J. R. R. Tolkien

If there is a single author on this planet whose name is more widely known than that of J. R. R. Tolkien, I have no idea who it would be.  He is an incredibly important author in the history of 20th century literature.  In fact, author and fellow professor Tom Shippey presents a case for Professor Tolkien being the most important writer of the 20th century.  J. R. R. Tolkien perhaps almost single-handedly is responsible for the rise of fantasy as a popular genre in the second half of the century.  Talk about casting a giant shadowthe man did, and still does, even though he died in 1973.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in 1892.  His Wikipedia article does a rather nice biography, so I'll not repeat any of that.  And I don't want to spend much time talking about Tolkien's writing career.  There are numerous articles about that as well.  Instead, I want to consider J. R. R. Tolkien from a personal viewpoint--how he touched me first as a reader and later as a writer.

I first discovered J. R. R. Tolkien in 7th grade.  I was omnivorously devouring all the science fiction and fantasy I could find in my local library, and had just recently discovered the science fiction section in the adult stacks.  Among the volumes in that section were three books by Tolkien:  The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King (a/k/a The Lord of the Rings).  This would have been early 1964, so I was 12 years old.  This was before the paperback editions were available, so these were the big hardback volumes published by Houghton Mifflin, with the big foldout maps in the back.

Now, I didn't know anything about trilogies.  I'd never seen one before.  I had no idea that it was possible to write a story arc that would continue across multiple volumes.  So guess what happened.  Right.  I read them out of order.  I read the last volume first, then the first volume in the middle, and the middle volume last.  I was so confused.  It was a few months later before I figured out what had happened, which caused me to reread them in the correct order.  Things made a lot more sense the second time around.  (For what it's worth, I did the same thing the first time I read Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, with much the same result.)

As a reader, I was gobsmacked.  First of all, the story was huge.  (Approximately 450,000 words.  For comparison, Tolstoy's War and Peace is about 600,000 words.)  This was the first time I had encountered a story arc that ran for more than a single volume, and the scope that allowed Tolkien to adopt just astounded me.  I fell in love with the sheer size of the story, and all the detail that it allowed Tolkien to present.  I had read The Hobbit not long before that, and while I had enjoyed it, it absolutely did not grab me like the trilogy did.  Secondly, even as a young reader, Tolkien's world building just enraptured me.  Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, Ents, and the casual mention of thousands of years of recorded history--I ate it all up and cried out for more.  Third, when the Ballantine paperback editions came out the following year and I was able for the first time to read the Appendices that were available in that edition of The Return of the King, I was in heaven.  I was already a bit of a history geek, but I had never encountered a fictional history before, and that just pushed all my buttons.  I still remember the "Wow" I felt the first time I finished reading the Appendices.

I read the trilogy twelve times cover to cover over the ensuing eight years, and who knows how many times I reread my favorite passages--probably forty, at least.  And it very quickly became my answer to the question--you know, the one that goes "If you were marooned on a desert island and could only have one book, which one would it be?"  No thought required:  The Lord of the Rings.  And truth to tell, that is still my answer today.

I became moderately knowledgeable about the details of the story.  I knew more LOTR trivia than anyone I knew, although I was never in the running for all-time LOTR trivia geek.  I used the tables in the Appendices to translate the rune bands on the title pages of the individual books.  (If you didn't know there were messages in those rune bands, then you're not as big a fan as you thought you were.)  When Caedmon Records put out the spoken arts recordings of Tolkien reading some of his material, and the Donald Swann song cycle based on Tolkien's poems (The Road Goes Ever On), I bought those immediately.  And for a long time I had a copy of every American edition of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I finally had to give that up when my Tolkien collection was taking up over half the space I had for books.  (Nowadays I just have a copy of each textual edition, plus most of the limited deluxe editions.  That's at least six copies of The Hobbit--including the original 1938 first American edition--and at least four copies of LOTR.)

The Lord of the Rings became the standard against which I measured everything I read, and not much compared well to it.  I grew very tired of the constant advertising comparisons "The greatest book since The Lord of the Rings."  It took me a while to become a little more balanced in my evaluations of other writers and other books.  And oddly enough, the first book that really broke through was Frank Herbert's Dune, which was a very different book indeed, but had some of the same sense of huge scale and exceptional world building.  So even today, due to the influence of Tolkien, my favorite books all feature outstanding world building.

I finally decided to write in 1978.  Tolkien influenced me there as well, and in much the same way.  I wanted (and still want) to tell stories involving right and wrong, I wanted to tell stories on grand scales, and I wanted to tell stories against great world building.  I'll never equal J. R. R. Tolkien, especially in the last category, because I can't spend twenty years working on a single story idea like he did.  But I can try.

I reread LOTR not long ago, for the first time in a lot of years.  It held up extremely well, although I found myself critiquing the writing much more than I had ever done before.  Side-effect of being a professional writer myself, I guess.  When I was done, I decided that while J. R. R. Tolkien was a really good story teller, there were others who are just as good, if not better.  But no other writer will ever affect me as he did.

Andre Norton

This post about Andre Norton is the leadoff for a series I intend to write about writers who have influenced and shaped both my reading and my writing over the years.  They won't be very profound--mostly just retrospectives and appreciations.

Andre Norton (February 17, 1912 – March 17, 2005) is the name she is most commonly known by.  And yes, she was a successful female writer at a time when most of the industry consisted of male writers.  Her birth name was Alice Mary Norton, but she used at least three pseudonyms over her lengthy career.  Andre Norton appeared on most of her books, but she also used Andrew North and Allen Weston.  According to Wikipedia, she legally changed her name to Andre Alice Norton in 1934.  She is most well known as a science fiction and fantasy writer, although she did dabble in other genres over the years.

Unlike most of her contemporaries, Andre Norton was primarily a novelist.  She wrote very little short fiction in her early career, and even though her output of short work increased in her later career, it was still very definitely the minority of her work.  It was her novels that I fist encountered, and those were responsible for my becoming a science fiction reader.  Also unlike most of her contemporaries, almost all of Norton's output had initial hardback editions, even the earliest works published in the 1930's and 1940's.  Up through the 1970's, most of her books were published as hardback young adult novels by her publishers, and I suspect a large proportion of the sales of those books were to libraries.  That's certainly where I found most of her books over the years.

Her science fiction novels were reprinted in paperback mostly by Ace Books in the early years.  A couple of them had title changes in the initial printings--Star Man's Son became Daybreak 2250 A.D.Star Rangers became The Last Planet. Her book Beast Master was lightly abridged for its first few paperback printings.  All of these reprint editions were noticeably devoid of any indication that they were reprints of juvenile/young adult books, though.  They were marketed to adults, and sold quite well for decades.  I certainly never considered them anything other than great stories.

My initial exposure to Andre Norton came through her novel Catseye, which I still consider to be one of her best works.  It was my first real taste of serious science fiction.  It was my step up from middle grade books like The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet and the novels of Edward Eager.  Norton took me to the next level.  She was my gateway drug, if you'll accept that metaphor.  And I still find it both ironic and humorous that I got that 40 cent Ace Books edition of Catseye at school by way of the Scholastic Book Club.  The cover price of the book was 40 cents, but through the book club I got it for 25 cents.  I still think that is the best quarter I ever spent.

It used to be pretty common that writers would talk about one of the strengths of science fiction as a genre was the "sense of wonder" that it generated.  That is exactly what Andre Norton did to and for me--reading Catseye awakened that sense of wonder in the mind of a 6th grade boy in January 1963.  Fifty-five years later it's still alive and burning brightly, and now I write the stuff.

Andre Norton was a great story-teller.  I was drawn into--sucked into--her stories very quickly, and I seldom put them down after starting them before reaching the last page.  And I would reread them almost as voraciously as I read them initially.  I enjoyed the story and the story-telling just as much the second and third and fifth and ninth times as I did the first.  She had that effect on me.  Her story-telling gift was part of what attracted me to the idea of writing.

She told good stories about good characters.  Because most of her earlier works were written for the juvenile/young adult market, the protagonists were usually youths, but they were never stupid or childish.  I had no trouble identifying with them as competent people even when I was in my late 20's and early 30's.  Norton was also one of the first authors that I read who wrote strong female characters and even used them as protagonists.

As her career progressed and she got older, a lot of her science fiction and space opera would kind of cross the line into fantasy.  Her delving into Gothics were also very fantasy influenced, I think.  Her last years were almost totally devoted to fantasy, except for a few collaborative novels in her Time Trader and Solar Queen series.  The pinnacle of her career is probably her Witch World series, which started out as an alternate history story, but very quickly morphed into a full-blown fantasy series.  I fell in love with this series and devoured each new volume as soon as it came out.

One of the things I greatly regret is that Norton never seemed to get much critical attention until very late in her career.  It seems like it wasn't until writers of my generation who grew up reading her books became popular that she started getting some of the renown she really deserved.  People like David Drake, Eric Flint, Mercedes Lackey, David Weber, and others began mentioning her as being a formative influence.  As a result, her last few years seemed to have her being more appreciated and more valued.  I think it's appropriate.

Another great regret is I never got a chance to meet Andre Norton face to face.  I did get to talk to her on the telephone a couple of times back in 1974, so I do have those memories.

My favorite books by her include Catseye, Star Guard, and Star Rangers from her earlier works, and Moon of Three Rings, Year of the Unicorn, and The Crystal Gryphon from her later period.

So, yeah, this is a bit of an homage, and a bit of a retrospective, and a whole lot of fond remembering.  It may not make a lot of sense to you.  That's okay.  Just know that if there is any one person who is responsible for my being a science fiction and fantasy fan and a science fiction and fantasy author in my own right, it's Andre Norton.

Excerpt from The Sound of Sweet Strings

Grantville, December 1633

The music came to an end. Atwood flipped a switch on the board and leaned forward to the microphone on the table.

“And that was the beautiful ‘Nimrod’ movement from Variations on an Original Theme for Orchestra, Opus 36, called the ‘Enigma’ Variations, by Edward Elgar. That was a foretaste of things to come. We will play the work in its entirety some time next month. I think you will like it.”

Atwood had a smooth bass voice, and he had put it to use over the years from time to time serving as a radio disc jockey. He’d never expected to be doing it in this situation, however, over three hundred years before he had been born. But he’d been assured that there were plenty of crystal radios out there in Thuringia to tune into his show, so he’d agreed to do it.

He looked down at his notes. “To close out this evening’s program, we’re going to play a very different piece of music in a very different musical style. It’s what we call ‘blue grass’ music. Those of you who listen to Reverend Fischer’s morning devotionals have already heard music like this. This particular piece features an instrument that wasn’t invented for close to another two hundred years, called the banjo. This is ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown.’ ”

Atwood cued up the CD. After a moment the music began to sound. He leaned back and just listened to Earl Scruggs’ picking. Atwood could play the banjo, but it wasn’t his best instrument and he enjoyed hearing it played by a master.

All too soon the music was over, and he leaned forward again. “That was ‘Foggy Mountain Breakdown,’ and I hope you enjoyed it.

“Thank you for being with us this Sunday evening for Adventures in Great Music on the Voice of America Radio Network, sponsored by the Burke Wish Book, where you can order anything you need or want. I look forward to joining you next Sunday evening.

“I’m Atwood Cochran, and good night.”

 

A few weeks later

Lucille Cochran turned from the front door’s peep hole. “It’s for you, dear.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, there’s only one of him, he’s a down-timer, and he’s carrying something that looks like one of your old gig bags. He doesn’t look like a lawyer, so I don’t think he came to see the probate judge. That leaves you.”

Atwood levered himself from his recliner, muttering something about people coming around on Saturday evening when a man should be able enjoy some peace and quiet. He opened the door. “Yes?”

“Herr Cochran?” The man on the doorstep was short, dark-haired, dressed in reasonably fine but not new clothing, including a large hat with a bedraggled feather. And he did have what looked for all the world like one of Atwood’s old soft-sided guitar gig bags on his back. Atwood guessed it had a lute in it. The man appeared to be in his forties, and by his accent he was not from the Germanies.

“That’s me.”

“I am Giouan Battista Veraldi. I was in Magdeburg when I heard your radio program with the music of the…banjo?” He pronounced the last word with care, as if he wasn’t sure how it should sound.

“Come in, Signor Veraldi.” Atwood opened the door wider. The Italian beamed at the up-timer’s recognition and stepped through the door. Lucille appeared in the door to the kitchen, wiping her hands on a dish towel. “Dear, this is Signor Giouan Battista Veraldi…did I get that right?” The still beaming Italian swept his hat from his head and made a very courtly bow to Lucille. “Signor Veraldi, this is my wife, Lucille.”

“I am very pleased to meet you, Frau Cochran.”

“So, at a guess you would like to know more about the banjo.” Atwood’s curiosity was piqued.

“Yes, please.” Veraldi’s smile widened.

“Come with me, then.” Atwood led the way through the kitchen and opened the door into what used to be the garage. Veraldi sniffed in appreciation as he passed by the stew simmering on the stove. Atwood followed his guest down the step into his studio.

The late afternoon light flooded through the windows at the end of the room. There were posters of famous guitars and famous guitarists on the walls. The room was furnished with a couple of stools and music stands, plus a table under the windows and another at the other end of the room. There was a black cabinet in one corner, and leaning up against it were several odd-shaped cases.

“Where are you from, Signor Veraldi?”

Atwood gestured to one of the stools, but the Italian stood looking around with eyes wide. After a moment, he started and replied, “As you guessed, I am from Italy originally, but I was a lutenist at the Swedish court for a number of years. I left not long ago. The pay was good, but the weather…” He shivered, and they both laughed. “I have been working my way back to Italy. I’m not in a hurry, but it will not be long now before I am back in the land of fine music and olives. I miss olives…”

Veraldi’s German was better than his own, Atwood decided. His accent gave it a lilt that neither up-timers nor native down-timers gave it. “It is always good to return home,” Atwood said.

“True; and I have been gone for a long time,” Veraldi replied. His eyes had by now gravitated to the open case lying on one of the tables. “Such a large vihuela I have never seen,” he breathed.

“Vihuela?” Atwood asked.

“Do you know guitarra, or guiterne?” Veraldi replied without looking around.

“Oh, guitar. Sure. It’s a classical guitar.”

Veraldi caressed the guitar with his eyes, then turned to Atwood. “May I…”

Atwood gestured in reply. Veraldi set the instrument bag he was carrying down on the table and picked up the guitar. He held it up to the light and peered at it closely, then ran his hand all over the body. At last he plucked a string, and his eyebrows rose at the strong resonant sound. With a sigh he replaced the guitar in its case.

“Very fine vihuela; very fine guitar.”

“Thank you. Please, have a seat.” Atwood waved at one of the stools and sat on the other. Instead of doing so, Veraldi opened his bag and took out a lute, which he handed to Atwood.

Atwood hadn’t handled a lute since a class in Renaissance instruments during his college days. He received it gingerly, holding it in his two hands as if it were a baby. It was a beautiful instrument. The spruce sound board was unvarnished and had darkened a bit from its original white. The ribs of the bowl-shaped body gleamed with a satin patina. And the neck—now there was a joy. The neck was short and wide, supporting ten courses of two strings each. The head bent back from the neck at right angles. He plucked a string, and nodded at the sound. Not as deep and resonant as the guitar, but louder than he had thought it would be.

All in all, it was an excellent example of the luthier’s art. And it was a living instrument with signs of use on it, but nonetheless lovingly cared for. Veraldi’s pride in it was obvious.

“Very fine lute,” Atwood said, handing it back.

“Thank you,” came the response. “It was made for me by Master Matteo Sellas, of Venice. The Sellas family are the finest luthiers in Italy.”

“It is a fine instrument,” Atwood repeated. “Would you like to see the rest of mine?”

Veraldi nodded with eagerness, wiping his hands on his pants.

Atwood started pulling cases out of the stack and opening them up in the tables. “Steel string guitar, twelve string guitar, and of course,” opening the final case with a flourish, “the Gibson Les Paul electric guitar.”

His guest looked around with a dazed look on his face, not understanding what he was seeing.

“Sit, sit,” Atwood said, pointing to the stool. Veraldi sat. The up-timer picked up the classical guitar, and thought for a moment about what to play. After a moment, the perfect song came to him. He wrapped himself around the guitar, and played the opening bars to “Hotel California.”

Veraldi was intent, watching Atwood’s fingers, drinking in the sound. The delicate tapestry of the music wove through the air of the small room, seeming to bring light with it. Atwood stopped at the place where the vocals would have begun.

The Italian sighed. Then he pointed at the other instruments. “Please?”

Atwood smiled. “Sure.” He set the classical back in its case and picked up the steel-string guitar. He settled back onto the stool, then played the same piece of music. Veraldi’s eyes widened at the difference in timbre between the two instruments, so similar in size and shape.

The performance was repeated with the twelve-string guitar. This time Veraldi’s eyes closed, but Atwood could have sworn he saw the man’s ears twitching in time with the music. He smiled a little at the thought.

Once again the excerpt drew to a close. Atwood set the twelve-string back in its case and turned back to his guest.

“You will not play the other guitar?” Veraldi pointed to the Gibson.

“Later,” Atwood laughed. “That one takes a different song. But there is one more for you to see.” He closed a couple of cases, then set another on top of them and opened it. “This is a banjo.”

Atwood picked the banjo up and handed it to Veraldi, whose eyebrows immediately shot up to their limit at the sight of the round flat body. He turned it this way and that, peering at it closely as he took in all the details. After several minutes, Veraldi sat back. “I do not know what I expected to see, but it was not…this. This almost looks like the bastard child of a vihuela and a tambour.”

“You’re not far off,” Atwood laughed. He took the banjo back, and cradled it in his arms. He’d already decided what to play here, so he took off with “Herod’s Song” from Jesus Christ Superstar. The rollicking beat made it a fun song to play.

When he finished, he looked up to see Veraldi smiling. “Yes,” the Italian said, “that is what I heard through the radio in Magdeburg. That sound; that very unique sound. How can I get a banjo? I must take one back to Italy with me.”

“Well,” Atwood replied, “I won’t sell mine. And there’s not very many of them in Grantville. However, Ingram Bledsoe might have one or two. I’ll check with him tomorrow.”

“Then may I return tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow afternoon, certainly. Say, middle of the afternoon.”

Veraldi stood from his stool and held out his hand. “I will return then,” he said. “Thank you for your time, Herr Cochran. It was very good to meet you.”

Atwood ushered his guest to the front door, where they shook hands again and exchanged good evenings.

“Well,” Lucille said, coming out of the dining room, “dinner’s ready. What did your Signor Veraldi want?”

“Mostly to talk about instruments,” Atwood said. “I have a feeling that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of him. I suspect he’s going to want to drain me dry of everything I can tell him.”

* * *

Giouan muttered to himself all the way back to the hotel. Mother of heaven, what he had just discovered. The banjo alone would be a prize to take back to Italy, but the up-time vihuelas! The sounds they could make. He knew he had had only a taste tonight. He must hear more. He must learn more. He must find a way to take these things home with him.

Excerpt from The Quiet Man


The spaceship settled on the Washington Mall, nose pointed toward the Capitol. The crowds seemed to coalesce around the police barricades almost immediately. Despite the risk, no one wanted to miss out on the first visit from extra-terrestrials.

Every news channel world-wide was devoting 100% of its time to this event. There were cameras all around the perimeter of the mall. The feeds were competing with each other for the eye of the viewing public. The news anchors, cool, controlled manners notwithstanding, seemed somewhat strained while they discussed the import of the event.

The craft was lean and rakish. It looked dangerous, whether or not it really was. The Secret Service and other security agencies didn't miss the import of the orientation of the nose. The Capitol and nearby buildings were evacuated immediately.

The crowds continued to swell. Banners with all the UFO cult labels began to appear. The police perimeter lines were being pushed in by the inexorable pressure of the people gathering.

Clang!

The noise echoed between the buildings. The lower half of the spaceship nose split into clamshell doors and began to open. The crowd recoiled for a moment, then pressed forward when a ramp descended to ground level. A figure strode down the ramp into the sunlight and was greeted by a collective “Aah.”

Leonine was the only word that described him. Tall, somewhat cat-like, with a blocky head and a huge mane of reddish-gold hair, he was impressive. The TV anchors were uniformly silent, unable to muster words to capture and frame the moment. He moved out away from the craft, until even the shadow of it was some distance behind him. Everyone watched while he reached up and touched something on his collar.

“I am Commander Khuran.” No speakers were in sight, but his voice resonated and reverberated throughout the space. “We are the Sha’Chá. These are our children.” Six giant holograms sprang into being above the Mall, rotating and circling so that all could see them clearly. If the commander was leonine, these were more feline. Different colors, different patterns, different clothing. “We have tracked them here. Take us to them, bring them here, or tell us what happened. We await them.” With that, he touched his collar again, clasped his hands behind his back, and settled in to wait.

When the response came, it was not from the government. A man in a black uniform pushed his way to the front of the crowd. People got out of his way as quickly as they could. The rather large rifle he was carrying may have had something to do with that. Before the nearest policemen could get to him, he ducked under the tape and jumped the barricade. When the cops tried to follow him, they found themselves blocked by something no one could see.

Everyone watched while he strode across the grass toward Commander Khuran. The news anchors broke into almost apoplectic commentaries.

The man stopped when he was perhaps twenty feet from the commander. He laid the rifle down on the ground, dropped his pistol belt on top of it, then unfastened and shrugged off his body armor and equipment vest. He discarded the cap, so that he stood bareheaded in the sunlight, blond hair stirring in the breeze. He gave a bow to the commander, then assumed a similar posture.

Commander Khuran beckoned to the man. He straightened. When he spoke, his voice was heard as well as the commander’s had been previously.

“I can tell you what has happened to them. I will tell you what has happened to them.”

At that, the crowd went nuts. The police had their hands full dealing with the crowd, but they were pushed back until they encountered an unseen barrier around the craft, the commander and the man in black.

Slowly, the noise began to die down. Cameras began to turn again to the two figures standing facing each other within the cleared area. Commander Khuran beckoned again, waving a hand at the ship in obvious invitation. The figure in black stood still for a moment, then began walking, almost marching, toward the ramp. The commander fell in beside him, and together they entered the spaceship. The ramp retracted. The doors closed. And everyone in the world was left wondering.

****

Ten years later

Rowf was doing his dog thing, sniffing everything in sight and watering every tree and bush we passed by. I swear, that dog’s bladder proved that the outside of something can be smaller than the inside.

I was walking along and looking at the stars, something I do a lot of. The sky was really black, and the stars just glittered in it. Beautiful. One of the things that makes me believe God is an artist. I find that a calming thought.

Rowf stopped so suddenly I just about fell over him. “What’s up, dog?” I laid my hand on his neck, feeling the hair rise. His ears were perked forward. I could hear the slow rumble of a warning growl coming from his throat. After a moment, I could hear what he heard—someone crashing through the brush.

I like my privacy—I have my reasons for that—so my property is very clearly posted No Trespassing. The fact that someone was blundering around on it in the dark lifted my hackles along with Rowf’s. It also stirred some memories that had lain quiet for a lot of years. I headed in the direction of the noise, Rowf trailing along behind.

The crashing grew closer and closer. Someone with no woods sense was running hard in the dark, risking a fall and a broken limb or worse. I stopped where I was, waiting. After a moment, I could see her. Light clothing, long hair, looking back over her shoulder when she burst through the brush and ran headlong into my chest with an “Oof”.

Excerpt from Command Performance

Magdeburg
Friday, October 14, 1633

Franz knocked on the door, and waited impatiently for someone to answer. Marla made a slight grunt, and her hold on his arm became a fierce clutch. He leaned over to her bowed head, and said, "But a moment more, and you will be out of the rain and able to sit." She nodded her head slightly, and he straightened.

At that moment, the door opened and a young woman looked out at them. "Yes?" she said in accented English.

"Fraulein Marla Linder, come at Frau Simpson's invitation," Franz replied.

The young woman opened the door wide. "Please, come in. Wilkommen."

Franz led Marla into the house. The comparative warmth of the sitting room was a very welcome change from the liquid ice of the October rain, and he heard her sigh. Another woman swept into the room from a side door as the maid shut the front door behind them.

"Miss Linder, I am so glad to finally meet you face to face," the newcomer exclaimed.

Franz was in no doubt as to who this was, although he had never seen her before in his life. Even in Grantville they had begun to hear of Mary Simpson, the Dame of Magdeburg, whose grace and courtesy had charmed even the young myrmidons of the Committees of Correspondence.

Marla's fingers clenched on his arm again. "Your pardon, Frau Simpson," Franz hastily interjected, "but it would be a kindness if Marla could sit down."

Mrs. Simpson's beaming smile shifted to an expression of concern, and her eyes widened as she took Marla's hands. "Dear, your hands are like ice! You poor thing." Mary released Marla's hand and began unfastening buttons. "At the end of a long journey, and you're soaking wet and cold. Hilde, help take her coat." With the maid's help, the drenched coat was removed and hung up. "Come with us, and we'll get you warm and dry."

The serving woman led Marla out of the sitting room as Mary turned to Franz. "Please, make yourself at home, while we take care of Miss Linder. Tell me, Mr. . . ." she looked at him in inquiry.

"Franz Sylwester, Frau Simpson," he responded with a slight bow.

Mary smiled. "Oh, good, I was hoping to meet you. We'll talk later, but for right now, do you know if Marla gets like this often? How long has she been hurting?"

"Never have I seen her like this," Franz said, his worry coming to the fore. "She has been suffering for over two days now, since after the rain started."

Mary nodded. "As I thought. If we get her dry and warm, it should ease up. Please, Franz, be seated, and we'll be back with you before long." She turned and hurried out of the room.

Franz took his violin in its bag and Marla's flute in its case from the plastic bags that had protected them from the rain. He set the instruments on a nearby table, then hung the precious bags to dry on a peg next to Marla's coat near the door. He stopped for a moment to look at the bags, and marvel at the stuff they were made from. How plastic was made still seemed like magic to him, but there was no denying how useful the stuff was. Take these bags—they weighed next to nothing, could be folded and stuck into a pocket, yet at a moment's notice they could be taken out and used to shield anything they would contain from moisture. Truly, the future must be a marvelous place if it could produce Marla, the music he was coming to love so strongly, and plastic.

With a smile he started on his own buttons, and moments later his own very wet coat was hung on the next peg in the wall. Finally shed of his various burdens, he took a seat in one of the most comfortable chairs it had ever been his pleasure to sit in. The warmth radiating from the stove soaked into him and the chill left his own extremities. He felt his body relaxing for the first time since the trip from Grantville had begun.

Traveling in Thuringia in the late fall and early winter was unpleasant at best, and arduous at worst. Rain or early snow could turn what roads there were into muddy bogs. Shepherding a grand piano from Grantville to Magdeburg in early October had been . . . interesting, Franz mused.

Letters From Gronow

My sixth book, Letters From Gronow, is now available from Amazon, published by Eric Flint's Ring of Fire Press.

Kindle edition

Print edition

Soon to be available from other vendors.  Here's the cover blurb:

What happens when the seventeenth century encounters Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep? What happens when the Elder Gods descend upon Magdeburg?  When literary entrepreneur Johann Gronow discovers the stories of H. P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe in the libraries and book collections of Grantville, he launches a magazine for the purpose of publishing translations of their stories.

Der Schwarze KaterThe Black Tomcat—begins attracting attention immediately. From his very first reading of the first issue of the magazine, a young bookkeeper named Philip Fröhlich develops a passion to write those kinds of stories. And so begins the quest of every author—to satisfy the requirements of an editor and make that first elusive sale.

As have millions of aspiring authors, Philip discovers it's not as easy as it looks. Time after time his submissions receive a rejection letter from Gronow. But Philip stubbornly keeps submitting, along the way discovering things about himself and the people around him that he never would have learned any other way.

Buy it!  Read it!  Enjoy it!  Review it!

I'll be ever so grateful.

D

 

Revisiting The Muse of Music

This is the book that I collaborated on with Enrico Toro that was published last year by Eric Flint's Ring of Fire Press.  The publisher recently replaced the original cover art with new artwork, and reworked the content by improving the copy-editing and cleaning up the pagination so that the section and chapter pages all align correctly.

There's been no real change to the stories themselves.  It's just a cleaner, better, more professional production this time around.  So if you have read it, liked it, and want the corrected version, have at it.  If you haven't read it, it's waiting for you to buy it at the usual suspects.  🙂

D

And More Publishing News!

Well, tonight I signed another new book contract, this time with Eric Flint's Ring of Fire Press. They're going to produce a book from my six episode serial of Letters From Gronow which has been playing in The Grantville Gazette for the last year. I added a final episode that expanded the story by almost 75%. so there will be quite a bit more story to read for those who read the Gazette version.

Publication date undetermined at this point in time.

D

Publishing news!

1. Today I signed my first solo contract with Baen Books for a book entitled 1636: The Flight of the Nightingale. It contains two short novels laid in the Ring of Fire universe:

·         Bach to the Future, which is the collected adventures of the Bach brothers, most of which have been published in The Grantville Gazette, but also including the final installment, for which this is the first publication.

·         The Flight of the Nightingale, an adventure story laid in northern Italy, which has never been previously published

Publication date is unknown at this point.

2. With Eric Flint's permission, I'm also announcing the pending publication of Essen Defiant, which will be published by Eric Flint's Ring of Fire Press in the near future. This may have been mentioned in earlier informal announcements, but you can consider this to be an official notice. This is a collaboration between Kim Mackey and myself, and provides the sequel to Kim's first book Essen Steel.

D