Monday, November 26, 2012

What We're Reading

Sure, it's the start of the holiday season and our busy lives are about to get even crazier. But there's always time for reading, right? Instead of the usual hustle and bustle, here's what some of us Inkies are burying our noses in this week!

Ellen Booraem: I’m reading Bill Bryson’s A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING, which is a total gas. As the title indicates, it’s about everything, from the beginnings of the universe to the nature of viruses. There’s a lot of history: who discovered what we think we know now, when they discovered it, and how. Did you know that Yellowstone National Park is one giant volcano? That a square centimeter of skin has a hundred thousand bacteria? On a side note, I just finished GRAVE MERCY by Robin LeFevers, and if the sequel doesn’t hurry up I plan to hold my breath until I turn blue.

PJ Hoover: I am reading SCARLET by Marissa Meyer! I've been waiting for this sequel to CINDER since I finished the first book, and couldn't be more excited. Cyborgs. The future. It's all so awesome!

Katherine Catmull: I'm slowly savoring Philip Pullman's FAIRY TALES FROM THE BROTHERS GRIMM -- a great collection of stories, from hilarious to creepy, and the prose is clear as water.

Hillari Bell: The last book I read was CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE--a fabulous new addition to the Vorkosigan series. These are SF books with deep and wonderful characters, which I'd think would appeal to fantasy readers  (And besides, Lois McMaster Bujold has a delightful sense of humor!). Start this series with either SHARDS OF HONOR, or WARRIOR'S APPRENTICE. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is a great book, but it's a long way down the series, and a lot of the joy of it is that you know all these people so well, and care about them so much.

Amy Greenfield: I've just finished Stephanie Burgis's A RECKLESS MAGICK, the rollicking end to her delightful Regency trilogy. (It'll be published in the US in April as STOLEN MAGIC.) Now I'm reading WITCHLANDERS by our own Lena Coakley, which is a gorgeous, spellbinding story, a great wintertime read.

Lena Coakley: I'm reading the hilarious Jasper Fforde's second book in the Thursday Next series, LOST IN A GOOD BOOK.

Keely Parrack: I'm reading I CAPTURE THE CASTLE by Dodie Smith and loving the curious old fashioned sense of pacing and quirky storyline. Before that I read UNDEAD which is pure zombie fun! Like Sean of the Dead meets MEAN GIRLS! Next I'm reading WE'VE GOT A JOB by Cynthia Levinson.

Lisa Amowitz: I am reading DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT by Laini Taylor, and of course, GOBLIN SECRETS by Will Alexander. I've been busy, so I'm finding less time than I'd like for reading. I do have to say that, though I started DAYS before GOBLINS, I am finding myself drawn to the latter. The writing is beautiful and twisted and the macabre style calls to mind Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. I am loving it.

William Alexander: Just cracked an advance copy of DOLL BONES by Holly Black. Comes out in March. It's beautiful, scary, and costing me sleep.

Leah Cypress: I just finished PROMISED by Caragh O'Brien, the final volume in the dystopian Birthmarked trilogy. I can't say much about the book itself without spoilering those who haven't started the trilogy yet, but I will say that I read the entire thing in a single day. At one point, I discovered that my 15-month-old son had pulled it off the couch and was sitting with it open on his lap, turning pages, apparently trying to figure out what was so interesting. Next up is BREATHE by Sarah Crossan, another dystopian novel with a fascinating premise.

Nancy Holder: I'm listening to the audio book of THE POE SHADOW by Matthew Pearl. I'm a huge Poe fan, so this is a really fun mystery about how Poe "really" died.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Today at the Inkpot it’s my pleasure to interview fellow inkie, Lena Goldfinch, author of the novella Language of Souls.  I adored Language of Souls. It is a novella jam packed with romance, mystery, adventure and suspense.  And how gorgeous is that cover??? 


Hi Lena, thanks so much for taking the time to answer all of my questions!  As you know, I loved The Language of Souls! It is such a unique story.  How did you come up with the premise?

Thank you! I'm not entirely sure where ideas come from. It's a very mysterious process. (Not unlike cooking, at least for me. ;)) I know at some point I started thinking about the idea of two people who had no common language. Would it be possible, under those circumstances, to fall in love? So much of how we form bonds with others is through conversation (language), but with language stripped away, could someone still win your heart?
Later, I had this concept that came to me about the soul, which is also mysterious and fascinates me. What if it was a physical, visible thing, something we carried around with us always? What if we needed to consciously protect and watch over it? And what if it could be taken from us or we could choose to give it away? So, that was essentially the sci fi/fantasy element that drove me to create the votif. Otherwise, the only "magical element" in the story is Solena's gift of healing.
And over and above all that—which are just the mechanics of the plot—was Solena and Rundan, two characters who stole my heart and kept drawing me back to their story. They wouldn't let me go until I'd completed it. And even after that, the story went through many layers of revisions.

One of my favorite things about the book was the vivid and richly painted world that you created. What are your world building techniques?

 At first, it's primarily intuitive, where a mish-mash of influences and images in my life spill over into each other and combine to make something new. The setting almost chooses itself, but then as the storyline develops, I start to questions things and do research. I'm heavily influenced by ancient Italy & Turkey, for example. I'm also absolutely passionate about culture and languages (with a title like The Language of Souls, perhaps that's obvious!). Art, religion, music, education, society, intriguing landscapes...all of these things collect as I'm researching. The differences between people sparks my imagination, and, maybe even more so, what we still have in common beyond those layers of differences.

Are their parts of you in any of the characters?

I wish! They're such amazing characters to me. I'd especially like to be more like Solena. She's so brave and so loyal, and she's extraordinarily kind too. She's driven by a genuine desire to save her beloved grandfather. And in her quest to save him, she gives too little thought to the risks to herself, which gets her into trouble. I wish I was more like that. I'm afraid I much less of a risk-taker!
The Language of Souls has something for every reader – romance, suspense and plenty of action.  Was it difficult to accomplish so much in a novella?

It's funny; I had rather naively set out to write a short story (along the lines of "I think I'll write a short story! Gee, won't that be fun?"). Then, come to find out, it's really hard to write short. I like writing novels and the long form suits me best as a writer, so writing shorter is a challenge for me. The earliest draft ended up sounding more like the first chapter of an epic series, and I simply didn't know how to fix it. So I set it aside and occasionally came back to it when I had some fresh vision. I really had to work hard to tighten the structure and to narrow my scope, but it still ended up being over 25,000 words! (Way too long for a short story, but perfectly okay for a novella.) I think because I'd set out to write a short story, it forced me to very economical and examine every word and sentence to make sure it contributed. The short answer though, is: yes, it was very difficult, and I actually failed at what I set out to do, which was write a short story :) , but I'm perfectly content with that. I really love this story.

What inspires you as an author?

People. People just intrigue me. I'll see someone in a store or I'll read a news article, and I'm just amazed at how many different types of people there are in this world. It provides me with endless inspiration. I'm also inspired by acts of faith or when I see someone who has a lot of personal drive, a mission, some personal passion....

And reading. I think being an avid reader from a very young age taught me a great respect for books and a deep love for stories.

What are you working on now?

I have a couple of young adult fantasy novels in the works. And also a "ghostly little short story," which is already threatening to become a novella.

Thanks so much, Erin!

Thank you Lena! I can’t wait to read what you come up with next!


Monday, November 19, 2012

Thankful For Fantasy

This is the time of year we reflect on what we are grateful for, so I asked the authors of the Enchanted Inkpot which fantasy book they are thankful for. The answers are below!

Lisa Amowitz:
Just one? Okay--Patrick Ness and the Chaos Walking Trilogy, The knife of Never Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer, Monsters of Men. (I still managed to pick three).

Hilari Bell:
One fantasy novel I'm thankful for is Patricia McKillip's Riddle of Stars Trilogy.  I'm not sure which book it was in, but these were the books that, through the sheer power of the way she used language, convinced me that I could shapeshift into a tree.  In my head, I knew that of course it was impossible, but in my heart I absolutely knew that people could do this.  And I was in my late 20's when I read those books.  Worth being thankful for. 

Shelley Moore Thomas:
As for me, I am thankful for The Search For WandLa by Tony DiTerlizzi.  It was my favorite fantasy read of the year because of the incredible world building, the awesome characters, and the mind-blowing twist that I did NOT see coming.  Well, done, Tony!  I find myself thinking about this book again and again.  There is such a timeless quality to this sci-fi fantasy that I am sure kids will be loving it for years to come.

William Alexander:
A Wizard of Earthsea. I read it when I was eleven, and it helped me decided what kind of person I wanted to become. 

P.J. Hoover:
The fantasy book I'm most thankful for is THE SILMARILLION by J. R. R. Tolkien. It's an amazing introduction to the history of Middle Earth, and I poured over it back when the LOTRs movies were coming out. I immersed myself so deep into the world and I loved it. And then, one day, I had a eureka moment. It dawned on me that I was spending a ton of time in a world someone else had created when, instead, I could be creating worlds of my own. So I started writing and haven't stopped.

Myself? I’m thankful for THE LION THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE. That was the book that made me feel like another world did exist and was within my reach, a place where I could be special. It got my imagination working, and I’m pretty sure that’s why I do what I do today.

What about you? Which book are you most thankful for and why? 

Saturday, November 17, 2012


We're starting out with ridiculously exciting news!!!  This year's winner of the National Book Award for Young People's Literature is...


Plus there's an amazing interview with Will in Publisher's Weekly.  We pretty much couldn't be more excited.  You should have seen the email chain that went through the Inkies group.  It was epic.

But that's not all the news we have today. The new YA edition of Lena Goldfinch's fantasy novella, THE LANGUAGE OF SOULS, is now available as an ebook (print forthcoming). And yes, there's a cover reveal!!!

Nancy Holder has accepted a position as writer in residence at Odyssey, a six-week intensive science fiction and fantasy workshop held at St. Anselm college in New Hampshire. The workshop runs from June 10-July 19, 2013.

She will also serve on the faculty at the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing Program at their campus in Dingle, Ireland, in July of 2013. For those of you who haven't been, the Dingle Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  So yes, I'm ridiculously jealous.

Hilari Bell's first four novels have been re-released as ebooks! You can look for SONGS OF POWER, NAVOHAR, A MATTER OF PROFIT and THE WIZARD TEST, wherever ebooks are sold. And if you check out her Facebook page, you can get a Smashwords coupon to get any one of those books free.

And that's it!



Friday, November 16, 2012

The Hobbit Read-Along, Day 5: Chapters 17-19

All week we have been reading J.R.R. Tolkein's The Hobbit together here at the Inkpot. Today is the grand finale, the end of the journey, where we read the final chapters and finish our Hobbit reading adventure.

It's been a marathon week of reading - (and writing for all those involved in NaNoWrMo) - and today we cover how Tolkein ended his classic. Personally, it's made me hugely excited about the first of the three Hobbit movies, Unexpected Journey.  Unfortunately, we have to wait until July 18, 2014, before we see these chapters on the big screen in the third and final Hobbit movie, There and Back Again, but we have the book so we can hungrily anticipate Jackson's magical movie interpretation knowing how it ends.

Briefly, in Chapter 17, The Clouds Burst, Bilbo's plan has backfired. Not only does the appearance of Bard, the Elvenking and Gandolf with the Arkenstone incense Thorin against Bilbo, but it incites him to call for dwarf reinforcements. Thorin has such treasure-lust that he refuses to honor his deal with Bard and chooses to fight instead. With true Tolkein genius, the stakes are raised when the armies of dwarves, elves and men are forced to unite against the Goblins who turn up with their chilling sidekicks: bats, wolves and Wargs. At the beginning of the chapter Bilbo courageously owns up to his part in handing over the Arkenstone, but by the end of the chapter Bilbo is our loveable coward again - hiding under his ring of invisibility as the battle rages, and Bilbo gets knocked out cold. 

Chapter 18, The Return Journey Tolkein as omnipotent narrator has Bilbo rescued, reunited with a repentant and dying Thorin, and tells us how Beon in bear form, along with the eagles, saved the day and routed the goblins so their defeat was absolute (well, almost). And so, Bilbo, Beon and Gandolf head home and our omnipotent narrator saves us a hundred pages or more by summarizing the journey back to Rivendell.

Chapter 19, The Last Stage (can we bear it? The FINAL chapter.) Here Tolkein indulges in Elven songs and an informative rest stop with Elrond before Gandolf and Bilbo move on to retrieve the buried gold from their encounter with those three delightful trolls, Tom, Bert and Bill, and then travel to Hobbiton. Instead of a quick happy-ever-after ending, Bilbo arrives home at Bag-End, Underhill, to find the scrumptiously named Messrs Grubb, Grubb, and Burrowes auctioning off his possessions on behalf of Bilbo's conniving cousins, the Sackville-Bagginses. There's nothing more satisfying than Bilbo arriving home just in time to thwart these sneaky Sackville-Bagginses' plans to move into his most cozy hobbit-hole.

And just when we thought it was over after our narrator tells us all about Bilbo settling back into his content, not-quite-respectable Hobbit life, who turns up again but Gandalf (who is habitually enlightening when it comes to backstory and information) with Balin. They fill us in with an all-is-well follow-up from the lands of the Mountain, and Gandolf gives a profound reminder to Bilbo that much more than luck was at work throughout his adventure.

For Discussion:
When I picked up my old tatty copy of The Hobbit after 20 years (gasp, did I say 20 years?) for this weeks' read-along, I was struck with how much of the story I had forgotten. At 13 yrs-old I had struggled to get into it, but on my third attempt I got beyond the first chapter and couldn't put it down. I fell in love with the story, and The Hobbit is still one of my all-time favorite novels. It was great to read it again, and yet, my honest opinion is that Tolkein's writing would never be acceptable to an editor today. What do you think?

What impact did your first reading of The Hobbit have on you? 

And how did you like Tolkein's ending?

I hope you enjoyed re-reading The Hobbit and spending time with us here at The Enchanted Inkpot as we've discussed it. Can't wait to hear from you - and come back and let us know what you think of the movie. I'm a huge fan of Martin Freeman so consider him a rather dishy Bilbo Baggins ... but that's a whole new topic entirely!

Pippa Bayliss (the short and non-hairy-footed honorary Hobbit. Second breakfasts rock.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Hobbit Read-Along, Day 4: Chapters 13-16!

All week we are reading J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit together here at the Inkpot.  Be sure to come back tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

To the casual reader, chapters 13-16 could seem to be when none of the action happens. There are no goblins or trolls. No riddles in the dark. No bears and eagles and wolves. But for the reader who wants to take a step just a bit farther from the hobbit hole, chapters 13-16 are the heart of the novel.

As I take a deeper look at Chapters 13-16, it's where we truly see that this is more than a simple adventure. It's more than a tale told about a hobbit. It's the story of a dwarf who should be king. And of a man who carries noble blood and is descended from the Lord of the Dale. Thorin and Bard rule these chapters, and Bilbo is only transcribing.

Chapter 13: NOT AT HOME
(This chapter brought to you by Thorin)
We start in chapter 13 with the dwarves stuck in the side door entrance of the Lonely Mountain. They are afraid to venture down the tunnel and into the lair of the dragon. And they can't get out the way they came since the door has collapsed. But time goes by and hunger and desire for riches take over and down to the treasure trove they go.
After the fear wears off, the dwarves go kinda nuts and start stuffing their pockets. And...
...Bilbo find the Arkenstone and proves that he truly is a burglar!
(and on a side note, Thorin also gives Bilbo the mithral coat of mail which I adore since it is then passed on to Frodo in LOTR.)
The dwarves get a little nervous and leave, heading for a nearby guard post.
And though Thorin is now technically King Under the Mountain, this realization has not quite hit him. He needs a moment (or two or three) for this to really sink in. We start to see it as he proclaims the glory to which the Lonely Mountain will be restored, but he still doesn't quite believe it's finally happened.

Chapter 14: FIRE AND WATER
(This chapter brought to you by Bard)
In chapter 14, Smaug comes to Esgaroth. This is a horrible battle, and many lives are lost. Like dead. And though it is quickly glanced over, that doesn't change the fact that it still happens. The dragon is angry and fierce, and he is taking out his wrath on the men. All seems lost. And then...
The thrush tells Bard where to aim. And...
Bard kills Smaug!
The town people try to name Bard king, but he is humble and does not accept this. And though he bows to the master of the town, he is truly the man in control. his dignity shines through, and he is the hero in every way.
And because elves are fun and we must get set up for the big battle, the wood elves come to join the men.
Everyone remembers the treasure. Everyone wants the treasure. The treasure is shiny.

(This chapter brought to you by Thorin)
In chapter 15, we return to the dwarves. The raven tells of the men and elves gathering.
War between the dwarves and the men and elves is on the horizon.
So Thorin feels threatened by the men and elves and thus will not bargain, and the men and elves feel threatened by Thorin because he will not bargain. 
Thorin calls for reinforcements.
We now have three armies gathering. Men. Elves. Dwarves.
This part kind of reminds me of when a relative dies and there is some inheritance and everyone who feels they deserve a part starts to descend. Everyone has a valid claim. Everyone's claim in better than the next. And nobody will listen to anybody else. 
Again, this is a chapter about Thorin. He now has accepted that he is King under the Mountain! But he does not quite know how to handle this. Learn much, you will, Thorin.

(This chapter brought to you by Bilbo)
Go, Bilbo!
In chapter 16, Bilbo can't stand to see how the dwarves are acting. They won't listen to reason. Thorin is obsessed with the Arkenstone and does not want to give up any of his fortunes. War is imminent. The future is not so bright at all.
So Bilbo sneaks off in the night and visits the men and elves and delivers to them...The Arkenstone! He hopes they will use it as a bargaining tool. And though he knows he is going to get in huge trouble when he gets back, he returns because he does not want to abandon his friends.
Here we have our brief appearance by Gandalf as the mentor who congratulates his student for doing well. Gandalf is proud of Bilbo.
We are all proud of Bilbo.

It's easy to think of THE HOBBIT as a bit of a light-hearted adventure, but with these chapters, we are seeing war approach. We are seeing part of the population die from the destruction of the horrible dragon who has been tormenting the city of men for so long. We are seeing a fallen kingdom restored to the dwarves it was taken from. Even with the death of the dragon, it's the edge of a dark time for Middle Earth.

The Visuals
Before we end, let's take a step back to think about the visuals of these chapters. We're all excited about the movie, and I believe much of what I'm excited about the most is seeing
(1) the inside of the dragon's lair (because of what I am guessing will be its similarities to the magnificent Moria), and
(2) the abandoned city under the mountain (which I am wondering how much will remind me of Osgiliath).

Discussion Questions:
Who do you feel has a right to the treasure? How would you divide it at this point?

How do you think the tone and pacing of these chapters compare with the previous 12 chapters?

What should Bilbo's punishment be for giving the Arkenstone to the men? How would you react if you were in Thorin's place?

If you were one of the other dwarves who did not quite support Thorin's view, would you speak up and try to reason with him or keep quiet since he was now your king?

What parts, visually, are you most excited to see in the movie?


P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Hobbit Read-Along, Day 3: Chapters 9-12!

The Wood-elves take the dwarves prisoner at the beginning of Chapter 9 ("Barrels out of Bond"), though all concerned are so hungry and miserable that "they were actually glad to be captured."  Luckily for the dwarves, Bilbo has the magic ring, so the elves don't know he has snuck into their underground realm, where he uses his growing talents as a burglar to find his way around, pilfer food, and discover the deep cell in which the elves are holding Thorin.  (THE HOBBIT is a book very rich in caves, by the way!)  Bilbo's task is to get all those dwarves safely out of prison.  He does this using, as the chapter title suggests, barrels, into which he packs the dwarves in order to float them down the river to the Long Lake.

Bruised and waterlogged, the poor dwarves finally get to crawl out of their barrels, and the Master of the town greets them with some suspicion.  His hand is forced by the townspeople's enthusiasm, however; the people of Lake-town promptly dig up all the old songs about the "return of the King under the Mountain" and sing them with gusto.  That's why Chapter 10 is called "A Warm Welcome"!  Fortunately for the Master of Lake-town, the dwarves are eager to set off in the direction of the Lonely Mountain, and they don't end up lingering too long.

Chapter 11, "On the Doorstep," takes us right to the "skirts of the Mountain," and even farther than that, up to the back door, but unfortunately for them, that door is closed, and nothing they do makes it budge.  It's up to Bilbo to save the day again by figuring out the secret message represented by an enormous thrush busily dining on snails near the hidden door.  Aha!  Just as the moon-letters on the map had told Elrond long before:  "Stand by the grey stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light of Durin's Day will shine upon the key-hole."  (I am impressed by a map thorough enough to mention local birds!)  Sure enough, the sun sets, the key is brought forth, and the stubborn door into the mountain finally opens. 

Does Thorin say, "Why, thank you, Mr. Baggins, for your sharp eye and useful bird-watching habits!  Why don't you take a nice rest now?"?  Why, no, he does not say that.  He says instead, "Now is the time for our esteemed Mr. Baggins . . . to perform the service for which he was included in our company; now is the time for him to earn his Reward."  The narrator, by the way, is much more mocking of a hero like Thorin than the LotR narrator will later be:  "You are familiar with Thorin's style on important occasions, so I will not give you any more of it, though he went on a good deal longer than this."  Poor Bilbo!  He will spend Chapter 12 ("Inside Information")  chatting with dragons.  A particular dragon, that is:  the dragon named Smaug. 

Dragons are tricky conversationalists.  Before Bilbo really understands what Smaug is up to, he spills a little too much information about, for instance, places the company has recently been.  The dragon flies off, intent on showing these bipeds who's in control around here.  Not a good time to be living in Lake-town!

Questions:  More echoes here of Lord of the Rings, did you notice?  A door into a cavern that will only open under very particular circumstances!  Another question:  would you rather ride a river INSIDE or ON TOP OF a barrel?  What does THE HOBBIT teach us about how to converse with ancient and dangerous creatures like dragons?  In his adventures thus far, has Bilbo done something you would find especially hard, if not impossible?  I, for instance, would have quailed in the face of Chapter 8's spiders.  And how how how did the map's rune-writer know that thrush would be there at the appointed hour?

Anne Nesbet is the author of THE CABINET OF EARTHS, which came out earlier this year from HarperCollins, and A BOX OF GARGOYLES (appearing in May 2013).  She lives in California (but not the warm part of California) with her dear family and an only moderately well-behaved Border Collie.  More info about Anne and her books at

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Hobbit Read-Along: Chapters 5-8!

Today, we continue our group read of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, preparing ourselves for the movie coming out next month. Return tomorrow for chapters 9-12!

 “…till suddenly his hand met what felt like a tiny ring of cold metal lying on the floor of the tunnel.”

Did JRR Tolkien have any idea what he was getting us into when he wrote those words? Eighty years later, when someone says “the Ring” they’re probably not talking Wagner.

The chapters we’re discussing today are Riddles in the Dark, Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire, Queer Lodgings, and Flies and Spiders. In addition to introducing us to the One Ring and Gollum, these are the chapters in which Bilbo (and hobbits) come into their own in the wide world.

The summary: Bilbo awakes alone in the dark, having been knocked out and left behind while he, Gandalf, and the dwarves fled the goblins. Groping around in the dark, he finds the ring and sticks it in his pocket, thinking nothing of it. He stumbles upon the underground lake that is home to Gollum, whom Tolkien describes as “a small slimy creature . . . dark as darkness, except for two big round pale eyes in his thin face.”

You can watch Gollum take hold of his author’s imagination. At first, the narrator is dismissive, saying, “I don’t know where he came from, nor who or what he was.” A page later, we learn that Gollum had once played riddle games “with other funny creatures sitting in their holes.” A page after that, we find out Gollum once had a grandmother and remembers sun on daisies.

A high-stakes riddle game ensues—if Bilbo wins, Gollum shows him out of the goblins’ maze of tunnels; if Bilbo loses, Gollum eats him. The score’s tied when, desperate for a new riddle, Bilbo fumbles in his pocket, feels the Ring, and muses aloud, “What have I got in my pocket?” Gollum takes this as a riddle question, can’t guess, then makes an excuse to fetch his own ring—a magic one that, to his horror and despair, turns out to be gone. “What has it got in its pocketses?” he hisses, and the chase is on. Bilbo learns that the Ring makes him invisible, and Gollum unwittingly shows him the way out of the goblins’ realm.

In one of my favorite scenes—bursting with typical Tolkien humor—an invisible Bilbo squeezes through a doorway gap to escape, mystifying the pursuing goblins when his waistcoat buttons pop into view scattered on the ground.

Bilbo reunites with Gandalf and the dwarves—tellingly, he neglects to mention the Ring. Our heroes are treed by wolves and goblins, who set the trees on fire. The eagles come to the rescue—foreshadowing future events not only in this book but in The Lord of the Rings.

After an utterly charming scene in which Gandalf wins hospitality through a good tale, the troupe enjoys a little R&R with Beorn, the shape-shifter and animal lover. Beorn helps them find the entrance to the path they must follow through Mirkwood. As this exceedingly mysterious and dangerous leg of their journey is about to begin, Gandalf leaves for mysterious duties elsewhere.

Despite Beorn’s warnings, the dwarves are lured from their path by the sounds of elvish feasting, then captured by giant spiders. (And may I just say . . . ew). Bilbo, who has been growing in cleverness and bravery the deeper he journeys into the woods, uses the Ring to save everyone but Thorin, who is captured by the elves.

Discussion questions: The Bilbo who emerges from these four chapters is a very different little chap from the Bilbo who got left behind as the chapters started. Which events do we think contributed most to his growth?

Tolkien is careful to build in rest periods: Rivendell in yesterday’s chapters, the Beorn sojourn in today’s. How important is this to you as a reader? Are you charmed or bored?

Bilbo’s uncharacteristic attempt to keep the Ring secret has great significance in The Lord of the Rings, when Gandalf cites the lie as his first clue that this wasn’t just any magic ring.  In this book, though, it strikes me as an odd loose end. Gandalf gives Bilbo a funny look when he initially misleads everyone, but never refers to the incident directly again. Is this a flaw, or just Tolkien playing a deep game? (We do know he’d started the trilogy before The Hobbit was published.)

What about old Gandalf? Why’d Tolkien choose to send him away at this juncture?

In addition to the ring, Gollum, and the eagles, what other aspects of these chapters do we think foreshadow events in The Lord of the Rings?


Ellen Booraem is the author of the middle-grade fantasies THE UNNAMEABLES, SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS, and TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD (coming in August 2013). She lives in coastal Maine with an artist, a dog, and a cat, one of whom is a practicing curmudgeon. She's online at

Monday, November 12, 2012


Chapter One: An Unexpected Party

In Chapter one, Tolkien introduces us to Hobbits, and in particular, our protagonist, Bilbo Baggins. Now Bilbo, who “looked and behaved exactly like a second edition of his solid and comfortable father, got something a bit queer in his make-up from the Took side, something that only waited for a chance to come out.” Chance – otherwise known as the Wizard Gandalf – did indeed show up at Bilbo’s door one morning, and changed his life forever.  Soon after Gandalf made his appearance, a company of Dwarves came to visit -- under the impression that Bilbo was a burglar and available to assist them on their quest to retrieve their treasure, stolen by the evil and deadly dragon, Smaug.

 Music and song is an important part of The Hobbit, and it is introduced in the very first chapter. When the Dwarf Thorin played his golden harp, Bilbo “forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill”.  Of course, as Bilbo is transported by the music, the reader is transported by the story – far away from our own little corners of the world.

From the beginning, the reader learns that there are two sides to Bilbo: his respectable Hobbit self, and his “Tookish side”.  As the dwarves fell into song, Bilbo suddenly wished to go on an adventure, to see the great mountains and waterfalls, and to exchange his walking-stick for a sword. Soon after, when Thorin described the dangerous adventure and warned that they “may never return”, Bilbo shrieked in fear and had to go lie down to calm himself.  And yet, when he overheard the Dwarves doubting his courage and scoffing at him as a burglar, “the Took side won” and Bilbo volunteered for the job.

 Did this surprise you?  If you were Bilbo, would you have run off with the Dwarves on this dangerous adventure?

What did you think of the company of fourteen?  Would you trust Gandalf and the Dwarves if you were Bilbo?  Do you think they were all being honest with each other?

 Chapter Two: Road Mutton

 Bilbo’s “Tookishness” wore off at the end of Chapter One, so when he woke up and discovered that he was alone, he was quite relieved at first.  And then . . . he felt a bit disappointed.  Of course – he had not been left behind. Gandalf showed him a note – which was more like a contract for his services as a burglar – and Bilbo hurried off without even time to grab his hat or walking-stick!

The journey started “very merrily”, and Bilbo began to feel “that adventures were not so bad after all.” But as they traveled, the weather turned cold and dreary.  One evening, after they crossed a swollen river, they noticed that Gandalf was missing.  It was too damp to light a fire (and they had no wizard to help them!) so when they saw a light shining in the distance they sent the burglar to investigate.  Off Bilbo went, and discovered three trolls sitting around a fire, eating. Instead of going back to warn the Dwarves, Bilbo’s “Tookish” side won again, and he decided to pick the trolls pockets, as any good burglar would.  Bilbo, who “had read of a good many things he had never seen or done”, did not know that Troll’s purses “are the mischief” and this one squeaked out: “’Ere, ‘oo are you?”

As the Trolls fought about what to do with Bilbo, the Dwarves came to see what happened to him, and they were all caught, while Bilbo – who the Trolls had forgotten about -- hid in a bush. As the Trolls argued about how to best kill the Dwarves, Gandalf returned and hid behind a tree, where he imitated a Troll’s voice to keep the Trolls arguing until the sun rose, and they all were turned to stone.  They discovered the Troll’s cave, and found food, gold coins and swords. Gandalf and Thorin each took a sword with jeweled hilts in beautiful scabbards, and Bilbo took a knife. 

Where do you think Gandalf disappeared to when the dwarves were captured by the trolls?  Do you think his explanation about going up ahead to spy out the road was true?

 Chapter Three: A Short Rest

 The Troll food ran out, and the party began “to feel that danger was not far away on either side.”  At last they came to the great Misty Mountains, stretching across the horizon.  Gandalf lead them to the “Last Homely House” before they crossed into the Wild – Elrond’s house in the secret valley of Rivendell – where they met the elves. They stayed fourteen days, and their stomachs and bags were filled and their plans improved.  Elrond told them about the two old swords, which were made by the High Elves of the West.  He also made a startling discovery -- there were moon letters on the map of Smaug’s lair!   Moon letters are rune letters that can only be seen when the moon shines behind them – but “it must be a moon of the same shape and season as the day when they were written.” The moon letters described the location of the key hole.  They left the next day on a beautiful midsummer’s morning, “with their hearts ready for more adventure . . .”

The narrator states: “Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”  What do you think about that?

The Dwarves think the elves are foolish. What do you think? Do you think these Dwarves still think that elves are foolish?

Chapter Four: Over Hill and Under Hill

Adventure they soon found . . . and not at all the type they were looking for. As a wild thunderstorm – a “thunder-battle”-- erupted over the mountain, the party retreated to a seemingly empty cave, and soon they all drifted off to sleep.  Luckily, Bilbo was plagued with disturbing dreams of a crack in the cave wall – which ended up being true! He awoke with a start just in time to see their ponies and gear disappear, and screamed. Out jumped lots of big, ugly goblins, but fortunately his yell woke Gandalf – and then there was a flash like lightening – and several goblins fell dead and the crack closed.  Unfortunately, Gandalf was on the other side of the crack, and Bilbo and the Dwarves were taken prisoner, chained together and brought before the Great Goblin.  When he saw Thorin’s sword – aptly named Orcrist – the Goblin-cleaver -- he howled in rage, for the sword had killed hundreds of Goblins, and ordered the prisoners to be beaten, bitten, slashed, gnashed and finally taken to a hole full of snakes. 

Just then a tower of blue smoke erupted, and a sword flashed and killed the Great Goblin.  It was Gandalf! His sword, Glamdring (which the Goblins hated even more than Orcrist) cut through the chains that bound Bilbo and the Dwarves, and they hurried along the dark passages.  But the goblins chased after them, and since Bilbo could not go half as fast as a Dwarf – they took turns carrying him.  When Dori – who was in the back carrying Bilbo -- was grabbed, Bilbo rolled off his shoulder into the darkness, hit his head, and was knocked out.

As in other parts of the story, the narrator tells the reader what’s about to happen in this chapter, warning “And that was the last time that they used the ponies, packages, baggages, tools and paraphernalia . . .” before it happens.  Do you think this lessens, or increases the suspense?

In this chapter the Goblins sing a song. Now the reader has heard songs from the Dwarves, Elves and Goblins.  What do we learn about the different races from their music?

The narrator tells the reader that goblins are “cruel, wicked, and bad-hearted”, and further states they may have created “some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once . . . but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far.”  Knowing The Hobbit was first published in 1937, what machines do you think he is referring to?  What do you think Tolkien’s view was about war?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Interview with Barry Deutsch, author of HEREVILLE: HOW MIRKA MET A METEORITE

We are pleased to welcome back to the Inkpot Barry Deutsch, who has the distinction of being the first graphic novelist ever featured on the Inkpot! The first book in his Hereville series, How Mirka Got Her Sword, was featured here in 2010. Today Barry is back to talk about the just-released sequel, How Mirka Met a Meteorite.

Hi, Barry, and welcome back! The second Hereville book was fantastic, both similar to and different to the first. One minor thing I noticed in this book that wasn’t in the first – cars! Back when I interviewed you about the first Hereville book, you told me you didn’t enjoy drawing cars; what changed?

You've got sharp eyes!

I still don't enjoy drawing cars, but I grit my teeth and drew a few this time (although only a few!), and I'm happy with how they came out. The panel on page 12 with the VW bug in the background probably took me longer to draw than any other panel in the book. (Not just because of the bug, but because of all the houses. I had originally laid out this sequence in the woods, but a cartoonist friend of mine, Mathew Bogart, pointed out that I was cheating the reader by not showing Mirka's neighborhood.)

I decided to include cars this time, even though I don't like drawing them, because I wanted to give readers another hint that Hereville takes place in the modern day. Even though there's some modern technology in book one, a lot of readers came away with the impression that Hereville was set in the 19th century or even earlier. I don't mind that for these early stories -- it's good if Hereville has sort of a timeless feeling -- but eventually the outside, modern world is going to intrude on Mirka's life, and I don't want readers to feel that I've yanked the rug out from under them.
Also new for this book, you’re collaborating with another cartoonist, Tina Kim, who is drawing some of the backgrounds. How did that come about and how has it changed your working process?

To be honest, I asked Tina to join in so I could meet the publication deadline. The cartoonist Steve Lieber, who is sort of the hub of Portland cartooning, recommended Tina to me, and as soon as I saw her work I could see why.

Most of the backgrounds I drew, but on about 35 pages Tina did the backgrounds. For the pages Tina and I worked on together, I would draw all the characters and word balloons to completion, and then send Tina the page along with some notes about what I imagined the scenery was like. Sometimes I'd also tell her about specifically Jewish elements to include (like mezuzahs).

Tina would then send me back the pages with backgrounds she made up roughly drawn in, I'd let her know if there was anything I thought needed changing (there usually wasn't), and then she'd finish the page.

Right at the start of our working together, Tina sent me a sample drawing of woods, and I spent an enjoyable hour figuring out a five-step plan for converting Tina backgrounds into Barry-like backgrounds. :-)

The nice thing about working with Tina, aside from her considerable drawing chops, is that she's a real cartoonist with a good storytelling sense. For instance, for a scene where Mirka walked into an alleyway, Tina went a page or two back and showed that the characters were approaching the mouth of the alley; she's thinking of making the story work, not just making individual drawings that look nice.

The funny thing about all this collaboration with Tina is that I still haven't met her! I'm not even sure what city she lives in! We just work and communicate across the internet.  

I also noticed that there were fewer footnotes this time around. Was that a deliberate decision?

No, not deliberate at all. I hadn't even noticed that before you asked me.

I guess it just turned out that way. For what it's worth, I had much better Yiddish advisers this time around, and so I think the Yiddish is of higher quality than it was in the first book. Although my favorite bit of Yiddish in this book is one I found myself -- the sound effect "zetz," which means "pow!" 

Did you do any additional research for this book (i.e. into Orthodox Jewish life, or the secret lives of meteors…?)

Oh, definitely. There's always new research to be done, new books to be read, and it's one of the more enjoyable parts of my job. (Is this a job?)

After the first Hereville book came out, I read a review which mentioned that I had obviously been influenced by Ayala Fader's book Mitzvah Girls. And I had never even heard of it! But because of that review, I bought a copy, and it was really excellent, full of useful information. 

But now let’s talk about some things that are the same: Yarn & knitting still play a large part in the plot, Shabbos plays a central role, Mirka has a very non-evil stepmother and visions of her mother help her out when all seems lost. Are those themes you see continuing throughout the series?

(In this case, it wasn't so much visions of her mother, as it was visions of her great-great-great grandmother.)

Goodness, that's a lot to cover!

Yarn and knitting aren't something that I see continuing throughout the series. To tell you the truth, I hadn't even intended to include yarn and knitting in this book - I worry that if yarn is always included in the plot, that will seem gimmicky. But then one day, lying in bed, the ending and opening of the book came n a flash, knitting and all, and I couldn't not do it.

I think of Shabbos in Hereville sort of like Quidditch in the Harry Potter novels - this pattern of taking a break from the main story so we can do something else for a bit. I don't know if every Hereville book will have a Shabbos sequence (although maybe), but I hope that every Hereville book will show living a Jewish life as integral to the main character, while still keeping things fun and non-preachy.

Mirka is a character who carries scars from the loss of her mother when she was terribly young. In the first Hereville book, I wanted to show those scars, but I also wanted to show how the memory of her mother could bring Mirka solace as well as pain. In the second book, I tried to show how Mirka's ancestry could be a source of strength, but in this case it was a more distant, conversational encounter, not the heart-wrenching encounter we saw in book one, because of course Mirka's great-great-great grandmother isn't as close to her heart as her mother is.

I don't specifically plan these things out -- "Oh, Mirka has to have a vision of a female ancestor on page 100," or anything like that. But these are things that fascinate me -- the way that who we are is mixed up with who our ancestors were, and how a girl like Mirka continues to define herself partly in relationship to a mother who passed away years ago. So I'm sure I'll be touching on those themes again, whether I intend to or not. I'll try not to repeat myself too much.

And as for Fruma, yes! Fruma is also Mirka's mother, and I really wanted to do a stepmother-daughter relationship that, for all that it gets rocky, is based in love. The relationship between Fruma and Mirka is, for me, an essential part of Hereville, and I'm sure I'll go there again and again.

In one of my favorite sequences, Mirka’s stepmother says, “Oh, good. Adolescence.” Does that signify what’s ahead for Mirka?  (You can basically read this question as: give us a hint of what’s to come, please!)

That's such a great line, and it's not even mine! My friend Rachel Swirsky (who is a great writer) suggested that Fruma say that.

Assuming I get to keep doing this for a living - and what a lucky boy that would make me! -- we will definitely see Mirka get older; we'll see Mirka as a teenager, and Mirka as a young adult. But we're first going to have one more book set when Mirka's 11 years old.

Thanks, Barry – I’m looking forward to it!

You can read more about Hereville at its website:

Sunday, November 4, 2012

YA at World Fantasy Con!

Last Thursday, almost 700 authors, illustrators, editors, booksellers and fans descended on my home town of Toronto for the 38th annual World Fantasy Convention.  Grey weather from the tail end of Hurricane Sandy could not dampen the mood, although unfortunately some of the attendees had to cancel at the last minute due to the storm. 

From Thursday through Sunday, our days and nights were packed with lectures, readings, panels, book signings and parties.  As I did with last year’s wrap-up, I must begin with an apology.  So much was going on concurrently that no WFC attendee could possibly take it all in, and no two attendees would ever have the same experience—so I hope readers will understand that this is just a taste of what went on during those fabulous four days. 

These were some of the panels and discussions that I enjoyed, but I hope other attendees will tell us their favourites in the comments section—and post links to their pics!

Young Adult Urban Fantasy
with Joel Sutherland, Holly Black, Isobelle Carmody, Charles de Lint, Alyxandra Harvey, and Leah Petersen.

Authors Holly Black and Alyxandra Harvey
 Author Gillian Chan and Author/Librarian Joel Sutherland

Canadian Librarian Joel Sutherland led this lively discussion about the appeal of YA urban fantasy.  “Urban fantasy is gateway fantasy!” Holly Black said, making the point that a realistic, contemporary setting can be less intimidating to those new to the fantasy genres. 

Charles de Lint, considered by many to be one of the inventors of urban fantasy, surprised everyone by saying he didn’t use the term when describing his own work; he preferred the expression “mythic fantasy” because, although his books usually have a contemporary setting, they don’t always take place in a city, and to him the city is a key element of urban fantasy.  Most of the panel agreed, and certainly a city setting is crucial to many seminal works of YA urban fantasy such as Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. As Holly Black put it: “The city is the new forest; the city is now the place we go to be transformed.” 

When panelists were asked why they wrote YA and not adult urban fantasy, Leah Petersen summed it up perfectly: “Because YA is about firsts—first kisses, first love, first coming into your magic…  Teens are doing these things for the first time—and I love to write about that.”

Garth Nix Reading from Clariel

Sabriel, Nix’s lyric high fantasy about a female necromancer (or “abhorsen”) who puts the walking dead back in their graves, is wildly popular, as are its two sequels.  However, the forth book, Clariel, has been a long time coming—and Nix’s readers were beginning to get restless.  As one fan on Goodreads put it: “If I die before this book comes out, Garth, I assure you that no Abhorsen will be able to prevent me from coming back for it.”

I’m happy to report that Clariel exists.  Nix read the prologue and first chapter to an enthusiastic audience and told us that the book would be out in 2014.

Artist Guest of Honour, Richard A. Kirk

At some World Fantasy Cons it’s hard to remember that it’s not all about the writers—but Richard A. Kirk never let us forget that fantasy illustrators are also honoured and represented at the event.  Not only our programs, but even our con badges and pocket guides were covered with his strange and surreal drawings. Alternately beautiful and nightmarish, Kirk’s work never fails to be arresting, from his illustrations of Clive Barker novels to his album covers for the rock band Korn.  (Also, I was on the Our Selves, Our Monsters panel with him and I can attest that he is an utterly lovely man.) If you have a few minutes, take a look at the galleries on his website.

Diversity and Difference in YA Fantasy
with Kathy Sullivan, Cinda Williams Chima, Megan Crewe, EC Myers and Cheryl Rainfield

Although the panel began by discussing some alarming events, such as the recent cover whitewashing of books by Justine Larbalestier and Jaclyn Dolamore, they were mostly optimistic about the changing views about diversity and difference in YA lit.  We’re seeing more main characters of colour, such as Crewe’s heroine in The Way We Fall and in books by authors like Malinda Lo
and Cindy Pon. 

Rainfield has summed up the talk on her blog and included an excellent booklist.

Authors Cheryl Rainfield, Megan Crewe and Kathy Sullivan
Charles de Lint’s Jam Sessions

On both the Friday and Saturday nights, author and musician Charles de Lint played impromptu folk music for World Fantasy Con attendees with a variety of other artists.  It was a great way to decompress after a long and busy day.

Author Charles de Lint
Author/Illustrator Martin Springett

Romancing the Monster
with Nancy Kilpatrick, Patricia Briggs, Sephira Giron, Maureen McGowan and Chris Szego

This panel dug beneath labels like “dark fantasy” and “paranormal romance” to see what lay below.  What we learned: monsters have rules, real humans don’t—dating a vampire has specific risks, but the risks of dating humans are amorphous and undefined.  So is dating a vampire safer than dating a man?  “It’s very appealing to be able to turn a beast into someone that loves you,” Patricia Briggs commented.  “That’s a lot of power.” Nancy Kilpatrick had the last word when an audience member asked if the panelists got turned on while they wrote.  “If I’m not turned on, I’m not doing it right!” she said.

Authors Nancy Kilpatrick & Sephira Giron, bookseller Chris Szego and authors Patricia Briggs & Maureen McGowan

 Some Favourite Quotes from the Conference

Authors Mette Harrison and Cinda Williams Chima
“If you think teenagers aren’t having sex, I wish you’d been my parents.”  Laura Anne Giman when asked whether there was too much sex in YA.

“Horror is the literature of hopelessness; fantasy is the literature of hope.”  Patricia Briggs.  (Horror writer Sephira Giron disagreed!)

“In horror you survive; in fantasy you triumph.”  Tanya Huff

“When I picture urban fantasy, I think of the bastard love child between fantasy and romance.” S. M. Stirling

“If you can remove the romance and still have a plot it’s urban fantasy; if you can’t, it’s paranormal romance.” Ginjer Buchanan

“Reality is a crutch for people who can’t handle fantasy.” Geoff Hart

“One of the great things about fantasy is that it is metaphor actualized.  (In a changeling story) not only do you feel alien; you are alien.”  Holly Black

“For me, fantasy is a way into philosophy; it’s the way to grapple with the big questions.”  Isobelle Carmody

The dealers' room
The World Fantasy Awards

Finally, on Sunday afternoon we all got into our finery for the World Fantasy Awards Banquet.  Winners were:

Life Achievement
Alan Garner
and George R.R. Martin
Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

“A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong” by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Winter 2011)

Short Story
“The Paper Menagerie” by Ken Liu (F&SF 3-4/11
The Weird by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds. (Corvus; Tor, published May 2012)

The Bible Repairman and Other Stories, Tim Powers (Tachyon and Subterranean Press

Lena Coakley’s first novel, Witchlanders, was called “one stunning teen debut” by Kirkus Reviews and won the SCBWI Crystal Kite award for the Americas.  It is a 2013 MYRCA nominee and a 2013 OLA White Pine nominee.  Lena is also the author of two children’s picture books and the former administrative director of CANSCAIP. Learn more about her at