A few weeks ago I wrote about how I was surprised that my entire family was excited to watch every single hour of the extended Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. As a geek parent, these movies are part of our heritage and an important milestone to pass on to the next generation. Not only do they represent an icon in the history of fantasy, which is understandably important to me, but they also mark a turning point in movie history. Lord of the Rings, Return of the King swept the Oscars and was the first high fantasy to do so.
Just as you can’t just watch part of the Star Wars saga and call yourself a fan, you can’t just watch Lord of the Rings and not the Hobbit. The stories build off of each other and give valuable backstory to their characters.
Last week we embarked on a new adventure following Bilbo Baggins deep into the Lonely mountain and narrowly escaping the jaws of the dragon Smaug. We watched as power and riches nearly destroyed the last dwarf prince Thorin Oakenshield. We saw how in the wrong hands, the ring of power corrupts its wielder. We learned that the most important power one can have is that of grit, determination, and courage, although magic is nice at times.
When Hobbit originally came out, I boycotted it. I was mad they choose to stretch a single slim novel into three fairly long movies. When this had been done with other books I liked, it always resulted in massive disappointment. I love the books of both the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Even the huge success of Lord of the Rings as a movie wasn’t enough to convince me to invest my time into watching the entire Hobbit trilogy in all its extended glory.
It didn’t help that when Hobbit came out my personal situation had changed drastically from when LOTR came out. LOTR came out when I was in college. The Hobbit came out when my youngest was one. Going to movies was difficult at best. I have a whole long story of how we tried to take a nursing baby into Indiana Jones: Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thinking he would sleep only for him to cry the whole time and then explode a diaper.
Time heals all wounds and when it came time to find the next movie to watch as a family, the Hobbit was a perfect fit. The kiddos already liked LOTR and knew the characters and at a run time of nearly 9 hours, it would take several days to finish – perfect for all those nights we were scratching for something to do while stuck at home together.
Turns out, the Hobbit is an excellent series of movies. Yes, I know that the screenwriters took lots of liberties with adding elements that didn’t originally exist in the book, but they stayed true to what we understand of Middle Earth and the world Tolkien created.
Is it a family friendly film? Sure. There’s no course language, no nudity (unless you count the extended scene where the dwarves are playing in the fountain at Rivendell, I don’t), and while there’s expected violence, there’s very little graphic injury. The same as LOTR, there are, however, several horror elements so I don’t recommend the Hobbit for young or sensitive viewers.
Heads up! My Book Cave is running a promotion featuring 51 free books and stories for anyone to download, including my short story Breath. Anyone who downloads one of these stories is registered to win a $20 gift certificate to the online book retailer of their choice. It’s a perfect time to fill up your eReader with some fantastic fantasy and sci-fi. With so many to choose from, you are guaranteed to find something you like!
Today’s guest is no stranger to magic. In fact, he’s one of those people whom I suspect might have a dose of actual real magic hiding inside him. Not only does he create magic with the stories and worlds in his books, he also has performed stage magic professionally. Does he have a trick or two up his sleeve? Absolutely.
Michael is here to day to share some of that magic with us and I’m super excited to have him.
Welcome to my blog, Michael. Glad to have you here. To get started why don’t you tell us a little about yourself. What’s the most interesting thing that most people don’t know about you?
Hello Jodi and all your excellent Jodians! It’s great to be
here! To answer your first question, I’ve been around the block a few times and
also the neighboring block and at least a small middle-America town’s worth of
blocks along with a few in South America and one or two particularly
continental and historic blocks in Europe. I guess that means I have gathered a
lot of different experiences, which is great as a writer. I can “write what I
know” on a fairly substantial number of topics. That’s true of most writers,
though, who make it out of the house once in a while and pay attention.
Probably the most interesting thing that many people don’t know about me
is—hold on—I can show you. Do you have an ordinary object? Something you don’t
need to get back? Ooo. How about that ring on your finger? Can I borrow that
for just a minute? Platinum and diamonds, you say? Wow, Jodi. That’s going to
keep your attention then. Ok. If you could just release the death grip you have
on that for me. Great. Watch as I place the ring here in the middle of the
table. I’m going to cover the ring with this napkin. Look. My hands are empty
now. You see the shape of the ring under the napkin? Swell. Go ahead and say
the word “Abracadabra” and whip the napkin away as fast as you can. Can you do
that? All right. Wait until you count to three. Not that it will make the trick
work any better, but three seconds will give me enough time to go stand over
there where it’s safe. Okay. Hold the corner of the napkin and one, two, three!
Are you okay there, Jodi? Yeah. I know. Most people don’t
expect to see a full-grown tiger appear on top of their kitchen table. So, if
you haven’t guessed, I worked as a professional magician for ten years or so.
That’s something I hint at but most people don’t know. So—oh—watch out there.
Yeah. Don’t touch his tail or anything. That tiger is faster than you are. No. You’ll
be fine as long as you don’t make any sudden moves. What’s that? Oh no. Thanks.
I’ll just stay over here by the door. You can lob those questions over the
tiger there and I’ll answer them.
Those who know you as an author are
very familiar with your distinct jacket, what’s the story behind it?
I have a few jackets that nobody would wear on a daily
basis. They’re part of my brand, which you’ll find a lot of authors worried
about. Mostly because their publishers tell them to worry about it. I do like
to look distinctive and, to be honest, it’s part marketing, part me wanting to
stand out from the crowd a little. The jackets also help me feel confident and
“authorial” in public. While I have been a performer onstage, feeling
completely at ease in the midst of people doesn’t come easy. Not that I want to
hermit up and become a recluse. Meeting with fans is really a pleasure and I
love talking about writing and stories with readers. Wearing the jacket helps
me feel the part in the same way that magicians and actors have a public
persona and wear clothes that fit how they want to be seen. Being an author is
the closest thing to who I really am as a person on the inside and there’s a
certain vulnerability that comes along with being real that way in front of
The jacket also gives me a chance to joke around. At one
time, I’d tell people that the jacket was made from my grandmother’s curtains,
because I like the brocade fabrics best. Now, however, I like to wait for
someone to comment on the jacket. Then I say, “Well, thank you. There are large
pieces missing from my grandmother’s couch.” That’s a better joke because I can
follow up with, “The nice part is I keep finding spare change and hard candy in
the pockets.” If you catch me at the right time, I’ll even pull a butterscotch
out of the pocket and give it to whoever I’m talking to. The jackets just help
me interact with people in a way that I hope they find disarming and
approachable. Readers are the best sort of people!
You have a brand new, exciting sci-fi novel coming out
(Yay!) Tell us about it!
Ah, yes! Wow! You’re very insightful. Are you a psychic
perhaps? I haven’t told anyone about that project yet, but here you are,
plucking thoughts out of my mind like a professional.
I have written some short stories in the sci-fi genre, but
all my novels so far have been fantasy. My publisher, Future House, was
contacted by a company that develops board games and computer games. They have
a super fun interactive card game called Master of Wills. The game is
set in a futuristic city with a number of opposing factions. Each faction has
distinct criteria that define their approach to winning and a lot of the action
centers on recruiting your opponent’s characters to join your side. There are a
whole bunch of different characters and various game mechanics and it was loads
of fun to develop a novel featuring the characters and settings from the game.
The title is Hollowfall, and I’ll leave it to readers to find out what
the title means. The game developer is Stormcrest, Inc. and I owe a big thanks
to Randy and Josh for letting me play in their sandbox. I’m working on the
final chapters of the novel and Future House has the title slated for
publication early in 2020.
Give me a sec here, Jodi. I’m going to check your fridge.
You should probably stay where you are. Oh good. Ribeye steaks. I’m going to
toss one of these babies to the tiger there. Wow. I’m not even sure he chewed
that. Better give him the other one just to be safe. There. That will keep him
busy for a minute. Next question?
Of all the characters you’ve written, which one is most
like you? Was it intentional?
Oh that’s an easy one. Everyone who knows me and reads my
novels gives me the answer. The main character in Got Luck and Got
Hope is a smart-aleck goofball with a big heart and, apparently, so am I. We
aren’t exactly alike. He’s a lot more skilled than I am and far better looking,
but we both have incredible magic powers and we are both deeply in love with
tall, hot brunettes. I think he’d appreciate the tiger.
I’ve lost count of how many times people have read one of
the novels and tracked me down to tell me they can hear my voice. Especially
when Goethe tells a joke. And, they tell me, the cornier the joke, the more
they hear my voice telling it. Not sure what they mean by that, so I’m taking it
as a compliment.
Was it intentional? More like unavoidable, I think, because
I constantly have unlikely situations and funny things to say and “Got”
provides an outlet. He’s perhaps a fictionalized version of me who is both an
improvement and more flawed. When he’s faced with a challenge, the actions he
takes feel most right when he does what I would do if I were in his situation.
I know that sounds self-serving, but he isn’t perfect either. He makes mistakes
like I do, and he has to learn, and he’s kind of a jerk sometimes, especially
with people who are behaving badly. Once in a while, he pulls off a trick that
magicians would recognize. To put it another way, when Got needs to do
something, I feel the scenes are more consistent to write and more authentic
when he does whatever I think I could do, assuming I were as well-trained and
competent as him.
I ask this question
to everyone – what’s the most interesting item you have in your writing space
and what’s the story behind it?
Hey, Jodi. That blood is from the steak, right? It’s not
yours? Ok good.
So, I’ve used the same little laptop computer to write
pretty much everything I’ve published so far. I have written all over the place
so my writing space is everywhere. Most often, however, I’m at home on the
couch with my feet up. Next to me, chilling out on the floor, is my eighteen-month-old.
140-pound writing buddy. One brown eye and one blue eye. Two extra toes.
Really, it’s my daughter’s fault. She wanted a little
sister. Or brother. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, she
wanted a dog. So we have Appa. He’s a St. Bernese, which is the result of
breeding a Bernese Mountain Dog with a St. Bernard and it’s the next best thing
to a flying bison. We got him because he’s a handsome boy and always up for an
adventure. We really didn’t think about it much deeper than that until the
family we bought him from started laughing. They were first to realize the
Peter Pan connection. The Darling family has a St. Bernard. Funny, right? Now
we pretend like it was all part of a marketing masterplan and nobody knows any
different. Well, except you and your Jodians.
And he actually helps me write as well. One day I looked at
him with his tongue lolling out and him breathing in short bursts and I asked,
“Do you want the shirt that goes with those pants?” He didn’t want the shirt,
but the line made my family laugh and it’s now in a story.
What’s next? What are you working on?
Book three of The Behindbeyond series, Got Lost, is
set to debut in early September, so we’re going hard at final edits for that
one. The Hollowfall novel comes after that. Then I have a couple of new
novels in various stages of development along with the next book in the series.
Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter.
By Michael Darling
The girl with the sapphire eyes stood like a statue against the stones of the wall. She was alone on the far side of the room but didn’t seem to be lonely, staring straight ahead. Her feet were bare and filthy. Her dress was torn and frayed like she’d been chased by dogs and almost caught.
I tapped Faidh on the shoulder. Side-by-side we stood patiently in front of an altar. The hall around us had been decorated for a wedding. The wedding was scheduled for the following day. Realistically, it was only fun because I was here with the woman I loved.
Faidh turned in response to my touch. The hall was warm and her hair was pulled up off her neck. She was breathtaking enough to be the bride, although she wasn’t. I pointed behind us.
“See that girl over there?” I whispered.
Faidh looked, then nodded. “She has beautiful eyes. A little young to be out with no escort.”
“She’s been standing there for a while, and she hasn’t moved a muscle.”
Faidh kept looking. Then, “Are you sure?”
“I’m not even sure she’s breathing.” I replied. “She’s not watching anything going on. Or anybody. Just staring.”
Faidh looked some more. “Her clothes are a mess.”
“Someone here should know her, right?” The group in our rehearsal party wasn’t very large. Only ten or so people, and I was acquainted with most of them. As far as I knew, none of them had a teenage daughter. The girl was shivering now. She was a hundred yards away, give or take, but my eyes were better than most and I could tell. “There’s something wrong.”
“The groom’s place will be closer to the end of the altar, sire.” A hand on my elbow demanded my attention, forcing me to look away from the girl.
Bromach, my valet, had the difficult and ever-thankless job of keeping me from embarrassing myself in princely situations. I moved to stand in the spot where he wanted me. The view from the altar was spectacular, looking out over the cliff to a forest far below and gray-blue clouds in the morning sky.
“Lady Faidh, thy place is here.” Bromach pointed again.
Faidh nodded and stepped to the corner of the altar opposite me. She caught my eye and winked. I tried to wink back but I’d never successfully disconnected whatever link existed between my eyelids and only managed an awkward blink that also twisted my mouth oddly.
The ladies-in-waiting behind Faidh smiled shyly at me as Bromach guided them to their places. I nodded with a smile. Over the past hour, I’m afraid I’d given them rude nicknames. The lady nearest Faidh had decided to resurrect the bustle, but it didn’t quite fit her frame and she was constantly hitching it up and adjusting it, which seemed to give her derriere a rebellious independence. The second lady, to whom I was apparently related closely, had a pallor fairytale writers would call “milky,” and was so pale that the morning sun reflecting off her face was like a searchlight. Or a bat signal. The third had taken a nearly fatal blow from puberty landing on her all at once, instead of spread over the course of a few normal, socially-awkward years. Her acne was closer to road rash.
Thusly, I had dubbed them Creeping Booty, So White, and Ziterella.
Biting my lips for the purpose of smirk control, I chided myself at the same time. They were very nice girls. Polite and graceful. I was only here out of duty and it was wrong of me to make my own fun while I was stuck here.
Yet, their nicknames remained locked in my dark thoughts.
My gaze strayed back to statue girl. The color of her eyes was that deep blue shade of an ocean sky at dusk. Each eye appeared to have a small star twinkling with its own light. She stared at an empty space six feet above the floor. Her hands clenched at her sides as if she were carrying invisible buckets of water. She was shivering harder now. Quivering. Pent-up energy, perhaps, from standing stock still for so long.
Bromach continued to direct the rehearsal, ordering people around, sighing when he wasn’t happy and nodding to himself when he was. He looked to be in his element, running the show in the delicately appointed wedding hall filled with fresh flowers and lace.
Torn between duty and curiosity, I turned back to Faidh for distraction. “Do you wish our wedding had been like this? With all the pretty decorations and food and people? And a church only slightly less modest than Westminster Abbey?”
Faidh looked around, taking in the carved pillars and the crystalline ceiling, made entirely of faceted glass. She shook her head. “We got married under a cherry tree that never ceases to bloom. What could be prettier than that?”
“I’m glad our wedding was quick. It didn’t take a whole week like this one,” I replied.
“Our wedding was so quick, it ended before we knew it had begun.” Faidh laughed.
Curiosity won out. Before I’d taken three steps in the girl’s direction, Bromach called after me. “Sire! Sire? Where goest thou?” He sounded borderline horrified that I was abandoning my post. “Prince Luck! Please!”
Make that full-on horrified.
Halfway to the girl, I paused to look back. “Hang on, Bromach. I’ll just be a minute.”
He sighed. “Thy cousin and thy father will be most displeased.”
“One minute,” I repeated.
Bromach watched me with impatience and pickleface in equal measure. When he saw where I was going he marched in the girl’s direction, determined to get to her before I did. Maybe he was thinking he could get me back to my post if he got rid of her. It was hard for me to be critical. Bromach took his work seriously and his attention to detail meant I owed him my life.
With Bromach ahead of me, I said, “There’s something going on with her. She’s been standing like a statue for half an hour. Maybe longer.”
Bromach slowed at my words and I caught up to him.
We stared at the girl. She stared past us. Standing at arm’s length, I could see she was maybe thirteen years old. No older.
A long moment passed. “She’s mortal,” Bromach said.
She was also Stained.
At some point, the girl had been touched by magic, and the magic had marked her. A shudder shoveled electricity down my spine. Mortals with Stains didn’t often live long. I checked the pattern. It had squarish sections with little points like tridents coming out of them. I’d never seen this particular Stain before. It was subtle, subdued, and almost hypnotic to watch as the wide band of translucent light turned slowly around the girl’s torso.
Well, time has really flown Jodi! By the way, if people ask, only you and I will know if the tiger is real or simply an illusion. Have fun with that. What is definitely real is how much fun I had chatting with you!
You don’t happen to have a ball of wool around here, do you?
About the size of a beach ball? That would be a—no? All right then. Thanks
again for inviting me!
#1 Amazon bestselling author Michael Darling has worked as a butcher, a librarian, and a magician. Not all at the same time. He nests in the exquisitely beautiful Rocky Mountains with his equally breathtaking wife, their normal-if-you-don’t-look-too-close children, and a disturbingly large St. Bernese dog that looks like he stepped out of Peter Pan and is probably a furry-faced attempt to extend the Darling brand. Michael’s award-winning fantasy and science-fiction stories are frequently featured in anthologies. His first novel, Got Luck, was published in 2016 and the sequel, Got Hope, in 2017. Book three of the series, Got Lost, will be released in September 2019. Hot on its heels will be Michael’s first science-fiction novel, scheduled to debut in early 2020. Based on the popular computer and board game, Master of Wills, the novel is titled Hollowfall. Michael loves to meet people, both virtually and in real life, and he can be found online through your favorite culturally-accepted, stalker-approved social media site.
Be sure to check out Michael’s Tales of the Behindbeyond series, and his other works, over on Amazon!
About Tales of the Behindbeyond:
Police-officer-turned-private-investigator Goethe “Got” Luck is known for rolling with the punches and never taking anything too seriously. When he picks up a seemingly dead-end murder case, his life begins to take a crazy turn. Shot at, chased by people he has never met, and attacked by an invisible liondog, Got quickly learns that there is more to this world than meets the eye.
He discovers the Fae. The Eternals. They who dwell in the Behindbeyond. Once, they ruled over ancient realms, but over the centuries, their power dwindled. Now someone wants to restore their rule and subjugate humankind. All it will cost is thousands of human lives.
The clock is ticking. Getting the world out of this one will take a couple friends, more than a few well-placed insults, and a whole lot of Luck.
It’s been a wild spring with unpredictable weather and plenty of changes to adapt into my life. As a family with young kids, the only thing I can depend on from day to day is unpredictability. My youngest has developed a fascination with Minecraft and loves to play on the worlds he is creating with someone else. I’ll admit, I think it’s really fun to play with him as well, but every hour spent playing video games is an hour not spent doing anything that will help me reach my goals.
That said, perhaps the biggest news is that I’m starting to query out my epic fantasy novel. I didn’t image there would be this much stress associated with waiting for publishers and agents to give me their approval, or rejection, or no response at all. I’ve been at it since December but have only started sending out multiple queries at a time this last month.
The plan for the next few months is to always have five queries out at a time and to participate in whatever Twitter pitch contests drift my way. While this isn’t super aggressive, it doesn’t take over my life either.
[For those scratching their heads – a query is simply a formal letter sent to publishers and literary agents that tells about the book and about the author. A pitch is a short sentence that sums up the book. Both are mind-numbingly hard to create.]
On the short story front, I have two pieces that have been accepted and are awaiting scheduling with the publisher. I will most definitely be posting as soon as I have more info. One is a retelling of classic Vietnamese folklore, the Starfruit Tree and is slated for an anthology. The other, The Skull Collector, is best described as a cross between Moana and the Hunger Games and will be in a magazine.
Other news, I was asked to judge a short story contest for the University of Utah Valley’s Warp and Weave speculative fiction literary magazine. While I’ve judged stories before, it’s never been for anything more than my writing group. All the stories were amazing so it was a true challenge to pick those that rose above the rest.
There’s always a ton of fun/agonizing work to do. While waiting for query responses from agents and editors I have a bundle of great ideas I’d like to work up into publishable short stories and a draft of the sequel novel to create. I also have a handful of presentations to prepare for upcoming conferences, for more info click here.
Here’s to a great Spring!
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I almost forgot – In all the hustle and bustle of the last few weeks I won a prize! Yay! Someone out there actually likes my work, and it’s not my mother (although she likes it too…I think). The League of Utah Writers holds several conferences and events throughout the year. In their big Fall conference they hold a large writing contest for anyone who wants to participate.
There are a ton of categories to choose from including first chapter, whole book, short story, article, etc. I usually end up doing flash fiction because of time constraints. I can finish and polish a 1000 word or less story much faster than say, a novel.
My story “Mundane Chores” centered around a playful interaction of mother and young child. The mother is trying to fold laundry and the child is doing his very best to distract her from it. It’s not really a story, but rather a vignette meant to capture a moment of childhood and parenthood. Had I managed to make it a story with an inciting incident and clever ending I might have taken a higher prize than third place.
I’m not complaining. This was a piece I wrote in a car driving to Yellowstone with my family, which includes several young children. I’m ecstatic to take home anything.
Winning is a huge confidence boost. I hope to write and enter more contests in the future.
The story behind this surreal image is that in 1914 a boy left his bike chained to a tree, then went to war and then never returned. As it is writer Wednesday, let’s use this as a writing prompt and create something even more awesome.
Write a micro fiction (100 words or less) about what really happened to the bike.
Best entry wins a mini-featurette to be posted next week!
Entry must be posted in the comments no later than Friday, July 10, 2015.
Entry must be 100 words or less, not including the title.
Winner will be notified on Monday, July 14th (when I get around to it…)
There is no inherent cash value to this prize and therefore it may not be exchanged for cash. (However, publicity is worth it’s weight in gold so… go for it!)