Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Kyle Lockhaven

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy. Today, I’m privileged to be able to feature Kyle Lockhaven, author of The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse.

Comedic fantasy is kind of niche, and we kind of like it that way. Of course we comedic fantasy authors wouldn’t exactly scoff at the idea of writing best-sellers or buying luxurious beach houses with the money from our book sales, but I think most of us are resigned to the idea that such things are not to be seen in the crystal balls of this world. And now I’ve invoked the idea of the world having balls, and it’s only the first paragraph. Oops.

My path to writing humorous fantasy is a strange one. Not many people know this, but I started out my writing “career” many years ago. My first book was a serious story that fell somewhere in between Middle Grade and Young Adult. My second was an historical fiction, and my third was a crime drama type thing. I kept trying to find “my thing,” and although I loved each of my books, they all lacked…something.

My editor, and the few beta readers I had (my mom, brother, and one friend) all told me the same things. The best parts of my books were the moments of levity and humor. Also, I wrote a fantasy element into the crime story, and they said that part was really good. I had loved fantasy growing up, but, for some stupid reason, I was reluctant to write in the genre.

When not writing, I work as a firefighter at a nuclear site, and I always wanted to satirize the ridiculous governmental bureaucracy there, but I could never find the right angle. Then one day, I thought, “What if this site was here to conjure a dragon from another world?” The silliness of it really took me, and the ideas began to flow. I dropped the idiotic pretense and embraced the silliness of it all, and all of the fun fantasy elements, too.

I had been trying way too hard to be cool, when the best thing I could do was to just be the goofball that I was.

The thing is, I always loved comedic fantasy. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was and is the funniest thing ever, in my opinion. I love the silly social commentary, as well as the complete nonsense. And when I discovered Terry Pratchett, I realized that sort of thing could be consumed in book form, too. But the Discworld books were imbued with deeper meaning, and even more biting social commentary.

All (or at least the vast majority) of us comedic fantasy authors look up to Sir Terry Pratchett, the godfather of the genre. But we have branched off from him in so many different ways. I was heavily inspired by The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, which manifested its humor through the snark of the titular (huh, huh) character. Most of the humor in my books comes from the interaction between characters who are being a bit snarky to each other. Other authors, like Sean Gibson, are kings of puns and clever wordplay, while others, like Bjørn Larssen, are able to somehow bind deep, philosophical topics together with the silliness, and others, like Quenby Olson, use subtle snark, societal observations, and fourth wall breaking to hilarious effect.

I am in the middle of posting a series of interviews about humor in books on my little blog. One of the questions I have asked everyone is, “On a scale from 1 to 10, what level of humor do you usually like to read?” The answers have varied, but I would say the average is right around a 4. That has made me wonder, what level does a book have to be at to be considered Comedic Fantasy?

Many people site Joe Abercrombie when talking about humor in fantasy. His books are the definition of Grimdark, but they’re infused with a lot of humor. I’ve heard people say the humor level is a 3 or 4.

If I had to be honest, I would rank my last book (The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex) at a 7 or 8. And I fully realize that it is WAY too much for a lot of people. That’s one thing I’ve come to learn about writing humorous fantasy; it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay, because it makes me feel a strong bond with the readers who do like my humor.

It’s tough to “break out” as an author of comedic fantasy. One of the biggest success stories was Orconomics by J. Zachary Pike, which won SPFBO in 2018. Another was Kings of the Wyld, by Nicholas Eames, which currently has 3,697 reviews on Amazon. But those kinds of books are few and far between.

Personally, I’m happy to have any kind of following, and I hope to thoroughly entertain the readers I have found and have yet to find. I want to make them laugh, and think, and even feel while turning the pages of my books. I might not ever grab the world by the crystal balls, but I’ll have a lot of fun reaching for them. Er, let me try that again. I may never reach Mr. Eames’ level of success, but I will have a lot of fun reaching for it!

About the author:

KRR (Kyle Robert Redundant) Lockhaven writes fun, humorous fantasy with ever-increasing infusions of heart. His first book, The Conjuring of Zoth-Avarex: The Self-Proclaimed Greatest Dragon in the Multiverse, can be found here https://www.amazon.com/Conjuring-Zoth-Avarex-Self-Proclaimed-Greatest-Multiverse/dp/1098351509/  He recently signed a three-book deal with Shadow Spark Publishing, and his page can be found here: https://shadowsparkpub.com/krr-lockhaven

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Sean Gibson

This week my blog is focusing on comedic fantasy, that fantasy subgenre that is responsible for many cups of snorted coffee. I am privileged to have coerced Sean Gibson, author of several novels, including The Part About the Dragon was (Mostly) True, into joining me to talk about comedy, bard-offs, and porkchops.

Hi, Sean! Thank you for being willing to talk about comedic fantasy.

Thanks for having me, Jodie! Well, metaphorically speaking. Literally speaking, I would make a terrible supper, though I wouldn’t be half bad if consumed for elevensies. It’s the armpit of meals.

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I am the byproduct of two drunk orcs making the beast with three backs following an epic rock concert. I should note that one of the orcs had two backs—despite their impulsive carnality, they were most definitely not orgy people. They later abandoned me on the doorstep of a dance studio, where I subsequently learned to shimmy for my bread on suburban street corners. I do not earn a lot of bread, for which I blame my hard-working but unimpressively concave chest.

Like David Spade, my writing attempts to be funny yet isn’t even a little funny, but it gets really annoyed and defensively sarcastic when you don’t find it funny. That said, I write both comic fantasy (mostly stories featuring Heloise the Bard) and Victorian fantasy. My most recent book starring Heloise, The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True, inexplicably garnered a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which summarized the book thusly: “Evoking the dry humor of Terry Pratchett and absurdist trope subversions of Monty Python…Gibson’s story is clever, twisty, and bursting with sidesplittingly funny one-liners. Fantasy fans are guaranteed a laugh.


Your books show a lighthearted ribbing of fantasy, and it’s very obvious that you have read (and hopefully enjoyed) a lot of fantasy yourself. What made you decide to take a comedic route in your fantasy?

Well, the dramatic stuff is really hard to write. Puns only require about 17% as much effort. Work smart, not hard, Jodie.

Really, it’s just such a fun playground to run around in. I absolutely love fantasy. It’s played a considerable role in shaping who I am as a human being, as weird as that may sound. But, it can also be utterly absurd—to quote Monty Python, “Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government,” right?

And let’s face it: there are a lot of tropes and stereotypes conceived, developed and propagated by a porkchop of straight white guys that are in dire need of being rethought for the audience that’s reading fantasy, especially epic fantasy, today. There’s a lot to play with there, and a lot of opportunities to pay homage while lovingly tweaking and toppling conventions to try to shape something new. (A “porkchop,” incidentally, is the scientific term for a group of white men.)

You know, I do think I’ve seen “porkchop” defined that way in the dictionary. How do you manage to be funny on command? (I’m rarely funny, and never on purpose.)

I’m actually a ventriloquist’s dummy, so all credit goes to the puppeteer with her hand up my ass. It’s murder on the prostate, though.

Come on, now—you are often funny. And I know that at least some of those times are on purpose! You’re also exceedingly cool, as evidenced by the virtual company you keep.

I love that Heloise is a bard! I’m still hoping for a bard-off between her and Kvothe, but in the meantime: what made you decide to choose a bard as an integral part of The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly) True?

You’re a D&D aficionado like I am, so you know how fun bards are. A bard’s superpower is to make even the most mundane encounter something truly epic. I love the idea that anything can be a story with the right perspective, or at least a little creative license. Have you ever played a bard? If so, you need to share some stories!

My husband is currently playing a bard to my paladin (which I keep unintentionally playing as a rogue) and he somehow managed to convince my character to climb onto a door, which was then pushed into a swampy, noxious lake…which also happened to be the home of an incredibly cranky dragon. I kept wanting to quote the door scene in the movie Titanic. I suspect his bard is already composing songs to immortalize my character’s memory posthumously.

As for that coward Kvothe…he doesn’t have the stones. Heloise would bamboozle him faster than you can say “Skendrickian mungerswallows.” He has thus far refused to take the bait when I’ve challenged him on Twitter, though it’s possible they don’t have Twitter in Temerant, or maybe the Waystone Inn has a bad wifi connection. 

So, let’s raise the stakes: Heloise (and I) hereby officially challenge Kvothe (and Patrick Rothfuss) to a Bard-Off. Each of us has to write an epic poem in our respective bard’s inimitable style (1,000 words or less). We’ll ask the reading public to vote for which one they like best.

I’ll put up $1,000. If Kvothe’s poem wins, I’ll donate the money to Worldbuilders or a charity of Mr. Rothfuss’s choice. If Heloise’s poem wins, I’ll donate the money to the Cancer Research Institute. Everyone wins! Well, except for everyone who has to read Heloise’s poem.

I’m completely and totally serious, by the way, though I suspect Mr. Rothfuss is a bit too busy to take up this absurd gauntlet. Still, I think everyone needs to go forth and spread word of this challenge far and wide. Let’s make it happen.

Yes! This needs to be settled once and for all, and in this wager, everyone wins.

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Comedy is so subjective, right? I mean, “A skeleton walks into a bar and orders a beer and a mop” is objectively hilarious. But, beyond that, when you start trying to be funny in a genre context while still hoping to appeal to a wide audience, it gets tricky. Unless you’re, say, William Goldman and you can call upon the awesome powers of Andre the Giant to drop mad rhymes, it’s really, really hard.

For example, there’s a scene in THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON where the characters encounter a terrible stench and they all try to describe what it smells like, with each description getting grosser and more ridiculous. And that’s the whole point of the bit—how much grosser and weirder can each description get? It’s like a bunch of comedians doing improv trying to one-up each other, and it just keeps going until they all reach an unspoken agreement that no one can top the last one-liner. And then they move onto the next thing.

I love that kind of comedy, and I love it when it comes in rapid, non-stop waves. But, that is most definitely not everyone’s jam, and a lot of people are going to find it annoying and sophomoric at best.

So, you have to make peace with the fact that what you’re writing is really only going to land with a small subset of fantasy fans—in my case, those would be the ones who share my love of wordplay, dad jokes, scatological humor, and beating a terrible joke to death and then reanimating so you can beat it some more. 

Which, of course, is like three people, one of whom happens to be you, thankfully.

What are some triumphs?

I considered it a huge win when a reviewer wrote about THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON, “I do not feel there was anything redeeming about this book. I can usually appreciate a good story even when poorly written but this isn’t a good story either.” (Yes, that’s an actual review.) The people have spoken—this is clearly Pulitzer Prize-caliber material.

That highwater mark notwithstanding, getting the pre-pub starred review from Publishers Weekly was huge (and hugely unexpected), as it opened some doors for the book that even a rock giant probably wouldn’t have been able to bash its way through. One of those doors was a BookBub feature in December 2021, which somehow led to the book climbing bestseller charts on multiple platforms, including hitting #1 not just for humorous fantasy on Amazon, but #1 for general humor as well. I’m sure that somewhere, P.G. Wodehouse is rolling in his grave and incredibly grateful he’s not alive to see how egregiously we’ve debased the word “humor.” We even managed to get up to #3 on the overall SFF chart. 

No one writes for chart rankings, but you do write to connect with an audience, and those things have helped people discover the book, and some of those folks have really enjoyed it. I know it’s not everyone’s jam, but I’m so incredibly grateful for those who have taken the time to read it and share a kind word or two about it. That’s really the absolute pinnacle for a writer—or for me, anyway: having someone devote a few hours of their time to hanging out in a world I created and feeling like it was time well spent.

Congratulations on such huge milestones! Of course, now I’m wondering what P.G. Wodehouse’s reaction to your book would be (I kind of think he’d like it). Do you have go-to authors when you need a book that makes you chuckle?

I don’t think writers get funnier than P.G. Wodehouse. There is no better literary cure for the blues. His writing is profound comic gold, even when I have no idea what Bertie Wooster is saying. 

That’s not to say he’s my only go-to for laughs, however—David Sedaris, Terry Pratchett, Tina Fey, Douglas Adams…even Charles Dickens…all can provide a much needed pick-me-up.

And, of course, Bill Watterson and Calvin & Hobbes never fail to make me laugh and think at the same time.

Will you talk a little bit about the recently released Dragons of a Different Tail? (I’m dying to read it.)

No.

I’m totally kidding! Fooled you though, didn’t I? 

I didn’t? Okay, fine. I digress.

DRAGONS OF A DIFFERENT TAIL is a delightful collection of 17 different dragon-focused stories that break, twist, and defy the conventions of western fantasy. I was really struggling to get any writing done during the pandemic. I used to write during my commute, but with working from home and juggling kiddos doing school from home for a year, that time disappeared and I got completely out of rhythm. I needed something to get me back in the groove, and right around the time I was really stressing about it, the publisher of THE PART ABOUT THE DRAGON, Shayne Leighton, just happened to recommend me to a lovely guy named Marx Pyle, who was working on putting together this anthology. 

I loved what Marx had in mind and pitched him a couple of ideas, one of which he liked. That gave me exactly the finite, bite-sized writing focal point that I needed to get writing again. The result was a short story called “Chasing the Dragon,” which is a Victorian-set, Holmesian-flavored story about a pair of detectives investigating a string of deaths at an opium den and finding out that “chasing the dragon” is a far more literal expression than they imagined. 

The stories in the collection are wildly imaginative and come from a great group of writers. I highly encourage you, and everyone else, to check it out! https://books2read.com/dragonstail

I am so incredibly grateful that you invited me to do this, Jodie! You make the reading community a better place with your kindness, creativity, enthusiasm, and, yes, YOUR SENSE OF HUMOR! Thank you for being such an awesome human being!

About the Author:

Sean Gibson, “author” and slackonteur, is not a professional mini biography writer (if he were, this would be much more compelling). Instead, he’s a communications professional by day, hangs out with his amazing wife, son, and daughter by night, and writes somewhere in between. He holds a BA in English Literature from Ohio Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, though rumors persist that he also attended mime school (he is silent on the subject). Sean is a fan of sports teams from Detroit, a distressingly large number of bands that rose to prominence in the 1980s, and writing in the third person. He currently resides in Northern Virginia, and, given how much he hates moving, and given that his house has an awesome library, is likely to remain there for some time.

Sean is the author of several stories starring Heloise the Bard, including the #1 bestseller The Part About the Dragon Was (Mostly), the holiday novella “You Just Can’t Hide from Chriskahzaa,” and The Chronicle of Heloise & Grimple. He also wrote the Victorian-set fantasy thriller The Camelot Shadow and its prequel short, “The Strange Task Before Me.” Most recently, he contributed the short story “Chasing the Dragon” to the anthology “Dragons of a Different Tail” published by Cabbit Crossing Publishing. He has written extensively for Kirkus Reviews, and his book reviews have also appeared in Esquire.




Cover Reveal: Blue Shadow Legacy by Anca Antoci

Today I’m excited to be able to share a glimpse of the cover for Anca Antoci’s upcoming release, Blue Shadow Legacy. The third book in the Chimera trilogy, Blue Shadow Legacy looks to be a heart-pounding conclusion.

So, what is Blue Shadow Legacy about?

On the brink of war, the freedom of chimera outcasts and vampires hangs in the balance.

All seems lost when the Council runs coordinated attacks and destroys the Resistance’s secret camps. It’s time for shifters, vampires, and creatures of the Underworld to set their differences aside and make a united front. They expect the Huntress to lead them to victory, but they don’t know the truth about the prophecy that gives them hope. For Rae to save them all, she will be consumed.

After becoming a shadow and training her magic, Rae is ready for a new challenge. Unfortunately, the only constant in her life is that nothing ever goes as planned. When an army of witches gets ready to obliterate what’s left of the Resistance, Rae strikes a deal with a hellhound to save her friends.

An unexpected visit into the Underworld gives Rae a new perspective, an unlikely ally, and a fighting chance, but at what cost?

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/60047251-blue-shadow-legacy

Are you ready for the cover?

Here it is!

About the Author:

Anca’s overactive imagination pours into her stories bringing otherworldly creatures to life. She writes about mystical creatures, mystery, and adventure with a hint of Romance.

Her debut novel, Forget Me Not, is the first part of a trilogy published in 2020.

Before starting her writing journey, Anca was active in the blogging community as a fantasy book reviewer. The fanfiction stories she wrote long before she dreamed of being a writer are still popular and available on her blog. Although not as often, she still posts book reviews and book recommendations on her blog www.summonfantasy.com.

Living in Romania, Anca speaks English as a second language and is quite self-conscious about her accent, which is why she never speaks in her videos on TikTok. She loves taking long walks through the parks to recharge her batteries before a writing sprint. She loves cooking and can often be found in the kitchen trying out a new recipe while an audiobook keeps her entertained.

The Isle of a Thousand Worlds Cover Reveal: Storytellers on Tour

Today I’m pleased to be able to join Storytellers on Tour in revealing the, frankly amazing, cover of The Isle of a Thousand Worlds by Dan Fitzgerald. Dan Fitzgerald has also written the Maer Cycle and The Living Waters, all available for purchase now.

Before showing off this beautiful book, what’s it about?

An aging alchemist seeks the key to the Universal Tincture said to unlock the Thousand Worlds of the mind, but she never expected to solve the riddle of her hermetic heart. 

A meditation acolyte travels the mystical social media known as the Caravan and finds that the Thousand Worlds lie just below the surface, if she can only learn to see the space between the stars. 

This steamy romantic fantasy explores the confluence of the physical and the metaphysical through the commingling of bodies and minds.

So, are you ready for this? Here it is:

Wow!

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories), both from Shadow Spark Publishing. 

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.

Website: https://www.danfitzwrites.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/ Book Purchase Link: https://shadowsparkpub.com/dan-fitzgerald

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of wizened fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…(taken from Amazon)

The Coward follows Kell, a not-really-a-hero, as his past catches up with him. Ten years ago, Kell tagged along with a group of legendary heroes as they traveled to defeat an evil Lich. Despite not being seen as a hero himself, Kell alone returned. Since then, he has lived a quiet life, avoiding the songs and stories that have grown up around his “great deeds”…until he is forced to confront a truth he’s hidden from everyone; he is a coward.

If you haven’t read the book blurb, don’t. It makes the book sound like a humorous tale and, while I loved the book, it is most definitely not comedic fantasy. Instead, it is a deep and nuanced examination of human nature, that just happens to have fantasy elements added.

As Kell travels north to confront whatever has taken up residence in the original lair of the Ice Lich, he goes as a man condemned. He knows that it is only through a vast amount of luck that he survived the first time and that he won’t survive a second. There is a switch from the moment he intends to run and the moment he realizes that he’ll never be free from what happened ten years ago. His decision to confront the unknown evil reflects his decision to confront the horrible memories that he’s tried hard to push down. His character has one of- if not the- most realistic and respectful depictions of PTSD I’ve seen in a fantasy novel. I felt for him, and was fascinated by him in equal measure.

He was joined by a varied cast of characters, some of which I definitely liked more than others, but all of which added something unique and special to the plot. There were two characters in particular that really stood out to me: Willow and Gerren.

Willow was not human and was often viewed with a sense of distrust or even open dislike. What I loved about Willow, though, is that she would lay down her life for another without hesitation, despite knowing that most wouldn’t do the same for her. The way she saw things was different and very thought-provoking.

Gerren was basically the person Kell was ten years ago, before Kell was broken by what he experienced. Gerren was idealistic, naïve, and had found himself sucked in by visions of glory, completely ignoring the truth when Kell tried to tell him. His story arc and his development from moonstruck youth to a more mature adult was wonderfully written and incredibly interesting.

These characters grown and evolve against a brilliantly created and executed fantasy backdrop, traveling toward an inevitability that will test them physically, but also emotionally. The final bit of the book had me on the edge of my seat.

Author Stephen Aryan crafted an incredible book in The Coward, one that provides an excellent view both of what the fantasy genre can be, and the complicated yet beautiful morass of life.

Read this one.

We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. We Break Immortals is available now.

An exciting debut by a new fantasy author, We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley held nothing back and left me eager for more. Everything is dialed up to eleven, and nothing is certain.

The book follows multiple characters as they try desperately to prevent a demented serial killer from becoming, in essence, a god. He is one of the baddest of big bads that I have read recently and taking him down is a nigh-impossible goal. The characters are all fighting their own battles, however, against themselves. The question is: how can they defeat a powerful villain if they can’t even defeat their own personal demons? These battles that the characters fight against themselves are what kept me riveted.

Aren is a Render Tracer, otherwise known as a “glasseye”, meaning someone who can see traces of magick remnants. He does this with the help of some special tools. Aren uses his gifts to track down magickusers gone rogue. The magick in We Break Immortals is incredibly well-developed. It’s complicated and could be confusing if not for the use of Aren to show how everything works. Thankfully, it is explained in a way that makes perfect sense. Aren is very good at what he does. He is also an addict, which elevates his character from interesting to incredibly nuanced and complex. He is his own worst enemy, a fact that is made extremely apparent throughout the book. I love books that have characters with inner struggles and hidden obstacles to overcome.

Keluwen is a walking timebomb. She’s angry, she’s snarky, and she doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’s also a magickuser, which complicates matters when both her crew and Aren–a glasseye who goes after people like her–end up crossing paths. The dynamic within her crew was always interesting, especially her relationship with the crew’s leader.

Lastly, there’s Corrin. Ah, how I loved Corrin! Rougish with a knack for attracting trouble, he nonetheless manages to have his own sense of right and wrong. Corrin is the sort of person who does the best he can with what he has. And what he has is a fair amount of luck (whether it’s good or bad, I’ll leave to the reader to decide), a long list of vices, and a liberal dash of derring-do.

The world was well thought out and brought to life. More than just a backdrop for the storyline, the amount of development that has gone into the world makes it almost a character in its own right. The history, and mythologies are fascinating and it just keeps building.

We Break Immortals has heart, humor, excellent characters, and violence aplenty. It’s the sort of book that plunges in and never stops to let you catch your breath. It is, in a word, badass.

This review was originally published in Grimdark Magazine.

The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald: Storytellers on Tour

Today I am privileged to join Storytellers on Tour in talking about The Living Waters by Dan Fitzgerald. This book is available for purchase now.

So, what is The Living Waters about?

About The Living Waters:

When two painted-faced nobles take a guided raft trip on a muddy river, they expect to rough it for a few weeks before returning to their life of sheltered ease. But when mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, even their seasoned guides get rattled.

The mystery of the swirls lures them on to seek the mythical wetlands known as the Living Waters. They discover a world beyond their imagining, but stranger still are the worlds they find inside their own minds as they are drawn deep into the troubles of this hidden place.

The Living Waters is a sword-free fantasy novel featuring an ethereal love story, meditation magic, and an ancient book with cryptic marginalia.

Author Dan Fitzgerald was kind enough to share some of the inspiration behind The Living Waters.

Water photography : inspiration for The Living Waters

“Photography was my pandemic hobby, and I discovered a hidden world just a few minutes walk from my doorstep on Capitol Hill, DC. Most of the photos you see here were taken by me within one mile of my house, so within two miles of the US Capitol building. The photos have been retouched using various filters and effects on Instagram, to better capture what my eye saw, which the camera sometimes fails to show.

Swirls in muddy water

The Living Waters features two painted faced nobles being led on a trip down a muddy river called the Agra. Mysterious swirls start appearing in the water, which sparks their guide to lead them to find the source. This picture hints at the muddy mystery of the river portion of their trip. It’s actually a photo of a mudpuddle in a construction site; little bubbles kept popping up from the bottom, causing these weird little swirls in the muddy water.

Wetland flowers

This little wetland is between Congressional Cemetery and the Anacostia River, known to be one of the most polluted waterways in the country. You have to wiggle your way through some dense underbrush to find it, and depending on when you go, it can be muddy or magical. I was amazed to find these gorgeous flowers blooming there this spring! I can easily imagine this being the entrance to the mythical wetlands in the book.

Tiny bubbles

This photo was taken in almost the exact same spot as the flower photo. I looked down into the shallow, mucky water at my feet and saw all these tiny bubbles on underwater moss, and took a bunch of pictures until I came up with one that just worked. There’s a moment in the book, where one of the characters is shown the world inside her mind, and this photo really captures that feeling of hidden microcosms.

Water on lotus leaf

This is from a trip to the Kenilworth Aquatic Garden in DC, an amazing collection of water lilies and lotus plants set in a dozen or so small ponds just off the Anacostia River. I loved the way the light reflected off the water in this leaf, giving such an ethereal feel. There are watery beings called sitri in The Living Waters, and this photo reminds me of them.

Rainbow water

This photo was taken in a drainage ditch leading into a mucky wetland in Fort Dupont Park, a few miles from my house. The clay in the soil adds a nice orangey color to the photographs, and I used some enhancers to capture the color of leaves and sky reflected in the water to give a kind of rainbow effect. I love finding beauty in these little out of the way places. The ethereal wonder of this photograph captures the essence of the book for me.

Thank you so much for giving me the chance to show some photographs and talk about them! I hope they bring a few readers some joy.”

You can find reviews, guest posts, and more for The Living Waters at Storytellers on Tour.

About the author:

Dan Fitzgerald is the fantasy author of the Maer Cycle trilogy (character-driven low-magic fantasy) and the upcoming Weirdwater Confluence duology (sword-free fantasy with unusual love stories). The Living Waters comes out October 15, 2021 and The Isle of a Thousand Worlds arrives January 15, 2022, both from Shadow Spark Publishing.

He lives in Washington, DC with his wife, twin boys, and two cats. When not writing he might be found doing yoga, gardening, cooking, or listening to French music.  


Website: https://www.danfitzwrites.com/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DanFitzWrites 

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danfitzwrites/ 

Under the Whispering Door by T.J. Klune

Welcome to Charon’s Crossing.
The tea is hot, the scones are fresh, and the dead are just passing through.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace from his own funeral, Wallace begins to suspect he might be dead.

And when Hugo, the owner of a peculiar tea shop, promises to help him cross over, Wallace decides he’s definitely dead.

But even in death he’s not ready to abandon the life he barely lived, so when Wallace is given one week to cross over, he sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Hilarious, haunting, and kind, Under the Whispering Door is an uplifting story about a life spent at the office and a death spent building a home. (taken from Amazon)

Author T.J. Klune does it again! Under the Whispering Door is insightful, sad, hopeful, and exhibits a faith in humanity that is rarely seen in books now.

The book follows the recently deceased Wallace, a take-no-crap lawyer who wasn’t the nicest person in the world when he was breathing. I think his jerkish demeanor is one of the reasons that it took me longer to become invested in this book than in Klune’s last book. While Wallace’s snotty attitude is integral to the plot of the book, it held me at arm’s length for a little bit.

Wallace is used to getting his way and being the intimidating one. Imagine his outrage when he discovers that, not only is he dead, but he has ended up at Charon’s Crossing, a tea shop/waystation pre-going where one goes when they croak. He is no longer intimidating anyone. In fact, he slowly begins to learn that there is more to living than being rich or feared.

What ended up drawing me in was the wonderfully zany cast of characters that run Charon’s Crossing. There’s Mei, a reaper unlike any other. When she’s not leading the recently deceased into Charon’s Crossing, she’s making baked goods and rocking out to loud music. Mei is feisty with hidden depths.

There’s Nelson, a ghost who sticks around because his son happens to run Charon’s Crossing. He is quite possibly my favorite character. He quietly makes Wallace question who he was and who he can be. He sees more than he lets on, and he adds so much to the storyline. He’s also hilarious.

Then there’s Hugo. Oh, Hugo. Hugo is the only fully living member of the group (Mei is technically alive but with extra perks) and he runs Charon’s Crossing. He is so understanding and his compassion knows no bounds. Hugo is what led to my favorite parts of the book. See, I’m a sucker for a good conversation. I’m not a “small talk” sort of person. The conversations between Hugo and Wallace in Under the Whispering Door were poignant, enlightening, and really quite beautiful. This was one of those books that can make a person feel seen. This is when I started to like Wallace. From being a rather stereotypical a-hole, Wallace becomes sensitive, caring, introspective- in short, he evolves. He learns that there is beauty in everything, even in loss.

In the acknowledgements the author says that he wrote this while he was grieving his own loss. Grief, regret, love, hope- these are all universal and they are all honestly and simply explored here. Under the Whispering Door has become one of my favorite books of the year.

It’s beautiful.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas 2021: Extra Ideas

My long list of gift ideas continues! The items on this list don’t necessarily fall into any of the other categories I’ve already talked about (picture books, middle-grade books, and adult fiction) but are all great ideas, if I do say so myself. And I do!

Campaigns and Companions: The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets by Andi Ewington and Rhianna Pratchett, illustrated by Calum Alexander Watt


What if your pets could play D&D? And what if they were… kind of jerks about it?

If there are two things all geeks love, it’s roleplaying games, and their pets. So why not fuse the two? It’s time to grab your dice, dust off that character sheet, and let your cat or dog (or guinea pig, or iguana, or budgie) accompany you on an epic adventure! It’ll be great!

… unless you have pets like these. (taken from Amazon)

This book made me laugh out loud. With hilarious dead-on jokes and fantastic artwork, Campaigns and Companions would be a perfect gift for anyone who enjoys TTRPGs (whether they have pets or not). Review here.

Frostbeard Studios has the best bookish candles! I have tried most of them at this point and I haven’t found a scent that I didn’t like. My favorite is Sherlock’s Study…or Winter’s Keep…or Les Cirque de Revés…or…the list keeps going. I highly recommend these candles.

Frostbeard Studio

Goblin by Eric Grissom and Will Perkins

I loved this beautiful graphic novel! The story was so wonderful and the illustrations are amazing. You can read my (slightly) more eloquent rave here.

Smugglers Coffee

You can find the most delightfully nerdy coffee on this site! From D&D-themed, to coffees featuring homages to great movies or books, you can find it all here. Check out Smugglers Coffee!

Dungeons and Dragons Starter Set

I have seen a lot of people asking how to dive into Dungeons and Dragons. While I personally prefer playing in worlds or stories created by the DM (the “Dungeon Master” is the person who runs the game), this is a good jumping off point for anyone who is a little trepidatious about diving into the deep end. It has everything you need for a campaign, including dice. Of course, you’ll end up hooked and rushing out to buy your own dice, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide, but you can always start here.

Amazon

Art Photography by Rich

I have this photograph on a canvas near my favorite reading spot. It’s so pretty and peaceful! I think some of his stock is on sale right now. You can find it on etsy at Art Photography by Rich.

Odyssey: The Reboot: A Hooligan’s Tale by Keith Tokash

Homer’s back, and this time, it’s personal.

Odysseus, cleverest of Greeks, is missing. Having survived war, betrayal, and his own fat mouth, Gelios discovers himself oathsworn to find his friend, and save the kingdom of Ithaca.

With his squabbling entourage, Gelios careens through the Mediterranean in a desperate bid to save Odysseus and reunite antiquity’s most annoying family. Fleeing a trail of mercenaries, bad decisions, and angry women, the group struggles to answer one of humanity’s most enduring questions:

Why the hell is this my problem? (taken from Amazon)

Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Odyssey: The Reboot is available for purchase now.

Odyssey: The Reboot: A Hooligan’s Tale is that wonderful mix of completely irreverent and smart that is so hard to find. I loved author Keith Tokash’s take on the Iliad (review here), and he continues in fine form here. The thing about “classics” such as the Odyssey is that they’re ripe for parody. There’s nothing like lovingly poking fun at a timeless tale that is pretty much required reading for every junior high school student. Tokash uses the classic to craft a fast-moving “true story” about the events of the Odyssey and it is hilarious.

Once again, Gelios (the cousin of Homer) crashed through an epic, causing mayhem. Gelios was pretty much born with his foot in his mouth, yet he is also somehow endearing. He’s a fantastic main character and reading the shenanigans he finds himself in was so much fun!

The writing is snappy, the humor is dry and witty, and the story is a blast. The author has taken everything that worked well in his first book (which was pretty much everything) and somehow made it even better. You don’t need to read Iliad: The Reboot to enjoy this book, although I highly recommend it. In a year (decade?) where humor is as good as gold, Odyssey: The Reboot: A Hooligan’s Tale delivers. Go ahead and grab both books; you’ll thank me.