Meet the Cast Tuesday | Mr. Potsibald and Hezekiah

Today, we’ll meet a couple more characters from the Thom & Tom series. In case this is your first time here, my Thom & Tom stories fall into the category of flash fiction, meaning that they are quite short (see an example here). If we wanted to get more technical, they are anthropomorphic in nature, as all of the characters are animals (and one goblin) who take on characteristics of humanity, like speech.

Anyway, enough about literary devices and on to the characters.

This is a chipmunk. It does not sing and dance. It does drink massive amounts of coffee.Mr. Potsibald – Mr. Potsibald is the owner of the Jittery Chipmunk, the local coffee house in town where Thom and Tom enjoy a hot cup of chai. True to the stereotype, if chipmunks can be stereotyped that is, and if a chipmunk stereotype portrays chipmunks as energetic and slightly insane, Mr. Potsibald is energetic and slightly insane. This could be because of his raging caffeine addiction, a condition almost certainly aggravated by the fact that he owns a coffee house.

Hezekiah – Hezekiah is Tom’s imaginary friend. Life certainly can be difficult when you are the imaginary friend of a squirrel’s invisible roommate. In spite of this, Hezekiah seems reasonably well adjusted, or at least as well-adjusted as Tom imagines him to be. Anyway, it would probably be better if you didn’t get attached to Hezekiah, so I won’t give many reasons to love him.

Just out of curiosity…

I am a son.

Happy Mother's Day!Three Stories of Moms.

I was only six when I broke my mom’s heart. At least, that’s the earliest that I remember doing it. It happened after school, on the first day that I could walk to our new home in Middleville, Michigan.

You see, I started the school year as a bus-rider. We moved to the west side of Michigan from the Flint area, but construction was not yet finished on our house when the school year began, so we ended up living temporarily in the Indian River campground in my grandparents fifth wheel camper.

When the foundation of the house was set, my first grade class walked to my new home to see some of the construction happening. And sometime into the school year, the home was complete enough that we were able to get power and water to the property, enabling us to move our camper from the campground to our very own land.

The first school day after we moved the camper to our property was the day the it happened. Now that we lived in the middle of town, we were no longer bus-riders, we were walkers, meaning that when it came to getting to school, we walked. I don’t remember how I got to school that morning, whether my parents dropped me off in the car, or I walked there, but I do remember that I was going to walk home. When school let out, my mom was there waiting to walk with me.

But I didn’t let her.

I told my mom that I didn’t need her, that I could walk home by myself.

I still regret that. And now that I am a parent, I am afraid of the day when my own child tells me that she doesn’t need me.

That day, my mom walked in front of me about twenty steps the whole way home because I didn’t want her to walk with me.

I do need you mom, and I am thankful that even when I say I don’t, that you don’t give up on me, that you are still only a few steps away and ready to help me as soon as I ask for it.

Thanks mom.

* * * * * * * *

The first Sunday dinner I was invited to by my girlfriend’s family was a big deal. DeAnne and I had only been dating a short time, and I was very much in the approval seeking phase of our relationship. I had only met her family member a few times and some of them, not at all. The dinner was my chance to make a good impression.

I don’t remember what the menu for dinner was. Whatever it was, I am sure that it was very good. The Cazier family doesn’t know how to make bad food. In trying to make a good impression though, I refrained from taking too much of any dish and made sure to finish all of what I took.

After seeing that my plate was clean, DeAnne’s mom asked politely if I would like some more food. I assured her that the food was delicious, but that I was content with what I had eaten. She then said something that caused a silence to descend upon the room so thick that even crickets would not have chirped for fear of awkward attention. What she said was this, “But you look like the kind of guy that gets seconds.”

Now, I’m not the skinniest guy out there, but even so, I didn’t expect something like that. From the looks on the faces around the table, no one else did either. After a few seconds of pregnant pause, I laughed. Everyone laughed. She asked what was so funny. By the time it was explained to her why what she said might have been offensive, I had passed some kind of acceptance test with the rest of her family. I was a guy who could take a joke, intentional or not.

She is now my mother-in-law, and I wouldn’t trade her for the world. What I know now that I didn’t know then is that she gets great joy from being hospitable, especially to her sons-in-law. Shortly after the “accidentally insinuating that I’m overweight” incident, she asked me what my favorite kind of pop is, and it has been in her fridge waiting for me ever since.

Thanks mom.

* * * * * * * *

My wife called into the hospital to confirm our appointment for her induction early in the morning. She was 39 weeks along and this was our second pregnancy. The hospital told us to wait and call back in a few hours, that a lot of babies were being delivered at the moment and that we may need to wait a day or two. My wife, being a committed student and hard worker, was frustrated with this response, as it meant that she could have attended one of her college courses that morning after all. Of course, what really bothered her was the fact that we were ready and had waited for so long already to hold our daughter in our arms.

After a few more calls to the hospital (and a walk or two around the block to take our minds off of things), we got the okay to come to the hospital. They would have a room waiting for us and as long as everything looked good, they would be inducing her that day. We went.

After meeting the various doctors, having family visit us in the room, and even watching part of a movie as we waited for the medicine to start the birthing process to kick in, it was time.

Now, if I may brag on my wife for a moment, there are no women out there who are as strong and as amazing under pressure as my wife is. She wanted to give birth without an epidural or anything to numb the pain, and she did. On one of the last pushes, our daughter’s shoulder got stuck and the doctor jumped up on my wife’s stomach and started physically pushing our baby out from the top, and out she came.

This wasn’t our first experience with giving birth in this hospital. The previous fall, we came into Emergency with my wife at 30 weeks along only to find out that we had lost our first daughter. That delivery was very different.

This time around, when we saw our second daughter come into the light, we waited with bated breath. We had already known the loss of one child and at many times during the pregnancy, we felt like it could happen again. And then our daughter cried. She was okay. She was loud. She was chubby and covered in goo, but she was unmistakeably alive.

We laughed and cried and thanked God for the opportunity to be parents.

Since then, I’ve had the chance to see my wife prove herself as a loving mom time after time. When she had to go back to class right after giving birth, she did (I was in the hallway with our daughter while she was in class so she if I needed her, she wasn’t far away). When breastfeeding wasn’t going well, she didn’t give up. When our daughter was feeling ill or had banged her knee, she was the first one to offer a hug and some love.

And with another little girl on the way (we’re about 30 weeks along as of this post), I can’t wait to see her as a mom of two girls.

Thanks Bunny.

* * * * * * * *

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

Duotrope, the Flashing Cop: A Hero’s Journey -or- Links

This week, I’ve been away from my keyboard more than I’d usually like. My work has stepped up the remodeling plan (demolition is coming next week or the week after) so we’ve all been coming in early or staying late in order to get things moved (roughly 80,000 used books, 90% of our music department, 90% of our gifts department, and our shipping/receiving department) before the bulldozers knock off the front half of our building. Anyway, as a result, I took one night and set up the blogs for this past week to post automatically.

That all being said, this week’s links are all good. I didn’t have as much time to poke around other people’s blogs, so I went with links that I am familiar with already. Here are some cool places online to check out:

Axe Cop – This is web-comic about a cop with an axe. The thing that makes this site great is the fact that all the stories are written by a 5 year old (although that was when the comic started, now he’s 7) and then drawn by his 30-something year old brother. Why is this great? Because many of us have forgotten how a child thinks, and if you want to relate, either as a parent or a writer or both, it’s a wonderful way to climb into the mind of a child for a few minutes.

Duotrope: This is a site for writers to find homes for things that they’ve written. You can do searches and submissions and contests and more. It’s quite a resource. As for the name, this is from the site:

“Duotrope” is a word we made up. Since “duo” is the Latin root for “two” and “trope” is from the Greek “to turn,” we think of a duotrope as two objects spinning in orbit around each other, such as a writer and an editor. That’s just our concept of what a “duotrope” is. Feel free to come up with your own. (“Duotrope” is the registered trademark of Duotrope, LLC.)

The Hero’s Journey: If you have ever wondered why some stories seem to get written over and over, there’s a reason. Think of Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and even the story of Moses from the Bible. Joseph Campbell came up with something that he called Monomyth or The Hero’s Journey. If you are writing a tale of epic proportions and need an idea of where you are going, or if you are a reader and you’d like to be a better critical thinker while working through that book on your nightstand, check it out. Also, I’m not the only one to write about this theme, here’s a bonus link to another blog on the same topic.

10 Flash Fiction Writing Tips: This week, I’ve been a bit focused on flash fiction. If you want to try your hand at writing ridiculously short stories, here are some things to keep in mind. I should probably start using this advice myself.

So, there you go. Just when you thought you were tired of the internet, I give you all these reasons to go back online. Oh, one last plug for my contest and we’ll be all set. Check out yesterday’s post for full details, but it’d be great to get some entries.

How I did this week. Also, fun links!As far as a report card for this week, I made sure that something posted on the blog every day, so that’s good, but I didn’t spend everyday writing for it, so less good. I went out writing twice and last night I added about 700 words to my manuscript. I’ll give myself a solid B.

Okay, that’s it, now have a nice weekend.

Flash Fiction Challenge | The 26 Word Story

Here’s the challenge: Write a 26 word story, using the words in alphabetical order. Here’s my example:

Can you write a story using 26 words in alphabetical order?Arthur Bellows came down effortlessly, falling.
Hit innocently?
Laughter maniacal.
Now others peered quizzically ’round Sir Thomas.
“Unfortunate,” eXplained Vicar Wilson. “Yahweh’s Zephyr.”

If you have a blog, leave a link in the comments. If you don’t, just leave the story as a comment so we can enjoy your work.

I’ll be awarding three copies of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Other Poems at random to participants who get their submissions in before May 31st.

Flash Fiction | Thom & Tom: Weight for Me

I am taking a week off from book reviews. I hope that’s okay. I haven’t had much time to read lately. Instead, I’m doing something new.

Yesterday, I introduced a couple more characters from my Thom & Tom flash fiction series and I mentioned that I’d share a story. Well, here I am making good on that promise.

Thom is a squirrel. Thom is invisible. That's kind of their thing.

Here’s some proof that I’m not an artist.

Before I post it though, I feel the need to explain the format a bit. My original vision for the series was to be along the lines of an Edward Gorey book, with a picture above each line of text, though each line of my text would have footnotes (like Terry Pratchett does, though he does not do them for every line) and the footnotes themselves would have footnotes.

I’m a terrible artist, so you’ll just have to imagine that there are pictures here. If you are an artist with a knack for anthropomorphic forest animals and you have nothing better to do with your time, give me a jingle and we could make some sweet money together.

Okay then, here we go.

The Misadventures of Thom and Tom: Weight for Me

By Josh Mosey

There once lived a squirrel named Thom.*
*The h is silent, but not invisible.

Thom lived in a tree house with his roommate, Tom.*
*Tom is not silent, but is invisible.

One morning, during his morning ritual*, Thom saw something frightening on his bathroom scale.**
*Thom’s morning ritual consists of: hitting the snooze button twice before turning off his alarm clock, using the lavatory, going back to bed, realizing that he shouldn’t have gone back to bed, taking a shower, weighing himself, eating some breakfast, throwing something at Tom, having a cup of chai, and getting on with his day.***
**It isn’t very nice to be frightened by anything that soon after you’ve woken up.  It’s just not a good way to start the day.
***Getting dressed is not part of the ritual because squirrels don’t wear clothes.  That would be silly.

It was his weight.*
*About 2 lbs. more than normal.**
**Which is drastically overweight for a 1 lb. squirrel.

The first question Thom asked was, “Who do I blame?”*
*An important first question.

Thom immediately dismissed the possibility that he was somehow at fault.*
*Who starts by blaming themselves?**
**Not Thom.

Thom’s next target was the media.*
*Not so much because the media portrays “big” as “beautiful,” but because Thom watches a lot of television.**
**And when Thom watches television, he eats.

But was it just the media’s fault?*
*Thom (and everyone else too) likes to spread the blame around.

Now that he thought of it, the grocery store was having a lot of sales recently.*
*Sneaky grocery store.

But that doesn’t even take into consideration Thom’s friends.*
*Tom is especially bad, with his “let’s see how much food Thom can fit in his mouth” game.**
**Tom likes to play this while Thom is sleeping.***
***Thom doesn’t like to play while Thom is sleeping.

And then a thought occurred to Thom.*
*Two thoughts actually, but only one was relevant to this story.**
**The other thought was, “I wonder how much I would have to pay a stranger to walk around yelling, ‘Free the Colors!’ all day long.  That would be funny.”

Thom thought, “Why not blame the food itself?”*
*Go to the source.

Just then, Tom stumbled* out of his room…**
*Stumbling is just one of Tom’s many talents.
**Tom usually stumbles out about five minutes after being hit with whatever Thom threw at him.***
***See sentence break 3 for more details about Thom’s morning ritual.

And solved the issue with only a few words.*
*A roommate’s abilities are sometimes uncanny.

Tom said, “It’s winter.  I hate winter.”* **
*During the winter, squirrels store up fat reserves so they can survive the season when they cannot find as much food.
**I hate winter too.

The End*
*Of this story.**
**Not the world.***
***I hope.

So, there you go. A real Thom & Tom story. Merry Christmas.

Meet the Cast Tuesday | Pumpernickel and Fork

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I write flash fiction. These stories revolve around a pair of roommates named Thom (a squirrel) and Tom (invisible), but each episode introduces a new character. This week, I’ve decided to introduce a couple of my favorite characters in the Thom & Tom series.

Pumpernickel – True to the roots of his name, Pumpernickel is a flatulent Goblin. Seriously, look up pumpernickel in the dictionary and see if I’m lying. I’ll save you the trouble. I’m not. Anyway, Pumpernickel was adopted by wealthy hedgehogs, and now he’s sitting high on the… hedgehog. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. But I’ll spare you the pain of making anymore bad puns, because that’s all I’ll say about Pumpernickel.

Fork – Fork is a kleptomaniac mouse who only takes items too large to actually get away with stealing. This form of self-defeat would normally take its toll on lesser beings, but maybe that’s what makes Fork so special. Or maybe it’s a weird birthmark or something.

Stay tuned because I’ve been debating on actually posting one of the stories. My hesitation is driven by the fact that publishers don’t like publishing something that everyone has already read for free. Although, publishers do like publishing things that have a built-in fan base, so maybe I’ll just post a story or two and you can all become ravenous fans, writing to the publishers of your choice and making them want to publish me. Just an idea.

Anyway, I think that I’ve talked myself into posting something, so check back tomorrow.

I am a husband.

I love my wife more than old people love racism and talking about diseases.Let me be up front with you about something. I stole the idea for this post from a series of posts that Jessie Clemence did on her blog. Her interviews with her family (husband, daughter, son) made me smile and opened a window to her life that I hadn’t seen before (I knew Jessie and her husband when I was in college, but our paths split before they had kids).

I thought, “What a great idea! How hard could it be to interview your spouse?” So, I made  a list of questions and had my wife answer them. Here’s the result:

How long have we been together?

Not nearly long enough.  That being said, we had our first date 8 years, 2 months, and 16 days ago.  We have been married for 6 years, 8 months and 16 days, but as I said, not nearly long enough.

What are you reading now?

I am just about to finish Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, which has kept my attention from the beginning of the winter school semester.  I have read the book about three pages at a time for almost five months, but even though it has stretched over a long time, it still kept me coming back for more whenever I had time to spare.

What is your favorite book?

This is a hard question because in every genre I have a favorite book. That being said, the book I have enjoyed for the longest amount of time is A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.

What are your thoughts on your husband being a writer?

Honestly it depends on the day.  For most days, I am excited and supportive of your desire to do something you enjoy and I try to express that through my words and actions.  There are also occasional days were I become self focused and wonder why you must choose a hobby that is not only time-consuming but also solitary. On those days, I must remember your writing is not about me, but about you doing something that makes you happy.

You work full-time, raise a 1.5 year old, and are 7 months pregnant. You also just completed a master’s course in Accounting. Are you crazy?

No, let’s just say I have an incredible partner that makes all that possible.  I couldn’t do it without you babe.

What is the first thought that goes through your head when I say that I’m going off to write for a while?

Once again, this honestly depends on whether I have my attitude and focus where it belongs.  Given that I feel most loved by spending quality time together, leaving me to write isn’t the best way to say I love you.  So, whether I need an attitude adjustment or it is where it needs to be already, I need to remember that my joyfully letting you go is a good way to say I love you.

What is something that you want strangers to know about me?

Oh, the things I could share…

Do you have any advice for the spouses of writers?

Whether other spouses deal with this or not, maybe it’s just me, but I have to constantly remember it’s not about me, it’s about you.  That applies to all areas, at least in my opinion.

I love my wife.

I don’t know if you’ve read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, but it spells out five ways that people feel most loved. There’s quality time, words of encouragement, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. DeAnne and I read this book in our first year of marriage and it has really helped me understand how to make her feel loved. That said, her love language is quality time and mine is physical touch. When we are snuggling on the couch, both of our love tanks get filled.

But then I took up writing. Like she said in her answers, I write best when I can be focused entirely on my writing, so it is essentially a solitary thing. I try to choose times to write when it won’t affect our time together, times when she is either out of the house (her commute is about an hour longer than mine) or sleeping (I’m a night owl anyway), but there are still times when I get together with my writers’ group when I could be spending time with her.

That isn’t a good way to help my wife feel loved. Sometimes, this makes me feel like bad husband, like I am not giving her what she needs, like I am choosing my own desires over hers. And no matter how many times she insists that I go off and write, I feel that I am messing things up.

This past weekend, through the interview and other conversations that we had, she helped me understand that my writing time wasn’t really the issue. The real issue is that when I am spending time with her, it isn’t always quality time because my mind is still living in writing-land. We may be sitting on the couch together or playing with our daughter, but I’m not fully there because I’m thinking of the next scene in my novel or the blog post that I’m going to write.

Our time together isn’t quality when I’m letting other things come before her and marriage.

Now, I’m not going to quit writing. I think, for the most part, I’ve tried to limit the time that I spend writing when my wife is available. But I am going to try turning off the writing part of my brain when I’m with my wife. For me, my marriage comes first. I love you DeAnne Lynne Mosey!

Why I Sold Half my Facebook Friends to Mere Inklings in the Waiting Room – or – Links

This is Frigg, the reason Friday is called Friday, as in "I'm so friggin glad it's Friday!"

Friday is named for the Norse goddess, Frigg, wife of Odin, step-mother of Thor. Now you’ve learned something you can share with your friends tonight when you go see the  Avengers movie. Just point to Thor and say, “His step-mom is why today is called Friday.”

I like the format of listing interesting links on Fridays for two reasons. One, the internet is a vast and potentially frightening place and it helps to have a guide. Two, it doesn’t require as much time, so I have more time for working on my novel.

That said, here are four links that I think you should click:

Why I Sold Half of my Comic Book Collection by Andrew Rogers | First, the disclaimer, Andrew is in my writers’ group and he’s a good friend of mine. Second, the pitch, this is a good post the helps us evaluate whether we are hoarding things that would be better sold in order to gain things that would be better applied. Be sure to leave him a comment if you visit.

Mere Inkling | This is a site dedicated to the writers’ group, The Inklings, of which C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were members. The blogger, Rob Stroud, does a wonderful job in looking at life through the works of The Inklings. If you enjoy Narnia or Lord of the Rings, check out Rob’s blog.

The (Writer’s) Waiting Room | I stumbled across this blog this week and think it is a must-read for anyone with hopes of getting published. The blog is hosted by Hannah Karena Jones, an assistant editor at Transaction Publishers. She is insightful and encouraging as she guides would-be authors through the publishing process. I particularly enjoyed her post on query letters.

My Facebook Profile | Are we friends on Facebook? If not, we probably should be. Here are a couple reasons why you might want to befriend me: if you are a writer hoping to be published, publishers like to see a big friend list because it says that you aren’t afraid to self-promote and you have a built-in network of people who might buy your book; if you are not a writer, it is still good to have friends; I’m quite nice. All potential stalkers please ignore the above reasons and stop being so weird and stalker-y.

But Josh, how did you do with your writing goals this week?

How I did this week. Also, fun links!Good question, faceless stranger! I did pretty well. Twice in the last week, I set aside a few hours at a time to work on my novel. I feel like the story is coming along nicely (probably about 1/3 of the way there) and my characters even gave me a plot surprise that was pretty good. After posting this week’s book review, I wrote to the author of the book and she wrote back, which was a lovely surprise. And last, but certainly not least, I posted something every weekday, which is my goal. I’m going to give myself and A- for the week.

Thanks for reading this week. If you’ve made it this far into the post, you are probably either related to me or genuinely interested in my blog. Either way, your thoughts matter to me. I would appreciate any feedback or post ideas that you would care to share in the comments below!

Lego Inspiration for Writers

Lego, if you are reading this, please don't stop my subscription just because I am not a child. Thanks.I got my bi-monthly issue of Lego Club Magazine in the mail yesterday. I had to lie in order to get it. The magazine is free, but in order to be on the mailing list, you have to be under a certain age. I hope my confession here absolves me of lying to Lego (but in no way hinders my continuing to get the magazine).

I am a Lego fan. I always have been. From a young age, I’ve known the pain from stepping on a Lego brick. My mom can attest to the annoyance of vacuuming up the smallest Lego pieces or the sound of me mixing through my collection in order to find the one correct piece. My wife will tell you that Lego sets still show up on every birthday list I write, and how we have a room that is difficult to use because of the Lego sets that I have set up there. You get the idea.

I bring this up because I wanted to talk about story inspiration. I’ve mentioned before that my writers’ group, The Weaklings, has participated in the 3-day Novel Contest every year since we started. For all but one year, I’ve started a new novel with each contest (this last year, I used the time to try to finish one of my novels). The first year, I wrote a dystopian story about a future where making sound is illegal. The next year, I started my magical orphan story about a boy who is half-angel. The third year, I didn’t know what to write.

My wife and I moved twice by the third year of marriage and we were still unpacking boxes. We came upon my large box of Lego sets and my wife encouraged me to put them back together and display them somewhere in the house. I took her up on the offer.

If you are familiar with Lego, you’ll know that they have different themes for their sets. Well, I had collected almost three complete themes by this point. My Lego collection includes Vikings, Kingdoms, and Adventure sets. The Viking sets have vikings, dragons, trolls and orcs. The Kingdoms sets revolve around English castles, kings, knights, wizards, and peasants. The Adventure sets feature an Indiana Jones-like assortment of 1920’s gear with biplanes, motorcycles, hot air balloons and more.

As I was setting up the sets, I was thinking that only two out of the three themes would look right together. Vikings and Kingdoms were historically near each other, but my Adventure sets would look vastly out-of-place. That’s when I got the idea for that year’s 3-day novel. I just needed to write a story to include all three elements.

The result was a time-traveler from the 1920’s who gets stuck in the year 1000, a year that inspired as much apocalyptic fear as the Y2K did recently. I did a little research and I was off.

My point in telling you all this is to share with you a source of story inspiration. Are you stuck for ideas? Try taking two things that would never naturally fit together, and stick them in the same room. See what happens.

Maybe it will click, like Lego.

Book Review | The Mistmantle Chronicles Book One: Urchin of the Riding Stars

You've found the short version of this review. "It's really good."After posting my last review, I asked my co-worker, Chris Jager, to look it over and give me her thoughts. Chris is the fiction buyer for the store and does tons of book reviews on her blog, so I value her opinion as I hone my craft. She read it and said, “It was a very clinical review. You didn’t say anything bad, but you stated facts without letting people hear your voice.”

So, my main goal for this review is to infuse a little more of myself into my impressions of the book. My secondary goal for this review is to point out the things that the writer did which worked well and are worth emulating. That way, we can all become better writers (by including some of the elements in our own stories) and better readers (by thinking critically about what and how we read).

My book this week is The Mistmantle Chronicles Book One: Urchin of the Riding Stars by M. I. McAllister.

Urchin the squirrel was born on a night of riding stars. It was the same night he arrived on the island of Mistmantle, and the same night that his mother died and was washed back out to sea. Discovered by Crispin the squirrel and Brother Fir, Urchin was sent home with kindly but simple Apple to be raised by the community in Anemone Wood. Once Urchin was old enough to enter the island’s work parties, he is asked to become Captain Crispin’s page, a dream come true. But his dreams turn to nightmares when the King’s only son is murdered and the blame falls on Crispin. Tragedy and adventure walk hand-in-hand with Urchin as he tries to protect his captain, himself, and his whole community from a creeping evil that has come into the kingdom.

I knew nothing about this book when I picked it up from the shelf, but it didn’t take long before I fell in love with it. There are five things that stood out to me about McAllister’s writing that puts it above most other children’s books.

The author isn’t afraid of a body count. The book opens with the death of the main character’s mother. In the first chapter, the animals are discussing the new and horrible practice of culling (killing off the weak and misformed) that is now practiced in the kingdom. By chapter three, the prince is dead. Death happens and I respect an author who isn’t afraid to show how it affects characters differently. Urchin’s mother was willing to die in order to rescue her unborn baby. The king is willing to kill because the of the grief of losing his son. Children are just as much affected by the death of loved ones as we are and McAllister gives us a reference to be able to talk to kids about how to feel and how to act.

The evil is EVIL. When bad things happen in the book, they are very bad. The bad characters are not just mean, but manipulative, sneaky, and murderous. The author helps us hate the evil that exists in the story, and gives us something to root against. Urchin has so much to overcome that when the evil is dealt with, we are not just pleased but elated.

The good is not without flaws. Urchin is likeable because he is flawed. He cares deeply about the people around him, but he cares just as much about what they think of him. I can relate to this because I know that I am a people pleaser. If put in a situation between doing what is right and doing whatever will make me liked, I have a dilemma. By giving Urchin a flaw, he is relateable. We root for him all the more because he is like us.

Suspense, foreshadowing, and misdirection are skillfully applied. By having a dire evil to overcome and showing that she isn’t afraid to kill off a character or two, McAllister creates real suspense for the story. And she weaves in enough details that when we finally figure out what is happening, we hit ourselves for not seeing it sooner. I love it when an author surprises me with a twist.

The tension escalates throughout. Like all good fiction, the main character finds himself in increasingly horrible predicaments. Just when you think, “well, at least it can’t get worse,” you find out that you are wrong.

Like I said, I loved this book. In fact, the whole series is great. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough for me to read it to them. I’d start now, but my oldest doesn’t have the attention span for chapter books yet and I’d end up just reading it out loud to myself. Then again, it was such a good story that I may just read it anyway. I can always read it again to them later.