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This is my entry for Round 1 of NYC Midnight’s 2015 Flash Fiction Challenge.

Prompts:

Genre:  Fantasy

Location: A mountain stream

Object: Milk

Word Count Limit: 1000

Actual Word Count: 997

Synposis: “When a man journeys to beg a favor of a Goddess, he receives more than he could have hoped. “

Enjoy!

Mother’s Milk

The day was hot so Sulgo stopped by the stream to rest. He carefully set the child down on the soft earth near the water and sat beside her. Her red eyes watched him and he smiled as he offered her the water skin. After she drank, he dipped his kerchief into the cool stream. As he wiped the sweat from her forehead her eyes slipped closed.

“Beco,” he whispered, but she didn’t respond.

As one with red eyes who wielded the Mother’s magic, Beco’s soul would be lost to darkness if she died before they reached the pool. Panicked, Sulgo touched Beco’s throat and found the slow, irregular beating of her heart. Relieved that she’d survived the trek up the mountain, he said a silent prayer of thanks to the Mother, their Goddess.

When Beco’s black eyes had turned red at the age of three and she had healed for the first time, there had been a great celebration. The Mother had blessed their people and despite Sulgo’s sadness that Beco would burn out by the age of twenty, as always happened to those like her, he was proud.

She had healed many people, saved many lives. But each time, her lovely dark hair had gained another small streak of white. By the age of seven, Beco’s hair was more white than black. Sulgo had begged her to stop, to save herself, but she’d refused. She’d said it was her duty to their people, to their Goddess.

He lifted her and set out again. The path beside the stream was easy to travel, worn smooth by the passage of other feet over the centuries. Others who had come to the Mother to beg her mercy for the souls of the gifted.

The cursed.

Beco stirred and Sulgo looked down to see her watching him. “Hold on, child. We’ll be there soon.”

“We are there, Papa,” she said in a feeble voice.

Sulgo looked ahead to where the stream emerged from a dense copse of trees. The pool was there. The Mother was there.

He wanted to hurry, to preserve the beautiful soul of the child in his arms, yet he wanted to hold her for just a while longer.

Nine years was not enough.

Sulgo followed the stream through the dense trees. He reached a clearing and saw the Mother sitting beside the pool from which the stream flowed. She was waiting for them.

“Bring her to me.”

He clutched Beco to his chest possessively as he trudged toward the Mother and sank to his knees before her.

Her eyes were red, like Beco’s. Her silky, silver hair grew long and cloaked her naked body. Her skin was a rich shade of brown, like the soft earth where they’d rested beside the stream. She was the loveliest creature that Sulgo had ever seen.

“Blessed Mother,” he began respectfully. “Your magical gift burned her out too soon and she faded quickly. I brought her that she may partake of you, if you allow. I pray that her soul not be banished to darkness.”

The Mother cocked her head. “You are angry.”

Sulgo lowered his eyes. “I am sorry to offend, merciful Mother,” he said quickly. “I am bereaved. She is… precious to me.”

“She is precious to all.” The Mother held out her arms.

Releasing Beco was difficult but Sulgo relaxed as he watched the Mother cradle the dying child to her naked breast. She stroked Beco’s hair which softened and grew long until the silky ends reached the pool. Beco turned her face and began to suckle at the breast of the Goddess.

Sulgo slumped in relief as Beco’s skin began to glow softly. The milk of the Mother would preserve her soul. The glow moved from Beco’s skin to her hair and Sulgo watched it flow down the long, silky strands into the pool. When he looked back at Beco, the glow had left her skin. It slowly faded from her hair and once it was gone, the Mother lifted Beco’s hair from the pool.

The motion pulled her breast from the child’s mouth and she laid the lifeless body on the soft earth before Sulgo. He wept as he bent to kiss his daughter goodbye. He didn’t notice the bead of the Mother’s milk at the edge of Beco’s mouth until its sweetness touched his lips. His anger faded suddenly. His grief lessened. Surprised, he looked at the Mother.

Her smile was gentle. “A gift. It will help you in your bereavement.”

She gently touched Beco’s head and came away with a lock of hair in her hand, which she quickly plaited into a long, thin rope. She wrapped it twice about Sulgo’s wrist and secured it in such a way that it was one endless braid of soft, white hair.

“This will also help you,” the Mother said. She dipped one finger into the pool and touched the braid, which began to glow faintly. “Eat nothing. Drink nothing. Hurry to your wife and give her another daughter.”

Sulgo’s eyes widened and he looked down at Beco.

“No. She is part of me again and must remain. You may see something of her in the next, however.”

“I beg you Mother, not another daughter with red eyes. I can’t bear it.”

The Goddess laughed. “The eyes of the next will be as black as her hair and her skin. You have cared well for Beco, for me. I thank you. Her soul is home, safe from the darkness.” The Mother rose with the child’s body in her arms. “Go now. One drop will not benefit you for long.”

“Thank you, generous Mother.”

She turned with Beco and faded into the trees.

Sulgo leapt to his feet, followed the stream away from the pool, and hurried down the mountain. He cried tears of both grief and joy, and rejoiced when Beco’s laughter joined with that of the Goddess in the voice of the burbling stream.

end2

The next highly anticipated installment in Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series is book #14, Cold Days. November 27th is the magical release date and I’m really hoping to have finished NaNoWriMo by that day so that I can once more immerse myself in Harry’s version of Chicago and watch as he attempts to get out of the latest fine mess in which he’s gotten himself. Which mess might that be, you ask? Watch out! Blurb ahead!

HARRY DRESDEN LIVES!!!

After being murdered by a mystery assailant, navigating his way through the realm between life and death, and being brought back to the mortal world, Harry realizes that maybe death wasn’t all that bad. Because he is no longer Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard.

He is now Harry Dresden, Winter Knight to Mab, the Queen of Air and Darkness. After Harry had no choice but to swear his fealty, Mab wasn’t about to let something as petty as death steal away the prize she had sought for so long. And now, her word is his command, no matter what she wants him to do, no matter where she wants him to go, and no matter who she wants him to kill.

Guess which Mab wants first?

Of course, it won’t be an ordinary, everyday assassination. Mab wants her newest minion to pull off the impossible: kill an immortal. No problem there, right? And to make matters worse, there exists a growing threat to an unfathomable source of magic that could land Harry in the sort of trouble that will make death look like a holiday.

Beset by enemies new and old, Harry must gather his friends and allies, prevent the annihilation of countless innocents, and find a way out of his eternal subservience before his newfound powers claim the only thing he has left to call his own…

His soul.

In preparation for new Dresden books, I generally do a series re-read… or a re-listen rather, since I absolutely love the job that James Marsters does on the audio books. Of course, James was unavailable to read for Ghost Story, much to the chagrin of many, many fans, myself included, but he is back to read Cold Days and I for one can’t wait to hear him voicing Harry & Company again!

But I digress… so odd for me to do that, sorry! Series re-read. There, back on track! For this book release, I won’t be doing a series re-read/re-listen. Why, do you ask? Well, the point of this post is to tell you why, so sit tight!

In preparation for the release of Ghost Story last summer, I re-listened to each of the first 12 books in the series (+ Side Jobs!) and then wrote reviews for each of them once I had finished. I did this, in part, in order to share my love of the series with the handful of people who actually read this blog, but also so that I would have a handy-dandy recap for each book in case an entire re-read/re-listen before future book releases was impossible for me. Much like it is now, what with my busy season at work, NaNoWriMo approaching, and my daughter’s Senior Year of high school in full swing and tons of college stuff to be done.

To be honest, my ‘reviews’ go well beyond what a lot of book reviews are meant to do, which is give you an overview of what the book is about and a general idea of the reviewer’s thoughts and impressions of the book, which is all fine and good. Of course sometimes a reviewer will go a bit further and vaguely mention something about the events that transpired in the book, usually sans spoilers, in order to entice people to read the book.

Ha! I scoff! MY reviews are somewhat… different.

First, they’re pretty much all way too long and second, they’re almost all so chock full of info and spoilers that one might never need to re-read the books!

I say re-read because darlin’, if you haven’t read them, you’re missing out on some kind of superawesometasticspecialness. Seriously. Jim Butcher has created characters that you will love and characters that you will love to hate who all occupy such a rich and fascinating world full of magic. A world that I not only want to revisit periodically by reading or listening to his stories, but one that I would actually want to GO to… to EXPERIENCE. Hell, to LIVE in!

Okay, caps lock off, I’m just trying to get the point across that this is a wonderful series that I’m sure you’ll enjoy, because I know everything about you. EVAREETHANG! So stop doing that thing that you’re doing that you think that nobody knows about. Seriously, shame on you. *tsk*

If you haven’t read the series and want to, don’t rely on reviews here or elsewhere to show you Harry’s world. You’d be missing out on 99% of it, easily. Start with Storm Front and have at it because the books, especially the early ones, are super-quick reads… or listens, if you’re a fan of audio books, and ohmyGod either format is so worth the time.

If you have read the series and you are just looking for a recap before picking up (or downloading) Cold Days and reading about (or listening to) Harry as Mab’s Winter Knight (dun-dun-dun-DUNNN), then dive right into the links below and I hope that I recapped the books sufficiently for you, and that you enjoy!

My Dresden Files reviews:

#1 – Storm Front

#2 – Fool Moon

#3 – Grave Peril

#4 – Summer Knight

#5 – Death Masks

#6 – Blood Rites

#7 – Dead Beat

#8 – Proven Guilty

#9 – White Night

#10 – Small Favor

#11 – Turn Coat

#12 – Changes

#12.5 – Side Jobs

#13 – Ghost Story

For more Dresden Files lurves, follow Jim Butcher on Twitter and Facebook, and if you do happen to listen to the audio books and think that James Marsters is teh awesome, then you can also follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

Shop Indie for Dresden Files ebooks and print copies!

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As many of you may know, I’ve had something of a campaign going for several years to ensure that on the day I finally met the author that over the past few years had gradually displaced Stephen King as my favorite, he would recognize my name. I referred to it as My Diabolical Plan and it grew into something I never expected, thanks to my network of internet friends (all of whom I met through Dragonmount.com‘s Wheel of Time mailing list) that are able to go to many more Cons and book signings than I am able to attend.

It started simply enough, with me half-jokingly asking one such friend to tell Brandon Sanderson that “Paige from New Mexico says, ‘What’s up?!'” I believe that first request was to my good friend Melissa, aka Kiara. Said request was put forth nearly 3 years ago when she was going to be at a signing in Ohio for the 12th Wheel of Time book, The Gathering Storm. IIRC, she was a Storm Leader for her local signing and so (along with her husband Josh) would have most likely been the first of my group of close online friends to meet Brandon since he’d signed on to finish Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series.

I’m sorry to say that I’d not yet heard of Brandon when it was announced nearly 5 years ago that Harriet Rigney, the widow of James Oliver Rigney, Jr. (aka Robert Jordan) had chosen an author to finish her husband’s incredibly popular series. When that announcement came, a lot of WoT fans, myself included, picked up Brandon’s first books (Elantris and Mistborn: The Final Empire) to make sure ‘this guy’ was suitable for the daunting task before him. Heh… I’m kidding, but not really. Of course, reading those first books showed us all what a fantastic author he was and his fandom was augmented dramatically. Harriet had chosen wisely. We… I never should have doubted. My sincere apologies, Brandon.

I’ve bought and read (in multiple formats) everything that Brandon has published since those first two novels that I have come to love. I’ve read and re-read them all, and listened to the audio books, and re-listened to the audio books. I’m captivated by the elaborate worlds he builds. I’m fascinated by the incredible magic systems he creates. I’m mesmerized by the complex and interesting characters that he introduces me to, characters that I quickly come to care about as much as I care about my beloved Wheel of Time characters.

I’ve taken to pre-ordering each of Brandon’s books–signed, personalized, and sometimes numbered–from Sam Weller’s Booksellers, a bookstore that’s supported Brandon since his first books were published. I highly recommend them for any future books of Brandon’s… they have excellent customer service and their books arrive beautifully packaged and in perfect shape, unlike some books I’ve received recently from another source. *cough*Donald M. Grant*cough*

The first author signature I ever acquired in a book was Brandon’s, via his website and through Sam Weller’s. I’ve since, thanks to this past weekend, had them all signed… all hardcovers but for those first two paperbacks I picked up at a Dark Friend Social trip to a bookstore in Indiana, a couple of weeks after learning about Brandon finishing The Wheel of Time.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, blathering on as I’m wont to do, not unlike a certain Aes Sedai that I love. So back to My Diabolical Plan. Over the past few years, I have requested of several other friends the same thing I asked of Kia: that when attending a Con or a book signing to see Brandon, they tell him that “Paige from New Mexico says, ‘What’s up?!'” I know that Brandon meets thousands of fans and really, who would expect him to remember my name? I had the faint hope that between the unique wording and the fact that multiple people from Ohio to Georgia and from California to Australia were giving him the exact same message, then when I finally got to meet him in person, he would recognize my name.

So thank you to everyone that I asked to do this for me, even if you didn’t get the chance to do it. Thank you Kia! Thank you Josh, for the awesome WoT art that you created with a pen during a signing which you then had Brandon (and Harriet!!) sign before sending to me! Thank you Tiff! Thank you Jessica! Thank you Joanna! Thank you Matt! I also need to thank Anthony, who I also met on the mailing list but is in a rather different circle than the one which contains all of these other names… you didn’t fully understand my plan yet you approached Brandon at JordanCon in 2010 and said the thing. And I appreciate it!

If I have neglected to mention anyone else that has done this for me, please smack me around (just a bit, though) and demand that I include your name! My own efforts toward My Diabolical Plan were to request a couple of personalized books through Sam Weller’s over the past couple of years in hopes that the added repetition of “Paige from New Mexico” and “What’s up!” might help to cement my name in Brandon’s amazing mind. I’m obviously willing to bet on long odds. The upside of doing so is that the pay off, if it ever comes, is exponentially greater.

Update: I had it gently pointed out to me (no smacking around!) that at the same signing during which my friend Josh drew Mat Cauthon and had it signed by both Brandon and Harriet, that another friend at the same signing, a super-awesome friend by the name of Justin (and he is seriously super-awesome, did you see me mention that he didn’t smack me around at all?), told Brandon the thing and then actually had Brandon personalize his own book thusly: ‘Justin, tell Paige from New Mexico, “S’up!”‘ Holy shit, right?!

Now, I’ve known for years that Justin was a cool guy because back when he was still a member of that Wheel of Time mailing list (where I met him virtually, we’ll hopefully consummate our years long friendship with a hug sometime soon), he volunteered to be my Keeper when the other members chose me to be Amyrlin. We didn’t actually role play on the list, not seriously, but we did play around and act silly and Justin was one of ‘my peeps’.

So dude… thanks. Very much. You rock. Literally. ;o)

Update #2: I had another good friend point out to me this morning that I had neglected to mention her contribution to My Diabolical Plan. So yeah, my friend jeandiata has said the thing to Brandon twice! When at signings both for The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight, IIRC. I also met jeandiata through the Wheel of Time mailing list and I think it’s going on something like 7 or 8 years since we first met virtually. We met in real life around Christmastime in 2007 at the aforementioned Dark Friend Social where I picked up Brandon’s first two books in paperback, so we’ve already consummated our virtual friendship with a real one! Of course, this was just after Brandon was chosen to finish the WoT so my friends and I discussed him a lot at that get-together! So, jd… my apologies for omitting you! Double thank you, honey!!

Update #3: Yeah, I forgot another one! I got a virtual smack-down yesterday via Google Talk from another good friend that I also initially met on Dragonmount.com’s Wheel of Time mailing list. Oh, yes, I did finally get smacked down! Howard wasn’t as oh-shucks-you-forgot-li’l-ole’-me! gentle in his reminder as were Justin and jeandiata. :o) Which is cool, I deserved the smackage!

So… Howard met Brandon at, IIRC, a WoT signing in Omaha and he not only said the thing, he also had Brandon sign an Alcatraz Versus The Evil Librarians book plate for me. Yay! So my sincere apologies to H for forgetting him, too… and my eternal admiration and thanks for his willing and enthusiastic participation in My Diabolical Plan!

To make a long story longer, My Diabolical Plan was a success. When Brandon was in Melbourne, Australia  in April of this year for Supanova, I had another friend of mine relay the same message. When Matt, my friend and faithful Warder these past 8 years, sent me a text message to tell me that he had told Brandon the thing–and that Brandon had recognized my name!–I knew that he would be the last friend I would ask to do this for me. I had planned to attend a signing for A Memory of Light after the release of the final WoT book early next January and at that time, I’d see if my long odds paid off.

To my delight, I learned shortly after the Supanova in Melbourne that in August, Brandon would be attending a small Con here in Albuquerque, New Mexico which is only a couple of hours north of the small town in which I live. As I’ve relayed to many people, I nearly exploded upon hearing that news. I was going to get to meet him some FOUR months earlier than I’d planned! I conned my 17 year old daughter Rachel into attending with me and I invited Angie, my friend and fellow WoT fan from Albuquerque to join us. I hurriedly booked a hotel room and purchased weekend passes. I anticipated. I fretted. I counted the months, the weeks, the days. It was a little bit ridiculous, to be honest.

I didn’t care.

I was finally going to meet Brandon Sanderson. After 5 years of growing to love his writing, after 5 years of admiring him more and more, not only for his dedication to his work and to his own fans, but for his unwavering dedication to The Wheel of Time and to Robert Jordan’s  legacy and loyal fans, I was going to finally meet him.

If I may digress a bit, because that’s something I rarely do and I ask you to indulge me, I’d like to expound a bit on the subject of Brandon finishing The Wheel of Time. He was, as I’ve learned over the ‘net these past years and as was relayed by him in person over this past weekend, rather terrified of taking on the task of finishing this epic series. Terrified that he’d screw it up. As he told us in one of his lectures at Bubonicon 44, he thought long and hard on whether or not he should accept the offer. He didn’t want to blunder the job and be responsible for screwing it up. Finally, realizing that if he declined and somebody else took the job–and somebody else would take the job–and then they screwed it up, he would still be responsible for screwing it up. So, thank the Light, he took on the formidable task of finishing the last Wheel of Time ‘book’, figuring that at least he could do his best to screw it up as little as possible.

In my not so humble opinion, there was no screwing up at all. There were different writing styles, sure. There were a few inconsistencies, mostly regarding characters, that I saw a lot of whiny about on the internet. I simply did not care. We were getting an ending. WE WERE GETTING AN ENDING! I honestly don’t feel that any supposed Wheel of Time fan that gripes about either how Brandon has “botched” the series (Light, but that makes me bristle!), or about the fact that Brandon ended up writing three books instead of one (though he essentially wrote it as, and does consider it to be, one gigantic book), or about “how long it’s taking” has the slightest inkling of how damned grateful they should be that they’re getting an ending at all.

The author died before he could finish this epic series that he considered his opus. He knew that he was going to die. He knew that he wouldn’t be able to finish the series himself. To ensure that his fans would see Rand face the Dark One at the Last Battle, Robert Jordan labored long and hard to complete certain scenes and to outline others. He wrote what he could and when he became too ill to write, he dictated audio notes. He tasked his wife with finding an author to complete the series the way he wanted it completed. He did that for us! For his fans!

Even now, nearly 5 years after his death (which occurred on my 37th birthday), it brings me to tears to consider how much of his dwindling energy Mr. Jordan spent to get as much done as he possibly could. He cared about his fans a great deal, I think, to go to the lengths that he did to ensure that we would see the ending to his series that he had always wanted us to see. I will be forever grateful for his efforts to finish sharing his story with us. Thank you Mr. Jordan, from the bottom of my heart.

Further, I personally feel that Harriet is a bloody genius for choosing Brandon to finish this series. I’m sure that there are many other capable authors that might have done a fine job, but Brandon is such a huge fan of the series and has taken such painstaking care to ensure that it’s done as true to Robert Jordan’s vision as possible, that I really think that it was meant to be that he finish it. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills. Thank you Harriet, for choosing Brandon… thank you so very much.

Lastly, I think that Brandon has gone well above and far beyond in executing the finale we’ve all been waiting for. He expected to write one book and even though he feels that he’s truly written one book, it was so massive as to require being split into three books. The couple of years(ish) that was most likely expected to complete said one book, has turned into nearly five years.

During this extended period, Brandon has worked on and published many of his own books (many, many books!), he has taught a creative writing class at his alma mater BYU, and he has become a father. Twice. Well, technically his first child was born just before Harriet asked him to complete the WoT, but what’s a few weeks, eh? What it comes down to, is that Brandon is a really busy guy, without taking into account the time he’s invested in The Wheel of Time. I don’t know when the man has had time to sleep! Brandon… thank you, thank you, thank you.

Okay, was that too much of a digression? Well… yes, yes it was. My apologies for keeping you, but not really. I’ve said all of these things many times before and I’ll say them all many times again if I feel the need. What’s happened with this series is pretty phenomenal and as fans, we should all be grateful to all parties involved.

So… back to Bubonicon 44, which took place this weekend in Albuquerque. I donned my Great Serpent ring and my dream ter’angreal and drove up Interstate 25 Friday afternoon with my daughter. The adrenaline was already pumping and I think I was actually thrumming with anticipation.

We arrived too late to make the Opening Ceremony though we were there in plenty of time to meet Angie and to catch the first panel that featured Brandon as a panelist. We attended every single panel that he was on throughout the course of the weekend, as well as a reading/Q&A (after which I was too chicken to approach him, to my daughter’s disappointment, or perhaps it was disgust!), and a couple of signings.

Happily, I wasn’t frozen with terror when introducing myself to Brandon’s assistant, Peter Ahlstrom after Brandon’s reading/Q&A on Saturday. We had interacted on Facebook for some time prior to the Con and so I felt a bit more comfortable (though still quite nervous!) when approaching him to chat for a few moments. He was very friendly and Rachel, Angie and I enjoyed a nice conversation with him (which included some great tidbits about Brandon!) before we headed out to scarf down our 2nd and last meal of the day before our full evening signing/panel schedule. It was such a pleasure meeting you this weekend, Peter!

It was at the first of  Brandon’s two signings that I finally introduced myself to him as “Paige from New Mexico”. Yes, he recognized my name. No, I did not faint as some of my friends teasingly (or maybe not so teasingly) suggested I might do.

Before I met Brandon, he had been rather larger than life in my mind. He’s this incredibly talented author whose words had the ability to fill many a solitary hour with mysterious mists, rotting magical cities, deadly storm-blasted landscapes, and the unique and interesting characters that occupied each of these settings. Those characters employed fascinating magic systems that had me re-reading scenes, chapters, entire books… so that I might better learn and understand them. When you place someone on a pedestal in your mind, it makes it extremely difficult to approach that pedestal and introduce yourself to that person. You don’t want to impose, you don’t want to interfere… you especially don’t want to be overlooked or dismissed.

But within moments of first speaking to Brandon, I was able to reconcile the person sitting in front of me with that incredibly talented author on the pedestal in my mind. He was just a guy. Just an incredibly friendly guy who was engaging, easy to talk to and quite funny, though I had already known that from his writing. But he was just a guy… a guy who happened to also be that aforementioned incredibly talented author.

Rachel and Angie were also very impressed at how approachable Brandon was during the Con. Of course, I’d heard about his outgoing personality. I’d been told how great he was to talk to and hang out with. For years, I’ve followed him on Twitter and Facebook, and have kept up with his blog on his website. I’ve seen how fan-friendly he can be, how forthcoming he is with information about his writing process and progress. But it’s different when you experience it firsthand. It’s different when that pedestal that seemed so solid and daunting and bloody huge in your mind, begins to shimmer like a mirage as you approach, and then it’s gone and you see what’s real and not what was imagined.

Brandon is real. I was very impressed with how easy he was with his fans and with his peers. He was respectful to (and respected by) everyone and he was very flexible in regards to fan requests for signings and pictures. He was also very gracious with fans, he accepted gifts and answered questions with equal enthusiasm. I wish I’d recorded the Con Toastmaster’s (Michael Cassutt) speech that introduced Brandon as the Con’s Guest of Honor. It was spot on and much more eloquent than what I’ve managed.

I know I’ve rambled (and rambled and rambled) but if you know me well enough to understand what a big deal it was for me to finally meet this author who ousted the former #1 Author on my extensive bookshelves (edged you out, Steve… I’m sorry for that, but we’ll always have Boulder, and Midworld, say true), then you’ll know why this blog entry didn’t just summarize the few brief moments I spent with Brandon over the course of this weekend. This was huge for me.

The icing on the cake, the cherry on the sundae, the one thing that just tied a bow around this weekend? I raised my hand to ask a question during his last panel today and Brandon pointed at me and said, “Paige from New Mexico”.

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The Stand

Author: Stephen King

Format: Audible audio book

Narrator: Grover Gardner

Publisher: Random House

Audio Release Date: 2/14/12 (Original Doubleday release 1/1/79; Complete & Uncut release, 1/1/90)

Length: 47 hours 56 minutes (Complete & Uncut HC, 1152 pages)

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Website synopsis:

One man escapes from a biological weapon facility after an accident, carrying with him the deadly virus known as Captain Tripps, a rapidly mutating flu that – in the ensuing weeks – wipes out most of the world’s population.

In the aftermath, survivors choose between following an elderly black woman to Boulder or the dark man, Randall Flagg, who has set up his command post in Las Vegas. The two factions prepare for a confrontation between the forces of good and evil.

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Publisher’s summary:

This is the way the world ends: with a nanosecond of computer error in a Defense Department laboratory and a million casual contacts that form the links in a chain letter of death.

And here is the bleak new world of the day after: a world stripped of its institutions and emptied of 99 percent of its people. A world in which a handful of panicky survivors choose sides-or are chosen. A world in which good rides on the frail shoulders of the 108-year-old Mother Abagail-and the worst nightmares of evil are embodied in a man with a lethal smile and unspeakable powers: Randall Flagg, the dark man.

In 1978 Stephen King published The Stand, the novel that is now considered one of his finest works. But as it was first published, The Stand was incomplete, since more than 150,000 words had been cut from the original manuscript. Now Stephen King’s apocalyptic vision of a world blasted by plague and embroiled in an elemental struggle between good and evil has been restored to its entirety.

The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition includes more than 500 pages of material deleted, along with new material that King added as he reworked the manuscript for a new generation. It gives us new characters and endows familiar ones with new depths. It has a new beginning and a new ending. What emerges is a gripping work with the scope and moral complexity of a true epic.

For the hundreds of thousands of fans who read The Stand in its original version and wanted more, this new edition is Stephen King’s gift. And those who are reading The Stand for the first time will discover a triumphant and eerily plausible work of the imagination that takes on the issues that will determine our survival.

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My thoughts, which I hope are mostly free of major spoilers:

Those who know me well know that I am a huge fan of Stephen King’s writing. I’ll buy anything printed with his name on it and will greatly enjoy most of it because even bad Stephen King is enjoyable for me. Part of my enjoyment of King’s writing stems from the fact that his characters are so well-written and so believable that as a reader (or listener), I’m sucked right into the story and as I get to know them, their triumphs and terrors, their worries and their struggles become my own.

I’ve read and heard many opinions on King’s work and not all of them favorable. But one common opinion, generally of fans of the work, is that King doesn’t write about extraordinary people, he writes about regular people who encounter extraordinary (and sometimes supernatural) situations and occurrences. Sometimes those ordinary people in King’s stories become more than what they were because of what happens to them or around them, and sometimes they become less. The Stand is full of characters that do both.

This is a story that begins with a large and varied cast of characters who are spread far and wide across the United States, and who eventually come together for one reason or another. As the synopsis above declares, a man-made flu has wiped out 99% of the population and the people who survived, through a series of dreams, are drawn by one of two people: Mother Abigail or Randall Flagg, to one of two places: Boulder, Colorado or Las Vegas, Nevada. During the course of their journeys, people join up with others that they find along the way and friendships are forged, or enemies are made.

Some characters find a stronger version of themselves as they cope with the disaster and its aftermath, and then struggle to find a new life and build a new future for themselves and their new friends and loved ones. Other characters make the decision to abandon what they had been, or could have been, to pursue power and revenge. One thing King does so well in writing these characters is to make them so complex that you find yourself almost understanding the motivations of, and maybe on the verge of sympathizing with, someone who is in the process of turning to the ‘Dark Side’. Almost.

The Stand is, at its root, a story of good versus evil. Literally. Followers of God-fearing, God-praising Mother Abigail converge on Boulder in the ‘good guy’ camp and followers of creepy/evil/scary Randall Flagg gather in Vegas in, for lack of a better descriptor, the ‘bad guy’ camp. The bad guys are planning a military-style assault on the good guys, for no other reason than that Flagg wants them to. Hey, scary-ass dude that talked to them in their dreams wants them to do something, they do it regardless of how reluctant they might be, by God. Or by the other guy, rather.

Some of the people who have migrated to Vegas are criminals of one flavor or another but many of them seem to be reg’lar type folks, as several residents of the newly dubbed “Free Zone” in Boulder come to realize when they have cause to go to Vegas. Members of the Free Zone have no beef with the new residents of Las Vegas, they just don’t want to be attacked while trying to build a new life, a new family, a new community… a new society. So they look to Mother Abigail, one of the most colorful and likeable characters in this story in my not so humble opinion, and to a few chosen–or self-chosen, rather–leaders to decide how to best handle the threat from the West.

One thing that strikes me about this story is how King outlines each new society. Mother Abigail’s flock, for that is indeed what they are, are brought together and held together, by love. By the need for love, by the need to not be alone. To not be lonely. There’s an inherent need in man to be with others of his kind. To feel companionship and to have shared experiences and King hits this nail on the head so profoundly that you actually ache with loneliness when certain characters experience the same sad and horrible state. The longing to not feel that way anymore is what holds the people together in what becomes the Free Zone in The Stand. The survivors want things as simple as community and friendship. Loyalty and love.

Las Vegas, on the other hand, is full of fear. Dripping with fear. Seething with fear. People go there thinking they’ll have freedom to do whatever they please. No more rules, no more laws, no more oppression! Only they find themselves well and caught under the worn-down boot heels of a blue-jean wearing tyrant. One who can drive a man insane just by looking at him. They’re pretty well stuck there and they quickly come to realize that it’s dangerous to even toe the line, much less cross it. It’s dangerous to say anything untoward about their new leader… maybe even to think it. So best not. Best not.

Many of King’s works have some kind of religious, social or political commentary, but thinking back through his many books that I’ve read, I don’t know that any were quite as blatant as The Stand. The underlying theme is as I mentioned before, literal good versus literal evil and as simple as it may sound, it’s a powerful message. So many of those people that went to Vegas weren’t inherently evil. They were also lost and alone and looking for companionship in a world turned upside down. They just wanted to belong to something again.

Yet rather than choosing Mother Abigail, they chose The Dark Man who admittedly, appeared to many of them as a priest of some sort, or as a hero. He was cool. He was sexy. He promised them things. Promised them a place. Perhaps, promised them power. And before they were aware of what was happening, they were ensnared. They were trapped. They just plain didn’t know, or didn’t want to know, what they were walking into.

But they learned. Oh, yes. They learned. And they got to the point where they were afraid to so much as utter his name. A fact that was thrust into the faces of a handful of them by a member of the Free Zone that had been a professor of sociology before. Glen Bateman, upon encountering some of Flagg’s men commented as follows when he realizes that the men won’t say the name of their chosen master:

“Are you afraid? Are you so afraid of him you don’t dare speak his name? Very well, I’ll say it for you. His name is Randall Flagg, also known as the Dark Man, also known as the Tall Man, also known as the Walkin’ Dude. Don’t some of you call him that? Call him Beelzebub because that’s his name, too. Call him Nyarlathotep and Ahaz and Astaroth. Call him R’yelah and Seti and Anubis. His name is Legion and he’s an apostate of Hell and you men kiss his ass. Just thought we ought to have that up front.”

Glen Bateman is one of my favorite characters in this story if for no other reason than that he had the guts and gumption to make this pronouncement. Sure, when I met Glen Bateman alongside Stu Redman on a lonely New Hampshire highway, he may have seemed a bit pompous and overblown… but that was before I knew him. That was before Mr. King showed me who he really was… what he was really made of. This is what I mean when I speak of the way King’s characters are written. Some of The Stand’s characters have stayed fast and firm in my mind over the many years since I last read this book, even though many of the details of the story had faded.

Don’t read The Stand just for the great post-apocalyptic story that it is. Don’t just read it for the epic struggle between good and evil, though it’s worth it for that. Read it to get to know the amazing characters that Stephen King created to act out his end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it scenario. Read it for Stu Redman and Frannie Goldsmith, for Nick Andros and Mother Abigail. Yes, even for Randall Flagg (who you may see in other works by Stephen King, do you ken?), for Lloyd Henreid and the Trashcan Man. Read it for Larry Underwood, who ain’t no nice guy. Read it for Kojak and for Harold Lauder and for Tom Cullen. Who could ever forget Tom Cullen? “M-O-O-N, that spells Tom Cullen, laws yes!”

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Afterthoughts:

If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, you’ll know that this story is one of many stand-alone SK works that is connected in some way to that series (hint: the previous link leads to a page which outlines said connections, but ‘ware spoilers). If you haven’t read The Dark Tower series, what’s the matter with you?

Grover Gardner did a fantastic job on the narration of this audio book. Those 48 hours just flew by! But seriously, I thoroughly enjoyed his reading and recommend his other works on Audible which are linked to above. But, so that you don’t have to scroll back UP through this entire post, I’ve included it here for your convenience. You’re welcome.

For the first annual World Book Night event in the United States, I signed up to be a book giver of this very book. I was accepted and received 20 specially printed paperback copies of The Stand, which was my first of three choices out of this year’s selection of books, to gift to members of my community. To see my thoughts on World Book Night and my experience as a book giver, check out the previous post in this blog. Or just clickity-click right here.

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Fave quotes:

“Baby, can you dig your man?” -Larry Underwood

‘The unreality was trying to creep back in again and she found herself wondering just how much the human brain could be expected to stand before snapping like an overtaxed rubber band.’ ~lonely thoughts of Frannie Goldsmith

“I spent most of my life feeling like the only Cro Magnon in a herd of thundering Neanderthals.” -Harold Lauder

‘No one can tell what goes on in between the person you were and the person you become. No one can chart that blue and lonely section of hell. There are no maps of change. You just… come out the other side. Or don’t.’

“All of the old soldiers have faded away and left their playthings behind.” Glen Bateman

‘What kind of world was it where God would trap a person like a bug in a puddle of gasoline? A world that deserved to burn, that was what.’ ~wayward thoughts of the Trashcan Man

“That wasn’t any act of God. That was an act of pure human fuckery.” -Larry Underwood

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want for nothing. He makes me lie down in the green pastures. He greases up my head with oil. He gives me kung-fu in the face of my enemies. Amen.” -Tom Cullen

“Goodbye East Texas. It’s been pretty goddamn good to know you.” -Glen Bateman to Stu Redman

“Oh pardon me… it’s just that we were all so frightened… we made such a business out of you. I’m laughing as much at our own foolishness as at your regrettable lack of substance.” – Glen Bateman to Randall Flagg

‘And the righteous and unrighteous alike were consumed in that holy fire.’

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World Book Night USA

April 23, 2012

I’m proud to be a book-giver for the first annual World Book Night USA, which takes place today. I’ll be gifting 20 copies of Stephen King’s The Stand to people this evening after work.

I’ve just finished a re-read (re-listen, rather!) of this, one of my favorite Stephen King books, to refresh my memory of the many events and characters of King’s epic apocalyptic tale that has remained popular for decades. You can find my review of the book here (this link will be live later this afternoon or evening), but beware spoilers! The presence of this book on the WBN list was the reason I signed up to be a book giver and I’m excited to share this story with 20 night clerks at convenience stores and motels in my small community this evening!

World Book Night began in the UK in 2011 and has made its way to the United States. This year, tens of thousands of volunteer book givers will give away hundreds of thousands of books in an effort to make non-readers into readers. Following is some info from the World Book Night USA website:

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What is World Book Night?

World Book Night is an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books. To be held in the U.S. as well as the U.K. and Ireland on April 23, 2012. It will see tens of thousands of people go out into their communities to spread the joy and love of reading by giving out free World Book Night paperbacks.

World Book Night, through social media and traditional publicity, will also promote the value of reading, of printed books, and of bookstores and libraries to everyone year-round.

Successfully launched in the U.K. in 2011, World Book Night will also be celebrated in the U.S. in 2012, with news of more countries to come in future years. Please join our mailing list for regular World Book Night U.S. news. And thank you to our U.K. friends for such a wonderful idea!

Additionally, April 23 is UNESCO’s World Book Day, chosen due to the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, as well as Shakespeare’s birth and death.

This site exists in order to learn more about World Book Night and to keep updated on new developments – and most important, to register to be a World Book Night U.S. book giver.

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To see the many wonderful people and publishers behind this book-giving celebration, check out the who is link on the website: Who is behind World Book Night?

To see the 30 titles that were offered to book-givers this year, follow this link: The Books.

If you’re interested in keeping up with WBN goings on and/or would like to be a book giver for WBN next year, follow them on Facebook and Twitter for info and news.

Keep reading! And keep encouraging non-readers to start reading!

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The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Format: Audible audio book

Narrator: Jim Dale

Publisher: Random House Audio

Release Date: 9/13/2011

Length: 13 hours 39 minutes (Doubleday HC is 400 pages)

Acquired: Audible.com

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The blurb from the website:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands.

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead.

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My  thoughts:

The synopsis I included above pretty much sums it up all one needs to know about this story and was more than enough to pique my interest. From childhood, cCelia and Marco are pawns in a contest that’s been repeated again and again for longer than they might believe, and one that they’ve essentially been tricked into participating. Neither of these talented young magicians –real magicians not sleight-of-hand type magicians– knows that the unfortunate loser will not only lose the contest, but will lose their life.

The stage of their contest is a circus… but it’s not your ordinary circus. Oh, no. It’s a wondrous thing, full of incredible performers and truly magical attractions. It’s known as Le Cirque des Rêves, The Circus of Dreams. And it truly is a circus of dreams, for it is truly magic, though the patrons don’t quite realize it.

Some patrons are so profoundly changed by their visit that they begin to follow the circus from place to place so that they can visit again and again. Eventually, these patrons begin to call themselves rêveurs, or dreamers.

‘Word spreads quickly in such select circles, and so begins a tradition of rêveurs attending Le Cirque des Rêves decked in black or white or grey with a single shock of red: a scarf or hat, or, if the weather is warm, a red rose tucked into a lapel or behind an ear. It is also quite helpful for spotting other rêveurs, a simple signal for those who know.’

The story follows not only the dueling magicians but their respective masters and the circus performers, as well as certain patrons and rêveurs, as the circus travels the world over a period of decades. When, as adults, Celia and Marco learn about the true nature of the competition in which they are involved, they decide that they want no part of it. Unfortunately, they’re both magically bound to continue and so attempt to break the rules and outsmart their masters.

One aspect of the story that threw me off a bit was the jumping back and forth in the story’s timeline. I imagine that it would have been easier to follow had I been reading a print book, but when listening to an audio book, one can’t always ‘flip back’ to the start of a chapter to refresh their memory on when they are in the story. So that would be one definite advantage to actually reading the book, rather than listening. Another advantage, of course, is the beautiful cover art. Although.. I have to also heartily recommend the audio if only for the masterful narration of Jim Dale.

Okay, so I suppose I’m suggesting that you go buy this beautiful book in print, read it, and then download the audio book and listen to it. I’m certain that you’ll enjoy the story all the more by following my instructions and once you’ve both read and listened, you may return here and thank me for my sound advice in the comments section below.

Happy reading. And listening. .

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Fave quotes:

“It is important, someone needs to tell those tales. When the battles are fought and won and lost, when the pirates find the treasures and the dragons eat their foes for breakfast with a nice up of Lapsang souchong, someone needs to tell their bits of overlapping narrative. There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict. From the mundane to the profound. You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows what they might do because of it…” ~The man in the grey suit

‘Old stories have a habit of being told and retold and changed. Each subsequent storyteller puts his or her marks upon it. Whatever truth the story once has is buried in bias and embellishment. The reasons do not matter as much as the story itself.’

‘Poppet: “Have you tried the cinnamon things? They’re rather new. What are they called, Widge?”
Widge: “Fantastically delicious cinnamon things?”’

“Love is fickle and fleeting. It is rarely a solid foundation for decisions to be made upon, in any game.” ~Tsukiko

‘And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep going on, they overlap and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there is no telling where any of them may lead.’

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Department 19

Author: Will Hill

Format: author-signed paperback

Publisher: HarperCollins

Original Release Date: 3/29/2011

Length: 496 pages

Acquired: won in a publisher giveaway

Department 19 Website, Facebook & Twitter

This was first posted as a guest review at Waiting For Fairies

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The blurb from the website:

Jamie Carpenter’s life will never be the same. His father is dead, his mother is missing, and he was just rescued by an enormous man named Frankenstein.

Jamie is brought to Department 19, where he is pulled into a secret organization responsible for policing the supernatural, founded more than a century ago by Abraham Van Helsing and the other survivors of Dracula.

Aided by Frankenstein’s monster, a beautiful vampire girl with her own agenda, and the members of the agency, Jamie must attempt to save his mother from a terrifyingly powerful vampire.

Department 19 takes us through history, across Europe, and beyond – from the cobbled streets of Victorian London to prohibition-era New York, from the icy wastes of Arctic Russia to the treacherous mountains of Transylvania.

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My moderately spoilery thoughts:

Considering the fact that this is a YA book, I rather enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against YA, but at times the genre can be frustrating to read, as though YA writers assume that their readers aren’t mature or intelligent enough to handle content that’s a bit more complex. Some of the writing in Department 19 definitely seemed more appropriate for a younger crowd but all in all, it was fast-paced enough to keep the pages turning and intriguing enough to keep me thinking about it when I wasn’t reading. I also found myself anxious to get back to it as soon as possible whenever I had to put it down to eat or shower or sleep or work… pesky, pesky work.

Some of my favorite sections of this book dealt with the short glimpses back in history at the protagonist’s ancestors. Jamie Carpenter’s great-grandfather worked with the fabled Abraham Van Helsing and joined his circle of Dracula-staking buddies when Department 19, aka Blacklight, was formed in 1892, 100+ years before Jamie’s story begins. His grandfather met and befriended Frankenstein’s monster, who seemed quite civilized and took on his creator’s name after he passed. Finally we learn more about his father Julian, who was also a member of Department 19 and who apparently betrayed it, and so is much hated by the time Jamie is tossed headfirst into insanity.

Before the events in this story, neither Jamie or his mother had any knowledge of the classified, vampire-killing, militant branch of the government which his father had been an honored member. He was honored before that whole betrayal thing, anyway, after which his colleagues tracked him down and summarily executed him in his driveway in front of his family. I had a hard time swallowing such fly-off-the-handle type of behavior from a highly-trained, professional organization, but I didn’t let it detract (much) from the rest of the story.

I enjoyed the fact that the author touted Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a chronicle of true events, rather than a work of fiction. As one Department 19 Operator explains to a civilian after she admits that she has read Stoker’s book, “It’s not a story; it’s a history lesson.” Though that reminded me of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, in which Dracula is essentially a How-to guide for killing vampires of the Black Court, the concept fit well and the premise opened the door for the inclusion of Frankenstein’s character, which added some spice to the story.

Jamie is torn from his life as an awkward teen when his mother is kidnapped by one of the oldest vamps in the world, after which he is rescued from the same vamp by yet another monster straight out of a horror story. A monster who happened to be pals with his dad, once upon a time (no pun intended). Of course, neither Jamie or his mother had any knowledge of the vampire-killing militant branch of the government before this story takes place so we get a lot of info-dumping to catch Jamie (us) up on the history of the organization and his family’s part in it. I feel that Hill did a great job of fleshing out Jamie’s character, from the vehement anger at his father for his betrayal and for his lies about his job to Jamie and his mother, to his stubborn insistence in ignoring what he’s told by senior members of Blacklight. I often found his behavior exceedingly annoying but it was probably pretty accurate for a teenaged boy.

Aside from a bit of choppy jumping back and forth action toward the end of the book, the only issue I had with the story was the excessive gore. Yes, I do realize that this is a Stoker-esque portrayal of vamps as blood-sucking monsters and that much blood and murder and mayhem is likely to take place, but the book is aimed at a 12+ audience and I just felt that it was a little too bloody for the pre-teen set. I got the feeling while reading the many fight scenes that the author was writing something as anti-Twilight as possible and while I approve, multiple mentions of characters being soaked in blood and then the image of a vampire covered in gore from head to toe, flinging drops of blood from her hair in the midst of battle, was just a wee bit much.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this read to anyone who wants a good ole vamp-staking story. There are cool weapons, a lot of action, and an impressively in-depth history of the Blacklight organization, as well as a dun-dun-dun-DUNNNN ending that will, hopefully, make you look forward to the next book, Department 19: The Rising, as much as I do. (teaser chapters here)

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