Cheryl’s Top Five Oregon Authors

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By Cheryl Owen-Wilson

Many readers find solace by escaping through the pages of a great book. In this time of a lock down pandemic my friends on social media have asked me for my top five of everything.  I’ve been asked for my top five movies, bread recipes–have you tried to find yeast at your local market? Yikes!—to my top five books of all time.  Now, how can anyone possibly narrow it down to five?  But, the idea of it got me to thinking about all of my amazing writer friends who I would love to see on a top five nationwide list.  Please note,  I’m fortunate to know many Oregon authors.  Since I couldn’t place them all on my list–if you—dear writing friend do not appear on my list it does not mean I didn’t thoroughly enjoy your book/books as well.

Here is what I picked from the shelves of my library:

Northwood Chronicles, Elizabeth Engrstrom

“Dark fantasy writer Engstrom starts on familiar ground, but rapidly turns this ‘novel in stories’ into a genre-blending exploration of love, aging, grief and sacrifice. Fast-paced, melancholy and beauty, the overarching narrative binds a collection of good stories into a superb if unconventional novel.”

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https://www.amazon.com/Northwoods-Chronicles-Elizabeth-Engstrom-ebook/dp/B007IA2XTQ/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=northwood+chronicles&qid=1592410062&sr=8-1

Littlest Death, Eric Witchey

Independent Publisher Book Awards Silver Medal for Fantasy Fiction International Book Award Visionary Fiction Winner One human soul and a little respect isn’t too much to ask for, but both are hard to get if you’ve only been a death for a thousand years. Shunned by other grim reapers, Littlest Death yearns for the respect given to deaths who bring human souls from Overworld into Underworld. She has only been a grim reaper for a thousand years, but she works hard at the jobs she’s given. Really hard! No other death gathers in MILLIONS of souls at a time like she does. Okay, they are just the souls of fungi, bacteria, and single-celled critters like amoebas, but—MILLIONS! If she could bring in just one human soul, the other deaths would stop looking down on her. She sets out to spy on the most accomplished death in the history of dying, Oldest Death. She figures she can learn a few things from him. And, of course, she does. She just doesn’t learn what she thought she would learn, and the learning comes hard. Desperate to become a real death, frustrated by humans and their attachments to one another, hounded by a Hell Puppy, ridiculed by other deaths, and undermined by her own ambition, she journeys the Earth and the Underworld in search of a trick that will let her gain the respect she believes she deserves. Unfortunately, her actions hurt the living, undermine the natural order, and threaten the eternal flow of souls between life and death. By the time she understands the damage she’s done, it may be too late to save herself and the souls she has hurt. An Afterlife Fantasy by award winning author Eric Witchey.

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https://www.amazon.com/Littlest-Death-Labyrinth-Souls-Novel/dp/0999098934/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=littlest+Death&qid=1592410177&sr=8-1

A Parliament of Crows, Alan Clark

Inspired by the true crimes of the Wardlaw sisters. In A Parliament of Crows, the three Mortlow sisters are prominent American educators of the nineteenth century, considered authorities in teaching social graces to young women.  They also pursue a career of fraud and murder.  Their loyalty to one another and their need to keep their secrets is a bond that tightens with each crime, forcing them closer together and isolating them from the outside world.  Their ever tightening triangle suffers from madness, religious zealotry, and a sense of duty warped by trauma they experienced as teenagers in Georgia during Sherman’s March to the Sea.  As their crimes come back to haunt them and a long history of resentments toward each other boils to the surface, their bond of loyalty begins to fray.  Will duty to family hold or will they turn on each other like ravening crows?

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https://www.amazon.com/Parliament-Crows-Alan-M-Clark/dp/099884666X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=parliament+of+crows&qid=1592410276&sr=8-1

Kilmoon: A County Clare Mystery, Lisa Alber

Californian Merrit Chase doesn’t know what she’s in for when she travels to an Irish village famous for its matchmaking festival. She simply wants to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself and to get what she wants, a family.
Lisa Alber evokes a world in which ancient tradition collides with modern village life and ageless motivators such as greed and love still wield their power. Kilmoon captures the moodiness of the Irish landscape in a brooding mystery that explores family secrets, betrayal, vengeance, and murder.

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https://www.amazon.com/Kilmoon-County-Mystery-Lisa-Alber-ebook/dp/B00J0MNS7G/ref=sr_1_5?dchild=1&keywords=lisa+alber+author&qid=1592412347&sr=8-5

Death is A Star, Christina Lay

A contemporary fantasy featuring time traveling Assyrian sisters, a circus in hiding, a body-snatching Demon seeking self-actualization, and heroic elephants. Theda wants only to get home to Nineveh, but her sister Irene believes controlling the demon and exploiting his unlimited power is the way to go. Theda must come to grips with her own role in this black magic mix-up and risk her bond with home, family, her beloved elephants and life itself in order to stop an ancient evil from being unleashed upon an unsuspecting modern world.

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https://www.amazon.com/Death-Star-Christina-Lay/dp/098877674X/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=death+is+a+star+christina+lay&qid=1592503875&sr=8-1

If you’ve not read these authors I highly recommend you immediately add them to your “to read” list.  I would love to hear what your top five are?

Immortal’s Penance Release Day – Interview with L.A. Alber

Happy Halloween. Today on Shadowspinners, I have the privilege of interviewing author Lisa Alber on the release of her fourth novel, Immortal’s Penance, the latest in the Labyrinth of Souls novels.

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The story takes place on the remote Isle of Man, where archaeologist Malone Wolfe has made a discovery that will ensure his reputation for years to come: a bog man of gigantic proportions. Buried in peat for millennia, the ancient man—or creature?—also comes with warnings from the locals not to disturb the faery tree that guards the site. Malone scoffs at the local lore until he is dragged into the other world of Celtic legend and condemned to a treacherous journey through a realm where faeries sting, trolls talk in riddles, bloodsuckers seduce, and nothing is what it seems.

Battered, tortured, and hunted by the bog man, Malone must face his dark past and make a harrowing choice if he hopes to survive.  Little does he know that even if he passes the four trials of the Immortals, his reward may be worse than the punishment.

Congratulations, Lisa!  This is a marvelously dark and mysterious tale.  It immerses us in a mythic place where we meet Celtic goddesses and magical creatures—and not all of them are friendly to humankind.  I was familiar with some of them, but some were new to me.  Where did you get the idea for this novel?

The idea developed organically.  I have always loved Celtic mythology and as part of my research for my mysteries, which are set in Ireland, I read up on Irish mythology. I was excited when I realized how perfectly that research could weave into and inform this novel.  I knew that I wanted to have my protagonist, Malone, endure Odysseusean-style trials in the underworld. As luck would have it, pieces of the Celtic myths seamlessly wove into the story I wanted to tell. The trials provided a great structure upon which to hang my story.

I loved the ending, by the way. It was very satisfying and totally unexpected. 

The brain is a mysterious thing. When I began, I didn’t know the exact ending, but somehow by the end, I achieved the inevitable ending—the only possible ending for Malone. That’s such a good feeling and hard to achieve.  I have a natural inclination towards mystery, and in this story, as in most mysteries, there’s a twist at the end.  When I write mysteries, I’m more interested in the “why” done it than the “who” done it, and that is true in this story too.  We don’t know why Malone is going through the trials until the very end.  I can’t get away from my mystery-writing roots, I guess!

I was fascinated by how you integrated the Tarot cards from the Labyrinth of Souls game with the Celtic mythology. It made perfect sense in the context of the story. 

Thanks! I love symbols—might go along with a love of mythology, I don’t know—and the Labyrinth of Souls cards are rife with meaning and symbology. I thought about how the four trials that Malone suffers could be symbolized by cards. The Wheel of Fortune, for example, is all about fate and this fit in perfectly with one of the trials. The Moon was another one—symbolic of the female. Malone has trouble with females in my rendition of the labyrinth, hehe.

Malone is a complex character. I like how you slowly reveal his past.

When I start the story development process, the first thing I do is develop the characters.  I want to know everything about them—understand their pasts, their motivations, what they love, what they hate, and how they respond under stress.  Then when I know the character inside and out, I am able to reveal these elements gradually as the story progresses.

You write mysteries, as you’ve mentioned. Was it challenging to write in an unfamiliar genre?

Oh, heck yeah! I learned so much. There’s definitely a difference between mystery and fantasy.  I had to learn new rules.  My experience with mysteries helped with crafting how the story ends and in bringing out the background slowly over the course of the novel, but in the first drafts the beginning was too opaque.  You want to be opaque in a mystery and not tell the reader what is really going on, but in this story, the purpose and rules of the game Malone is forced to play have to be explicit so that the readers know what’s at stake for him.

Were there other challenges?

This novella is shorter than what I usually write—less than half of my normal novel length—and I wasn’t sure how to do that when it came to the pacing. I ended up rushing the beginning and had to go back to slow it way down so that readers can get to know and care about Malone.

Another problem arose in the middle of the story, during the second trial. That trial was a puzzle and challenging because of the nature of the creature involved: a shape-shifting hobgoblin with a nasty temper and a tendency to lie. For me, stories are easy to start and easy-ish to end, but I often get caught in a muddle in the middle. There’s no real solution to that except to push through even if you know what you’re writing is dreck. You can revise later.

What a great adventure.  Thank you, Lisa and congratulations on the release of this book! Immortal’s Penance is available here.

About the Author

L.A. Alber is the author of three previous novels— Kilmoon, nominated for a Rosebud Award for best first novel; Whispers in the Mist; and Path Into Darkness, a finalist for the Spotted Owl Award. Winner of an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant and a Walden Fellow- ship, and a Push Cart Prize nominee, you’ll most often find her lounging in bistros with red wine, laptop, and a tiny terrier at her feet. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

Discover more Labyrinth of Souls Novels here.

Showing Up On The Page

By Lisa Alber

Exactly two months ago I wrote a ShadowSpinners post while sitting vigil for my dying mother. In that post, I wondered about my writing—whether I’d ever feel like writing fiction again, whether it mattered.

And now, here I sit again, clacking away. The past few months have been a blur of grief, dealing with trustee drudgery related to Mom’s living trust, and skimming the surface of the “have tos” of life. Last weekend I spent three hours scouring the bathrooms. At long last I cared enough to spend energy on that task. I thought, Well, maybe I’m doing better because I cleaned the bathrooms.

A Sikh friend recently commented that Americans don’t do grief. We allow ourselves a few days and then get on with it, as if that’s all that’s required. As if compartmentalization as a life strategy works when it comes to sorrow. I’m trying to do grief better this time than I did when my dad died in 2001. Feel the feelings, acknowledge them, and try not to squash what burbles to the surface.

One way I pay attention is by journaling—A LOT. It had been years since I’d journaled regularly because fiction took priority. Not these days. You’d be correct if you guessed that I haven’t written much fiction in the past few months.

This is going to sound contradictory, but I forbade pressuring myself to write fiction at the same time that I promised myself I’d show up on the fiction page each day. Showing up means opening up the manuscript—that’s it. Read a few pages—that’s it. Sometimes I’ll noodle with a chapter and take some notes. If this occurs, great. My only goal is to show up each day.

Somewhere within me, I must have faith that showing up will get me back into my writing routines. Hopefully this is true, but the other day it occurred to me that since I’m naturally lazy, I might be using the grieving process as an excuse not to write. We can use any excuse to procrastinate, right? Grief seems like as good an excuse as any …

All that is to say that there’s a slippery slope between taking it easy on myself and milking grief for procrastinatory reasons. The fact that I’m aware of this is probably a good sign, eh?