Tangled in Magic received a 5-star review!
Tangled in Magic received a 5-star review!
Last Wednesday I met up with my summer workshop co-teacher, Ken, at Barnes and Noble to plan our classes for July.* After he left, I wandered over to the neighboring table where a boy about 10 years old was reading. Next to him, his father was working on a laptop.
Peeking at the title of the kid’s book, I got excited. He was reading Rick Riordan’s Camp Halfblood Confidential. I’ve only read two of Riordan’s books so far, but I jumped right in, asking the boy if he liked the Percy Jackson series.
He did. I told him what I enjoyed most about The Trials of Apollo. It followed easily to mention that I, too, wrote fantasy. By now the dad was listening, and he asked for the title of my book. “Tangled in Magic,” I told him, and added, “It’s available on Amazon.”
The lovely man immediately went online to Amazon, and then asked his son, “Do you want to read it?”
Oh, yes, the boy did. Dad bought it for him right on the spot.
Honestly, readers, I did not have a sale as my ulterior motive. I really just like talking to kids about books and writing.
The boy’s name was Rohan, which I now know is a location in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. I gave him my card and told him he was welcome to write to me. “I always write back.” That’s the same promise I gave to my second-grade students at the end of the school year.
Maybe we get a little bolder as we age. Or maybe I miss being around kids. In retrospect, I had to laugh at myself. Have I become a slightly dotty writer-crone, starting up conversations with strangers in bookstores?
Doesn’t matter. It was fun.
*Ken and I will be teaching a Sci-fi/fantasy writing workshop for 12 – 14 year olds in July. Go to Hudson Valley Writing Project, based at SUNY New Paltz.
Illustrations by Matt Wall
The Grassmen first appeared in Book I of the Karakesh Chronicles, Tangled in Magic. Malcolm, age 12, awakens in the forest to find three small, green men admiring his horse. The Grassmen have an odd way of talking, but they are wily and strong. They don’t hesitate to toss sneezie powder in the face of anyone who stands in their way.
Crooked Nose laughed and clapped his hands. “Yes, yes, stealing! We be the Grassmen and we be stealing your fine horsie.”
Last week I read that part of Tangled in Magic to a fifth grade class at Walden Elementary School. They were a great audience. After I read, the teacher asked, “How did you picture the Grassmen?”
“Like a Leprechaun,” said one student.
“An elf,” said another.
I wish I could remember what inspired the Grassmen. They came into being a long time ago now, probably in 2011, when I wrote the first version of the book. Small in stature and decidedly green all over, the Grassmen of Karakesh are known for stealing horses. They are an amoral bunch who can be hired to do evil. As one character in another book says, “If you pay him enough, a Grassman would murder his mother.”
In Awakening Magic, the Grassman named Vetch is hired to kidnap young prince Emric.
You can find Tangled in Magic and Guided by Magic online at
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Greenwillow Books, 2017
Hello, Universe won the Newbery Medal for 2018.
I’m still puzzling why it did.
Sure, it’s an entertaining story, but it didn’t pull me in deep or settle in my heart.
“Virgil Salinas is shy and misunderstood. Valencia Somerset is clever and stubborn. Kaari Tanaka tells fortunes and reads the stars. Chet “the Bull” Bullens is the biggest bully in the neighborhood.” (from the inside cover)
The plot includes a kid who is deaf, a kid dealing with parental pressure, and, of course, the bully. Virgil spends most of the story trapped in a dry well, listening to a spirit culled from his grandmother’s folktales.
I liked that the kids were smart and solved their own problem before the adults could organize themselves. They were round characters, each a bit odd and original. The writing was good, too, with an interesting plot structure. But was this the best middle grade novel published in 2018?
If you’ve read Hello, Universe, send a comment and tell me what you thought of it. I’d like to know.
Ladythorn aka The Solitary Wasp
Here’s a story I wrote quite a few years ago. I came across it while searching through my files. It still makes me laugh.
by Kim Ellis
After Jake dumped me, I signed up for hatha yoga classes. I figured I needed to do some deep breathing and stretching, needed to get with a new group of people. Maybe I’d even meet a single yoga guy and we could do pranayama and who knows what else together.
The class was held in an old building on Main Street in my small New England town. It was in a long room with a wooden floor. A small sign hung above the door: Lakshmi Yoga Studio. Up a narrow, newly painted stairway I came to a landing where there were some benches and coat hooks. I hung up my coat and signed in. A class was just finishing. Those of us waiting talked in whispers. I didn’t know anyone, so I read the notices on the bulletin board.
My first yoga class didn’t thrill me. For someone used to moving quickly, dancing the Lindy Hop, I had a hard time with the slowness of it all. The teacher was gentle and encouraging, though, so I came back for a second, and then a third lesson. By this time I knew the routine. I had my own purple yoga mat and my favorite place in the back corner.
On the Thursday of the third class, I spread out my mat in my spot. I put my glasses in the pocket of my carry bag. Then, following others’ examples, I sat down and stretched. We began with a short invocation and then pranayama, some breathing exercises. People were still allowed to come in the room until Devi, the teacher, shut the door.
When I opened my eyes after the pranayama, I looked to my right and my heart lurched. Surely that was Jake Murray sitting one row and two spots over from me. Without my glasses, I stared at his back: the bulky, teddy-bear body I knew so well was certainly Jake’s. His short, curly brown hair wreathed the bald spot in the middle of the back of his head. If I squinted my eyes for sharper vision, I could see the black hair on the back of his neck.
Jake! What was he doing in my yoga class? What a lot of nerve! It wasn’t enough to be constantly in my mind, but now he had to show up in my yoga class, the class that I chose to help me get over him.
I began to hyperventilate remembering that day I waited at home for him to call. We had planned to go for a hike together before he left for the conference in Rhode Island. I sat around all morning and then finally I called and left a message. It was a casual message, a message I rehearsed several times so that it would sound light and unconcerned, like I had plenty of other things to do than pine for his company. “Hey, I thought we were going hiking today. Give me a call.”
To my shame and fury, I did wait all day. Waited and wondered and imagined. Well, he’s a doctor, maybe he had an emergency. Not likely, since Dr. Ernest was on emergency call this weekend; Jake had told me that himself. But you never know with doctors, right? The phone only rang twice that Sunday, and neither call was for me.
Then, when I was in bed that night, the phone did ring and it was Jake. “I ran into Barbara last night at a restaurant,” he said. “We decided to give it another try.”
I stopped breathing for a moment so that my brain could replay the words. Then I said, “That doesn’t feel very good.”
“No, it doesn’t.” he said. “I’m sorry.”
“Goodbye, then.” I said, and pushed the OFF button.
It was only the second time I’d been dumped in my entire romantic life. Usually I caught the signals and opted out of the relationship before the guy could end it. The feeling was far worse than I remembered it. Rejection in preference of another woman. And this had been such an exciting relationship, just beginning. I called my best friend and cried.
“What a chicken-shit, doing it on the phone,” she said. We lambasted him for a good half hour. She was on my side and it helped–a little. Still, I wept myself to sleep, feeling worthless and unloved.
Three weeks later I started taking yoga. During the week, I kept myself busy after coming home from teaching second grade. It was springtime, time for clearing up the yard. I raked out dead leaves and planted more perennials. I even started a new flowerbed in the back yard. It began as a two by five rectangle of newly dug dirt. My kids called it “Dr. Murray’s grave.” That made me laugh. Yet every time I shopped in the supermarket, or walked to the health food store, I was seized with a panic that I might bump into him.
And now here he was invading my yoga class. What will I say to him? I wondered. Or should I just ignore him? No, that’s too childish. I can’t pretend he’s not here at all. I must be calm and mature.
“Oh, hello Jake. How are you?”
“Oh, hi, Jake. Are you still with Barbara?”
I knew from my own experience that second tries with old lovers rarely succeeded. The habits or issues that drove you crazy the first time were still there, along with one’s own quirks that the other person found unbearable.
“Hello, Jake. Do you like the class?”
Maybe a simple, neutral statement was best. But wait, questions were a bad idea. Asking him a question would force us into a conversation. I didn’t want to talk to him. Did I?
While we moved through the poses of salute to the sun, I glared at Jake’s back. I was hot with fury at his presumption in showing up for my yoga class. I never told him I was planning to take yoga. This was another one of God‘s weird jokes. Or maybe it was a spiritual test, to see if I could remain detached and calm in the face of this unwelcome encounter. When I wasn’t bent over, I watched him doing the positions. He was lousy. He couldn’t touch his toes at all; his fingers barely reached to his knees. His belly got in the way when he tried to grab his ankles.
As if reading my mind, Devi said, “Remember that this is your yoga, not anyone else’s.”
For a moment, I felt guilty. But only for a moment. Then my petty, picky monkey mind resumed its gleeful chatter. Ha! You fatty, you can’t do yoga. Shut up, that’s mean, I scolded myself, but the enjoyment of his ineptitude remained like a tiny, tickling flame. Hee hee hee, look at that slob, he is sweating like a pig and this is just the easy stuff.
When the class was more than half over, I finally decided that I would be friendly and breezy, “Oh, hi Jake. Great class, yes? Got to run, bye.” Something like that.
And then he turned around.
It wasn’t Jake.
When did the red-tailed hawk become my totem? Perhaps it was in the glimpse of a past life, when the falcon-headed Egyptian god, Horus, appeared as my healer. For many years now, the hawks and I have had a connection.
On my commute to work, I would count the hawks perched in the trees at the side of the Thruway. Most ever counted: nine. Once I saw a bird mantling her prey. Once I saw a mated pair sitting next to each other on a branch, but looking in opposite directions as if embarrassed to be so close. I got into the habit of saluting each hawk I spied, and I still do.
Ladythorn is still my email, even though I no longer live at Ladythorn Place, the house we sold in January. The name suits me, as I see myself as female but prickly. At the old house, a pair of red-tails raised their young each year. When the chicks were fledging, they would fly from tree to tree, screeching to be fed.
Once I came upon three of the young hawks sitting on the road in our neighborhood, looking bewildered. They didn’t fly off when I drove by.
Here’s a poem I wrote:
She soars and screams
her raging cry.
Her razor wings cut the sky.
She sees the rolling world unfold,
And splits the dawn in plumes of gold.
This memoir is a real eye-opener for anyone who is unfamiliar with the workings of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Sara Saedi was two years old when her parents fled Iran. She didn’t know of her illegal status until years later, when her older sister applied for an after-school job. Samira, Sara’s sister, couldn’t work because she didn’t have a Social Security number.
The Saedi parents spent years trying to get their green cards. They even got a secret divorce in order for Sara’s mother to expedite her green card application.
Although the Saedis’ experiences with USCIS were terribly trying and difficult, and although Sara suffered with the constant fear of deportation, this family’s living situation was not nearly as dire as many of those facing ICE today. The girls were not separated from their parents. Money was tight, but they were not desperately poor.
For me, the most relevant part of this book was the “Undocumented Immigrant Refresher Course” at the end of the memoir. From visitor’s visa to applying for political asylum, the author takes us through the process of naturalization in the U.S.