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Children's & Fantasy/Sci-Fi Books


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The Eye of Argon – A Love Letter to Teen Writing and Exuberance

The Eye of Argon and the Further Adventures of Grignr the Barbarian (edited by Michael Ventrella, published by Fantastic Books, 2022) is a labor of love – an homage to teenaged (in 1970) Jim Theis’s The Eye of Argon. Michael’s introduction explains the modest beginning and enduring appeal of the quirky original:

So it’s 1970. If you’re a fan of high fantasy, you’ve read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. There’s no Dungeons and Dragons, no high fantasy movies or TV shows, and now you’re looking for something else…

But all that’s available is Conan the Barbarian and its clone, the Gor series.

Then again, you’re a nerdy teenage boy with raging hormones, and fantasizing about being a strong hero who has beautiful women at his mercy is appealing…

So put yourself back in those days and imagine young Jim Theis, who wants to be a writer. There are no home computers, no home printers, and photocopiers only exist in the largest corporations and cost tons of money.

So Jim decides to write his own story. He has no training as a writer, has no patron to assist him, but he certainly has the enthusiasm required. He types away, ignoring mistakes, misusing words left and right, and having the time of his life, coming up with a story to impress his friends.

He then submits it to the Ozark Science Fiction Association, and they publish it in their little fanzine. Jim thinks that’s the end of it—a nice little story some people will appreciate and then forget about.

However, the Forces of Fate stepped in.

It falls into the hands of the science fiction community, which embrace it and start reading it for fun at parties, challenging each other to see how far they could get before breaking up laughing.

This extended to science fiction conventions, where a panel would try to get through it, and were required to read it as written, pronouncing the words exactly as they appeared while not laughing or screwing up.

Years pass as the story’s distribution grows, shared from one convention to another. People all across America and Canada (and maybe elsewhere, too, who knows?) look forward to participating in the convention’s reading sessions.

The writing of the well-intentioned high-schooler Jim Theis clearly reflects inspiration from Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery classic, Conan the Barbarian. Jim’s youthful exuberance is smile-inducingly conveyed by flowery and poorly edited text. To wit, the tale begins thusly (its original spelling intact):

The weather beaten trail wound ahead into the dust racked climes of the baren land which dominates large portions of the Norgolian empire. Age worn hoof prints smothered by the sifting sands of time shone dully against the dust splattered crust of earth. The tireless sun cast its parching rays of incandescense from overhead, half way through its daily revolution. Small rodents scampered about, occupying themselves in the daily accomplishments of their dismal lives. Dust sprayed over three heaving mounts in blinding clouds, while they bore the burdonsome cargoes of their struggling overseers.

“Prepare to embrace your creators in the stygian haunts of hell, barbarian”, gasped the first soldier.

“Only after you have kissed the fleeting stead of death, wretch!” returned Grignr.

A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive barbarians hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust forth, sending a steel shod blade to the hilt into the soldiers vital organs. The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid.

Enough said.

Eventually, Ian Randal Strock and Michael Ventrella, experienced anthologists, assembled writer friends familiar with The Eye of Argon and its celebration at pop culture conventions to develop in the style of the original author further adventures of the Conan-esque protagonist, Grignr the Barbarian. The treatment will delight fans of the British sword and sorcery TV series, Kröd Mändoon and the Flaming Sword of Fire.

Widely published author Keith R.A. DeCandido (aka KRAD) contributed a story, “The Rat’s Tail,” to the anthology. “I’ve just submitted the worst story I’ve ever written!” he bragged on social media. It begins:

The rat waited.

The hirsute creature paced the stuygian depths of the dungeon beneath the castle. For its entire short life it had paced the stoney floor of the dark and dank dungeon, eating whatever scraps might find their way to his ravenous gullet.

Keith graciously agreed to answer some questions about the project:

Henry: What was it about the original The Eye of Argon that captured your interest?

KRAD: It wasn’t so much the original piece itself as the convention game of reading it straight-faced with all the typos intact. I was first exposed to it in the 1990s, and I took my turn to read it. I got eliminated by correcting one of the typos, which I didn’t even do consciously. After that, I viewed it as a challenge to try to win the contest by getting farther than anyone else, which I managed on several occasions. It’s a fun challenge, not just to keep the poker face (which is relatively easy for me), but to read it as written without correcting it, which goes against all my writerly and editorly instincts…

Henry: I feel your pain. How did you settle on telling the tale of The Rat’s Tail?

KRAD: Oh, that was easy. One of the times we were performing the story as it was read, I was playing Grignr and we were doing the scene where he encounters the rat in the dungeon. When the rat appeared, someone in the back of the room had a stuffed rat on their person, and tossed it up front so I’d have it as a prop. It was then, when I had an actual (stuffed) rat in hand that I realized that the unnecessarily detailed description of how Grignr broke the rat’s neck wouldn’t actually work in real life, as the hands are described in twisting in the wrong direction for the move to be effective. Ever since then, the rat’s unjust demise has kind of been my thing at these readings/performances, and I decided that it was important to give the rat a backstory.

Henry: #RatDeathsMatter. What was it like writing pastiche, especially with intentional grammatical and spelling mistakes?

KRAD: Similarly challenging to reading it—I had to almost physically restrain myself from correcting the typos. And there were a lot, as I type more than 150 words per minute….

Henry: Is your story autobiographical?

KRAD: Only in the sense that it was inspired by real events, as chronicled above…

Henry: Is there anything else you’d care to share about the experience?

My mother is a professional editor of several decades’ standing (though she usually does it sitting down), and she has always read everything I write before it gets sent off. This story was one of the few exceptions, as the last thing I wanted was for this story to be improved. It was very entertaining to write something deliberately bad like this, and then be able to proudly post on social media that I just e-mailed the worst story I’d ever written to the editor!

I’d never heard of The Eye of Argon until Michael Ventrella mentioned it. But upon reading his introduction to the anthology, it was easy to see why the original story captured the hearts of so many authors and pop culture convention-goers. In Jim Theis’s work, we see our own passion for sword and sorcery fantasy and the love of tale-telling.

The Eye of Argon and the Further Adventures of Grignr the Barbarian can be found at:

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
Books-A-Million


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WonderCon 2022

Had a great time at WonderCon 2022. I moderated a KidLit author panel and sold my books at a small press booth for the first time. Cosplayers were out in full force.

With fellow children’s authors (l to r): Tim McCanna, Ernesto Cisneros, Sam Subity, and Salina Yoon.

Stunning artwork inspired by Avatar: The Last Airbender

Chainsaw Man. Note the safety tags on the chainsaws.

Not sure who this guy is, but he’s summoning a purple fireball, so…

This is Goat Vs. Fish. He literally walks around interviewing people, asking which animal they prefer. Hilarious.

Grogu from The Mandalorian

Jinx from Netflix’s amazing Arcane series

Another Jinx!

Kim Possible – an oldie but a goodie

Krampus is always a pleasant surprise

Kuiil (and Grogu!) from The Mandalorian

Lady Thor

Lara Croft from Tomb Raider

Merida from Brave

Daenerys Targaryen on a dragon from Game of Thrones

Oscar the Grouch and the Mysterious Galaxy devil puppet

Pickle Rick, my favorite character from the Rick and Morty series

Planet of the Apes ape. Get your damn, dirty hands off me.

Remote-controlled R2-D2 from Star Wars

Rick and Morty-inspired artwork

A rider of Rohan from The Lord of the Rings

Hilarious Saint X artwork

An awesome Sister of Battle from Warhammer 40K

Family of superheroes

Is this what Joe Satriani meant by “Surfing with the Alien”?

Tetris Man

Thor

Vi from Arcane

Jinx and Vi from Arcane

Geralt of Rivia from The Witcher

A bashful young Wonder Woman

Stunning Callisto and Xena from Xena: Warrior Princess


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In-Person Reading/Signing of I AM SMOKE at Mysterious Galaxy Books

Mysterious Galaxy Books hosted a reading/signing of my creative nonfiction picture book, I AM SMOKE.

Acclaimed middle grade author Chris Baron graciously “interviewed” me about my book. My faithful hound Iroh also showed great interest in the book. A good time was had by all.


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San Diego Comic-Con 2021 Panels

I’m thrilled to share that I moderated two San Diego Comic-Con virtual panels.

The first, Young Adult Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi & Horror, features bestselling authors Kendare Blake (Three Dark Crowns), Mylo Carbia (Violets are Red), Sarah Beth Durst (The Queens of Renthia), Jonathan Maberry (Rot & Ruin), and Seanan McGuire (October Daye). They’ll share their insights into writing dark speculative fiction and the publishing industry, including book to TV/film.
The video stream can be viewed on YouTube.

The second panel is Meet the Creators and Cast of Netflix’s Norsemen. Norsemen is Netflix’s hilarious historical comedy series—think Vikings meets The Office. Participating in this Q&A are actors: Kåre Conradi (Orm), Trond Fausa (Rufus), Nils Jørgen Kaalstad (Arvid), Øystein Martinsen (Kark), Marian Ottesen (Hildur), and series producers/directors/writers Jonas Torgersen and Jon Iver Helgaker.
The video stream can be viewed on YouTube.


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FAQs for 100 Writing Days of Summer

Summer officially begins on Monday, and with it begins the 100 Writing Days of Summer program. Summer is a time of dreaminess, hopefulness, even laziness. It is a time I like to write – because the living is easy. And after writing, I can engage in some of my favorite ways to think – BBQs, a dunk in the pool, a bike ride or a day at the beach. When you’re actively writing, all those activities can also be considered “writing” because you’re incubating your thoughts and ideas. And because when you’re having fun, your brain is open to solution finding, and ideas come more easily.
I’m hoping you want to write with us this summer. I thought this FAQ might help you make the decision. Thanks, and I hope to see you in there, writing your heart out. #100WritingDaysOfSummer
PS. I know it’s a weird summer that already feels too busy, though it hasn’t even started, but a Yes to the program is a Yes to your WIP. Join 100 Writing Days of Summer.
Where do I sign up? Right here!
What is the actual time commitment?
The total time spent writing together is 20 hours in 10 2-hour sessions. The rest is “free range.” You might set your own writing goal that creates a bigger commitment in our opening ceremony, or with a writing buddy.
What is the schedule for the Write/Coach/Write sessions?
The times were chosen to accommodate working people, and people on both coasts and in between. We’re meeting to write…
· Some Thursdays 5-7pm, PDT (8-10pm ET)
· Some Saturdays 8-10am, PDT (11-1pm ET)
What is a Write/Coach/Write session?
When we say Write/Coach/Write, we mean,
Write 45 minutes
Next 30 minutes, have the option of getting coaching help as a group for creative indecision, doubts or dread your brain is serving up with Julia Roberts, creativity coach
Write for the remaining 45 minutes.
Anyone who is on a roll can skip the coaching part, by turning off their speaker, and write on.
How much does it cost?
The price for the program is $299. If you prefer, you can pay over three months, each month at $109.
What do you get?
Every weekday, you get a beautiful email – with a writing tip and a Summery Picture Prompt. Tips were written for this program by the Author Panel, summarizing their experience, insights and best practices
The FB group offers camaraderie, a place to find an accountability buddy, and access to the Author Panel. One author is featured for 10 days at a time, all summer long.
You can also ask a coaching question of Julia Roberts, who is in the FB group every day.
There are 10 2-hour Write/Coach/Write sessions during the summer, held on Zoom.
Opening and closing ceremonies on Zoom
Giveaways
AND… New Writer friends, inspiration, help with your creative process, and a pile of new pages written by Labor Day.


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100 Writing Days of Summer

This is still a funny summer. Things seem normal, but they still aren’t fully functional, right? Dining and stadiums seem to be back on track, but most of the writers’ conferences aren’t gathering in person this summer.

We writers don’t have a way to get together right now and get help, get inspired, and get writing. I like to write in the summers, and I know a lot of writers do – maybe because school’s out, or just because the days are longer, or because office hours are often shorter. We can write in the woods, at a table on the front porch, or even on a dock at the lake. Summers and writing just go together.

Would you like to be writing a novel or memoir this summer? There is help, camaraderie, and expert inspiration that you can tap into all summer long. It is a writing program called 100 Writing Days of Summer (#100WritingDaysofSummer) and I’m very pleased to be a part of it.

  • It starts June 21 and runs all summer long.
  • panel of eight established, successful authors are all going to share their best ten writing tips, so you can turn a corner on problems you might be facing in your current WIP
  • The Author Panel’s expertise ranges from award winning and bestselling novelists, memoirists, YA authors, Children’s book authors, fantasy, and flash fiction.
  • Julia Roberts – the organizer – is a creative process expert and coach, and she will be your summer mentor in the FB group, on Zoom calls and in the daily emails. Julia Roberts is also the founder of DecodingCreativity.com, the Write Without the Fight Facebook group & 5-Day Challenge, already taken by thousands of writers since its inception 3 years ago
  • Each email contains an expert writing tip or writing mindset advice, a picture prompt, and group updates.
  • Julia will also host 10 2-hour writing sessions and coaching for anyone in the group who gets stuck or frustrated.
  • The Pop-up FB group will be our own “Conference Rom B,” where we can meet other writers, socialize and connect.

100 Writing Days of Summer (#100WDOS) has all the elements of a writers’ conference, combined with the benefits of coaching and a writing retreat. I hope you can join me, Julia Roberts, and the other Authors of the Panel to learn, connect and write!

I hope you can join us and write this summer! Go here for more information. And feel free to hit reply and ask me any questions.

Looking forward to a productive summer,
Henry


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WonderCon 2021 Panels – Norsemen, Middle Grade Authors

I was thrilled to organize and moderate two panels for #WonderConAtHome 2021. The first features the cast of the hilarious Netflix historical comedy series, #Norsemen. You can learn more about the show from my essay at Interstellar Flight Press and my Norsemen fan site. Then do yourself a favor and go watch it on Netflix.

The 45-minute WonderCon Norsemen panel online premieres at 5pm PST on March 27. It features actors Kåre Conradi (Orm), Øystein Martinsen (Kark), Nils Jørgen Kaalstad (Arvid), Marian Ottesen (Hildur), Trond Fausa (Rufus), Bjørn Myrene (Torstein), Silje Torp (Frøya), and Jon Øigarden (Jarl Varg). Learn about who was the biggest prankster, what it’s like working on set with a spouse, and what big thoughts Arvid thinks.


The second WonderCon panel featured successful Middle Grade novel authors Bruce Coville (Aliens Ate My Homework), NY Times bestseller Stacia Deutsch (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Jr. movie novel), NY Times bestseller Nancy Holder (Wonder Woman movie novel), Rajani Larocca (Red, White and Whole), and Henry Neff (Tapestry series).

The 39-minute panel online premieres at 10am PST on March 26. It features the authors sharing their insights into the publishing industry, how to get started, and lessons learned on the journey to publication. Good times.


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Announcing our dark YA anthology, THE HITHERTO SECRET EXPERIMENTS OF MARIE CURIE

I am pleased to announce that Blackstone Publishing has bought a young adult project edited by me and Bryan Thomas Schmidt, The Hitherto Secret Experiments Of Marie Curie. The anthology will comprise 18 dark stories of science fiction, fantasy, and/or horror set during Marie Curie’s high school years in Poland. What might she have done had she applied her genius in darker directions? The rockstar cast of award-winning and bestselling authors is: Scott Westerfeld, Jane Yolen, Mylo Carbia, Alethea Kontis, Jonathan Maberry, Scott Sigler, Stacia Deutsch, Seanan McGuire, Sarah Beth Durst, Lissa Price, Christine Taylor-Butler, Jo Whittemore, Dee Leone, Susanne Lambdin, Emily McCosh, Steve Pantazis, myself, and Bryan Thomas Schmidt & GP Charles.

The project is scheduled for 2022 release simultaneously in print and audio. We hope to include real science and history, while also having fun with the subject matter and the fascinating character of one of the most important and well-known female scientists in world history, a double Nobel Prize winner. The art below is NOT part of the project, but it conveys a sense of the tone.