Excerpt from Plot Twists: The Island Come True

My main focus just now is on NaNoWriMo and my in-process draft for that – but at the other end of the writing journey, I have two short stories in an anthology that came out late October.  I shared an excerpt from one of them earlier, but thought it only fair to give a little attention to the other one too!

Plot Twists is a collection of short stories about people entering into the books they read.  I was honored to write the first story in the collection, about a boy entering into J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Enjoy the excerpt below, and read the full story by getting your copy of Plot Twists here!


The Bookseller nodded once, and came out  from behind the counter.  “Not to worry.  Only the right people can come in here.  Now let’s see about finding you the right book.”

“I’m just looking,” Will mumbled again, because he didn’t want to admit he had no money to buy any book, but he also didn’t want her to toss him outside while Big Tom was still there.  How pathetic was it if he couldn’t even run away properly?

“I quite understand,” she said, and strode purposefully down one of the narrow aisles.  “Follow me, please.”

He trudged uncertainly behind her, eyes getting bigger as they walked through one twisting aisle and into another.  It was impossible to tell how big the store was.  All he could see was books.

“Did you have something in mind?” she asked.  “Pirates, perhaps?  Magic?  Romance?”

“Pirates,” he said quickly, cheeks turning hot.  Romance?  Definitely not.  He’d seen older kids making eyes at each other, but—no, pirates sounded much better.

“Heroics or something comforting?”

He wasn’t altogether sure what that meant.  “Um…either?”

“Something funny or educational?”

That was easy, at least.  “Funny,” he said firmly.

She turned suddenly and looked at him with a newly intense gaze.  “And, very important—do you want an escape?”

There was something about that gaze, about those eyes looking straight into his.  He wasn’t sure anyone had looked at him with that much attention since his mother had died.  Maybe that’s why he answered with the truth.  “More than anything.”

She nodded again.  “Then you are in the right shop.” 

Writing Wednesday: Falling into Neverland

I recently took a trip to London, my favorite city.  There are endless literary connections (and I made some connections to the recently-read London) but the most prevalent one for me is always Peter Pan–or more precisely, it’s prequel, The Little White Bird, or Adventures in Kensington Gardens.  I wanted a writing project while I was traveling (because I write every day!) so the natural one to work on was a Peter Pan-related short story I’ve had in mind.

One of my writer friends invited me to contribute to a planned anthology of short stories, all based around a central concept–bookshops where people can actually enter into the books they open.  Each short story will focus on a different character entering a different book.  Peter Pan is in the public domain (mostly–it’s complicated) opening it up for this sort of story.

So I did my daily writing on vacation by working on the story of Will, who found himself falling into Peter Pan…literally!  Here’s an excerpt.


Will took the book into his hands.  It felt oddly warm, but not in a bad way.  It was a friendly sort of feeling.  He meant to open the book to the first page, but the pages seemed to twist within his fingers, and he opened instead to perhaps a quarter of the way through.

He had just read, “When playing Follow my Leader, Peter would fly close to the water and touch each shark’s tail in passing, just as in the street you may run your finger along an iron railing” when the bookshop—and rather importantly, the floor—dissolved around him.

Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: Falling into Neverland”

Top Ten Tuesdays: Books Requiring Tissues

toptentuesdayHosted by The Broke and the Bookish, this week’s topic is: Ten (Eight) Books That Will Make You Cry

I didn’t make it to ten on this one, because mostly I like books that make me happy…but I did manage to come up with a handful of beautifully tragic ones!

1) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – Life is just so hard for everyone.  You’ve heard “I Dreamed a Dream,” right?  Then there’s the entire last 30 pages where I just want to weep over Jean Valjean and his wretched stubbornness about self-denial.  And, and, and…Gavroche, and Eponine, and Enjolras, and M. Mabeuf, who grows poorer and poorer and finally sells his last book.  Not quite on the level of Fantine, of course, but book-lovers will understand!

2) The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux – For most of this book, the Phantom is a straight-out monster, simple and unlikable.  Then Leroux finishes with a tragic scene of the Phantom talking about how he felt when he let Christine go…and I have to conclude that Leroux meant us to pity the Phantom after all.

3) The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo – You know that nice happy ending spin that Disney puts on it?  Yeah.  That doesn’t happen.

4) The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne – This one is sad in a very different way.  In the last chapter, Christopher Robin comes to tell the animals that he’s going away (to school, I assume), and he won’t be able to come play with them anymore.  He tells Winnie the Pooh to go out to the Enchanted Place sometimes and remember him, and he’ll be there really.  And it’s just heart-breaking…even though everybody does have to grow up, of course.  Which brings me to the next book…

5) Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie – The end of the story gives us a brief account of the Lost Boys when they became adults.  It begins with the sentence “All the boys were grown up and done for by this time; so it is scarcely worth while saying anything more about them” and concludes with “The bearded man who doesn’t know any story to tell his children was once John.”  Christopher Robin’s growing up feels like the natural sadness of something inevitable; this feels like a very morbid view on the whole thing, which mostly makes me sad for J. M. Barrie, if this was really his feelings on what it meant to grow up.

6) The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein – Another kids’ book with a tragic air.  Between the poor, self-sacrificing tree, to the boy who keeps taking and taking and taking and finally winds up as a sad old man with an empty life…  I’m not even sure what the message here is supposed to be, other than that life is hard and also, we’re destroying the environment.

7) The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean – This one only half counts, since the book doesn’t actually make me terribly sad at any point.  But–because of this book, the sentence “I am just going outside and may be some time” puts a (mostly metaphorical) lump in my throat every time I think of it.

8) Phantom: The Story of His Life by Susan Kay – This is sort of the same as #2, but not!  It’s the story from birth to death of the Phantom of the Opera, and there are different emotional moments than Leroux provided.  Erik’s childhood is so sad (first his mother refuses to kiss him on his fifth birthday, and then his beloved dog dies…)  The part that always gets me, though?  Erik is trying so hard to be hopeful about Christine, and the only prayer he can come up with is an echo from childhood: Please, God, let her love me and I’ll be good forever.  Which is heartbreaking enough, but then he decides to go up to the Opera’s roof to pray, thinking God will hear him better from there.  And Christine and Raoul are also on the roof, and…  Well.  I’m very, very sad for him.

Are we all reaching for tissues by now?  Perhaps I should send you to some funny Discworld moments!  Or leave a comment and share about your favorite, beautiful sad books.

Classic Favorites Friday: British Children’s Fantasy Classics

This week I thought I’d re-post one of my earliest “Favorites Friday” posts (creating a “Classic” about Classics), because…it bears repeating, and I feel like I have more-recently-joined readers who might have good suggestions for what else could be on this list!


I think there was something in the water in Great Britain near the beginning of the last century.  Fairy dust, perhaps, because that’s when so many of the great classic children’s fantasy books were written.  There’s something about them–a style, a flavor, a spark–that marks them out as part of a very special group.

I doubt many titles or authors on this list are new to you (they are, after all, classics!) but still, here’s my list of favorite writers of British children’s fantasy classics, noting their most famous books.  Some books are earlier and some are later, but all have that particular flavor.

In no particular order:

  1. P. L. Travers – Mary Poppins series
  2. Edith Nesbit – Five Children and It
  3. J. M. Barrie – Peter Pan
  4. Frances Hodgson Burnett – A Little Princess and The Secret Garden
  5. Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
  6. Kenneth Grahame – The Wind in the Willows
  7. Charles Kingsley – The Water Babies
  8. George MacDonald – The Princess and the Goblin and The Light Princess
  9. A. A. Milne – Winnie the Pooh

And #10, Honorary Mention, is L. Frank Baum, who wrote the Oz series (and many others that are just as good).  He was American, not British, but somehow contrived to write books with that same magical flavor.

There must be classics I’m missing–what are some of your favorites?  And are they sprinkled with the same fairy dust?  🙂 I hope so–I’d love to find more!

Rambling Philosophy About Coming of Age

As another companion piece to The Graveyard Book read-along, this week we’re writing about coming of age stories.

I have to admit, I had some initial tripping-up with this topic.  But I think I’ve got my train of thought sorted out–we’ll see as I type!

When I first heard “coming of age stories” as a topic, my brain perversely went to Peter Pan–who is the complete opposite.  He’s the character who flatly refuses to come of age, ever.  However, I do think that’s one part of the story, as it leads me to the question: why does Peter choose not to grow up?

So I turn the pages to the section of the book when Wendy tries to coax Peter to stay in London with her, and I find that he balks because she would send him to school and then to an office and soon he’d be a man, to paraphrase slightly.  Well, if being a grown-up just means going to an office, by all means, fly back to Neverland, Peter!  That’s what it seems to mean for the other boys; we hear about them as adults, and the saddest is John, the bearded man who doesn’t know any stories to tell his children.  It all rather makes me wonder about J. M. Barrie’s life.

To turn this back around again, I think a key part of growing up is realizing that there’s more to being a grown-up than going to an office!  Peter wants to “always be a little boy and to have fun,” but grown-ups can have fun too.  Different fun.  It’s worth remembering, because when life does seem to revolve around going to an office (or any other humdrum parts of grown-up life, like washing dishes and paying bills), it’s easy to start thinking Peter was right.

But he wasn’t.  And he was also wrong that grown-ups can’t go to Neverland–in a metaphorical sense, of course.

To move along in that direction, let’s look at another classic children’s writer, who seemed to have a healthier view on things.  First, I quote St. Paul, who said something to the effect of, “When I became a man, I set aside the things of childhood.”  C. S. Lewis followed that up with, “And one of the things of childhood I set aside was the fear of being thought childish.”

I remember that there was a point in my life when I came to a revelation that I didn’t have to stop reading children’s books.  And that I can still go to Disneyland and ride the Peter Pan ride.  Of course, now I also have a quite different appreciation for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and I read books from the grown-ups section too.  But I don’t have to let go of all those children’s things if they still appeal to me.  Neverland might look different to us, but we can still get there.

Or to put it another way, growing up means a bigger library to choose from.

This puts me in mind of what actually is an example of a coming-of-age story, my much-beloved and frequently-referenced The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean.  Spoilers here, so you may want to drop down a paragraph.  For new readers, The White Darkness is about Sym, a fourteen-year-old girl who creates an imaginary friend out of Lawrence “Titus” Oates, the Antarctic explorer.  She gains confidence and self-understanding through a really awful experience in Antarctica.  You could say she grows up.  In the course of that, a couple of times I was afraid she was going to have to give up Titus, as part of growing up–but she never does.  And that makes me immensely happy, possibly because of all those things I was discussing above.

On a side-note, since I brought up the book–I also have to say that I was very sad recently to hear about the death of Richard Morant, the inspiration and audiobook-voice of Titus.  I don’t actually believe in ghosts and I certainly don’t want to confuse the actor and the character…but all the same, I like musing over the idea that maybe he’s off being a supportive shoulder to some girl in great need of a friend.

Back to the topic: another coming-of-age story that comes to mind is, oddly enough, The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig, who would probably be taken-aback to hear her story described that way.  It deals with two adults, Arabella and Turnip (don’t ask about the name), who fall in love while trying to untangle a spy ring.  And you ask how this relates.  But it does, more obviously for Arabella, but really both of them.  Arabella starts out as a shy, mousy wallflower, who finds herself as a strong, capable woman.  Turnip shows up in earlier books in the series, always as the buffoon everyone treats as comical and then disregards.  He stays comical, but he also emerges as having much more worth than it previously appeared.

Which brings me to what I think will be my final point–that coming-of-age stories don’t necessarily have all that much to do with age.  Or if they absolutely must, then I seem to be talking about a different sort of story, though a related one.  I think what it’s really about is figuring out who you want to be.  Not who the world says you are, or who you are when you’re afraid to be something else, but who you want to be.  Often that happens at a certain age–but not necessarily–and to some extent it never really stops happening.

To circle back around to the beginning (because he wouldn’t like dropping out of the post), perhaps that’s another reason there could never be a coming-of-age story about Peter Pan.  He is who he wants to be.  He’s the little boy endlessly having fun.

For the rest of us, who follow Sym and Arabella and Turnip to “come of age,” I think it’s worth listening to C. S. Lewis, and to keep in touch with the Peter Pan and the Titus Oates in us all.