Goblins don’t buy groceries

When you cut a deal to get out of goblin jail, sometimes you end up on a secret pumpkin-snatching mission for the manipulative goblin wizard who busted you out. And it can an awkward situation when you’re with a squad of professional pumpkin-snatching goblins, and you’re just sort of… a kid.

This is the third preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book Pumpkin Goblins. The clip here is read not by me, but by my spouse (and number two fan*).

A part of this scene stemmed from writing anxiety. There was a self-flagellating voice in my head saying something like: “This story is really stupid. Why can’t you think of stories that aren’t stupid? Why would goblins snatch pumpkins from people’s doorsteps when they could just go to the store and buy a bunch of pumpkins?

Then a more helpful voice said: “Grocery stores don’t accept goblin money.”

And another helpful voice, one that sounded a bit more like a goblin, answered: “Also, we don’t have goblin money.”

I believe in brainstorming rather than waiting for inspiration to hit. When it does hit, it’s almost never out of nowhere. It happens because I’ve been thinking and asking questions, even if sometimes those questions are kind of whiny.

Here’s the transcript:

Korkor turned to Amber. “You’ll be doing my job. Keep the trick-or-treaters away while we take the pumpkins back in several trips.”
“How do I do that?”
“Shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe a bat-nexus grenade followed by a smoke shroud? Or a nice Spook’s Gambit followed by a Kirlik Maneuver?” He made an excited gesture of a swooping owl and handfuls of explosions. ”Do you have your own array of creeper-cell batteries and magic boosters, or do you need to borrow one?”
Amber said nothing in response.
“Here.” Korkor dumped a pile of pocket junk in Amber’s arms.
Torlik made an exasperated noise. “She doesn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and you know it’s not enough for a crowd.”
Amber wanted to help, though she really didn’t know how to use any of that stuff, and she hadn’t understood most of what Korkor had said. “I don’t get why you can’t just grow pumpkins yourselves. Or buy them.”
“Grow them?”
“Now?”
“Takes too long,” said the three goblins in overlapping bites of speech.
“Fine, buy them,” said Amber, suspecting that, somehow, this wouldn’t do either.
“Buy them?” With a dramatic arm thrown across his forehead, Torlik pretended to faint. “From a store?”
But Korkor’s eyes lit like jack-o-lanterns. “A store with aisles and aisles of pumpkins?”
“And a pot of stew?” Falkit added hopefully.
Amber shrugged “A grocery store.”
“Grocery stories don’t accept goblin money,” said Korkor
“Also, we don’t have goblin money,” added Torlik, turning out his pockets.
“Also, goblin money doesn’t exist.” Korkor turned to Torlik, and they nodded rapidly in unison.
There was a pause.
“Could you explain coupons?” asked Falkit.

I had been aiming to publish this on October 15, and I think it will be pushed back by just a few days. When it’s out, I’ll announce it on both this blog and my newsletter.

By the way, I just saw an in-progress version of the cover illustration as the color is being added. It’s going to look cool, and I’m excited to post it sometime next week!


*I may not have a lot of fans, but they are the most organized fans in the world: they numbered themselves.

A recipe for goblin candy

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about goblins, it’s that they eat most of the same food as chickens: fruit, bugs, and various forageables. At least, the goblins in Pumpkin Goblins do. Even though I have chickens, this is actually a weird coincidence. I did the earliest work on Pumpkin Goblins almost two years before the chickens came on the scene. Since Pumpkin Goblins is coming out later this month, it’s occupying a lot of my mental space. So much, in fact, that it has seeped into my snacks. Thus, here is the story of how I ended up making goblin candy.

Every time I needed a goblin to mention some kind of food, my first thought was: Worms? Or graveworms? Goblins eating bugs was an easy option, kind of a default idea, and I usually like to challenge those and do my own thing. Since the goblins snatch pumpkins rather than growing them, I figured they weren’t big on agriculture. Their village is in the middle of the woods, so it didn’t seem like a great place for any sort of farmland. They weren’t going to be raising pigs and cows, or eating bacon cheeseburgers. But I could imagine them growing little gardens, or picking fruit from the woods. The bugs still fit the image I had in mind, and every time I mentioned goblin food, it was mostly bugs and fruit:

“A conspiracy as vast as an ocean of soup, as intricate as a puzzle box or a lattice-weave pie crust. As dangerous as undercooked cricket brulee with the crunchy top.”

A goblin from the front row stepped forward and handed Hobkit a lumpy biscuit.

“Thank you, yes. Bat-darnit, I was hungry.”

and

The smell of burnt applesauce hit him as soon as he started down the ladder. Applesauce with mothwings and nutmeg, an Ebleween favorite. The familiar scent tugged at Torlik’s memory.

The idea of goblin candy came from a very quick bit of dialogue in Pumpkin Goblins:

Amber shared a bit of her Halloween candy with Falkit, who in all her years as a driver, had never tried it. Spitting it out, the goblin dramatically pretended to throw up. “It doesn’t have any apples,” she complained.

“It’s a chocolate caramel, not a caramel apple.”

“No apples, no worms. Nothing juicy-good like goblin candy.” She spat again. “Sticky.”

Even though this is a very minor bit of the story, I have a vivid image of what goblin candy is like: dark and fruity, gooey in texture, with a hint of spices.

Goblin candy: not known for its looks. In fact, it inspired someone to tell me a story about a prank in which chocolate was presented as bear poop.

My recipe for goblin candy is based on a recipe for No-Bake Pecan Chocolates from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I’ve made the original recipe many times, and at this point, I kind of make it my own way. Since it’s a deliciously sticky mass of chocolate and nuts, I thought it would be a good starting point for goblin candy. Btw, I highly recommend Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, vegan or not. And I’m not; it’s just a collection of awesome, unique cookie recipes. Their gluten-free flour mixture alone is worth the cost of the book.

Goblin Candy

1 cup chocolate bits
1/2 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup almond meal
1 cup dried cherries and currants
1/2 cup chopped pecans
A pinch each of all

spice and cloves

Directions:
Melt the chocolate on the stove, over the lowest heat possible. Stir in the brown rice syrup, salt, and vanilla. Stir in everything else. Form into candy blobs, preferably on parchment or waxed paper. Dip hands and utensils into water as needed to keep the mixture from sticking. Refrigerate until firm.

Bugs are an optional ingredient. I do know people who eat bugs. If there’s a bug out there that complements fruit and chocolate, and you eat that bug, why not add it?

Aiming for a caramel vibe, Vegan Cookies calls for brown rice syrup. But the book is for vegans, and if you’re not, you could probably go straight for the caramel. Point is: sweet and very sticky.

Likewise, it doesn’t really matter if you use almond meal (which is my own addition, anyway). Point is: ground nuts of some variety. Cornmeal would probably be a terrible substitute (I don’t know why that even popped into my head.) I’m sure you could swap out the pecans too. In fact, I’m not sure how much goblins really like recipes, so if you want to ignore the whole thing and smash ingredients against the walls of a haunted house, that might work too.

Pumpkin Goblins: just like elves stealing toys

When an elite squad of pumpkin-snatching goblins shows up at your house, they usually make off with your pumpkins before you realize it. That way, you can blame teenagers and don’t have to consider the fact that goblins exist.

This is the second preview of my upcoming middle-grade chapter book, Pumpkin Goblins. And the scene I read here is one of my absolute favorites. In it, Amber finds herself face-to-face with the three goblins who tried to steal her pumpkin. One of the first pieces of this story I wrote was the bit of dialogue in which the goblins think she’s named Ember (like fires), rather than Amber (like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago). There’s a story behind that.

Originally, Amber’s name was Ember. I think I had Elfquest on the brain, but it also seemed like a cool name, one that went with jack-o-lanterns and spooky forests.

The problem with cool names?

They set off Mary Sue alerts in my head. And since Amber is definitely not a Mary Sue, I thought it would be better to give her a “normal” name. Changing one letter was an incredibly time-efficient way to do this. But it works on another level too: my best friend growing up was named Amber. We usually played outdoors and sometimes went on adventures, so I think Amber is a fitting namesake*.

Here’s the transcript:

The goblin leader took one long step so that he was directly in front of her, close enough to grab the pumpkin and run. He locked eyes with Amber, and she felt aware, in a way that she never had before, of being human. Of having fat and muscle flesh out the gaps of her skeleton where the goblin had knees and elbows and all kinds of joints poking out of his wiry frame. Of having soft human skin with peach-fuzz hair where the goblin was the almost-smooth gray-brown of a birch tree. He flashed her a wicked little grin, his teeth neatly pointed. “What’s your name?”

“Amber.”

“Ember?”

“We like embers,” said the other two, bouncing their words off each other. “Because we like fires.”

“No, Amber, like dead bugs that were fossilized a million years ago.”

“Oh.”

“Amber.”

“Like dead bugs.”

“That’s a lovely name for a girl.”

The goblin leader turned around to the other two and announced to them, “I don’t think she’s going to help us. She obviously doesn’t care about Halloween.”

“I care. I care more than you! You’re trying to ruin my Halloween.”

“If we don’t get enough pumpkins, everyone’s Halloween will be ruined.”

The other two jumped in. “Ruined.”

“Ruined and wrecked.”

“Wrecked and wretched.”

Amber glared at the goblins.

“Look,” said the lead goblin. “This is all aboveboard and legitimate business, and we would be glad to show you identification, if we had anything like that.”

The tall goblin with the trench coat piped in, “We’re just like elves stealing toys, only for us it’s pumpkins.”

“Elves make toys, not steal them.”

“That’s what you think. Ever lose your favorite toy at the mall, and you swear you never let it out of your hand?”

“Well, yeah, but I think I just left it at the shoe store.”

“Oh, elves and shoes, elves and shoes,” muttered the lead goblin. “You said you’re having a bad Halloween?”

Amber glanced into the lit living room window, where her brother was playing video games with Sybil. “It’s the worst Halloween ever.”

The tall one leaned into her face ominously. “And it’s going to get worse still. Not just for you. For everyone. Summer-warm air. Half-hearted tricks. Reluctantly-given treats.”

Suddenly, the third goblin, the one with the sunglasses and fingerless gloves, the one who had spoken least, jumped up off the small garden rock she had been squatting on and waved the other two goblins into a huddle. They talked rapidly for a moment in language that was both higher and lovelier than Amber had expected, then turned again to face her.
“We have decided. You may come with us to the Goblin Oak and place the pumpkin there yourself,” announced the leader.

We’re a little over two weeks from the aimed-for release of Pumpkin Goblins. In between frantic editing and formatting, having a job, and enjoying fall, I’m planning to put out at least one more of these preview scenes, and also a recipe for goblin candy.


*Apparently, “namesake” can refer to both the person one is named after, and the one who received the name. No wonder that always confused me.

Spirit Notes Fading is out!

Spirit Notes Fading cover

This is my book. I bet you figured that.

If it’s news to you that I have been working to put out a short collection of  short stories, that’s because I’ve been basically awful at announcing it, or telling people at all.

So let’s get that out of the way: I published Spirit Notes Fading a few days ago. Currently, it’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The book is a short collection of fantasy short stories, all fairly different, but with a few threads in common. Magic, music, journeys, and a sense of eerieness come up across the four stories in the collection. Here’s the summary:

A punk band struggles to save their show when it’s upstaged by the wail of a real banshee.

Across impassable seas and beyond lonely cities, two wayfarers journey across a vast continent.

A tired wanderer fights his impulse to run when he is hunted down with a magic photograph.

An ocean-sick miner steals a submersible to escape from the oppressive priest caste of a deep-ocean settlement.

When I say, “I published Spirit Notes Fading,” I mean that I self-published it, and I did all the work myself, except for some of the proofreading. I wrote the stories, revised them, copyedited them, designed the cover, designed the interior for both print and digital versions, and converted everything into the correct formats. There is a general idea that self-publishing is easy, and that anyone can just slap up anything with basically no work put into it at all. There’s a bit of truth to that; you can take a lot of short cuts; you can skip a lot of steps. To publish my own work with diligence, I had to level up a lot of skills. I’ve actually spent a few years working on those skills, because although I didn’t know until a few months ago that I was going to publish Spirit Notes Fading, I knew that I was going to publish some book.

I keep wondering about things I should have changed. Story-wise, edit-wise, format-wise. Did I leave too many tree branches in the cover? Is it just a mess? That kind of thing. But overall, I’m proud of the work I did, and I think I met the standard I set for myself.

However, as I said, I’ve been ridiculously inept at announcing it. “I have a book coming out!” is the sort of thing you’re supposed to announce on your blog, your newsletter, and whatever social media you use. Aside from promotion, it’s an accomplishment. Sharing accomplishments is generally considered an ok thing to do, right? As long as you’re not being showy, narcissistic, and ridiculous, like so:

“Wow, that’s a great story about your dead uncle. It reminds me of how I wrote a book.”

“As the author-publisher of the short story collection Spirit Notes Fading, I think I’d like to order a hamburger, no bun.”

“Hi, can I get a couple of scratch cards? Oooh, I can barely scratch off this silvery stuff, my hand is still so sore from all the computer work I did to publish my recent short story collection.”

But I’m so far on the introverted end of the spectrum that I feel weird even mentioning it. Even on my own website! In the past week, there were three times that I ran into people I hadn’t seen in awhile and it went kind of like:

“Hey, long time no see! What’s up with you?”
“Not much. Working. Need more hours.”
Some talk about other stuff.
“Oh, by the way, I wrote a book. That’s the kind of thing you tell people, right?”

And so this, right here? This is me telling you. I wrote a book. You can read it, if you’d like.

The Storytime Blog Hop

bloghopIn a little over a month, on August 26th, the Storytime Blog Hop is coming.

What manner of Internet nonsense is a blog hop? I can hear you ask. Because I’m in your thoughts, thanks to the dark magic of internet cookies.

Remember the web rings of old? If not, pretend I never mentioned them. A blog hop kind of reminds me of that. Except, it’s also like a pub crawl, without the irritation of leaving your house. And without the alcohol, unless you provide that yourself.

What happens is that, on August 26th, I will post a short story, along with links to stories from other writers in the blog hop. None of them will be very long; some will even be flash fiction.

All the stories will be somewhere in the genre of speculative fiction—fantasy, sci fi, horror, or any crazy cocktail of those three. We could have anything from woodsprites to lasers, clockwork dragons to genetically engineered tentacle beasts. All of the above, even.  Stories in the blog hop will be somewhere in the realm of PG-rated.  No graphic sex or violence.

My own story will be about a powerless noble in the frigid city of Yauglesk, a place where an uneasy two-hundred year occupation is beginning to falter.

So, stay tuned for that. And also for the potpourri of upcoming blog posts, about things like pudding, typefaces, artwork, and monsters.