It is so good to be here…today

I used concepts that can be encapsulated in numbers: four seasons (fall, winter, spring, summer), the elements (earth, wind, fire, water) as writing prompts. Starting from the broad and drilling down helps in narrowing down to yourself. After all, a journal is a safe, exclusive place where the only person important is you.

“How do you spell, Fall?”



I wondered if she had wandered into this class by mistake and hoped she was not uncomfortable there. I even wondered if English was a language she was comfortable with. But this is not a class about learning as such, there is no goal in mind, just a space to be, to think, to write, to relax and get in touch with yourself. So I say nothing. Her voice was soft at first, so low that I could barely make out a single word…even though I sat within touching distance. Each time she asked me to spell something out she winced, seemed to curl up inside.

Her first sentence tended to be the same, “Summer is good.” “The sense of sight is so good.”

Then came the final focus on you exercise. I asked them to write a truth about themselves they did not mind sharing with others. The take-home would be to write a truth that is exclusively theirs, that no one would ever see.

“I am so happy,” she said, “to be sitting in this classroom, to write and to be heard.”

She was a little girl when her parents died. Some people took her in but they could not afford to feed *and* educate her. She never learned to read and write. Then, after a lot of struggle, and living on her own from her teens, she arrived in the U.S. Somehow she learned to read and write…but not well.”

“I can’t spell,” she said mournfully, “I don’t know the right way to write.”

Her voice, still soft, was audible at last.

“I am 57 years old,” she said, “and I am embarrassed but today I am happy, so happy to be here. It is so good.”

I didn’t know when I first saw this quiet, shrinking woman walk in that she had magical powers. She could do more to reach a deep, sacred place, and unlock goodness than I ever could with all my babbling about how wonderful writing is. The prickly, disabled woman in the corner who declared that she never told anything to anyone because people used it to hurt her unfroze, just like that.

“I don’t really know you” she said to the quiet one, “but you are the only person who always offer to help me with my walker and you don’t stare at me. Do you know how many people just stare and they never talk to me? I am taking my GED and I am older than you. I would be honored to study with you.”

She talked also about her mother throwing her out when she was 13, with a few rolls of pennies and a few clothes in a bag.

Time was up and we all looked at each other and smiled. It’s a cliche to say that I learned more than I taught but it’s true. Each time in this little community of homeless, battered and destitute women I find humbling truths that bring me to my knees.

It is so good…so good to be here, in this basement, where the light filters in softly, it is good to be here with all of you.

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Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

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The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

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