The Elves, or What to do when You Get an Invitation from the Fairies

Once upon a time in the old city lived a young girl, who was serving maid to a family. The family wasn’t exactly poor, but the serving maid had nothing. Her name was Elsa, and she slept in a little garret room at the top of the house. The family was miserly and secretive, and they didn’t like Elsa much, but they kept her anyway. Even in the old city, having a servant girl was a sign of wealth.
One day, Elsa was sweeping the floor, and she spied a letter sitting in the hearth. Elsa couldn’t read, so she took the letter to her mistress, who received it rather suspiciously.
“Why,” said her mistress, sweetly, “it’s an invitation to attend the Queen of the Fairies on the christening of her child.”
Elsa’s mistress was no fool, and she watched Elsa expectantly. It was a fine thing to have a serving maid, but Elsa insisted on being fed—and so often. This was her chance to get rid of the girl.
But Elsa was no fool either—even if she couldn’t read. She knew the fairies were trouble. They lived in the suburbs of the old city, and they were constantly stealing children or trying to lure people into their mounds.
“But anything is better than this drudgery,” thought Elsa to herself. And she got her heavy coat, and she left the house in search of the mound of the Fairy Queen.
It wasn’t long before Elsa was met by three fairies, all dressed in jeans and black leather jackets. One had spiked blue hair, the second had a pink Mohawk, and the third was a skinhead. Tough looking characters.
They led Elsa to the suburbs of the old city, where the roads were split and crumbling, and the houses were falling apart or entirely collapsed. They brought Elsa to what seemed the most ruinous of all the houses, but inside, weirdly enough, was a wide hall, hung with tapestries of gold, and at the far end the Fairy Queen herself, a beautiful lady, wearing rich robes of silver and green, and holding in her arms a fairy baby.
“Welcome, Elsa,” said the Fairy Queen, with a dazzling smile. “Let the ceremony begin.”
Things got under way, while Elsa held the baby. The fairies didn’t look so scary in their own hall, and after the christening, Elsa laughed and danced and ate to her heart’s content. The fairies certainly knew how to have fun.
After what she thought was three days, Elsa told the fairies: “It’s time for me to go—back to my life in the old city.”
The Queen filled Elsa’s pockets with gold, and sent her on her way. The same three fairies guided Elsa back to the old city, but Elsa had a bad feeling. She didn’t like the way the one with the pink Mohawk was smirking at her.
She got back to her own mistress’s front door, but when she turned to thank the fairies, they were gone. Sighing a little, Elsa went into the house. She caught up the broom and began to sweep.
“Where did that chair come from?” she said to herself, as she swept. “And I certainly don’t remember that at all,” she said, looking at a dark-wood bureau, stacked with elegant china dishes and plates.
“What are you doing in my house?” cried a voice behind her.
Elsa whirled to see a woman standing in the kitchen door. She was definitely not Elsa’s mistress.
And then she knew. She hadn’t been three days with the fairies; it could have been years. “What’s the date?” asked Elsa.
The woman was so taken aback by the question, she answered at once.
“Oh dear,” said Elsa. “Seven years, for sure.”
Elsa explained to the woman what had happened—how she had gone to visit the fairies on account of the letter. It turned out Elsa’s old master and mistress had died in the meantime, which Elsa found she couldn’t be too sad about.
“But you can come and work for me,” said the woman, looking Elsa up and down.
But Elsa remembered the days of drudgery, and she thought of the gold in her pocket that the fairies had given her. “You know,” said Elsa. “I think I’m good.”
Elsa left the house, and she set up on her own, not in the old city, but in the new town. She bought a condo overlooking the river, and she went to school. “Reading and writing could come in handy,” she said to herself. She didn’t stop there. She went on to university and got a degree. Then she set up her own consulting business, and she specialized in advising people who received letters from the fairies. She lived very happily, but Elsa could never bring herself to hire a maid.

10 Suggestions as You Plan Your Summer Reads

If you are like me, then you are already planning or even doing your summer reading. While it’s not quite summer yet, it’s never too soon to start.
As I spend so much of my time reading children’s and young adult books during the year, I try to read something different during the summer. For several summers now, I have read something by guy Gavriel Kay. He writes fantasies, which are re-inventions of historical periods, and always worth it. I’ve made a point of reading something by Bernard Cornwell every summer as well—historical novels rated high for blood and guts. Summer is a time to read something new, something different, or just something you haven’t had the time for in the past.
I try to find a series—something to keep me going for a while. Here’s a list of ten series, some of which I’ve read and some I haven’t, and in no particular order. some are children’s and young adult, and some aren’t. Whatever you pick up this summer, remember to tell a friend about your latest discovery. Happy reading.
1.      The Black Magiciantrilogy, by Trudi Canavan
An interesting fantasy series by an Australian writer. Sonea, a poor girl living in the slums of Imardin, discovers that she has the power of the magicians, which leads to a city-wide hunt, which, for Sonea, possibly means the loss of her freedom. This series has magicians, a school for magicians, and plenty of intrigue. And no, it’s not like Harry Potter. It’s slower, more thoughtful, and it breaks some unspoken rules of fantasy, which you will have to discover for yourself. I like the series, and I’m currently reading book three, The High Lord.
2.      The Dune Saga, by Frank Herbert
I first read these books in my early twenties, and I wasn’t smart enough then to appreciate what Herbert was doing. The series is a profound achievement in fantasy and science fiction. Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, together with his coauthor Kevin J. Anderson, have continued the saga beyond the original six books. While the books that continue the story—and there are more than a dozen—are entertaining, and give you more of Herbert’s world, they aren’t’ quite the same. But I liked them enough to make a reading project out of the series two years ago.
3.      Magician Trilogy, by Lev Grossman
This series went some way to blow my metaphorical mind. Grossman is re-inventing the Narniabooks in a series about Quenton Coldwater and his magician friends. These characters are obsessed with a series of books in which five kids visit a magical land called Filory. Reading the first book in the series drove me crazy for a while, until I realized that Filory was fictional, and Grossman’s version of Narnia. These are compelling books, and if you are a Narnia fan, not for the faint of heart. More magicians, another school for magicians, and, no, not like Harry Potter.
4.      Women of the Otherworld series, By Kelly Armstrong
This is a series of books by a Canadian fantasy writer. You will get your fill of werewolves and supernatural creatures with these books. I haven’t read them, but they come highly recommended.
5.      The Warrior Chronicles, by Bernard Cornwell
Blood and guts is the order of the day with these books. They are narrated by Uhtred of Bebbenburg, who tells the story of the days of the Saxon kingdoms at the end of ninth century Britain. I loved reading these books, and I look forward to the most recent, The Empty Throne.
6.      Aubrey Maturin series, by Patrick O’Brian
More historical fiction, this time on the open sea. This series includes twenty books that will keep you going for some time. I haven’t read the series yet, but it comes highly recommended by a friend.
7.      The Flavia de Luce series (The Buckshaw Chronicles), by Alan Bradley
This is one serious girl detective, living in London of the 1950s. I’ve only just started the first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, but it’s on my list for this summer.
8.      The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, Michael Scott
No, Harry Potter will not help you here, either. A series of five books that is nothing short of a collision of worlds. I’ve read the series twice, but I confess I haven’t quite figured it out. Still, I recommend these books that centre on the adventures of Josh and Sophie, the twins of destiny.
9.      Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, by Jeff Kinney
Greg Heffley is awesome, and a little stupid. I never get tired of these books. They are fabulous for reading out loud, and you can enjoy them as a kid or a parent. Each book is a quick read, and always fun.
10.  Bartimaeus Sequence, by Jonathan Stroud
This is a gem of a series, and I was thrilled to find it a few years ago. I even managed to convince my youngest daughter to read it; she loved it too—thank god. The series is told from the perspective of three different characters: Bartimaeus, the sarcastically funny djinni, Nathaniel/John Mandrake, the precocious little twerp who summons Bartimaeus in the first place, and Kitty Jones, the commoner and rebel, who has more sense than anyone else in the series. I’ve read this series several times, and love it every time. If you want fantasy, and something a little different, then this series will do it. If you happen to get the Audible version of the series, you will meet one of my favourite readers, Simon Jones.

TALES, Tales, and More Tales

This weekend sees the 27th annual TALES Storytelling Festival happening in Edmonton’s Old Strathcona. TALES is The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling, which has been around for decades. This year’s festival has moved from Fort Edmonton Park to Old Strathcona, and I wish it all the best in its new home.
I have many fond memories of the festival, having told stories to adults and kids, most recently last year. One of my all-time favourite venues for storytelling is Saint Michael’s church on, I think, 1920 Street in the park. Fort Edmonton is a unique venue for such a festival, and I’ll miss it this year, but I’m also looking forward to the new location.
The TALES festival has evolved over the years, but it has remained at heart one of the best festivals of its kind in the country. The TALES website calls it a “grassroots” festival, which I think is a good way to describe it.
But the annual festival is only part of what TALES does. Apart from the festival, I also have fond memories of the monthly TALES meetings, which for years took place at the City Arts Centre in Edmonton. Once a month, a group of people would gather to tell stories. The evenings were full of every kind of story. The story-stick, at that time a carved rabbit, would make its way around the circle, and whoever held the stick could tell a story.
I remember taking my kids to one of the monthly meetings, mostly because I got wind of an appearance by Robert Munsch. He was in Edmonton for a concert at the Windspeare Centre, but he agreed to come to the TALES meeting. My kids were still pretty little at the time, but they were eager to meet the author who wrote the crazy stories they loved so much.
I happened to be sitting next to Munsch, and when he held the stick, he peered around me at my youngest, who was hiding behind my chair.
“What’s your name?” he asked, in a stage whisper.
She didn’t answer. I sighed, and told him her name. Munsch proceeded to tell the story of the Valentine Cookie, using my daughter as the main character. My youngest never came out from behind my chair, but she never forgot the story.
After Munsch, I got the stick, but I don’t think I told a story. I passed it to my eldest, and she told a story. The precocious little beggar had sound effects and hand gestures to go along with her story, which was one I had told at bedtime, and she managed to make an impression on the whole room. At the time, I thought it brave of her to tell a story to a room of mostly adults, and I thought she gave even Munsch a run for his money.
Enjoy the festival this weekend. Take in some stories, and you will no doubt come away with some of your own. Stories give rise to stories, and remember that you can never get enough.

Spring Means Writing

Recently, I published a book of short stories on Amazon, The Paper Man and Other Stories. These are adult, not kid’s stories. This is to let you know that I do more than read and think about kid’s books.
Now that spring is here, it’s time to move onto other projects. Spring?—you are thinking. We had a spring snow storm here last week, which left more than four inches of snow on the ground. Mercifully, it didn’t stay. I know it’s spring because my Maple in the front yard is leafing out, and the sun isn’t setting until 9:30. The long evenings are lovely for walking. As it’s spring, and as my teaching life is over until September, it’s time to move onto other projects.
At the moment, other projects means independent publishing. Indie publishing has been on my mind for a while. I finally got up the courage last year to try and publish my stories on my own. I began with Kindle singles, but eventually I worked with the fine people at Create Space (another Amazon subsidiary) to produce a book. The result was the thirteen stories in The Paper Man collection.
My next project is a young adult novel, one that I’ve been waiting to get back to for over a year. It will probably be the first in a series. By the way, I wrote the second book in the series first. After having both an agent and an editor tell me the book simply took too long to get going, which had me ready to give up on writing forever, I sat down and wrote a prequel. Here’s a teaser. Hopefully, you will see this book in print by next fall. Enjoy.
From, City of Shadows (chapter 1)
It was a busy morning on the streets—a market morning. Stalls lined the middle of the street in the direction of the square. Booths, carts, open tables, and even blankets were filled and spread with nearly every conceivable bit of junk or food-stuffs that it was possible to sell or trade. Across the street from the rows of vendors, the morning breadline had formed.  Made up of people who had nothing to sell or trade, this line of ragged humanity had to rely on daily handouts from the Municipal Government in order to get something to eat.
In the centre of the intersection stood a cop, wearing the familiar black uniform and combat boots of the Municipal Police. The Blackshirts, as people had come to call them, had been in the district for several months now. All of them carried a heavy baton, this one swinging idly from the cop’s wrist. More deadly was the sonic whip he carried in a holster on his belt. The sonic whip was the size and shape of a small flashlight, but you never wanted to be on the wrong end of a sonic whip.
Safi knew it. She had once found herself on the wrong end of a sonic whip. The Blackshirt, who had taken a dislike to her,  had only given her a touch, but it was enough to make her hair stand on end, knock her flat, and leave her feeling sick for two days.
Safi watched the Blackshirt from the breadline where she had been waiting for more than an hour. People stood silently in front and behind, clutching themselves inside ragged coats or old blankets to protect themselves from the wind that always seemed to blow through the Hed. She was in position, and the only thing that might cause a problem was if the line suddenly started to move. That was unlikely as the breadlines were notoriously slow, and people often found themselves standing in line for most of a day for a single loaf of bread or package of yeast cakes.
The cop did a full circle in the middle of the intersection, staring at people coming and going from Market Street. He stared as if he were orchestrating the entire street. No one looked at him or seemed to notice him, but Safi knew that everyone who came and went was aware of his presence.
Swaggering idiot, thought Safi. He’s going to get a surprise in a hurry. Soon he would have more trouble than he would know what to do with.
She pretended to stare into space, assuming the vacant expression of most people in the lineup. She was checking for the others. Just at this end of Market Street, she spotted what appeared to be an old woman, hobbling towards a warped bench that stood against a wall. Safi knew that beneath the dirty, pink blanket was no old woman at all. It was Seth, and if he was heading towards the bench, then the others must be in position.
Safi was uneasy. She had a tightness in her chest that she didn’t like, a feeling she had when too many things could go wrong.
That morning, she had clutched Seth’s arm as he and the others headed for the ladder that would take them up and out of the pod and into the street. The pod was located in a short access tunnel that connected to the main sewer system beneath the Hed.
“Is she really ready,” asked Safi, looking intently into Seth’s dark eyes. Even asking the question she felt as though she was nagging him. But he had hardly talked to her in what seemed weeks.
Seth looked back, implacable as ever. “Of course she’s ready. All she has to do is talk to the cop and lead him down the street.”
“And what if he grabs her?”
“He won’t.”
“How do you know?”
It was this sort of exchange with Seth that Safi found more and more frustrating. It wasn’t just that he had stopped talking to her. It was as though he had stopped taking her seriously, or maybe that he was suffering from a sort of blind faith—just relying on things to work out.
“I don’t think she’s ready, not for something like this,” said Safi. “Not yet.” More than anything else in that moment she had wanted his attention.
He had looked at her for a long moment. “It’s not Shank I’m worried about,” he said, softly. “It’s you, Safi.” Then he gently disengaged his arm and scrambled up the ladder after Mo and Rami.
What was that supposed to mean? Safi stared after him for a moment, then climbed the ladder, knowing that she was neither going to get his attention nor even an answer.
Now she stood in the lineup and waited for Seth’s signal, watching the blanketed figure as it slumped onto the bench. And it wasn’t just that he didn’t take her seriously, she said to herself. He wasn’t taking seriously that things were changing in the districts. And not for the better, either: Blackshirts everywhere, armed vendors, and rumours of gangs that were organizing in response to the police, the beatings, and the arrests.
Safi realized she’d been holding her breath. She let it go, slowly and carefully, shuffling her feet and tugging at the shapeless felt hat she used to hide her red hair. The tips of her fingers tingled with anxiety.
And then, out from Market Street ran a small child, a little girl, seemingly one of the many urchins who lived on the streets of the city. It was Shank. She ran straight up to the cop.
The big man paused in mid-swagger and stared down at her. Her face was tear streaked, and she was pointing back along Market Street. The cop looked up the street and then shook his head. Shank began to cry in earnest, pointing repeatedly back along the booths and carts and clutter of the street. The cop glanced once around, and then with a half-shrug followed her into the crowd that pushed its way along the stalls and booths.
Shank was one of half a dozen or so little ones under Seth’s protection. He was the leader of their pod. It was Seth who came up with their plans for raiding or scavenging anything the pod could sell or trade for food.
Seth’s plans were usually brilliant. He could be reckless, but he was a brilliant planner. Raiding one of the fat vendors who took advantage of people in the district with overpriced or rotten fruits and vegetables was dangerous, but to pull it off right under the nose of some swaggering Blackshirt made the risk worthwhile. At least Safi usually thought it was worthwhile. This time she wasn’t sure.
Safi began to count in her head—one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand . . . . And there it came, a high, piercing whistle. Her signal.
Yanking down her hat, Safi broke from the line and ran. The stall Seth had chosen to target that day was near the end of Market Street. It was a fruit and vegetable stand run by a tall, bloated man who wore a long brown coat. He was one of the new breed of vendor who traded the leavings from the corporate districts that had begun to spring up all over the city. The corporate districts were gated communities that never seemed to lack food or water. Nobody knew how they came by so much, but it was said they threw out what they didn’t use. Even Safi, who had come to hate the thought of the corporates as much as she had come to hate the Blackshirts, had trouble believing such a story. Who would throw out food?
The bloated man in the brown coat was a particularly nasty form of bloodsucker. He got his hands on what the corporates didn’t want, and then he traded it for the bread or meds people stood in line to get from the government, then reselling what he traded to people who could pay for it. He was scum.
Because this particular vendor was a corporate leech, Safi would usually have no qualms about the raid. Hitting such a bloodsucker in the middle of the morning right under the nose of a Blackshirt would usually have made it that much more exciting.
No more time to wonder.
Safi ran straight for the table where the man in the brown coat had piled fruits and vegetables and an assortment of dented cans. She could see a small, lean figure to her right converging on the stand. That was Rami—small, wiry, and irrepressible. Safi spared a glance to her left. And just as planned, she saw a tall, wild-haired figure tearing in from the other side. That was Moe. Right on time.
The three of them hit the stand all at once. Maximum chaos, Seth had said. Maximum chaos.
The table seemed to explode as the three of them slammed into it. Cans and vegetables rolled and flew in every direction. The table collapsed with a crash, and Safi heard somebody scream.
The crowd reacted exactly as Seth had said it would. Vendors hawking and bartering while the crowd behaved itself was one thing; flying and bouncing vegetables and cans was another. People scrambled to grab whatever they could. Safi had spotted something interesting as she hit the table. It was a netted bag of something—round things that looked orange or yellowish through the netting. She deftly scooped it up.
The man in the brown coat was bellowing. He had grabbed a length of stick and was swinging it against the crowd that was all around him now on hands and knees, grabbing whatever they could.
Get in, get out. Maximum chaos. That’s what Seth had said.
Safi clumsily hugged the netted bag to her side and leaped away from the table. She had lost sight of Rami and Moe, but she wasn’t supposed to worry about them. Seth was going to cover, and her job was to get out of there as fast as possible.
Safi knew about crowds and about riots. She knew that such a disturbance along Market Street would cause chaos, so when she leaped for the gap and found herself outside the crowd she knew something was wrong. Even as she heard the two-part whistle that meant danger, she saw the second Blackshirt.
For a fleeting second she wondered where he had come from. There wasn’t supposed to be a second cop. Seth said he would case the streets before the raid, and they weren’t supposed to have gone ahead if it hadn’t been clear.
But there he was—the second Blackshirt. And this one had a baton in hand, and he was running straight for Safi.