Review: In Calabria, by Peter S. Beagle

Tachyon Publications, LLC., 2017.

Let it be said up front that Calabria is a region of southern Italy, in the “toe of the boot.” There on a hillside farm lives Claudio Bianchi, alone except for his old dog Garibaldi, his old goat Cherubino, and three cats: Sophia, Mezzanotte, and Third Cat, which is more position than name, since Bianchi had never learned her real name, “as one must do with cats.” Other than twice-weekly visits from young Romano the postman, It’s a hard and lonely existence, which suits Bianchi just fine. The farm gives him enough of a living to live, plus time to read and sometimes write poetry, which he mostly keeps to himself. All that changes when the unicorn visits his scraggly vineyard for reasons that Bianchi cannot fathom:

“He would indeed  have taken it for an illusion, if Cherubino, anarchist and atheist like all goats, had not remained kneeling for some time afterward, before getting to his feet, shaking himself and glancing briefly at Bianchi before  wandering off. Bianchi knew the truth then, and sat down.”

He writes a poem about the unicorn, but the visitation proves to be more than a one-time miracle. The unicorn returns, and is apparently searching for something. The truth finally dawns on Bianchi: the unicorn is pregnant, and what she’s searching for is a place to have her foal…fawn? Bianchi isn’t sure. But when she makes her nest in a hollow near his apple orchard, the farmer begins keeping vigil, and it is there that Giovanna, the postman’s sister covering his route that day, finds Bianchi, and finds the unicorn. Soon she’s in on the conspiracy of silence, and essentially in the unicorn’s service as much as Bianchi, though he might not have put it that way, already is. The unicorn eventually has a difficult birth, and Bianchi is there to assist, and all is well, for a while.

Some secrets are impossible to keep, and the unicorn and her newborn are among them. It’s not long before reporters, animal rights activists, and unicorn hunters are snooping around and sneaking through and trampling  Bianchi’s farm, but the real danger arrives with the monster, a monster in human form, as the worst ones tend to be.

So that’s the plot. Trivial things, plots, or would be if one didn’t need a way to lay out what does and must happen in the course of the story. The bones, if not the flesh. Seldom if ever what the story is about. At its heart, In Calabria is a love story, and I don’t simply mean the contentious but real affection Bianchi and Giovanna come to feel for each other. There’s also healing. In time we learn why Bianchi is alone in the first place, and the tragedy that put him there. In Calabria is also a story of awe and wonder, and all that contained in a novella-sized package. It contains multitudes. Yes, I know. The monster must be defeated, the dangers averted, or else the story is about something else entirely. So let’s leave that part for the reader, where it rightly belongs.

If you already know Peter Beagle’s work, and you haven’t read this book, I don’t know what to tell you, other than stop wasting time and get to it. I’m already mad at myself for waiting so long to do the same. If  you don’t know Beagle’s work, then correct this error as soon as possible. Start with The Last Unicorn, or A Fine and Private Place, or The Folk of the Air, or The Innkeeper’s Song or...well, I really doubt it matters. No writer is for every reader, but if Peter Beagle isn’t for you, then I can only offer my sincere condolences. But it’s well worth your time to find out.

 

 

 

 

 

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Count All the Votes

They’re still counting votes, though it looks like Sinema pulled it out in AZ. Florida? What a mess. So far the courts have kept Scott (Gollum) from shutting down the counting, though doubtless he’ll try again. It’s been 18 years since the fiasco of 2000. Fix this already.

Count all the votes. This should not be a controversial opinion. Right now in my own district, they’re still counting. I confess I’d love it if the vote counting was done, because my guy is ahead and he’s trying to replace someone vile who’s trying to gut healthcare and vote more money to the rich. If she moves ahead and wins, well, that’s the will of the people, even when it’s wrong. I hope that doesn’t happen, but either way it has to be fairly done, or no more democracy.

I woke up a lot earlier than I meant to after a late night. On the good side, I got my flash fiction assignment for the week written early. And the reason I was up late was a project that had stalled but maybe is moving again. A few more pages should tell the tale, Of that the tale will be told. Something like that.

More writing, less politics. Speed the day.

The Long Look Redux

The first thing you may or may not notice about the new US paperback edition of The Long Look is that the cover is slightly different from the original hardcover and ebook editions. That’s because the original design was too close to the “bleed” limits of the pod cover specs. The jacket had to be redesigned from scratch, starting with Steve Gilberts’ original artwork. It took four attempts to get it right, and the final cover was just approved yesterday.

Revising the text was a breeze by comparison. And yes, there were changes. Not major, but changes nonetheless. Mostly a few embarrassing usage and context errors. I’ll be updating the ebook edition with the same changes in a few days, or at least I hope I will. It’s shaping up to be a very busy week.

Regardless, the UK edition is available here. If anyone anywhere else is interested, let me know. For now I had to go with limited distribution to keep the price of the book down, but it will be available in a few more countries.

I’ve been reading and loving Jeffrey Ford’s newest, Ahab’s Return. As the title suggests, it’s about what happens after the events of Moby Dick, when Captain Ahab turns up alive. Once I’ve finished I’ll do a review, if I think I have anything worth saying about it. Don’t wait for me, though. The book is already out there.

Flash Cast

Today I wanted to talk about a new project. When I moved to central NY, apparently everyone on the block already knew I was a writer. To this day I have no idea how; I certainly didn’t tell them, nor does anyone seem to recall how they found out. I’m not complaining, but I still think it was a little odd. Regardless, another neighbor told me about a flash fiction group meeting at the library and suggested I join.

I was reluctant. I’ve never been a fan of flash fiction, regarding it, as I know I’ve said before, as a cross between “short attention span theater” and a parlor trick. Yeah, I know, I hear it too: Judgmental much? Still, it’s not the sort of writing I normally did, but I finally gave in and checked it out.

Glad I did. It’s a talented bunch of people and writing flash has its own challenges, so on top of whatever else I have going, I write a complete micro(mini?) flash piece of <= 500 words every week. Then the head of the local theater group found out what we were doing and thought it would be interesting to do as a podcast. So we all read stories for the project, now called FlashCast. I’m including the link for the Spreaker site. In case you’re wondering, my first story up is “The Stowaway,” in episode #2, second story.  Yeah, that’s my own melodic voice. I need to work on my enunciation, but otherwise not horrible. It’s also available on iTunes, though there’s more than one podcast associated with “flashcast,” so look for the logo if you go that route.

I have two more stories recorded, and I’ll note when they’re up.

UK Okay?

I’m about halfway through the reformatting of The Long Look for the paperback edition. Fortunately, it reads a lot faster than it takes to work through it in editor mode. One reason for that is I’m being careful, as I only plan to do this once. My original assessment that there would only be minor changes to the text still holds. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any changes at all. A few spelling corrections, one or two small continuity gaffes to fix. Nothing major, but I plan to update the Kindle edition with the revised text when I’m done, so there will be essentially no difference between the ebook and paperback, other than the media.

As I said last time, I’ve always sucked at promotion. Maybe I had some introvert’s dream of just writing good stories and books and letting the rest take care of itself. Which it doesn’t. So I’m learning. I remain terrible at networking and the convention scene, which leaves learning copywriting and using those methods to write better online book descriptions and ad copy, something I believe I can do and am doing. Which has led to several online revisions over the last week or so revising how the books are presented. I haven’t gotten to them all yet, and some will be revised more than once. It’ll take time.

Odd result so far—now the UK editions of my indie books are outselling the US editions by 2 to 1. Too soon to say if the blip is statistically significant, but it is interesting. It’s a journey. I’ll report on it from time to time here, so fair warning.