Nov 30 2023

Book reviews: Spare and Endgame

At the rate royal “bombshells” drop, one might imagine Buckingham Palace a smoking crater of charred ruins.

But after years of drama, not only do all the grand old piles in the British royal family’s vast portfolio of real estate still stand, but the royal machinery that sustains them isn’t even dinged. And that’s because all the smoke and dazzle is part of a calculated strategy, a show cooked up in concert between “the Firm” and the tabloids that profit from royal clickbait. The gossipy headlines generate profit for the papers, sustain public interest in Britain’s royal family, and provide a useful way to punish members who don’t toe the institutional line.

Prince Harry’s biography Spare became the fastest-selling nonfiction book of all time and generated countless media headlines. Omid Scobie’s Endgame is currently providing chum for another tabloid feeding frenzy.

But ironically, both books are packed with stories the tabloids won’t repeat, because they illuminate too much of the “invisible contract” between palace and press.

In probably the best coverage of Spare, Zeynep Tufekci wrote for the New York Times: “Any close follower of the British media should not have been surprised that after Prince Harry fell in love with Meghan Markle, the biracial American actress, years of vitriolic, even racist coverage followed. Whipping hatred and spreading lies — including on issues far more consequential than a royal romance — is a specialty of Britain’s atrocious but politically influential tabloids.

“People like me, uninterested in celebrities, shouldn’t dismiss the brouhaha around Harry’s memoir as mere celebrity tittle-tattle. He has made credible, even documented claims that his own family refused to stand up against their ugly, sustained attacks against Meghan. In other words, it appears that Britain’s most revered institution, funded by tens of millions in taxpayer funds annually, plays ball with one of its most revolting institutions.

“At the very least, it seems clear by now where some senior members of the royal family position themselves in all this.”

Endgame goes even farther than Spare in detailing the often sordid workings of the invisible contract between journos and courtiers. Scobie details how Christian Jones, Prince William’s communications secretary, fed negative stories about the Sussexes to Dan Wootton at The Sun in exchange for burying another story that might have been highly damaging to the heir: reports of private dinners and a “rural rivalry” that hinted at an affair between Prince William and Rose Hanbury, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley.

No proof or confirmation of that royal affair was ever provided, because after Jones’s intervention, those articles were comprehensively scrubbed from The Sun’s website. Instead, the paper was apparently allowed to break the story of what it would call “Megxit”: Harry and Meghan’s desire to separate themselves from the Firm.

According to both Endgame and a report by the Byline Times, when Harry pursued legal action against The Sun, he was punished by the withdrawal of his official security. (It’s worth noting that the disgraced Prince Andrew is still provided security, despite having a much lower threat profile than Harry.) Scobie quotes a source as saying: “I have never seen the Palace circle the wagons like they did with Christian.” Byline Times also quotes a source: “They threatened the removal of the funding to try and protect the royal household from a potential courtroom scandal with Jones and Wootton very publicly at the centre.”

Why would the Firm pull out all the stops to protect a courtier, even if it meant putting the monarch’s own second son in real and immediate danger?

Because Jones is merely a flunky for Prince William, and it’s hard to imagine that Jones’s press machinations were conducted without the approval of his “principal.” Indeed, he wasn’t William’s only communications secretary to openly collude with the tabloids against Harry and Meghan: another highly placed aide, Jason Knauf, gave testimony on behalf of the Daily Mail in a case brought against it by the Duchess of Sussex, regarding the leak of a private letter. (Despite the attempted sabotage from William’s camp, she won that case and was awarded a front page correction and a large settlement.)

The details of all this sordidness — the sacrifice of Harry and Meghan on the altar of tabloid drama, with obsidian knives wielded by Harry’s own closest kin in an attempt to secure more favorable coverage for themselves — forms the narrative backbone of both books. And William isn’t the only one implicated in the matter: Queen Camilla emerges as a canny and ruthless operator, buying the rehabilitation of her own image with the coin of gossip leaked against both her stepsons.

“In a funny way I even wanted Camilla to be happy,” Harry writes. “Maybe she’d be less dangerous if she was happy.”

It’s pretty hard to tell if anyone’s happy in Britain’s royal family. Endgame tells us that Charles is jealous of William, that William is jealous of Harry, and that Harry will probably never get any of the remorse he’d like to see for the way he and his wife were thrown to the wolves. Hating Harry — and even more so, Meghan — has become its own lucrative, self-sustaining industry. Literally hundreds of negative articles are published about the two every day. It’s a relentless, often racist onslaught of character assassination that exploits the same culture-war fissures that drove Brexit.

Spare mostly comes off as a good-faith effort from a deeply weird person to explain to the rest of us why he’s like this. Endgame isn’t as well-written or compelling, but it backs up a lot of what Harry puts into generalizations with names, dates, and specifics. Together, they paint a very damning portrait of two rotten institutions propping each other up at the people’s expense.

But by and large, you won’t read about that in the press.

Apr 25 2019

Bad Fairy Story Bundle

I have a short story in the anthology Fae, one of the ten titles included in the Bad Fairy Bundle. It looks like a pretty sweet deal and I’m probably going to have to grab it myself—check out that Jane Yolen collection! (The Bad Fairy Book Bundle runs for 3 weeks only.)

Nov 18 2016

Book Launch: Gail Murphy and the Piskies

I’m very pleased to share that I have a new children’s book out, again beautifully illustrated by Ingrid Steblea. It’s a funny read-aloud story about mischievous sprites and the wise teacher who must keep them from causing chaos in the classroom. I wrote it as an homage/gift to the director of the Peter Pan Cooperative Nursery School, Gail Murphy, who has been a tremendous force for good in the lives of our children and our community—and those of you who are part of the Peter Pan co-op, I would urge you to wait and buy this book at the holiday auction, where you’ll be able to pick it up for a discounted price and the satisfaction of knowing that all proceeds will go to benefit Peter Pan.

For the rest of you, the book is now available in either Kindle ($2.99) or paperback ($15) formats. I can also provide free copies in exchange for your honest rating and review on Amazon: please contact me to request a review copy.

Jul 5 2016

Speculative Story Bites Available for Pre-Order

I have a story coming out in this anthology, which will be released in e-book form August 9th:

There’s also a plan to publish each of the stories on a separate website, one a month I believe, so I’ll link to my story when it goes up. It’s the flower-fairy noir detective ghost story, for those of you who may have read that one in draft!

Dec 1 2015

Love Hurts On Sale Now!

Okay, I know I need to do an actual life-update post soon (capsule review: FINE BUT VERY BUSY) but hey, the Love Hurts anthology is on sale now, so that’s cool! I can’t wait to get my copy and read the other stories!

Here’s the Amazon link–you can also order it from any other bookstore.

If you are a person who posts book reviews to any social media site, review copies are available from the publisher—let me know and I can put you in touch with them.

Nov 10 2015

Love Hurts Cover Reveal

Wow, look at this gorgeous cover for the Love Hurts anthology!


I’m super excited to get my copy in a few weeks!

Nov 8 2015

Love Hurts Release Date: 12/1

I’ve just been notified that the release date for the Love Hurts anthology from Meerkat Press (which will include a story of mine) has been set for December 1st. I don’t think pre-orders are available yet, but I have been given permission to share the illustration that will accompany my story:


The art is by Sergio Garzon; it illustrates a scene where my heroine, Tess, is fighting a monster in an alien arena. I really like the dark, stylized feel of the art. There’s almost something vertiginous about it, which perfectly suits the subject matter.

And I’m particularly pleased that the black-and-white style preserves a lot of ambiguity as to Tess’s exact features. I think the only physical description I gave her in the story was a single reference to her “brown human hand,” so really the only important thing is that she not be whitewashed. This illustration works very well on that level.

I’ll post more about Love Hurts as we get closer to release; I was just really pleased to be able to share the art!

Jul 21 2015

Fae eBook is 99 Cents This Week


The electronic version of the Fae anthology is on sale this week; it’ll be 99 cents until the 29th. The promo image above links to Amazon but you can also buy it at Kobo or directly from the publishers at World Weaver Press. Just wanted to pass that on!

Oct 17 2014

Book Reviews: Spirits Abroad, Dragonfield, Wonders of the Invisible World

Spirits Abroad

I have raved about Zen Cho before—quite frankly I think she’s phenomenal, the most exciting new SF/F writer of this generation. And this short fiction collection really showcases her range of talent. These marvelous, fresh, transporting, inventive stories generally include elements drawn from Malaysian folktales and culture, rendered with a global, modern, magical-realist sensibility and a tremendous amount of literary talent. Some of the stories are funny–some are spooky–some are devastating–some are thoughtful. I cannot recommend the collection too highly. I am summarily making up a Book of the Year Award so that I can award it to this book.

Winner! Book of the Year (According to Shannon) Award!

On a five-star scale I give it ten stars. Seriously, so good.

Dragonfield: and other Stories

Well, what can I say—she’s no Zen Cho, but that Jane Yolen lady can spin a rather ripping yarn, can’t she?

I mean, Jane Yolen is a grande dame of fantasy, and if you read in the genre you probably already know whether you like her stuff. I do, very much, so I found this short fiction collection utterly delightful. This is the stuff of traditional fantasy–selkies and king’s sons and river-maidens and, yes, dragons–rendered by a master of the genre who is still writing at the top of her game.

Wonders of the Invisible World

Yep, I’ve had good luck with short story collections lately. This is another strong one. McKillip’s stories skew a bit odder (and sometimes harsher/sadder) than Yolen’s, but her writing is texturally gorgeous, and her characters can win you utterly from the first paragraph. Very good stuff for genre readers.

Jul 30 2014

Interview with Laura VanArendonk Baugh

I recently had the pleasure of a one-on-one conversation with Laura VanArendonk Baugh, whose story “And Only the Eyes of Children” is included in the Fae anthology. Laura’s story is a modern-day urban fantasy piece featuring a rather terrifyingly skilled “Robin Archer” in service to Titania, seeking stolen children. It’s fast-paced, snappy, and filled with the local color of its Indianapolis setting.

I’m posting my side of the interview here, and Laura will be posting her questions—along with the answers I gave—to her blog on Monday.

Robin’s world is filled with the kind of specific, convincing detail that makes it feel like a snapshot of a larger setting. Although your story stands alone, do you plan to explore this character further?

I wrote it as a standalone one-shot, but I have to say that the idea kind of grew on me, and now I have a few ideas jotted down for future Robin stories. And I’ve even started the next one!

References to A Midsummer Night’s Dream are woven through the story. Can you say a little bit about what that play means to you—when you first read or saw it performed, and how Shakespeare has influenced your writing and imagination?

I really can’t think of when I first saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream, except I remember it referenced when a man dressed as Shakespeare to talk to our elementary school. I remember bits and pieces of his presentation, including his explanation of a play in which a man played a wall and had to make a hole in the wall with his fingers. (Also he made a bad pun about Queen Elizabeth caking on seven layers of white makeup and a seven-layer cake. Why do I remember bad puns from school assemblies, but not that I needed eggs while I was at the grocery?)

But a more recent production definitely influenced “And Only the Eyes of Children.” One of my favorite actresses played Queen Titania, and while I’ve always thought Titania’s character a bit of a sap—let’s be honest, that subplot is one of Shakespeare’s weaker efforts—seeing Jennifer Johansen’s take made me consider her anew. What if Jennifer were free to play her like she played some other characters, from tough-as-rattlesnakes villains to gothic mistresses? What if Titania got a bad write-up in Midsummer but some unconcealable truths, like her love of children, showed through?

So I thought of a Faerie Queen in the older, darker sense, something made manageable in the reduced story of Titania’s pranking, and that became the Queen who charged Robin with watching over human children.

Both of our stories zero in on the “stolen child” aspect of fairy tales, and in a way both of our stories offer a happy—or at least hopeful—view of fairy abductions. If a fairy offered to take you “to the woods and waters wild,” would you go?

Ooh, a good question….!

I think I’d have to be pragmatic and say no. At this point in my life, I have too much here I don’t want to lose—everything from dreams come true (getting paid to make up stories!) to an awesome husband. (You have no idea how old and boring I feel, writing that.)

BUT, if we could work out a visitation deal, THAT would be a go. Then when life is getting all harried and full of hassle, I could just hop over to the fae world and wait for things to blow over. (And given the fabled slippage of time between our world and theirs, that might be a very effective solution, indeed!)

I agree with Laura: I wouldn’t go, but I’m sure the missed opportunity would haunt me forever.

What about you?