Today, I would like to introduce an aspiring new author, M. Francis Smith. The sharper-eyed set among my readers may notice a striking similarity between his last name and mine. Yes, he’s my father.
Both of my parents have always been (bizarrely) supportive of my career and (even more bizarrely) proud of my work, although my father has only relatively recently been counted among my readers. Several years ago, he tried to read Heat, got about twenty pages in, and shelved it for reasons which he has never been able to put into words, but which are nevertheless abundantly clear to me. Hell, I wrote it. However, my mother read every book I wrote up to the time of her death, and so one night as my mother was re-reading the Lords of Arcadia series, my father, in a fit of boredom, picked up a page purely at random and read it, no doubt braced for another Heat-like foray into unpleasantness. And for reasons which he has never been able to put into words and which are absolutely unfathomable to me, he loved it. Still hasn’t been able to finish Heat (to my knowledge, he’s never picked it up again), but he devoured four books just as violent, gory, profanity-laden and kinky (in some places, even more so). Since that time, he has also read Cottonwood and The Last Hour of Gann, and is slowly but surely bracing himself to tackle Olivia and The Scholomance.
So a couple of months ago, as I was doing my Beta Read for Land of the Beautiful Dead, my father expressed a desire to sit in on it. I don’t know how real authors do a beta reading, but my betas and I sit around in a room with snacks and take turns reading out loud, with frequent stops for argument or to offer editing suggestions or simply to groan, “Oh for Chrissakes, really?!” in unison. I love that. It’s like my own personal barbershop quartet putting all my artistic shortcomings to music.
I digress. So there we were, reading LoBD out loud and there is my father, reading along and even taking his turn. You have not lived as an author unless you have had your 70-year old father read a blowjob scene you bear sole responsibility for writing. (Funny sidenote to that sidenote: In the very first sexual encounter between Azrael and Lan, my father interrupted the reading with a very abrupt, “Oh, give me a break!” Startled, I asked him to amplify just what his objection was, expecting to have to justify the encounter as more of a business transaction than any romantic whathaveyou. But no, my father’s issue was that Azrael had lived however many millennia he’d lived and “the best he could do was the missionary position?”)
It was an experience, is what I’m saying. All of which I tell you so I can now tell you that my sisters and I are presently beta reading my father’s second book, which is I’m sure just as nerve-wracking for him as it was for me. It’s even more nerve-wracking because he is in the process of getting the first book ready for publication. That book is called The Children of Omm: The Unmaking of the Worm, and this one is work-titled The Children of Omm: The Curse of Cancr.
I am enormously proud of my father (for a number of reasons, but we’ll focus on the book-related ones for right now), especially as this is literally the Story That Almost Wasn’t.
The story of my father’s story begins fifty years ago, on a rainy night in France. My father was serving two years as a missionary for his faith (his comment about the missionary position just got that much funnier, didn’t it? Yeah, it did) just out of high school and before he went on to college, and because missionaries are strongly discouraged from having any kind of fun, or indeed, any life at all, most of his off-hours were spent lounging around the dorm being bored half out of his skull. With nothing else to think about, my father found himself entertaining himself with a little story, very Tolkeinesque, about good and evil and gods and demons and various races of people trapped between them. As his story got too big to be comfortably contained within his head, he started to write some of it down, under the pretense that he was writing a diary, since he thought that sort of dark fantasy epic would be frowned upon by his fellow missionaries and the church.
My father hid these notes for two years, then came home and went to college, where a few scenes blossomed slowly into the early makings of a pretty friggin’ tremendous novel. He didn’t work on it very often and never intended anyone should read it, so he wasn’t what anyone might call motivated to finish it. When Life got in the way, as Life so often does, the book got pushed further and further to the back of his mind. Eventually, he got a job, got married, got kids, and generally got everything except his book finished. It sat in a three-ring binder, part in English and part in French, on typed and hand-written papers and even a few bits scrawled on napkins and receipts, for the better part of thirty years. At that point, an on the cusp of moving from one house to another, my father pulled that binder out of the bottom of the drawer where it had been sitting for so long and tossed it in the trash.
This is where his story might have ended and where it should have ended, if not for the fact that my mother was in life and probably still is in whatever new form she occupies on her present plane of existence, just an astounding busybody. She saw the binder in the trash and, having never seen that binder before, plucked it out and opened it up. She read what she could read of the bits that were in English and, as she was reading, my father happened along and caught her.
I’m not entirely certain what happened there. Neither of my parents really ever admitted to arguing, but an argument it most definitely was, because when it was over, the binder was back in the trash. However, my mother, being my mother, just waited for my father to leave the room, and then she took the binder back out of the trash.
Here we see the devious nature inherent in the breed, because my mother, who I maintain was a paragon of honesty under normal circumstances, took the papers out of the binder and put them into another binder, then put the first binder back in the trash. She gave the second binder, containing my father’s fledgling story, to me, and told me to keep it safe. This I did.
Ten years passed.
One day, as my parents were visiting and the subject of books came up (I’m not sure anymore, but I think the second edition of Olivia had just gone live), and my father mentioned his lost book and expressed deep regret that he had thrown it out, because he could not any longer remember any but the broadest strokes of the plot and he was sure he would never be able to recreate it. I excused myself and went up to my room, collected the book, brought it downstairs, and handed it to my mother, who handed it to him. I have never forgotten the look on his face.
So my father got his book back. And he promptly returned it to the bottom of his dresser drawer and resumed ignoring it. However, a few more years passed and my father retired, whereupon he discovered that suddenly having nine more hours in your day with nothing allocated to them isn’t all that great when you don’t have an interest in gardening or model trains or whatever else it is that (his words, not mine) old fogeys do with their little remaining time. He began to read a lot. And then to watch TV. And then just to sit. As he later put it, he went “Entish” because my father is just the biggest nerd. And then one day, for whatever reason, my father pulled that book out of his drawer and decided to finish it.
Last year, at the age of 70, my father finished his first novel, The Children of Omm: The Unmaking of the Worm. To his surprise, he immediately began thinking about a second book. And then to write it. This year, just a few months ago, when he and I were in Utah, my father (who was working on the last half of his second book) allowed some of his relations to read the first one.
Hang on, I need a quick happy break before I go on.
Okay, I’m back.
Several of his relatives wouldn’t read the book at all, because it has magic in it. His father wouldn’t read it because it was fiction and all fiction is frivolous and a waste of a time (I love my grandfather, I really do, but he’s always felt like this and I will never understand it). One of his sisters read it and her response was, in its entirety, “It was nice.” Another sister said it was well-written, but she didn’t understand why he would “waste his time” writing it, especially since his children were already writers (like there’s a quota???) and there were plenty of other things he could be doing.
My father smiled and thanked them all for their feedback, then came home and finished his book.
Here, I would like to take a moment to announce to the world that the search is over, I have the world’s greatest dad.
So now my father is allowing his children to beta read his second book. His first one is getting those final touches, like a cover and a blurb, before being published on Amazon Kindle. He is already laying out the outline for the third book in the trilogy. And I am both proud and privileged to be able to offer my readers an excerpt from the chapter we beta read today. So here it is, from the second book of The Children of Omm series, The Curse of Cancr, by M. Francis Smith.
Delany sent the boy to bed shortly afterwards, but remained long staring into the fire. Shortly before the ninth hour since the setting of the sun, a strange oppression of spirit descended upon him. He tried walking by the light of the stars and the now full moon to ease his disquiet, listening to the night sounds about him: there were surprisingly few of them. An hour or two before dawn, a preternatural spirit of gloom descended around the camp—no predawn lit the sky. Instead, one by one the stars winked out and the moon, still two hours from setting, faded to black and vanished. He walked by the light of Life which animates all things created, but the joy of living seemed to have been sucked dry. It reminded him of something he had experienced before, but the memory proved as ephemeral as a late spring zephyr and he could not bring it into focus nor seized it. Extending his senses, he tried to identify the wrongness, entering onto the Plain of Lost Souls—the sense of nature out of balance continued even there—but its source continued to elude him. He hurried back to camp.
Cuffi, Boy! Wake up! We must leave this place, Delany called as he entered the camp and began the process of bringing in the mules and loading them. For he had remembered where he had encountered such before, attenuated though it had been upon the Spirit Plain: the presence of Krm in possession of Julesh back in Nain.
Both of his companions came instantly awake and alert. Neither needed to ask the reason for the urgent call: the depression of spirit had become palpable to them as well. Even their dream as before waking had been dark and filled with fear and they were happy to leave them. However, the effort to break camp seemed to require strength beyond their ability to provide and they struggled to move as though the air around them had become viscous, denying them passage through it. Coalescing behind them at a distance just at the edge of discernment, a malignant nebula of horror began to take shape, in the center of which strode the shape of a man.
They took no nourishment in their hurry to leave that place behind, but, grabbing the mules’ leads and tugging them along as fast as they would go, they traveled along the edge of the escarpment now heading nearly southwest, gaining altitude as they climbed and arriving at last at a secondary promontory seeming to hang onto the west side of Fire Mountain: a rocky plateau overlooking the flat, westering forest. A rough pile of boulders marked its center, and toward this they hurried. Approaching it, Matian determined that it was actually a structure of some sort, for he saw a wide, flat stone perched upon three gigantic dolmens. Earth and smaller stones had been piled around the outside edge of the roof forming low walls. The only furnishing inside was a heavy stone table. Into this edifice, Delany led the mules. The shadow form which had trailed them all morning erupted onto the plateau from below the horizon even as they entered the building. Chorion had found them and with him, Xtl.
Flee then, Elf spawn, the voice crowed. That way is barred to me—I cannot follow you—but be assured that I will await your cowardly return. And when you do, you may find that all is not as you left it.