How Borschland got its name

BorschlandmapcoloredHow do authors name things?

J.R.R. Tolkien created an entire mythos as a companion to his renowned Middle Earth series of novels. The names Legolas, Boromir, and Frodo all had linguistic reasons for being what they were, since Tolkien was himself a professional linguist.

Conversely, Christopher Paolini, the bestselling author of the "Eragon" fantasy series, spent much less sweat and ingenuity thinking about the names in his book.

"Eragon," Paolini once admitted, is simply "Dragon" with an "E" instead of a "D."

And what about Borschland, the setting for a story about an ordinary American ice hockey player who becomes, against all odds, a national sensation in his adopted home?

As the progenitor of that name, I guess I'm more in Paolini's corner than Tolkien's, though the story is a bit more involved than the swap of an E for a D.

I was something like twelve or thirteen when Borschland was born. In those days I was prone to create three worlds in a single afternoon. Most of my creations came in the form of maps, and stayed that way. I was a forgetful god, and the inhabitants of those forgotten places would have justly railed at me for not taking care of what I had started.

Borschland was different. It also started out as a map-- the medium of which was markers on butcher paper-- but it soon took on a life of its own.

Borschland's inspiration was the last name of a friend of mine whose father was the dean of an Episcopal seminary in my hometown. My friend lived with his father, mother, and twin younger brothers in an impossible wonder of a house, an on-campus stone-and-brick edifice with soaring ceilings, endless bedrooms, enormous kitchen, and backyard basketball court. It had apparently once been a dormitory.

It was the perfect place for all manner of early adolescent diversion. We played every sport known to man either there or in the quad of the seminary across the street. To play baseball, we used a yellow plastic ball my friend dubbed a "grapefruit." I once whacked that sphere on a rising arc across the quad, smashing a window in the building that acted as the right-field fence.

We also started our own soccer team, and when we could not find a coach willing to train us, my friend's father, the seminary dean, consented to shepherd us until he found a willing divinity student.

That student was the first man I ever knew besides a pirate who sported a gold earring. He was a prince among men to put up with my fourteen year-old diva self.

My friend's mother, the Platonic ideal of mothers, presided over the kitchen, doling out bowls of yogurt and cottage cheese for afternoon snacks, and ferrying us around in the family's white station wagon. Later in life, I had a nightmare that involved being pursued by Satan in a desert wasteland. Presently my friend's mom appeared in the station wagon to rescue me, as ever an angel of mercy.

Since my friend had spent time in Chicago, he had the equipment for street hockey-- goals, sticks, rubber balls used for pucks-- and we played glorious games in the backyard basketball court.

My friend also had a table-top hockey game which I borrowed and played on my own, keeping careful statistics of all goals, assists, and penalties.

With such enrapturing memories stoking the fires of my nostalgia, it was in a way a foregone conclusion that Borschland, which is truly what my friend's idyllic household could be called, would take on a life of its own.

In college I maintained a Borschland Hockey League with teams from all the cities I had created on the map.

Like Tolkien, I became interested in language, and modified the city names to have more uniformity and logic. Borschland's language became an odd combination of Dutch, German, and French, with certain native elements of a land I had named after our seventh-grade science teacher.

Borschland also became the location for a bad short story I wrote about a young man whose mysterious landlady had the odd last name of "Enoon" (hint:  enoon is "no one" spelled backwards), and whose climax took place at an ice hockey game.

Thus, fiction entered into Borschland.

Much later in life, I introduced the fantasy ice hockey league to my son, who created a blog around it, and I contributed posts in the voice of a Borschic ice hockey journalist named Kadmus Greningen.

A story thread grew up around the blog posts involving an American ice hockey player named Sherm Reinhardt. You can still read those original posts today.

Eventually, the Borschland Hockey Chronicles, two novels and an anthology of short stories (plus another novel in progress), were born.

Now I have learned of the passing of my friend's father. The generous, genial man who was our interim soccer coach went on to be a revered bishop in the Episcopal Church.

In his obituary, I learned he wrote twenty books, among them two novels.

Much of what survives from an author's imagination seems to be random. Why Borschland? Why ice hockey? What necessitated the birth of that particular story?

But, as the Episcopal priest and author Robert Farrar Capon has written, as Christians we must take what seems to be random and act as if it is, instead, full of intended grace.

Which is why I will always be grateful to the Borsch family for their hospitality, generosity, and for the greatest gift of all: the name of an imaginary world.


Borschland colonizes Amazon

Talesofborschlandcover_promotionalBig news about the Borschland Hockey Chronicles for all fans and future fans of Sherm Reinhardt.

For those familiar with Sherm's ice hockey exploits, Breakfast with Pandora Books has just released a new Tales of Borschland anthology, Sherm Reinhardt and the Black Rose, including the first story involving Sherm Reinhardt since The Skater and the Saint

Sherm journeys to Zimroth, one of Borschland's neighboring nations, to scout a new goalie for his Te Staff hockey team, but he soon finds out why, as one Borscher puts it, "Going to Zimroth is like going back in time."

There are six other tales in the anthology, each one opening up the world of Borschland in various ways: you'll learn about the Borschic way of romance and Borschic spirituality.

There's also the origin story of the Flowering Branch which is the centerpiece of The Skater and the Saint.

And there are chilling tales as well, one about the Loflins, native people of Borschland, and about why there are no movies in Borschland.

But wait, there's more.

In celebration of the new release, for a limited time the entirety of the Borschland Hockey Chronicles (Skater in a Strange Land, The Skater and the Saint, and the Tales of Borschland anthology) will be available to read for free in the Kindle Unlimited lending library.

And here's an offer for you: anyone who reads one of these three selections and leaves a review somewhere online (e.g. Amazon, Goodreads, your blog) will be among the first to receive, absolutely free, an e-copy of the third and last installment of the Borschland Hockey Chronicles, The Last Phase Shift, which with any luck will be available to give as a Christmas gift this year.

Utter fabulousness.

And if you've read this far, then you deserve further insider information, which is that the cover of the Tales of Borschland anthology shown here is actually a beta cover, and if you yourself want to or know someone who would want to design a better cover, please let us know in the comments or email us at teenage underscore heroes at yahoo dot com.


In honor of the Winter Classic

In Borschland, ice hockey is an outdoor sport.

Borschlanders are used to lacing up their skates on rivers, ponds, or man-made rinks, and chasing after a puck while snow is falling. Indoor rinks exist, but are considered to be, in a way, cheating.

The following is an excerpt from Skater in a Strange Land, narrated by the greatest ice hockey journalist in Borschland, Kadmus Greningen, who describes the first Borschland Hockey League game every played in by our hero, Sherm Reinhardt:

...On this night there was much pomp and pageantry at Te Rijngk, our skating place. The river shined with the lights on the far bank, from the longshoreman's city of Natatck and the glittering suburb of Rirlver. The spit of land, Te Saandmaas, that extends between the river and Te Rijngk was full of workingmen, standing, standing, throughout the game, and not seeing very well, for that spit does not rise much above the river level, and they were standing ten and fifteen deep, but cheering none the less as our skaters waved to them under the spotlights and the bands played. 

The grandstand proper of Te Rijngk is built into the bluff that borders the river and guides it on, moves it along, saying, you shall not swamp this city. There is room for six thousand here, some of it in seating, some of it in benches, and at the very top in the grand boxes sit the dignitaries of the city, its richest and sometimes its happiest citizens. One level below sit the press, and there is where I am, humble reader, with the river lit up and the spotlights following the players as they skate the oval with grim, determined smiles. 

I know not exactly what was transpiring in the mind of Sherman Reinhardt at this time. Surely he had been in bigger rinks, for he had played in North America. And surely he had been cheered louder, for I think in America they have grandstands that seat twenty and thirty thousand fans at a time. 

But Sherman Reinhardt never would have been cheered so sincerely. Of that I am humbly confident. 

Of the game many thousand words could be written, yet it seemed to pale in significance to the historical nature of the event. To be sure, Te Staff won, by a score of 7 goals to 2, which was an impressive total, though there is no reason for us to have given up any goals at all, but that once we had gotten to 7 it seemed ungentlemanly not to let them score a couple. 

But we did not long remember the score. It was our Sherm who shone, our Sherm, our guest, our adopted son. 

Sherm lost his first faceoff. The lights off the river must have dazzled him. The venerable center of Tarlunz, Habel Baarda, who has scored a century of goals in his career, slipped the puck back to his defenseman and seemed almost to take a bow, as if to say, you were not expecting this North American to beat us Borschland boys, were you

Sherm went after that lost puck, furiously skating for it, and extended his stick as one defender attempted to pass horizontally to the other. The puck, headed for its intended target, clipped Sherm's stick and spindled high in the air. Sherm plucked it like a ripe Borschic apple, laid it at his feet, and let fly a shot on goal that went so fast it was in the net before any of us had time to pick up our field glasses. 

You have never heard such cheering. 

Lubert Veeststaff, the Tarlunz net minder of whose age we have now lost track, told us he had never seen a puck struck so hard. 

Afterwards, Sherm said through his interpreter Kevin Busby, "I apologize to the nation of Borschland for my selfishness. I was caught in the moment and my blood was up." 

It was a proper thing to say. We Borschers tend not to play the game by ourselves. But how can one apologize for a lightning bolt? It is a force of nature, an act of God. 

I believe that, by that shot, the will of the Tarlunz team was broken, like dry kindling over one's knee. Through the rest of the game it seemed as if Te Staff danced the Premujr Ball about the slow-footed Tarlunzers. Sherm took his part, but every time he got the puck he seemed to want to pass it, though the crowd begged him to shoot again. Chrujstoff, our young hothead, ended up with 2 goals to take the honor of the flowering crown that night, and Sherm was credited with 3 assists as he skillfully furnished the puck to the blades of his teammates. 


"Skater in a Strange Land" #1 book for Phil Naessens in 2013

Phil Naessens, Internet (and soon to be terrestrial) sports talk radio host has named Skater in a Strange Land his #1 book for 2013.

It's great to be #1 for anything, but for an author, it doesn't get much better. I thank Phil for his support for the Borschland Hockey Chronicles from the beginning.

I was on Phil's show today, Monday, December 30, looking back at Skater in a Strange Land and giving everyone a sense of the sequel, The Skater and the Saint. Click here to listen or on the player below.

 

The Skater and the Saint is available as an e-book here, as a paperback here, or pay through PayPal (button above and to the right) and you can get an autographed copy straight to your doorstep.

Phil asks me whether it was difficult to write a sequel, and among other things I told him it was easy, because readers like him were looking for more from Borschland.

But off air he clarified that he really wanted to know if I thought it was going to be difficult to "top" Skater in a Strange Land, whether I thought it was a hard act to follow since it was so good.

It's a funny thing, because I know where he's coming from. I remember waiting for the sequel to Star Wars, and being very happy with The Empire Strikes Back, so happy I yelled in the theater at the end, "Now I have to wait two years for the next one!"

I don't know about George Lucas, but I never thought Skater in a Strange Land would be hard to top because I never had the sense that it was as good a book as Phil thought it was. Authors by nature are pessimistic about their work, and I'm no exception.

However, I did think a lot about whether The Skater and the Saint would be a good book. I worked my tail off trying to make it good, and didn't worry that much about comparisons.

I hope readers like both books; they're somewhat different in that the first one spends more time on hockey and the second on relationships (though there's a lot of hockey in The Skater and the Saint, too).

And yes, there will be a third book, slated for 2015, which I also hope will be good. I'm going to try my darndest.

In the meantime, thanks again, Phil, for making Skater in a Strange Land #1. It's good to know I touched the life of at least one reader. That's what it's all about.


A few words about Bearland

AndmomNote: this post is in a series of occasional reprints of articles from Rejsgaang Oot, the magazine of the Borschland National Tourist Board.

The adventurer tourist who has decided on a stay in Borschland may find himself with time on his hands if there is a phase shift that outlasts the traveler's visa. 

No problem. The Borschland Foreign Ministry is happy to extend visas in case of unexpected phase shifts.

But what to do until the Continent shifts back to our earth?

If you have had your fill of Borschland, you may wish to visit Bearland.

Image: Else Holmelund Minarik's "Little Bear" strongly approximates the joyful character of the bears of Bearland.

Bearland is one of the most unusual nations on earth. It is the only democratic nation administered by sentient creatures other than humans. Some three million bears of all species make up this truly beautiful and scenic land, and it is well worth the shock to see them and it.

Borschland is home for some bears, especially those who work for Bearland's embassy in Staff Borsch. Having a bear address one with a Gut Emorgenweck ("Good morning!") in one of the city's many open squares and markets is practically an everyday occurrence.

But being in a place where most of the inhabitants are large, furry, and equipped with big teeth can be unsettling for some.

Don't be shy. Bears are among the most civilized creatures on the continent. They have benefited from the influence of English suzerainty (1888-1914) and are still an associate member of the UK Commonwealth of Nations. Though the official language of Bearland is Bnoa, a hybrid of several native bear dialects, English is taught and spoken universally, with only the most rustic of bears having no knowledge of the language. A Royal Air Force base is still maintained by the UK in proximity to Bearland's largest city, Waterbrownbear, with a community of some 750 RAF officers, airmen, dependents, and contract personnel.

The bears of Bearland are proud of their advanced civilization. Most bears wear clothing by choice, although naturism is not outlawed. They maintain a modern network of railroads and highways, and are the only nation on the Continent that uses motorcars as a private means of transportation. Bear Air is the official airline for tourists traveling to and from the Continent.

The climate of Bearland is various. It is the northernmost nation on the continent, which is to say, the closest to the equator, and the weather in Waterbrownbear is similar to that of Auckland, New Zealand. The beaches of Bearland are justly celebrated and visited by hundreds of thousands of bears and humans every year.

Farther to the south, the capitol of Brownbakikio is more continental, and the southernmost city, in the mountains near the Fox Territories, Brownbearking, is surrounded by tall mountains and host to fabulous winter sports. 

The "people" of Bearland are among the most hospitable you will see anywhere. They call themselves the "Upright Bears" both because they have evolved as majority bipedal creatures, and because their Bearish Christian Anglican religion calls upon them always to do the right thing in the right situation. The traditional Cathedral of All Souls in Brownbakikio is an awe-inspiring sight with twin Bnoogothic towers reaching to 375 feet and adorned with the unique and glowering bear gargoyles. 02794_0010027659

For guests, the Bearish motto translates to loading them down with the national delicacy, honey.

Honey is an ingredient in almost everything eaten and drunk in Bearland, and it is not uncommon to see honeybees flying about in even the most urban of areas. Bears are avid beekeepers and are proud to show visitors their prized hives. Be sure to ask if proper protective gear is available. Most bears do not mind a sting or two, but human hides are more tender.

Bearland is a sport fisherman's paradise. Bears lovingly maintain wild salmon fisheries, and each year the spawning of salmon is host to many salmon swiping festivals. In smaller streams, bears don the traditional waders and fly fish to their heart's content.

Hibernation is a custom now considered archaic among bears, and tourists will find year-round fun and attractions in Bearland, though the winter months tend to be a quieter time of reflection and relaxation for all but the most ambitious of bears.

Sports in Bearland are a great passion. The national game is Sockey, a combination of field hockey and soccer where players score goals both by hitting the small leather ball with a stick-- or by kicking it. Red Dot is Bearland's answer to Australian Rules Football, and is the most rough-and-ready of the native games. Bears also play soccer, rugby, ice hockey, and other more traditional sports. 

All in all, there is much more than one phase shift's worth of things to do and see in Bearland. As the bears say, "Bearland: a honey of a place where you'll want to 'stick' around."