The Borschland national flag

World-building is a huge amount of fun for a fantasy author, and even more fun when others join in.

My son started a Borschland fan-nation on the delightfully loopy site, and you need a flag as part of the profile, so I designed one for him. Here it is:


*Dutch readers may possibly see a similarity between this flag and a flag they have seen in the Netherlands. Let me know if you do.

I have known for a while that Borschland's national colors are gold, white, and black. In The Skater and the Saint (p. 147), a Borschland Navy airship is described as having a "gold and black chevron" on the side of its balloon.

The castle inside the triangle represents the old (17th c.) city of Staff Borsch, which was walled against Loflin and Foxian invaders. Its circuit is now followed by a loop subway line, and in most places it is still extant.

The flower inside the triangle represents a flower from the Bloomentwejg, the national relic of Borschland. The Bloomentwejg, or Flowering Branch, blooms every 300 years with flowers that confer immortality.

The colors of Borschland represent light (gold) and shadow (black), which must co-exist for the world to be stable. Saint Willem van Noos puts it this way in The Skater and the Saint (pp. 33-34):

Borschland, through its history has kept a balance of Shadow Saints and Saints of Light...It's not Darkness and Light. It's that light, when it falls on the world, creates shadow, and there is no light without shadow, and by the same token there is no shadow without light.

The white band between the gold and black represents the phase shift, the periodic phenomenon that takes Borschland and its continent into or out of a parallel universe. Note that white is not considered a color of purity in Borschland, but of void, liminality, purgatory, or limbo. This symbolism follows the native Loflin idea that the place of purification for souls after death is the threshold of the phase shift, a place of undifferentiated ice and fog.

The castle and flower in the "shadow" portion of the flag represents Borschland as a nation that, even when "unseen" or "in shadow" (i.e. phase-shifted to the parallel universe), remains vigilant (castle) and full of hope and integrity (flower).

There are other flags of Borschland. Ask if you want to know more about anything Borschic.

A lovely, thoughtful review of Skater and the Saint

I respect Richard Abbott's fair-minded, insightful reviews. He has recently published a string of posts on steampunk books, and he's lucidly imparted his thoughts on each one. The Skater and the Saint is (sort of) the next in line, and he gave it 5 stars.

As they say in Borschland, Ergut!

The Borschland Hockey Chronicles are sort of steampunk-y. As Richard says in his review, "[T]he book drifts somewhere out of phase between fantasy, science-fiction and steampunk..." I consider it steampunk lite. Richard goes on to say that the Chronicles demand to be read on their own merits.

This is true. I don't think I have the gene for writing genre fiction, though I respect those who can. My imagination is too all over the place for me to write to a series of expectations. At the same time, I wouldn't call the Chronicles "literary." There's too much goof in them for that. 

My friend Bob Mustin probably got close to the truth when he called the Chronicles "postmodern fantasy."

Postmodernism is sometimes thought of as a movement that tried to argue that everything is meaningless, but in its best form, it takes the conventional and stands it on its head, bringing out new possibilities and meanings.

I see the conventions of genres-- the magic sword in fantasy, the sexy man who can be improved in romance-- and I want to do something original with them, knock them about, change people's expectations.

So in Skater in a Strange Land, the romance is between a nerd hockey player and a nerd poetess. There are no dandelion fairies floating in front of a soft-focus lens. But the hero and heroine do have a waltz together.

In The Skater and the Saint, there's no magic sword. But there's a weird branch-like thing that blooms every 300 years and is shaped like and can be used as a hockey stick.

The third book, still in the planning stages, promises to be more science-fiction-y. Hopefully plausible and well-researched stuff. And full of a kind of goof, too.

Speaking of expectations, I wasn't expecting Richard to like this one better than the first. He liked it because it delved into Borschic culture and religion more deeply than the first; I thought that might be a hindrance to some readers. And it may just be.

But the one wonderful thing I've discovered since publishing these two novels is that every reader comes to every book with a unique set of eyes, and fixes on different things in those books. If a book is packed full enough-- of plot, character, world, turn of phrase-- then each reader can appreciate something different, and like the book regardless of their particular eyes. It sounds trite, but I think it's true.

Anyway, go read the review if you'd like, and check out Richard's newest, Scenes from a Life, a view into the everyday world of ancient Egypt.

Skater, a clean read for you

Picture 2
If you click on the above screenshot, you will notice something remarkable.

  • This is an actual email that sent to a friend of mine.
  • did actually suggest to my friend that she should buy "Skater in a Strange Land."
  • did group "Skater" with a number of books on the same topic: ice hockey.
  • And yet, you can tell by the covers of the other books that "Skater" isn't selling what the others are.

I am proud of the cover of "Skater." It was done by Streetlight Graphics and I think it beautifully captures the mood of "Skater." The silver, icy flourish of the title is superimposed over the mysterious, wintry blue of the background with its old-style buildings and snowflakes.

But it is clear that "Skater" is hard to categorize. Although it is about ice hockey and romance, it is not an ice hockey romance. In addition to the romance, it has elements of the classic sports story; suspense and political intrigue; steampunk; and flat-out travel and adventure.

It is certainly not a "steamy" ice hockey romance like the ones it's grouped with here. Romance novels are a very large market, and sports romance novels have their niche. Attractive men, and intimate relationships, can be found in every walk of life, and book covers are used to advertise that fact.

No, the romance of "Skater" is based on anticipation rather than fulfillment. So even though our hero, Sherm, is tall, athletic, and with a ruggedly handsome face, and even though our heroine Rachael is young, elegant, and with eyes "dark and shiny like black coffee in a white mug," there is on purpose a dynamic of old-fashioned courting and waiting.

Which is why I felt it was good idea to sign up on the "Clean Indie Reads" blog, which is a site dedicated to promoting books that are free of offensive or explicit content.

Someday I may write a book that resembles so many of those popular reads out there. In Borschland, however, it'll stay clean.

The Mill and the Cross, Borschic?

Road-to-calvary-bruegel-sm1This summer I've taken much time with the second book in my Borschland Hockey Chronicles series, and after a while, everything seems to come up Borschic.

But "The Mill and the Cross," a Netflix streamer we saw at a local museum recently, engaged me both because of its Borsch-ness and its attitude towards faith.

First, about the film.

The movie is about Pieter Bruegel the Elder's 1564 painting, "The Way to Calvary," an oversized canvas that shows the procession of the cross on Good Friday to the hill where Jesus was crucified.

It's one of those European paintings where the artist visualizes the event that happened in Israel centuries ago as occurring in his native land in contemporary times. Which is to say, the landscape looks like Bruegel's native Flanders (northern Belgium and southwest Netherlands today) and the people in it are dressed like 16th century people.

The filmmaker, Lech Wajewski, creates the world of the film by having the painting come to life: that is, the initial shots meld live action with the painting itself, and the painting fades in and out in the same way throughout.

There is no plot per se; the film follows the artist (Rutger Hauer) as he explains his vision for the painting with his patron, Nicholas Jonghelinck (Michael York). The other characters in the film (except for one-- more soon on her) have little or no dialogue. There are a lot of static shots of people staring into the middle distance, and with those shots a lot of quoting of paintings that I have probably seen but don't remember.

The action revolves around the idea that Jesus' death at the hands of the Romans parallels the deaths of Flemish heretics at the hands of the Spanish who had conquered the Netherlands in those days. There is an ingenious melding of the pathos of contemporary people who die for their beliefs, and of Jesus' undeserved suffering and death.

This trailer gives a good idea of what happens in the film, which is not for kids. It's not rated, but it's an R for general earthiness, frankness, and uncomfortableness that is best handled by grown-ups.

How does this relate to Borschland? Among the first settlers in Borschland in the 17th century were followers of a sect called the Familia Caritatis; the beliefs of that sect influence the nature of the Borschic church today. In the film, Nicholas Jonghelinck mentions that he is a member of this sect, which was presumably persecuted by the Spanish, and according to this entry, Bruegel seems to have been a sympathizer of the sect as well.

The patron also says something about the painting, "So, this could be a group of saints returning from the past to mourn the present state of Flanders." He means characters like the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, the Apostle John, and so on, who are depicted in the contemporary landscape of the painting.

I thought about the second Borschland book, which also has "saints" (not Biblical but Borschic) coming back into Borschland, not to mourn, but to try to save the country.

BorschlandmapcoloredMy Borschland books are meant to be fun-- recently it came to me that the adventures are in the spirit of Tintin books, beloved Belgian comic books that I read to my son when he was young.

But the nature of Borschland as a place of moral imagination lies just beneath the surface, and it's something I want to continue to explore. 

"The Mill & the Cross" spurs that exploration.

The painter explains in the movie that faith is an elusive thing. It takes work to maintain. People spend so much time just living their lives. The idea of something unseen but yet important is both part of our very natures and yet foreign to us.

So the movie spends a lot of time on showing ordinary people doing ordinary things. And yet, woven into all those shots of kids playing and fighting, women scrubbing doorsills, millers checking the quality of the meal they're making, there is a continuing monologue of the Virgin Mary (Charlotte Rampling) who is contemplating what the death of her son means.

Mary is shown as the archetype of the human being who wrestles with her faith amidst the ordinariness of all the ordinary things of life.

In Borschland, the church has evolved into a place that is quiet and off to the side. Deacons are the practitioners of the faith, praying and giving counsel. People of Borschland do not attend church as a rule, but keep up with the lay traditions of the faith and respect the deacons. There is a sense that the people have made a deal with the deacons: if the deacons will maintain the relationship with God and the saints, then the people will feed, clothe and house them.

So there's a sense that the ordinary has won in Borschland, and yet the presence of the church is always there.

I'm not saying it's an ideal fantasy world for a Christian; I wrestle with my faith daily and I believe God wants that so. But it's a depiction of a situation that I think is true for many people of many religions.

One day it's possible I'll write a book about a spiritual awakening in Borschland. It is a place apart and asleep in many ways. It is a place that comes from that part of me that prefers predictability and resists change.

Yet it is also a place of deep hope and spiritual strength. I'll continue to write in hopes that that comes across in the books.


The Flowering Branch Cup to kick off soon

Cover.talesborschland.smallThe Flowering Branch Cup (Rijksijshaackuj Keelk ter Bloomentwejg)

Every year the Borschland Hockey League holds the national tournament for the right to hold the coveted Chalice of the Flowering Branch. 62 teams from all three divisions of the Borschland Hockey League are invited to play a tournament of six rounds plus a home-and-home final. These games are usually held on alternate Friday nights during the regular season.

The Flowering Branch is the national symbol of Borschland. It is considered by some to be a branch from the Biblical Tree of Life; legend has it that it blooms every three hundred years during a long phase shift. At this time, the saints of Borschland will return to save the nation from calamity. The Branch is currently on display in Staff Borsch at the All Saints Rotunda of the Borschicherrijksmuseen (National Museum).

The next several posts will feature descriptions of the teams participating in this year's RKtB (Cup). Readers are encouraged to choose a team to follow in the Cup; results of the Cup games will be announced in future blog posts.

First: the 8 teams of the Open Division (semi-pro/amateur), Western Conference:

Noj-Sporting-West: This team operates out of the ski center in the extreme southwestern portion of Borschland at the foot of the slopes of Mount Borschika, a peak of 9,337 feet. Spectators of this team, dubbed the Mountain Goats, are treated to a breathtaking view of the Borschika range. Noj-Sporting-West seldom finds its way out of the first (play-in) round.

Skujklub Erichels: The mountain city of Erichels with its lovely, rushing River Fluum hosts a first-division team known as Holtzlund. Skujklub Erichels has its rink in the southern suburbs of Erichels where there is ready access to winter sports on the slopes of the Southern Range that separates Borschland from Celtlands. Skujklub Erichels is well-funded for an Open Division club and has made it to the third round in its history.

Groot Maalstaff: Groot Maalstaff is the largest town in the Borschland River valley between the city of Erichels and Meechen. The town is a center of dairy and its team is called the Cheese Champions. Occasionally Groot Maalstaff makes its way into the second round of the tournament.

Retter: Retter is a student team from the Coast Guard Academy in Onathav'n, at the mouth of the fjord that leads to the city of Onatten. Retter (Savior) is regularly a favorite to move on to the second and third rounds; they are normally the best team. Their rival is second division Oststaff, the Borschland Naval Academy.

Brouwergild: This team is sponsored by the National Brewers and Ciderers Union of Borschland. Its rink is located in the city of Sichebach. No team has more enthusiastic supporters and occasionally the union puts in enough money for a team that can get to the third round of the tournament.

St-Pujtr-Altstaff: This beautiful old town to the south and west of the resort city of Sajbell is one of the oldest in Borschland. It was in the old days a center of Loflin (indigenous peoples) habitation and has some of the most venerable architecture that the nation has to offer. Once a provincial capital of Borschland, it is now a tourist mecca, and its team is mostly ornamental, never having made it out of the first round in their history.

Verbrodering-Hammerspujl: This team is located in the most extreme southwest corner of the nation, set as it is in the ruby mining provincial outpost of Hammerspujl. The rough and ready miners of Hammerspujl try their best to make it out of the first round, but they are limited by the unwillingness of better players to make the trek out to this trackless wilderness.

Genk (pronounced Gunk): Genk is a small town on the northern slope of the Borschika range, a place of livestock and lumber. Winter sports are favored in Genk, especially for those who eschew the crowded slopes of Erichels, Dafna, and the Fluum River valley.

Next: Open Division, Southern Conference

Skater's first author blurb

Skater.cover.smallIt's always good to get feedback on your book, positive or negative. This weekend someone gently told me, "Your title sucks!" Well, sheesh. I thought it didn't. 

On the brighter side, local author Kate Betterton, whose debut novel "Where the Lake Becomes the River" knocks my socks off, sent me this promotional blurb which I will proudly feature wherever I get a chance:

Skater in a Strange Land, set in the time-shifting continent of Borschland, is a beautifully written, funny, quirky and good-hearted novel, sure to appeal to a broad readership. Romantics of all stripes will enjoy the blooming attraction between the book's hero Sherm and Borschland's intriguing poetess Rachel; appreciators of kick-ass hockey tournaments will love the action. Prepare to laugh aloud as you revel in Frauenfelder's captivating writing that takes you along on a rollicking adventure set in a fascinating alternate world. 

I had the privilege of reviewing "Where the Lake Becomes the River" here. And I expanded on my review here. If you like Southern literature, you'll be captivated. It's a gorgeous read, dense and thoughtful, and I'm honored an author of her talent has said something so nice about my work. Thanks, Kate.


Saints alive in Borschland

The second novel of the Borschland Hockey Chronicles is titled "The Skater and the Saint," and I'm hard at work on it and bursting to tell everyone what's in it.

But I'll keep it under wraps until the book comes out, hopefully in December.

In the meantime, I can tell you a little bit about the "saint" part of the title.

In Borschland, the people venerate and ask for the prayers of the saints. Some of them are traditional Christian saints, like St. Peter and St. Mary. 

Most of them, however, are actual Borschic people who lived in the first century of Borschland's existence, and who, some say, still live today and return to Borschland during phase shifts especially when the country's in danger.

You can read about the first two saints, St. Noos and St. Borsch, in my "Tales of Borschland Volume 1: The Winter Tree." Normally that's a $2.99 e-book at Smashwords. But Smashwords is offering authors a way to send out complimentary copies. So write me if you want one, and I'll give you a coupon code for a free e-copy of the inside scoop on the Twin Saints of Borschland.

Happy reading and writing, all.

Solve puzzle, win fortune

In the mythical country of Borschland, newspapers carry a word puzzle that is as popular as a crossword puzzle in the United States. Try your hand at it!

Unscramble the sentence to make a grammatically correct Latin sentence. Translate the sentence accurately. The sentence may refer to an ancient story. If so, use your knowledge of the story to guide you to the correct translation.

Latin I: semper sub cum navem flumen terram navigabis trans spiritis

Latin II: Apollonis rapuerat bovibus rex nuntio de quae dixit deorum

Latin III and above: Gallis Romam arcis dicunt anseres collem servavisse ascendentibus poetae

Give your answer to one or more of the Jumbles in the comments. If you're the first one correct, you get a ticket in the upcoming Borschland National Sweepstakes with the chance to win a fortune in Borschic schillings (BS), redeemable as soon as your plane hits the ground in fabled Borschland.

BTW... If you don't know any Latin, putting the scrambled words in Google Translate might give you a fighting chance to figure it out, especially if you know a little mythology or history. But the scrambled nature of the puzzle means Google will be a bit misled.

Even better-- find someone online who knows Latin and ask him or her.

May the odds be ever with you, or, as we say in Borschland, Te Lot Zijn Soort!

A new Borschland short, with Latin

When people find out that I am a Latin teacher as well as an author, they usually react in one of two ways:

a) "You mean they still teach Latin? Amazing!"

b) "My Latin teacher gave it to me in the neck."

Fortunately, my own Latin teacher never gave it to me in the neck, which is why I stuck with it, and why I try in the classroom to make Latin as fun as a dead language can be.

And it is also why Latin has now officially leaked into my fiction.

My new short story, "The Sweepstakes Winner," probably contains more Latin than 99.9 percent of all short stories ever published. But it is an integral part of the story, about a young man equally intent on winning the lottery as he is on marrying a woman "above his station."

Gerd Trubelz wants to become rich, and his best chance, he feels, is by playing the Borschland National Sweepstakes (BONAS for short). That game is a conventional numbers-picking lottery, with one twist: if you can solve a Latin translation puzzle correctly, you can pick a bonus number.

Why Latin? Well, why not?

Actually, Latin is required of all Borschic schoolchildren, and the Latin puzzle has become a way of getting a bit of fun out of their studies. It sure beats corporal punishment. The puzzle has in fact become about as popular as crossword puzzles here in the US. 

The puzzle is a jumble: a Latin sentence that must be un-scrambled and translated correctly. For all you Latin geeks out there, I include an easy one below:

terram sub trans semper navigabis flumen navem

The sentences of the Borschland jumble often refer to Borschic wisdom and/or the lives of Borschic saints. The sentence in "Sweepstakes Winner" is no exception. The sentence I give above refers to a character in Greek mythology.

if you like such things, I will be posting a Latin Jumble regularly on Twitter on my writing and publishing co-op's page (@truenorthwrite).

If you know the answer to this one, feel free to comment. Unscramble the sentence and name the character in Greek mythology to which the sentence refers.

And if you do happen to purchase the story, let me know how you liked it. It is on Smashwords to start, elsewhere as I have the time and inclination.

Good luck with the Jumble, and remember the Latin motto of my writers and publishers co-op: scribere quam scribere videri: to write instead of just seeming to write.

Kid reads a lot, adult writes better

Berkeley.library.NorthBranch_06As a kid, I loved to read.

I got my first library card in the third grade, at the desk of a gorgeous old pile of bricks on the corner of Hopkins Street and The Alameda in Berkeley, California. It was an ivy-twined Spanish Revival building that looked like the setting for a novel about kids who get lost in a library that's bigger on the inside than it looks on the outside.

I got the card in 1970 and it said it would expire in 1972. Wow, my third-grade brain said. That seems like such a long way off.

I began to read what that library and my school library had to offer, and I will never forget the day I discovered baseball novels for kids.

Baseball has always been my favorite sport. Every game tells a story: who won, and how. And every baseball season tells a story. And every individual baseball player has a story.

Even just one at-bat tells a story.

And it turns out that in the 50's and 60's there was a minor industry of baseball novels for kids. I read as many as I could get my hands on. One of them, "The 1.000 Kid," told a story about a high-school ballplayer who had to make the choice between signing a contract to play minor league baseball or going to college. He manages to get a big-league team to give him a taste of the majors before he makes that decision. After a lot of adventure, he decides on college!

That was a twist ending for this aspiring major leaguer.

Duane Decker was my favorite author, and my favorite book was called "Rebel in Right Field." In this one, a talented young outfielder injures himself by running into the outfield wall trying to make a catch. As he recovers, he finds himself unable to play his normal game because of his fear of re-injuring himself at the wall. I was riveted by the hero's inner struggle to overcome his fear and become the player his talent promised he could be.

Reading for me led to writing, including baseball novels of my own, none of which I finished. "Skater in a Strange Land," which is about ice hockey, is the first sports-oriented novel I've ever completed.

Readers have been impressed with the realism or believability of the hockey in "Skater." "Where did you learn to describe hockey so well? Did you play?" And the answer is no, I never played ice hockey-- though I did play street hockey as a teenager.

I like to think that reading so many baseball novels as a kid trained me, along with all the other writerly skills I picked up along the way, to find the essence of the action in hockey and translate it into the written word.

I still want to write baseball novels, and maybe you'll see one come out one of these years. For now, the Borschland Hockey League is where it's at for me.

But thanks, Duane Decker, wherever you are. And thank you, public libraries everywhere.


Images found here and here.