Book Review: Night of Masks by Andre Norton

If you are a dietitian, doctor, insurance adjuster, mechanic, or most any occupation continuing education is critical to the performance of your profession. Authors, novelists, writers, and poets also require continuing education. That education, however does not come as a Grammar class (thought some could use one) or other formal seduction. Continuing education for an author consists of reading.

As part of my Writer’s Journey, I choose to read extensively both within my preferred genres and from both fiction and non-fiction. This keeps my writing fresh and teaches me how others did it.

Night of Masks

by Andre Norton (1964)

Grand Dame of Science Fiction Andre Norton created a complex universe for her Science Fiction and expanded them with each novel. The shared world that she uses with her stories is perhaps her strongest suit. Tightly written, the book contained no excess verbiage or unnecessary scenes. Night of Masks is one of Norton’s many Juvenile Science Fiction Novels. Her characters are sympathetic and relatable to her audience. Having read the novel as a teenager in the mid-1960s, it was like meeting someone I knew briefly a long time ago. It was better than my expectations because I am older and able to appreciate the world building aspects of her work. She writes clear, concise prose with no frills. It is not great literature, but it is appropriate. This book harkens back to a kinder and gentler age. At no point did she stoop to inappropriate. Night of Masks is not a book to change your life. It is entertainment and escape.  Falling within the subgenre of Space Opera, it is a bit dated. Modern tastes run to grittier and more realistic tastes. Her depiction of the “dipple” would be at home in any dystopia, but readers of Space Opera will find it mild. For me, the investment was a great value, both as a good story and from personal nostalgia. I recommend it to readers of science fiction and space opera.

Oh, The Time Passes By

It’s been a while since I revisited this writer’s page. Good things and bad have happened. I’ve neglected it, and now, I seek to make up for that lack. But first news first, I have published a novel.
Shift: A Science Fiction Novel by Frank Darbe

“Shift” is available directly from my publisher, JaCol Publishing and Amazon.

Writers and Holidays

Working writers have few days off. The stories are always there, constant companions demanding freedom. Characters, both the living and dead, drop in for a cup of coffee, and afternoon drink, a glass of wine, to discuss their worlds, which are more real than the default writers space.

The Fourth of July, a day like any other, a work day, with the manuscript calling demanding closure for plot holes and poor grammar and character flat character arcs.

Which leads me to my upcoming novel, Twilight’s Child.

“Twilight’s Child” is a Young Adult Fantasy Novel (12-18 years old) of 94,000 words (74 Scenes divided into 36 chapters) going through a final edit, and due for completion on July 31. I am seeking Beta Readers, an editor, and cover artists.

Twilights Child Elevator Pitch:

An eleven-year-old boy discovers he is a changeling, a faerie exchanged for a human child as part of the Tithe to hell and returns to the Twilight World of the Fae to rescue the child whose life he took.

Read “Shift.” Now Available at Amazon in eBook and Paper Back Formats.


Grief consumes me. I sit to write, and the faces of the lost appear as my reflection in the screen. My grandfather, grandmother, all their generation long gone and buried. My mother and the men and women who raised and guided me, none survive. My father-in-law and mother-in-law, their siblings, gone to the grave too soon.

The heroes of my youth, the actors, the musicians, dying one by one, diminished by age to death.

And my youth dead and its memory hazy and fading. Soon, I fear, only the discomforts of old age will remain to treasure. Better that than the void of death.

For all these and more, I grieve, not because I want to, but because they parade across my monitor, within my mirror, and through my memory.

I want to speak with them once more, with all that passion, energy, and ignorance of youth. I need their wisdom at my age. They walked my path. I recall their dignity, their joy. They must have some advice, some explanation, some comfort. But I can’t hear them.

M. Frank Darbe


Doldrums are defined as, “Equatorial regions of the Atlantic Ocean with calms, sudden storms, and unpredictable light winds”—thank you Webster’s. But there is more to that, I think, in human doldrums characterized by inactivity, stagnation, depression. That’s me, a human doldrum, tired of the calms seeking a sudden storm and light and unpredictable anything.

Yes, a little wind of the soul would do me, but I don’t expect it. It is one of those times when the words in my soul run stagnant and sour. Smiles and frowns are few, where the dominant expression is a strait lipped nothing.

M. Frank Darbe

Warming the Words

Here I am, the nobody sitting in his cluttered office, staring out his window into the fierce darkness.
Oh, a few lights shine across the street, seen through the trees in the front yard. Above those houses, Van Dam Peak rises invisibly I the darkness. Those lights are the lidded eyes of dreaming giants.
Intending to write, I free my fingers on the keyboard, I call it priming the pump, placing my fingers on the keys, letting the words flow. I suppose the process resembles that of a singer, warming up with a breath followed by a nasal hum gliding high to low, a musical sigh.
Or a painter warming up, splashing paint with unabashed abandon on a throwaway canvas, or rolling gesso over the canvas to hide a work that never jelled.
Warming the words in hopes they answer my call.

Well, Here I am Again

Back to work, wishing for consistency but recognizing my stepdad’s old saying, “Wish in one hand and shit in the other. See which one gets full first.”

I’d rather start again and again instead of living with shit in my hands.

Edited Shift, Chapter 4, Scene 6.

How to Put the Bang in Your Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Story

The Not Homework Section of This Essay.

Go to the Science Fiction section in your local book store. (They still exist.) If you can’t find them, stalk the library shelves. (Though underutilized, libraries still exist.) Your assignment, Young Writer, is to read the first three pages of five books. As you read them make two stacks. In the first stack, place those books that pull you in and demand you read more. In the second, discard the books that just don’t do the job.

Point, you ask.

The first law of telling a Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Story is, “Start with a Bang!” A bang more than just a hook, which is found in the first sentence. Your hook is the fuse for the bang. The bang is the conflict and action in those first few pages that reveal the essential core conflict of the novel. The bang is a taste of the essence of the conflict. In those first pages, you do not want to reveal the entire enchilada and lay bare the mind, soul, and chili pepper malice of your villain. Just touch it.

Let’s go old school example.

Stephen King’s It is a perfect example of the bang. The 1093-page long epic begins with the ideal hook. (Don’t like King? It’s just the first three pages.)

“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”
Stephen King – It

Now that is a hook. The essential conflict in the novel between seven kids in Derry and their adult counterparts twenty-eight years later is displayed like a corpse at a wake. It begins with “The terror” setting the tone of the novel and provides a glimpse of the opening scenes situation in which a child is murdered, and his brother set on the long road of revenge.

I could almost stop here. You should be so lucky.

We see little George Denbrough playing in the rain with a boat made from newspaper and paraffin. King tells an active scene of a little boy in a yellow rain coat having a ball. The tone of horror comes through in words, and by the second page, when we read “George Denbrough ran towards his strange death” you now the kid who has plucked your heart strings is going die in a grisly, mysterious fashion.

In the first three pages, we don’t meet It (AKA Pennywise the Dancing Clown), but the sense of lurking terror, the central character, and the essential plot of a titanic conflict between seven children and trans-cosmic evil is glimpsed.

By the end of page 3, King moves into the novel’s second scene set between George and his brother Bill (Protagonist) the story of two brother’s making the newspaper boat that gets his brother murdered by the monster. The hook has been set, and the conflict glimpsed. King has delivered the bang.

Now, most of us are not Stephen King. You can take the lessons in the first three pages of the book and tell a story medieval fantasy, urban fantasy, space opera epic, gritty science fiction novel, or even a Romance (the conflict may be different, but the essential process remains the same).

Write that hook. Revel a glimpse of your conflict.

Now, go young writer, and write.

Once Again, NOVEL in a MONTH, With Feeling

Editing Shift. Setting the clock. Excited, no, not really. Terrified at my own love of failure. You betcha. More on the flip.

Shift – Rewrote Chapter 2 Scene 1. My editor made suggestions, and for some reasons, I just fought the very idea. But it is done. (1172 of 3000)

Editing gives me a head ache. I think I write clear, clean, and economically, and the editor says overwritten, or in the wrong place, or…

Shift – Rewrote Chapter 2 Scene 2. (1438 of 3000 words).

Shift – Added an appropriate mention of the five POV Characters to Chapter 1.

Shift – Rewrote Chapter 2 Scene 3 (533 of 3000 words)

Ironville – Read and performed minor edits on Chapter 1 (2300 word) as part of diving back into that story.

A number of writers I really admire have suggested that writing a book is a form of monogamy. Others, write one novel while editing a finished work. Some just split their time between writing and editing novels, with short stories thrown in the mix. I more of the later, I think. I’m not sure if it will hurt my attempt at writing, but it is how my mind works.

Successfully Updated to 4.8, and it Worked

No one reads this anyway, so I am having a public/private moment of happy dancing. In the past, when I have updated, my blog threw an ugly error back at me that required to dig through the guts of the blog and fix this line and that. This time, it worked. Thankyou Word Press. I could kiss you.