Friday, May 18, 2012

VBTC: Guest Post by Lyle Blake Smythers - Feasting With Panthers

We found the first one-eyed man at dawn...

So begins the highly original fantasy tale of warrior poet Catalan, when he and his band stumble upon a handsome acolyte near death in a mountain pass. But when the acolyte reveals his mystical vision, the poet finds himself at the center of a War Game between two mysterious
sorcerers. To unravel the mystery, Catalan and the agents of the War Game must seek the missing pieces of an enchanted chess set in a quest complicated by deceit and treachery, in which nothing is what it seems.

Ingeniously weaving together citations throughout the text from a variety of sources,  including Yeats, Milton, Joyce, Poe, Baudelaire, the King James Bible and many more, author Lyle Blake Smythers serves up a truly literary feast.


As a young child I lost my heart to horror movies, scary stories, and exotic tales of adventure.  When I was in the sixth grade I was a big fan of the adventure novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, his Tarzan books, the John Carter stories set on Mars, and the Pellucidar books that took readers to a strange world at the Earth’s core. I started writing my own story,  EXPEDITION INTO THE UNKNOWN, a highly derivative work that took some men in a giant Devil Drill to the Earth’s core for adventures among strange people and monsters. It was not terribly good but I had fun with it. When I got to junior high school I took another look at it, said, “This is awful” and threw it out.

I immediately started a new novel, THE HIDDEN CITY, a highly derivative work that took some men into a secret African valley for adventures among strange people and monsters.  Sound familiar?  When I got to high school I took another look at it, said, “This is awful” and threw it out.

I immediately started a new novel, variously known as THE BURNING OF PENNE MANOR or THE SPECTERS or BIRDS OF A FEATHER, a small-houseparty-weekend-in-the-country murder mystery.  I had discovered Agatha Christie and felt that I had “moved on.”  The amateur detective was an egghead named Hermes Van Buren.  When I got to college I took another look at it, said, “This is awful” and threw it out.

Needless to say, I would give just about anything to have those stillborn masterpieces today.  Alas, they are gone.  But tinkering with them had gotten me started.

I was too busy doing other things in college and grad school to try to write another novel, but upon emerging with a Master’s in Library Science, a specialty in library service to children, and a job offer to be the children’s librarian in a public library, I started something different.  FEASTING WITH PANTHERS was a very short, realistic children’s novel for the middle grades, about a bright manipulative kid who talks his friends into launching a war against the local bully.  I had seen a documentary on Oscar Wilde with the same title (it’s one of Oscar’s quotes) and felt that I must use it for my next novel, even if it had to be shoehorned into the plot.

This was the first novel I actually finished writing.  I shopped it around for a while and was fortunate enough to receive some honest and useful feedback from a couple of editors about the tone or voice of the sixth-grade narrator, who sounded much too adult for his age.  I reluctantly concluded that such a problem could only be fixed by completely rewriting the entire book, which I was unwilling to do, so I put it away and it became a trunk novel.  This surrender did allow me to recycle that title for my next novel, which is the one now being published.  Where did it come from?

The original kernel that gave life to some of the multiple plotlines came from an old edition of the Arabian Nights I found as a child. My family was traveling through the mountains of southwest Virginia, on our way to visit relatives near Galax, and we stopped in a tiny hamlet called Fancy Gap. We wandered into a used furniture place that had a table of used books for sale. I picked up an old copy of the Andrew Lang retellings, one with terrific illustrations. Soon I was riveted by the great stories inside. I was already familiar with the well-known ones about Sinbad the Sailor, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, and Aladdin, but soon I got to lesser-known ones that were equally intriguing. One that really interested me described a porter in Baghdad who carried a package home for a customer and found himself mingling with strange visitors in her house, men who had missing eyes and shaved heads. Each had his own story to tell, and wondrous stories they were.

At some point after this incident, I started to write my own stories, as described above.  Somewhere along the way I resolved to find a way to retell some of these stories of one-eyed men and the dangers they had faced and overcome. Fast forward some thirty years.

I was visiting a friend in Baltimore and we went to a Star Trek convention. At this point I had started to tinker with an outline for the Arabian Knights novel, but was getting nowhere. I wanted a unifying thread more significant than just a chance encounter with strangers in a strange house. At the con they were showing a variety of fantasy/SF movies and I ended up in LADYHAWKE, the medieval fantasy story of two lovers trying to find each other again while under two very different shape-shifting curses. What caught my attention was the motivation behind the person who put them under their spells: They had been cursed out of REVENGE. I had it. My characters would be subjected to the horrible perils they faced because a powerful magician was wreaking revenge. On whom? And why? It didn’t take me long to work that out. And my book was born.

I wanted to work within the framework of standard heroic fantasy but add fresh elements to give the reader an experience never felt before. Not just sorcerers and a quest (they are there) but a hallucinogenic drug, green snow, a boy turned into a monkey, a convention of puppeteers, an outdoor festival where people come to see a magic trick only performed once a year. Also bloody revenge.  Please join me.

Right now Feasting can be pre-ordered on Amazon, from Barnes & Noble at and from my publisher at which is also how they can connect with me if they have comments or questions. I am also on Facebook.

We are going to be giving away a free copy of the novel, either a print edition or an e-book, to one of the readers of this blog. Interested readers should leave a comment here that includes their email address. I will select the most intriguing poster to be the winner.

Thank you so much for this opportunity to be here.

Lyle Blake Smythers is an actor, writer and librarian in the Washington, D.C., area. Since 1976 he has performed in over 100 stage productions, including three appearances at the National Theatre. He has published fiction, poetry, satire and literary criticism in Manscape, FirstHand, Playguy, The William and Mary Review, Insights, School Library Journal and Children?s Literature Review. He is a
former children?s librarian and is currently providing cataloging support for an ongoing project at the Library of Congress.


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