Distressing damsels

By Bill Castanier

Local fantasy writer makes girls kick butt in latest book, series

Lansing fantasy writer Jim C. Hines and his “twisted sisters” are back with Hines’ new book, “The Mermaid’s Madness,” which tells what really happened to a young mermaid who saves the life of a handsome prince.

The book is the second in a series of wayward looks at traditional “princesses,” which includes the likes of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White, whom Hines calls literary “Charlie’s Angels.” They all play major roles in Hines’ new book and get in the swim of things to save the “merfolk.”

Hines was inspired to write the series while a daughter was going through a “princess” stage. “Our house was littered with princess items, and I decided to write an alternative role model for my daughters,” he said. “I wanted to write a book where the princess takes care of herself.”

In Hines’ action-packed tales, the princesses don’t get taken advantage of; they kick butt to save the kingdom.

After being a fan and avid reader of the fantasy genre for more than 30 years, Hines sort of backed into writing it while reading a friend’s stories. “I thought, ‘How hard could this be?’” Hine said. “I wrote a few stories, and they were pretty bad. I started collecting rejection letters and decided that I want to do this. It took a lot of stubbornness to finally break in.”

He initially focused on short stories, and now Hines has 40 short stories in print, including one featured on a Seattle coffee company’s bags of beans.

His big breakthrough came when he decided to take a look at the genre through new eyes. “I decided to tell a little fantasy story from the monster’s standpoint, which had been done, but I wanted to see it done differently with more of the underdog feel,” Hines said.

The concept grew into a three-book series (“Goblin Quest,” “Goblin Hero” and “Goblin War”), following unlikely hero Jig the Goblin through his adventures with pixies, wizards and all of the other usual suspects. “Jig is a runt among runts, and he only has two things going for him; he is smarter than the average goblin, and he has a pet spider, which sets things on fire,” Hines said.

Hines’ latest fantasy-fractured tale is the follow-up to the first in his princess series, “The Stepsister Scheme.” The third book will be a spin on the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, in which the heroine goes on to become one of the most feared assassins in the world. “Red Hood’s Revenge” is due out next summer.

Fantasy books are often criticized for their fictionalized violence, but Hines counters that the real world isn’t much better. “Yes, the books do have some violence and darkness, but so does real life,” Hines said. “I try to balance darkness out with humor and allowing the princesses to have some fun along the way.”

Although Hines is considered a fairly successful fantasy writer, he still holds down a day job with the State of Michigan. He writes during his lunch break, where if you go looking for him at his chair, you will find a sign that reads, “I’m not here now. I’m at lunch.” Actually, his mind is lost in an active fantasy world.

Readers can get some insight into that mind in “The Mermaid’s Madness,” in which the sweet princesses confront murder, madness and “magic gone awry.” The only thing missing from the series is a pet goblin named Jig, but there are killer tuna fish and mermaids galore.

‘The Mermaid’s Madness’

By Jim C. Hines 352 pages. DAW Books

Hines will be at Schuler Books & Music in the Eastwood Towne Center for an appearance and booking signing at 7 p.m. Oct. 8. www.schulerbooks.com.

Fine lines

A former Lansing artist who has “drawn” himself into to the big time will appear at Schuler Books & Music in the Eastwood Towne Center this weekend to promote his new book, “A Fine Line: Scratchboard Illustrations by Scott McKowen.” The 200-page book is a collection of McKowen’s illustrations from his career as an illustrator and graphic designer of classic children’s book covers and show posters. He is especially noted for his outstanding posters for theater productions. McKowen has designed posters for 20 seasons of the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He also did a series of covers for Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel “1602.” Local performing arts patrons may remember some posters he did for the early days of the Wharton Center.

McKowen illustrates with an unusual, difficult technique called “scratchboard,” in which white lines are carved out of black surfaces.

The event is from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20. (517) 316-7495. www.schulerbooks.com.