Book Launch Day! Announcing…The Danger in Bohemia

So let me start off by saying: NEVER plan to be traveling on the day your book gets launched! Big mistake.

That out of the way…

TODAY IS THE DAY!

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The Danger in Bohemia has been published!

Dreamspinner Press ebook | Dreamspinner Press paperback | Amazon | B&N | Kobo | ARe

 

I can’t believe it’s here already. It has been a really crazy year–moving yet AGAIN from South Korea to the UK, starting an intense Master’s program, and seeing my first officially published novel! I’ve been running for so long that this has really smacked me in the face. If that makes sense.

Thank you to everyone at Dreamspinner Press who has been supportive of me, and to my friends and family who made this possible. I can’t say how much I appreciate everything you’ve all done for me.

I’ve had a few advanced reviews already. Here’s a small sampling!

At a Glance: Very well written, with a good pace, some surprises, and is a definite page turner.”  -http://www.thenovelapproachreviews.com/review-the-danger-in-bohemia-by-h-e-kollef/

“…the story has good bones, an interesting premise with likable characters, and a suitable bad guy. I’ll look forward to checking out something else from the author.” -https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29247246-the-danger-in-bohemia

 

 

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Hello HQ readers! Additionally, I may have accidentally purchased Communist propaganda.

Welcome to my site! I was really excited to be featured on this month’s HQ Quarterly, a fine publication back in my home state of New Jersey.

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Isn’t it nice?

 As you can see, I’m gearing up for the release of the newest book in my Paths series, Path of Pins.  The story takes place in Manhattan and Prague, and follows Kat Finnegan as she discovers that there’s more to the world–and her family–than she’d ever thought possible.  

Path of Pins launches on March 14th, but you can learn more about the series by clicking on the Paths tag below. If you’re here for more poetry (in which case I’m flattered!) try the poetry tag. 

Which brings me (kind of not really but hey, non-sequitors are fun) to the second part of today’s post: Communism. 

For those not in the know, I’m currently living & teaching English in Prague, in the Czech Republic. On my way to work this morning I ran across a used bookstore with 5 kc books for sale. Combing through, I found a couple of ancient books in English, one of which was a thin volume of O. Henry stories. I bought them both, not really looking at them too hard. I may or may not have been late for work. 

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Imagine my surprise when I take out my O. Henry book on the metro, and find this on the back:

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Yup–that’s Cyrillic script, and by my deductions, Russian. You can see that its also from 1972, when Czechoslovakia was in the throws of USSR rule. And then there’s these quotes from the preface:

“This book comprises 15 stories…which are…unknown to the broad English reading circles in the USSR.”

Ok, USSR? Check. And the audience is clearly English speakers (probably non-native) from the USSR, which would have included Czechoslovakia at the time. 

“…these stories show the grim realities of the American mode of life where the dollar rules supreme.”

Anti-capitalist, and targeting America specifically? Double check. 

“…but they all [characters] in their own way reveal the essence of bourgeouis society & the laws that govern it.”

Oooh, bringin’ out the ‘b’ word. Classy, text. Very socialist-republic of you. 

Finally, to hammer home the message:

“…if this book has awakened a new interest in the reader for [O.Henry]…hitherto known just as a brilliant humorist but not as a relentless exposer of capitalist America, the work has not been done in vain.”

Ouch. 

So, yeah. Best find ever? Best find ever. My guess is that this was circulated amongst language students as an example of a native text that was also palatable to the anti-capitalist crowd. Here’s my question now: was O.Henry a socialist? Or are his works being appropriated here? 

I don’t know but this was definitely the best thing I’ve bought in this country. Perhaps ever. It’s real history, man! 

If only the publication information wasn’t in Russian, I might be able to find out more. On the front cover it does say “Home-Reading Library.” A clue? Perhaps. 

 

The Way Old City Where I Live

Let me introduce you to Prague:
City of new-born capitalists and past echoes refusing to die
Of pale hippies
Leather skinned beggars
College buskers and old-time hands
Where dogs are treated like children
And children like jewels
While Romas in train stations or
forgotten Soviet Blocks
Steal from a system of
Tired bureaucracy
(Can you hear the bah bahs of
scapegoats ringing in your ears?)
Buses and trams branch like capillaries
Below metros link arteries
While fake cops weed out the tired the poor the huddled masses who forgot to refill their train passes
In Stare Mesto the drunk and alien make merry
On the gaslit stones of forgotten centuries
Down Wenceslas square tourists parade
Arm in arm with the lost
And hopeless homeless
Cooking meat fills the air above markets full of love-grown produce
Wicker baskets
Dark pivo in foaming glasses
The vendor sells them with a kind smile
And laughs when you try to speak czech.

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Few things are eerier than an empty airport

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Or is that more eerie? One day a student will ask me this and I wont know the answer.

I’m on my way to Germany for a few weeks and I got to Vaclav havel about two hours too soon. Ive been wandering around trying to find people with mixed success. My wing of the ‘port had one other person when I got here, and he was sleeping on top of a bed of plastic bags. Not helping the eerie factor.

Airport questions :
Is dufry a clever blending of “duty free?”
Or is there someone out there with the last name dufry who just happened to dream of opening a chain of high quality duty free shops?

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Who greenlit this ad? It looks silly.

How many cars do they actually sell by putting cars on display in the airport?

There are no bagels. Where fore art the bagels?

It is so much nicer to check in at European airports. Not really a question, more a complaint about amurikah.

Finally, why am I here so damn early?

Other thoughts:

I’ve watched the sunrise from plenty of airports and car windows. At some point all these early morning journeys blend into one. The hours between 3 and 5 are close together; they are a time bubble where the fabric is thin and years mush into one big blob. Now I am 23 traveling to Germany; now I am 11 , on my way to Greece; 22 and racing to my grandfather’s funeral; 19 and driving to the cape, my mom asleep next to me.I have seen this sun rise before.

Final question : duty free beckerovka. Good idea? Great idea?

Someone call Kevin Costner…

…’cause Prague’s about to become the sequel to Waterworld.

WAterworld

 

Seriously though.

There is a ton of flooding here, half the metros are closed, and it is. Still. Raining.

We’re hoping that the worst of it has passed, and that we’ll start to see things calm down in the next few days. Only time will tell I guess. Still, it’s not so bad- we’re safe, and I got most of the day off to finish my work & try and figure out how the heck to get to classes tomorrow. I think in the long run this is going to be very irritating.

Here’s a bit more perspective:

ToaletyOn the left, you see the Toalety a month ago. On the right, the Toalety today.

Stay safe and dry, everyone!

 

Floods!

So there is some moderate flooding in Prague right now. 8 metro stations closed, some places have been evacuated, and everyone is very wet. I was just trolling an online Czech newspaper for info on the floods when I caught sight of this image:

iDNES.cz - News you can trust

He looked kind of familiar, and then I remembered that in the winter I’d snapped this photo:

Hannah Kollef-4

 

So yeah. That’s how high the Vltava has risen. Intriguing!

Also, I feel bad for our poor bald statue. Good luck, buddy.

 

New Short Story: The Black Angels of Prague

Brand new, unedited short story! And it only took me, what, 3 months to come out with new material? -_0 speaking of which yes Path of Pins is still in the works. I think you’re gonna like it. Projected release date is December 2013*

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Prague is filled with blackened angels.

You don’t always notice them, at least not at first. The parts of Prague filled with office buildings and McDonalds are relatively mundane at street level. It’s only when you look up that you see the army of dark statues staring down at you from rooftops and balconies. They loom, these angels, and if you could find one with a friendly face I’d be very surprised. They look as if they have been transposed from a particularly sad cemetery and seem not to guard Prague so much as to watch it. What they are watching for is anybody’s guess.

Though perhaps it is less watching and more waiting. At least, that’s the sense I got after I saw them move.

Right before it happened I was walking down Narodni Trida, just past the National Theatre. I had only recently begun my first teaching job, and it was very late, and after three hours of steady Czech drinking I was also a little drunk. My fellow teachers and I had been celebrating a colleague’s retirement and subsequent move to one of the shittier areas of the city. Most of the road was still closed from a gas main explosion the previous week, and on the left great swaths of scaffolding and metal pipes (construction, not explosion) climbed up the Theatre’s walls. Loose police tape was sent fluttering by the wind to trail sadly through the cobblestones.

It began to snow, great, fat flakes that landed on my nose and melted down the back of my neck. As I had every day since I moved to Prague, I looked up into the silence, the fumes and vapors of the night mixing with fresh snow and the smell of motor oil. My angel leaned over a building ledge far above my head; it was of the weeping-woman variety, with pleading arms outstretched to someone just out of reach and a golden crown of laurel leaves on her head. It was faintly reminiscent of a monster I’d once seen on a TV show, though sad instead of menacing. Every time I passed her it seemed as if she was calling out to me. Tonight, that sense was especially strong.

I watched the snow gather on her extended arms, and imagined how cold it must be on top of the building at the highest point of exposure. There was movement; and then a wet flurry as the snow that had gathered on the statue fell around me. Some of it fell in my eyes, blinding me. I heard a sound like stone grinding on stone, and when I had cleared my eyes and looked up my statue was gone. The only proof that it had ever leaned out from the building was the melting snow caught on my shoulders and in my hair.

I was suddenly, acutely aware of the statues ringing the buildings around me. There was another flurry, like the sound of rushing wings; and then heavy whumps as piles of snow hit the road around me. I blinked, and the once-crowded ledges and crooks of the buildings around me were empty. I was left standing in a ring of piled snow.

I heard a noise like a sigh behind my back. I turned to see the weeping woman standing behind me, one arm folded across her chest, the other extended, palm reaching out to me. Her face was a mask of perfect sadness, and it felt as if her stone eyes were seeing something beyond me. I stepped forward and reached for her hand, not knowing why but unable to resist the impulse. Before I touched her the air filled with the sound of rushing wings, and she was gone.

There was flash of movement down the alleyway to my left; I ran towards it, slipping and sliding in the snow. I crashed into the brick (remember: a little drunk) and saw the hint of stone at the end of the alley, as if the stone were fluid, as if it swirled like a lady’s skirts around the corner of the brick.

I ran towards that glimpse of the angel, and then I was in the back alleys of Prague; dark, brick places of shadow and grime. The snow thickened as it fell from the sky, at times blinding me, at others catching in my throat and choking me as I slipped and slid through brick arches and around rubbish bins. Always my blackened angel was just ahead of me. And then the alley opened up, and I was in the open air once more, panting in the snowy streets, each exhale rising like mushroom clouds before my face.

Ahead was a dark cemetery. It was old fashioned and ornate, filled with tombs that jutted out of the gathering snow like granite monoliths. The gate swung open, making an eerie squeaking noise in the snow. There was a deep scar in the snow before me, the kind of track that something heavy would make as it dragged across the ground. It led into the cemetery. Slowly, I followed.

A subconscious force warned me to be careful. In the distance I could hear the chimes of the Prague Orloj as it marked midnight. Somewhere, a tourist was clutching a mug of hot wine, watching the disappointing puppet show that had been added to the clock.

I crept further into the cemetery, which was dimly lit by the street lights and reflected gleam from the constant buildings. The path was easy to follow, and soon the world was crowded with heavy tombstones and granite crosses. In a few places I saw more depressions in the snow as if something heavy had disappeared very, very quickly.

The alcohol that had dulled my fear was wearing off. I increasingly began to wonder what the hell I was doing, but the cold drove me on. Ahead, a small clearing appeared through the curtain of snow. In the center stood my still-weeping stone angel, right arm folded against her chest, her golden crown faded in the dull light. She had a granite finger to her lips and was staring at me. I opened my mouth to say something that would have broken that terrible silence—

There was a crash. I stumbled and fell in a pile of wet snow behind a large tombstone, hiding the clearing from view. The silence was shattered by the vicious grinding of stone and then a muffled thud, followed by more grinding, more thuds. Whatever protection the booze had given me was gone, replaced with the kind of terror that numbs you and holds you still, a survival mechanism, I’m sure, leftover from the time when monsters hunted us in the dark.

As quickly as it had began the grinding sound ceased, replaced with a silence made worse by the heavy snow. I listened to it, feeling it press down on me—suffocated by the whispers that floated just below what a human could hear. The last of my courage (or the last of the booze) reared its head, and I managed to look up over the ledge of the tombstone. The gap that led to the clearing was almost obscured now, clouded by a wall of stone. They stood in a circle, dozens of them, dark and formidable: An aesthetic Christ with a crown of golden thorns; a mother cradling a dead child to her breast; a winged virgin wrapped in tattered scraps of cloth; a martyr with bloody furrows carved into his bearded cheeks; and so on, a black, unmoving circle, empty gaze trained on the weeping woman in the center. I could just see her through a gap between Jesus and his winged martyrs. She was still holding a finger to her lips and staring.

The sense of menace increased. I sat up, felt the unreasonable urge to call out rising in my throat. A disembodied voice—old, full of stone and dust —whispered in my ear.

Shhhh, and then, Come. 

The menace reached a peak. I stood to the chorus of living stone that filled the heavy air with the sounds of thunder, or boulders crashing at the base of a mountain. I squeezed through the gap in the angels, bruising my shoulders on Christ’s outstretched arms and the tips of the angel’s wings, and found myself in the center of them. Now that I was closer I could see real tears falling from my stone woman’s eyes. The marks of sadness on her face grew more pronounced. It was a kind of knowing sorrow; she had the face of the mother and the wife and the sister of the dead.

The silent whisper grew louder, till it brushed against my skin like a living thing. It roared in my ears as I stumbled forward and put my hand in hers.

Her skin was smooth, and cold as ice; and as I touched her, there was a great sigh of relief. The whisper stopped; for one endless moment, there was complete silence, a stillness I had never known and will never know again, as the world stopped to witness my hand in hers and the angels in the snow.

Something—a gust of wind, or a hand on my back—shoved me into the angel. I caught my footing a moment too late. I felt the stone weaken, and falter, and then the angel crumbled beneath me, collapsing in a pile of black stone dust on the snow.

The whispering began again. There was another shove at my back, and I was kneeling in the snow, my hands wrist deep into the pile of dust that had once been my angel. In the center of the pile something gleamed harsh and gold in the dark. I reached towards it, brushing away the stone dust to reveal my angel’s laurel leaf crown. The whispers rose, becoming a roar in my ears; and I reached out and brushed my fingers against the gold.

A violent cold seized me, and I snatched my hands back before I understood what had happened. Around me, the angels had crept closer, moving while I wasn’t looking. A hundred dead eyes stared down at me, urging me forward, screaming silently for me to pick up the laurel crown. Why? Why would they—I looked down at my hands, to where the pain was the worst, and saw that the tips of my fingers had turned to granite everywhere they had brushed the crown.

Animalistic panic suddenly freed me from whatever spell they had cast. There was a last remaining gap between the statues—a small arch beneath the brushing wings of two angels. Clutching my stone fingers, I threw myself at it, feeling the stone closing in just as I emerged on the other side. There was a wrench—they had caught the sleeve of my jacket—I screamed and yanked myself free, losing the jacket in the process.

After that it was a blur. Most vivid was the moment I emerged into the public square. The clock was again striking the hour, and the few people who were around gave me cautious looks and quickly moved away. Time melts a bit then, and the next thing I knew I was at home, slamming the door to my tiny apartment shut behind me. I dove into my bedroom and wrapped my cheap comforter around my shoulders, sitting against the head of the bed, where I stayed until the morning. When I woke all my fingers were returned to normal, except for the ring finger—the promise finger.

A few days later I returned to the cemetery (in broad daylight, and armed with a water bottle of holy water I’d stolen from one of the hundreds of churches in Prague). There was nothing out of place. In my absence the snow had settled over everything, turning it into a uniformed white. A little bit of searching found my jacket, half buried in the snow, the sleeves ripped and useless.

I re-entered the clearing, not sure what I would find. There was no trace of the weeping angel or her golden crown, for which I was thankful. I decided to put it behind me as either a strange foreign adventure or the result of too much Czech beer. I don’t think my sanity could have taken it otherwise.

The tip of my ring finger is still grey and rough. When people ask, I say it’s a callous from working in my garden, or around the house, or whatever excuse sounds the most plausible. They never guess the truth. Most of the time, I don’t try and tell them.

*date is very, very tentative. Just fyi.