Mark Terry

Monday, September 07, 2015

What I've Been Reading (for a while now, it seems)

Well, I actually think I'll be visiting here a little more regularly, but let's start with an update on what I've been reading.

Club Shadowlands by Cherise Sinclair
Erotica. And very effective at that, although the timeline (even the author admits) is very compressed.

The Martin by Andy Weir
A re-read. I loved the book the first time and continued to love it the second time. The second time my opinion of the author went up. I think his sense of pace and plotting was spot-on. I'm looking forward to the movie next month.

Blood Infernal by James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell
The third book in this series (it may just be a trilogy) about the Sanguinists Order. What's the Sanguinists Order? Why, it's a part of the Catholic Church made up of vampires who have devoted their lives to Christianity. First book was great, second one was so-so and this one was better. They're good writers, but there was some pretty weird crap in these books.

The End of All Things #1: The Life of the Mind by John Scalzi (novella)
The End of All Things #2: This Hollow Union by John Scalzi (novella)
Scalzi wrote 4 interconnected novellas, continuing his stories in The Old Man's War universe. They were then released as a novel, but I got them as they came out individually. I enjoyed them a lot, but feel that, had this been written as a single novel instead of four separate novellas, with the four story lines interweaving, it would have worked better as a whole. All four were excellent and the overall arc of the story is terrific, but there you have it.

The Crown of Ptolemy by Rick Riordan (short story)
Teaming up Percy and Annabeth from the Greek demigods with the two main characters from the Kane Chronicles, Egyptian demigods books. A very enjoyable story, but I've never been nearly as big a fan of the Kane Chronicles as the Percy Jackson stories.

The End of All Things #3: Can Long Endure by John Scalzi (novella)

The Con Man by Ed McBain
Something like the 3rd or 4th 87th Precinct novel written in the last 1950s. Carella really emerges as the main character here and it's very well done, albeit dated.

Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
I was a big fan of the movie and I've listened to the abridged audiobook a couple times (which I bought for a couple bucks at a library sales a long time back). Overall, you might be better off with the movie or the abridged version. The book feels a little padded and perhaps a bit self-indulgent, although there's certainly some beautiful language.

The Opium-Eater by David Morrell (short story)
An historical featuring Thomas De Quincy, who has been in two novels by Morrell.

The End of All Things #4: To Stand or Fall by John Scalzi

1000 Yards by Mark Dawson (novella)
An espionage novel about a British MI6 agent in South Korea. I bought it as part of an omnibus of 4 books and I'll definitely be reading the others eventually.

Nemesis Games by James SA Corey
A continuation of The Expanse SF series (to be a Syfy TV series starting in December). This one is a particular game changer in that it really, REALLY escalates the conflicts/war between Earth and the separatists. Perhaps overly long (all of the books feel that way to me), but gripping.

The Right Thing To Do by Jonathan Kellerman (short story)
I'm not entirely sure what to make of this. I assume it's some sort of prequel to his latest standalone (or new series, I don't know, I haven't read it yet) novel. It's very good in its way, but it's very much a period piece about two brothers, one who's a western film star in Hollywood of the 50s or 60s, and his younger brother.

The English Spy by Daniel Silva
Yet another terrific outing with Gabriel Allon, this one involving tracking down a former IRA assassin.

Hot Money by Mark Terry
What can I tell you? Yes, I read my own novel through. With good reason. News to follow soon, hopefully.

Go-Go Girls of the Apocalypse by Victor Gischler
I bought this years ago when it first came out (hard to resist the title) and never read it. I'd been in a big of a blue mood when I started reading it and it's got a sort of downer beginning, and just never got back to it. So I read it finally. It's 9 years after a sequence of horrible things turned the world into a wasteland and the main character had been holed up in a cave for the duration until he finally ventures out to see if there's anything left of the world. Not a lot, as it turns out, with the bulk of civilization made up of a series of strip club/trading posts where the power is supplied by indentured servants on exercise bicycles called Joey Armageddon's Sassy A-Go-Go. Eventually Mortimer Tate goes in search of his wife (whom he abandoned) along with a young stripper named Sheila and a cowboy calling himself Buffalo Bill, to the lost city of Atlanta. It's about what you'd expect, with one sequence that seemed lifted out of Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog and a finale that seems to be all Road Warrior. Fun. Weird. Odd

Throws for Strikes: The forgotten throws of Karate, Boxing & Taekwondo by Iain Abernethy
Obviously a martial arts book and what struck me most about it was how Sanchin-Ryu, the karate I study, has many, if not most of them, built into its forms and katas, some obvious, some more a matter of application and angles.

Bag of Bones by Stephen King
A re-read.

The Lightning Stones by Jack DeBrul
Very Clive Cussler-ish and enjoyable, although I would have liked it better with the main character's right-wing POV regarding Global Warming.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What I've Been Reading

1. Motive by Jonathan Kellerman
I'm sure it was a great book, but I'm totally blanking on what it was about. And it's rare for Kellerman's titles to really tell you much about the book any more. Hang on while I look it up... Ah, I remember now. Milo has an unsolved or two and they start to link up. Yes, it was good. But, as my post might suggest, after 25 or 30 years, we're still getting excellent books, but they are tending to blend in a bit.

2. Karate Stupid: A True Story by Scott Langley
Although in need of some copyediting, an interesting book. Scott Langley was one of only a couple westerners to be accepted in the renowned Japanese Instructors Program for karate. Unfortunately, what he encountered was a brutal multi-year program of getting the shit beat out of you by your instructors and what was probably a fair amount of racism on the part of the Japanese. One tends to read it as an indictment of Langley's common sense, because after several of his instructions, it would have made sense to say Bye-Bye, but he stuck it out. However, having graduated the program and gone back to the UK to start his own school, he wrote the book, which pissed off the program so much that they blackballed him from the organization. On the other hand, if you read a little bit of background about the JKS and JKA, etc., these organizations have tended to splinter internally over a variety of politics. In many ways I thought Langley should have followed the path of one of his fellow students who I believe came from Argentina or Brazil. In the first couple months that student took a kick to the head during instruction that fractured a vertebrae in his neck. He packed up his bags and went home.

3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Enough said.

4. Unbound by Jim C. Hines
Third book in his libriomancer fantasy series. I enjoyed it. Maybe not as much as the first two, and I have some issues with a plot point regarding vampires and a satellite, but it's clear Jim had something he wanted to address in this book and I thought it was entertaining.

5. Walking Shadow by Robert B. Parker
One of my favorite Spenser novels, although I'm not sure it wears as well as I thought it would, not having read it in probably 10 years. Spenser is more or less hired to investigate the murder of an actor who was shot on stage during a play. It involves, at some levels, illegal Chinese immigration, Chinese organized crime and obsessive love.

6. Under By Treaty by Kayla Stonor
Dubbed either alien romance or alien erotica, I actually found the plot a bit more interesting than the erotica. Earth has been at war with an alien race, the Qui, and probably is going to lose it, when the Ambassador for the Qui makes a proposal. General Jaden, head of Earth forces, must come with her and submit to be trained to be a consort of the Qui, which is essentially physical, mental and sexual submission. If he does so and passed, i.e., voluntarily submits, the Qui will leave Earth alone. The erotica part of the book is pretty damned brutal. The politics and culture of the book are fairly interesting. At one level it reminded me of Kristine Kathryn Rusch's Recovery Agent books, which take place in a future in which Earth has colonized bit swaths of space, but the other cultures out there have their own very different laws and traditions, so a patchwork of laws have been created, some of which are quite abhorrent to humans, so there's an entire industry of hiding people and changing the identities of people who accidentally break those laws (and also an industry of bounty hunters that track them down). Rusch's books are brilliant, albeit depressing, and a lot smarter with a different purpose than Stonor's, but they do have that in common.

7. The Burning Room by Michael Connelly
A Harry Bosch police procedural and a very good one. Harry's facing the end of his contract, he's aging out of police work, and he's training a new, young Hispanic cop who's sort of a local hero. Their cases involve politics and a high-profile crime and although one of the clues turns on an accidental discovery by Harry, it is, as usual, brilliant. I find Connelly's books very compelling once I start reading them, but they're so serious and dark and meticulous and painstaking in their pacing that I tend to find them a little cold. I'm always very satisfied when I read his books, but I don't come away from reading them thinking, "Man, I can't wait for his next one."

8. Gathering Prey by John Sandford
A little outrageous, even by Sandford's style. Minnesota cop Lucas Davenport's daughter at Stanford meets up with some "Wanderers," which aren't quite homeless people, but more like a modern-day version of hobos. But she is contacted by one of them when her partner disappears and Davenport gets drawn into a multi-state murder investigation of a group of killers with a vague resemblance to the Manson Family. It ends with this long drawn-out chase and shootout/manhunt in Michigan's Northern Peninsula, which is pretty visceral. I think Sandford's the most reliable of our thriller writers, and I enjoyed this one a lot, although the subculture he's writing about is kind of odd.

9. The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child
This is Child's second novel about "enigmalogist" Jeremy Logan. I don't find Logan to be all that compelling a character, even if his job is compelling. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this particular tech thriller a lot, given that it was leaning a lot on the trappings of a Gothic novel. After a fellow at the Lux Research Institute, which is situated in this enormous mansion in Rhode Island, commits suicide in a particularly bizarre way, Logan is hired by the Institute to look into things. He eventually discovers a "forgotten room" and some medical/scientific experiments from the 1930s, all of which come together during a hurricane. Child handles most of these elements deftly and his grasp on the gothic atmosphere, secret rooms, mysterious medical research, possible ghosts and paranormal situations, is fantastic. I do think, though, if you're going to have a huge climax in a mansion during a hurricane, you should at least mention emergency backup generators if so much of the activity during the storm depends on electricity. In my town, we pretty much lose the power when the wind blows. The Lux Institute, however, had electricity the whole way through. Despite that, I thought it was a pretty cool book.

10. Robert B. Parker's Spenser: Kickback by Ace Atkins
A Spenser novel written by Ace Atkins. I think Atkins is a very good writer and probably is doing as well as anyone could to extend this series, although the voice is quite different. What struck me during most of this book were 2 things: One, he actually made me uneasy about some of the events and how they might turn out. That was a pretty rare (like, say, zero) occurrence in Parker's Spenser novels. You read them to spend time with Spenser and his friends, not to be concerned how ugly things might turn out. And Two, the Spenser novels always took place in what I thought of as SpenserWorld, where a PI investigates murders, shoots people and doesn't look his license or spend time in jail, where he can have friends who are criminals, even contract killers, and still take the moral high road. Although Atkins doesn't exactly break down the walls of SpenserWorld, he does at least push back a little bit at the boundaries, having the cops be really, really pissed at him regarding a shootout, having him appear to be slowing down a bit with age, questioning his relationship with people like Vinnie Morris and even a little bit, with Hawk. The plot revolves around a Mass. town where teenagers appear to be getting sentenced to ridiculous petty crimes to months on an island off the Boston coast with little or no legal representation. The town is corrupt and Spenser starts to get jerked into the machinery of that corruption (hence, the unease). Unfortunately, having created those issues, Atkins pretty much lets Spenser off the hook. Still, I thought it was a good and enjoyable book.

Friday, April 03, 2015

What I've Been Reading

The last 10 books...

1. 50 Shades of Alice in Wonderland by Melinda Duchamp
Yeah, erotica. Melinda Duchamp is a pseudonym for Joe Konrath and Ann Voss Peterson. Cashing in on the spree of erotica left by the 50 Shades of Grey books. I haven't read much erotica and I read this one because, well, like Joe and Ann, I was interesting in cashing in on 50 Shades of Grey and I thought I might try my hand at writing erotica (that's my story and I'm sticking with it). I may get around to writing some eventually, but I have noticed that all my ideas for erotica have, well, plots. Anyway, this is pretty well done, it succeeds at what it's trying to accomplish, which is to say, it is arousing and entertaining. It's also quite funny, which was unexpected, although given Joe had a hand in it, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. So, if you're into erotica, especially kinky erotica, you might enjoy this. If you don't, you probably won't.

2. A Dance With Dragons by George RR Martin
What is this, the 5th book in the series? It's enormous and complicated and brilliant and frustrating, but he does seem, to some extent, after extending his characters and locations around the world, to be contracting his story lines in anticipation of the remaining 500,000 or so words in the series. I enjoyed it, but the first two books, to date, are my favorites. And it's long.

3. The Empty Quarter by David L. Robbins
Robbins got reasonably well known for writing historical thrillers and a year or so ago made a shift to thrillers featuring a team of Air Force Pararescue officers. (Yeah, same branch as Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, only no flying wings). On the plus side, it's very exciting and deals with a kidnapping/rescue of a Saudi princess. On the negative side, the PJs (that's what the pararescue teams are called) have a lot of characters and they're pretty broadly drawn and hard to tell apart. On the other hand, the portrayal of the jihadist in the book is pretty brilliant.

4. The Golem of Hollywood by Jonathan Kellerman & Jesse Kellerman
I love Jonathan Kellerman, so my hopes for this book were really high. It's kind of a mix of police procedural and Hasidic mysticism and at some levels makes no sense whatsoever. It's all rather compelling in its own way--both Kellermans can write, that's for sure--but it's a very, very weird mix that also includes an alternating narrative from Biblical times (Cain and Abel) and the 1800s Vienna.

5. Twelve Days by Alex Berenson
I would not recommend reading this book unless you had read the prior book, The Counterfeit Agent. His series follows a former CIA agent, John Wells. In The Counterfeit Agent he's tracking some mysterious deaths that leads him to a sort of private intelligence network run by a billionaire who's intentions are to start a war between the US and Iran (topical, huh?). In Twelve Days, Wells, who has identified the billionaire and the head of the network, has 12 days to try and stop the US from going to war with Iran that's pretty much started by an antiaircraft missile shooting down a jet. Both books are brilliant and I highly recommend them.

6. Hit by Ann Voss Peterson & Joe Konrath
In talking to Joe about these books, the Codename: Chandler series, (because I was (and am) considering writing something in the series) featuring a sexy female spy, Joe describes them pretty much as alternating between action and sex scenes. It's sort of accurate, although there was a lot more action than sex (there was plenty) in this book. The main character is given the assignment of assassinating a sleazy mogul, but she ends up in a massive chase scene in Chicago, then Vegas, while otherwise having a LOT of foreplay with the mogul's sexy bodyguard who is also, apparently, a spy. The book isn't exactly deep, but it was a lot of fun. Very light, almost campy.

7. The Lost Starship by Vaughn Heppner
Way in the future, Earth and its extended grouping of planets, is having encounters with a seemingly superior race of humans dubbed the New Men. Captain Maddox, of Earth Watch Intelligence, is given the mission of going into a very dangerous part of space to try and find a mythic lost starship that may still be functional with technology that could help battle the New Men. In order to do so he has to pull together a team (whether they want to or not) and stay at least one step ahead of the New Men and corrupt parts of Earth's military to find the ship and bring it back to life. It was fun. Not great SF and I don't particularly find Maddox that interesting a character, but Heppner brings a lot of military SF tropes together in a reasonably entertaining way, as long as you don't think about it too much. I bought the second book in the series and will get around to reading it eventually.

8. Kenobi by John Jackson Miller
Several times, over the years, I mentioned that if I had an opportunity to write a movie or TV tie-in, I would want to write one about what Obi-Wan Kenobi did on Tattooine (and Magnum PI, but that'll probably never happen). Well, that chance is gone, John Jackson Miller did it already, and the way it's set up, he probably didn't have too many other adventures afterwards. It takes place very soon after Palpatine overthrows the government and slaughters the Jedi. Obi-Wan, now going by Ben Kenobi, is trying to get settled and figured out a way to keep an eye on the baby Luke Skywalker without annoying the child's aunt and uncle, who really don't want him around. Also, he's afraid that if he stays too close, someone will associate him with the child and word will get back to the Emperor. Meanwhile, he keeps getting into trouble bailing people out of problems at a trading post at the nearest oasis. No matter how hard he tries, he keeps getting sucked back in. There's also something of a love interest, at least on her part. The book is terribly well done, feels a little bit like a western, and is rather sad and melancholy. If I had written the book, at least 10 or 15 years ago, there would have been more adventure (there's plenty), but probably less melancholy. Miller gave a lot of thought to what happened to Obi-Wan--all his friends and colleagues and everybody he ever regarded as family in his life killed--and how he was dealing with it. I'd recommend this book.

9. Rusch to Glory: Adventure, Risk & Triumph on the Path Less Traveled by Rebecca Rusch with Selene Yeager
Nonfiction, a memoir. Rebecca Rusch is currently a mountain bike champion, 4-time winner of the Leadville Mountain Bike Race, and before that, a lot of adventure races. On the one hand, she's crazy. On the other, she's quite inspiring, taking on physical and mental and emotional challenges. Selene Yeager is better known as a freelance writer writing about bicycling and fitness, which is partly why I bought the book. I liked it a lot.

10. Inside Man by Jeff Abbott
Another book in the Sam Capra series. Once a CIA agent, Sam's wife was a traitor, and in the earlier books he managed to sort of clear his name and then become affiliated with a mysterious intelligence group calling itself The Round Table. Mostly they want Sam to own and operate a series of bars around the world (good gig if you can get it) that act as safe houses for their group. While working in a bar in Miami, a friend gets shot and Sam digs into why, which tangles him up in all sorts of intrigues and trouble. As usual, Abbott's a good writer and the action scenes are terrific. The problem with this particular books is there are many, many opportunities for Sam to say, "Screw it, not my problem," and go back to running the bar and seeing to the welfare of his infant son. So Abbott has his work cut out for him on that front. I enjoyed the book overall, although there are a lot of plot threads that Abbott apparently felt needed wrapping up that, perhaps, were better left dangling. I don't want to give too much away, but it seems to me that if one of the things motivating a character is a tragedy in his past, it's okay to leave it as a tragedy rather than to tie it into the ongoing conspiracy. Otherwise, good book.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Derek Stillwater Visits JA Konrath's Universe

A while back, JA Konrath, who I relentlessly refer to as "Joe" because, well, that's his name, offered writers the opportunity to write a short story, novella or novel with one of his own characters. He provided guidelines and approaches.

I was interested, but busy doing other things. I'm a full-time freelance writer as well as a novelist. I'm also a ghostwriter and during the period that Joe first made this offer I was pretty tied up with a big historical fiction ghostwriting project and barely got work done on my own novels. One of my writer friends, Jude Hardin, had written a novel, Lady 52, that features his own series character, Nicholas Colt, and Joe's best known series character, Lt. Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels.

Jude suggested I do the same. So I dithered. Then I started in on a novel that would feature my best known series character, Derek Stillwater, with Lt. Jack Daniels. As soon as Joe had made the offer, I knew when I wanted the story to be and what it would be connected to. When I read Joe's novel, Dirty Martini, I always knew Derek would be there in Chicago in some way. So why not have Derek and Jack work together immediately after those events?

I started working on the novel.

The problem is I don't pay much attention to rules, I guess.

Somewhere along the way Jude asked me how I was doing and I mentioned I was working on a novel with Derek and Jack. He said, "Yeah, but, did you write a short story first?"

"No, why?"

Well, it turns out that Joe had a kind of preliminary testing period for writers to do this, and he wanted to make sure they didn't waste a lot of time on a novel that might not work, so he wanted any of us to write a short story first.

Well. So I stalled around for a while, then I wrote a short story, "Black Russian." Then I sent "Black Russian" and the part of the novel I had completed to Joe and I went off and did other things, including finishing my own more recent Derek Stillwater novel, Vengeance.

Eventually Joe and I went back and forth over "Black Russian," then Joe changed the way these projects were going to get done. Rather than Joe being the manager of these projects, Amazon was going to include it in its Kindle Worlds program. But after checking this program, I and quite a few other writers had some issues with it, primarily revolving around owning our own creations shared with Joe's. Joe very generously got his people at Amazon to rewrite their contract agreements and here we go.

This is all rather inside baseball, so to speak.

But what about Black Russian? Well, here are a couple things I knew in writing this short story.

I wanted it to have the name of a cocktail.

I wanted it to be more or less current with the timeline of my latest Derek Stillwater novel, more or less just before or just after the events of Vengeance. That would be very different from the Stillwater-Daniels novel I'm working on, which would be several years earlier, a prequel, if you will. So in this short story, Derek and Jack know each other and are kind of friends. That left me with the dilemma of how to get Derek involved in the story. I figured, since he was headquartered in Washington, D.C., somehow Jack would need to get out there and need his help. And once I got the name of the story, it all pretty much came together. I was also quite pleased to be able to bring in the character of Austin Davis, who is the hero of my novel Hot Money. I plan to revisit Austin again as well and there's a big chunk of a novel done featuring him.

So here we are, BLACK RUSSIAN. I hope you enjoy it. 

And with any luck, later this year you'll get to read about Derek and Jack's first adventure.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Dumbledore Talks To The Sorting Hat

December 2, 2014
A little something I've been fooling around with that I thought you all might enjoy.

Mark Terry

Dumbledore Talks To The Sorting Hat
By Mark Terry

            Professor Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft & Wizardry, approached the entrance to his office, which was just down Gargoyle Corridor in the Headmaster’s Tower. An enormous ugly gargoyle hid the entrance. Under his arm he carried an ancient, tattered and patched black hat.
            “Fizzing Whizzbees,” he murmured.
            The gargoyle moved aside to reveal a stone staircase guarded by a statue of a phoenix. The staircase spiraled upward.
            Stepping onto the stairs, Dumbledore rode it upward, gathering his midnight blue robe around his legs so as not to get caught in the door.
            Dumbledore’s office was a large circular room. Filled with bookcases and books, and a vast assortment of magical instruments on spindle-legged tables, they twirled and whirled, creaked and cranked, and puffed small clouds of steam and smoke into the air. Along the walls hung portraits of previous headmasters. Most of them were currently asleep, gentle snores filling the room.
            Dumbledore set the hat on the edge of his desk and seated himself behind it in his large high-backed chair. With a wave of his wand, he conjured a cut-glass goblet of scotch. Studying the hat, he took a sip.
            A slit in the hat appeared and it spoke. “Ah, Professor Dumbledore. Want a word, do you?”
            “You are very astute,” Dumbledore said with a nod toward the hat.
            “Thank you, sir. I am, although I am but a hat.”
            Eyes twinkling, a small smile twitched at the corners of Dumbledore’s mouth. “I assume you know what I wish to discuss.”
            “Harry Potter, would be my guess.”
            “Yes, indeed.”
            “And his sorting.”
            “You are, after all, the Sorting Hat.”
            Bestowed with ancient magic by the founders of Hogwarts, Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw, and Salazar Slytherin, the Sorting Hat was able to peer into the minds and souls of students, recognize their greatest talents and tendencies, and sorted them into the school’s four houses, based on the traits the four founders of the schools valued most.
            “Indeed I am.”
            “You sorted him into Gryffindor House,” Dumbledore said, watching the hat closely.
            “I did. “
            “It was very difficult. Plenty of courage. Not a bad mind. Talent. And a thirst to prove himself.”
            Peering at the hat over his glasses, Dumbledore said, “You appeared to have a lengthy conversation with the boy during his sorting. Usually you make decisions quickly.”
            “Many choices are obvious.”
            “Are they?” Dumbledore asked idly. “I would not think so. They are, after all, only eleven years old. Hardly fully formed. Many will change over the course of their years here at Hogwarts. Their experiences, their friendships, their successes, their failures … all will mold them into who they will become.”
            “Are you questioning my abilities, Dumbledore?”
            “No one, myself included, completely understands how you do what you do.”
            “Magic. Magic created by four of the greatest magicians who ever existed.”
            “Indeed. So, perhaps, we can discuss Harry Potter.”
            One of the former Headmasters, Phineas Nigellus, in one of the portraits, woke up with a start and leaned forward to listen closer. 
            “Of course. As is your want.”
            “Why Griffindor? Why was it difficult?”
            “Why not, perhaps, Slytherin?” the hat said slyly.
            Phineas Nigellus coughed discreetly.
            “Quite right,” Dumbledore said, taking another sip of scotch. “Directly to the point.”
            “I think he would do very well in Slytherin.”
            “Do you? Then why did you not place him there?”
            “Do you remember your own sorting, Dumbledore?”
            “Like it was yesterday,” Dumbledore said, the tips of his mouth curving slightly upward in a smile once more.
            “Your intellect is considerable.”
            “Thank you.”
            “You are acting modest about your intellect, Dumbledore, when we both know you are one of the most brilliant wizards who ever lived.”
            “And you’ve evaluated most of them.”
            “I have. And yet I sorted you into Griffindor. Not Ravenclaw.”
            “Ah,” said Dumbledore. “There is that. Have we not discussed this before?”
            “Perhaps,” the hat said, “you placed that memory in the pensieve and wish to evaluate it again before we continue our chat?”
            “No, no, I don’t believe so. Go on.” He thought to himself, And somehow the founders gave the Sorting Hat a wry sense of humor. He wondered which of them introduced that element.
            “You understand, Dumbledore, that the sorting takes into consideration more than talents and abilities.”
            “Just so.”
            “Yes. So although by your intellect, Ravenclaw would have made a great deal of sense, I was aware of other things battling with your brains, so to speak. Your courage. Your arrogance—yes, you would have done well in Slytherin at that age, were it not for your kindness.”
            A derisive cough from the portrait.
            “Perhaps,” Dumbledore said, gaze far off.
            “Yes,” the Hat said. “Would you care to place me on your head and re-sort you?”
            “I don’t believe so, no.”
            The Sorting Hat let out a soft chuckle.  “Few would, ultimately. Their identities often become linked to their House.”
            Dumbledore looked sharply at the Sorting Hat. “Yes, you’re right. Surely you don’t mean—“
            “In fact, I do mean exactly that, Dumbledore. Part of what the founders—not all of them certainly, but Rowena Ravenclaw, Helga Hufflepuff and Godric Gryffindor, yes—imparted to me is the possibility of seeing how their Houses will influence the extraordinary gifts they have.” And the Sorting Hat let out another low chuckle.
            “Something amusing?” Dumbledore asked. He raised the goblet and swallowed half the scotch. He considered refilling it, but no, it was rather early in the school year for that.
            “I considered putting you into Hufflepuff to take some of the starch out of that ego of yours, Dumbledore. Yes, yes. That would have been interesting.”
            Dumbledore’s eyes narrowed.
            The Sorting Hat said, “Never you mind, Dumbledore. You went where you belonged. As did Tom Riddle.”
            Leaning back in the large chair, Dumbledore tapped his fingers together in front of him. “And why do you bring up Tom Riddle?”
            “You know quite well why I bring up Tom Riddle,” the Hat said. “Because you wish to discuss Harry Potter. And it is Tom Riddle who tried to kill him as a baby. And who was … diverted as a result.”
            “And do Tom Riddle and Harry Potter share other things?”
            “I told Potter he would do well in Slytherin.”
            “And yet you placed him Gryffindor.”
            “He was difficult. Talent and a thirst to prove himself.”
            “Common traits in all our Houses, in many ways.”
            “Talent, of course. Some more than others. That thirst, that ambition, Dumbledore, that takes many forms. Slytherins, of course, want to dominate.”
            “Yes, often at any costs.”
            A grunt from Phineas Nigellus. Dumbledore ignored the portrait. His clever devices puffed and twirled and clanked. A quick glance around the room showed Dumbledore that many more of the former Headmasters in the portraits had awoken and were listening to the conversation.
            “Indeed. Your ethical mind and your kindness kept you out of Slytherin.”
            “Oh, please,” muttered Phineas Nigellus.
            “But not Tom Riddle,” Dumbledore said, long finger stroking the goblet.
            “There was no doubt whatsoever where Tom Riddle belonged. No more than when a Weasley shows up.”
            “All in Griffindor.”
            “Never underestimate a Weasley, Dumbledore. You have a new one.”
            “Ronald, yes. He was sitting next to Potter.”
            “Together I believe they will go far. Oh yes.”
            “I’m glad to hear it. But what did you see—“
            “Potter did not want to be in Slytherin.”
            Picking up the goblet, Dumbledore finished off his scotch. He continued to hold the empty goblet.
            “He was quite adamant on that, kept whispering ‘not Slytherin, not Slytherin.’”
            “Did he?”
            “Would I lie, Dumbledore?”
            “I do not believe so. So Young Mister Potter made the choice to be in Gryffindor.”
            “No,” the Sorting Hat said. “He made the choice not to be in Slytherin. He would not have been appropriate in either Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. He does not have that keen intellect for Ravenclaw and mark my words, he would not fit in Hufflepuff. He has a fine mind, certainly, and plenty of ability, but he is not the scholarly type one expects in Ravenclaw. It was either Slytherin or Gryffindor.”
            “And had he not been insistent on exclusion from Slytherin?”
            “Ah. A toss-up, I believe. He has been abused, Dumbledore. With that kind of neglect and abuse, he could have gone either way. He could have become a victim or an abuser, but I do not think he will. No,” the Hat said musingly. “I think we can expect great things of Mr. Potter. Terrible things, perhaps. He has that potential in him. But I think not. I think Gryffindor will be best for him.”
            “And it was what he wanted.”
            “Great and courageous.”
            Phineas Nigellus let out a loud, not-quite-believable snore.
            “Thank you,” Dumbledore said. “You have been insightful.”
            Dumbledore reached to take the Sorting Hat off his desk and place it on its shelf, when he thought, “This question of where to sort students. Do you often run into students who you strongly feel would go into one House, but for a mix of reasons choose another?”
            “Happened twice today, Dumbledore. It’s common, but not that common. Malfoy, he was instantly Slytherin. Weasley, just as easily into Gryffindor.”
            “Who was the questionable student?” Dumbledore asked, curiosity, one of his great strengths and weaknesses, getting the better of him.
            “Hermione Granger.”
            “Indeed. Her parents are Muggles.”
            “Dentists, I believe. But she has an intellect that would have rivaled yours back in the day, Dumbledore.”
            “And yet…”
            “Not Ravenclaw,” the Hat said. “Yes, I thought she would fit there. But like you, there was something else…” the Hat trailed off.
            “Sometimes I hear their voices,” the Sorting Hat said.
            “Whose voices?” Dumbledore asked, leaning forward. In all his many discussions with the Sorting Hat over the years, the Sorting Hat had never mentioned voices.
            “The founders. Slytherin, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff.”
            “And you heard their voices?”
            “I heard Godric Gryffindor speak briefly when I was placed on the Granger girl’s head.”
            “And what did he say?” Dumbledore asked, curious, perplexed, and a little surprised. And very, very intrigued.
            “He said, ‘She is a true Gryffindor.’”
            “And most unusual.”
            “Was there more?”
            “No, Dumbledore. That is all.”
            “Good night then.”
            “Adieu,” the Hat said, as Dumbledore flashed his wand, levitating the hat off his desk and onto its shelf.
            Dumbledore studied the empty goblet for a moment, then twirled his wand. It refilled with scotch. To Fawkes, his phoenix, Dumbledore said, “What do you think, Fawkes?”
            But the bird had nothing to say.