Stefan Bachmann

"A spellbinding coming-of-age story. The halls of Blackbird Castle may be dark and haunted, but the characters that frequent it are warm and lively. Readers will fly through the pages."
—Soman Chainani, New York Times-bestselling author of The School for Good and Evil series
CINDERS AND SPARROWS Read More
"Bizarre and hugely suspenseful." —Kirkus A DROP OF NIGHT Read More "Richly realized . . . Accomplished . . . This is a story young fantasy buffs are sure to enjoy" -The New York Times THE PECULIAR Read More "A wonderfully evocative world, beautiful prose, and interesting characters. Bachmann just keeps getting better and better". -Christopher Paolini, #1 NYT Bestselling author of the Inheritance Cycle THE WHATNOT Read More "Four of horror fantasy’s newer stars share tales and correspondence . . . A hefty sheaf of chillers—all short enough to share aloud and expertly cast to entice unwary middle graders a step or two into the shadows." -Kirkus (Starred review) THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES Read More

The Whale and the Tea-Kettle

 

(Modus operandi: this is a part of a series I’m doing to stay creative during obligatory training with the Swiss military.  The stories are super short – under a thousand words – and are meant to be read while listening to the music pieces written to accompany them. If you read more slowly, you can click on the Soundcloud link and then on the little looped-y-loop so that the music repeats itself. This first story is inspired by the now-very-famous 52 Hertz Whale, who spoke so differently from other whales that none of them could understand it. I hope you like it! 🙂

 

 

The Whale and the Tea-Kettle

Not far from a bleak winter beach – sharp stones and frost, thin grass and no sun to warm the edges of things – a boat drifted, rusting and old, its portholes covered in rime. It was the sort of boat people called a tea-kettle, which meant it was small and clad in metal, and had only one thin, crooked smokestack, and was prone to leakage.

The boat bobbed in the black water, mostly silent but for a few grumbles and grunts, until all at once a whale surfaced next to it. The whale’s great curious eye gazed at the boat, and the boat’s grimy portholes gazed back.

“Hello,” said the whale.

The wind whistled through the boat’s single smokestack. The whale took this to mean, “Hello to you, too.”

“Why are you floating here so quietly?” the whale inquired, not wanting the conversation to flag.

A wave came and knocked against the boat’s side. “Everything inside me has died,” said the boat melodramatically.

The whale peered into one porthole and sure enough there were skeletons around the table, and a skeleton tucked into bed, and a skeleton holding a mug in its bony fingers and grinning at the wall.

“What happened to them?” the whale asked, but the boat only bobbed to and fro and did not answer.

The whale stirred the water with its great tail, to wake the tea-kettle up.

“I don’t know,” the boat answered at last, in creaks and cracks of its rusting panels. “I suppose I took a wrong turn somewhere and they ran out of water. Funny, isn’t it, to run out of water in the middle of the sea?”

The whale wasn’t sure that was funny, but it laughed politely, a long, slow laugh that took several minutes. “How did you learn to speak to whales?” it asked, when it had finished.

“I didn’t,” said the boat. “I don’t know why I can talk to you. I suppose because your voice is very strange for a whale’s.”

The whale dipped its head underwater, feeling rather ashamed. It was true that its voice was not cavernous and bellowing like other whales. It sounded creaky and thin, much like the rasp of tea-kettle’s rivets and plates.

“I never learned to speak to whales either,” said the whale. “Or at least, none of them can understand what I say to them.”

One of the tea-kettle’s loose shutters clanked in the wind. “Well, I’ve forgotten how to speak boat-ish, if it’s any consolation. Boats wouldn’t be caught dead speaking to me, because I’m rusting, and I have only one thin, crooked smokestack, and I’m prone to leakage. But it’s not so bad. The fishers on my boat spoke nine languages between them, before they stopped speaking altogether, and it didn’t do them any good. They never agreed on anything.”

“I think,” said the whale, “that if I could speak to someone, I would never stop.”

“Well, you can speak to me,” said the boat, and one of the portholes in its prow spun in a gust of wind, like a wink.

The whale was delighted, and it told the tea-kettle its tale.

When the whale was no larger than a bicycle, its mother vanished in a cloud of orcas. The little whale wandered the seas, speaking to other whales with wild abandon. It spoke to great blue whales, and small bullish grey ones, and a white one as long as an ocean-liner. It asked them if it could join their herds, tried telling jokes and singing songs, but the other whales looked at it askance for its strange and ugly voice, and then chased it away. Not one of them understood what it was trying to say.

The whale travelled far and wide, growing larger and larger. It sang to a squid, and a coral reef. It bellowed a greeting to a child on a beach, who watched it curiously and then answered in an even stranger song than the whale’s own. It spoke to a starling, who was hitching a ride on a grey piece of driftwood. The whale surfaced very gently and murmured ‘good morning’ to the starling as nicely as it could, but the bird was startled anyway and fluttered indignantly away.

In time the whale grew weary, and floating in the blue dark of the ocean it wished it might turn into one of those small, mute, silvery fishes, or burst above the waves and become a starling, too, that could swoop away into the sky.

And just when the whale was as sad as it had ever been, it saw a boat floating on the surface of the water, and heard a sound – a long, rude creeeeeeak – and the whale was sure that meant “Hello.”

Perhaps you will say boats cannot speak. Perhaps you will insist the whale went mad from loneliness. But perhaps they were both very happy, the whale and the tea-kettle, drifting far from the shore and the thin grey grasses, and the sharp rocks, into the far cold sea, where they creaked and warbled in their own secret language for the rest of their days.

Updates – Writing, Military, a Tiny Story + Music Project

Kyoto, Japan

 

Helloooo, poor dusty blog. *blows cobwebs from the windows* *throws wide the curtains* I’m back from Asia, and I loved it, and those posts are still coming, but slowly, alas, for lots of reasons.

I was really sick for most of my time in Hong Kong, and most of December in general. I got all the way through Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, drinking tap-water all the way, and then China KNOCKED ME OUT. My body was not ready.

I recovered enough to get on a plane back to Zürich, and then I sat next to a sick Swiss guy and became ill all over again. (On an unrelated note, this guy watched Inside Out six times on our 13-hour flight, and like . . . I adore Pixar as much as the next person, but whoa.) Anyway, when I got to my parents house for holiday feasting, my older brother, who was visiting from the US, was sick. So between Chinese, Swiss, and American pathogens I got *really* sick. Like, catatonic, stay-away-or-you’ll-die-a-miserable-plague-ish-death, too, sick.

And that’s the tragic tale of why I’ve been non-existent on the internet, even more than usual.

Now military is starting (ahhhhh. . .) and I’ll be confined to barracks and cut-off from the internet, so I’ve been trying to catch up on things before then, and break in my boots, which are awfully uncomfortable and apparently if you don’t wear them in before military they’ll mangle your feet.

Also, I have a massive revision to do, and fun little story project, so let’s talk about those!

 

A picture of lovely Japan, until the actual Japan post happens.

 

The Revision

Monster Middle Grade continues its sloooooow evolution into readable book-form. A part of me doesn’t want to talk about this, because I think there’s sometimes this expectation that book-writing should be a straightforward flash of inspiration, a flurry of passionate writing in a garret, some careful revision, and then you churn out a tidy book a year, and it’s lovely, and the characters are all perfectly evolved, and the plot has no holes, and the world-building is neither too much nor too little.

And if that doesn’t happen, there must be something wrong with you, or you’re a bad writer, or whatever. And the thing is, some writers do manage to put out an excellent book every year, and keep up the appearance of having everything under control (which is very cool, and I admire them for that greatly).

But once you meet other writers and get a peek behind the scenes, you realise that book-writing is almost never tidy and appearances can be gravely misleading. Some books are messy and bursting at the seams. Some books – probably some of your very favourites – didn’t only take 1-2 drafts to get right. Maybe they took 3-4 drafts. Maybe they took 10 drafts or 15 drafts or 20 drafts, and the writer despaired many times, and doubted they were up for the task, and questioned whether the book would ever work the way it worked in their head, or whether they should become a Yak-herder in Nepal.

So, thats where I am right now. But I’m also determined to do this, and if your book or piece of music or whatever you’re working on is taking a long time to click, I would say that’s ok, and you’re ok, and you’re growing an entire world, and that takes time. If people outside of the working process don’t understand, that’s on them.

The good news is, Monster Middle Grade is getting there, creeping closer with every massive, unwieldy draft, and I’m so, so grateful I have an awesome publisher and editor and agent who let me work at until I get it right.

 

Carnations at a temple in Kyoto.

 

Military and Absence

I’ll be gone from everything – life, friends, emails, texting, social media – while in military, so I’m very sorry if you’re waiting for a response on something. I have a backlog of emails, and I will answer them. I heard things get less stringent as the months go by, and so I should be able to catch up before I’m discharged at the end of May, but the first few weeks are rough and busy, and I only have about 24 hours off every weekend, and so I just won’t be online much, or doing any of things I’ve done in my life thus far, like having a piano, or writing. Which brings me to. . .

 

Hello, kitty.

 

A Tiny Story + Music Project!!!

To keep the creative juices flowing on a hopefully easy-to-manage scale, I’m going to be posting a super-short story on the weekends, together with a short piece of music I’ll write that’s meant to be listened to while reading the story. I think it’ll be fun way to recover from running around with guns and being shouted at by sergeants. I hope by the end of military I’ll have 4-5 short nice little bundles of stories and music.

The first one is called The Whale and the Tea-Kettle, and I’ll post it on Sunday!

I hope everyone’s well! See you on the other side! 🙂

 

Aarhus / Stockholm / Copenhagen

 

 

The second half of 2017 has been The Half-Year Stefan Travels Everywhere, partly because I’m finally out of college, partly because I have work or internships in those places, and partly because I’m going to military in a mere 25 days, from which I’m assuming I will emerge a̶ ̶b̶r̶a̶i̶n̶w̶a̶s̶h̶e̶d̶ ̶v̶e̶g̶e̶t̶a̶b̶l̶e̶ utterly changed and intent on getting serious about life.

SO NOW’S THE TIME.

Anyway. I’m writing this post in Hong Kong, on the 103rd floor of the Ritz Carlton, which is not a brag so much as an admission of having friends who drag your stingy, plebeian self into those places because they’re nice like that. (Thanks, L. 😊). But this post is about Scandinavia, and I’ll blog about Asia – where I’ve been since November – next week. And probably the week after and the week after, into infinity. It will help  keep my morale up while I’m wriggling around in the mud.

 

 

So. All of this happened back in October. I left Berlin, where I was doing some transcriptions for a teacher of mine, went home to Zürich briefly for some sad events, and from there went to Scandinavia for the Aarhus International Hay Festival for Literature. It was a great festival. I’ve almost never been to a not-great book event because book people are truly the best people, but I’m still always surprised when they’re enjoyable, because I’m shy and public performances where one is expected to show off one’s glittering personality make me anxious. I don’t necessarily *act* shy, and people usually mistake my jabbering for friendliness but NO. It’s terror. People are crazy and if you avoid them you are less likely to be murdered. That’s just, like . . . a reasonable, not-at-all paranoid fact of life.

 

 

Aarhus

We did an event on a boat.

 

This was the boat. It was an excellent boat. It didn’t sink. That is the sign of an excellent boat.

While I and some other writers were loitering in front of said boat, two missionaries from Utah came up to me. No doubt deciding I looked the most heathen of all of us, they started making conversation with me, and the other writers immediately sidled away and abandoned me to my fate. I told them I was from Colorado because that’s what I tell Americans, even though I was only born in Colorado and then left fairly promptly afterwards. We talked about the Dutch language, which they had learned, and they taught me some words. There’s no punchline to this story except to say that I made some awkward excuse and escaped into the library, and I felt kind of bad for them afterwards because they tried.

Speaking of the library: Aarhus has the best library.

 

Very sleek, like it just landed.

 

They also have an excellent art museum.

 

Personal flurry over the rainbow walk on top of the art museum.

 

On the last evening, we had dinner with the English ambassador to Denmark and got to paint our own plates.

 

 

For some reason I thought the plate was edible and asked my table mates how to eat it and they patiently explained to me that they didn’t suspect the plate was edible. Well done, Stefan. That said, if Iiiii were the chef I would have made it edible. If you have rose-hip and celeriac paint shouldn’t the canvas be like . . . a flat bread or edible wafer or something? Not complain, though. It was delicious, and famous book-people like Chris Riddle and Meg Rosoff were close by, also painting their plates.

Speaking of food, there are going to be lots of food pictures in this post, because I ate lots of good food.

 

This is an egg salad and curry bagel I got at the train station in Aarhus, and it was DELICIOUS.

After the festival, where I met many friendly authors like Sarah Crossen, Jana Sramkova, Victor Dixon, and Maria Turtschaninoff, I went to Stockholm which I had never visited before.

Stockholm

 

Yaas, Stockholm, you look so good.

 

Scandinavia is very egalitarian; even their bridges have crowns.

 

The old town is one of the very prettiest old towns I’ve ever been to, even coming close to ZÜRICH’S, which is objectively probably not even the best old town but it’s *my* old town so it gets the top spot.

Obligatory food picture. This is how lemon meringue looks when it’s died and gone to heaven. It’s like, the ultimate Pokemon form. The highest evolutionary phase. The zenith of patisserie. It didn’t taste very good.

 

But it looked good, and that’s what life’s all about.

And then I went back to Denmark! I slept the whole flight, which is a really boring thing to put in a blog post, but I was thrilled about it because no matter how short a flight is, it always ends with me staring feverishly at the little screen-thing and counting down the minutes to landing so that I can escape my seat and my seat-mates and airplanes in general. I suggest that upon entering the planes, flight attendants just start knocking us out with stylish little clubs.

 

I didn’t know there were factories and shipping yards behind the Little Mermaid statue, but there are and it makes the sculpture even more tragic. Should have stayed a mermaid, gorl. Princes aren’t worth it.

 

Copenhagen

My apartment in Copenhagen was very nice, sparse, frighteningly sterile, definitely a change from my hippy-dippy apartment in Berlin. The only problem was that its sole book was a coffee-sized edition of The Da Vinci Code. This made me question everyone and everything. (Who would buy such an enormous version of The Da Vinci CodeIs it ironic? Why put it on the coffee table? Do they want the renters to read it? Are they superfans? Also, who even reads The Da Vinci Code? What’s that? 80 million people? Oh.)

But that’s mean. I’m sure the owner is very smart, and I’m sure The Da Vinci Code has redeeming qualities, like entertainment value or speeding up the inevitable demise of the human race through deforestation.

 

Me when I was twelve and an upstart conservatory classmate won first prize over me. Aka green and drooling, but with nice hair.

 

A murder of crows.

 

A fort? I think? I don’t remember, plz forgive.

 

Le Guardia.

 

And that will have to do. I’m a big fan of Scandinavia. Everyone was very tall and friendly, and the food was good, and the architecture was nice

Next post will be Japan / Korea / Taiwan / China adventures.

This is what I’m reading

French Exit

This is me

This is me

I write words and music. Books are: faerypunk THE PECULIAR (out now), its companion THE WHATNOT (out now), 1/4 of a spooky anthology THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES (out now), and my YA debut A DROP OF NIGHT (Winter 2016), all from Greenwillow/HarperCollins. I'm repped by Sara Megibow at KT Literary.

This is my first book

This is my first book

This is my second book

This is my second book

This is my third book

This is my third book

This is my fourth book

This is my fourth book

This is my fifth book

This is my fifth book

These are my random ramblings

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