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"Don't Leave the Mirkwood Trail!" A Masterclass in Good Writing by Brent Hartinger | The Otto Digmore Series Book Tour | New Adult Humorous M/M Romance

The Otto Digmore Series by Brent Hartinger is on virtual book tour. The new adult humorous M/M romance stops at Readeropolis with an...

The Otto Digmore Series by Brent Hartinger is on virtual book tour.

The new adult humorous M/M romance stops at Readeropolis with an author post.

Be sure to enter for a chance to win the giveaway and follow the Silver Dagger book tour (for other dates see the link at the bottom of the post).

"Don't Leave the Mirkwood Trail!" A Masterclass in Good Writing
By Brent Hartinger

When I read The Hobbit as a kid, the sequence in Mirkwood Forest really stuck with me.
Bilbo and the company of dwarves are desperate to get to Lonely Mountain, in order reclaim a great treasure. But to get there on time, they must past through an ancient (and very dangerous!) forest called Mirkwood.
The wizard Gandalf suddenly has pressing business elsewhere — of course! — and he can’t accompany them into the wood. (In fairness to Gandalf, he has already saved their butts quite a few times.) The good news is that mystical elves once created a magical pathway through the forest that still exists, allowing travelers to avoid the dangers in the trees. Before Gandalf departs, he gives them stern advice: “Don’t stray off the [path]—if you do, it is a thousand to one you will never find it again and never get out of Mirkwood; and then I don’t suppose I, or any one else, will ever see you again.”

In my mind, this is just a fantastic set-up. It’s obviously a “character” test of sorts.

And, of course, it’s also a great fantasy genre bit. Some impossibly old forest full of ancient evil that is held back by powerful, but fading elf magic? How will our inexperienced and mostly non-magical hero and his friends survive this peril?
As a kid, I remember thinking, “There is no way I would ever leave the forest path, no matter what happened!”
So how does the sequence actually play out? It’s a master class in good writing, so let’s unpack it, shall we?
The first thing the adventurers learn upon entering the forest is that the path is very, very narrow. So narrow, in fact, that they must walk single-file. That immediately ups the challenge of never leaving the path, doesn’t it?
For a bit, there is light through the trees, but soon it is all but cut off. So now the path is narrow and dark. There is just enough light to see impossibly thick cob webs (which is great foreshadowing). But the webs are somehow kept off the path itself by its magic. The adventurers are safe … for the time being.
Then the claustrophobia sets in. The party starts to feel like they’re being suffocated, even the dwarves who are comfortable being underground. It’s even worse at night when strange, unidentified creatures stare out of the darkness with red or yellow or green eyes. And even — shudder — the pale eyes of what seem to be giant insects! But whenever they shine the light into the trees, the creatures slip off into the shadows. Worse, their lights attract horrible giant moths.
Great atmosphere, huh? At this point, it should also be clear that the forest itself is the antagonist for this part of the story, and it’s a damn good one.
That said, Bilbo and company are still protected by the magic of the forest path. The wood is certainly creepy, but the danger still can’t actually touch them. So as long as they keep their wits about them, and follow Gandalf’s advice, they might be okay.
Then the path comes to a bridge over a stream … and the bridge is out! There’s a boat that can be used to cross, but — wouldn’t you know it? The boat is on the other side of the water.
Please note what Tolkien is doing here, how cleverly he is ratcheting up the tension: the characters have no choice but to leave the path, at least to try to get across the river.
The boat doesn’t even look like it’s tied up on the other side, so if they were to throw a grappling line across, they might be able to get it.
In other words, the forest is tempting them: You’re not really leaving the forest path! You’re just trying to get the boat, so you can continue on.
Suddenly the vow I made as a kid — that I would never leave the path, no matter what happened! — now seems a bit more difficult to keep; everyone’s expectations are nicely thwarted. Sure enough, getting the boat proves much easier said than done. Then when they finally do get the boat to their side of the river, it doesn’t have oars!
They do eventually manage to get across the river and are about to step back onto the path. Whew! But at that second, a deer bolts from the forest, surprising Bombur, who falls back into the water. Which is, of course, enchanted by the evil of the forest.
Despite their best intentions, the party has now left the path. Is that enough to ruin everything? The tension goes higher still.
They continue on, but the evil of the forest has breached the party. Slowly but surely, their despair begins to eat at them. They even send Bilbo to the top of a tall tree to see how much farther they have to go. Tolkien tells us they’re actually not that far from the end, but they’ve chosen the wrong tree (or perhaps the forest has guided them to the wrong tree!), and from there, their journey looks all but hopeless.
Next they run out of food, and as the days go on, they begin to starve. Now the forest tempts them with the sounds of a nearby hunting party, and the delicious smells of roasting meat, seemingly not too far off the path.
Finally, they agree to leave the path together in search of food. (Small quibble: I think even now it should have taken more than this, a bit more infighting at least, to get them to voluntarily leave the path. But hey, he’s J.R.R. Tolkien, and I’m not.)
And by leaving the path, things naturally go from bad to worse: from giant spiders, to vengeful wood elves. They eventually do get out of the forest again, thanks to Bilbo’s quick thinking — perhaps they were the one in a thousand Gandalf was talking about.
All in all, it’s a terrific sequence in a terrific book! It haunted me as a kid, and I still love it now.
But I confess: I was very disappointed in how this was dramatized in Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It looks pretty amazing, and I do love the addition of the cool elven gate at the beginning of the forest (not in the book). But as is typical of The Hobbit movies, they go way over-the-top, immediately turning the forest into a kind of Escherian stairway. It’s too much, squandering the subtle build of the book’s rising tension.
Even worse, it violates that great rule that has been laid out for the characters (and the viewer): the characters are safe as long as they don’t leave the path. Here, Bilbo and company quickly become so groggy and confused that the spiders basically attack them on the path.
As I said, the whole narrative point of Mirkwood is that it’s a character test: Can they resist giving into temptation and despair? Instead, the movie plays it like a silly set piece.

Brent Hartinger is the author of the gay teen classic Geography Club, which was adapted as a feature film in 2013. His latest book (which includes Geography Club's Russel Middlebrook as an adult) is The Otto Digmore Decision. Visit Brent at or on Twitter or Facebook.

More pictures and other info here:

The Otto Digmore Difference 
The Otto Digmore Series Book 1 
by Brent Hartinger 
Genre: New Adult Humorous M/M Romance

“Road trip!”

Otto Digmore is a 26-year-old gay guy with dreams of being a successful actor, and he's finally getting some attention as a result of his supporting role on a struggling sitcom. But he's also a burn survivor with scars on half his face, and all indications are that he's just too different to ever find real Hollywood success.

Now he's up for an amazing new role that could change everything. Problem is, he and his best friend Russel Middlebrook have to drive all the way across the country in order to get to the audition on time.

It's hard to say which is worse: the fact that so many things go wrong, or that Russel, an aspiring screenwriter, keeps comparing their experiences to some kind of road trip movie.

There's also the fact that Otto and Russel were once boyfriends, and Otto is starting to realize that he might still have romantic feelings for his best friend.

Just how far will Otto go to get the role, and maybe the guy, of his dreams?

Author Brent Hartinger first introduced the character of Otto Digmore in 2005, in his Lambda Award-winning books about Russel Middlebrook. Back then, Otto was something pretty unusual for YA literature: a disabled gay character.

Now, more than a decade later, Otto is grown up and finally stepping into the spotlight on his own. The Otto Digmore Difference, the first book in a new stand-alone series for adults, is about much more than the challenges of being "different." It's also about the unexpected nature of all of life's journeys, and the heavy price that must be paid for Hollywood fame.

But more than anything, it's a different kind of love story, about the frustrating and fantastic power of the love between two friends. 

The Otto Digmore Decision 
The Otto Digmore Series Book 2 

"If we get caught, they'll throw us in jail. On the other hand, we'll have been involved in one of the craziest Hollywood stories I've ever heard, and maybe someone will want to turn *that* into a movie!"

Otto Digmore is back, still trying to make it as an actor in Hollywood (despite his facial scars), but frustrated by all the schemers who'll stab you in the back to get ahead. But then Otto's good friend Russel Middlebrook sells a screenplay, a heist movie set in the Middle Ages — and Otto has been cast in an important supporting role! For twelve weeks, Otto and Russel will be on location together in England and Malta.

Problem is, once production is underway, it quickly becomes clear that the director is ruining Russel's script. If the movie ends up being the bomb that both Otto and Russel expect it to be, it could destroy both their Hollywood careers forever.

But Otto and Russel aren't willing to take that chance. Together, they hatch a crazy plan to make a good movie behind the director's back! But how far are they willing to go to save their careers? Are they willing to become exactly the kind of scheming backstabbers they always said they hated?

The Otto Digmore Decision is partly a caper story, partly a humorous Hollywood satire. It’s also an inside look at the struggles of anyone “different,” and it’s even something of a love story, except it’s one between two friends.

More than anything, The Otto Digmore Decision proves the old adage about creative pursuits: the most interesting drama always happens behind the scenes! 

I am Brent Hartinger, a novelist and screenwriter. I've published fourteen novels, had nine screenplays optioned, and had two of my projects turned into feature films. 

My first novel, GEOGRAPHY CLUB (2003), is the story of a gay teen named Russel Middlebrook. It was one of the first in a new wave of break-out LGBTQ young adult fiction, and it was adapted as a feature film in 2013. I subsequently wrote three more books about Russel, calling them The Russel Middlebrook Series. I tried to give these books a lot of humor and heart. 

In 2013, I continued Russel's story as he grew up, into his twenties, in a new, stand-alone series called Russel Middlebook: The Futon Years. These books are "new adult" (making Russel one of very few literary characters to "jump" genres in projects created by the same author). 

In 2017, I released a new, stand-alone series starring Russel's gay disabled friend Otto Digmore, called The Otto Digmore Series. 

I love mysteries and thrillers. My 2016 gay teen puzzle box thriller THREE TRUTHS AND A LIE was nominated for an Edgar Award (this, and my 2005 novel GRAND & HUMBLE, are real mind-benders, trust me). My 2007 YA mystery, PROJECT PAY DAY, is much lighter, and has also been adapted as feature film (which I wrote), to be released in 2020. 

Here are all my books: 

* The Otto Digmore Difference (book 1) 
* The Otto Digmore Decision (book 2) 

* The Thing I Didn't Know I Didn't Know (book #1) 
* Barefoot in the City of Broken Dreams (book #2) 
* The Road to Amazing (book #3) 

* Geography Club (book #1) 
* The Order of the Poison Oak (book #2) 
* Double Feature: Attack of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies/Bride of the Soul-Sucking Brain Zombies (book #3) 
* The Elephant of Surprise (book #4) 
* Two Thousand Pounds Per Square Inch (a free short story) 

* Project Pay Day 
* Three Truths and a Lie 
* Grand & Humble 
* Shadow Walkers 

I also love to travel. In fact, I no longer have a home. Instead, I travel the world indefinitely with my husband, writer Michael Jensen, moving to a new country every few months. You can follow our "digital nomad" journey at 

I try hard to write books that are page-turners, and movies that are fast-paced and accessible. If I had to describe my own writing projects, I would say, "Strong central concept, strong plot, strong character and voice." 

Basically, I see myself as a storyteller. But I think "story" is a lot more than "beautiful language" or complicated camera angles, which I often find self-indulgent and distracting. In most cases, I think the important thing for a writer or filmmaker is to get out of the way and just tell the damn story. 

I answer all questions, so feel free to contact me on social media, or through my website: 


Brent Hartinger 

$20 Amazon gift card, plus choice of any two e-versions of my previous books.

Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!

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