Tag Archives: myth

Writing Update and Free Book Giveaway

More news on the writing front, which has kept me seriously busy.

erotica, books, writing, historical, Greek

Dance of the Minotaur, by T.C. Calligari

So, in reverse order: I write different types of fiction and have some late summer sizzlers now available. Until Thursday you can get a free download of two books on Amazon.com. That’s right! Absolutely free. They are Crossing the Line: Four Sultry Tales of Submission and Dance of the Minotaur. The second is historically set. Yes, these are erotic tales, so be forewarned. Go ahead and download them (click on any underlined title), spread the word, and if you are so inclined, please leave a review. The kindle app can be downloaded to your computer and you can read them that way if you have to reader device.

fantasy, myth, poetry, writing

Pantheon Magazine’s Nyx issue

New out in the last few months: “the moon: Fever Dream” has just come out in PantheonMagazine’s Nyx issue. Also available on Amazon. “Scar Tissue,” written with Rhea Rose, is coming out in Second Contacts from Bundoran Press and should be on the shelves soon. Another free to read poem is “Persephone Dreams: Awakening” in Eternal Haunted Summer’s Summer Solstice issue.

There are alas, some long delayed works that I’m still waiting to see from Nameless, Burning Maiden, Our World of Horror and OnSpec. I’m hoping those will all come out this year. Other recent works include “Asylum” in nEvermore: Tales of Mystery, Murder and the Macabre, based on stories from Edgar Allan Poe. It’s available on Amazon as an ebook and pre-order for paper, due Oct. 1. The Best of Horror Library Volumes 1-5 includes “Exegesis of the Insecta Apocrypha,” which received an honorable mention in the Year’s Best Horror is doing very well and currently #1 on Amazon in hot new releases.

Yet to come and recent sales include selling “Hold Back the Night” to Blood in the Rain. This is a vampire anthology and my story is a reprint first published in Open Space. It was shortlisted for several awards and received honorable mentions in the Year’s Best anthologies of SF and of Fantasy. I’m pleased it’s going to appear again. I’ve also sold “Buffalo Gals” to Clockwork Canada. Edited by Dominik Parisien, this collection of Canadian tales will look at alternate histories where steampunk redefines the face of Canada. I believe both of these tales will come out last year.

The Playground of Lost Toys has been completed by Ursula Pflug and I. It’s an anthology due out from Exile Editions this November and contains 22 tales about toys and games. They range from humorous to darkly disturbing and from fantasy to SF to horror. I think it’s a good collection that explores toys, games, childhood, nostalgia, loss, love and many other things very well. On top of that I completed my synopses for books 2 & 3 and have sent the whole kaboodle to an agent. I’m trying not to bite my nails. And last, but not least, I’ve written 33 new poems for a poetry book competition. They just need a few more tweaks and I’ll be submitting it.

This is why I haven’t been posting very often. I’ve just been far too busy of late. In October I’m going to the Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat in Colorado. This is the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining. I plan to start a new novel that will take place in the world of my Evolve story “An Ember Amongst the Fallen” but a few centuries before. I’m hoping I can post a bit more often, so stay tuned for more writing news and just other pieces about stuff. 🙂

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Book Review: The Steel Seraglio

seraglio, Arabian Nights, Mike Carey, Louise Carey, Linda Carey, historical fantasy

Available through ChiZine Publications and Amazon.

The Steel Seraglio is published by ChiZine Publications and written by  Louise Carey, Linda Carey and Mike Carey. The Careys ( mother, father and daughter) wrote the book together. Some people may be wondering what a seraglio is as it’s not a common word anymore. It is a harem or the palace of a sultan and well defines both the context and the characters of this book.

I cannot say how wonderful this book is. It is a world of wonderful. It is the djinni uncapped. It truly is the stuff of which dreams are made. If you combined the Arabian Nights and the Canterbury Tales, shook them with a pinch of magic in a djinni bottle, you would come close to the depth and breadth and breathlessness of this novel.  The Steel Seraglio tells the tale of a sultan’s harem, jeopardized when the sultan is overthrown and they are sent into exile, but amongst them is a surviving son of the sultan and the fanatical new sultan’s wrath descends upon them.

Like the Arabian Nights, there are tales within tales here, where a character in the book tells a story of their past or a fantastical mirage to save their necks. These concubines (a year’s worth), though in an ancient and mystical time of Middle Eastern romanticism and attitude, are not just victims and chattels to be owned by men, though many try. They survive by wiles and wits, compassion and passion, and by ruthlessness when needed. Like a seraglio that holds the concubines for one man, this book is a harem of stories woven together to create a society and a history.

REM_small

The Steel Seraglio has some interior art by Nimit Malavia.

It is lush and loving, horrific and petty, political and fanatical, mysterious and methodical. Each character, from the wise Gursoon and opinionated Imtisar, from the assassin Zuleika and the scribe-librarian with prescient vision Rem, from the flawed Jamal and rogue Anwar Das, all of these and more become real people, their personalities distinct and human. There are a pastiche of characters and even Stephen King would marvel at the mastery, and Dickens would weep. Some of the people have short roles within the tale but the journey of the City of Women moves through time and place, showing what a community (and a seraglio of once chattels) can become.

These women are strong, brilliant fighters. The moral undercurrent  is  not just a fairy tale of old. For at the very core of The Steel Seraglio is the rights of women to be treated as equals and not be used only as baby machines and whores. Lest someone think this is preaching against certain right-wing movements only in the Mid-East, it rings as true for people anywhere, where men try to lessen women and blame the world’s evils upon them. And if you think that’s farfetched, don’t forget we had a presidential candidate just saythat if a woman is “legitimately raped” her body has a way of shutting out such things and that children are never born of rape. Ignorance and fear still rule and are shown here in different ways by a fanatic psychopath who gains a following, and a disenfranchised dilettante.

The Careys are masterful in their telling, coming up with some brilliant solutions to the problems of survival that the seraglio faces. That each of them (writers in their own right) write different parts that still fit seamlessly together, speaks of a true piece of art. The tales in the book blend recipes with comments, council notes, mythic tales, journal entries, narratives and introspections. In some ways it reminded me of Ursula LeGuin’s Always Coming Home, which is  a blend of songs and tales and myths, a gathering of a culture’s ways so that you could read the book in any order. You could read certain chapters in this book and have a complete short story, but there is the tapestry that is formed from the sum of these tales.

I loved this book so much that I took my time reading it so that I could savor it, not wanting it to end, yet it has a perfect ending. The tone changes in the second part, the Book the Second. In the first, it is the struggle and the solidification of Bessan society, where they reach their pinnacle of art and politics, respect and peace. The second book deals with the unmaking of the city and the forces that cause it to change, for like any great civilization, it too has a lifespan. The great Roman Empire crumbled as did ancient Sumer, and the Celtic nations. So too must Bessa move along this path, bringing a poignancy and yet a well-earned place in the great history of the world.

These tales were accessible, enjoyable and made me both think and wonder at what they encompassed. The Careys should be well-please with this magnificent pastiche. Add this one to someone’s stocking for the holidays. I would have to uncork ten bottles and say this is worthy of ten djinnis out of ten.

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Five Things To Be Grateful For: the Cornucopia List

Yeah, I know it’s bad grammar and should say, “Five things for which to be grateful,” but pretend you’re listening to me talk, where we tend to use more slang and colloquialisms.

I think I might try this once a week for a while, listing things that are shiny and happy. After all, with buffoons and tyrants in positions of power and the news reporting the dire events everyday it’s much better to list some positive aspects of life to counteract the darkness. It’s harder because we’re told more and more about things like murders and teenagers turning violent and the media feeds on this, with a sparse quip from time to time stating that incidents of violence have gone down. It’s hard to believe when we feed like ghouls and the bad stuff. So, without much more ado, here are five things.

  1. I’m grateful that I live in a country where I can complain and write about my government’s shenanigans. Whether they listen to me or not, at least I’m not shot or imprisoned.
  2. I’m grateful for spring, watching trees and plants push for shoots and blooms, seeing the earth revivified, alive and vibrant.
  3. I’m grateful for my eyes. Though not perfect, they let me see the world fairly well. They let me read and perceive.
  4. I’m grateful for Q on CBC. Even though the station has gone through cuts and now repeats itself to the point that I change channels, Q is still of very high quality and interest. Jian Ghomeshi is entertaining, intelligent and even keeled. He’s weathered the greats like Phyllis Diller and Leonard Cohen and suffered elegantly through Billy Bob Thornton’s idiocies.
  5. I’m grateful for computers. They’ve sped up many aspects of writing, without having to retype a page for every error, editing only on paper or trying to remember where you put that manuscript. Sure they’re time sinks and sure they haven’t cut down on paper but they’ve opened up a bigger world.

That’s it. My short list. Not a bucket list but perhaps a Cornucopia List. Cornucopia’s are horns filled with plenty. The first was said to be from Almathea, the goat who suckled the infant Zeus. When he accidentally broke it off he replaced it with a horn that could give fruit and flowers. A possible precursor to the holy grail, the cornucopia is always a sign of abundance.

Let’s see how long my list of plenty can continue. If nothing else, it will counterbalance all the horrible stuff out there.

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Book Review: In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed IV

For anyone just tuning in, this is the fourth and last segment of reviewing Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed. Mitzi chose fairy and folktales from diverse sources. These aren’t just Grimm brothers or Arabian Nights. There are Japanese,  Persian or Sanskrit, a cultural mosaic of stories from sources around the world.

Written in Sanskrit, “A Tale of the Parrot” is an Indian tale where a talking animal relates various lessons or stories, much as Shahrazad did to her husband. An emir’s daughter is wasting away and the Spanish Infanta comes to try a cure, and discovers the Turkish Khan’s (who wants to marry the girl) emissary stirring a cauldron with a stick. The stick is actually his penis, with which he “agitates” the contents of the cauldron. The Infanta helps stir only believing his penis to be a growing stick. Then she takes a cup of the “creamy” broth to the emir’s daughter to break the spell. Now, whether Szereto is completely ignorant of cleanliness taboos of Arabic lands or not, the cleanliness taboos of Europeans would balk at this. Albeit, many of these tales have fetishistic aspects but the Infanta next takes a scrubbed chamberpot to fill. This would be repulsive to many people, even if they’re fine with a young woman drinking goblets of ejaculate.

I was actually surprised to see “Little Red Riding Hood” because, even with erotic rewriting, it’s almost been done to death. It has similarities to myths of gods changing shape, or magical beings consuming a string of victims. Here, “Red” sets off to Grandmother’s house on the lookout for “handsome young huntsmen.” She has a reputation for twirling about, revealing much beneath her skirts, to the workmen who grab their “bulges.” At least this phrasing makes it clear what they’re doing. When she wanders through the woods she actually hikes up her skirt, given as she is to the thrills of exhibitionism. The story follows the more traditional path when viewed in its sexual context, but with some  amusing twists with Red Riding Hood’s exhibitionistic tendencies, and refreshingly few odd twists of phrase.

“The Traveling Companion” is a popular riddle tale, especially in the Scandinavian countries and reworked by Hans Christian Andersen. Poor Johannes is like his counterpart Michel Michelkleiner and his innocence causes his poverty to increase before he has barely set out on the road. He meets an older, more experienced man who has a magic ointment for curing ills, and that he rubs high up under the skirts of an old lady, and a wooden marionette, which leads to the whole puppet troupe being rubbed and coming alive for a flesh and wood orgy. The two travelers learn of a princess whose suitors must answer three riddles and if they lose, they lose their heads.

Johannes uses the ointment to fluster the princess, and his traveling companion does not rely on the ointment alone but folllows the princess to discover her secret. He enters her bedroom where she is sound asleep with her nightdress having ridden up, “exposing a pair of graceful thighs and the corresponding hills above.” I wasn’t sure at first when he starts spanking her if these were her breasts or buttocks, but presuming buttocks, it would have helped to know she reclined on her stomach instead of trying to be tossed out of the story to figure it out. Other than this one aberration, the story is amusing if somewhat black in humor, and though bawdy, not overly erotic.

“The Turnip” brings us to where we began in Cinderella with the turnip (or parsnip) loving stepsisters who used the vegetative length and firmness for sexual diversion. This poor farmer has magical turnip seeds but his own member grows to gigantic turnip proportions and though he wishes to remove it, the king moves him into residence where the man is used for the king’s riding pleasure. This is another story that disturbingly borders on rape and does not meet erotic content so much as sexual abuse.

Also known as Brier Rose “The Sleeping Beauty” has long had an undercurrent of sexuality or even rape, where the prince kisses or impregnates the sleeping princess. Instead of the witch’s curse, Szereto tosses in a lecherous frog and then the story proceeds apace to the prince many years later breaching the brier thorns. By this point I confess to becoming quite annoyed with the bizarre euphemisms and found I was ejected from the tale when the prince lifts the sleeping princess’s dress where, “A pair of gossamer wings began to slowly unfold….the fragile creature was being held back by two fuzz-covered pods,…” What the–? I could not imagine what this was at first and then believing Szereto to mean the clitoris and labia I was dumbfounded. How is this description, even given to hyperbole, slightly erotic? Fuzzy pods? Gossamer wings? Has anyone ever seen genitalia that looked like this?

“The Twelve Months” is the last tale, with a stepmother and sister who envy the pretty daughter and send her off on tasks designed to kill her. She meets 12 men who are the months and tends to their “branches” in three ways. It is somewhat erotic and one of the better stories.

When I started out reading this collection I really thought I’d love it. I like what I know of Mitzi Szereto and I like the retellings of fairy tales (and many originals as well). Granted, eroticism is different for each person, I still find it hard to believe that many people would find these tales sensual at all; they fall more into the category of bawdy, if anything. The euphemistic phrases don’t work because the description is too bizarre, especially for our modern sensibilities. Why Szereto felt the need to follow this style I’m not sure, except maybe to mimic the style of earlier centuries, but why then the anachronistic aspects dropped in without making the whole tale of another era? It’s as if she was still writing these for children, which is not the projected audience at all. I did like the introductions  about the evolution and history of each story, but I would have liked to have seen a reading list or some lists including The Arabian Nights, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, etc. as well as scholarly works by Zipes or Bettelheim. I believe that Szereto can write but if I was in Sleeping Beauty’s bed, I was left wanting.

http://www.cleispress.com/gosearch.php?textfield=in+sleeping+beauty&search_type=TITLE

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Cats and Gods

Cats, we all know them. We love them or we hates them. There are those of us who love them, and that’s pretty much everyone on my block. My neighbor had a cat that died a year ago. He’s just got two new cats. I have one but used to have two. My other neighbor has four, two of which were the children of my cat when she was an unwed, teenage mom (also abandoned on the street). There used to be three of her children but one died. And my neighbor’s other two cats were street cats as well.

My landlady, the Mother Teresa of cats, has adopted so many homeless cats over time. Her two current cats were adopted from the street. One actually abandoned his first owner and the other was taken from his rough tom days on the street. We used to have a fish factory at the end of the street and there was always a bunch of feral cats living there. My landlady captured them, had them fixed and released them. She also still goes and feeds them every day.

Neighbors across the street and down the block have cats or have had them. There are two or three dogs but the cats outnumber them and the neighboring blocks have many cats as well. I also at one point, when I had my previous cat, had an interloper, a very pregnant, little tabby female. It turns out that she knew how to use my cat door and at that time I didn’t have one that looked. It seemed obvious to us that she was going to have the kittens in my place since I’d found her sleeping on my bed several times.

So we cleaned out the bottom of the closet and arranged some towels for the inevitable event. My landlady had laid out a little bed in the sink in the work shed but the cat studiously avoided it. And sure enough, I went away one weekend and when I came back, the cat had had kittens, seven of them on the seventh day of the seventh month. That’s a large litter for a cat. She also had chosen to have them, not on the lovely towel bed we had made for her in my bedroom closet, but in the den on a bunch of fabric I had stored.

With such an auspicious number of cats with the 777, I decided they all had to be named after gods. I named her Bast, the Egyptian cat goddess, because giving birth to all those babies made her a deity. The only black kitten, a female was name Kali after the Hindu goddess. There was one tuxedo cat that was named after a Celtic god but I can’t remember which one, Cuchulain rings a bell but he was a hero not a god. There were four tabbies, two with brown noses that I named Freya and Loki and two males with pink noses that were named Zeus and Hermes. And there was one longhair tabby male. I can’t remember all the names but I covered the Norse, Greek, Celtic, Egyptian and Hindu pantheons with the names. I believe there was an Isis and Osiris in there.

The cats went off to different homes and I don’t think any of them kept their original names. The longhaired cat became Smokey because of the color of his fur. Hermes and Zeus became Starsky and Hutch. I guess they weren’t meant for godhood.

 But then my other cat came along, she whose children were adopted next door. At the time I just wanted to name her after a god but I had no special reason. She was petite, with bunny fur and big eyes. Aphrodite seemed to big a name for such a small cat so I named her Venus. She did, after motherhood, fill out into a matronly form. However, she became less aloof after my other cat died and did in fact prove that I’ve named her aptly. Any time anyone enters my house my cat flops over at their feet and splays her belly to be rubbed. She loves attention all the time and being pet, even in the wrong direction. She doesn’t care as long as it’s attention. But she hates and is jealous of other cats.

Cats have been around a very long time and domesticated by humans for millennia. However, they have not been domesticated as long as dogs, the first animal that humans domesticated. And one can argue the domestication of cats, who maintain their independence. Cats are definitely more agile with their paws than a dog is, and they can go in litter boxes, eliminating the need for a daily walking. They are also pretty resistant to training, which dogs are not.

Between that life of ease, the aloofness, the independent behaviors, it’s no wonder that they have been associated with godhood. Ancient Egyptians worshipped them and mummified them, just like humans. And I believe that it’s the Thai people who believe that nothing perfect can remain on Earth, because it would ascend to heaven. Therefore the cat’s tails are cut so that they aren’t perfect.

So is it any wonder we name cats after gods? I always say I’m coming back as a cat in my next life. It wouldn’t be so bad to be pampered. My neighbor now has two new cats and my landlady and I think he should give them godly names. They’re Persians so they definitely look regal. It’s fitting to give a cat a godly name, because it goes with their nature. If one named a dog after a god, that god would have to be goofy or obedient, not exactly the way we see deities. Hail, the noble pussycat. 🙂

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Writing: British Fantasy Awards & Stuff

I’m listing the recent announcement of shortlisted works for the British Fantasy Awards. I am not nominated but the anthology Cone Zero that my story “The Fathomless World” is in, has been. But then, none of the stories from the anthology have been nominated so I wonder if that bodes ill for the anthology winning the award.

Of course, for me it would have been better if my story was nominate but that’s okay. And it’s too bad that some of the reviews really just recapped the book and my story didn’t make much of a splash. Pooh. I liked it but perhaps the most informative review was a very late, after the fact one, where the reviewer decided to leave his notes as haiku, partly because it was so late. The one which I’m sure was for “The Fathomless World” said something like, “more style than substance.”  That would be the middle line of the haiku if you count “style as a two-syllable word.

So it goes. I thought it had substance but I also did it in a mythic style. I continue to send works out and work on new ones. Unfortunately the whole economic crisis has affected story markets to the point that I’m thinking I should just be working on my novel and skip the stories right now. For speculative fiction, whether horror, fantasy, science fiction or other, there are not a lot of markets to submit to right now. Some have gone the way of the dodo, while the majority of the pro markets (those that pay five cents a word or more) are closed to submissions or on hiatus. A sad state indeed.

And it’s always been a sad state that the pay for speculative fiction has been so low. Definitely not a make-a-living type of wage. Literary markets as a whole tend to pay somewhat better but many of them also pay the equivalent of $100 a story, which many anthologies do. Some literary markets pay anywhere from $15-40 a printed page, which again could work out to the same amount.

Why do we write then? For fame? Partly, though that’s a long hard road. Hardly for fortune. And maybe most of all, because we love words and our minds just keep filling with them and we want to tell a story and share in the mysteries of what-if. And not onto the shortlisted works for the British Fantasy Award.

BEST ANTHOLOGY

    Cone Zero(DF Lewis) Megazanthus Press
    Myth-Understandings (Ian Whates) Newcon Press
    Subtle Edens (Allen Ashley) Elastic Press
    The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 19 (Stephen Jones) Constable & Robinson
    The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror(Ian Alexander Martin) Humdrumming
    We Fade To Grey(Gary McMahon) Pendragon Press

BEST NOVEL (THE AUGUST DERLETH FANTASY AWARD)

    Memoirs of a Master Forger(William Heaney/Graham Joyce) Gollancz
    Midnight Man (Simon Clark) Severn House
    Rain Dogs(Gary McMahon) Humdrumming
    The Graveyard Book(Neil Gaiman) Bloomsbury
    The Victoria Vanishes (Christopher Fowler) Little Brown
    Thieving Fear (Ramsey Campbell) PS Publishing

THE PS PUBLISHING BEST SMALL PRESS AWARD

    Elastic Press (Andrew Hook)
    Newcon Press (Ian Whates)
    Pendragon Press (Chris Teague)
    Screaming Dreams (Steve Upham)
    TTA Press (Andy Cox)

BEST COLLECTION

    Bull Running for Girls (Allyson Bird) Screaming Dreams
    Glyphotech(Mark Samuels) PS Publishing
    How To Make Monsters(Gary McMahon) Morrigan Books
    Islington Crocodiles(Paul Meloy) TTA Press
    Just After Sunset(Stephen King) Hodder & Stoughton

BEST NOVELLA

    “Cold Stone Calling” (Simon Clark) Tasmaniac Publications
    “Gunpowder” (Joe Hill) PS Publishing
    “Heads” (Gary McMahon) We Fade To Grey, Ed. Gary McMahon – Pendragon Press
    “The Narrows” (Simon Bestwick) We Fade To Grey, Ed. Gary McMahon – Pendragon Press
    “The Reach of Children” (Tim Lebbon) Humdrumming

BEST SHORT FICTION

    “All Mouth” (Paul Meloy) Black Static 6, Ed. Andy Cox – TTA Press
    “Do You See” (Sarah Pinborough) Myth-Understandings, Ed. Ian Whates – Newcon Press
    “N” (Stephen King) Just After Sunset – Hodder & Stoughton
    “Pinholes in Black Muslin” (Simon Strantzas) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin – Humdrumming
    “The Caul Bearer” (Allyson Bird) Bull Running For Girls – Screaming Dreams
    “The Tobacconist’s Concession” (John Travis) The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror, Ed. Ian Alexander Martin – Humdrumming
    “The Vague” (Paul Meloy) Islington Crocodiles, TTA Press
    “Winter Journey” (Joel Lane) Black Static 5, Ed. Andy Cox – TTA Press

BEST COMIC/GRAPHIC NOVEL

    30 Days of Night: Beyond Barrow(Steve Niles/Bill Sienkiewicz) IDW Publishing
    All-Star Superman(Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely) DC Comics
    Buffy Season Eight Vol. 3: Wolves at the Gate(Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard/ Georges Jeanty) Dark Horse Comics
    Comic Book Tattoo Tales Inspired by Tori Amos(Ed, Rantz A. Hoseley & Tori Amos/ Various) Image Comics
    Hellblazer: Fear Machine (Jamie Delano) Vertigo
    Hellblazer: The Laughing Magician(Andy Diggle/Leonardo Manco & Daniel Zezelj) Vertigo
    Locke and Key(Joe Hill/Gabriel Rodriguez) IDW Publishing
    The Girly Comic Book 1 (Ed, Selina Lock) Factor Fiction
    The New Avengers: Illuminati(Brian Bendis & Brian Reed/Jim Cheung) Marvel Comics

BEST ARTIST

    Dave McKean (The Graveyard Book) Bloomsbury
    Edward Miller (Vault of Deeds) PS Publishing
    Lee Thompson (The Land at the End of the Working Day) Humdrumming
    Les Edwards (Various)
    Vincent Chong (Various)

BEST NON-FICTION

    Basil Copper: A Life in Books (Basil Copper, Ed, Stephen Jones) PS Publishing
    Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale (Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook) BBC Books
    journal.neilgaiman.com (Neil Gaiman)
    Mutant Popcorn(Nick Lowe) Interzone – TTA Press
    What Is It We Do When We Read Science Fiction(Paul Kincaid) Beccon Publications

BEST MAGAZINE

    Black Static(Andy Cox) TTA Press
    Interzone(Andy Cox et. al.) TTA Press
    Midnight Street(Trevor Denyer)
    Postscripts(Peter Crowther & Nick Gevers) PS Publishing
    SFX (Dave Bradley) Future Publishing Limited

BEST TELEVISON

    Battlestar Galactica (NBC)
    Dead Set(Zeppotron/Channel 4)
    Dexter (Clyde Phillips Productions)
    Doctor Who (BBC Wales)
    Supernatural (Warner Bros TV)

BEST FILM

    Cloverfield (Matt Reeves)
    Iron Man(Jon Favreau)
    The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan)
    The Mist(Frank Darabont)
    The Orphanage(Juan Antonio Bayona)
    (With thanks to SFWA for supplying the list.)

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The Rock of Cashel, Ireland

From  my fall 2007 trip to Ireland.
It’s a long way to Tipperary but if you go to Cashel, then you have in fact made it. Cashel (with the accent on the first syllable) was a lovely town (I’ve now officially lost track of the days). It’s small, a mix of medieval and modern and winds slowly up to the mound where the Rock of Cashel is. The castle was built at the highest point. It’s suffered some weather damage over the years from wind (parts blown down, such as the high cross and some crenellations) and rain. The castle is a sprawling place, containing several buildings, and cold. It was a windy enough day there but we could see from all sides, overlooking the town.
I didn’t do as well a job of editing these photos so there are a lot of pictures of fresco details and pillars.

The oldest part of Cashel is more than a thousand years old. We did the site tour , which had a very entertaining guy who gave great insights into the place’s very long history. Viewing over the cemetery, the distant hills show a dip. The tale goes that one day the devil was walking along, in a foul mood and took a big bite out of the hills. That dip is called the Devil’s Bite and when the devil spit out the chomp he took, it made the Rock of Cashel.
 
The oldest part was probably the tower as these are evident in all of the oldest monasteries (as lookouts for the Vikings). Then there was a smallish chapel, made I believe of limestone as that is the composition of the mount as well. The walls and ceiling had been painted in frescoes. Some of the design is still visible with red, blue, yellow and white colors. That was amazing to see, and religious figures and diapering designs were still discernible. This chapel was also unique in its crookedness. When looking through the arched entry it was obvious that it wasn’t in the center of that wall, nor was the arch geometrically even. I bet it was built by unskilled monks and laborers with no architect or only directions passed down the line from one guy to another.
 
There are the little sculpted heads there were also on the Dysert O’Dea doorway. The remains of a broken stone casket was inside. The front has and Urnes style beast on it, which helps date this part of Cashel to 900-1000 CE. Urnes style resembles the famous carved stave churches of Norway, indicating the influence of the time.
 
Ireland is working hard to preserve its heritage and history. Many of the castles are owned by county or country tourism. It’s a long and expensive process but there was evidence of work on Cashel, especially in spots that needed to preserve the building’s integrity.

Brian Boru, and his grandson were some of the early Munster kings that ruled from here. But his grandson gave the castle over to the Bishop of Limerick. This began the long ecclesiastical history of the castle. There was an enclosed museum, which had some religious artifacts, pennannular brooches, and stonework that had been moved in to preserve them.

Another chapel (I don’t know the actual religious names for these different buildings) was redone with a wooden roof (no nails) and plant made pigments painted on the gothic arches and angels that decorated the room. Most castles and churches had wooden roofs as the technique for making the corbelled (or other) stone roofs was complicated and put a lot of weight on the walls. Throughout these buildings there are many square holes in the walls. These are post holes, for floors and stairs. It makes one realize how drafty these stone places would have been.

The town itself was fairly small and we were hardpressed to find a place to eat that night, but ate at the Town Hall, a higher end and very good restaurant. It is so named because it is in the old town hall. We’d had a drink in one of local pub earlier and many of the pubs in this area of Ireland have little hearths and some that burn coal still. We spent several hours at Cashel and then moved on to Limerick.

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Writing: The Process

The writing process is a different beast for every writer. There are those that have a set time every day and write within that time. How I envy them. Me, I abhor schedules at the best of time, which is also my bane. This blog is about as regular as I get. It’s one aspect of the “write every day” rule. The writing process can also be different for every story.

Some stories nearly write themselves in a few days. Some are long struggles. Often the ones I think are going to be easiest (such as writing a fairy tale) turn out to be the worst for getting the idea flowing. Some stories take forever for different reasons. “A Kind Hand,” which I finished last year and is fantasy, took me about eight years to write. I would work on it in fits and starts and stop again. It slowly progressed with a lot of agonizing along the way. And every time I went to work on it, I had to read it again and then try to match the voice I had started in. I also quite like the way I was writing it and didn’t want to ruin it.

In this case I knew the ending because it’s based off of a particular tale about the Germanic hearth goddess Berchta. But in between the ending and the beginning I needed a flow of events that raised the tension. Like many fairy tales, the original tale was fairly bare bones and short, jumping to the one climax. I needed to put flesh on those bones. I got closer and closer to finishing and finally last year worked out the full story. I think I sent it out once but in the meantime also had a friend read it. His comments included that there needed to be more tension so I made the character a bit scarier, upped the ante at the end and sent it to Shroud, and it sold.

My longest running story ever, from start to finish is “Awaking Pandora,” which I’m working on right now. It’s science fiction, which I don’t write as often. I started it about fifteen plus years ago, while visiting a friend in New York. I was struck by all the barges and the prison barge around Manhattan. So I started the story and began writing and writing and realized, if I wasn’t careful, it was going to become a novel. But I didn’t want a novel. I knew it was still going to be a long story.

With this story the problem was that I really didn’t have a finally resolution. I had a conflict, conflicts in fact, but I didn’t know how to solve them. So it sat as I ruminated. I’d pull it out once in a while, read the whole thing, rewrote a bit what I’d started and then let it sit. I discussed it with a friend or two, trying to find an ending. Then, a year ago, there was an anthology looking for novelettes, stories between 10-20,000 words in this case. I tried to finish it but just couldn’t get there. I did finally finish the first draft last year.

Now, again there are two anthology markets that this story could fit into but I’m running out of time on the first. I’ve spent the last month writing and rewriting, taking the comments of two friends. The story was running at 9800 words and is down to 8600 but one market has a limit of 6,000. I’ve looked at it so often, changing word, changing sentences, deleting some, moving some up, some down, expanding and changing.

I’ve changed, more refined, the ending twice and it’s not quite there. I passed it by a third friend last night who said she just couldn’t chop some out as it would take rewriting to remove some aspects and make it shorter (partly because I’ve already removed extraneous words and removing more means redoing the flow). Again, I think this is a good story and I like my characters though I already cut the extraneous ones as too many for a shortish story. I have this weekend to make the thing work as I have to mail it latest by Monday.

It’s a long process, agonizing over a word, a line, a paragraph, a character. Then the conflict; is it enough, does it need to be earlier? This story has been easy for getting description and mood in, and characterization was fairly effortless, but plot. Yikes. Well, I’m back to the writing board and the true test is whether I’ll sell it or not. One last shot at getting the plot right and trying to cut out another 2,000 words and away it will go.

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Burren, Poulnabrone Dolmen and Carran Church

After we left the Ailwee caves we wended our way through the Burren. There are rock walls absolutely everywhere, and then the Burren stone with plants in each hardened rivulet. The walls are of stone stacked vertically or horizontally, some mortared, many not. They could be ten years old or a thousand years old and speak of the ruggedness of the land. We actually passed a sign for an old, stone, ring fort but because there were so many walls we couldn’t find it, as it was inseperable from the rest of the walls. We also went down a wrong road and then had to backtrack. We only knew we’d reached the same spot when we came across some white bagged hay (or something) since the hills looked so much alike. They also reminded me a bit of the Okanagan in BC with the rolling, pastoral hills.
Ireland 2007–Burren, Poulnabrone Dolmen & Carran Church

We had to drive around a few sheep. They proved why they have remained at a low rung on the evolutionary ladder. Some didn’t bother to move. Others would run frantically along the road (all with their butts dabbed in green or red paint) and then stop and chew. It’s like their wee brains went, Ack! A metal monster! Oooh, look nice greens to chew. Two second memories, I tell you.

I’ve already gushed about the Burren but there is a sense of such age and endurance in this area, and beauty mixed with the severity of the landscape in spots that I can certainly see how tales of fairy folk would spring up. Poulnabrone was down one road and we almost missed it too, except it stood a little above the hill. This is called a portal tomb because it looks to be a doorway, perhaps to another realm. This megalithic structure dates back 5000 years and has stood against humans and elements all that time. The ground around the dolmen was amazing and I would definitely see this again for its sheer alieness and stunning landscape. Walking  was a bit treacherous and required looking where you were going but there was all sorts of flora growing in those dips and furrows.

The day was winding down but we still had an hour or two of sunlight. As we were driving out of the Burren we found Carran Church. I couldn’t find much infomration on the church but I’m guessing it’s at least 400 years old (part of it is 15th century) and it’s near Ballyvaughn. One of the pictures shows the brown signs that marked scenic or historical sites. Not a big ruin, it was near someone’s home so I pulled into the driveway (remember, no shoulders on these roads) and took some pictures. The wall had the usual stone stile to climb over. I also met some stinging nettle (through my yoga pants) when I went around the outer wall. Ended up with a burning thigh for a few hours.

Of all the areas in Ireland that we visited I liked the Burren best. The bays near Kinvara were of the deepest blue and it was just so peaceful and pretty in its own way. And onward we went. We were yet to do Dysert O’Dea before we called it a day.

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Writing: The Lovable Bastard

Several editors have said that you have to have a protagonist that the reader can identify with. If the character is a bastard, he has to be a lovable bastard. And in essence this is true. In any story, whether a short story or a novel there has to be some character that the writer can like. Often this will be the main character or one of the viewpoint characters.

The biggest problem, if you make all your characters bastards or despicable murderers, is that no one will identify with them except perhaps the odd psychopath. If no one identifies, then no one cares. The reader is not invested in seeing if the protagonist wins against her personal conflict or not. Does the hero beat the evil overlord or die a valiant death? Who cares if it’s only evil overlords battling each other…unless there is something human about them, a softer side. The evil overlord who has a little puppy that he loves dearly will garner some sympathy from the reader compared to the overlords that eat the puppies.

So why have a  lovable bastard at all? As the realm of speculative fiction writing grew and changed, it began to reflect deeper plots with more well developed characters. It wasn’t just about the giant space ship with a tachyon drive going through space with a man, any man, battling the alien elements. It was now about a specific person, a woman or a man, who was much like you and me, but placed in a different time or world. The “every man” “every woman” aspect means that we can relate to these characters because they are human. They’re flawed. They have good days and bad days, have shining aspects of their personalities and flaws that can be their downfalls.

No one is a hero twenty-four hours a day. Even the most valiant knight must eat, drink, fart, defecate and sleep. He’s human. In spec writing you may have an alien, a god, some other life form and they may be truly alien in their actions or thoughts, but if you don’t have some character that the reader identifies with it will remain too hard to fathom for the average reader. I have a story I wrote a long time ago with alien larval and insectoid creatures. No matter who I sent the story to (even when I stopped rewriting every time), one editor would find the character too alien and the next would find it too human.

Perfume, by Patrick Suskind was  a book about a man born nearly blind but with a sense of smell so acute that he could “see” with it, could tell the past and almost the future. It won the 1987 World Fantasy award and though the world portrayed was vivid and nearly magical, I didn’t like this book. The main reason was that the main character, more an antagonist than a protagonist, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was a bastard, and not lovable in the least. He was a murderer bent on procuring the ultimate scent, who had no compassion for his victims. The victims themselves are not with us long enough for the reader to care for them. The movie took a slightly different twist to probably portray a victim long enough (and her father) so that we had someone to relate to and care about.

Stephen Donaldson, many years ago, wrote the Thomas Covenant series (Lord Foul’s Bane, etc.), which encompassed two trilogies. His main character was again a bastard, a reluctant hero. Thomas Covenant, to me, was not lovable either. He was a big whiner. Being a whiner is okay in a story, if it changes, but Covenant whined until he died and then his girlfriend took over whining. The story was of larger scope than Covenant but the whining made him too unlikable.

A main character may be so flawed that they are not likable. Then the writer needs to have the faithful sidekick, the every woman that you and I feel we could be. Lane Robins handled this deftly with Maledicte. Her main character is tempestuous, jealous, vengeful and ridden by a god that darkens the soul.  Maledicte isn’t that likable but then there is Gilly, a human servant, a conflicted man who is just a man. No gods afflict him and he has no special powers. He is the simple unsung hero to Maledicte’s antihero.

Overall Maledicte is more successful as a book than Perfume when it comes to characters and making your reader care. At times I even care for Maledicte and, like any bastard who is the main character, Maledicte should change by the end of the story, and does. Grenouille never changes so that I did not care if he lived or died in the end. With Covenant, I was relieved when he died.

These three books have stuck in my memory, two becaue the characters weren’t likable and one because there was a sidekick who was. You might think this is okay then but Perfume had a unique world and I could never stomach another Donaldson book again. I tried but found the one book I tried had a character too much like Thomas Covenant. I couldn’t put up with any more “poor me” whiners through a complete series.

To have a likable character, whether faithful sidekick or lovable bastard is truly essential to almost all stories. There are exceptions but for a writer starting out, it’s a must. So here is to the lovable bastards out there; may they all have some redeeming qualities.

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