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Saturday, December 31, 2011

W1S1 2011 Report Card

It's the end of 2011 and the W1S1 challenge for 2011 is coming to a close. Somehow I managed to keep up and produce at least one new story per month. November and December were particularly unproductive. Burnout, I think. Bottom line: I wrote 15 stories and 13 of those are published or forthcoming. Thank you W1S1 for pushing me.

For next year, I want to stay with the story a month challenge but put more energy into some longer works, that is a novel and some novellas. Time to reload for 2012.

MonthStoryWord CountStatus
January"A Mother's Gift"2900 Published in Silver Blade Magazine
February"Why the Squonk Weeps"1300Published in Digital Dragon Magazine
March"Shafts to Hell"1300Published in How the West Was Wicked (Pill Hill Press)
April"The Crooked House of Coins"3700Published in There Was a Crooked House (Pill Hill Press)
"The Fletcher's Daughter"1500Published in Residential Aliens
May"Tapestries of Betrayal"4000Published in Greek Myths Revisited (Wicked East Press)
June"Blood and Beauty"4680Forthcoming in A.J. French's Songs of the Satyrs (Wicked East Press)
July"Wilson's Thicket"4200Forthcoming in Beneath the Pretty Lies (Wicked East Press)
August"Sixpence and Rye, and a Snake in a Pie"2400Forthcoming in Father Grim's Storybook (Wicked East Press)
September"A Creature of Words"670Published in Avenir Eclectia
October"A Daughter for a Daughter"10,500Forthcoming in Tales of Suspense (Wicked East Press)
"Under the Bridge"975Published in Apollo's Lyre
November"Soul Thief"1015Rewriting
Chapter One--City of Souls1570Novella in progress
December"A Fortuitous Stumble"670Forthcoming in Avenir Eclectia
"The Hermit's Cache"tbdFor Avenir Eclectia
Chapter Two--City of SoulstbdNovella in progress

Image Credit: Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on DiscoverySchool.com.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Word of the Week: Gun

Big Bertha.
In the interest of sending 2011 out with a bang, the word of the week is gun, a weapon that fires projectiles at high velocity with a relatively flat trajectory. The modern word derives from the Middle English gonne or gunne, first used in the fourteenth century. The Middle English word is possibly a shortened form of the feminine name Gunilda. Middle English sources use gonnilde to reference cannon and a Latin document from 1330, giving an inventory of Windsor Castle munitions, references a specific gun as "...una magna balista de cornu quae Domina Gunilda ...". Gunilda derives from the Old Norse feminine name Gunnhildr, which is a combination of gunnr and hildr, meaning battle-maid. Both parts of the name mean battle or fight. The name was often shortened to Gunna. A couple well-known Gunhilds from tenth-century Viking history include Gunnhild--the wife of Eric Bloodaxe, King of Norway from 930-34--and Gunhild of Wenden--a Slavic princess who married Sweyn Forkbeard, King of Denmark from 986-1014. Both women appear in Icelandic and Norse sagas. Gunhild of Wenden was the mother of Cnut the Great, who ruled England from 1016-1035.

It's not known why a woman's name would be associated with a weapon, but the practice is not uncommon. Big Bertha refers to a super-heavy howitzer used by the Germans during World War I. Mons Meg is a medieval bombard which fired twenty inch caliber cannon balls.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Stories Out

A couple of my stories have been published in December. "Why the Squonk Weeps" appears in The Winter Issue of Underneath the Juniper Tree. This online magazine combines custom illustrations and stories in a beautiful and sometimes stunning layout. The overall feel of the magazine is macabre. My story appears on page 49 and features illustrations by Elizabeth Rose Stanton. "Under the Bridge" is out in Apollo's Lyre as part of the magazine's focus on the Write One Sub One challenge.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Return to Mag Mell: A Review of In the Forests of the Night

In the Forests of the Night
Kersten Hamilton's In the Forests of the Night picks up where Tyger Tyger (see my review here) left off. The Wylltson household has become a kind of zoo or maybe an animal shelter for the sick and wounded would be a more apt metaphor. The Wylltson residence now includes Finn, Mamieo, Thomas, Roisin, Grendal the cat-sidhe, and Lucy the sprite. And Abby has moved in, permanently. Abby and Roisin's presence has transformed Teagan's bedroom into a dorm room. Thomas, Highborn Goblin and shape-shifter, is recovering from his wounds and sometimes transforms into a raven. He's also trying to rekindle Roison's affection. Mamieo is struggling with her desire to rid the world of Thomas and can't understand why God would allow Raynor the angel to dump a Highborn Goblin at her feet. Mr. Wylltson is struggling to recover the memories that Fear Doirich stole from him, and Teagan and Aiden are coming to terms with their mother's death and their goblinness. And then there's the budding romance between Teagan and Finn, as if Teagan didn't have enough problems.

The first half of the book fleshes out the new home life at the Wylltsons'. Hamilton has a lot of fun with the quirky characters and their interactions and suggests that sworn enemies don't always have to be at each other's throats.

"This place shouldn't be called the Wylltsons'," Thomas said....
"It should be called the Widdershins'. Everything here is backwards. A sprite and a cat-sidhe"--he waved at Lucy and Grendal--"eating together. They're deadly enemies. And Finn, the purest Fir Bolg blood left in this world, made to mend and tend. But what do you do? Fight!"
"That's what Doirich's curse does, then, isn't it?" The corners of Mamieo's mouth turned down. "Forces the boyo to be something no Fir Bolg should be."...
"Curses and covenants I can understand," Thomas said. "But not the Mac Cumhaill living in a Highborn's nest. Teagan, you are at least part Highborn--made to rule and reign, gather destroyers and bend them to your will. And what do you do? Tend beasts. It's completely un-Highborn" (p. 183).

Although I enjoyed the humor, the first half of In the Forests of the Night lacks the urgency and sense of direction that permeated all of Tyger Tyger. It seems that all the characters are taking a chance to catch their breaths before the next round of action begins. The story kicks into high gear with the arrival of Kyle, who mascarades as Mr. Bullen, a substitute teacher at Teagan's school. Fear Dorich wants Teagan to bring Aiden to him. A cat-sidhe and later a Highborn give Teagan the message. Kyle licks Teagan's forehead during class, infecting her with a retrovirus that will change her DNA. Teagan feels it working immediately. Kyle and Isabeau, a Highborn mascarading as a French exchange student, threaten to kill Teagan's father and destroy the lives of her friends if she doesn't bring Aiden to Mag Mell.

Kyle's threat has real teeth, nasty and sharp. As Thomas told Teagan and her family earlier in the narrative, Kyle was Jack the Ripper. Fear Doirich once sent him after a girl living in Whitechapel named Mary Kelly. Kyle got carried away and gutted a few others just for kicks.

Teagan comes up with her own plan to put a stop to Fear Doirich by delivering the Dark Man to Raynor the angel, who has been guarding the gate to Mag Mell behind the library. If you loved the trip to Mag Mell from Tyger Tyger, Hamilton has more of the same in store for you in In the Forests of the Night. We meet some new animals, travel between worlds through the pools that dot Mag Mell, and visit a Goblin fair and coliseum-style show that makes the Romans look rather tame. (I don't think the Roman spectators ever came out of their seats to eat the fallen gladiators.)

As in Tyger Tyger, we see events through Teagan's eyes. In the Forests of the Night is essentially the story of Teagan's struggle to come to terms with what she is (a Highborn Goblin) and how that impacts who she is. Can a Highborn Goblin be good? Can a Highborn Goblin be a healer, a fixer of broken things? Or is Teagan fated by her genes for cruelty and destructiveness? It's the old nature versus nurture goblin debate, freewill versus determinism. I believe Hamilton wants to broach a broader question. Can humans, as inherently sinful creatures, rise above their nature?

Finn repeatedly assures Teagan that she can rise above her goblinness, despite Kyle's attempt to transform her into a pure Highborn.

"I can't believe [that sluagh] was a Fir Bolg," Teagan said.
"It wasn't," Finn said. "No more than Fear Doirich is an aingeal. Any creature can wal away from what it was meant to be" (p. 133).

"But ... I'm devolving. Into something like Kyle." [said Teagan]
"Prove it. What evil thing have you done?" [said Finn]
"I'm walking without my skin and bones!"
"That does concern me." He wrapped his arms around her. "But it doesn't prove that you're evil, does it?" (p. 224).

Teagan isn't certain and therein lies the story's tension. She's experiencing new emotions and doing things, such as bilocation, that she never imagined possible.

"DNA doesn't make you who you are inside, Tea," Mr. Wylltson said. "That hasn't changed."
Teagan shook her head. He hadn't heard her howling with the phooka. Hadn't seen the blood lust she inspired in the Highborn's eyes (p. 282).

At heart, Teagan is compassion and mercy. She dreams of becoming a vetinarian and she finds it impossible to turn away from a broken creature no matter what it is. Hamilton suggests that there is a part of Teagan that Kyle or Fear Doirich cannot corrupt against her will. Teagan's essence is her greatest strength, but in a direct confrontation with Fear Doirich and Mab when she needs to focus on making a kill, compassion and mercy may be her greatest weakness.

I received an advance copy of In the Forests of the Night from the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, November 21, 2011

News and Announcements

My flash story "A Creature of Words" is up at Avenir Eclectia, which the editor Grace Bridges describes as "a multi-author microfiction project, based in a world with flavors of science fiction, fantasy and supernatural genres." "A Creature of Words" introduces a sentient, four-footed fish who tangles with a strange creature that talks but doesn't seem to know how to swim. Check out the other story lines at Avenir Eclectia, too. With so many contributors, there's bound to be something you'll like. In December, Underneath the Juniper Tree will be reprinting my story "Why the Squonk Weeps" with some cool custom artwork. Each story in Underneath the Juniper Tree is illustrated with original artwork. The editors are doing a fabulous job with the layout and the stories are cool, too. My flash story "Under the Bridge" will be in the December issue of Apollo's Lyre. This issue is devoted to members of the Write One Sub One challenge. "Under the Bridge" considers a young boy's encounter with something monstrous. Was it a troll or an old man? You be the judge.

Last year I reviewed Tyger Tyger here and interviewed the author Kersten Hamilton here. If you haven't picked up Tyger Tyger yet, the e-book version is on sale for $2.99 for a limited time through Amazon, Apple, Barnes and Noble, and Google.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Word of the Week: Vair

Vair is a little-used word that will give squirrels nightmares. It means squirrel fur, specifically the white and bluish-gray fur of the Eurasian Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). In Northern and Central Europe, the Eurasian Red Squirrel's winter coat is blueish-gray on the back and white on the belly. In medieval times, this fur was used as a lining for expensive cloaks in which alternating pieces of blue and white fur were sewn together to create a variegated pattern. The word entered Middle English circa 1300 from the Old French vair, an adjective for mottled or variegated, which derived from the Latin varius meaning variegated or various. Obviously the word is more associated with the pattern created from the fur than any properties of the fur itself. Vair also signifies an alternating pattern of blue and white used in heraldry.

Vair-lined mantle
depicted on the tomb of
Geoffrey V of Anjou.
Once upon a time vair played a role in a controversy regarding the source of Cinderella's glass slippers as described in Charles Perrault's version. There are well over a hundred versions of the Cinderella tale from various cultures. Only a few versions mention glass slippers. In the majority of cases, the shoes are made of gold or not described. In the Grimm's version, for example, Cinderella goes to a ball on three different nights. On the first night, her shoes are "silk slippers embroidered with silver", undescribed on the second night, and "pure gold" slippers on the third night (The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes, pp. 81-2). Some scholars proposed that Perrault had meant "une paire de pantoufles de vair" which through printing and translation errors became verre, the French word for glass. The problem with this theory is that Perrault's original text contains pantoufles de verre. It appears that the glass slippers were Perrault's or a French contribution to the Cinderella story, perhaps to highlight their magical quality.  

Friday, November 4, 2011

Considering The Shadow Seer

The Shadow Seer
Fran Jacob's The Shadow Seer (see note below) is a different breed of fantasy. The protagonist is a young prince named Candale who is second in line to the throne of Carnia behind his father Gerian and grandfather Sorron. Candale is on the cusp of manhood and chaffing under the control his father exerts. He is physically attractive though very inexperienced with girls, enjoys the benefits of a loving family and life at the top of the social order, has a younger sister, and generally wishes the best for everyone. In short, Candale is a nice guy, someone with whom everyone would like to be friends. Unfortunately, Candale is not what most would consider king material. He is barely adequate with a sword despite intensive training, tends to go off on his own without considering the consequences to himself and others, and suffers from seizures, probably some form of epilepsy, which give him the appearance of physical weakness. Unlike most fantasy heroes who are either able to hold their own or singlehandedly defeat legions in combat, Candale requires protection from body guards or loyal friends and without such assistance, he would be dead.

The Shadow SeerThe story opens with Candale near death. He has been wasting away from some sort of illness, growing increasingly weak. All the healers have failed to reverse Candale's demise. Only the intervention of Mayrila, a powerful witch whom Candale's father despises, restores Candale to health. Mayrila contends that Candale was poisoned. Her claims are initially dismissed. Why would anyone want to kill Candale? Then Candale learns that Mayrila is his biological mother and that she and others believe him to be the long-prophesied Shadow Seer, who will have visions of a dark future when all the kingdoms will collapse. Mayrila has evidence to prove her claims but Sorron and Gerian are not convinced and banish Mayrila from the castle, requiring her to swear on a truth stone that she will not spread rumors about Candale. Candale, meanwhile, has some odd dreams and begins to reinterpret his life in light of Mayrila's claims. Another attempt is made on Candale's life. Only the intervention of Trellany, who becomes Candale's bodyguard, saves him. An organization dedicated to killing the Shadow Seer in the hope of preventing his prophecies from being fulfilled believes Candale is the Shadow Seer.

Candale slowly comes to believe he is the Shadow Seer despite everyone close to him telling him that he is not. He tries to find out as much as he can about the Seer but the castle library yields little. The book he needs to see, The Rose Prophecies, is housed at White Oaks, a school for mages, which lied many days distant and winter, when travel will be impossible, is approaching. Sorron agrees to ask that the book be brought to the castle in the spring so that Candale can put his concerns to rest once and for all, but Candale doesn't want to wait. He and his friend Teveriel--a bard--hatch a plan to escape the castle and travel to White Oaks before winter. They make their escape and are later joined by Trellany who scolds Candale for not trusting her loyalty to him as his bodyguard. After an arduous journey, they reach White Oaks, where Candale spends the winter and learns without a doubt that he is the Shadow Seer. Now Candale faces an even greater set of challenges. How to deal with the horrible visions of death and destruction that the Seer experiences. How to deal with the future madness that has been predicted for the Seer. How to deal with supernatural beings in the form of shadows that threaten him and everyone close to him. And how to deal with the demon Ellenessia, who has some connection to the Shadow Seer. On top of all that, Candale is supposed to be preparing to someday be King.

Jacob's pacing for The Shadow Seer is patient. If you are looking for a fast read with lots of harrowing fight scenes, The Shadow Seer is not for you. The first part of the story concentrates on life at court while the second half focuses on Candale's experiences at White Oaks. Foremost in the narrative is the drama of family and interpersonal relationships. Although there's nothing sexually explicit in The Shadow Seer, Jacobs does address Candale's thoughts on his own and others sexuality. It rounds out his character. There are a few hints that Teveriel might fancy a homosexual relationship with Candale although Candale does not appear to share his friend's interest. It's not a major part of the plot, but if this sort of theme bothers you, consider yourself warned. Candale does much talking and soul searching regarding his destiny. Jacobs takes her time to provide compelling portraits of the major characters. The Shadow Seer is the type of book George Eliot would have written if she had chosen fantasy instead of history. Both Candale and the student mages at White Oaks face a future riddled with difficulties through no fault of their own. Candale becomes the Shadow Seer when Mayrila gives birth to him and the young mages are born with their abilities. Candale must confront an uncertain future. While the mages are safe within the bounds of Carnia, they face prejudice and possible execution at the hands of peoples in neighboring lands.

Although Jacobs earns high marks for the uniqueness of her story line, the novel suffers from a limited point of view and repetition. Jacobs tells her story entirely from Candale's point of view. For a novel as long as The Shadow Seer, the limitation becomes suffocating and reduces the story to a single plot narrative. What do other characters think of Candale? What are they doing outside of Candale's observation? We only know what is reported to Candale or what he sees. Imagine The Lord of the Rings told exclusively from Frodo's point of view, from within his head. The second issue is the novel's length. At well over six hundred pages, The Shadow Seer is quite a doorstop. Does it need to be that long? I think another editing pass would have shortened the book as there are numerous cases where the characters say more than they need to say. Consider the following examples. (I read the book in a galley format in which the page numbers do not correspond to the final printed versions so I will give chapter names instead of page numbers.)

In this instance, Candale is wondering what to do about the voices he is hearing. "I didn't know what I was going to do about this. I didn't know how to even begin thinking about how to handle this" (emphasis mine, from the chapter entitled "Silver"). The second sentence is unnecessary. It restates the idea from the first sentence.

Consider this dialog: "It's my duty, Silver. It's what I have to do. I don't have a choice. I'm sorry" (emphasis mine, from the chapter entitled "Silver"). The two sentences in the middle define duty.

In the following paragraph, Candale is talking to Trellany about getting help from Mayrila to control his visions. Keep in mind that most of this chapter has been about acquiring help from Mayrila to control his visions.

I gulped down the wine in my glass and nodded. "I-I don't think I have much of a choice," I said. "I need to find a way to control them, to stop them interrupting my life, to prevent them hitting during a-a ball or a banquet ... If Mayrila thinks this is necessary, so that she can help me to do that, then I have to trust her judgement on this. She's here to help, after all (emphasis mine, from the chapter entitled "Visions and Prophecies").

All of the highlighted text has been previously stated or so strongly implied that it's a given. I agree that someone might restate the obvious over and over again in conversation, but dialog in a story is not supposed to be "realistic" in that regard. The author should employ some economy to spare the reader such endless repetition. The reader knows what is worrying Candale and the reader knows that Candale wants Mayrila to help him.

Thanks to Fran Jacobs for providing me a copy of The Shadow Seer for review.

Note: Jacob's first installment in the Ellenessia's Curse series is published in two parts. I'm reviewing parts one and two together.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: The Bone House Day Three

The Bone House
So what does it all mean? That can be a thorny question for any literary work, but for Stephen Lawhead's Bright Empires Series, I think that question is only going to get thornier.

First, there is the question of truth and religion. Lawhead presents several religious traditions in this series. We encounter learned priests from the Christian, Egyptian, Etruscan, and stone age shaman traditions. All are presented with respect and the suggestion that they all have some truth to offer. I suspect Lawhead agrees with the Inklings' notion that pagan religions possess an incomplete version of religious truth that Christ presents in its complete form. I believe you can arrange the various priests/religions along a continuum. The stone age shaman that Kit encounters constructs his bone house in which he will presumably receive religious visions during his dreams on a ley line. The shaman is tightly connected to a particular piece of land. The priests become increasingly abstract in their thinking until we reach Roger Bacon at the other end of the continuum. That religion has tended to move from worship tied to particular places to worship of an omnipresent and omnipotent god is not news, but Lawhead adds a twist as the discovery of the power of the ley lines brings us full circle back to the stone age, a trip that Kit makes literally.

During a conversation between Arthur Flinders-Petrie and his son Benedict as they prepare to make a ley jump, Benedict asks if they will see Jesus where they are going. Arthur answers that Jesus lived in a different time and place, but then muses:

It had long been an ambition to find the line of force that might lead to the Holy Land in the time of Christ. He had yet to find it, but knew it was out there somewhere. The search went on, and Arthur contented himself with the thought that his relentless mapping of the cosmos would eventually yield the location (p. 160).

What would it mean to meet Christ in another place in the multiverse? Is each world fallen and in need of Christ's sacrifice? If there is only one Christ, does he go through the birth and crucifixion cycle in each world? This reminds me of issues raised in C. S. Lewis's science fiction trilogy in which Mars is not fallen, Earth is occupied by the forces of evil, and Venus is on the cusp of falling to Satan's temptations. If intelligent life exists on other planets, are those beings also in need of redemption?

And last but not least, what are we to make of the final scene in chapter 35? Kit, having stumbled out of the stone age (watch your step around ley lines), finds himself on a tropical beach. He journeys inland and comes to a pool of something like water. As usual, Lawhead gives a beautifully detailed and evocative description.

No, not glass--but not water either. Intrigued, Kit stepped closer and knelt down to examine it more closely. Translucent, glimmering, fluid, yet giving off a faint milky glow: a pool of liquid light. As impossible as that might have been anywhere else, here, in this place, it felt natural and right (p. 373).

As he reaches forward to touch the surface, a man carrying a dead woman arrives. The reader knows this to be Arthur Flinders-Petrie and Xian-Li. Arthur steps into the pool and the pair descend beneath the surface. Rings of luminescence spread from the point at which they descended "until the entire pond was the colour of heated bronze glowing fresh from the crucible" (p. 374). When the pair emerge from the pool, Xian-Li has been restored to life. Kit has arrived at the Well of Souls, the prize Flinders-Petrie sought to keep secret. But how does this work? Is this pool like a fountain of immortality, reminiscent of the fabled fountain of youth? Will Kit bring Sir Henry and Cosimo there? What are the theological implications? We will have to wait for The Spirit Well.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Bone House from the publisher.

Stephen R. Lawhead's website: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/.

To read what other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below.

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
Karri Compton
D. G. D. Davidson
Theresa Dunlap
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson

Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Marzabeth
Katie McCurdy
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: The Bone House Day Two

The Bone House
The protagonists of The Bone House interact with several historical personages on their ley travels and I suspect an English Egyptologist served as the inspiration for at least one of the protagonists.

Thomas Young (13 June 1773 – 10 May 1829) figures in the narratives of Kit and Wilhelmina and I'm hoping he will be back in The Spirit Well. An English polymath, Young made contributions to physics, physiology, and Egyptology, particularly deciphering hieroglyphics. Lawhead provides a biographical sketch of Young in the essay that concludes The Bone House. Wilhelmina describes Young as "the last man on earth to know everything" (p. 43).

Dr. Thomas Young by
Sir Thomas Lawrence.
Wilhelmina and Kit bring Young, at least the one living in a particular multiverse, into the circle of ley-knowledgeable people. Young at first thinks Wilhelmina insane but the force of her arguments and personality win him over and he agrees to a test. As a scientist, he demands some physical proof of Wilhelmina's claims. The proof turns out to be several items from the future that Kit presents to Young who is on an archeological dig in Egypt. Young's worldview is thoroughly shaken, but he soon recovers and makes forays into the philosophical ramifications of ley travel during a conversation with Kit. Young will serve as a great mouthpiece for voicing some of the themes behind Lawhead's multiverse world which is why I hope he returns in the next volume. Later, Kit guides Young to the discovery of the tomb of Anen, an Egyptian priest from the 18th dynasty who had known Arthur Flinders-Petrie. Young finds a treasure of artifacts in the undisturbed tomb and Kit finds a piece of the skin map. At one point during their conversations, Young tells Kit that his aim is “To unravel the mystery of tombs” (p. 179). We learn later that at least some of the skin map pieces have been hidden in various tombs which adds another level of meaning to Young's statements.

*Statue of Roger Bacon in the
Oxford University Museum of
Natural History.
The next historical figure to make an appearance is Roger Bacon, an English philosopher and Franciscan whom some consider an early champion of the scientific method. Bacon lived from circa 1214 to 1294. Known as Doctor Mirabilis, which means "wonderful teacher," he studied at Oxford and later taught there as well as lecturing at the University of Paris. In his writings, Bacon comments on mathematics, optics, alchemy, astronomy, and astrology. He called for reforms in theology, arguing that the Bible should be placed at the center of study and that scholars should thoroughly understand the languages of their source materials. Posing as a visiting scholar/monk from Ireland, Douglas Flinders-Petrie meets with Bacon in medieval Oxford to acquire his assistance in deciphering the symbols in the skin map.

Turms the Immortal plays a role in Arthur Flinders-Petrie's narrative. Many years previous, when Turms was a young prince, Arthur had been his student. Now the priest-king of the Etruscans, Turms receives omens, foretells the future, and passes judgements for his people. Arthur brings the pregnant Xian-Li to Turms to learn if the child she carries is still alive. Following a divination ceremony, Turms announces to the couple that the child is not only alive but will enjoy a long life. Unlike Thomas Young and Roger Bacon, Turms is not a real person but a deity from Etruscan mythology. Like the Greek god Hermes, Turms is a messenger between the gods and humans as well as the god of trade. The deity's role as a messenger seems appropriate to Turms the Immortal's role as a soothsayer.

Many critics make a career of speculating about and tracking down a writer's sources. While researching Turms, I came across a novel by Mika Waltari, a Finnish writer of historical novels, titled The Etruscan (1956). The story traces the amazing life of Lars Turms the immortal in ancient Greece and Rome. I haven't read Waltari's novel so I can't speculate on the connection between Waltari's Turms and Lawhead's Turms, but the coincidence is intriguing.

Flinders Petrie, in Jerusalem (1930's).
Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie (1853-1942) was an English archeologist and Egyptologist who pioneered systematic methods and artifact preservation. Early in his career he surveyed various Roman and stone-age sites in England then traveled to Egypt to apply the same methods to the ancient Egyptian monuments. During his long career, Flinders Petrie performed excavations in Egypt and Palestine. He discovered the first mention of Israel in an Egyptian source and trained a generation of archeologists, including Howard Carter. Did the archeologist Flinders Petrie serve as an inspiration for Lawhead's Arthur Flinders-Petrie? Both are explorers, pioneers in new methods, and both have an affinity for Egypt.

Photo Credits:
*Photograph of Roger Bacon's statue taken by Michael Reeve, 30 May 2004. This image is used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Bone House from the publisher.

Stephen R. Lawhead's website: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/.

To read what other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below.

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
Karri Compton
D. G. D. Davidson
Theresa Dunlap
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson

Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Marzabeth
Katie McCurdy
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant

Monday, October 24, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: The Bone House Day One

The Bone House
Stephen R. Lawhead's The Bone House is a strange book. It transports the reader to exotic locales in time and place: ancient and nineteenth-century Egypt, Etruscan Italy, medieval England, and somewhere in the stone age, just to name a few. And, Lawhead renders them all in beautiful detail. It poses questions about the philosophical implications of multiverses between which, in Lawhead's fiction, time flows at different rates. While all those attributes cast The Bone House in some very strange and wonderful shadows, they are not the principal reason for designating The Bone House a strange book. The Bone House is of a breed from which many readers cringe in terror. It's a middle book in a series. The action picks up where The Skin Map, the previous book in the series (see my reviews here, here, and here), left off and ends after an appropriate number of pages. New plot lines have been established and new characters introduced, but almost nothing has been resolved. It's the second ley in a series of jumps. The Bright Empires Series is much more a Lord of the Rings type experience than a Narnia experience. So is The Bone House worth reading? Most definitely, but you must read The Skin Map first and be prepared to feel annoyed when you finish the last pages and discover that The Spirit Well will not be available until September 2012.

The Bone House follows intersecting plots centered around six characters: Kit Livingstone, Wilhelmina Klug, Lady Haven Fayth, Arthur Flinders-Petrie, Douglas Flinders-Petrie, and Archelaeus Burleigh. As in the first novel, Arthur's skin map is the prize everyone is seeking as they jump from world to world, occasionally bumping into each other. For readers of The Skin Map, The Bone House answers a number of nagging questions. First, who is Archelaeus Burleigh and why is he such a scoundrel? The short answer is an unhappy childhood. Lawhead traces Burleigh's rise from a rejected bastard of Lord Ashmole to wily street urchin to personal secretary of Lord Gower to celebrated antiques dealer. Lawhead tells Burleigh's story dispassionately, leading one to feel some pity for the boy Burleigh, whose mother became an opium addict, and admire his determination and resourcefulness, but somewhere along the line, something goes wrong with Burleigh. He loses respect for his fellow human beings, who become little more than tools to achieve his ends. His interactions with various women suggest that Burleigh is incapable of love and intimacy.

At the end of The Skin Map, Wilhelmina appears out of nowhere to save Kit and Giles from certain death in an Egyptian tomb. So when did Wilhelmina go from coffee house owner to master ley leaper? A healthy portion of the chapters on Wilhelmina tell that story. Of all the characters, Wilhelmina most comes into her own in this book. She takes over from Cosimo and Sir Henry Fayth as the driving force in the search for the map. She devises the plans and organizes the participants. One comes to the conclusion that she was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. At one point she tells Kit that the first jump from London to Bohemia, which seemed a disaster at the time, is the best thing that ever happened to her. When she thinks about returning to London to wrap up her affairs, she admits that "[t]he plain truth was she missed nothing about London or her mundane, drudging life there" (p. 168).

Douglas Flinders-Petrie is Arthur's great-grandson and several chapters cover his trip to medieval England in his quest to unlock the secrets of the skin map. But wait, readers of The Skin Map say. Didn't Xian-Li, Arthur's wife, die from Nile Fever before the couple had any children? And who removed the skin map from Arthur's body and hid it all over the multiverse? I won't spoil it, but both questions are answered in The Bone House.

Kit continues to muddle through while always managing to land on his feet, to make the right choice at the end of a string of disastrous ones. Don't think, I found myself saying time and time again, just do exactly what Wilhelmina tells you. He's one of those characters you want to grab by the collar and shake some sense into them. For example, when he stumbles into the stone age, Kit tries to escape from a settlement of cavemen in the middle of the night, not considering what might be lurking in the wilderness after nightfall. A bear comes about as close as possible to eating him.

And finally, what of Lady Haven Fayth, who appeared to turn traitor at the conclusion of The Skin Map. Lawhead devotes several chapters to her story and attempts rouse some sympathy for her as we learn about her previous meetings with Burleigh and her life with Burleigh after escaping the tomb. She abandoned her friends when certain death seemed imminent, and in her view, she made an expedient decision, better to be alive and have a fighting chance than dead. How many of us would have done what she did? Lawhead suggests that Haven does not trust or like Burleigh and she does warn Kit and Giles when Burleigh enters the coffee house and hands Henry's journal over to Kit. However, Wilhelmina doesn't trust Haven, and I'm inclined to follow Wilhelmina's instincts.

In conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour, I received a free copy of The Bone House from the publisher.

Stephen R. Lawhead's website: http://www.stephenlawhead.com/.

To read what other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below.

Noah Arsenault
Red Bissell
Thomas Clayton Booher
Beckie Burnham
Morgan L. Busse
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
Karri Compton
D. G. D. Davidson
Theresa Dunlap
April Erwin
Victor Gentile
Tori Greene
Ryan Heart
Bruce Hennigan
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Janeen Ippolito
Becca Johnson

Jason Joyner
Julie
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Marzabeth
Katie McCurdy
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Joan Nienhuis
Chawna Schroeder
Kathleen Smith
Donna Swanson
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Nicole White
Rachel Wyant

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Recent News and W1S1 Report

I received a note the other day that my story "Blood and Beauty" has been accepted for A.J. French's Satyrs Anthology from Wicked East Press. The anthology features stories about, that's right, satyrs, those half human, half goat beings from mythology. "Blood and Beauty" combines elements from "Beauty and the Beast" and classical mythology in a story about a failed love affair between a half satyr, half lion and a dryad.

I'm taking part in Write 1 Sub 1 this year, the monthly challenge. (There's a weekly challenge for the insane.) The idea is to write at least one story a month and submit one. I noticed when making the rounds of other W1S1 member blogs that many of them were posting progress reports. Seems like a reasonable thing to do, so here's my progress to date.

MonthStoryWord CountStatus
January"A Mother's Gift"2900 Published in Silver Blade Magazine
February"Why the Squonk Weeps"1300 Published in Digital Dragon Magazine
March"Shafts to Hell"1300 Published in How the West Was Wicked (Pill Hill Press)
April"The Crooked House of Coins"3700 Published in There Was a Crooked House (Pill Hill Press)
"The Fletcher's Daughter"1500 Published in Residential Aliens
May"Tapestries of Betrayal"4000 Published in Greek Myths Revisited (Wicked East Press)
June"Blood and Beauty"4800 Forthcoming in A.J. French's Satyrs Anthology (Wicked East Press)
July"Wilson's Thicket"4200 Forthcoming in Beneath the Pretty Lies (Wicked East Press)
August"Sixpence and Rye, and a Snake in a Pie"2400 Forthcoming in Father Grim's Storybook (Wicked East Press)
September"A Creature of Words"670 Submitted
October"A Daughter for a Daughter"
In Progress

"Under the Bridge"
In Progress

Nine stories accepted and 26,770 words completed. It's been a good year, and without the W1S1 deadlines, I don't think I would have written this many stories.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Story Out and Recent News

Hey, it's my 100th post. Yippee!! What better way to celebrate than to announce a publication, an acceptance, and a new book in a series I'm reading. Wait until you see my eleventy-first post. It will be one heck of a party, but I promise not to disappear. (Tolkien joke in case you're wondering.)

My story "The Fletcher's Daughter" is now available at Residential Aliens. This is a short piece, about 1500 words, and a fun variation on the Cinderella fairy tale.

I heard from the editor at Wicked East Press that my story "Sixpence and Rye and a Snake in a Pie" has been accepted for Father Grim's Storybook. The collection calls for stories based on nursery rhymes or fairy tales, but with a twist. My story is based on "Sing a Song of Sixpence," but as the title suggests, there's something other than blackbirds in the pie. The story roughly follows the nursery rhyme and incorporates some of the details into the narrative. It was fun to write.

In the Forests of the NightLast year I reviewed Kersten Hamilton's Tyger Tyger and also interviewed her. The novel is steeped in tales of Irish mythology and follows a contemporary Chicago family's struggle with a group of goblins determined to kill them. Tyger Tyger is now available in paperback as well as Kindle and the second book in the series, In the Forests of the Night, will be out in November. I am impatiently awaiting a review copy. Check out my review of Tyger Tyger here and my interview with Kersten here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Visiting Hill House

The Haunting of Hill House
If you like haunted house stories, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House should be on your reading list. This is a wonderfully creepy short novel featuring some memorable characters and a sentient house. This is a psychological ghost story in the tradition of Henry James' The Turn of the Screw and follows Eleanor Vance's descent into madness. One could also argue that Eleanor has not so much gone insane as she has become one with the house. Whether Eleanor is insane or possessed depends on the reader's opinion of the supernatural, but within the confines of Jackson's novel, there is evidence for both.

Possessed or insane or driven to insanity from being possessed, that's all fodder for future blogging. What I want to touch on today are some features of Jackson's style: her use of free indirect speech (also known as free indirect discourse) and her adverbs.

The point-of-view in The Haunting of Hill House is third person. The narration shifts back and forth between Eleanor's view and thoughts to a more distant view in which the narration covers events of which Eleanor has no knowledge. The interesting points are the ones in which the narration dips into Eleanor's thoughts. Often, Jackson uses normal indirect speech, adding the tag phrase "she thought" to a sentence to let us know these are Eleanor's ideas. Consider the following paragraph:

Luke came, hesitated in the cold spot, and then moved quickly to get out of it, and Eleanor, following, felt with incredulity the piercing cold that struck her between one step and the next; it was like passing through a wall of ice, she thought, and asked the doctor, "What is it?" (p. 87*)

In other cases, Jackson slips from normal indirect speech to free indirect speech, dispensing with any tag phrases and employing the pronoun I, skirting the edge of first-person narration. Consider the following paragraphs:

I could help her in her shop, Eleanor thought; she loves beautiful things and I would go with her to find them. We could go anywhere we pleased, to the edge of the world if we liked, and come back when we wanted to. He is telling her now what he knows about me: that I am not easily taken in, that I had an oleander wall around me, and she is laughing because I am not going to be lonely any more. They are very much alike and they are very kind; I would not really have expected as much from them as they are giving to me; I was very right to come because journeys end in lovers meeting. (pp. 157-58*)

I could, of course, go on and on, she wanted to tell them, seeing always their frightened, staring faces. I could go on and on, leaving my clothes for Theodora; I could go wandering and homeless, errant, and I would always come back here. It would be simpler to let me stay, more sensible, she wanted to tell them, happier. (p. 177*)

In a post from last year "Why No Adverbs?", I listed some of the problems associated with adverbs. When I began reading Hill House, I noticed that Jackson makes frequent use of adverbs. The more I read, the more I noticed them and some struck me as odd, maybe even sloppy. By the second half of the book, I stopped noticing them. I guess the story had become so compelling that they no longer stuck out or I had grown accustomed to them. Here are some examples that stuck in my head:

Journeys end in lovers meeting, she thought, and could only say inadequately, "Are you looking for us?" (p. 40*)

Jackson's characters frequently say things "inadequately." I know what Jackson is trying to say, but isn't there a better way to say it?

"Too much vermouth," the doctor said, and followed them lingeringly, watching the nursery door over his shoulder. (p. 89*)

How do you do something "lingeringly"? I devised a few alternatives that I've listed below.

  • "Too much vermouth," the doctor said, and followed them, watching the nursery door over his shoulder.
  • "Too much vermouth," the doctor said, and followed them, lingering every few steps to watch the nursery door over his shoulder.
  • "Too much vermouth," the doctor said, and followed them, lingering to watch the nursery door over his shoulder.
  • "Too much vermouth," the doctor said, and followed them, lingering, watching the nursery door over his shoulder.

The goofy adverbs put a slight blemish on an otherwise outstanding read. Do those adverbs bother any of you?

*Page references are from the 2006 Penguin Classics edition.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Brief Sojourn in the Twelve Kingdoms

Charming the Moon
In Charming the Moon, Emily Snyder presents two tales from the early history of her world of the Twelve Kingdoms, which is the setting for her novel Niamh and the Hermit: A Fairy Tale.

"Brigglekin the Dwarf" tells how Brigglekin came to possess a glowing silver sphere containing a radiantly beautiful woman named Mira and what he does with it. The world is in twilight when the story begins, a time "when the Titans slept in punishment for their infidelities, and there was no more Day or Night, and all the land lived in a Perpetual Twilight." The referenced Titans are the Sun and the Moon. The sphere containing Mira is the Moon. Brangwenn, a goddess who acts as guardian of the world and often appears as a flaming-winged bird, leads the dwarf to the lake in which the moon sleeps and helps him find it. When Brangwenn leaves him with the silver sphere in his hand, she tells him: "Brigglekin, this gift is not for thee. Through selfishness was she lost, and if thou provest likewise selfish, she will be lost again." Brigglekin, who has always been a seeker of silver, can think of nothing better than to hoard this new treasure, but as she leaves him, Brangwenn bids him to release the prisoner and find an even greater reward. Brigglekin cannot break open the sphere with his pickaxe, and seeing no way to release the beauty inside, takes it to his home inside the roots of an ancient sycamore. For days he stares at the sphere, entranced by its beauty, until some other dwarves arrive looking for him. They try to take it, to give it to the king of the dwarves, but Brigglekin prevails and sends them away empty-handed. The dwarf decides to return the sphere to Brangwenn and sets out on a long journey to the north where he encounters dragons, the sea, and a reward beyond his imagining.

"Ostrung the Giant" recounts the Sun's quest to reunite with the Moon, which has returned to the sky thanks to Brigglekin. The Sun travels on foot across the land in the form of a child, trying in vain to capture the attention of the Moon soaring overhead. All his attempts fail and no one will help him until he meets Ostrung, a kindly giant and an outcast. This story provides some much needed background information on the banishment of the Sun and Moon which adds context to Brigglekin's story. The first paragraph in "Ostrung the Giant" explains the troubled relationship between the Sun and the Moon and provides an example of Snyder's tone.

When last the Sun ruled in the sky, he saw within her Citadel the girl called Mira, whom men now call the Moon. And as he looked on her, he loved her; and as he loved her, he could not bear to part with her; and when he would not part with her, his radiance turned her valley all to gold, and his passion left the land as dark as his desire. The warnings of his brothers he would not heed, nor the pleas of those who worshiped him as a god. For as long as his beloved delighted in his company, the Sun would not stray from her side; and the girl named Mira loved her man of beauty and of light.

Snyder tells her tales with a serious tone befitting mythic lore but also mixes in comedy. The "battle" scene between Brigglekin and the other dwarves approaches slapstick. It is difficult at times to follow who some of the characters are since the reader is dropped into stories without having the full context. Readers of J.R.R. Tolkien's Silmarillion will know what I mean. Of the two tales, I found the longer story about Brigglekin the most rewarding. Brigglekin faces internal and external conflicts and must step beyond his comfort zone to resolve them. Snyder introduces a rich world in these tales and I am looking forward to a longer sojourn in Niamh and the Hermit.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Recent News

My story "The Fletcher's Daughter" has been accepted at Residential Aliens. (A fletcher is someone who makes arrows.) In this variation on the Cinderella tale, the maid Cinderella attends a ball in place of Princess Desriella, who has sprained her ankle. Cinderella wears arrows, a gift from her father, stuck through the hair at the back of her head. Will the arrows make her look silly or will she usher in a new fashion? And what will the Prince say?

In other news, my story "Tapestries of Betrayal" is out in Greek Myths Revisited from Wicked East Press. This is a retelling of the myth of Tereus, Procne, and Philomela. I based my story on Ovid's version but made significant alterations to the original myth's conclusion. This is a wild, tragic ride with lots of violence and gore and embroidery and, of course, betrayal on many levels. Here's an excerpt:

As [Procne] descended the winding stairs to the great hall, excuses tumbled through her thoughts, explaining Philomela’s absence. Perhaps her father had found a suitor, another arrow in his quiver of alliances. Perhaps their father was ill and Philomela dared not leave him.

Itys ran across the tiled floor, across the mosaics of hounds and stags and falconers, and leapt into his father’s arms.

“Oh, Itys.” Tereus held the boy to his chest. Itys’ feet dangled below his father’s belt. “I’ve been gone too long.”

Procne stood back several paces, staring at the reunited pair, despairing over her reunion with her sister. Tereus averted his eyes.

“Where is Philomela? When does she come?”

Tereus gave Itys to his nurse, who led the boy away.

“Philomela is dead,” he said. “Bandits. They ambushed us. They killed both my men.”

Procne fell to her knees. Her scream ripped through the hall.

“I spent these weeks hunting them down.”

Procne wrenched her braids loose. Her black hair fell about her face. She ripped her tunic from neck to waist, exposing her breasts, the nakedness of her sorrow. She hid her face in her hands as sobs shook her.

Tereus clasped her shoulder. “I burned her body to save it from the wolves.” He nodded at Elpis, who clutched the boy in her robes. “I must speak to the steward and I have to find a new squire.” Tereus walked out of the hall.

Tears dripped from between Procne’s fingers to the mosaic floor, pooling on a stag with a hound gripping its throat.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Story Out

My story "A Mother's Gift" is available at Silver Blade Magazine. Here's an except.

From a pouch in her cloak Muldred drew a leaf folded tightly into a square no bigger than a child’s tooth. She told Thestral to chew it as she placed it on the Queen’s tongue.

Thestral grimaced at the bitter taste. “You’re poisoning me.”

“Far from it, my Lady. That leaf will calm you. No harm. Now lie still.” One hand Muldred burrowed beneath the blankets to rest on Thestral’s womb. The other she placed on Thestral’s head. Muldred closed her eyes. “Do not stop chewing. You are perfectly safe. I’ve done this many times for those on their deathbeds whose loved ones wish to ease their final hours.” Muldred clenched her jaw and breathed deeply.

Thestral chewed the leaf, whose rising bitterness sickened her each time she ground it between her teeth. She expected to die at any moment, but death seemed preferable to the agony of another dead child whose pain and torment she would never know.

Muldred uttered something strange but melodious, like the songs the bards sang in the great hall. She added new phrases then repeated the refrain. Warmth radiated from Muldred’s fingers. She chanted more verses, rising in intensity as the heat from her hands flared. She shouted the last line of the refrain then fell to the floor in a gasping heap.

Thestral held her breath, waiting to die or for the baby to kick.

“What do you feel?” asked Muldred.

“I feel….” Thestral slouched forward and drew up her knees. “Cramped. Pressed together.”

“Good,” said Muldred.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: Residential Aliens Day Three

Another day on the tour and another round of story reviews. I hope you read some of the stories I'm highlighting from Residential Aliens. My reviews hardly do them justice.

"Sharp Stick," by Walter G. Esselman

"Sharp Stick" is a fun romp about a boy and a dragon on a hunting expedition, hunting for giant bugs in underground caves. The boy, Gideon, is a bit young to go hunting on his own but he wants to prove himself after suffering ridicule on the playground. The young dragon Pavataro also has a problem with ridicule. He's afraid to fly and only Gideon knows his secret. The story follows Gideon and Pavataro into the caves where they meet a giant, armored bug and work together to kill it. The struggle forges a deeper bond of friendship between boy and dragon. Aside from the introduction of some background material in the first few paragraphs that could have been handled better, Esselman's narration is smooth and he flavors the story with understated humor.

"The Kitterson Ranch Incident," by Brandon Barr

"The Kitterson Ranch Incident" takes a humorous look at community and minding your own business. Every year the search for Bigfoot brings a hoard of outsiders to town. The residents don't like the visitors tromping all over their property. The narrator says "We’d be watching one another’s backs real close until the week long search ended. There wasn’t a one of us who didn’t have a past he was hiding from." While the narrator is taking a quiet break at Earl’s Bar, Red Ferguson enters with one of the Bigfoot hunters who claims to have caught one of the creatures on film. The patrons at the bar gather around to hear his story. One patron slips out unbeknown to the stranger. The locals suggest that the stranger might have been trespassing on the Kitterson Ranch when he filmed Bigfoot, and then Mr. Kitterson arrives.

"The Sorcerer's Wife," by Erin M. Kinch

Brand, an aged sorcerer, is dying, confined to his bed to rest his aching joints, dependent on his beloved wife Amira. He appears destined for a peaceful death until an old friend pays him a visit. Viola appears as young as ever. They once practiced sorcery together before Brand left to marry Amira. Viola tempts him with a ring that would restore his powers and bring him back into the fold. Brand and Viola debate the merits and demerits of their past life together and what a future life might entail. Brand insists that the love he shares with Amira is greater than anything sorcery could offer, but the ring exercises a powerful attraction, and Viola is persistent. Through effective dialog and interior monologue, Kinch dramatizes Brand's choice between a mortal life with Amira and one of sorcery with Viola.

To learn more about editor Lyn Perry, visit his blogs at http://residentialaliens.blogspot.com/
and http://blogginoutloud.blogspot.com/.

To learn what the other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below:

Noah Arsenault
Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
D. G. D. Davidson
Dean Hardy
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart

Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Lyn Perry
Sarah Sawyer
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: Residential Aliens Day Two

As promised, here are my comments on a few more of the many stories at Residential Aliens. Editor Lyn Perry assembles an eclectic mix so there's probably something for everyone, and if you're not in the mood for fiction, Perry mixes in interviews with artists and writers as well as guest columns. Check out the editor's introductions to each issue to find the interviews and for a couple examples of nonfiction, check out John Ottinger III's article "Christian Fantasy: More than Tolkien and Lewis" and R. L. Copple's editorial "Fantasy and Christianity."

"Shadowed," by James T. Coon

Here's something you don't see very often, hard-boiled fantasy. That's right. Tolkien meets Chandler. "Shadowed" is a flash story with a 1930s feel: radios with tubes that have to warm up, switchboard operators, and rusty revolvers, but it's populated with elves, orcs, humans, and various combinations. The action takes place in an Irish bar--O’Smalley’s--and the alley behind it. Brick Munson is a half-orc private investigator who has spent a long day shadowing an insurance scammer. After downing a few ales and listening to some hockey on the radio, he's ready to go home for some rest, but an intoxicated elf armed with a rusty revolver threatens him in the alley behind the bar. The elf is shaking and blubbering about his wife. Munson disarms the elf in a flash and sends him reeling into some garbage cans. You might expect Munson to finish off the elf or haul him to the police station, but Munson does something quite unexpected after questioning the elf. Coon creates a vivid picture of this somewhat familiar world made strange by its unusual inhabitants.

"A Stretch of Time," by Grace Bridges

Everyone can relate to this story. A young Maori mother with too much to do doesn't have time to do what she wants to do, reading and telling stories. She tells her grandmother that times have changed since the creator gave us the twenty-four hour day. Her grandmother gives her a "spiritual gift of time." She thinks her grandmother is playing games with her, but after completing hours of housework, she finds only minutes have passed and the coffee she and her grandmother were sharing is still hot. As she relates her secret to her grandson, she reflects: "This was the beauty of the gift: nigh unlimited time to ponder. Yes, there were many things to do, and I did them all. But this unhurried pace of life had made me impervious to stress and a magnet for those who were not." It appears the protagonist has sipped from the cup of eternity.

"Cries from a Grave," by Janett L. Grady

Grady's "Cries from a Grave" is labeled science fiction but I found it closer to horror. Sara, the protagonist, is dead, floating in space without any air for eighteen hours. Although inanimate, she is still conscious and able to feel pain. What she fears most is burial on Earth where the worms will devour her. Her husband had promised to "bury" her in space but goes back on his word, picking the cheapest box available. Sara seethes with futile anger and damns him to hell in her mind. Eventually, she hears dirt hitting the lid of her coffin. The worms will be coming she thinks, but what is that stench? What happens when you go to your grave with your heart filled with hate? Sara is about to learn. Grady takes a subject that sounds preachy in summary but gives it a corporeal sense of urgency and reality.

To learn more about editor Lyn Perry, visit his blogs at http://residentialaliens.blogspot.com/

and http://blogginoutloud.blogspot.com/.

To learn what the other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below:

Noah Arsenault
Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
D. G. D. Davidson
Dean Hardy
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart

Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Lyn Perry
Sarah Sawyer
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

Monday, August 22, 2011

CSFF Blog Tour: Residential Aliens Day One

This month's tour takes a look at Residential Aliens, a webzine and small press run by editor Lyn Perry. The magazine's description on Duotrope reads: "ResAliens Press (short for Residential Aliens) is a publisher of spiritually infused speculative fiction. Submissions need not be religious in nature. However, we are looking for engaging stories that are truthful to the human experience while offering the reader something of the eternal." Hats off to Mr. Perry for a very accurate description. The stories range from science fiction through fantasy, deadly serious to humorous. In addition to the webzine, Perry also publishes themed collections under the ResAliens Press label. If your an aspiring writer, Mr. Perry is a great editor to work with. He provides timely responses and feedback for stories that are declined.

Over the next few days, I will highlight some of the stories from the magazine. My selection is somewhat random and informed by my personal taste which tends toward fantasy. "The Master and the Miller’s Daughter," published as two parts in the September and October 2010 issues is a must read but I won't review it for obvious reasons.

Here are a few reviews (published previously) to get us started.

"This Is My Blood," by Kristen Davis

If done very, very well, flash fiction can be a small gem, amazing in its minute perfection. If done poorly, it comes across as a story skeleton that needs some more flesh and bone. Davis gets it right in "This Is My Blood," an interesting take on contrite vampires and transubstantiation. Father Marell returns to the rectory one night to find a man named Annik with his wrists bound by a rosary. He claims to be a vampire and requests that the priest hear his confession then kill him. The priest hears the confession but refuses to carry out the execution. They debate alternative sources of blood, such as animals, but Annik claims that only human blood quells his lust. Father Marell suggests the blood of Christ and Annik agrees, believing something so holy would certainly kill him. Father Marell's beliefs about the Eucharist are tested and the results are unexpected. The healing power of Christ appears to know no bounds. Davis tells this story from Marell's point of view. The dialogue is succinct, giving us just enough details from the vampire's story to understand how out of control and dangerous he is. As for Marell, Davis provides enough psychological detail to highlight his doubts and fears. In a longer treatment, Davis might have provided more details to highlight the creepiness of the setting, two lone figures at night in a darkened chapel sharing communion.

"Angels of Stone," by Kelly Dillon

"Angels of Stone" is a strange story, haunting and beautiful in its simplicity. Much lies beneath the surface. After multiple readings I'm still puzzled but in a good way. The story is narrated by an angel who resides in a cathedral with only the stone gargoyles for companionship. The angel remarks on the past glories of creation and hints at the horrors of Lucifer's treachery and humanity's misunderstanding of angels. Each year, God visits the angel in human form, asking that the angel return with him to heaven, but each year the angel refuses, answering God's entreaties with "'I need more time yet.'" Many years later, the angel makes a decision. The ramifications are not clear but the result brings tears to God's eyes. In the comments to the story, Dillon states that "this short story is based in part on a novel that I’m looking to publish which deals with the Fall of Lucifer, the creation of the Nephilim, and many other misunderstood aspects of angelic mythology."

"In Hot Water: A Dragonson Vignette," by Walter G. Esselman

"In Hot Water" is a quirky tale with a serious side. The Lords of Bon Su Pear have asked two water nymphs--Regent and Brianna--to retrieve a mysterious box from a sunken ship. The Lords insist the box contains a bottle of cognac. Brianna brings along her playful spell otter, named SOS, whose fur glows blue. They retrieve the box with little trouble, but as they're leaving the ship, an adolescent sea monster--part bull, mostly fish--swallows SOS. Brianna wants to chase down the massive animal but Regent convinces her they need reinforcements. Brianna creates a diversion in the water, allowing Regent and Brianna to avoid their otter's fate but barely. The monster, properly called a Camahueto, isn't done yet. (They never are.) It lunges out of the water to attack the water nymphs and Lords. Regent manages to wound the beast but Brianna takes her revenge with some watergolems who hack it to a bloody, gooey mess. An argument over the box's contents ensues and the Lords reluctantly admit it contains a cure for Wailing Flu. According to tradition, the Lords must anonymously do something to help the people of the city each year, thus the secrecy about the box. Esselman mixes the strange, mundane, and dangerous for comic effect. The nymphs nearly die retrieving what they think is a bottle of booze. High officials asking others to risk their necks to further the interests of the officials is nothing new, and the innocent otter suffers more than anyone but not as much as you think. You'll have to read the story to find out what really happened to that furry, blue critter.

To learn more about editor Lyn Perry, visit his blogs at http://residentialaliens.blogspot.com/
and http://blogginoutloud.blogspot.com/.

To learn what the other CSFF bloggers are saying, follow the links below:

Noah Arsenault
Brandon Barr
Thomas Clayton Booher
Grace Bridges
Beckie Burnham
CSFF Blog Tour
Carol Bruce Collett
D. G. D. Davidson
Dean Hardy
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart

Bruce Hennigan
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Shannon McDermott
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Lyn Perry
Sarah Sawyer
Jessica Thomas
Steve Trower
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler

Friday, August 19, 2011

Short Stuff Take 8

The Fisherman and the Syren
by Frederic Leighton (c. 1856–1858).

"The Dust of the Earth and the Foam of the Sea," by E. M. Biswell in Mindflights

In beautiful and haunting prose, Biswell tells the story of a dying boy's confrontation with love and immortality in "The Dust of the Earth and the Foam of the Sea." The narrator, Prince Maximilian, is dying of consumption. His mother believes saltwater to be an elixir and has banished him to a palace by the sea with his tutor, the very logical Mr. Alexander, as his only company. He grows weaker every day and passes his hours reading Socrates and Plato with his tutor. "I was too weak for swimming, too old for sandcastles and hope." One morning, he spies a young girl sitting on the palace steps with her feet in the water. She calls herself Hespatia. She is a mermaid, searching for an immortal soul, and asks Maximilian for help. "'If you love me—' she said." But, according to Mr. Alexander's teaching, there is no such thing as love or heaven or souls. Maximilian will return to dust and Hespatia will return to foam. Hespatia remains at the palace for three days and does her best to teach Maximilian to hope and to love someone other than himself. Hespatia and Mr. Alexander stand in contradiction and wage a war of ideas through Maximilian who has never sought beyond his tutor's teachings.

"Do you mean love and heaven when you say fairy tales and lies?" [Hespatia] asked. "If so, I would rather accept my lies than your truth, my foolishness than your wisdom."

"Clear eyes are better than false hope," [Mr. Alexander] said.

"Heaven is real," she said. "And so is love."

Maximilian finds joy in Hespatia's company, and though Mr. Alexander's teachings have a hold over his psyche, Marcus Aurelius' meditations provide little comfort to a dying boy. Who wins the war? You'll have to read the story to find out. It's well worth your time. I'm looking forward to more of E. M. Biswell's stories.


"The Tale of the Emperor’s Sighs," by Elizabeth Hopkinson in Silver Blade Magazine

The twenty-second Emperor of China is despondent. "Day after day, he would look out across his gold-roofed palace and sigh, his hand on his wasted cheek, his eyes filling with tears." His ministers gather to debate and hatch a plan to cure the Emperor of his woes. They order craftsmen to construct an enormous paper lantern with a dish of oil to burn and a basket in which the Emperor can ride. They believe that his spirits will be renewed if he rises above whatever is bothering him. The Emperor embarks on his journey upward. He passes an Abbott living high atop a mountain, greets the princes and princesses in the Palace of the Moon, and then stops when he reaches the Mountain of Paradise. He can rise no higher but his sadness persists. The Enlightened One tells the Emperor that his sadness is concern for the sorrows of the world. He sends the Emperor home on a cloud, telling him it “is made of all the sighs you have given for the sorrow and suffering of others. As long as your compassion continues, it will bear you up, until the time when you return to this mountain." The Emperor returns to earth with a heart filled with purpose. Hopkinson tells a beautiful fable in "The Tale of the Emperor’s Sighs." Her writing has the feel of something ancient and wise. The moral is thoroughly integrated with the plot. What a better place our world would be if every leader shared the concerns of Hopkinson's Emperor.