Month of Joy: “Mike’s Favorite Comics” by Mike Underwood @mikerunderwood

I have many favorite comics, like I have many favorite novels, and so on. But the great thing about loving lots of stuff is that it’s much harder to run out of things to talk about. So here are a few of my favorite comics/runs from across my reading history, and a little about my relationship to each.

The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix (Scott Lobdell and Gene Ha)
This is the oldest of the entries on this list, but one that stood out in my mind. I’ve always been a Cyclops fan, probably largely because I spent a lot of my youth being a Good Kid ™.  I followed the rules, wasn’t a rebel, and so on. Characters like Wolverine or Jubilee didn’t really resonate with me. But Cyclops, the long-suffering earnest leader of the X-Men, he stuck with me.

And in this mini-series, where Cyclops and Jean get catapulted into the future to raise Scott’s son, Nate (who later becomes Cable), I think the thing that really stuck with me was seeing a functional couple having adventures together, as partners.

I’m also endlessly interested by dystopian settings, and the challenges of growing up in harsh circumstances.  Like in many things, my genre education was fairly non-standard, and The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix was part of it – teaching me about dystopias before I’d even heard of the term, let alone read foundational texts like Brave New World, 1984, or Fahrenheit 451.

Planetary (Warren Ellis and John Cassaday)
In the parallel world where I’m a recently-minted PhD, one of the classes I’d offer is “The Planetary Guide to 20th Century Pop Culture Genres.” The class would use the comic series Planetary as an interpretive lens for examining 20th century pop/pulp genres (pulp, western, supers, golden age sci-fi, super-spy, Hong Kong action, etc.). Because for me, that’s what this series is – a way of re-interpreting a wide swath of 20th C. pop culture.

The series itself ran from 1999 to 2009, and I followed the series month-to-month almost that entire run.

The central premise of Planetary is that the 20th Century pop culture genres – pulp, superheroes, atomic horror, kaiju, etc., are all real. And the job of the protagonists, members of Planetary, are “Archaeologists of the Impossible,” discovering the secret history of the 20th century and fighting to keep the world strange and wonderful.

The full story is much larger and more magnificent, taking a knowing, deeply intertextual trip through 20th Century pop culture. Warren Ellis is one of my all-time favorite comics writers, and his partnership with John Cassaday on this series is simply incredible.

I highly recommend this series to any pop culture fan, especially if you are fond of re-interpretations of cultural history like Red Son, Astro City, or Soon I Will Be Invincible.

Y: The Last Man (Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra)
One of the best “change one thing” science fiction comics that I’ve ever read, I also love that Y: The Last Man had a complete 10-volume arc, then ended. The ending works, the character arcs are rich and fulfilling, and then it’s done. One of the criticisms of comics as a medium that I hear and acknowledge most keenly is the fact that its serial nature can make it very impenetrable for a new reader. Where do you start? Will this series ever end? And so on.

Well, Y: The Last Man has been complete for five years now, and still stands out in my memory as one of the best whole comic book stories ever told.

Yorick Brown, the titular last man, is a loser. He’s an amateur magician without much life direction, who is on the phone about to propose to his girlfriend (who is in Australia) when the phone goes dead. The phone goes dead because at that moment, across the world, every other male mammal in the world is dying  grotesque death. Except for Yorick’s pet capuchin monkey.

The story that follows spans across the world, and, by necessity, is full of amazing, complex, dynamic female characters, who largely drive the story. If you or someone you know is put off with the (abysmal) way that women are depicted or treated in comics, this series is a fine contrast to that trend.

Wonder Woman: The Hiketeia (Greg Rucka and J.G. Jones)
Wonder Woman is my favorite mis-used character in DC comics. She’s the least popular member of DC’s Trinity (Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman), despite the fact that I think she’s an incredibly interesting character.

The Hiketeia is one of my examples to people of how awesome Wonder Woman can be when handled well. The Hiketeia was the first time writer Greg Rucka worked with Wonder Woman, and his success with the story is a likely contributing factor to him landing the role as the series’ regular writer for an extended (and very well-received run).

In The Hiketeia, Wonder Woman is honor-bound to protect a young woman who is executing a Greek ritual of vengeance known as the Hiketeia. This puts her in direct opposition with Batman, who is hunting the girl as a criminal and murderer.

The Hiketeia shows the entire conflict from Diana’s perspective, highlights her conflict between honoring tradition and protecting life. It also features a fantastic fight between her and Batman, where she wipes the floor with the Dark Knight, because, well, she can go toe-to-toe with Superman, and WW doesn't have a Kryptonite-analogue for Batman to use against her.

But ultimately, it is the characterization of Wonder Woman as thoughtful, determined, and compassionate that makes this story a winner in my book. It’s one of the best Wonder Woman stories I’ve ever read, and is marvelously stand-alone, which makes it a good book to use when saying “No, really, Wonder Woman is awesome. Read this.”

Marvels (Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, Marcus McLaurin)
Being a lifelong comics and supers fan, I am a total sucker for stories that let me re-examine familiar tales.

Marvels is all about re-examining huge moments of Marvel comics history from the perspective of the man on the street, casting the heroes as larger-than-life figures, nearly forces of nature.

Also, did I mention that Alex Ross does the art? That his paintings are probably the greatest Fine Art supers images in the business? No? Well, that. Ross’s painting style gives the series an instant feeling of historicity, of being something set a step aside from traditional comics storytelling, which proves an excellent approach for this mini-series.

Marvels follows news journalist Phil Sheldon as he reports on and experiences four iconic moments in Marvel comics history: The battle of The Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch (the first one), The juxtaposition of the wedding of Sue and Reed Richards with an anti-mutant mob, Earth’s first visit by Galactus, and finally, the death of Gwen Stacy. A veteran Marvel reader will have access to the interiority of the main players in these moments, but Sheldon is just an observer, forced to try to come up with his own explanation for the Marvels’ motivations behind their actions in the moments. In changing the frame, and giving one POV character across decades of Marvel history, Marvels is as much a work of self-reflection on the universe’s key moments, a meta-narrative, as it is a story unto itself.

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Michael R. Underwood has been reading comics since he was six and living in Brooklyn. His parents would let him handle the recycling, and he took the deposit money to his friendly local comic shop to buy issues of X-Men, Spider-Man, and whatever looked awesome that week.

Mike is the author of GEEKOMANCY and CELEBROMANCY, as well as the forthcoming YOUNGER GODS series. By day he is the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. In his rapidly-vanishing free time, he games, reads, and studies historical martial arts.

You can find Mike on his website and on Twitter @MikeRUnderwood

Month of Joy: “Borderlands, the Game” by Paul Weimer (A Sorta Review)

Sometimes, blowing off steam is exactly what you need after a hard day in the mundane job. Sometimes you want to wander in an alien landscape, with not much more of an agenda than to kill mutant creatures, cannibals and other assorted beasties.

Sometimes, you want enter the world of Borderlands.

Borderlands was an action role-playing first-person shooter video game developed by Gearbox Software in 2009. Set on the planet Pandora [Which has nothing to do with the movie Avatar], a down-at-the-heels dry and desiccated planet, the plot revolves around how the main character, a soldier of fortune, is looking for a legendary Vault of alien artifacts that many have looked for, and died for, in vain.  Will you be any different?

You, however, are special. In Borderlands, you get to play one of four characters, each with special abilities and powers that give you an edge in the dog-eat-dog word of Pandora. From Brick, a tank of a character who can go berzerk and take on enemies with his fists, to Lilith, who can phase out of existence, to the solid soldier Roland and the sniper/hunter Mordecai, the gameplay at base may be the same for each character, but their individual powers and styles make for four different game experiences.
And what an experience. The physical puzzles, such as they are in the game, are pretty simple. You aren’t playing this game to recapture the experience of Myst, you are playing to shoot and kill things, and occasionally press a button needed to finish a quest. The game uses a quest-for-hire system to help the character get experience and money to buy the equipment needed to continue the main plot. The treasures are all weapons, health aids, shields and other geegaws that help your character kill things more easily, or survive in combat, or aid your powers. Its extremely stripped down and basic.

The stylized graphics look comic book like and are striking for pushing that aesthetic and making it work. And even though this is a shoot-em-up,  there are moments of character humor, too, especially with the claptrap robots.
This is the game I play when I want to blow off steam, and not think about things too much. I don’t have to think too hard. And shooting a shotgun into the face of a raving little midget running at you with an axe is surprisingly satisfying. And killing a particularly difficult monster gives me a real high.

I haven’t picked it up yet, but there is a sequel with four new characters and a new plot:  Borderlands 2.  Ain’t no rest for the wicked, indeed.

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Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota for the last 9 years, Paul “PrinceJvstin” Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for longer than Shaun has been alive. In addition to pitching in at Skiffy and Fanty, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin StyleSF Signal, the Functional NerdsTwitterLivejournal and many other places on the Internet.

Month of Joy: “Growing Up w/ Genre and Singaporean SF/F” by Joyce Chng — @jolantru

I grew up with genre. No, seriously, I did.

It all began with a book of children’s stories complete with shape-shifting and transformation. The girl turned into a fluffy plush-tailed cat… and I was hooked. And it just kept on coming: Star Blazers (Battleship Yamato), Battle of the Planets (or G-Force), Robotech (Macross – Southern Cross – Mospeada), Star Trek and the list continued. I fell in love with science fiction and it opened
a whole world of possibilities for a lonely little girl who had nobody but herself to amuse herself. That’s right: I am an only child.
Then as my reading hunger grew, I feasted on epic fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons. Mind you, I was the only girl in the group of boys and I played a cleric. I explored Krynn when I bought the Dragonlance books and went on further to read Frank Herbert’s Dune, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series and so on.

I thought I was the only girl reading science fiction and fantasy. I felt alone and lonely. Where in the world were the rest of my peers? Singapore seemed so dull, so empty – and I went on searching for that elusive geek girl (or nerd girl). For a while, I did find her, a good friend of mine who read the Pern series.
Around this time, I had started writing. Short stories. Fan fiction (even though I hadn’t heard of this term until the Internet came about). The stories found their way in school magazines and I had people who told me I wrote well. I started topping the standard for English composition. Yet, I still felt… alone.

Now, thinking back, I feel as if things are at least changing. There is a community of SFF writers here in Singapore. Trust me – they are elusive, like unicorns and phoenixes. But imagine my relief when I found them.

Mind you, it felt like trawling the sea for that single needle.

At the moment, Singapore SFF is slowly taking off as people find each other and their own voices.  The Singapore SFF writer seems to be a quiet breed… but we are around. When I returned from Australia after seven years of undergraduate and postgraduate study, I thought I was the only SFF writer around. That was how isolated I’d felt.

Then, I found out about the Happy Smiley Writers’ Group, got involved in Nanowrimo and suddenly, they are there! Singapore SFF writers. And illustrators. And creators. And readers.
This book came out of the Happy Smiley Writers' Group!
Singapore SFF started to coalesce a few years ago. Still nascent, still growing – but becoming stronger. My only hope is that it grows bigger and more prominent, that SFF writing (heck, writing) isn’t looked down upon or mocked at. Asian mentality sees writing as a job that doesn’t pay at all and I get those pointed questions from my folks who think that I am still going through a phase (and I am in my late thirties, for crying out loud).

As I sit before my laptop, staring out into the nightscape, I wonder how Singapore SFF would look like in five years’ time. And then, the deeper and harder questions: Will I continue writing? Will I end up throwing in the towel and walking away? These questions hover in my mind. But at present, I am happy at what I am doing: writing. Be it wolves who walk on two legs, phoenixes who hide in human form or a human A.I who pilots a warship, I will continue to create new worlds.

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Author’s note: This post is a tribute to Han May, whose book Star Sapphire captured my attention a long time ago.
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Joyce Chng lives in Singaporean and is proud to be Singaporean. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, M-BRANE SF and the Apex Book of World SF II. She also writes urban fantasy under J. Damask. Her writerly blog exists at A Wolf's Tale.

Editor's Note:  You can check out my mini interview with Ms. Chng for the Week of Joy feature here.

Week of Joy (Day Seven): “The Genre Books That Influenced & Inspired Me to Read & Write” by Stina Leicht

It's funny. While I've always loved books, I don't remember the moment when I decided I wanted to be a writer -- not any longer. You see, originally I wanted to be an artist, but during seventh grade I decided that writing was what I wanted to do more than anything else. From the moment I forced myself through the process of learning to read[1] I loved books. Books were safe. Books were also adventure. So, I quickly found favorites. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was the first author that I actively tracked down in my local library. I read everything I could find: The Changeling, Season of Ponies, The Witches of Worm, The Headless Cupid, The Velvet Room, The Eyes in the Fishbowl -- most are out of print now. Some were Newbery Honor Winners. I think she was the author
that gave me that first spark, that first thought that I could be more than just a frightened little girl. I remember wanting to be ageless, free, and spritely like Ivy in The Changeling. I wanted to be mysterious like Amanda in The Headless Cupid. I wanted to ride standing on the backs of graceful, magical, cantering circus ponies like Pamela.
It's good that I found Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books before I found Francesca Lia Block's -- otherwise, I'd have searched the world for a pair of cowboy boot roller-skates, wore layers of wispy mismatched skirts with fairy wings, played with glitter, pierced my nose, and painted my hair purple long before I reached voting age.

And my mother would've killed me. A lot.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get glitter out of things?

Then there was Joan Aiken. I still say Lemony Snicket wishes he were Joan Aiken. She totally and utterly rocked my world. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Blackhearts in Battersea, and Nightbirds in Nantucket combined fantasy and history -- technically alternate history -- and hapless orphans who triumph over e-vile caretakers out to do… well... evil, of course. It was heady stuff. Throw in A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle and I was gone, gone, gone. Meg's mother was a scientist! It was the first time I'd come across such a thing. I remember thinking how awesome that was. I wanted to be a scientist for a whole month because I knew right then it was possible. I wanted to cook dinner on a hotplate in a laboratory while working on something really important. Something about that seemed so cool.
The first book to spirit me away into the adult section of the public library, however, was Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.[2] My father read it aloud to me when I was twelve. I remember being frightened that the Library Police™ would find me among the adult book shelves. Because surely there was some sort of alarm that sounded when kids wandered in there. You know, I'm not entirely sure what I thought they'd have done if they had found me. I lived in terror of librarians. To be honest, I pretty much lived in terror of everyone in those days. I was a very shy, very skinny kid with frizzy hair, after all. The main thing was that I didn't want to be thrown out. The library was my world. I loved the smell and the feel of the books and the hushed consecrated ground. Now that I think back on it, The Sharpstown library in Houston wasn't very big -- one floor, a dozen long shelves in the center of the building, and a magazine section. They didn't separate the SF novels from the rest of the books in the adult section either. (I'm sure it was because they didn't have enough to warrant it.) I remember asking the librarian[3] where the SF books were and being overwhelmed by the concept of sorting through all of the books to find what I wanted. Unlike the children's books, I'd have to rely on the card catalog. The book covers weren't as much help. It wasn't long before I'd read everything they had that Bradbury had written. Then I moved on to others: Joshua Son of None by Nancy Freedman, Dune by Frank Herbert, Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clark, The Anything Box by Zenna Henderson, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien -- I wandered all over until I found Stephen King. Then I kind of parked there for years like I did with Zilpha Snyder. But really, I think it was the combination of Zilpha Snyder, Joan Aiken, Stephen King, and Ray Bradbury that made me think about writing my own stories. They were the first to open the doors of my imagination. The were the first to open up my mind to the possibilities.

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[1] I'm dyslexic.
[2] You should be sensing a theme here. If it was mildly spooky, off-beat, or magical, I was all over it.
[3] When I finally got up my courage to do so. I was shocked to discover that the librarians were thrilled to death that I wanted to read adult books. Of course, by that time I'd already discovered Dickens and Twain.

About the author:
Stina Leicht is the author of Of Blood and Honey and And Blue Skies From Pain, urban fantasy novels set during the Troubles in Ireland.  She is a two-time Campbell Award nominee and lives in the great old state of Texas, where she actively causes trouble (because she's awesome like that -- love you, Stina! :P).  You can follow Stina on her blog and find out more about her work (such as where to buy it) on her profile.
Note from the editor (i.e., Shaun):
If you haven't read Stina's work before, you should do so immediately.  Her Ireland novels are bloody amazing.  We interviewed her twice about them on The Skiffy and Fanty Show.  You can find every episode she's ever been on here.  But first...buy her books!
Additionally, Stina mentions that most of Snyder's books are out of print.  Many of Snyder's books are available in ebook form now.  The wonders of electronics!

Guest Post: Sassy Gay to Super Gay — Marvel’s Re-Definition of the Supporting Gay Character by Benjamin Kissell

I remember being 9 years old and buying my first issue of Uncanny X-Men; my Mum had worked in a bookstore when I was little and had brought home rare gems, well-worn back-issues and cover-less comics [she couldn’t stand the sight of any book, comic or otherwise, being tossed into the garbage] so the sight of them on a newsstand was nothing new to me, however, this was the first issue I had bought of my own volition with my own money. And it? Was glorious.

Newsprint paper supported an array of colors most reminiscent of the Kirby-era, bold primes leapt off the page, and the cast of characters? Larger than life. A vibrant team of misfits and underdogs – each imbued with fantastic powers which set them apart from the everyday, yet
personalities which connected them to people I knew, even in my suburban Virginia daily life in elementary school and daycare. Their leader Cyclops, in bold blue and red; the mischievous Nightcrawler in India Ink wash and swashbuckling indigo; the stalwart Colossus in naked-comic page-white, yellow and red; the cantankerous Can-nucklehead himself, Wolverine, in his distinctive yellow/blue costume and, of course, Storm commanded the page in her diaphanous black and yellow ensemble, her cascading white hair billowing in the Cockrum-inked wind.
I couldn’t put it down, the introduction of Alpha Flight, a super-hero group from that far-off cousin of ours, Canada [What, I was 9? The furthest I had been at that point was to the various Smithsonian Museums in DC and the Baltimore Aquarium – Canada was foreign AND mysterious. Plus? It was the end of the ‘80s, who didn’t think Canada was cool back then?]. I instantly had to get my hands on more comics show-casing these unique team members. True, Snowbird’s costume and diadem were like a white-chick knock-off of Storm, but, who didn’t wanna emulate Storm? I mean, she’s STORM! And Vindicator was a prick, but … Northstar’s douche-y ‘tude, Sasquatch’s cool-as-all-get-out look and Snowbird’s awesome powers made this team something to read and watch in-action.

After devouring the issue and reading it three times through, I snuck into Mum’s Sewing Room where she kept her stash of comics.

Found, bought, rescued – her collection may not have put the fear of foreclosure in the hearts of comic book stores, but to my eyes it was a Solomon’s Gold Mine. A veritable treasure-trove of new reads [I’ve always been a voracious reader, books, comic books and mini-comics that came with He-Man or She-Ra toys] with art that leapt off the pages and pulled me into the worlds Marvel and DC built for me. Mum found me, several hours later, splayed amidst a sea of open, half-read and varying titles and chuckled at the sight.

Issues of Amazing Spider-Man [Cool art from Charles Vess], Uncanny X-Men [Classic X-Men re-prings as well as the Silvestri-era in the Australian Outback! Which of course I’d long-since read … repeatedly], ElfQuest, The Dark Knight, House of Mystery, Detective Comics, Rom: Space Knight and others ringed me. But what held my attention most? Two comic titles sat in my lap: The New Defenders and Alpha Flight.

These two ended up holding my attention, not merely because of interesting stories and art, thank you John Byrne, but because of the rich (and confusing) development of two separate characters in their respective titles [tho’ Alpha Flight writers, what were you thinking with Marrina? Seriously, I’ve never understood that, even 20 years later]: Moondragon and Northstar.
Moondragon was a Persis Khambatta-esque beauty [if you don’t know who that is, Google Star Trek Ilia]; powerful, intense, brave, with a touch [*cough*] of smug and a whole lot of re-writes. In the 20-ish issues Mum’s collection allowed me access to she bounced from angry-scorn-filled martial artist to floating-dragon-thingy to bisexual female all on top of fighting off bad guys like Thanos and dealing with young adult angst while the team tried to lived together. This soap opera was not to be missed. If I’d been of the mind [read: not so lazy], I’d have grabbed some popcorn and just sat back to watch/read it unfold.

Marvel’s writers weren’t afraid to see where this character development would take her – and they ran with it. True, she did fit the cliché as a mildly butch non-heterosexual woman skilled in martial arts and mildly man-hating (she really just didn’t like much of anyone, to be fair), however she ran around in what can affectionately be called a costume consisting of cape, gloves, mid-calf high-heeled boots and a open-bodice one-piece thong [ouch] much like her completely off-the-rack heterosexual counterparts. The writers allowed her character to explore a range of highs and lows in those few issues – including her mind-violation whose effects were tempered by the love of a fellow Defender, Cloud [who had her/his own sexual identity issues – Oy vey].

I sat there confused, yet felt an odd kinship for this angry, lashing-out-at-the-world and oft-times lonely character.
From the pages of that classic Uncanny X-Men battle, the French-Canadian Northstar caught my eyes (for his complete and total unlikability). In the first few issues I read I couldn’t help but mutter under my breath how much of a freaking asshole he was, but, those Marvel scripters are crafty bastards – it wasn’t long before I was rooting for the jerk [despite his first appearance having him deck Storm – my admiration/mild comic geek obsession with her should be discussed elsewhere] and when, to my surprise, the Olympic-medal-holding skier came out of the closet? Well, I was already 7 random issues in. And I was well-and-truly reader-hooked.

The writers had created yet another well-layered character whose sexuality was not the issue, yet set him apart. He did not fit the cookie-cutter gay-best-friend-full-of-lonely-angst-and-fueled-by-catty-remarks-who-dresses-better-than-you-ever-could so lauded in literature and movies at the time, he was an athlete held in esteem and admiration for his feats of national heroism. Yes, the writers had him quipping bitchy and caustic remarks, but let’s just assume that’s the whole FRENCH-Canadian thing and not because they had a gay man unwilling to mince words.

At 9, I was picked on a lot at school. I was a geek [and still proudly am, ask any of my friends], a loner not by choice but because I wasn’t cool, I used big words and a heavily sarcastic tone [word bandying I may or may not have emulated from my favorite comic characters], and I didn’t like to do rough’n’tough ‘boy’ things like throw dirt clods at one another or talk about what was happening in the world of Wrestling … instead I read, hung out with girls occasionally and was known for my thinking She-Ra was cool. I was labeled ‘gay’ early on – the school guidance counselor actually wrote a report when I was five declaring me “a homosexual, but perhaps this can be worked with” because of these differences.
I was labeled this long before I knew what being gay was; whether I was gay or not wasn’t the point. [And the national advertising campaigns for Bengay so did not help, thanks.] The X-Men drew me in as an outsider trying to fit in and become part of a world that feared and hated what they called me. Comic characters like Moondragon and Northstar showed me that being different from those who were different was still an option – something even lauded. They showed me hope.

The marriage of Northstar recently, in Astonishing X-Men vol 3 #51 was one of the most touted and pleasantly-received Comic publicity maneuvers in years (by dint of an actual actor-portrayed reenactment and a slew of online campaigning) shows how far such ground-breaking characters have come – allowed by their writers and fans.

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You can read more of Benjamin's writing on his website.

Guest Post: Why Fantasy? by Bruno Stella


But why fantasy?

Is it enough to say that people the world over (including myself) have been fascinated with elves and dragons since Tolkien published his master-work and so we can simply continue in his footsteps? Haven’t many authors have done exactly that?

Surely, fantasy is an easy field to write – and do well in?

After all, the scientific understanding for writing, say, hard sci-fi is not necessary. And, because fantasy isn’t exactly high-brow, knowledge of fancy literary theories isn’t necessary, either – in fact it may even be a hindrance.

I’d argue that fantasy is hard to do decently precisely because of the reasons above.

So many people have done it to death, that the reader is jaded by the recycled materials. There is no powerful central scientific concept to bedazzle the reader, nor is there the fig-leaf of fancy
techniques to cover up the fact that a book sucks. An entire house of leaves might not be enough, in fact*.

There is only story, and the writer’s skill in creating a believable world wherein the reader can suspend disbelief in a fantastic reality. My aim when writing is precisely that: to weave a world around the reader, starting with the mundane, and slowly stirring in the spice of magic.

I’m a fan of the (slightly) slow start. Tolkien did it with the hobbits of Hobbiton, and Donaldson did it with the gritty reality that Thomas Covenant faced as a leper … before pulling out the big guns in the form of the Ringwraiths and Lord Foul, amongst others. It is all about the suspension of disbelief and achieving it before moving on with the story.
The story should have wonder built into it. It’s the writer’s responsibility to reveal enough of the plot to the reader so that she doesn’t feel lost, so that she feels that there is a sense of where the story is going … but not so much that the reader closes the book in disgust because it is so predictable. There needs to be, especially in fantasy writing, a sense of mystery, of something otherworldly just beneath the fabric of the mundane - if only we know the right mystical words to speak, or symbols to draw.

Oddly enough, many of the best writers of horror get this right. A particularly powerful scene that still stays with me was from Stephen King’s The Shining. One of his characters was busy clipping a hedge, and the hedge animals come to life, stalking him. King crafts the scene wonderfully, animating the creatures in tiny stages, drawing the reader along from where the character thinks the altered hedge-animal is a trick of his mind to where the hedge – lion actually sticks its paw out of its tended patch and the reader experiences a little climax of horror together with the character.
In my opinion, the worst sort of fantasy is the sort that pulls a new over-powered hero or villain out of a hat every chapter, and each absurd twist in the plot features the writer wracking her brain for some way to top the previously unbeatable new character. What is the point of that? The reader can practically see the gears moving behind the crudely cut-out stage props as they lurch across the page in the guise of characters that we are supposed to care about. Now, I don’t mind a good zombie story, but I prefer my characters a little more rounded.

In The Man from the Tower, there is really only one (two at the outside) character that is ‘overpowered’ – and this is only in the context of the book, since there are other fantasy universes that he’d be a wimp in – and that’s the primary antagonist.

Part of the fun of writing it was to take a pretty ordinary hero, stick him in way over his head, and watch as he tries to flounder in deep waters without a deus ex machina courtesy of the author, to save him.

If you’d like to see whether I managed to get it right or not, post a comment on this blog. I’d like to give a copy of The Man from the Tower in .pdf form to the first five posters that have something to say.

Thanks for reading.

* Although, writers like Atwood have shown themselves adept at both utilizing literary techniques AND weaving a good story. I do not pretend to belong to that stratosphere.

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About the Book:
"What if there were no boundary between Life and Death? What if the boundary was all there was? What if the mightiest sorcerer alive was a sadistic being of relentless evil, able to exploit such a grey half-world to the fullest?"

That is the question that Tergin, a simple herder in a desolate land, is confronted with. He is the person that unwittingly released the evil being, and he is the one who bears the consequence for his action. Driven by thirst for vengeance and by dreams of his lost love, he takes on the impossible task of righting his mistake, and of curing the deadly curse that he becomes afflicted with. In a long journey beset with dangers, he is forced to make alliances with questionable friends; his endurance and wits are tested to the limit as he faces enemies he never imagined even existed.

About the Author:
My name is Bruno Stella. I’m 37 years old, South African, and have written short stories and longer fiction since I was 13, mostly for my own amusement. I’ve forayed into the realm of fantasy with a book that I have just published on Amazon, called The Man from The Tower. 

It can be found here.

Guest Post: How to Characterize Christ in a Novel by Cotton E. Davis


When I presumed to make Yeshua bar Yosef (Christ) a character in my recently released time-travel novel TimeWarp, Inc., I had to make numerous decisions regarding how to portray him.

The physical part wasn't as difficult as one might imagine.  Though the New Testament leaves us with no physical description of the man, Isaiah 53:2 described the coming Messiah as rather ordinary looking.  No Max von Sydows or Jeffrey Hunters here.  I set aside the classical image of a blond-haired, blue-eyed European-looking gent for a swarthier dark-brown or black-haired fellow more in keeping with the Jews who inhabited Lower Galilee at the time.  Short-cropped hair and beards were the style among Jewish men then, so goodby to the luxuriant locks seen in so many paintings and movies.  One more fact: most skulls unearthed from the first-century holy land were rounder than the traditional long-faced image.  Decidedly so.

I also made my character well-formed.  Physically powerful, even.  This was not the namby-
pamby weakling depicted in Renaissance art.  Jesus was in the building trade.  That's hard work, especially back then.  Mathew 13:55 describes Jesus as the son of a tekton, while the Gospel Mark 6:3 calls Christ himself a tekton, the classical Greek term meaning, among other things, a builder or artisan.  That's a skilled jack-of-all-trades, rather than the translated "carpenter" we're accustomed to reading and hearing about.  In short, a tekton worked with wood, stone, even metals.  And, since the Romanized capital of Galilee, Sepphoris, lay only a few miles from Jesus' village of Nazareth, he and his father Joseph must have traveled there for the kind of gainful employment a village of four hundred people could not provide.  Greco-Roman cities were constructed largely of stone--black basalt from Capernaum in this case.  By necessity, Jeshua bar Yosef undoubtedly possessed masonry skills.  Strength too.  Ever try to lift a stone block?

Maybe I should say something about TimeWarp, Inc.  It is basically the story of an agnostic ex-soldier from the 21st century who travels back in time, where he meets and becomes Christ's best friend during the latter part of the "lost years" between Jesus' birth and ministry.  The Jeshua bar Yosef the reader meets is a year or so from going out into the world to proselytize.  He is a young man, not yet thirty.  Reading between the lines of the Gospels, it's easy to picture a Jesus who not only had his share of friends but also possessed a keen mind and sense of humor...which is exactly how I portrayed him.

What else do we know about Christ?  Here again, we must look between the scriptural lines.  We've read about his knowledge of the Torah in Luke, but what else can we be sure of?  (One) He spoke both Aramaic and Hebrew, as was common among Jews in Roman-occupied Palestine.  (Two) He probably also spoke Latin and possibly Greek.  Plying his trade in Sepphoris, Jesus would almost certainly have had to converse in the Roman tongue, and don't forget Greek was the trade language of the region, plus Alexander the Great conquered the area about 200 years before Jesus was born.  Also, most educated Romans were bilingual, speaking Greek fluently.  Moreover the Gospels were originally written in Greek.  (3) Christ had a keen understanding of human nature.  If the Gospels tell us anything, they tell us that.  (4) Jesus was almost Lincolnesque in his ability to tell stories or, in this case, parables: simple, easy-to-remember, image-filled allegories.  But, unlike our 16th President's tales, which were usually communicated for the sake of humor, Jesus' stories were meant to convey a subtle message central to the man's teachings.  If you want a good laugh, check out the practice parable the pre-ministry Jesus comes up with in Chapter Fifty-One.

That leaves one glaring question about my character.  Was he divine?  That is left pretty much up to the reader.  TimeWarp, Inc. is not a biblical supplement.  It is a story, a novel about time travel, after all.  Jesus, though painstakingly researched, is one of many characters, some from the 21st century, others from the time of Herod Antipas.  I will say, however, that the question of Jesus' divinity is a running argument among the time travelers--particularly my agnostic hero and his Christian girlfriend--throughout the book.

---------------------------------------------------------------

About the Book
When historian Gwen Hoffman first meets time traveler Mike Garvin, an ex-Special Forces weapons sergeant back from ancient Gaul where he was embedded as a centurion in Julius Caesar's elite 10th Legion, she is more than a little put off. Scarred and dangerous-looking, the man appears more thug than time traveler. Yet he is the person TimeWarp, Inc. is sending back in time to protect Jeshua bar Yosef (Christ) from twenty-first century assassins; the man Gwen was assigned to prepare for life in first-century Galilee. Gwen, of course, has no idea she and Garvin will become lovers. Nor does she realize she herself will end up in Roman Palestine, where she will not only meet Jesus but face danger alongside Mike in the adventure of a lifetime...

You can find out more about the author and the book here.

Guest Post: “Freedom to Name” by Max Gladstone (Three Parts Dead)


Somewhere in Thailand, a mind-controlled ant climbs a tree.  She moves in jerks and starts, her body no longer her own.  Alone, she staggers to the underside of a leaf, and bites the thick central stem.  Her jaw locks.  Her chitin bulges and bursts.  A long gray tendril rises from within, unfurls to three times her length, and pops to release a cloud of spores.  Away on the breeze the spores float, to possess any other ants unlucky enough to remain within the blast radius.

The fungus is called Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani.  The fungus infects an ant, takes over the victim’s brain, forces it to move to a high place near other ants--a place where spores will spread--and explodes.

That’s real.

If you work for a corporation or a non-profit, you’re part of a functionally immortal entity whose life is governed by laws more theological than biological—a being that draws strength from desire,
faith, and sacrifice.  When corporations emerged in the High Middle Ages, jurists compared them to angels: immortal, immaterial, mighty.  And every angel is terrifying.

That’s real, too.

You read these words on a screen lit by lightning, which we harnessed either by burning hundred-million-year-old plants and plankton (and a few dinosaurs), by wrestling rivers like Achilles, by binding the wind or the shifting tide or sunlight or subterranean fire.  Building your screen required labors that would make Hercules blanch.

How can we tell stories about that kind of world?  A world that’s not straightforward, a world with diversities of wonder, justice, injustice, horror, majesty, and sheer scale to beggar the wildest opium dreams?

We can tell some stories by zooming in.  The earth seems flat to most human beings, most of the time.  Newtonian physics works fine for objects about the size of people, moving at people speeds.  A character who calls her former lover to console him after his father’s death doesn’t need to think about cellular towers, satellites, digital audio, or call routing, let alone the Chinese mine that produced the rare earths used to make the phone (and the people who worked there).  By focusing on dramatic structures of everyday life and emotional politics that haven’t changed much since Murasaki wrote Genji, a storyteller can avoid much of reality’s weirdness.

Or the teller can embrace the strange.  Break open the common surface of our lives and expose the machinery beneath.  Show characters who engage with the mad mess of their setting, who are elevated by it or ground to dust or both.  Pull out elements of our daily weird, hold them to the light, and watch them spark.

Some people accuse fantastic literature--science fiction, fantasy, horror, and all their permutations--of escapism.  And sure, some of us come to genre tales for the rich fantasy lives, for the grand open vistas and the capital-E Evils which Must Be Stopped.  But I think the richness of the genre lies in confrontationalism, not escapism: its ability to address the fundamental strangeness of the natural world, and the world we’ve built, and the world being built around us.  The freedom to tell stories out of this world can offer the freedom to name more precisely the world where we live.

And that world is wild, and needs naming.

-------------------------------------------------------
About the Author:
MAX GLADSTONE went to Yale, where he wrote a short story that became a finalist in the Writers of the Future competition. He lives in Boston, Massachusetts.
About the Book:
A god has died, and it’s up to Tara, first-year associate in the international necromantic firm of Kelethres, Albrecht, and Ao, to bring Him back to life before His city falls apart. Her client is Kos, recently deceased fire god of the city of Alt Coulumb. Without Him, the metropolis’s steam generators will shut down, its trains will cease running, and its four million citizens will riot.
 
Tara’s job: resurrect Kos before chaos sets in. Her only help: Abelard, a chain-smoking priest of the dead god, who’s having an understandable crisis of faith. When Tara and Abelard discover that Kos was murdered, they have to make a case in Alt Coulumb’s courts—and their quest for the truth endangers their partnership, their lives, and Alt Coulumb’s slim hope of survival.

Guest Post: “The Palest of Copies: History, Culture, Empire, and Fiction” by Daniel A. Rabuzzi (The Indigo Pheasant)

(Details about The Indigo Pheasant, Mr. Rabuzzi, and his blog tour can be found below the post.  Go buy the book!)

Historians of medieval Europe would be surprised at the pallid, static and simplistic depictions of their subject in the work of many modern fantasy writers.  In the past fifty years, medievalists have overturned Western Renaissance and Enlightenment assertions that the “middle time” was an opaque, undifferentiated hiatus endured between the glittering peaks of Rome and Modernity.

Equipped with digital tools, platoons of medievalists today are able to mine, compile, sort, and index more data about medieval people and places than any prior generation.[i]  Advances in aerial archaeology surveys, underwater excavations, and isotope analysis -- to name but three-- have dramatically expanded our knowledge of daily life (everything from how bricks were made to how bread was baked), migration and settlement patterns, trade routes, funerary practices, and much more.[ii]

A willingness to use methods from anthropology, geographical studies, and other social sciences
-- ­epitomized by the widely influential Annales school in France, the Cambridge Group for the History of Population & Social Structure in the U.K., and the Quaderni storici in Italy -- ­has buttressed our new interpretations of the era.[iii]   Above all, medieval studies has­ -- to great advantage -- wedded its traditional strengths in manuscript analysis and paleography with modern literary critical approaches and semiotics, framing our questions in entirely new ways and forming new understandings from materials previously neglected or ignored.[iv]

I hope we might see more variety, more dynamism and more nuance in the pseudo-medieval settings adopted by many fantasy authors. Transposing modern analogues, or what we perceive as similarities, won’t work.  We need to rasp, file, chisel and mallet ourselves back to another reality, before we can use it for our modern fabulistic purposes.  We must translate ourselves, in the word’s literal Latin sense of carrying over, of  removing from one place to another.  And then the real work begins.  Even medieval concepts we think we know, after having laboriously scrubbed off the verdigris, will betray us because the context is gone.
For instance, where is a modern fantasy novel based on Saint Maurice, one of the most widely venerated in the European Middle Ages, bearer of the holy “Spear of Destiny,” and the patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire?  He is routinely depicted as an African in full knight’s armor­ -- the oldest image we have of St. Maurice is an imposing 13th-century statue in the Cathedral of Magdeburg, right beside the tomb of Emperor Otto I.  He is portrayed elsewhere conversing as an equal with the Pope.  Bridging the centuries and the Middle Passage (and surviving Katrina), there is a St. Maurice Church in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

I want fantastical epics that take as their point of departure the life of the Jewish community documented by the Geniza repository in Cairo, or of Muslim merchants in Aleppo and Damascus establishing a foundation or school via waqf deeds.[v]  I seek spec fic based on the adventures of Malian mathematicians and astronomers, and on the exploits of sastra of jyotisa practitioners in India.[vi]  How about using as a setting the embassy King Harsa of Kanauj in India sent to the T’ang emperor T’ai Tsung or the mission King Pulakesin II of Badami dispatched to the Sassanian emperor Khusru II?[vii]  Imagine riding with the spec fic counterpart of the great Muslim admiral Zheng He on his seven epic voyages for the Chinese emperor in the early 15th century, reaching as far as East Africa -- ­focusing on the common sailors.  Delve into fictional versions of Sundiata’s empire, or the adventures of Oranyan, a prince of Ile-Ife, who followed a serpent as was foretold and thereby founded the Yoruba Empire.  Or explore Cambay in Gujarat and Calicut on the Malabar, and Aden, which 10th-century traveler al-Muqaddasi described as “the anteroom of China, entrepot of Yemen, treasury of the West, and mother lode of trade wares.”
Why indeed limit ourselves to medieval Europe (and a truncated Europe at that) when crafting the backdrops for fabulistic literature?

Feminist perspectives, postcolonialist approaches, and frameworks established by scholars from within the African Diaspora have each revolutionized literary, historical and cultural studies in the United States. [viii]  Insights gained from the study of modern history are helping us identify the thorns in the romance of the rose.[ix]   For instance, Sharon Kinoshita observes that “many of the best-known works of medieval French literature take place on or beyond the borders of ‘France’ or even the French-speaking world,” and argues that the origins of vernacular French writing is “inextricably linked to historical situations of contact between French-speaking nobles and peoples they perceived as their linguistic, religious and cultural others.”[x]

Geraldine Heng makes a similar point:
“Allowing fantasies of race and nation to surface with remarkable freedom, and to flex themselves with astonishing ease and mobility, medieval romance becomes a medium that conduces with exceptional facility to the creation of races, and the production of a prioritizing discourse of essential differences among peoples in the Middle Ages.”[xi] 
From essentializing the Other to erasing the Other altogether is all too often a small step in the medieval European tradition, and in the later scholarship about the Middle Ages.  Erasure is sometimes a part of creating the canon upon which -- unknowingly or not -- ­the modern fantasy genre rests. (I am reminded of how medieval scribes would use pumice stones “ad radenda pergamena,” i.e., “for scraping parchment.”)  Maria Rosa Menocal gives a classic example when she notes that the root word for the quintessential medieval figure of the troubadour may be Arabic, not Latin, and that until recently the Arabic possibility was mostly ignored or obscured.[xii]   Ananya Jahanara Kabir discusses how nostalgia can similarly erase and reorder the past to justify current power dynamics, using as her example 19th-century Britons building a history that showed medieval England inheriting leadership from Rome and in turn bequeathing the right to rule to the Victorians.[xiii]
Commentators on the social imaginary of spec fic have begun to query both the medieval and medievalist assumptions of the genre, and challenge both the inherent and subsequently introduced lacunae, erasures, and distortions.  Such queries and challenges include Michael Chabon’s concept of “imaginary homelands,” Nnedi Okorafor on “Stephen King’s Super-Duper Magical Negroes,” Samuel Delany’s “Racism and Science Fiction,” Nalo Hopkinson & Uppinder Mehan’s So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, Hopkinson’s “Reluctant Ambassador from the Planet of Midnight,” John Rieder’s Colonialism and The Emergence of Science Fiction, Saladin Ahmed’s “Is Game of Thrones Too White?,” Laura Miller’s “If Tolkien Were Black,”and other recent explorations of race in The Lord of the Rings and in digital role-playing games. [xiv]

I close with two voices that may point us where I believe we need to go ­one voice from the medieval era but strikingly “modern,” the other modern but translating our oldest desire.

The first is the provost Wolmarus, writing to his friend the abbess Hildegard of Bingen near the end of her life, fearing that the lingua ignota would go untransmitted:  “Where, then, the voice of the unheard melody? And the voice of the unheard language?"  And, in fact, the secrets of the hidden language and the mystic melody died with Hildegard...but we can resurrect them -- ­translate them -- through our speculative fiction today.
The second is Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in her novel The Palace of Illusions, giving voice to the Princess Panchaali, the famous Draupadi, later wife of the Pandavas brothers in the Mahabharat.  Here is Draupadi:
“Through the long, lonely years of my childhood, when my father’s palace seemed to tighten its grip around me until I couldn’t breathe, I would go to my nurse and ask for a story.  And though she knew many wondrous and edifying tales, the one I made her tell me over and over was the story of my birth.”[xv]
-------------------------------------------------

[i] “Medievalists and classicists have, over the past twenty years, taken up the use of computers in their work more eagerly than almost any other group of academics working in the humanities” (Marilyn Deegan, “Computers and Medieval Studies: Points of Convergence,” special issue of Literary and Linguistic Computing, 6:1/1991).  The fervor continues undimmed today.
[ii] For a good introduction, see the U.K. Society for Medieval Archaeology, http://www.medievalarchaeology.org/, and the U.K.’s Archaeology Data Service, http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/
[iii] See Carole Fink, Marc Bloch: A Life in History (Cambridge University Press, 1989), chapters 6, 7, 12; Sheila McIsaac Cooper, “Historical Analysis of the Family,” in M. Sussman et al. (eds.), Handbook of Marriage and the Family (Plenum: 2nd ed., 1999); Edward Muir & Guido Ruggiero (eds.), Microhistory and the Lost Peoples of Europe (Selections from Quaderni Storici) (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991; trans. E. Branch).
[iv] Gabrielle Spiegel, The Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Medieval Historiography (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999); Lee Patterson, Negotiating the Past: The Historical Understanding of Medieval Literature (University of Wisconsin Press, 1987); Derek Pearsall, ed., Manuscripts and Texts: Editorial Problems in Late Middle English Literature (Boydell & Brewer, 1987); William Marx, ed., Sources, Exemplars and Copy-Texts: Influence and Transmission (Trivium vol. 31, 1999).
[v] Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350 (Oxford University Press, 1989), pp. 26-27.
[vi] Timbuktu Manuscripts Project, http://www.sum.uio.no/research/mali/timbuktu/project/index.html ;  David Pingree, “The Logic of Non-Western Science: Mathematical Discoveries in Medieval India,” Daedalus 132:4 (Fall, 2003).
[vii]  Daud Ali, Courtly Culture and Political Life in Early Medieval India (Cambridge University Press, 2004),  p. 32.
[viii] Representative works: Toni  Morrison, Playing in the Dark: Whiteness & the Literary Imagination (Random, 1992);  Benjamin Alire  Saenz, “I Want to Write an American Poem: On Being a Chicano Poet in Post-Columbian America,” in R. Gonzalez (ed.), Currents from the Dancing River: Contemporary Latino Fiction, Nonfiction & Poetry (Harcourt Brace, 1994); Jose David Saldivar, Border Matters: Remapping American Cultural Studies (U. California P., 1997);  Kwame Anthony Appiah, In My Father’s House (Oxford U.P., 1993);  Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity & Double Consciousness (Harvard U.P., 1993); Okwui Enwezor, “The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a State of Permanent Transition,” in Enwezor et al. (eds.), Antimonies in Art & Culture (Duke U.P., 2008);  Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Decolonizing the Mind (Heinemann, 1986); Edward Said, Orientalism (Random: 1978).
[ix] Examples include:  Linda Lomperis, “Medieval Travel Writing and the Question of Race,” Journal of Medieval & Modern Studies, 31 (Jan., 2001); Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, “On Saracen Enjoyment: Some Fantasies of Race in Late Medieval France and England,” ibid.; Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization and Cultural Change, 950-1350 (Princeton University Press, 1993), esp. chapters 8 & 9 ref. “race relations on the frontiers of Latin Europe”;  Maghan Keita, “Saracens and Black Knights,” Arthuriana 16.4 (2006).
[x] Kinoshita, Rethinking Difference in Old French Literature (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 2006), p. 1.
[xi] Heng, Empire of Magic: Medieval Romance and the Politics of Cultural Fantasy (Columbia U. Press, 2003), p. 7.
[xii] Menocal, The Arabic Role in Medieval Literary History: A Forgotten Heritage (U. Pennsylvania Press, 1987).
[xiii] Kabir, “Analogy in Translation: Imperial Rome, Medieval England and British India,” in Kabir & D. Williams, eds., Postcolonial Approaches to the European Middle Ages; Translating Cultures (Cambridge U. Press, 2005).
[xiv] Chabon, Maps & Legends: Reading & Writing Along the Borderlands (Harper, 2008), pp. 157-179;  Okorafor, “Stephen King’s...,” Strange Horizons, October 25, 2004;  Delany, “Racism and Science Fiction,” New York Review of Science Fiction, Issue 120 (August, 1998); Myles Balfe, “Incredible Geographies?  Orientalism and Genre Fantasy,” Social & Cultural Geography 5:1 (2004); Ahmed’s essay is in Salon, April 1, 2012; Miller’s is in Salon, November 9, 2011; Anderson Rearick, “Why is the Only Good Orc a Dead Orc? The Dark Face of Racism Examined in Tolkien’s World,“ Modern Fiction Studies 50:4 (2004); Christopher Warnes, “Baldur’s Gate and History: Race and Alignment in Digital Role Playing Games,” Digital Games Research Assoc. conf. proceedings, 2005; Margaret Sinex, “ ‘Monsterized Saracens,’” Tolkien’s Haradrim, and Other Medieval ‘Fantasy Products,’” Tolkien Studies 7 (2010); Hopkinson & Mehan, So Long Been Dreaming (Arsenal Pulp, 2004); Hopkinson, “A Reluctant Ambassador from the Planet of Midnight,” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 21.3 (2010); Rieder, Colonialism (Wesleyan U.P., 2008).  See also:  Nisi Shawl & Cynthia Ward, Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (Aqueduct, 2005), Helen Merrick, The Secret Feminist Cabal (Aqueduct, 2009), and the Sheree Thomas Dark Matter anthologies.
[xv] Divakaruni, The Palace of Illusions (Doubleday, 2008), p. 1.

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About the Book:
London 1817. Maggie Collins, born into slavery in Maryland, whose mathematical genius and strength of mind can match those of a goddess, must build the world's most powerful and sophisticated machine - to free the lost land of Yount from the fallen angel Strix Tender Wurm. Sally, of the merchant house McDoon, who displayed her own powers in challenging the Wurm and finding Yount in The Choir Boats, must choose either to help Maggie or to hinder her. Together - or not - Maggie and Sally drive to conclusion the story started in The Choir Boats - a story of blood-soaked song, family secrets, sins new and old in search of expiation, forbidden love, high policy and acts of state, financial ruin, betrayals intimate and grand, sorcery from the origins of time, and battle in the streets of London and on the arcane seas of Yount.
About the Author:
Daniel A. Rabuzzi studied folklore and mythology in college and graduate school, and keeps one foot firmly in the Other Realm.

ChiZine Publications published his first novel, The Choir Boats: Volume One of Longing for Yount, in 2009, and in 2012 brought out the sequel and series conclusion, The Indigo Pheasant: Volume Two of Longing for Yount.

Daniel's short fiction and poetry have appeared in Sybil's Garage, Shimmer, ChiZine, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Abyss & Apex, Goblin Fruit, Mannequin Envy, Bull Spec, Kaleidotrope, and Scheherezade's Bequest. He has presented at Arisia, Readercon, Lunacon, and the Toronto Speculative Fiction Colloquium. He has also had twenty scholarly and professional articles published on subjects ranging from fairy tale to finance.

A former banker, Daniel earned his doctorate in 18th-century history, with a focus on family, gender and commerce in northern Europe. He is now an executive at a national workforce development organization in New York City, where he lives with his wife and soulmate, the artist Deborah A. Mills (who illustrated and provided cover art for both Daniel's novels), along with the requisite two cats.

Novel preview links:
The Choir Boats: http://chizinepub.com/media/choir-boats/TheChoirBoats-Preview.pdf
The Indigo Pheasant: http://chizinepub.com/media/indigo/indigo_preview.pdf

Book page links: 
The Choir Boats: http://chizinepub.com/books/choir-boats.php
The Choir Boats Facebook Page:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Choir-Boats/67307451458
The Indigo Pheasant: http://chizinepub.com/books/indigo-pheasant.php
Daniel's web site: www.danielarabuzzi.com
Daniel's Twitter: @TheChoirBoats
Deborah's web site: http://www.deborahmillswoodcarving.com/Our blog tour for The Indigo Pheasant kicks off, with guest posts, interviews, and giveaways!

Tour stops include:
Sept 11 - Small Beer Press/Not a Journal
Sept 14 - Civilian Reader
Sept 17 - Fantasy Book Critic
Sept 18 - Bibliophile Stalker
Sept 24 - That Artsy Reader Girl
Sept 26 - Layers of Thought Book & Yount greeting cards giveaway.
Sept 27 - Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews
Sept 28 - So Many Precious Books, So Little Time Book giveaway.
Sept 30 - Disquieting Visions
Oct 4 - Charlotte's Library
Oct 5 - The Cozy Reader
Oct 11 - Jess Resides Here
TBS - Grasping for the Wind
TBS - Bull Spec's new Wednesday feature "The Hardest Part"

Guest Post: “An Interview w/ Joseph de Alverado” by Jay Hartlove


JAY HARTLOVE: Hello, I am Jay Hartlove, author of The Chosen, a supernatural thriller published by Damnation Books and winner of Best Thriller by the Independent eBook Awards 2012.  Today I have here in the studio a special guest from The Chosen. I would like to welcome to the show, Joseph de Alvarado. Welcome Mr. de Alvarado. Thank you for joining us.

JOSEPH DE ALVERADO:  It’s de Alverado, with an ‘e.’

JAY:   Pardon me? Oh, sorry. Yes, I see here, it is an ‘e.’ My mistake.

JOSEPH:   Names matter. They have meanings.

JAY:   Okay. I believe you adopted this name from Silas Alverado, the man who brought you into this plane of existence. Is that right?

JOSEPH:   Yes. His name means, ‘Bringer of the Truth’.

JAY:   Interesting. Now, I know you are a very private person so I appreciate your agreeing to chat today.

JOSEPH:   You’re welcome. If by private you mean I don’t seek publicity, then you’re right. I rather think of myself as too busy for a lot of conversation.

JAY:   Too busy with your work, yes? Are you still the captain of the Purgatory?

JOSEPH:   Yes, among other things.

JAY:   You were an executive assistant to Silas Alverado.

JOSEPH:   I still am his Executive Officer.

JAY:   Didn’t that job end rather abruptly when he went missing?

JOSEPH:   No, in fact my responsibilities grew upon his departure. I am continuing his research work, and I am still searching for him.

JAY:   Do you mean you’re searching for a way to bring him back?

JOSEPH:   Yes. I am a reflection of the Opener of the Ways. If anyone can find a way, it should be me.

JAY:   You and I have chatted about this previously, but let me ask you a few questions about that for our listeners. As I understand it, you are an archangel of Ptah given physical form on Earth by
Mr. Alverado. So how does that work? Magic doesn’t really function here on Earth, so how can you manifest your abilities as a supernatural being?

JOSEPH:   It’s not that magic doesn’t work here, it just needs to be converted. What you think of as magic breaks the laws of physics that are part of this plane, getting something for nothing, which you cannot do. To create the desired effect, you have to know how to use the laws of physics.

JAY:   So you had to learn quantum physics to perform your magic?

JOSEPH:   No, the synthesis comes naturally to me. I come from a plane where physical laws are much more malleable. I already know what the effect looks like. A human magician needs to learn the physical laws and then how to bend them to his will. My Master spent his life learning both the scientific and the arcane, because they have to be worked together to create change in this world. This is why most human magicians can’t accomplish any physical result. They have only learned the arcane techniques and not how to use them together with Physics.

JAY:   I imagine modern physicists would love to learn the secrets that, as you say, come naturally to you.

JOSEPH:   Well, that’s what My Master was attempting back in 2001. The Tablets of Aeth allow humans to understand the true nature of your physical laws, which allows humans to see how they can be molded to your will. They are literally the keys to your universe. Without these keys, I could not explain what I do to a human physicist in terms that would allow you to duplicate what I do. I don’t know how to show these secrets to you. No creature in history has been able to do so, except one.

JAY:   That would be the Demon Prince of Liars.

JOSEPH:   Correct. He alone had the audacity and the cunning to reduce these godly secrets to a form that humans can grasp. Of course, he only presented these images as part of his ruse to destroy Pharaoh.

JAY:   That was in the story of Exodus?

JOSEPH:   Yes.

JAY:   Were you there when that happened?

JOSEPH:   No. I was indisposed during that time.

JAY:   Were you in fact in prison?

JOSEPH:   Yes, I had been falsely convicted by my fellow angels of using names that can only be used by evil ones.

JAY:   You mean demons?

JOSEPH:   Yes.

JAY:   I believe Sanantha Mauwad and Charles Redmond thought you were a demon back in 2001.

JOSEPH:   They too were mistaken.

JAY:   Now Doctor Mauwad and Mr. Redmond believe in Voodoo, so how did you fit into their beliefs?

JOSEPH:   They worship my pantheon without realizing it. The gods of ancient Egypt were adopted by the peoples of West Africa and given new names when Egypt was conquered by the Romans. When those peoples were kidnapped and forced into slavery in the Americas, the Egyptian religion was blended with the Christian dogma of the slave masters to become Voodoo. The gods they worship are the gods of Egypt, just with different names. Doctor Mauwad identified that in her religion, I am a manifestation of Guede L’Orage.

JAY:   That’s very interesting how history and religion play hand in hand. I guess that means the Haitians were keeping your gods alive into the modern era.

JOSEPH:   Indeed. I found Haiti a very welcoming place.

JAY:   Let’s get back to your personal history. Some 3200 years ago you were unjustly cast out as a demon, then Mr. Alverado figured out you are in fact an angel, and set you free here on Earth. I guess you owe him a lot.

JOSEPH:   Nothing less than my eternal loyalty.

JAY:   Mr. Alverado was there, though, correct, during Exodus?

JOSEPH:   Yes, his earlier incarnation was given the position of High Priest of Amun after his Master was unveiled to be a traitor.

JAY:   So he was the priest who had to pick up the pieces after the Egyptian defeat in Exodus. Did anyone know this traitor High Priest was in fact a demon?

JOSEPH:   No. the demon covered his tracks very well.

JAY:   Now wasn’t his relationship to his old Master at the heart of why you had the fight in 2001?

JOSEPH:   Yes, my Master had seen his Master use the Tablets of Aeth during Pharaoh’s conflict with Moses. So Mr. Alverado knew these images existed at one time in the physical world. His quest was to reincarnate from the Land of the Dead, come back and capture the demon, and wrest the Tablets from the demon so they could be used again here on Earth.

JAY:   And he nearly pulled it off?

JOSEPH:   Yes. Nearly.

JAY:   I notice you are full of pride when you talk about Mr. Alverado, but just now you seemed a little taken aback. Was there something about how the 2001 fight went down that still bothers you?

JOSEPH:   I replay the episode in my head all the time, trying to see if there could have been something else I could do that would have given us a better outcome. But there isn’t.

JAY:   So you wish you could have done more. Sounds like the sort of thing you could discuss with a psychiatrist. You know a good one.

JOSEPH:   Yes, but I can’t see myself hiring Doctor Mauwad to help me sort through my feelings of failure.

JAY:   She is probably the only shrink in the world you could talk to, since she knows who you are and what you went through.

JOSEPH:   By the end of that conflict, I also considered her a friend. I would never burden her with reliving what was a very traumatic time for her.

JAY:   I believe she has since moved to Malaysia.

JOSEPH:   Yes, she seems happy there with her former colleague Doctor Herrera.

JAY:   So you keep tabs on her?

JOSEPH:   I keep  tabs  on a lot of things.

JAY:   Okay. That kind of brings me to something I wanted to ask you. With Mr. Alverado no longer in a position to exercise his control over you, you’ve been a free agent for the last eleven years. The last time you walked the Earth was thousands of years ago. How do you like our modern world?

JOSEPH:   You didn’t plan for how many of you there are now. This planet is a nearly unique paradise in all the universe, and you are feeding on it with the abandon of mold consuming a loaf of bread.

JAY:   I think we are becoming aware that we need to take a more proactive stand on the environment. You obviously have a strong feeling about this. Do you think we are doing too little too late?

JOSEPH:   It’s not a matter of how I feel. It’s what I see.

JAY:   Oh, that’s right. You have the ability to see the truth. Can you tell us about that?

JOSEPH:   My god Ptah brought order out of chaos with his eyes. Most of what you consider my magic comes from my eyes. I can indeed see the true nature of what I look at.

JAY:   You can do other things with your eyes too, like throw lightning. You also teleport. How does that use your eyes?

JOSEPH:   I have to see the destination in my mind’s eye.

JAY:   That’s great. So are we doomed?

JOSEPH:   You need to do a lot more than you are now. Things are going to get a lot worse before they get any better. But no, you are not doomed. If you were on a path to break the planet, the gods would intervene.

JAY:   Really? Okay then. Well, let me ask you this. What intrigues you about what we have built? What do you find good in the modern world?

JOSEPH:   The Internet shows a longer planning, forward thinking that I find admirable. For most of history people have hoarded information for its value. Now people give information away and raise the playing field for all players.

JAY:   How do you mean?

JOSEPH:   Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, Wikileaks, all have put information at your fingertips, so that knowing how to do something is no longer among the limited resources you have to marshal for an enterprise. People are freed to try more things, invent more things, be more helpful to the world.

JAY:   I am really surprised to hear you say that. You come from a rigidly hierarchical society where everyone has his place and knows where he fits in. This free flow of information promotes a mobility that I would think you’d find offensive.

JOSEPH:   I did at first. My first reaction was to ask, ‘Where are the gods? Why have they failed to maintain order? Where are the institutions of control?’ I found your society shockingly disorganized. So I went back and learned your history, and realized your civilization has been moving toward mobility all along. Our old order, with a place for everyone and everyone in his place, gave comfort to the individual and predictability and manageability to those in higher castes. As you pointed out, 3200 years is a long time.

If you are going to let people rise and fall on their own merits, then fairness matters. I have come to accept that my sense of order may be out of place, but as a guardian at heart, injustice is something I cannot tolerate. Over the last eleven years I have come to see the Internet as a means of assuring justice. It is harder to cheat someone who can instantly fact check. I am still amused by some of the quirks that have grown up around how it is used. The Internet was so clearly built by humans. It is steeped in your idiosyncrasies.

JAY:   Can you give me an example?

JOSEPH:   On Facebook, when a user dies, often his friends continue to maintain the deceased’s profile page so there is a place people can come and pay their respects. Except people then leave messages for the departed as if they were actually talking to the deceased. This shows me that people have not changed in thousands of years. This is exactly why the Egyptians built false doors in the sides of their tombs. People would come and talk to the departed, looking at the door as if it might open and the deceased’s spirit would appear and talk back to them. I am not criticizing the practice. I am just amused that for all the changes you have made to your world, people really haven’t changed at all.

JAY:   You heard it here, folks, and from a being who can see the truth. That’s all the time we have today. I thank you for accepting my invitation. I have thoroughly enjoyed sharing this time with you.

JOSEPH:   You’re welcome.

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About the Author:

Jay Hartlove has been writing professionally for 30 years. His writing has been published in games, newspapers, magazines, legal white papers and online articles. His hobby is religious scholarship, and he blogs on spirituality.

Jay exhaustively researches the facts before he inserts his fantastical explanations. He sees the world as already filled with scary coincidences waiting to be discovered.

He describes his writing as, “Dark connections revealed.” You can read about the research that goes into his books at jaywrites.com.

About the Book:
Running from his dark past, former Duvalier hit man Charles Redmond is forced to take sides in a battle that has been raging since Exodus, between a power mad magician named Silas Alverado and Sammael, the Demon Prince of Liars. When Charles' beloved Voodoo is threatened with extinction, he must wager his life between pure evil and the man who could destroy the world. Charles' psychiatrist Sanantha Mauwad steps into this maelstrom of nightmares, violence and insanity to help Charles find his strength. She tries to save Charles' mind but can she save his soul?