Worldbuilding Wednesday 7/11/18: Himalayan Mountaineering

Chances are, when you think of the Himalayan mountains, you see sharp, snow-capped peaks, desolate valleys, and peaceful yaks.

Or, maybe this.

This was my favorite ride as a teen at the Jersey Shore. At night, all lit up, it was truly spectacular. Even then, however, I knew people didn’t ski or stay at ski resorts in the Himalayas. The mountains had a far more serious purpose: mountaineering. The highest peaks in the world are there, and the greatest challenges. With those challenges, comes defeat — and the price is your life. Mt Everest is one of the world’s highest graveyards. When climbers die there, their bodies remain, as it is far too risky for others to retrieve them and bring them down. If they can be reached, they might be buried under a cairn. If not, they are slowly freeze-dried and remain in the position they kept at death, the bright colors of their clothing calling them to attention when they aren’t covered by the snow.

Morbidity aside, if you’re writing about mountaineers, and want to throw some HImalayan placenames around, here are some ideas.

Himalayan Mountaineering

Alpha Rajma

Tsang Tsang Crags

Suj Jomol

Changpaghari

Rajasum

Amakanslu

Devmuchuli Scarp

Mangtirche Ridge

Arwapulam Pass

Lhatmandh

Dangtirche

Anabutse

Gurlau Pinnacle

Mukujungtok

Ama Bain

Mohan Chandra

Mana Nan Peak

Jomol Cham

Chambakari Base Camp

Nuptmand

Sujtang Peak

Pradu Peak

Thallongchen Valley

Lamp Namcha Cliffs

Kula Gya

Saif Nande Gorge

Balakhat

Thal Noj

Kalbutsebhu Massif

Deviguch Plateau

Amajangpang

Gyalatang

Amalung

Thontok Basin

Dhaula Thark

Shiwa

Mukhangila Fall

Rajmalong Icefield

Andaragi Ridge

Kathpar

Bai Kardha

Tara Gurla

Gyalaam Monastery

Pradbuang Glacier

Chomo Thark

Bidhse Snowfield

Ganeshu Wall

Labuche Lan

 

Interview with Jaap Boekestein


Transformed,
an anthology of erotic shapeshifting stories, is soon to be published by Pen and Kink Press. Here’s a short interview with Jaap Boekestein, author of the short story Wolf Chest. In my naivete, I thought it was about a werewolf with a buff chest, a six-pack perhaps, but it was something far different… a werewolf who patronizes a leather-clad dominatrix.

If you treat a man like a dog, you can bring out the wolf.
If so, you better have a safe place to hide.
A very safe place.

“Wolf Chest” by Jaap Boekestein

Q: Wolf Chest portrays a consensual BDSM relationship where one of the partners is a monster. Did you intend it to be read also as an allegory of real-life human relationships?
A: Human relationships come in all shapes and formats and we live in a day and age where in some parts of the world it possible to experience that variety. In my opinion every relationship should be consensual. If not, you are dealing with abuse. Although I didn’t write Wolf Chest with this specific idea in mind, it is an ingrained part of my outlook on life, so it certainly there in the story. The scary part for some people might be that a character is in a relationship with a violent, potential lethal partner. I tried to show this somehow can be something beautiful. Plus being exciting and pretty damned hot. ;-)
Q: Why did you choose a werewolf for this story, and, not, say, a vampire?
A: I have explored bdsm-erotica with several vampire stories already but I feel vampire erotica has — please forgive me the pun — a different taste then werewolf erotica. With vampires there is power play, seduction. The human can talk with the vampire and try to influence the outcome. A bit like a Dominant and a submissive. Now the werewolf, that is — I keep making puns, I just ignore the rolling of eyes — a different kind of animal. Far more primal. You can’t argue with a werewolf, you can’t seduce it, you can’t be perky and fresh with a werewolf and expect to survive. There is raw violence involved, pure id and no ratio at all. That’s very different from the vampire. As I writer I wanted to see where that took me and I had some great time writing it.
Q:  How did the seeds of this story come about?
A: It all started with the image of an iron maiden, not the band but the torture device. I wanted someone to hide voluntarily in one. Maybe minus the bloody spikes. So why would someone hide in one? To be safe from danger. Okay, what danger? Here I somehow made the connection with the wonderful classic horror movie In Company of Wolves based on the work of the late, great Angela Carter. Wolves are dangerous, and they have paws, so they can’t open an iron maiden. Uhuh. Someone hides in an iron chest from a wolf, a werewolf maybe. That’s a start, but not really a story… From there the idea developed why someone had to hide, which made the story work. Fair to say, the female character is based on some really sweet, sadistic lady friends I know.
In the Company of Wolves

Behind-the-scenes still from the 1984 film In the Company of Wolves. The German Shepherds have been trained to stand in for decadent nobles at a feast when a curse transforms them into wolves.

Q: One thing I liked about the piece was its rapid rat-a-tat pace. Where did the inspiration for this style come from?
A: There is this wolf. A fucking big wolf. You don’t have time to think. Act, or die. ‘Cause, when you start to ponder, to second guess, to think that you can take your time and work something out. When you look back to make sure that — You’re dead. Killed by the wolf.… Which style you use, support what you are showing to the reader. In this story your heart beats a thousand times per minute, your brain is fueled by adrenaline. I wanted a style that reflected that.
Q: Writing is always a test of endurance. How many versions did you go through with this piece before you found “the one?”
A: Ouch, now my dirty little secret comes out… I only do one main draft, let it rest for a few weeks and weed out little mistakes and sentences that don’t work. Plus I Iook at the remarks of the beta readers. I seldom do big redrafts. I’m pretty lazy and I write for fun. Or maybe I’m just cocky (I can use that word again, can’t I?) and believe the things I write are good enough. For me writing is more about drinking cappuccinos in my fave coffee house, eating cake, flirting with the waitresses and writing outlandish horror and erotica surrounded by hipsters and housewives. I know, I know! I ought to suffer and wrestle with writer’s block and deadlines, but that’s not my brand of masochism.
Q: Do your writing plans include any more monsters or supernatural elements? Any longer pieces or novels in the works?
A: One day I want to try to do a bdsm zombie story, but that will be a pretty big challenge. I want my zombies to be old school, so nothing conscious, which immediately clashes with the whole consensual thing. I haven’t worked that one out yet, but who knows, one day. The only thing I know it will be very different from either the vampire and werewolf stories…

At the moment I’m working on a novel or novella which is a cross between space opera, super hero and a French Maid fetish erotica (very) tongue in cheek, very innocent). An anthology had the theme ‘Maid’ (like in a French maid) but they didn’t want full out erotica. So I combined a few genres and got this really fun, weird story which turned out to be a first chapter of something longer. I’ve a great time writing it, but it sure is strange stuff. I’ve done a few bizarre horror stories with erotic elements. Some have been published, others are under consideration. And I also love to do supernatural erotica, which is a different genre. Well, I read somewhere about an anthology wanting ghost erotica, and that sounds intriguing.

Q: Here’s a fun question. At what age did you write the first complete story you were proud enough of to show it to another?
A:  Ha ha, lemme see. My first publication was in 1989. By then I had been writing for a while, but I think I submitted a couple of stories to a story competition in 1987. That was the first time anyone laid eyes on my work. Mind you, this was all in Dutch. I started writing stories in English for real in 2015. I seem to have missed all the anxiety most writers feel about their work. For me it’s important that I had fun writing it, if people like it, or not. Of course it feels great when a story or novel gets published and people respond to it, but for me that’s just something accidental. I write because I love to write. I don’t care about fame, riches or power. Nice to have, but if I really wanted those, I would definitely have chosen a more promising field.
Q: Do you belong to any writer’s workshops or online author’s forums?
A:  I did a few workshops when I started writing and I learned a lot. I can recommend it to anyone! For the last twenty years I haven’t participated in anything like that. Of course there are still things to learn, but my motivation for writing differs from most writers. For me it’s not a competition or a race. I write for fun. I love to toy with the reader (horror and erotica are such great genres for that), but I really, really, really don’t care if ten people read my work, or a million. I see plenty of writers fill Facebook with their writing woes and I always wonder why they write. Most of the time they sound awfully frustrated, angry or sad.
Q: Thank you again for your time in answering these questions.
A: Thank you for the interview. I hope you enjoy the story. And I hope you have a wolf chest yourself. You might need one.
Jaap Boekestein (b. 1968) is an award winning Dutch writer of science fiction, fantasy, horror, thrillers and whatever else takes his fancy. Five novels and almost three hundred of his stories have been published. His has made his living as a bouncer, working for a detective agency and as editor. He currently works for the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security.Website and social media:

http://jaapboekestein.com/

https://www.amazon.com/author/jaapboekestein.com

Triskaidekaphilia 3: Transformed

Nothing is quite so deliciously freeing as caving to your instincts. For centuries, shapeshifters have personified our impulse to bow to our animalistic nature. From lycans to skin-walkers and everything in between, shapeshifters give us a chance to connect with our inner-selves and celebrate our intriguing differences, our passions, and ultimately our humanity through their necessity of striking a balance between their human selves and supernatural selves.

About the Editor: Charlie Watson is a freelance editor ready to make her mark on the Edmonton writing community. Through her work with various writing and editing groups around YEG who deal exclusively with first time authors, Charlie is devoted to ensuring that fledgling authors have a wonderful experience publishing for the first time.

About the Series: Triskaidekaphilia is the love of the number thirteen. It’s also the name of our anthology series which explores the more shadowy corners of romance and erotica. There will be 13 volumes in total, each of which will be released on a Friday the 13th.

Links

Home page:  http://www.penandkinkpub.com/home/transformed-cover-table-of-contents-reveal/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38262542-transformed

Amazon.com — https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07C67DTGV

Cigarette

burning cigarette pressed into arm

“Why are ugly tattoos lauded, and self-harm not?” she thought.

2018 Reading Challenge Update

It’s the midpoint of the year already, and half the books on the list are finished and rated. I’ve gotta say 2018 had some tough ones that stretched my reading comprehension and attention span, not to mention free time. Three were worth it, one was not (Twilight) and I have the feeling it’ll be more of the same for the next six months. (Of course, I’ve been reading other books in between these.)

1.   Get on with it already: A book that’s been on your TBR (to be read) list for over a year.
Hermetech, by Storm Constantine
WORKING ON

2.   Freebies: A book you (legally) obtained without paying for.
The One Gold Slave,
by Christian Kennedy (A giveaway from the author)


3.   Setting sail: A book taking place mostly or all on water.
City of Fortune, by Roger Crowley (a history of Venice)

4.   I remember that!: A book about a historical event that took place in your lifetime.
Where Wizards Stay Up Late, by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon (about the creation of the Internet)

5.   My hometown: A book by a local author.
Reamde, by Neal Stephenson

8.   Bits and pieces: An anthology (poetry, short stories, whatever).
Undead Worlds, A Reanimated Writers Anthology (Zombie stories)

24.   War is hell: A book about war, on the lines or the homefront, fiction or nonfiction.
A Delicate Truth,
by John Le Carr

34.   Who was that, again?: A book about a person you know little about.
The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory

29.   Keep up with the Joneses: A book by someone everyone else seems to have read but you have not.
Twilight, by Stephanie Myers

38.   Coming to a theater near you: A book made into a major motion picture.
Albert Nobbs, by George Moore

48. The butler might have done it: A mystery.
Antiques Swap, by Barbara Allen

49. Pixies and Dryads and Elves, oh my!: A high fantasy.
The Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison. That’s as High Fantasy as it gets.

Where Wizards Stay Up Late [Reading Challenge 2018]

Where Wizards Stay Up Late

by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
Simon and Schuster, 1996

[Challenge # 4: A book about a historical event that took place in your lifetime.]

Of all the books I’ve read so far this year, Where Wizards Stay up Late, a history of the development of the Internet, was the toughest to read. Not unpleasant like Twilight was, just very dense and sprawling. That sounds like a contradiction, but it wasn’t. The genesis came about from a congruence of computer theory, technological advances, government agencies, private sector research groups, universities, and programmers. The book tried to cover everything, and to its credit, it did. But in covering everything, there was lack of a common narrative thread. It was really more like a historical monograph than a work of popular fiction. This isn’t to say I didn’t like it; I did. But if I didn’t have a background in computer networking I would have given up on it very quickly. In other words, if I hadn’t been a nerd to begin with.

For more mainstream readers, the authors were careful to give real-world analogies for the concepts, such as how digital information – bits and bytes, zeroes and ones –”packaged” in a TCP/IP cargo container and sent off to its destination. Some of these analogies I remember from school. They worked then, and they still work, even though 22 years have passed since the book’s publication.  I would have liked to see a sample of the source code, and though it wouldn’t have told me anything because I’m not a coder, it would have helped me understand the complexity. The way coding was presented in the book was as a kind of magic, deliberately, going by the book’s title.

Though I did wind up feeling edified at the end, I have to say I didn’t exactly look forward to reading it each day. I could only digest it a half hour at a time. I had the feeling the authors were squeezing in every little thing they researched and didn’t want to waste a bit of it. To my mind the book would have been readable if it were narrower in focus, like concentrating on the MIT/Boston crowd of developers, or the Pentagon/ARPA one, or the UCLA one. It was hard to keep all the managers, programmers, and debuggers straight. There were a lot of acronyms as well, not only the protocols but also names of businesses and college campuses. This also made the reading best in small doses. A glossary would have helped.

The book ended in 1994 and was published in 1996, a time when the Internet was shiny and new, so new that mass-market services like AOL and Compuserve (remember them?) weren’t even mentioned. Neither were newsgroups, chats, or BBS forums. I’m guessed all that was outside the scope. The book’s final chapters were very innocent in how they presented the benefits of online connection. I remember that time in the mid-1990s, and indeed, it was very Utopian. But from a viewpoint of today, 2018, I can’t help feeling the technology has escaped from us somehow, to go on its own lurching, crunching rampage like a Frankenstein’s monster escaped from the lab.

And some of this, I found from reading, actually came from the personalities of the people who worked on it. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, computer science WAS a freewheeling, eccentric culture, valuing open communication and share of ideas, and casual approach to the exchange of those ideas. Which led, inevitably, to Flame Wars (remember those?) and Open Source. And actually a few times in the Internet’s history things could have developed more differently. For example, at one point AT&T might have purchased the proprietary code and technology. Or it might have never have been commercialized, which happened in 1991. It could have remained something only found on college campuses and large business.

I can’t rate the book too highly, because it was, as I’ve explained, too sprawling. But by god did it make me think.

 

The Dig

A few brushstrokes brought the skull to light. She dribbled some water on it to remove the caked clay.

Homo denisova… the first intact cranium.

Then she gasped, crabwalking back. Where the water had touched bone, skin and hair were growing.


I write this flashfic in under five minutes. I’m more than a little proud of it.

Worldbuilding Wednesday 7/4/18: Alternate Americas

Flags of an American that might have been, somewhere, sometime.

Because it’s the Fourth of July, my mind turns to other versions of the United States of America. Perhaps, if some butterfly was crushed on the dirt paths of time, this country would be the United Provinces of America. Or still part of Britain and called the United Colonies. Maybe Amerigo Vespucci’s name was never attached to the New World at all, so the name of this country turned out to be something else.

The United States of…

… Omerica

… Aglenica

… Iaflanica

… Anthetica

… Adhamica

… Ataneuda

… Onarema

… Ularica

… Asycia

…Otorhymbica

… Acryana

… Amerhynica

… Avautica

… Umerelan

… Amydhica

… Oxalica

… Amerysha

… Umerica

… Imerica

… Ydlantica

… Americash

… Semerica

… Chungerica

… Amharachu

… Netherica

… Americto

… Amathica

… Tangerica

… Imerichu

… Amerigra

Early Medicine

Early Medical Procedures were rough on everyone, except the physician
who sometimes enjoyed them.

 

(Artwork by Christopher Fisher)

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/27/18: Harry Potter Books

Harry Potter and his colon polyp

Spoof cover for a middle-aged Harry Potter adventure.

There’s no doubt the Harry Potter series of books is one of the world’s most popular fantasy epics, transcending age, nationality, and socioeconomic status. Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, which I reviewed here, features a similar series called Simon Snow as a plot element, Simon Snow being a boy wizard at an English boarding school for magic. Similar characters and settings abound on Wattpad and similar sites. Even porn writers got into the act when the Harry Potter series was fresh — one memorably titled character, Harriet Hotter, was a schoolgirl who was continuously being spanked for her perceived misdeeds.

Sometimes a writer needs to mention a similar childrens’ book as part of the plot or for local color. Here’s some randomly-generated ones to use.

Harry Potter Knock-offs

Charley Potkeen and the Route of Seamanship

Henry Potrich and the Hourglass of Sorcery

Harry Potkit and the Mirror of Death

Hershey Hookster and the Lame Gorgon

Harly Pitter and the Basilisk of Breakberry

Henry Patter and the Ancient Satyr

Helmsley Potcan and the Gypsy of Greyadder

Harley Cardster and the Unmentionable Sea Serpent

Harry Potkins and the Elves of Greenriver

Harquin Pastor and the Foul Weasel

Harold Pots and the Bald Cat

Henry Potovich and the Trickster Toad

Maxie Pointer and the Brooch of Illumination

Harlan Spotter and the Cobbler Of Coomspell

Harby Popper and the Paintbox of Plentitude

Horace Pacer and the Honey-tongued Harpy

Hardy Hornpiper and the Many-eyed Wyvern

Harry Poster and the Blacksmith of Plumraven

Ossie Whistler and the Minstrel’s Flame

Harrie Potsy and the Goblin’s Keep

Hensley Poker and the Unlucky Chameleon

Fangirl [Review]


Fangirl

by Rainbow Rowell
St. Martin’s Press, 2013

I had high hopes for Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl when I bought it, but because of disappointments with other YA books, I tempered my expectations. But it turns out I didn’t need to. I enjoyed Fangirl every bit as much as I’d hoped I would, and then some.

Fangirl is the story of a young woman’s first year away at college as she stretches her wings and becomes more of an individual away from her home, family, and twin sister/best friend. It’s also the story of how she develops into a writer, which is cool because it’s not a common topic for a YA novel. Cather (her twin sister is named Wren, Cather-wren, get it?) is a long-time fan of the fictional British YA series Simon Snow, written by one Gemma T. Leslie. Simon Snow is a Harry Potter clone, both series featuring orphaned boy wizards attending magical boarding schools. Cather has risen through fanfic ranks to become one of the best and most prolific writers, and it’s clear she uses her writing to deal with her trauma – a bipolar father, a mother who walked out on her children. Cather has used it as a coping mechanism for so long that when she takes a “real” writing class given by a well-regarded novelist she freaks out:

“… I don’t want to write my own fiction,” Cath said, as emphatically as she could. “I don’t want to write my own characters or my own worlds—I don’t care about them.” She clenched her fists in her lap. “I care about Simon Snow. And I know he’s not mine, but that doesn’t matter to me. I’d rather pour myself into a world I love and understand than try to make something up out of nothing.”

 

Many fanfic writers could say the same thing.

Rowell’s style is quiet and deceptively simple. There are no whambams of melodrama on display, no gushes of MFA technique. I liked it; it was a relief after the hammered histrionics of Children of Blood and Bone. And Cather’s problems are quiet ones. She feels awkward at college and doesn’t know how to deal with her more mature and worldly roommate. Her twin abandons her, becoming a stereotypical party-hardy freshman, and so Cather hides in her room and first and hoards energy bars so she won’t have to socialize in the dorm cafeteria. It’s not that anxiety cripples her, she just doesn’t want to deal – she prefers her world of fiction, and to the book’s credit, this is never portrayed as abhorrent or something that she must outgrow. It was fun to read about the ways she deals with her situation and chooses, or doesn’t choose, to mature — whether it’s accepting a stranger’s invitation or examining her own motivations.

There’s a romance as well, and that too is very cute and true to life. The love interest is a real person and very different from Cather, yet that’s all right; each has valid reasons, and speaks them, for being attracted to the other. I had to laugh because Levi, the young man she eventually falls for, is the sort of character everyone encounters at least once in their lives: the eternal smiler, who is always so nice, and so polite, it is hard to know whether it means his attraction or just business as usual. Cather, naturally, is confused, seeing males in general as a species of strange, foreign animal. The two bond in a natural way when he expresses an interest in hearing her fanfic – he enjoys narration, not reading. Later, when she realizes it’s all right to show and express her affection for him, fireworks go off.

The book is set in the Midwest Neverland of Nebraska State University, as exotic to me as Orisha or Earthsea was. It had its own character in a way that the other YA contemporary I read, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which was set in an Atlanta suburb, did not.

Passages from the Simon Snow books were given at the beginning of each chapter and Cather’s own Simon Snow fanfic was sprinkled throughout. There’s even slashy fanon portrayed with Simon’s love-hate relationship with his roommate Tyrannus Basilton Grimm-Pitch, who just happens to be a vampire (as if you didn’t know that by the name.)  Rowell never gives us a complete overview of the series, so the reader has to infer the plot and characters by the hints given in the excerpts… a smart move to prevent the fictional world from taking over the book. (I found Cather’s story more interesting anyway.) If I had to make a criticism, it’s that the writing style of the actual book, the fictional book, and the fanfic of the fictional book were too similar. That Cather’s style was similar to Gemma T. Leslie’s shows her worship of the book series, but it’s also too close to Rowell’s actual one.

Although it was good Fangirl didn’t let Simon Snow overwhelm the real-life elements, it also meant the intricacies of fannish subculture barely received attention. Many fans have very active online social lives; they correspond and write stories together, swap artwork, and many times even meet in real life. Cather seemed to have none of that going on. It’s possible, I guess, that she was satisfied at having Wren, her twin sister, as her writing partner and sounding board throughout her prime writing years. (Wren makes a show of abandoning the fandom when they go off to college.) But perhaps the author was already juggling too many story elements and to add another one. A fanfic-writing girl attending college and coming of age, who lets her experiences influence her fan writing, and whose fan writing acts as a foil to real life, would be a very promising and interesting story, but Fangirl wasn’t that kind of book, nor did it set out to be.

It also offered no moralizing or conclusions, which was refreshing since the writing on the wall seemed to be “Fanfic writing is bad because it keeps you from experiencing real life.” Cather already knows her fanfic days are numbered because Gemma T. Leslie is drawing the Simon Snow series to a conclusion with the eighth and final book, and Cather wants to finish her own fanfic version of events before that. Wisely, Rowell never states if she will retire from fanfic or move on to another fandom. And though Cather declaims throughout the book that “real-life” writing is not for her, at the end of the book, as a coda, it’s revealed she wins a prize for an original short story she wrote for her school’s literary journal. So… something must have sunk in, somewhere. I like to think Cather has her cake and eats it too, seeing both kinds of writing as sides of the same coin.

All that, in sum, was what made the book interesting for me: how the fictional and passionate intersects with the real and mundane. How it can take it over at times, and sometimes transform it.

(It’s still a little odd to me that the YA I’ve liked the most were contemporaries, not SF or Fantasy, the genres which composed the majority of what I’ve read and written up to this point in my life. )


NOTE: Since publishing Fangirl, Rainbow Rowell has written and released the fanfic novel Cather Avery had been worked on in Fangirl. Like hers, it’s called Carry On and features Gemma T. Leslie’s magic school of Watford and characters Simon Snow, Baz, Agatha, and Penelope. It’s the first case ever of a professionally published fanfic based on a fanfic of a fictional book featured as a plot element in a professionally published book.

Says the author,

“The most common question I’ve been asked is whether I’m writing as Cath or as Gemma T. Leslie … The answer is, I’m writing as me.

After I finished writing Fangirl, I kept thinking about Simon and Baz and the World of Mages … I wanted to write more about them, but I didn’t want to write the full series GTL-style. And I also didn’t want to write through Cath’s hands and brain.

I wanted to explore what I would do with this world and these characters.

So, even though I’m writing a book that was inspired by fictional fanfiction of a fictional series …

… I think what I’m writing now is canon.”

 

A sequel to Carry On, Wayward Son, has recently been announced.