Jun 18

Azathoth

Azathoth, by Ian Miller

British artist Ian Miller’s version of Azathoth, from the Lovecraft Mythos.
Miller is known more for his Tolkien illustrations, but this one is very nice
and brings to mind 1950s SF illustrator Virgil Findlay’s work.

 

… that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity—the boundless daemon sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time and space amidst the muffled, maddening beating of vile drums and the thin monotonous whine of accursed flutes.

       H.P. Lovecraft

Jun 13

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/13/18: Let’s Talk About Christopher

Christopher Marlowe, who was a dish.

 

Christopher is one of those names it’s easier to find modern times than in in the past. There’s Christopher Columbus of course, but since his fall from American grace over racism and slavery concerns, I don’t feel too comfortable giving him publicity, so Christopher Marlowe, whose picture is here, will be my go-to man for historical Christopher-ness. Some scholars think he was the one who actually wrote the plays of William Shakespeare. I don’t know about that, but he is certainly more attractive than Shakespeare with his pointy beard and balding dome.

There’s also Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral and many other buildings in early Modern Age  London, who cuts an impressive figure in his curly black wig.

Moden Christophers are easier to find. There’s A. A. Milne’s Christopher Robin, Christopher Plummer, and Christopher Lee, for starters. The slacker variant of Topher has its namesakes, like actor Topher Grace. Kris and Krystof are also popular, as in the musician and Princess Anna’s would-be boyfriend in Frozen.

The origin of the name dates from early Christianity. Christos means Christ in Greek; phero, to bear or to carry. St. Christopher supposedly carried the Christ child across a river, earning him reverence of travelers. Figuratively, to Christians the name can also mean to carry Christ in one’s heart. It’s related closely to Christian, whose meaning is obvious.

But what makes Christopher such a nifty name is its mellifluousness and combination of syllables both hard and soft. It rolls nicely off the tongue, and is able to be shortened to one syllable for more casual conversation. It’s easy to say and appeals to the ear. In addition, it’s androgynous, and pairs nicely with one syllable surnames, or two syllable ones.

Here’s some fantasy variants on Christopher.

Variations on Christopher


Kivopher

Christellis

Christbren

Chrigamel

Crizopher

Rhonstopher

Christus

Chavenger

Christez

Christun

Chrizerny

Minstopher

Falstopher

Sharstezer

Imsopher

Elsgopher

Clestopher

Cristello

Wynstopher

Christede

Christdag

Christulus

Murstopher

Christerys

Christalfen

Maxopher

Damstopher

Chiringane

Chithumber

Izopher

Jun 11

Twilight [Reading Challenge 2018]

Twilight

by Stephenie Meyer
Little, Brown, and Company, 2005

 

[Challenge # 29: A book by someone everyone else seems to have read but you have not. ]

Well, well. What to say about Stephenie Myer’s YA vampire romance Twilight that hasn’t been said before? This book was bad. Execrably, horrifyingly, stultifyingly, bad. It was so dull I couldn’t even fall asleep by it; it was like an annoying bedmate droning on and on into my ear. When I tried to read Fifty Shades of Gray I had to stop for the same reason. Now I can see E. L. James had perfected Myer’s style to a T.

The book failed in suspense, pacing, tension, conflict, and plot logic. Those are big failures off the bat. I began dog-earing pages every time I found a new failure, and had I continued to the end, every damn page would have been dog-eared multiple times, folded over and over into origami.

The character of 17-year-old Bella Swan, the high school girl who narrates the book, is dull as dishwater. Never mind that contrived name, in no way, shape, or form is she a teenage girl. Her observations and narration are those of a priggish 30-something woman who has been dropped into the story to drift through it in weary ennui. She’s analytical, detached, and passively-aggressively contemptuous of her surroundings, especially her peers, who bore her, and her parents, who she refers to by their first names for no reason given by the author. Also for no reason she feels compelled to take care of them even though they are two healthy, normally functioning adults, and it was actually unintentionally humorous how they ignored her and mouthed platitudes when she makes her angst known to them. I guess mom and dad saw, as the reader isn’t supposed to, how dull Bella is. Seriously, the girl had no passion for anything.

I think what happened here was Myer wanted to publish the book using omniscient POV, but was advised not to. So she chose Bella as her viewpoint character. But writing successfully in first person involves actually becoming the character, having them narrate the things that are important to them through their own filters, and Myers couldn’t or wouldn’t pull it off. So what should be Bella-the-teen-girl-narrator is actually Myers-the-omniscient-writer who notes every little nod, wink, and detail, even when, logically, Bella shouldn’t, because she’s a teenage girl and would be filtering through a teen’s rather limited life experience. In fact, I actually read resentment into Bella’s depiction of high school life and her interactions with her parents, as if the author would just rather have not dealt with it, but had to write something, because this was a book about a teenage love story set partly in a high school. That it was so tedious perhaps expressed the author’s own prejudices. Clearly she didn’t think much of high school and saw it herself as boring. But then, why bore the reader with it?

The only times the book perks up is when Bella interacts with Edward Cullen, the immortal teen vampire, and his vampire family, who were very influenced by Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles antiheroes with their endless wealth and nomadic lifestyle. Other critics have pointed out how codependent Bella is, and how creepy and controlling Edward is, but even forgiving this—because it’s fiction—the story still wasn’t the sort of thing I would have bought into as either a teen or an adult. The theme of temptation and restraint didn’t resonate because we never see the vampires acting like, well, vampires, so the threat of Edward sucking Bella dry didn’t carry a lot of weight. Even when the two meet a stray vampire who intends to do just that the story is weightless. Bella doesn’t even evince any fear of him until a few pages have passed… she’s too busy describing everyone else’s speeches and reactions.

So, even though I began the book with an open mind, I couldn’t vicariously enjoy the experience of being a lovesick teenage girl with a crush on a vampire, because the character felt so false.

A few of the things the book was maligned for I actually liked. The concept of having vampires who glittered in the sunlight was cool, as was a baseball game they play in a thunderstorm, where the thunder hides the supersonic strikes of the bat. These bits were playful and fun, what the majority of the book should have been. Fun was evident in the early chapters, too, when Edward was being cryptic and infuriating in his attraction, and Bella rips him a new one over his mixed signals. I guess didn’t expect her to be so feisty. She surprised me again near the end of the book, where she notes the inequality in their relationship and asks him to make her a vampire so they can be on a more equal footing. But between these two parts, the dialogue was repetitive and didn’t serve to move the story along. Bella’s much-maligned clumsiness was repetitive too, a contrivance by the author to give her some relatable quirk. I was actually wondering if she had some neurological disease by the middle of the book.

The sheer repetitiveness was, in fact, the story’s biggest flaw after Bella herself. The reader is told endlessly what Bella is cooking or eating, what she plans to cook or eat, and what cars the other kids at her school are driving; we are told how fast they drive those cars and how it frightens her, how they carpool, how they fasten their seatbelts, etc., etc. The writing bits that should have been special, like the spooky atmosphere of the temperate rain forest, get lost in all this mundania. Even though Myers is not a good writer there were a few evocative passages of description, like a cookout on a chilly Pacific beach, that had promise, and it was a shame the dreck wasn’t pruned to let them shine.

Toward the last quarter of the book I gave up and started to skim, because the plot got too preposterous. Some random vampire decides he must have Bella for a snack, despite hundreds of easier, and more interesting, girls to feast from? And Bella’s hysterically afraid super-powered Edward is in danger from said vampire, despite having his super-powered family as backup? Then Bella runs away to give up her life to save her mom, despite being detached from said mom for the majority of the book? You don’t say!  And of course the reader never gets to see the flights, the flights, or any of this high drama, because Bella is either cooped up in a cheap hotel room or unconscious.

I could go on, but there’s no point, and I don’t want to refer back to the dog-eared pages and torment myself afresh.

Instead, this book is going to be doused with lighter fluid and thrown in the firepit.

 

Jun 11

Visual Creativity

The heart of an artist.

 

(Heartbrush, by Black 3G Raven)

 

 

Jun 08

Transformed Anthology

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.

 

 

My M/M erotic romance story “Tender Meat” under my other writing name of Trece Angulo is appearing in this new anthology from Pen and Kink Publishing.

You can pre-order it here on Amazon.com.

“Tender Meat” is the tale of a knight, and a dragon… but neither the knight or the shape-shifting dragon are exactly what they seem:

 

Xephron opened his folio again. He did in fact draw his own kind, but in a fantastic way and not as the living, breathing creatures they really were. He wondered if this fool would know the difference.

When he turned back the knight had settled into the basin. The Wyrm Ironblood had indeed hurt him sore, the scar very pink, almost red, against the creamy pallor of his torso. Xephron had seen naked villagers before, of course, when they were washing in the stream or urinating. But the knight was of different stock from them. His health and vigor gave him the appearance of having a deep, kindling glow within.

“Why do you stare so, young Zef?” Argaive said with some humor. The servant had left him a knotted rag and he took it up to wash himself.

“I had no idea you knights were so … uninhibited.”

“Uninhibited? As in what?” Argaive laughed. “We are a celibate
order.”

“A pity,” Xephron murmured.

“With women.” With unexpected strength he grabbed Xephron’s arm, drawing him down to the level of the basin, his earnest, bearded face but a hand’s length from Xephron’s. “The Holy Lore says nothing against the joys of masculine sex.”

 

Jun 06

Worldbuilding Wednesday 6/6/18: Cooking with Magic

From left to right: Jesrick’s Magical Cheese Tower;  cupcake decorated with Perula’s Starry Sugar,
and roast unicorn meat served at the
Letchlake Solstice Festival.

 

Inspired by a thread on the useful AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler forums.

Magic can be used for a lot of things, but rarely in a story is it mentioned for cooking… and Medieval cooking often sorely needed it. Here are some randomly-generated food-related items to have fun with.

Food-related Magic Items


Nose of the Chef: This small clay model of a human schnozz is able to sniff food odors and tell the wielder exactly what is cooking. Silver noses can also list the ingredients of the dish, and gold ones, both that and what is needed for improvement.

Tapestry of the Whispering Beekeeper: This marvelous artifact measures 10’ x 10’ and depicts a garden in full bloom stitched in rainbow threads. It can be used to harmlessly capture a swarm of honeybees, no matter how big, by throwing it over the cloud.

Perula’s Starry Sugar: Useful to bakers, this enchanted sugar will twinkle like stars when it is sprinkled on top of a dessert item.

Illeshiva’s Diabolic Biscuits: These biscuits taste so good the eater is compelled to eat more than one, but for every one eaten, their appetite only increases.

Wand of Instant Sanitizing: Cleans and disinfects any kitchen item it is pointed at.

Snacktime Shoe: Only one of these shoes is ever found. When worn it conforms to the shoe on the wearer’s other foot. When the heel is stamped firmly on the ground, an apple and an energy bar appear in the wearer’s hand. The quick snack restores +1 hit points when eaten and gives a temporary +1 to Constituition for up to an hour afterward.

Jesrick’s Magical Cheese Tower: Creates an ornate, picturesque tower out of a like amount of cheese. Sure to be a hit at parties.

Knife of Pastry Folding: When wielded by a pastry chef, this knife quickly folds dough for strudels, croissants, phyllo rolls, etc. When wielded as a weapon, it rolls the opponent’s clothing up while they are wearing it, causing them to trip over their own pants, or get tangled up in their tunics.

Invisible Heat: This spell creates an odorless, smokeless, invisible campfire from ordinary wood. Intended for travelers who wish to remain concealed.

Ghanelan’s Stomach of the Flea: This spell shrinks the recipient’s stomach to the size of a flea’s stomach for the duration of the spell. Useful for dieters.

Magistrate Pio’s Pie Detection: The pastry-loving Captain of the Guard of the wizard town of Whittelwoorl created this spell, which detects any kind of pie within a half-mile radius.

Letchlake’s Unicorn Oven: A priceless artifact of the town of Letchlake, this room-sized oven, which resides in the kitchen of the baker’s guild, can completely roast a gutted unicorn in just under twelve hours with all the creature’s magical properties intact. Only a dozen unicorns have been roasted over the years and the feasts memorialized in the town’s history. Because of this, elves will not trade there.

Nutcracker of Doom: Looks like an ordinary nutcracker (think of the one from the ballet) and works like one, too – for the first few uses. But after that, don’t put your finger between its jaws, or you will lose it.

Cooling Trousers of the Chef: These enchanted white pants will keep kitchen staff comfortable in even the hottest kitchen.

Iseart’s Fantastic Bacon: Bacon is a common item to eat on long journeys and country inns, and it can get tiring. But this spell makes common bacon taste truly delicious, giving a bonus to morale and strength for hours afterward.

 

Jun 04

Optics

We have our eyes on the stars.

May 30

Worldbuilding Wednesday 5/30/18: Fantasy Villains

A good villain needs a good name.

 

When writing fantasy, which is a genre that must be larger than life, your villains should be larger than life, too… and that means an evocative name, something to let the reader know they are, indeed, the villain, in whatever made-up language or naming system you’re using. Let’s look at a few.

In the Harry Potter series, Harry’s peer nemesis is named Draco Malfoy (All Latin derivatives: Draco = dragon, Mal = bad, Foy = via, or journey/travel/way) while his sister is Narcissa (read: Narcissism, from the Greek legend of a youth who fell in love with his reflection in a pool.) The word choices give us hints to their characters and roles in the series. And of course their aunt is named Bellatrix LeStrange, with its hints of both dominatrix and stranger. All are of the house of Slytherin, whose symbol is a slithering snake, and whose ethos of stealth, double-dealings, and espionage contrasts with Gryffindor’s robust, honest heroism.

J.R.R.Tolkien could have called Sauron the Darklord something else, but the Saur- nicely brings to mind ferocious tyrannosaurs, as well as sore.

Ba’alzamon of The Wheel of Time series is an unsubtle mashup of demons Ba’al, Amon, and Beelzebub.

The name of Queen Ravenna in the recent Snow White films lets us know this female villain is both ravenous for power and as spiritually dark as a raven is black.

Sometimes names for evil characters just sound bad. Consider Jorg Ancrath, Hugo Drax, Gargamel, Cthulhu, and Yyrkoon.

Here’s a few free names to use or inspire.

Villains


MALE

Senator Zuthrum Epdark

Scaralax

The Marquise of Bronzegaunt

Count Bindwither

Mzarane Satskrit

Shinker Grayscar

Izund Kilshiv

Jopaz Burnlick

Gleriax Ravenpoint the Bloodkissed

Count Perviage Baleform

Killamprey

Duke Oetri Fennaurcht

The Wizard Whitewhisper

Jarins von Strabbark

Emporer Terius Blackblaes

Barch Fexwood

Mournmist the Assassin

FEMALE

Yna Umbrex

Lady Pendothy Penbitter

Ludzmira Crydarken

Princess Nephothry

Lady Veska of North Grimstark

Guild Mistress Symitra Thraunshift

Scorla the Sorceress

Aenlie the Hag

Helitta Darkjaw

Silona Redworm, the Witch of Legankills

Lazullanjre

Lady Mareslaughter

Gineffarvra Scabshard

Princess Demiseena Traskaith

Vintzeda di’ Micairre

Jarinza Darksparrow

Mitchra Jeiki Hartvenom

May 29

Children of Blood and Bone [Review]

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiChildren of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adepemi
Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015

Tomi Adeyemi’s West African fantasy Children of Blood and Bone is one of the most talked-about YA releases of 2018, scoring the author a seven figure movie deal. Reviews have been gushing, but is it worth all the hype and hopes cast upon it? Well, yes and no.

The fantasy is set in a small island kingdom reminiscent of West Africa. There’s a pantheon of gods who gifted the dark-skinned, white-haired Maji people control over the elements — death and life, health and disease, fire, air, metal, etc. with the stipulation that the powers were to be used for the good of all. But sometime in the past the ruling Maji misused their powers, and so rulership passed on to another people, the copper-skinned Koridan. The Maji continued to serve the general population, but in an uneasy standoff with the ruling house. Twelve years prior to the story’s beginning the Koridan King Saran performed a pogrom on the Maji and their priests and attempted to destroy the sacred artifacts that linked them with their gods. All their magic disappeared, and unless the artifacts are gathered back together and a ceremony performed in, like, two weeks, the magic will be gone for good. It’s a clunky backstory and more than a little graceless, which, to be frank, dulled my appetite for reading further (though I did.)

In the first chapter the heroine of the story, Zélie, is introduced, the daughter of a poor fisherman and a Maji mother known as a Reaper – one with the power of death and the ability to control souls. Initially, Zélie was a cliché – the simmering rebel whose propensity for acting before she thinks (including speaking against injustices) lands her in trouble, though it’s clear the writer wants us to laud her for it, not think of it as a personal flaw like her family does. It’s really a way to move the story along, a McGuffin, if you will. Her family is being taxed to death because King Saran wants to bankrupt and destroy the remaining de-magicked Maji. He’s not doing this arbitrarily because he’s the bad guy; his first family was killed by Maji during an attempt to reconcile the two peoples, and he decides that magic corrupts societies and must be destroyed. It’s a valid point given how the Maji met their downfall, and adds to his shading as a villain. He’s probably the most-rounded character in the book.

When Zélie, whose mother was horrifically killed in Saran’s purge, meets Princess Amari, Saran’s teenage daughter, the plot begins. Amari read like a character added later in the writing process by the author. She’s not really needed for plot to work, but in the second half of the book, she adds depth. Again, she starts out as a cliché – the princess who doesn’t want to be a princess because of the twittering tedium of court life and her expected role to play in it. When Saran kills her favorite Maji handmaiden, Amari impulsively steals one of the artifacts necessary for the Maji ceremony and runs away, a plot turn that, to me at least, seemed shoehorned in and might have been handled better. Eventually she, Zélie, and Zélie’s brother Tzain are drawn into the quest to find the other artifacts, with Amari’s older brother, Crown Prince Inan, pursuing them on the orders of the king.

The story is told in first person present. The POV hops between Zélie, Inan, and Amari, and I do mean hop; most of the chapters are short, giving a choppy, slightly seasick effect. They were labeled by each character’s name, so I wasn’t confused. But they were not very distinctive from each other, either, and they all sounded like mouthpieces for the author. A sense of verisimilitude was missing; I didn’t feel any of these three could exist outside of the book. Admittedly first person present is not my favorite voice to read. I never who the narrator is supposed to be telling the damn story to, for one thing. The technique worked well in Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, because Simon was telling it in stream-of-consciousness, organizing his life as he experiences it into a narrative to try to make sense of it. But in Children, as well as in Red Queen and Wither, which I’ve also read, the author seems to be using it for sweekability: hooking the reader with enough immediacy to thumb past page after virtual page on a Kindle or cell phone app, even if they’re on a bouncing bus or in a noisy classroom. This sweekable voice isn’t structured like an oral narrative that requires introspection. It’s all sharp jolts and action, and past the first three chapters I got very tired of the characters’ constant listing of their anxious tics: hands gripping staffs, teeth grinding, stomachs churning, etc. as if the reader can’t guess how they feel from the dangers of the plot they’re subjected to. It’s a common mistake for new writers, to be fair.

The first half of the book was run of the mill for a YA fantasy, or any fantasy really, only the novelty of the African-based setting making things interesting. Some parts, like the lengthy detour the quartet make to the holy city where the Maji priests once lived, might have been cut. The religion made sense as being Voudoon-based, not one with a hierarchical clergy and stiff rules about this and that, which seems more Western in nature. There’s a part there with a cut rope bridge aiding the characters’ escape, and Prince Inan ordering the bridge rebuilt to pursue them… ignoring the issue of how to get to their other side of the canyon to do that, if there’s no bridge.

But the story did pick up significantly in the middle, when Zélie discovers a hidden camp of diviners in the mountains whose magical powers are accidently activated by the artifacts. Though the encounter is cliché (the old trope where two groups who are really on the same side don’t know it because they can’t/won’t communicate properly) the ensuing tribal festival and the budding romance between the Prince Inan and Zélie make it magical. Then the action really starts when Saran sends his troops in to get the artifacts back and the prince’s loyalties are torn. At that point, the characters really began to learn and grow, and I was keen to discover how they did it. The story is resolved in a blockbuster way after a prison break and scramble to a secret island that only appears at the summer solstice where the magic ceremony must be performed.

So, 4 stars for the end, 2 1/2 for the beginning: I’ll round it out to three. Did I wish it was better? Yes. Will I be reading the next book? Yes.

 

May 28

The Fates’ Strange Fate

We used to be The Three Fates, until Lachesis unleashed her inner Dominatrix.

 

 

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