Monday, October 31, 2011

Magical Monday: A Very Magical Summary

Due to the magical gathering of candy with my children, I didn't prep a Magical Monday today, but I did want to offers links to the various more Halloween-inspired/supernatural-themed entries I've had going for most of October in all my various blog series in case you missed them, especially as I know I have many new people people following in the last couple of weeks: So, this entire month has been mostly been magical!

Magical Mondays #3: Poisonous Immortality: Taoist Alchemy
Magical Mondays #4: Ikiryō, Haunting by the Living
Mr. Beard's Regency Tour Day 4: Phantasmagoria, The Regency Horror Show
Magical Mondays #5: Blemmyes, the headless threat
The Age of Tranquility and Peace, Heian Japan #4: The Demon of Rashōmon
Mr. Beard's Regency Tour Day 5: The Mighty Enchantress, the Gothic Queen: Ann Radcliffe
Magical Mondays #6: Cihuateteo, The Duality of Suffering Mother Spirits
Mr. Beard's Regency Tour Day 6: Classy Bloodsuckers and the Modern Prometheus, Two Pillars of Horror Birthed in the Regency

Next Monday, I shall return with fresh material: an entry on ancient Greek love magic.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Hideous and Depraved People Pulling The Strings of the World: An interview with Occult Horror Conspiracy Author Athanasios

Today, I'm talking with Athanasios about his new occult horror conspiracy novel,  Commitment. This is the second in his Predatory Ethics series that started with Mad Gods. The entire series is a rather dark occult horror conspiracy saga (appropriate for Halloween, I suppose), a sort of Clive Barker meets Umberto Eco.


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1) Tell us about your book.

Commitment follows up where Mad Gods left off.

Adam watched Mad Gods drag his father to Hell. He now fends for himself, alone and troubled by horrific tributes from worshipers who want Hell's favour.

Melusine Rothschild, the Constant Widow and Grande Dame of the Black Nobility wants to raise him.

The Constant Widow is part of the World Elite that live by Predatory Ethics and seek to guide him in wielding the power and influence of his dark birthright.

Adam, the teenage Antichrist/AntiXos, wants none of this. Mentally fractured, and emotionally broken he watches his TV shows in one of Danvers Mental Hospital's nice padded rooms, snugly dressed in his own long sleeved, buckled, canvas jacket. He feels safe here away from a hostile, ravaging outside world.

He's horribly wrong.

2) This is the second in the series. What inspired this series?

The title itself is a play on words in that it's used as the commitment most everyone in the story puts into their beliefs and the main character's literal commitment into an insane asylum.

Predatory Ethics was originally inspired by a long held interest in religion and the battle of good vs. evil. Most of us have that to mean God vs. Satan, but it has been many different adversaries over time, and even in our own cultures and modern age we have a variety of representatives for each faction.

I've always been fascinated with interpretations of good and evil and even the many permutations. I've discovered that you can have both without the warring of the two sides Judeo-Christian theology espouses. I intend on exploring every form these polar opposites have occupied and use Predatory Ethics to illustrate it.

3) This is a pretty plot-filled little tome. Can people step into the series with this book or is reading the first book required?

They can jump into it straight away. Conspiracy has it's own momentum and unique plot points that are only enhanced if they read Mad Gods. You don't need Mad Gods, but Commitment is so much livelier and rich with the back stories I start in Mad Gods.

4) This book is focused rather tightly on the early and mid-70s. In many ways, though it gives it a definite atmosphere, it doesn't necessarily seem that the central plot required it to be set in those particular years. Why did you choose that time period?

The key character in Mad Gods was the Antichrist/AntiXos. In my research I discovered some conspiracy theories that a possible time of his birth was February, 1962. This is pretty close to my own November, 1964 so I decided to have his life parallel my own in what was going on in the world at that time. It also grounded Adam's experiences in reality and made the story that much more believable. I drew and will continue to draw upon my own recollections of news stories, television, movies and popular culture during the 1970s and as Adam grows up into the 1980s, 1990s and so on.

5) This book involves a fairly dense mythology of conspiracies and religious groups. You added your own dense layer of supernatural conspiracy top of that. What kind of research went into this and how did you decide what to keep and what to toss when considering the various competing conspiracy theories about some of the different groups you mention?

The myths mentioned came and went on whim and what felt right for me from the bewildering variety of conspiracies that are easily found all over the web. I decided to use the ones that were more cool- sounding and feeling to me. I can't give you a better explanation than the choices I made about religious groups and supernatural alliances were based on their individual depth and richness of backstory in world history and public consciousness. The Templars and Freemasons have long been rich fodder for fiction, and I've given them my own spin in that they're not only the Catholic Church's secret enforcers, but they're also affiliated with the Luciferian Church the complete opposite of their Catholic masters.

I've included the Dark and Black Nobility because a lot of fringe groups and conspiracy theorists purport them to be the ruling elite of our world and have been linked them to demons and demon worship, the premiere of said demons being Adam's true father: Satan.

The choices I've made were in direct part because, as far as I can tell all of them are interconnected whether it is that they're each other's opposites or were once affiliated. One new group I've debuted in Commitment is the Final Reich. A militant order based on the Aryan version of the Templars the Teutons.

6) This is a rather dark book filled with, to be frank, many despicable characters who are given a lot of POV focus including serial killers and demons. Indeed, some are evil in the pure sense of the word. Even Adam, the focus of the plot attention and the obvious protagonist for the overall series, though a bit easier to sympathize with given his more conventional morality in contrast to the horrific people and entities featured in much of the book, is a complicated character wounded with psychosis. Did you ever worry that the large cast of characters and the dark POVs might alienate some readers?

Yeah I did when the story came out, but I'm giving readers the benefit of the doubt that they won't turn away from a difficult situation because it's uncomfortable. I wouldn't stop being attracted to an emotionally wrenching story or dealing with unsympathetic characters. I don't consider them totally unsympathetic I think they're all VERY complex and are presented as dark figures who show why they're that way and quite a few do have redeeming qualities.

One of my favourite songs is the Rolling Stones Sympathy for the Devil because you get an idea of how this personification of evil seeks to explain that he is more than the Halloween creature we're used to.

7) You've made some interesting stylistic choices throughout. One that struck me was the use of a third person with most POVs, but first-person with Adam. Why did you decide employ POV that way?
You stated that most of Commitment is written in third person as opposed to Adam being one of the only first person characters, and I did that to show his own skewed reality. He is not only different than everybody else because of who he is but is also healing his sanity throughout the story.

8) With so much going on, I'm doubtful this story line will be wrapped up in one book. How many more books do you have planned?


Predatory Ethics is slated to keep going on until I have no more religions for Adam to deal with. He will be beset by every major religion and a few I'll be resurrecting or creating myself. I'm planning out the sequel already where the Pagans and Final Reichians will continue with their own agendas and Adam will deal with his destined place as the Eternal Consort of the Triple Goddess. Its working title so far is In Who To Trust. Adam will be looking to see who he should be trusting and how far that trust should go with everybody still wanting him to be their champion.

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Thanks, Athanasios.


You can find Mad Gods and Commitment at Amazon.

 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Mr. Beard's Regency Tour Day 6: Classy Bloodsuckers and the Modern Prometheus, Two Pillars of Horror Birthed in the Regency

Welcome to my sixth post on late Georgian/Regency England. If you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, please check out this post.

This will be my last Halloween-inspired Regency entry. Next week, we shall cover less spooky-boo material.

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In 1815, a series of previous volcano previous eruptions was followed by the eruption of Mount Tambora (one of the largest eruptions in over a 1000 years). This occurred in combination with cyclical lows in solar activity. While scientists aren't completely sure, they believe this particular convergence is responsible for the phenomena we now know as the Year Without A Summer. The overall temperatures around the globe, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, were temporarily reduced. This, in turn, lead to summer frosts, increased rain, and various other climate effects that  resulted in the summer season resembling more an extended autumn. These climate impacts had numerous negative effects including reduced crop yields from early frosts and excessive rainfall (leading to flooding) in many areas. This led to downstream economic effects. All in all, the experience wasn't pleasant for much of the world.

During the normal "summer" months of that  year, a small group of  British intellectuals were staying near Lake Geneva for a summer holiday. The unrelenting rain forced them inside for most of the summer. Absent the modern conveniences of the internet, television, radio, or even the not-so-modern conveniences such as a large, expansive library these sad vacationers, being of the literary bent, decided to see have a contests of sort to see who could create the most frightening tale. The dark, grim summer along with various other ghost stories served as inspiration (for a few of them, perhaps with the aid of a little alcohol or laudanum for some of them as well according to some sources).

Now, these weren't just any random collection of people. The primary host of this vacation gone awry was none other than Lord Bryon, intellectual bad boy of the Regency and heavy influence on the Romantic movement. While he'll get an entire post of his own next week, it's important to note that he was a man of some reputation for his scandalous behavior, his literary works, and his political contributions. In addition to Lord Bryon, the poet and radical Percy Shelley was also in attendance along with his new young wife, Mary.

The main reason the Shelleys were abroad had to do with the fact that Percy left his first wife, who was pregnant at the time, and child to run off with the then 16-year old Mary in 1814. Percy and Mary didn't marry until Percy's first wife committed suicide in 1816. Many people in their social circles were suitably scandalized, so they fled England to tour Europe. Rounding out the party was Mary's stepsister, Claire Clairmont and John William Polidori a writer and physician.

Of the stories produced during the contest, two were later expanded and have had a lasting impact on Western literature, and arguably, even the world.

Mary Shelley, of course, penned a story she later expanded into none other than Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus, which she published in 1818. Though Hollywood has since rendered Frankenstein's Monster into a pathetic easily spoofed parody, the original story relates the creation of an intelligent artificial being. Whatever one thinks of the literary merits of the book (it was not well received upon release), it is rather notable that the creation of the monster was specifically inspired  by what was then cutting-edge science rather than some type of supernatural cause. This, arguably, makes it an early example of science fiction, in addition to horror. Various stories about a scientist going "too far" with experiments and receiving a suitable, if predictable, karmic reward for trying to "play God" in a sense arguably have some descent from Frankenstein. 

Notably, there had been some discussion shortly before Mary wrote the initial version of the story of the experiments of the Italian scientist, Giovanni Aldini. Giovanni was intensely interested in experimenting with stimulating muscles with electricity. He performed a particularly high profile experiment in 1803 where he applied electrical current to a condemned criminal. Some witnesses, upon the seeing limb movements and facial expression changes due to the artificial stimulation, thought Giovanni was actually bringing the man back to life. These experiments, along with some similar experiments performed by other scientists and on animals, were well-known among the intellectual set. It's easy to see how such experiments at a time where even the educated had only a mild handle on biochemistry and the power of electricity could lead an intelligent young author to pen a story where electricity is used to animate an artificial human.

The novel, at the time, was both a horror story and a thematic exploration of the uncertainty associated with the massive philosophical upheavals associated with things like the French Revolution and the economic and life styles change wrought by the Industrial Revolution.

The other major story to come out of that summer in 1816 was The Vampyre by John William Polidori. Like Shelley, Polidori would rework and expand his story over a few years. He published the final novella 1819.

In the story, an Englishman, Aubrey, meets and travels with a mysterious aristocrat, Ruthven. After an incident in which Ruthven is apparently killed and an earlier incident where a vampire  kills a mutual acquaintence, Aubrey is surprised to see the man quite alive. Ruthven then begins to seduce Aubrey's sister. Aubrey is powerless, because of an earlier oath, to tell his sister that he saw the man already die. Eventually, on her wedding night she is found dead, drained of blood.

This tale was wildly successful both because of the existing interest in Gothic horror at the time and the fact that for many years people attributed the story to Lord Byron rather than Mr. Polidori. It would go onto to inspire countless vampire tales during the Regency and Victorian era. Eventually, it would even inspire the now more famous Dracula by Bram Stoker.  The transformation of the vampire from some pseudo-ghoul corpse walker symbol of plague that was far more prevalent in folklore to a manipulative, aristocratic creature of canny planning and frightening patience was Mr. Polidori's innovation. In a sense, the influence of Mr. Polidori's story still reverberates to this day.

That's something to keep in mind. Whenever one complains about vampires being seductive creatures rather than just ghoulish monsters, they should remember the seductive-vampire motif goes not only all the way back to Dracula but all the way back to 1819 and Mr. Polidori.

So, an influential science fiction horror story and the very definition of modern vampires representing two of the most recognized horror icons were both produced because a few bored literary types had nothing better during a rainy summer. What did you accomplish last time you were rained in?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Age of Tranquility and Peace, Heian Japan #5: The Auspicious Masters of Divination, Calendars, Yin, and Yang, the Onmyoji

I present the fifth in my series on Heian-era Japan. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, just click here for an overview of the Heian era.

As October is drawing to a close, this will be my last, for a bit, more supernatural-themed Heian entry.

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Imagine a modern country and a modern bureaucracy. Depending on your government type, you have various ministries and our departments/ministries dedicated to the various functions expected of government: education, defense, civil affairs, et cetera. Bureaucrats and government officials populate these departments and ministries trying (we'll think positively here) to do their part to keep their respective functions running smoothly so that their respectively countries will run smoothly.

Maybe somebody doesn't grow up thinking, "My goal in life is to work in the Department of Agriculture" (or maybe they do), but in the end, they get their university/academy education, take their appropriate exams, and end up a government functionary.

In a sense, the Heian-era government wasn't really all that different. Although it never really functioned as the meritocracy certain aspects of the system would suggest (and I'm definitely not saying modern governments always manage that), the Heian-era system was still basically defined by taking educated people, applying sort of testing/filtering, and placing them into positions to help run the government. So, in that sense, the government of the Heian era doesn't really seem that foreign.

Now imagine your cousin went to work for the government and told you he was going to work in the Department of Divination. Imagine he told you that his job was going to advise the president on days were lucky and what path he should take if he left the White House to avoid unlucky circumstances. Maybe, just maybe, your cousin is even going to be called out to help lay out a new governmental facility to help it avoid bad spiritual flow or exorcise a few rogue spirits.

Science, religion, and mysticism weren't as separated for the people of the Heian era as they are for many people today. Indeed, what we would consider nothing but superstition often was looked at as one of the best ways to know about the world. Although there were governmental agencies dedicated to the management of Shinto ritual and the occasional angry spirit, the curious mix of the pragmatic and the supernatural was particularly embodied by the onmyō-ryō (lit. the bureau of Yin and Yang, but often referred to as the bureau of divination). 

This governmental agency was filled with onmyōji, practitioners of the semi-mystical art of onmyōdō (lit. The way of Yin and Yang). The onmyōji are a perfect example of Japanese syncretism. They combined elements of Chinese cosmology, native Shinto beliefs, Buddhism, and even elements of Indian astrology. Now while sometimes they are treated as if they were all-purpose magicians (the ability to summon a type of servant spirit, shikigami, is and was still associated with them), these government mystics actually tended toward more specialization in their jobs. This actually makes sense, if you think about it, as the existence of entire Buddhist priesthoods and Shinto-related government departments suggests that one type of magician wasn't going to cut it for the needs of the people.

Broadly speaking, the onmyōji's main duties can be divided into determination of auspiciousness (I'll expand on this in a moment), divination, and keeping track of the calendar. Although they were sometimes called to aid with exorcisms and the like, the plentiful number of Buddhist and more-dedicated Shinto religious personnel arguably got the lion's share of that sort of work, at least judging by period fiction and diaries. Conversely, restrictions on the ability of Buddhist priests, in particular, to practice astrology and divination (for the most part) left an opening for the onmyōji to gain firm control over these aspects of court life.

The calendar aspect is particularly interesting. We take it keeping track of time for granted in the modern era, but this was a specialized skill in the Heian era. In fact, for many centuries, it was even more specialized with a particular clan, the Kamo, becoming primarily responsible for calendar maintenance. One of the most famous onmyōji of the period, Seimei Abe (Abe no Seimei, 921-1005) who trained under the premiere master of the age was supposed to be so skilled that he became responsible for the more "important" skills of divination and astrology, while the son of his master was given instead the lesser task of calendar construction and maintenance. Arguably the latter probably ended up more important in the long run for the Heian government.

Besides the practical value in maintaining a calendar, it aided with the determination of things such as auspicious days. The aristocracy were obsessed with the concept of auspiciousness. There were auspicious days, auspicious numbers, and auspicious directions along with their inverse. Having a good calendar system aided in keeping track of this sort of thing, especially when combined with astrology. In addition, a good calendar was important in helping to keep track of the huge number of festivals and ceremonial days that defined aristocratic court life. 

This auspiciousness obsession was at the basis of the popularity of onmyōji. Though straight-forward divination questions (such as finding lost objects) were part of their techniques, the more indirect ability to advise people, particularly the nobles, on the various auspicious/inauspicious aspects of their life was more their stock and trade. This could have rather permanent impacts on even city layout, as they also advised the government and aristocrats on building position, layout, direction, and the like (similar in style to feng shui) to help maximize auspiciousness.

Sometimes this obsession with such concepts could lead to strange behaviors (strange to moderns anyway) that put certain aspects of period fiction into a more understandable framework. For example, more than a few piece of period fiction have a gentleman not taking the most direct way home and running into some sort of mischief (supernatural or otherwise) because of it. This is a reflection of receiving information about inauspicious directions from an onmyōji. It's common enough in period fiction, and period diaries also reflect that this sort of extreme adherence to these beliefs definitely impacted the lives of many aristocrats.

I could fill a whole blog series on the onmyōji, so I'll just close by stressing that despite the fact that many of their methods were more magical and esoteric in style, these men were part of the respected educated bureaucratic elite and were treated with the respect that many scientists are treated today. These were not fringe mystics. At the same time, these men's abilities were considered distinct from the religious and spiritual powers associated with Buddhist priests and Shinto priests and priestesses.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

If you could speak to the dead, anyone at all, who would it be? An interview with YA paranormal suspense author Craig Hansen

Today I'm interviewing Craig Hansen about his paranormal suspense novella, SHADA

1) Tell us about your book.

SHADA is a roughly 28,500 word novella that marks the first installment in the Ember Cole series of paranormal suspense books. It's the least obviously paranormal because Ember hasn't really come into her powers at the point in which this story takes place and because SHADA isn't about Ember's powers. It's a story about her and her closest friends, in their last big outing together before life drives them their own separate ways.

It's a fun read that has received early praise from some prominent independent authors, and I'm hoping the good word-of-mouth will continue to spread as more and more readers buy it, try it, and find it enjoyable for a story of this length.

While it's less obviously a paranormal book than future installments, there are some paranormal thrills going on in SHADA. The girls decide they want to go on a camping trip sleepover together so they can hold a séance and speak to the dead. Ember has a very personal reason for wanting to do this.

And while these are girls who are between the ages of thirteen and fifteen at the time of this story, and know very little about how to hold a proper séance, they give it a good effort. The novel opens with an enticing question: If you could speak to a dead person, anyone at all, who would it be?

All four girls have their own answers for that question, but once they get out in the middle of the woods, things start to get spooky, and while I won't spoil what happens, let's just say… sometimes the dead have their own agenda.

2) What inspired you to write this book? 


When I was roughly the same age as the girls in this novel, maybe a bit younger, I actually tried a séance myself, and while the results were nothing that would interest Ghost Hunters, I did get more than I bargained for. I have a blog entry on my own blog that goes into great detail about what happened.

That's for the main theme, but there are some underlying themes for this novel. One of them is a motivating subplot for Ember that focuses on her grandmother's battle with Alzheimer's disease and dementia. It can be scary for a kid Ember's age to deal with and to understand, and it's the sort of thing that fills a person with questions. Being young, they might not always seek their answers from the right or best sources.

3) As a current resident of the fine state of Wisconsin, I'm intrigued by your choice of setting. Why did you choose Wisconsin? 


I chose it is because I lived in northwestern Wisconsin for about five years myself, as a community journalist and sports reporter.

I lived in an area where the woods and vacationland took over from the pure farmland further south. When I was living there, I liked to say that I got to live where most people save up all year to go on vacation.

That being the case, I soaked up a lot of that atmosphere, so when I needed to create a place where my novels could take place, it was a natural choice. My fictional town of Hope is a bit bigger than any of the towns near where I was; it's probably comparable to Eau Claire, which was east and south of my old neck of the Wisconsin woods. I just took the idea of a town the size of Eau Claire and set it in a slightly different geography.

I just love the sheer breadth of the woods up there, though. I often thought, as us oddball writers often do, that a person could commit a murder up there, leave the body in the middle of the deep, dense woods, and it could be years before anyone came across it and discovered it.

And of course, that sort of thinking is what leads to novel ideas, even those that's not what Shada is about.

4) Halloween is coming. A casual review of literature shows that ghosts have been a staple in fiction ever since humanity first started telling stories. Shows about guys running around with night vision goggles looking for ghosts in old houses are somewhat popular. Why do you think the ghost continues to fascinate people even in this modern technological age? 


I believe it does, and I think the popularity of Ghost Hunters and similar "paranormal reality" shows attest to that. My wife and I are looking forward ot the Ghost Hunters Live event on SyFy, which we watch every year.

Another clue is this: as I write this, my wife and I spent our date night going to see Paranormal Activity 3. We've seen all three installments together, and the movie series is just a whole bunch of spooky, ghostly fun. In fact, I understand it made over $28 million on Friday alone and could be drawing between $50-$65 million this weekend. Biggest opening ever for a horror movie and not a fang in site.

So, yeah, vampires get all the glitz and fame, but a good, haunting ghost story one that's spooky without all the over-the-top gore and such, like the Paranormal Activity series is usually pretty timeless.

How we tell ghost stories has changed, in some ways. The popularity of paranormal ghost-hunt shows make it harder to get away with full-bodied apparitions because viewers and readers are more sophisticated now and want something closer to the weird stuff they've seen on shows like that. It's more appealing when you don't go quite so over the top.

But the essence of all ghost stories is: someone's not staying dead. And that can be fun.

5) What are you two favorite characters in the book?


I'll answer this as though you asked, "Aside from Ember…" Because naturally, Ember is the most appealing character to me, or I wouldn't be building a series around her, or writing a story like SHADA to introduce readers to her before her life gets really complicated.

Within the confines of SHADA, I'd have to say one of the most fun characters to write was Willow. She's the youngest of the four girls but definitely the brainiest. A bit of an outcast, too, because she's not willing to play the social game and hide her intelligence.

After Willow, I'd have to cite Shada Emery herself. She's the narrator for our tale, and it's through her eyes that we get our first impressions of everyone in Ember's world. We get to know a little bit about her in Shada. We'll learn more in the future, a few books down the line.

6) I'll ask your own question: If you could speak to the dead, anyone at all, who would it be?


Like Ember, for me, the answer would end up being pretty personal. I'd love to speak to my Mom again. She passed from pancreatic cancer back in 2008, and I used to call her two or three times a week, sometimes more, just to talk about life and how things are going and what I'm thinking, and listen to her do some of the same.

I know I can never recapture those days, and I realize I probably made as good a use of that time in my life as anyone could have. But when someone we love, like a parent, passes away…especially when they were such a confidant and fixture in our routine…their absence leaves a hole there that's not always easy to fill. And no matter how much you took time to talk to them and appreciate them, you always have regrets and wish you could have done more, spent more time, gone on more face-to-face visits.

My mom's ghost doesn't haunt me, not in that way. But I am haunted by the good memories and the regrets in almost equal measure.

7) This is book one of the Ember Cole series. How many books do you plan for this series?

To be completely honest, it's wide open as a series. If sales go well, and people keep embracing the character, there are a lot of stories I could tell with Ember Cole. I conceived of her originally as a comic book/graphic novel character, so I have a lot of ideas on different places to that her as a character.

So, this is one series that I think readers can embrace, where they won't go, "What do you mean, it's only a trilogy? Why only seven books?" Even though I have other ideas--standalone novels and other series I'd like to get to, the Ember Cole series is one that can continue a long time, for as long as readers are still interested and I'm still alive and writing.

That's not to say at some point I'll write a storyline and realize, hey, the character is used up. The story is demanding a final curtain to fall. That could happen. It probably will at some point. But I don't see it happening soon.


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Thanks, Craig.

If you want to see more from Craig, you can visit him at http://wwww.craig-hansen.com/.

SHADA can be purchased at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Magical Mondays #6: Cihuateteo, The Duality of Suffering Mother Spirits

Welcome to my sixth Magical Monday. In these segments, I'll be briefly discussing various magical traditions, creatures, and elements that people have been believed in (or continue to believed in) throughout history. Eventually, I may also move onto depictions that appear only in novels, but there's plenty of historical material to keep me busy for a while.

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The rich and complex mythology of the Aztec people is defined by plentiful gods and other lesser types of supernatural beings.  As an expansionist empire of a martial bent, a warrior culture permeated many aspects of the society on all levels--including their beliefs in the supernatural. In particular, the spirits of fallen warriors were believed to be escorted by a type of spirit called the cihuateteo, the goddesses of the crossroads. During the day, the cihuateteo were said to dwell among the stars and traveled with the sun from noon to sunset and the continued along with the sun as it traveled through the underworld. Given the nature of their creation and their particular tasks, they are associated with several different Aztec deities, in particular Cihuacotal, a fertility and motherhood goddess, who herself was associated with the Aztec underworld, Mictlan.

These goddesses, or spirits depending on your interpretation, are a lot more interesting than just simple escorts for the spirits of dead warriors. They were said to be the spirits of women who died in childbirth. On first glance, it might seem odd that the spirits of such women would be tasked with escorting the spirits of fallen warriors, but in the Aztec culture, childbirth was considered a type of battle. Women who died in childbirth were therefore honored as fallen warriors. Besides their new post-death role as the escorts of the dead, their ashes and severed fingers were also believed to possess magical energy that could could aid Aztec warriors. As exemplars of personal courage, the thought was that their remains could help channel both that bravery in a direct and indirect way to lend aid in battle.

Images and depictions of the cihuateteo vary. Sometimes they were rendered as mostly normal women but with various symbolic animals and headdresses. A skeletal face was also a reoccurirng motif.

Aztec myth is defined by duality, and the cihuateteo are no exception. Despite the apparently nobility associated with being a escort of the honored dead, they were also sometimes a feared spirit. At night, however, and during certain days in the ritual calendar, they might haunt crossroads. There, they were associated with a variety of supernatural mischief. 


Some of these negative beliefs are fairly common things associated with dangerous spirits: disease, madness, and infirmity. Others are more closely linked to their origin, such as their reported tendency to occasioally kidnap children. Yet others are perhaps reflective of a fairly common cross-cultural ambivalence about women. For example, despite the association of the spirits with the honorable death in childbirth, the nighttime crossroad haunts were also associated with the seduction of men.
A carving of a cihuateteo from the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology
Photo by William Neuheisel

Even with this association with the occasional bit of anti-human action, they were still deeply venerated for both the sacrifice that brought to them their supernatural status and their role as spirit escorts. Shrines were built for them at crossroads, where they would be given offerings. Despite the bloody sacrifice that is associated with some types of Aztec ritual and religious practice, these spirits were apparently content with simple tamales and corn.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Arthurian Legend, Teens, and Time Travel: An interview with YA fantasy author Sue Owen

 Today, I'm talking with Sue Owen about her YA fantasy, Wizard of Time.

1) Tell us about your book.


Wizard of Time is about 3 kids pulled out of their time by the Wizard of Time and asked to steal and return Excalibur. They must travel through time, where they meet their companions and an assortment of interesting folks from the time of Knights and Ladies.

2) Arthurian legend and related characters plays a key role in your book. Have you always been interested in Arthurian legend?

Pretty much, yes. I marvel at that time period and what they were able to accomplish with so few luxuries. It was a grand time and one that made people into heroes.

3) You have several antagonists in this story. Who is your favorite?


I really didn’t label one person a "bad" guy in this story. There were some hiccups in them getting to their goal, but none were deliberately set out as bad. You are minimally introduced to Peter, but in this book his true ‘badness’ doesn’t come up.

4) We live in a very jaded and cynical age. This is reflected in our fiction. Some of the most popular adult fantasy is defined by settings full of corruption and morally ambiguous heroes. YA fantasy has increasingly become darker as well. Do you worry that this increasing tend toward darker will lead to less interest in traditional heroic narratives?

Not really. There is always the type of read that just wants to get away from it all. As the news becomes grimmer, I think people are going to seek the lighter fiction.

5) We live in an age where man has walked on the moon and we're plumbing the very depths of life and matter itself. Arguably, this is an age of science and reason. Fantasy, with its emphasis on magic, is still just as popular as ever. What do you think is responsible for the continuing appeal of fantasy?
The need to escape. Everyone no matter their job or walk in life want to set aside their worries and cares and think about someone else or go somewhere else. As long as people create worlds to disappear in, I think there will be readers to travel along.

6) You're working on some sequels. How many books are planned with these characters?

Three. One emphasizing each of the three many characters. Next up is Meri’s story as Defender of Time. Her, along with her mom make up that title. There’s a true bad guy in this story, which was pretty hard for me to write. But I think he turned out pretty gruesome.

7) The time travel elements open a lot of possibilities. Are future books going to be indifferent time periods?

The three planned for the Chasing History series will be back and forth between the three kids’ times, Morty’s time and Camelot’s time. After that, who knows? Right now I’m not planning any more period type pieces, but one never knows what will happen. Never say never.

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Thanks, Sue. You can see more from her at her website http://bysueowen.blogspot.com/.

You can find Wizard of Time at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mr. Beard's Regency Tour Day 5: The Mighty Enchantress, the Gothic Queen: Ann Radcliffe

Welcome to my fifth post on Regency England. If you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, please check out this post.


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First, an excerpt:

While Emily gazed with awe upon the scene, footsteps were heard within the gates, and the undrawing of bolts; after which an ancient servant of the castle appeared, forcing back the huge folds of the portal, to admit his lord. As the carriage-wheels rolled heavily under the portcullis, Emily's heart sunk, and she seemed, as if she was going into her prison; the gloomy court, into which she passed, served to confirm the idea, and her imagination, ever awake to circumstance, suggested even more terrors, than her reason could justify.

Another gate delivered them into the second court, grass-grown, and more wild than the first, where, as she surveyed through the twilight its desolation—its lofty walls, overtopt with briony, moss and nightshade, and the embattled towers that rose above,—long-suffering and murder came to her thoughts. One of those instantaneous and unaccountable convictions, which sometimes conquer even strong minds, impressed her with its horror. The sentiment was not diminished, when she entered an extensive gothic hall, obscured by the gloom of evening, which a light, glimmering at a distance through a long perspective of arches, only rendered more striking. As a servant brought the lamp nearer partial gleams fell upon the pillars and the pointed arches, forming a strong contrast with their shadows, that stretched along the pavement and the walls.



-- The Mysteries of Udolpho, 1794.


Crumbling castles, brooding noblemen, virtuous women terrorized by supernatural wickedness in the darkness. These are all part of the the early tradition of Gothic fiction. Fixated on atmosphere, the Gothic tradition, particularly at the height of the Georgian (and Regency) era, was a mix of horror, melodrama, and romantic elements. Whenever Gothic fiction is considered, there's one woman who helped define the genre: Ann Radcliffe.


While not the first author to write what we would now consider a Gothic novel, she helped popularize it and brought Gothic novels into the literary mainstream. For this reason, she's often considered the true definer of the genre. 


Although she was wildly successful during her lifetime, she wrote only a book of poetry and six novels: The Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne (1789), A Sicilian Romance (1790), The Romance of the Forest (1791), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), The Italian (1797), and Gaston de Blondeville (1826). If you're wondering about the large number of years between her fifth and sixth novels, the last was actually posthumously published by her husband.


Her works tended to focus on virtuous and imperiled heroines of breeding dealing with the aforementioned brooding noblemen, mysterious exotic castles, and supernatural elements. Radcliffe, however, in contrast to many other Gothic writers was rather explicit (with one exception,  Gaston de Blondville, though as noted above, it would only be published after her deathin showing that the supernatural elements in her stories all actually had rational, non-supernatural explanations. One of the continuing elements in her works is a heroine desperately resisting an onslaught of emotion and instead, eventually, applying reason to the situation. For the time, especially given many people's sentiments about women in general, this was actually somewhat feminist. It was, however, a type of feminism considered mostly acceptable by late Georgian and Regency society. Indeed, her combination of sensible heroines, lack of true supernatural elements, and virtue allowed her brand of Gothic novels to be acceptable for the literary mainstream. Critics at the time hailed her as the "mighty enchantress" and praised her work.


Surprisingly, at the height of her popularity at the age of 32, she stopped writing. As she kept a rather low personal profile, it's not certain her exact reasons for quitting, but many literary historians attribute it to her personal disgust with the direction Gothic fiction was takenparticularly in terms of prurient disreputable supernatural content. For example, The Monk, published in 1796, gained some popularity. The novel features, among other things, rather negative portrayals of female characters, demon pacts, rape, and incest.


Though Radcliffe stopped writing before the true Regency era, her works remained popular and influential throughout the 19th century both in England and the United States. As many of the authors she influenced later went on to influence others, her Gothic tentacles stretch rather farther than many people might expect from a woman with a relative modest number of works.


Her 19th-century popularity is easily attested by the direct references to her works in Regency and later fiction. One of the more famous and familiar to modern readers would be the several references to her work, particularly The Mysteries of Udolpho, in Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey (1817), a parody of many elements popular in Gothic fiction and Radcliffe's books. I should note that Ms. Austen was not the only one parodying Gothic excess at the time.There was a veritable cottage industry of Gothic parodies.


So, whenever you read a book where some young woman is running down a spooky mansion/castle corridor or watch a similar movie, it may very well be a descendant of Radcliffe's work.



Succubus Soccer Mom: An interview with paranormal romance author Michelle Scott


1) Tell us about your book, Straight to Hell. 

The story revolves around a suburban soccer mom named Lilith Straight who dies and is sent to hell.  There, she discovers that she is bound to serve the Devil due to a contract made by a long-ago relative.  Although working for the Devil has its positives (free shoes and designer clothes), the negatives (being forbidden to love her daughter) outweigh it.

2) A succubus single mom is an unusual concept. I can't say that I've personally run across it before. How did you come up with the idea? 

 I wanted to write about a different kind of supernatural being outside of the vampire/werewolf/zombie arena, so I came up with a succubus.  And one of the things I love to write about are characters who are stuck in situations they hate but yet cannot escape.  To me, the ideal candidate for a reluctant succubus was an uptight, stressed-out, single mom.

3) While the book certainly isn't G-rated, it also is, I'd argue, a decent distance from erotica land. Honestly, given that it involves a succubus, a type of demon synonymous with erotic temptation, that's a bit surprising. Were you ever tempted to make it more explicit than it is? 

Actually, no.  I had thought about making the succubus in the book more traditional (by having her sleep with a series of men), but that seemed rather repetitive.  So I envisioned her as that little devil that sits on people’s shoulders and tempts them into doing something they know they shouldn’t.  Also, I wanted the romantic scenes between Lilith and Mr. Darcy (her incubus counterpart) to stand out.

4) A character working for the Devil, even for reasons beyond her control, can potentially make it difficult to sympathize with her. How did you go about working around this?  

I know, right?  Ever since watching the TV show The Sopranos, I’ve wanted this kind of challenge – to create a character like Tony Soprano who does terrible things while at the same time remaining sympathetic.  In Lilith’s case, I hoped that her altruism towards her anti-social eleven-year-old niece would win her points.   Also, I had Lilith address the readers directly throughout the book, as if to say, “Look, if you were in my situation, you’d do the same thing.”

5) Besides the male and female leads, do you have any particularly beloved characters in the book?  

I love Tommy LeFevre, the spiritual guru who is dating Lilith’s stepsister.  He melts my heart because he’s such a genuinely good person.  And, weirdly, I care a lot about Mr. Clerk, the beleaguered assistant to Lilith’s devilish boss.  Mr. Clerk is a fussy old maid, but he is Lilith’s only champion in hell.

6) Do you have any plans for a sequel?  

Yes.  I’m hoping to release the next book in the series, Straight Shot, next spring.

7) You've written a number of books. Although magic and paranormal elements are common to all of them, they tend to be in slightly different genres. What about this book will appeal to fans of your other books? 

 I always try to add a humorous element to my books, and I think that comes out clearly in Straight to Hell since the book has a chick lit feel.  I also like a twisty plot with a lot of characters.  Finally, I hope readers will get the feeling that Lilith is like other characters from my books: uncertain but ultimately courageous.

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Thanks, Michelle.

You can pick up her book at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.

You can visit her at her webpage at http://www.mscottfiction.com/









Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Age of Tranquility and Peace, Heian Japan #4: The Demon of Rashōmon

I present the fourth in my series on Heian-era Japan. If you have no clue what I'm talking about, just click here for an overview of the Heian era.


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Today, I'm cheating a bit. I'm going to discuss a legend, "The Demon of  Rashōmon" or "The Demon's Arm," that though it's set in the Heian period and involves a historical figure, most of the actual details were the result of accretion in later centuries. That being said, it's still a perfect story for my October "Spooky-Boo" Halloween-themed entries. There are many versions of this legend, so if you later encounter a slightly different recounting, it wasn't that I'm trying to lead you astray. Though, in a story involving the Rashōmon, different versions of the truth are almost appropriate (see this film if you have no idea what I'm talking about).


The legend takes us to the latter part of the Heian period in the year 974. In the capital, Heian-kyō, several people have disappeared. The vanishings are attributed to an oni (a demon or ogre) named Ibaraki that is threatening people who try to pass through the Rashōmon, a large gate in the southern portion of the city. Though efforts are made to deal with Ibaraki, no one is able to dislodge him.

Enter one Tsuna Watanabe (Watanabe no Tsuna in the older traditional Japanese naming style), a samurai. He's not just some random warrior, but a retainer of the Fujiwara-regent affiliated Yorimitsu/Raiko Minamoto. In other words, he's a fairly connected fellow. Not to stray from our legend, but this sort of levels of political and social interconnection defined much of the politics and social life during this period--lines and webs of loyalties.

Now, depending on the version of the legend, Tsuna  agrees to go deal with Ibaraki without much prompting or after being offered a bit of motivation (i.e., a wager). He camps out near the Rashōmon for several nights, but Ibaraki doesn't appear.

He's riding home from the gate one night when he encounters a beautiful girl (depending on the version, she may be in the rain). Now, actually, even absent the presence of Ibaraki, this is somewhat suspicious by the standards of the time. A wandering girl, if not a demon, could have been a variety of supernatural being (ghost, shape-shifting fox, et cetera), so Tsuna is a bit on guard. They talk and the girl manages to convince Tsuna she's nothing more than a beautiful girl.

After she invites him to her home, he tells her to get on the horse. They ride for a while. He turns around to look at her and sees her transforming into a demonic form. Now, depending on the version of the legend, the details slightly different. In some versions, he draws his sword, Higekiri, and cuts off an arm of the demon. Subsequently, the creature flees into the sky. In other versions, they actually have more a pitched battle, but in the end he still cuts off its arm.

Tsuna versus Ibaraki
From imagefree.org

Tsuna takes the arm as a trophy and returns home. There's no more sightings of Ibaraki and no additional disappearances.  It very much appears that the samurai has frightened off the demon.

Some time later Tsuna is approached by an elderly woman (in some versions she's an older female relative, in others she's his childhood nurse). They speak for some time, and he eventually decides to show her his demon trophy. As he opens up the chest where he's been storing the macabre souvenir, the woman turns into Ibaraki, snatches the arm, and flies away. Fortunately though, the demon never returns to the capital. Apparently having it's arm cut off once was enough.

Although this is a fairly straight-forward tale of man against the supernatural, and many details are later additions, it does still allude to some interesting sociological aspects of the later Heian period. As I've stressed in previous entries, the much of the standards of the era were defined by aristocratic bureaucratic elites who prized educational, beauty, and art--and not so much a good sword arm. Tsuna Watanabe is an  example of a man gaining a lot of renown during the Heian era for his martial valor and not his more artistic or political sensibilities. Given his the years of his life (953-1025) spanned later years in Heian period, one could argue that this is reflective of the changes already slowly occurring in Japanese society that would lead to the rise of the warrior-lead shogunate.

The ghost story itself is instructive as well. Even if details were added in later periods, it's a good example of the type of thought process that often accompanied what we would now instantly just recognize as crimes conducted by humans. Often when a mysterious crime occurred, people would attribute it to some sort of supernatural entity. As daily life was also defined by a huge number of practical superstitions and taboos (which I'll delve into in a future date), it was natural for people to see magic behind everything that occurred rather than attribute the evil to mundane, if wicked, people. In one famous case, a decapitated head was found in the Imperial palace. The violence of the act already necessitated a lengthy period of spiritual cleansing; it's attribution to malevolent supernatural entities didn't help matters.

Now this isn't to say that the people of the Heian period never accepted the simple, classic villainy of humanity. A review of period diaries indicates that there was a mix of relative levels of superstition. It's just that in a world where ritual and superstition permeated the culture, it was an easy leap from something like serial disappearances or serial murders to the supernatural.

Sometimes things just weren't all that tranquil or peaceful in the Age of Tranquility and Peace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Magical Mondays #5: Blemmyes, the headless threat

Welcome to my fifth Magical Monday. In these segments, I'll be briefly overviewing various magical traditions, creatures, and elements that people have been believed in (or continue to believed in) throughout history. Eventually, I may also move onto depictions that appear only in novels, but there's plenty of historical material to keep me busy for a while.


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Blemmyes traduntur capita abesse, ore et oculis pectore adfixis. (It is said that the Blemmyae have no heads and that their mouth and eyes are in their chests).

Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Book V, Paragraph 46 (75 A.D.)


The fear of the unknown. The fear of uncertainty. The fear of the other. In our modern television and internet-linked world, we are able to see and even interact with people all over the world. No matter how ignorant a person is about people of another culture, we still understand they are human beings, maybe different in culture but not truly alien.


While some monsters and legends were manifestations of a culture's attempt to understand the often seemingly dark and capricious world around them, others are just the projection of the fear of the unknown onto another people--such is the case with the Blemmyes (the middle-gazer or chest-gazer).


The Blemmyes is the fourth from left.
Image from Cosmographia, a 16th-century German atlas

Pliny's Natural History was nothing less than an attempt to comprehensively document all the knowledge known in the world available to the Roman Empire at the time. Divided into thirty-seven sections, the Blemmyes are discussed, along with various other fantastic peoples, in a general section devoted into sections best described as geography and anthropology. In subsequent centuries, the Blemmyes were not just known for their freakish appearance but also for their tendency to eat normal humans.


In truth, the Blemmyes were a Nubian tribe. Though they had some conflicts with the Romans in later centuries, it wasn't that many decades before Pliny's description that other ancient sources described them as mostly a peaceful tribe. Pliny was not the first to describe them as headless. In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus described a headless tribe in the same region of the world. The convergence of description, however, likely just reflects that the Natural History was a compendium of existing expert sources, including Herodotus.


At the time of Natural History, there didn't seem to be much in the way of a cannibal reputation, so the later century propaganda after conflicts with the Romans likely lead to a the tarnishing up their reputation, and their evolution into a full-fledged monster. 


There's a certain irony to this. By the time the Blemmyes entered into conflict with the empire, the Romans would have obviously become aware that they were not headless monsters. This negative reputation has lingered throughout the centuries with even a reference to their cannibal ways in Othello of all things. 





Sunday, October 16, 2011

Schedule Change

After a few weeks of my new content, I now have a much better sense for the time involved. With that new knowledge in mind, I'm adjusting my schedule for my regular material:


Monday: Magical Mondays (supernatural traditions and historical supernatural beings)
Wed: The Age of Tranquility and Peace (Heian Japan entries)
Fri: Mr. Beard's Regency Tour (Regency England entries)


In addition, until the end of October, my entries will vaguely be supernatural/horror/ghost-themed in honor of Halloween.


Due to the adjusted schedule, there's no Heian entry this Sunday, but if you haven't already read the entry, I encourage you to check out last week's Magical Monday, as it is Heian-relevant: Ikiryō, Haunting by the Living.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay It Forward

So, there's this Pay It Forward Blog Fest going on:

"Here is how this blogfest works: The idea is to introduce everyone to everyone else. We want this to be an easy post that allows you to meet and follow as many other bloggers as you can. In your post, we would like you to please list, describe, and link to three blogs that you enjoy reading, but that you suspect may fly under the radar of a lot of other bloggers. Or they can be famous blogs, as long as they're awesome."

I'm not formally participating in the blog hop itself, but I do, in the spirit of connecting cool people to cool people offer these five blogs to check out:

2) http://chrystallathoma.wordpress.com/ (Fantasy/sci-fi writing blog of my friend Chrstalla Thomas; she also happens to be the only Cyrpiot I currently know :) )
3) Visions and Revisions (Fantasy/sci-fi writing/fantasy world building blog of my friend Marion).
4) Dreamer's Perch.  (Sci-fi writing blog of my friend Cindy)
5) Making Words Happen (writing blog of my friend Cheryl)

Why choose a bad boy when you have a good boy? An interview with paranormal romance author Melissa Smith

Today, I'm talking with paranormal romance author Melissa Smith about her young adult book Cloud Nine.

1) Tell us about your book.

Claire is a typical teenage girl. Sterling is a by the book Guardian. After a chance encounter, neither one will ever be the same again. They both bring baggage to the table in the form of exes who don't want those titles anymore. Both exes want things to go back to the way things were, but both Claire and Sterling are willing to fight to stay together. And a fight is what's in store.

2) What was your inspiration for this book?
My own childhood imagination. :) I used to pretend I had someone to grant my every wish, no matter how small or trivial. Someone who was always there to stand up for me and guard me. Someone to clean my room when I didn't want to! So when I decided to sit down to write, it just flowed out almost fully formed. I was in awe!

3) A lot of paranormal romance involves a emotionally difficult hero who may even present a physical threat to the heroine. Now while this is an obvious extension of existing "taming the rogue/bad boy" trends that have existed in romance for a long time, the supernatural element has made it particularly pronounced and noticeable. Why did you choose to swim against that tide with a hero who is pretty much the opposite of a bad boy?
I don't really don't know. He just developed that way :) He's a rogue in the way that he fell in love with Claire and tried to hide it. But still a good guy in the way that he really did try to deny himself the freedom to have her love.

4) Many authors put part of themselves into their characters. Is your heroine anything like you?
Actually no :) Arianna (another Guardian) is more like me than Claire really is. I suppose I did give her a few of my more snarky qualities, but overall Claire is someone all her own!

5) Paranormal romance is a burgeoning, some say saturated, genre. What sets your story apart from others in this genre?
Like you pointed out, my hero isn't the typical bad boy. He isn't someone who goes out looking for a fight. Sterling is the nice guy. The one who will cherish you while at the same time fighting everything and everyone to keep you safe.

6) If you had to pick a musical artist/group to write a few songs that defined the atmosphere of your book, who would you pick and why?
Wow. I honestly have no idea! For some reason when I try to think of setting a musical score to this book...I draw a blank!

7) You've already written a sequel. How many books do you have planned in this series?
Well so far, I've planned a novella and another novel featuring another character :D You'll just have to wait and see!

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Thanks for stopping by, Melissa.

You can find purchase Cloud Nine at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes and Noble.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mr. Beard's Regency Tour Day 4: Phantasmagoria, The Regency Horror Show

Welcome to my fourth post on Regency England. If you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, please check out this post.

In honor of Halloween, the next couple of weeks I'll be covering what I call "spooky-boo"-related material.

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The exciting audience gathers in the sitting room. Only some candles and lantern hold off the smothering autumn darkness. A rattling chain and the scratching of claws echoes through the room. Suddenly, a skeleton appears, followed by a ghost. The terrified audience holds their hands in front of them in a feeble attempt to shut out the creatures.

The people of Regency England liked the occasional scare just as much as we moderns. The rise of the Gothic and related horror novels provided a giddy thrill for many readers, but actually seeing a ghost was so much more terrifying then reading about it. Despite the absence of television and movies, they still had their own visual horror show: the phantasmagoria.

First, we need to take step back and discuss the magic lantern, the key tool for creating the phantasmagoria. Though historians aren't completely sure, the magic lantern seems to have been invented in either the 15th or 16th century in either the Netherlands or Germany (or perhaps both independently).

The magic lantern, by our standards, is a fairly  a simple device. It is basically just has a concave mirror that is placed in front of a light source. If you recall your high school physics, you'll realize that such a set-up will allow the gathering up of light. In the magic lantern, the concentrated light is then passed through a glass slide with an image on it toward a lens. The lens then projects a larger version of the slide image onto another surface--basically a slide projector.

In the original version of the magic lantern, candles or a lantern provided the necessary light. As the centuries passed, improved lantern technologies were integrated into the magic lantern to provide for brighter images. Though various types of images were projected in the early version, dark images of supernatural creatures were used from the earliest years. Skilled performers made us of multiple magic lanterns, staged sound effects, smoke, and other such elements to create a maximum immersion experience.



As this is a Regency series, I don't want to spend too much time going through the history in various countries. The quick summary version is that during the interest in spiritualism and all things dark and supernatural, particularly toward the end of the 18th century, a well-positioned magic lantern could do a lot to convince people that something supernatural was indeed present, especially in a time where people would rarely encounter such technology in their lives. By 1801, the phantasmagoria was firmly established in England.  At this point, many showmen began to be a bit more honest about the non-supernatural nature of their shows (not that everyone believed them before). Among other things, this would allow better integration of other theatrical elements such as live music and guided narration.



The displays by this point made use of multiple wheeled projectors. The mobility allowed for the ghosts, devils, and other assorted creatures to move, grow, or shrink during the performance as needed. While this might seem utterly quaint to us today, it's important to remember that the average person alive in this time would have very little experience with any sort of projected image.

The Prince Regent, never one to pass up a good time, was known to entertain guests and himself with phantasmagoria displays on occasion (along with regular non-horror themed shows as well).  Not exactly 3D movies with huge theater surround sound, but for the people  of the time, the overall effect was probably just as impressive.

The magic lantern and phantasmagoria would remain popular for decades, well past the end of the Regency era.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A World Unbalanced: An interview with paranormal/SF author Cindy Lynn Speer about her book, Unbalanced

Today, I'm talking with Cindy Lynn Speer about her paranormal/science fiction novel, Unbalanced.

1) Tell us about your book. 

Andromeda Pendragon has been trained her whole life to be an agent of Balance, an organization that acts as a supernatural UN to keep the peace among werewolves, vampires and magic users. It's a busy start for a new agent--all she has to do is prevent a war, solve several murders, stay out of prison, keep the world from learning about things that have been secret for hundreds of years and preserve the stability to the agency she was raised to be a part of.

And then there’s Alaister, the man she loved and let go because no normal man wants a girlfriend who hangs out with creatures from his nightmares. The man who re-enters her life at a party the night a young woman is savagely murdered. The man who has a few secrets of his own.
But nothing--and no one--will unbalance Andromeda Pendragon.

2) What inspired you to write this book?
  
I was inspired to write this book by my lifelong obsession with things that go bump in the night.  In Andromeda’s world, belief is a strong force…if you believe strongly enough, if you have yourself convinced, there actually is someone under the stair, waiting to grab your ankles.  There actually is a shadow under your bed.  I’ve also always liked vampires and werewolves, and I wanted to see if I could say something different about them.

3) Werewolves, mages, and vampires makes for a crowded setting. Why do you decide to include all those elements instead of just focusing primarily on one?

 decided to focus on all three because I wanted to create a world. A rich in diversity as well as tension.  I liked the idea of these people being different from us genetically, as if werewolves are a different race, basically, and thought it would open the door for some interesting tensions, racially as well as politically.  And having more than one, sadly, isn’t that uncommon anymore.  It was when I started writing this book way in the 90’s, but not so much now.

4) In a setting filled with supernaturals, being a 'normal' brings with an inherent tension. Is this why you chose to have your protagonist not be a supernatural?



I chose to have my protagonist to not be supernatural because I wanted a main character who could act as an everyman in this versatile world. She’s just a human, like you or I, among all these other strange creatures.


5) Which character did you have more fun creating: Andromeda or Alaister?

Andromeda, because when she started out she actually was a vampire, and she had this huge back story with a twin sister and all sorts of horror and sorrow.  She didn’t work. So when I took her fangs away, she underwent this huge change in personality and everything, and she became a woman I could really connect with.

6) Any plans for a sequel?



 I am not sure if there will be a direct sequel. There had been plans, but the person I was back then, who created these characters, is not the same person.  I’ve been writing another series set in the same world, though, so I am sure that, even if Andromeda and Alaister don’t have their own book again, they will make appearances. 

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Thanks, Cindy.

You can read more from Cindy at her blog http://apenandfire.com/.

Magic is for Authorized Personnel Only: A Review of A Highly Technickel Memoir

Over at Good Book Alert, I review Shoshana Sumrall Frerking's amusingly different contemporary fantasy, A Highly Technickel Memoir

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Orphan In a World Beyond Imagination: An Interview With Ryan Collings about his YA Fantasy, Jack Ranis

I virtually sat down with Ryan Collings to talk about his YA fantasy,  Jack Ranis and the Book of the Labi. 


1) Tell us about your book.

Jack Ranis and the Book of the Labi is a fantasy novel, aimed at teen and young adult readers. The  book follows Jack Ranis, an orphan who is confused about his life. He discovers that where he comes from is far from ordinary. After a near death accident, he meets a man connected to his past, who sends him to a world beyond anything he had ever imagined.

With the help from friends he meets along the way, he travels to destroy an ancient relic that threatens to destroy everything that he has come to know and love.

2) Where did you get the inspiration for your book?

I have always loved fantasy. Whether it is books or movies it has always been the genre that I have been the most drawn to. A couple of years ago, I had just finished reading a book. I sat there a moment reflecting back on it. It occurred to me that I could write a novel just as good, if not better. The next day, I was at a coffee shop with my computer.

3) Missing parents, either from death or just casual neglect, are surprisingly common in YA fantasy and paranormal work. Now, on some level this is obviously about allowing greater agency to characters. Do you think this sort of thing is necessary to get readers engaged with a proactive adolescent protagonist, or is there something else going on here?

I really don’t think that it is necessary for the development of the character. I really think that most writers, the lack of parents is less complex. It’s less character to develop for the writer, and more importantly in YA fiction it’s less content for the reader. In my book however, Jack’s lack of parents is the base of the story. The discovery of his parents’ history is what sets him up for his adventure.

4) You've received some praise for the forthright and confident nature of your hero. Did you always have this kind of personality in mind for your character, or did it arise during the writing process?

I would say it was a little of both. It the beginning of the story, I don’t think anyone would consider Jack confident. If anything, I would call him timid. It’s not until he is forced into situations where he must make hard choices that his bold confidence arises. During the writing process of this story, Jack became much more of a hero than I had originally planned. His development in the story is one of my favorite parts of this book.

5) "Cross-over" is all the rage in YA these days. It makes sense from a business perspective. Getting both adolescents and adults to buy a book amplifies the audience, but from a writing perspective it can be hard to craft a book that resonates with multiple demographics. Do you see your book as a cross-over book and why?

I do. Cross-over YA books are my favorite. More people are ready fantasy now than ever, and if you are a fantasy reader, you know that many books and series can be very complex. For the casual reader some of these books can be daunting. With Cross-over fiction, the reading is usually much easier. There are less character and fewer sub-plots. A person can read many of these books in a weekend, or if they can’t get back to a book for a few weeks or even months, it is much easier to continue were you left off.

6) Other than the protagonist, do you have a favorite character in the book?

Pheloni, one of Jack’s friends. I think most people have a friend, or at least know someone like her. She is very sarcastic and out spoken, yet would do anything in the world to help her friends. She is very confident in herself and her abilities.

7) Do you have any sequels planned?

I am currently working on the second book in this series. It is action packed from page one. All the great characters from the first book will be back as well as a few new ones. I am hoping for its release early next year.

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Thanks for stopping by, Ryan.

You can see more from Ryan at his website: http://www.ryancollings.com/.

You can find his book (in physical or ebook form) at Amazon and Smashwords (ebook only).