Disability in fantasy

A post by Peter Newman, author of The Vagrant and The Malice

Although The Vagrant is known for having a silent protagonist I’m going to talk about someone else in the series today, a character known as Tough Call.

Tough Call is the rebel leader of Verdigris, who sets up her group headquarters underneath the city when it is overrun by demons. A child of the old administration, she opts to fight rather than bend the knee. Moreover when she comes into contact with one of the demons, she elects to cut off her own arm rather than succumb to the taint. The taint, in case you’re wondering, is something that surrounds the demons and can alter any human, animal or plant that it comes into prolonged contact with, mutating them into strange half-breed creatures. At the lowest end of the spectrum this could mean the loss or gain of nails and hair. At the highest, it could mean growth spurts, shifts in skeletal structure, loss of emotional control, organ failure, additional strength, additional limbs, or death.

Rather than gamble, Tough Call elects to remove the arm entirely before the taint can spread. In doing so, she becomes a symbol for the resistance.

In Tough Call’s case, her disability is a badge of pride, a tribute to her strength of will rather than something to be pitied or hidden. It’s never the focus in the scenes she’s in and it certainly isn’t the primary thing about her. When we first meet Tough Call she’s in a difficult position, fighting a virtually un-winnable war and making some dubious choices in order to survive and keep her people safe. She also happens to be a middle-aged woman with one arm. That’s it.

When I was writing The Vagrant and The Malice, I didn’t set out to include characters with disabilities, they just appeared as I was writing. There are three prominent characters that suffer from a physical disability which, given the number of people in the books and the kind of world it is, seems like quite a low number.

It got me trying to think about other characters in fantasy with disabilities, and the majority that come to mind are villains. Chances are if a character has a scar, a missing eye, or a hook for a hand they’re against the heroes rather than with them. And if the hero does have a scar, it’s often a ‘sexy’ scar to demonstrate toughness without disfiguring too much, or one that is located on their back or thigh, easily hidden beneath clothing. In film, we often have a shot of the (usually male) hero’s back which is covered in aesthetically placed scars, but most of the time these marks are out of sight and out of mind.

In fact I really struggled to think of any disabled protagonists in the fantasy I’d read recently (with the exception of Bran in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and Xinian in Jen Williams’ Copper Cat books) though this may be more an indictment of my memory or lack of reading than the genre as a whole.

Feel free to set me straight in the comments as I’d hope there are a lot more positive examples out there, though please don’t include characters with magic or technology that renders their disability irrelevant. The classic example being blind characters that have such advanced other senses that they aren’t disadvantaged all.

If you’re a writer reading this and, like me, you’d like to include more characters on the disabled spectrum, there’s a great post by Elsa S. Henry on Chuck Wendig’s Terribleminds blog about writing blind characters, and this one by Elspeth Cooper on the Bookworm Blues blog about disability in fantasy is interesting too.

© Peter Newman, May 2016
www.runpetewrite.com

The Malice is available from May 19, 2016. Review coming soon…

Snippet from the front cover of Peter Newman's The Malice

In the south, the Breach stirs.

Gamma’s sword, the Malice, wakes, calling to be taken to battle once more.

But the Vagrant has found a home now, made a life and so he turns his back, ignoring its call.

The sword cries out, frustrated, until another answers.

Her name is Vesper.

Purchase on Amazon

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The Charlaine Harris Blog Tour: A quick Q&A

MidnightCrossroad_BlogTour_animation[3] We are, here at Fantasy Book Review, honoured to welcome award-winning author Charlaine Harris to our website during her whistle-stop blog tour promoting her brand new book, Midnight Crossroad (you can read our review here). The creator of the massively popular Sookie Stackhouse series kindly answered a few questions on Midnight, the setting for her new novel.

Where did the idea of Midnight, Texas come from? You mention it came gradually; did you always want it to be a small, desolate place?

Yes, I did. First I thought of the pawnshop, and then the crossroad; crossroads are traditionally mystical in several ways. Then I decided it had to be a more barren landscape, like west Texas, because that was just the way I saw it.

As you have mentioned previously, you have no plans to write another Harper Connelly novel but can we expect her to show up as a guest character in Midnight in a future novel? (This would go for any main character from one of your other series)

Harper may show up, but she’s such a strong character that I thought it better (after writing a scene for her) that she not appear in the first book. And so far, she isn’t in the second. I just don’t need her, yet. I don’t think any of the main characters will be included in the Midnight cast, but of course I may get a great idea!

What part of the creative process (when writing a novel or envisioning a series) do you enjoy the most?

The world-building is fun. It’s like playing with dolls and Legos, too, building imaginary houses and putting imaginary people in them. Interview by Michelle Herbert We would just like to wish Charlaine all the best with her new book. Why don’t you join her once again on her tour at the websites shown in the animated image above.

An extract from Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

Author Tim Powers.We have some exciting news regarding the brilliant Tim Powers. He is coming to the UK to take part in this year’s World Fantasy Convention in Brighton. And this ties in nicely with the publication of the paperback of his latest novel, Hide Me Among the Graves.

Adelaide McKee, a former prostitute, arrives on the doorstep of veterinary doctor John Crawford, a man she met once seven years earlier and the father of her only child, long presumed dead. She has recently learned that the girl lives – but her life and soul are sought by a ghostly vampire. And this is no ordinary spirit; the bloodthirsty wraith is that of John Polidori, Lord Byron’s doctor…

We here at Fantasy Book Review are very pleased to take part in the Tim Powers Blog Tour, which takes place between the 7th and 25th of October, and have published an exclusive extract from the book, which can be read below.

Previous to this stop, on the 11th of October, Tim visited Civilian Reader and when he leaves us he will be at The Speculative Scotsman on the 18th of October. A full list of blog tour dates can be found below the extract, which we hope you enjoy.

    Hide Me Among The Graves cover.The felt -padded base of the ivory bishop thumped faintly on the marble chessboard.

    “Check,” said the girl.

    The face of the old man across the table from her was in shadow – the curtains were drawn across the street-side windows, and the chandelier overhead hung crookedly because of the gas-saving mantle screwed onto it – and all she could see under the visor of his black cap was the gleam of his thick spectacles as he peered at the chess pieces.

    Both of them hated to lose.

    “And mate in . . . two,” he said. He sat back, blinking owlishly at the girl.

    She sighed and spread her hands. “I believe so, Papa.”

    The old man thoughtfully lifted the ebony king from the board and looked toward the fireplace, as if considering throwing the piece onto the coals. Instead he put it into the pocket of his robe, and when his hand reemerged it was holding instead a thumb-sized black stone statue.

    Christina raised her eyebrows.

    Old Gabriele’s answering smile was wry. “I carry it around with me now,” he said, “very close. Not that it does me any good anymore. Nothing does.”

    He put it down onto the square where his king had stood, and it clicked against the marble.

    Wanting to head off yet another melodramatic elaboration along the lines of his Nothing does, Christina quickly asked, “What sort of good did it once do? You’ve said it’s buona fortuna.”

    She and her sister and two brothers had seen the little statue on a high shelf in their parents’ bedroom ever since they could remember, and they had even taken it down and incorporated the stumpy little stone man into their games when they were alone, but this was the first time in her fourteen years that she had ever seen it downstairs.

    “It led me to your mother,” he said softly, “all the way from Italy to England, and I thought it might keep us healthy and prosperous, not – not destitute and losing my sight – ‘And that one talent which is death to hide, lodged with me useless . . .’ ”

    Christina could see him blinking behind the thick lenses, and saw the glint of the tears that were always embarrassingly ready these days, especially when he quoted Milton’s sonnet about going blind. She wished she had let him win the chess game.

    Adopting a manner that reminded her of someone, Christina lightly quoted a later line from the same sonnet as she stood up and began to pick the chess pieces from the board: “ ‘Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?’ ”

    And she smiled at him and went on, “ ‘I fondly ask.’ ”

    “Yes, you foolishly ask,” he snapped. “Where is your mother, tell me that! Embroidering in the drawing room, could it be? Corpo di Bacho, where is the drawing room?”

    It occurred to Christina who it was that her own indulgently dismissive manner reminded her of – her mother, comforting Christina or one of her siblings when they used to wake up from nightmares.

    And she remembered that when they had been troubled by nightmares, her father had always dropped the little stone statue into a glass of salted water. She couldn’t recall now whether it had ever helped.

    Her mother at the moment was out at work as a day governess, and this rented house on Charlotte Street had no drawing room.

    Christina had laid all the chessmen except the black king into the wooden box, and now, leaving the statue alone on the board, she knelt by her father’s blanketed knees and took his cold, dry, wrinkled hand.

    “How did it lead you to Mother?”

    He was frowning. “ ‘Light denied,’ ” he said. “I should destroy the damned thing. This is my last summer. Italy never again.”

    She blew a strand of hair back from her forehead. “I won’t listen to you when you talk like that.” Again she reminded herself of her mother, as if she were the parent now, and her father had become a petulant child.

    “Is it a compass?” she asked.

    After a moment his scowl relaxed into a grudging smile. “You were always a contrary little beast. Tantrums. Cut yourself with scissors once when your mother corrected you! I should never have told you about it.”

    “Tell me about it.”

    He sighed. “No, child, it’s not a compass. Am I being selfish? It gives you dreams . . . that are not really dreams.”

    “Like second sight?”

    “Yes. I knew about . . . statues, from my days as curator of ancient statuary at the Museum of Napoli – some of them are not entirely lifeless.

    And I belonged to the Carbonari there, who also know more than a little about such things.”

    Christina nodded, noting the black spot on his palm – he had often told the children that it was the mark of Carbonari membership.

    “And then King Ferdinand outlawed the Carbonari, and I fled to Malta – but in ’22, when I was thirty-five, there was an earthquake, and I,” he said, scratching his palm, “sensed this little stone, north of me. A summoning compass, if you like! I sailed east of Sicily, past the Gulf of Taranto and Apuleia, many perils, all the way up the east coast of Italy to Venice, following the, the dream-song that led me to find him” – he nodded toward the tiny lone figure on the chessboard – “in the possession of an ignorant Austrian soldier.”

    “ . . . Led you to find him.” Not it, she thought.

    He freed his hand to ruffle her brown hair. “Understand, child, I had at that point nothing to lose. The Pope had already excommunicated the Carbonari.”

    Christina was momentarily glad that her sister, Maria, was living with another family as a governess, for Maria was virtuous and devout; and that her brother William was at work at the government tax office in Old Broad Street, for at the age of fifteen William was already a mocking skeptic.

    Her brother Gabriel, though, who was off at Sass’s art academy in Bedford Square, would be intrigued. Christina wished he were here.

    She nodded. “I understand.”

    Hesitantly she reached her hand across toward the statue, giving her father time to tell her not to; but he made no objection, and her fingers closed around the cold thing.

    Into her mind sprang the last line of the Milton sonnet: I also serve who only stand and wait. But that wasn’t right – it was supposed to be

    They, not I.

    “You shouldn’t touch it,” he said, now that she already had.

    She let go of it and drew her hand away. “Did you buy . . . it, from the Austrian soldier?”

    Her father waved his hand in front of his spectacles. “In a sense, child.”

    Christina nodded. “And this little stone man gave you a—a vision of Mother? Here in England?”

    “That it did, though I’d never been to England, and I fell in love with her image—and set out to find her and marry her.” He nodded firmly. “And I did.”

    Christina smiled. “Love at first second sight.”

    Hide Me Among the Graves
    Tim Powers
    RRP: £7.99    Published by: Corvus
    Pages: 528    ISBN: 9781848874091

    You can read our full review of Hide Me Amongst the Grave here.

    Make sure you check in with the blogs below during the tour:

    NaNoWriMeh

    No, it’s not about microscopic robots that can join together to spontaneously create limbs or weapons, I am of course talking about NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.

    No, it’s not about microscopic robots that can join together to spontaneously create limbs or weapons, I am of course talking about NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.

    Starting way back in 1999, when the Artist Formerly Known as Prince had a slight resurgence of a career due to one aptly named song, NaNoWriMo was comprised of 21 people, all friends in San Francisco. Since then, it has slowly gained momentum to become the literary monolith it is today. In 2011, 36,803 writers wrote over 50,000 words or more in the month of November. That’s a lot of words, and a lot of dirty keys on a keyboard. The aim is to concentrate for the duration of November, and produce 50k words on a project. During this time you can communicate with other participants, race your word counts against others and attend write ins in various locations when you meet each other and then uh… write!

    So now we’re in November of 2013. All year I had been looking forward to November. Not that I don’t write any other time, but it would be refreshing to knuckle down and focus for a whole month on writing. I could lock myself away in a literary cave and concentrate on writing the best seller that lurks deep (deep, deep, deep) within me. Alas, someone didn’t tell the rest of the world that I wouldn’t be participating for the duration of November, and it went on regardless. I still had to do all the usual crap I had to do, only this time with a 50k benchmark hanging over my head. I decided to abandon NaNoWriMo and continue as I always had.

    Great, so it’s not for me, but plenty of people I do know (who I can only assume have much quieter lives) are participating, kicking arse and taking names, so it would seem. But it occurred to me, what would happen at the end of November? It’s all very well to bust out of the gates early, knocking over thousands of words at a sitting, but is it possible to peak too early? What happens when Christmas dawns and we all take time out of our schedule to battle Gladiator style down the local Westfield for the final car park (that is probably too small but you will make your SUV fit, damn it)? Who needs side mirrors?

    In the new year, as you sit on your couch nursing the food baby that has planted itself in your stomach, the last thing you may want to do is sit down at a computer and keep going, and oh look – the cricket’s on. Oh well, there’s always next November.

    Being a writer isn’t a job that is one month a year’s work. It’s a little like the tortoise and the hare… steadiness is the key. It’s all very well to get out there and write half a novel in a month, but it is something that has to be continually worked on. Once the first draft is done, then come the subsequent drafts, the editing and of course, the polishing. If you’re writing as a hobby, then great – you can do it at your own pace, no pressure. However, if you take your literary works a little more seriously, then you realise that writing is about continuous deadlines, whether they be set by a submission date or even your own self-imposed goals. It’s important to know your own limits and your own work-rate, and figuring that out is often a matter of hit and miss.

    In my opinion, the trouble with NaNoWriMo is that it focuses on quantity over quality. The author of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë, wrote each word on a separate scrap of paper, and spent hours deliberating over every single syllable, constantly arranging a rearranging her sentences to express what she wanted to say precisely how she wanted to say it. Needless to say, Chaz probably wouldn’t have gone so well at NaNoWriMo.

    Although we aren’t probably aiming the write the next literary classic (or at least, I’m not), we do need to have some kind of dedication and thoughtfulness about how we construct and present our ideas.

    Of course, there is great merit in blasting words down onto a blank page.  The idea is that at least some of it could be salvaged and assembled into a semi-coherent segment of prose, but there is a danger in writing for the sake of writing. Pushing yourself to reach a word goal is not going to produce your best writing. Telling yourself that you’re going to hit the hay after another thousand words, might see you rambling on or wasting words.

    “Be quiet, you crazy man,” I hear you say. “That’s what the editing phase is for!” Well, yes, that’s correct, but why create more work for yourself? As writers, we should be working on improving our first draft quality all the time. Work smarter, not harder, and the pay off is evident. Less time spent editing and revising, means a higher production rate and increase in writing efficiency. Simple really. The time saved could be used on revising and improving your story, deepening characters, heightening drama or making raisin toast.

    That said, I’m sure there is a great many people who do continue with their NaNo projects, and best of luck to them. Anything that gets people writing should rightly be celebrated – literature is often overlooked in a world that has so many other forms of entertainment. But still try to think about what you’re trying to say instead of just churning out thousands of words of mindless drivel.

    The Story of Witches by Kathryn Meyer Griffith

    What is more perfect at Halloween than stories about witches? Horror author Kathryn Meyer Griffith recounts how her 1993 novel Witches came into being…

    “In 1991 I’d already been writing for about twenty years, on and off (though there was a long gap where I didn’t write because of a divorce, the finding of a full time job to support myself and my son, and a remarriage… life) when I contracted my fourth novel, my first of four to Zebra paperbacks, a romantic horror called Vampire Blood, about a family of vampires who ran a movie theater in a small town. I’d already had a fifth novel, The Last Vampire, completed and in with them when they asked me for another novel.

    Witches by Kathryn Meyer Griffith book cover.Got anything about witches, they asked. Witches are hot right now. Hmmm.

    For many years I’d played around with an idea about a present day white witch who finds a diary of a long dead witch – either good or bad, I hadn’t decided – in her old house’s attic, or basement, or under a floorboard. The story would have been about the good witch reliving the other dead witch’s life through the diary. I’d always called that possible book Rachel’s Diary in my head.

    So in 1991 or 1992 I began the witch book and it quickly metamorphosed into a story of a present day good witch, Amanda Givens, who’s yanked into a perilous seventeenth century past by an evil witch, Rachel Coxe, to take her place…and die a horrible death as an accused witch. I had the idea then to actually send Amanda into the past to live (for a while) the other witch’s life. Of course, being a good witch, Amanda, changes the other witch’s unsavory reputation but still ends up in a prison waiting to die for Rachel’s earlier crimes. The story, simply put, would be how Amanda overcomes her trials and tribulations, finds her lost eternal love again in the past, and finds a way to return to the present alive. In the process, learning some important life lessons about accepting what life has dealt her and the value of sisters, friendships and the love of those around her. Or good versus evil and, in the end, good wins and is rewarded. I also threw in a few touches of humor in the form of three precocious witches’ familiars… a mind-reading and speaking cat called Amadeus, a mouse, Tituba, and a tiny bat, Gibbiewackett… all with feisty personalities and quirks of their own.

    I was excited about the book as I was writing it and when it was done, pleased with it, but had no idea that over the years it’d become the jewel of my writing career and the book that my fans would love the best of all my books. I loved the cat face cover Zebra did for it (a rare occurrence as I’d learned the hard way that covers weren’t always what I’d envisioned and in the early days I had no choice but to accept whatever the publisher’s gave me… and some weren’t so hot, let me tell you!).

    Witches came out in 1993 and did well. I noticed soon after as I went on to publish other books that I got the most response and admiration for it. Readers loved the three sisters, Amadeus and Amanda, Gibbiewackett and Tituba. In those days I was too busy working full time as a graphic artist, living my life and writing new books to notice. It went into a second printing in 2000 and after that, sadly, went out of print. But my fans never forgot it. I’d find comments on it and discussions on the internet… even customer reviews raving about it years and years later. I tried talking Zebra into reissuing it but after Zebra and I parted ways there was no talking them into it.

    Then in 2010 when Damnation Books contracted my 13th and 14th novels, the publisher, Kim Richards, asked about all (there was 7 at the time) my out-of-print Zebra and Leisure backlist novels and if I’d like to have them reissued as new paperbacks and, for the first time ever, in e-books. Sure, that’d be great! I told her. And, as they say, the rest is history. Between June 2010 and June 2012 all 7 of them (and now another 3 of my Wild Rose Press novels and two short stories from 2007) updated, rewritten and with stunning new covers will be out again. All in e-books for the first time.

    Of course, that’s meant a heck of a lot of rewriting. A lot of work. Those early novels go back twenty-seven years and were first written in the days of snail mail and on an electric typewriter before the internet, e-mails and Windows Track Changes (for editing). Oh, boy, did they need revising. As of today I can happily say they’re all rewritten now except the very first one, Evil Stalks the Night, 1984; yet even that one will be completed soon.

    I’ve often been asked what I think of e-books and I have to say it feels strange, all these years later, to be so into them. I think it’s fantastic to be able to put thousands of books on one little lightweight hand-held contraption and sell them as inexpensively as we do. I started publishing e-books four years ago and have seen such great changes in even that short a time. I love the editing process now. With Track Changes it’s truly a collaborative effort between the editor and the writer and it’s taught me far more about the craft of writing than the old way of just sending off the manuscript, being asked to change certain things, but then never seeing any of those changes or the basic edits until the book was printed and in my hand. Now, no more pages added by an editor (that actually happened in Evil Stalks the Night. The editor, who I never met, added three pages of his own and I didn’t even know about it until I held the book in my hand. And the three pages didn’t make sense… ech!) that I never know about or see until the book comes out. Yeah.

    With a chuckle I recall a writer’s convention I attended in 1990 – yes, that far back – and the main topic back then was…OMG the electronic books are coming! They’re going to make us authors obsolete! Print books are going to die a terrible lonely death… etc., etc. Lack and alas, what are we going to do? Ha, ha. It’s ironic that 21 years later I’m in love with e-books. They’re the future. And I think there’ll always be room for print books as well as electronic ones.

    So Witches… (Damnation Books) was rereleased in 2011. I’m thrilled. The cover is still of Amadeus, the cat, and Dawne Dominique did an amazing job on it. My editor, Alison O’Byrne, helped me make it a better book than eighteen years ago. Of all my novels, I’m most proud of it. It’s held up pretty well. I hope it finds many more readers and fans.

    So that’s the story of Witches…the little book that wouldn’t die.”

    How having your book dumped can be a positive turning point

    In the lead-up to Halloween we will be publishing two essays by Kathryn Meyer Griffith. The appropriately-named Witches will feature on the day itself but today, with just one week to go, Kathryn recounts the trials and tribulations involved in the writing and publishing of Dinosaur Lake. It is a tale that will resonate with all authors, be they established or up-and-coming.

    The front cover of Dinosaur Lake by Kathryn Meyer Griffith.“Of all my 16 novels Dinosaur Lake has the strangest story attached to its creation, death and rebirth… 20 years later… of any of them.

    Not so much because, as a few of my books, it took so long to write or publish, but because in 1993 it was contracted, edited and the final galleys had been proofed by me for a 5th paperback book release from Zebra (Kensington Publishing) after 3 earlier novels with Leisure Books. I even had a stack of the full-color, printed and embossed covers; it was only weeks before it was to go to the bookshelves (in those days the brick & mortar stores were still king, no internet or ebooks). I strongly believed it’d be my breakout book. You know, the book that’d make my career and launch me into the stratosphere with Stephen King and Anne Rice? How wrong I’d be. But, hey, I thought who wouldn’t love a tale of a cunning but malevolent rampaging prehistoric dinosaur living in Crater Lake, Oregon, and the Park Ranger who, along with a ragtag gang of heroes who’d try to stop it? I mean, I’d always loved anything about dinosaurs… dinosaur books, playing with those little plastic figurines and watching old stop-action dinosaur movies of the 1950’s and 60’s… who hadn’t?

    Apparently someone. My new editor at Zebra.

    By 1994, after four novels with them, I’d lost my sweet editor and there and a new one took her place… and over the next year he didn’t like anything I wrote for him and later that year Zebra unceremoniously dropped me and my book (Predator… which never came out but still lingers to this very day like some weird ghost book in every computer on the global internet) only six weeks away from going to the bookstore shelves. When we were editing the book and deciding on the title and the cover, I’d begged the new editor not to call it Predator (his choice as they hadn’t liked my American Loch Ness Monster title), bad title since there was a popular movie out of that name and the movie, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, was nothing about a dinosaur, and the cover was awful, an empty boat on a lake…what!!! Having that book – my first ever – dumped like that was a crushing experience, let me tell you. I had a stack of finished, printed covers and my final edits were done! But nothing my agent or I could say or do would change their minds. They said they were cutting their horror lines and setting adrift a lot of their mid-list horror authors because horror (in 1994) was on the decline. The new editor-that-didn’t-like-my-writing explained: “And no one wants to read a book about a dinosaur.”

    Yeah, sure.

    And six months later Jurassic Park the book came out! We all know how that story ended, don’t we? People loved the book, the movies; they loved dinosaurs.

    I’ll never know the real reason they cut the book but that male editor never bought another book from me… which was another weird thing because when I’d met him in New York (I went for a Horror Convention) in the summer of 1993 he’d taken my husband and I out to lunch and gushed over me and said how much he’d loved my last release Witches.

    Hmmm.

    Anyway, I got to keep my advance but the book was officially dead. It never came out. I grieved.

    I was so disgusted I stashed it in a drawer somewhere and tried to forget it.

    Until now. After I’d finished revising and rereleasing all my new/old 15 books (and besides paperbacks they’re in ebooks for the first time ever) from Eternal Press/Damnation Books in June of 2012 I remembered about my American Loch Ness Monster novel, took it out and reread it.

    Whoa, like a lot of my older novels now years later I could see what was wrong with it and how to fix it. Back then I hadn’t seen the head-hopping I did or the awkward phrasing, stiff or overly dramatic dialogue, repetitive words and other things I’ve learned since to recognize and stay away from. Of course, computers help make the editing so much easier. I think I’d done the original book on my electric typewriter.

    Anyway, telling myself the dumping of that book had been a turning point in my writing life – sending me in the wrong direction for a long time apparently… I couldn’t sell a book for eight long years after that – I decided to rewrite and finally release it. In fact, I was going to do something that twenty years ago would have been unheard of and frowned on… self-publish the book myself. With Kindle Direct. For the first time in forty years I was walking away from the traditional publishers and going on my own. Thank you J.A. Konrath’s blog! I figured I could sell the Kindle ebook a lot cheaper and, thus, use it to introduce (as enticement) more readers to my writing and perhaps, if they liked it, they’d buy more of my other fifteen novels, novellas and various short stories.

    It could work, right?

    So here it is, retitled, rewritten, updated and with an amazing new cover I love by Dawne Dominique… Dinosaur Lake. I hope my readers will like it.”

    Dinosaur Lake is available for the Amazon Kindle in the US and the UK.

    Gef Fox: Where Coyotes Come From

    So, where did I get the idea for “Where Coyotes Fear to Tread”? While brainstorming about this story, I watched the old John Carpenter film, Big Trouble in Little China, for the umpteenth time. Jack Burton is an iconic oaf of a character, and I wanted that kind of antihero to be showcased in my story.

    So, where did I get the idea for “Where Coyotes Fear to Tread”?

    Well, Tim Marquitz contacted me last winter, and during out back-and-forth emails, he told me he was editing Fading Light and encouraged me to submit a story. I checked out the guidelines for the anthology and silently thanked Tim for bringing it to my attention, because the premise was right up my alley. An anthology dedicated to the monstrous? The things that go bump in the night? Yeah, I’m on board.

    While I figured other authors would take a more subtle approach, I couldn’t help but take a much more literal interpretation. I wanted to write a story about a monster literally rising from the darkness. The next thing I had to figure out after resolving to actually write a story was which monster?

    I remembered an old Native-American legend about the Sun and a monster that was sent to kill her. That monster was named Uktena, a real unpleasant creature that could that would make the Loch Ness Monster look like a salamander. From there, I took some creative liberties and invented her offspring that would rise from the Tennessee River when the Sun disappeared. What I had to figure out next was how to make the Sun disappear.

    That’s when I stumbled across the legend of how Eagle and Coyote stole the Sun and Moon and brought light to the land. It’s a great little story that has Coyote sabotage his own efforts by allowing Sun and Moon to escape after Eagle captures them. I wanted to basically write a sequel that would have new incarnations of Eagle and Coyote go looking for a new way to bring light to a darkened Earth. Enter Lester and Carla.

    While brainstorming about this story, I watched the old John Carpenter film, Big Trouble in Little China, for the umpteenth time. Jack Burton is an iconic oaf of a character, and I wanted that kind of antihero to be showcased in my story, so that’s where Lester came in. But Lester’s a bit of a scoundrel and needed a foil that would appeal to his better nature. He needed a hero, which ended up being his ex-girlfriend Carla.

    So I had characters and plot, but I needed a setting. I wound up choosing Tennesse, namely Knoxville, for two reasons: 1) The Tennessee River winds through the state like a snake; 2) The Sunsphere, an iconic tourist trap that fits neatly with the themes behind Fading Light.

    When it comes to the finished product, I’m biased in my approval of it, but I take it as a good sign that Tim thought it good enough to include it among stories authored by some really talented authors. “Where Coyotes Fear to Tread” is a far cry from high-minded literary prose, but I like to think I spun a pretty good yarn–and God help me, I think there’s another adventure in store for Lester and Carla some time down the line.

    ——————————————————————

    Gef Fox is a self-professed rabid reader and wrabid writer. His tastes lean towards dark fiction, whether that be in the horror genre or elsewhere. He finds that most folks have a different definition–and an unflattering one at that–than he does when it comes to horror, so he finds the “dark fiction” tag helps keep the disdainful reactions at bay.

    Currently, his published stories include:

    He lives in Atlantic Canada, born and raised. You can find him at Wag The Fox, Twitter, Good Reads, Facebook, Skull Salad Reviews, or you can contact him via email.

    Moses Siregar III: The Gods Divided – Chapter 1

    The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III was one of FBR’s favourite books in 2011. In 2013, Moses plans on returning us to the world of Rezzia with The Gods Divided, the second book in his Splendor and Ruin series. Moses has been kind enough to provide us with the first chapter of this new book – and it is awesome.

    The Black God’s War by Moses Siregar III was one of FBR’s favourite books in 2011. In 2013, Moses plans on returning us to the world of Rezzia with The Gods Divided, the second book in his Splendor and Ruin series.

    Moses has been kind enough to provide us with the first chapter of this new book – and it is awesome. If you want more, you can find the prologue on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/notes/moses-siregar-iii/seeking-readers-prologue-to-the-gods-divided-still-in-progress/10151023490712738.

    Enjoy!

    The Gods Divided

    (Sequel to The Black God’s War)

    Splendor and Ruin, Book II

    Moses Siregar III

    Note: This is an early peek at a work still in progress.

    Chapter One

    The enemies of my people prayed to their gods, with the fury of their ‘light,’ yearning to take our everything. They wanted comfort. As they had done for six generations, they slew our grandfathers and grandmothers, our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters, our cousins and friends, our sons and daughters. They came from the Rezzian desert to the south, to occupy our lands and bury our hope and dignity, to choke our courage and wisdom, to sacrifice our happiness and compassion on their white altars.

    A marching bonfire fells a grandfather Bonecore that rooted earth to sky for thirty generations. Not so easily its family of seeds. With its grandfathers charred black, even one seed with stubborn memory can replant a forest.

    I am the son of Jurg, I am Skye. My father’s spirit was only a silent rain inside the shell of my heart. Now you know why my rage rent the ten gods of Lux Lucis and their unholy kingdom.

    Too much of my life was a bitter song until wisdom seized me—with one swing of my axe—like the fangs of a bear.

    I was the bear.

    #

    Seven years later. One year before the end of Rezzia’s war with Pawelon.

    Skye admired the heavy Altrea door standing guard over the entrance to his family’s home. His father, Jurg, had carved and hung the door to mark the passage of Skye’s grandfather into the Hall of the Slain (for he had departed with valor, shield in hand). There his spirit would join other heroes in taking up the ultimate honor: advising their eldest sons in the defense of the children of Andars.

    The family believed Skye’s grandfather had chosen to plant a seed of himself in this Altrea after he died; the tree had stood outside his childhood home and had always loved that tree. Many years before its leaves turned brown for the last time, Skye’s grandfather had said that no matter the future condition of the tree, he would always dwell upon whatever wind his oldest son would breathe. To fill one’s lungs with such spirited air was the hope and dream of every Andaran first-born son.

    Skye’s father leaned against the doorframe, the door barely open, taking in the summer rain falling on the village of Jorvik. Skye knew his father was contemplating the news being whispered throughout the hills of Andars: the occupying Rezzian legions were redeploying around them, snaking their way around the hills and through the valleys, trying to conceal themselves among the forests of grandfathers and grandmothers who were no doubt cursing the foreign invaders. No one knew what the Rezzians were doing, or if the Ancestors had advised the village elders no one had spoken a word of it to Skye.

    Skye’s mother, Aesa, scrubbed the surface of their meal table with her tough white hands, trying like Hel to erase dirt that didn’t seem to be there. His brother Dag was carving his latest knife in the room shared by the three children.

    His sister Idonea was knitting in the corner she had claimed in the central room, her ‘wand’ by her side. She glanced up, dark eyebrows arched high over clear blue eyes that should’ve belonged to a subdued feral animal. The Rezzian occupation had hit her harder than anyone else in the family. She was much moodier now, more private and sensitive. Her eyes had turned into simmering blue infernos. For years now, she’d spent a lot of time with the trees behind their house, talking to the stick that was her imaginary friend. Everyone dealt with subjugation differently.

    A raven cawed. Skye’s father turned to his mother. “They’re coming.” Jurg stood with his hand axe hanging from one side of his belt and his long knife sheathed on the other hip. Aesa slammed her balled rag on the light-colored Budrie wood table, face ruddy and tense, wild tufts of blonde standing up from her pulled-tight hair.

    Jurg studied her and sucked in through one flaring nostril. He looked aside and shook his head once, hard.

    Aesa’s eyes were watering and filling with anger. She said, as if giving the final word, “Offer them nothing.” She returned to punishing her table, and Jurg to scanning his forest. Skye and Idonea looked to each other. Aesa slammed her fist on the table, tears running down her cheeks, saying, “You will remember our fathers!”

    Jurg slung his head around and glared at her, mouth tight, lips puckering and shrinking instead of cursing.

    Without knowing where his father was going, Skye said, “He will, Mamma.” Whatever his father was about to do, he would do Andars proud. Jurg was the spiritual advisor of his tria, and Skye’s honorable grandfather would be advising him and his two tria brothers.

    Idonea glanced up with her unfathomable blank face before again looking down on her work. Dag burst in, holding his nearly finished Budrie wood knife—a light-colored, hard wood. With a sharp enough point and edge, it would pierce a Rezzian’s flesh much like steel. “I saw Folkvar and Egill coming.” He looked at Skye with a disappointed frown. “Brandr and Njall are with them.”
    Skye felt a grin stretch across his face. Brandr and Njall were Skye’s tria brothers, the sons of Folkvar and Egill. It meant Skye would be accompanying his father, too.

    Jurg’s furry eyebrows dropped and he steadied his gaze on his eldest son, steadying Skye’s excitement with a green-eyed stare. “Get your axe.”

    Skye hurried to his room, slid onto his knees, threw back the lid of his chest. He dug through piles of clothing to find the smooth handle of Bright Shade. The axe had been his father’s gift to him, long ago.

    Before he could pull it up, Idonea stood above him. “Do you think you’ll need it?”

    “Hel if I know.”

    “Where is he taking you?”

    “To talk to the Rezzians?”

    Idonea’s brow trembled as her breathing stopped. “Why?”

    Skye shrugged and felt the smooth Budrie handle. The weight of the axe’s head rested in his right hand.

    “Let the fathers do the talking, Brother.”

    Skye stifled a laugh before he looked up into his sister’s motionless eyes. “If I’m unlucky.”

    “You’re lucky like a fox.” Dag’s heavy arms stretched across the doorway, powerful but still carrying baby fat at seventeen. Skye was barely a year older than Dag and while Skye was easily the more athletic of the two, Dag had the girth.

    “He only asked me to bring my axe. It’s nothing serious.”

    “Then why are you putting on your leather?” Dag asked.

    “Couldn’t hurt.” Skye didn’t attempt to hide his grin as he pulled the leather vest over his head, taking in its earthy scent. He tied his belt and put his axe through a loop at his hip. “I don’t think he’d take me if he thought I was going to need this.”

    As Skye walked through the doorway, Dag jabbed Skye’s ribs with an elbow. Skye answered with a forearm beneath his brother’s neck. Skye leaned in and they locked eyes as they clenched their teeth through their smiles. If Dag had been born first, he would be the one going with their father.

    “Lucky.” Dag shoved Skye through the door.

    “Next time …” Skye raised a finger.

    Dag looked back like a bored bull.

    “Next time,” Skye said before motioning as if cutting his own throat. He cracked a smile, but couldn’t get a reaction out of his ‘little’ brother. “Don’t worry. We’ll lock our shields together soon enough.”

    “Come with me,” his father said as he headed into the forest.

    Skye’s mother charged to the door and grabbed both of Skye’s shoulders. “Rezzians have killed boys for speaking to them. You stay quiet. Hear me?”

    “Aye, Mamma. I never choose a battle I can’t win. And I’m not a boy.”

    “Then you’ll keep your mouth shut.”

    Skye nodded, noticing the tears on his mother’s pink cheeks. He and his mother were t he same height now. He inherited his tall frame from her side of the family. “Don’t worry. Grandfather will be with us.” He kissed her cheek and flashed what he knew to be his handsome smile as he walked past the Altrea door.

    Water dripped from sagging Windeyes branches and enormous Bonecore leaves. Late afternoon rain was uncommon during summer in the Andaran hills. The showers had the village of Jorvik smelling even more lush than usual. The damp sent a chill through Skye’s trained physique as he glanced around the many wooden huts and structures built around the hills and trees.

    Folkvar, Brandr’s father, turned his massive body to address the young men. His braided hair was a reddish yellow and his beard ran down to his constant heart. “The Rezzians will offer us a meal. The elders will talk and eat. You will not join us unless we tell you to. You will sit and prove you are obedient, disciplined young men.” His stare turned between the members of the young tria. “Your presence will make our acceptance of Rezzia’s offer more binding. Your presence will show our seriousness. That is the only reason you are coming with us. You will do everything we command you to do. So you do nothing, and you ruin nothing. Is this understood?”

    Skye’s father gave him a stern look, just to emphasize Folkvar’s point, then stared at the other young men, too. “You will learn things today which you will guard and keep to yourselves. You will not share what you see or hear with anyone.”

    Brandr was a younger, sunnier version of his father, Folkvar, but capable of being just as stern. Brandr eyed Skye from a wide stance with his hands resting on his hips, unable to hide a glint of excitement in his forest green eyes. Just as Folkvar was the heart of the elder tria, his son Brandr led Skye’s young tria too. The heart of any tria stood behind his two shield brothers in battle, wielding either a large weapon in close combat or throwing spears and a sling at range.

    Njall was the mind of Skye’s tria, a shieldbearer who was expected to be knowledgeable on a variety of practical subjects. Like Brandr, Njall failed at appearing unmoved by the moment, with one raised, smirking eyebrow over his dark brown eyes—a typical expression for him.

    Skye served as the spirit of his tria, the second shieldbearer who would some day cultivate the spiritual guidance of his departed father and serve as their interpreter of omens. On this day’s excursion, Skye’s father would serve in the capacity of spirit.

    Rain pattered down on giant leaves and needle-covered soil as they hiked westward, between the dark grandmother mountains, toward the Hall of the Ancestors which stood near the center of the three local Andaran villages. A raven’s flapping wings interrupted the sound of the rain.

    Skye spoke quietly to his brothers. “What has Rezzia offered?”

    Njall had been watching the ground, but he pointed his chin to the sky with a shrug, saying he knew nothing more. Brandr slowed to let their fathers move further ahead, and Njall and Skye slowed with him. Brandr’s excitement beamed off his rosy cheeks. “The Rezzians have offered a meal to begin negotiations. Something about a peace settlement, but that’s all I know.”

    Njall’s smirk went sour, his eyes squinted. “We’re accepting an offering of meat?”

    “Like Hel we are.” Skye threw up his arms, his fingers curling and almost forming fists.

    Brandr shoved his open palm at the center of Skye’s chest to assert control. Bastard ran through Skye’s mind as he decided to let it go.

    “Why are our fathers going?” Njall asked.

    Brandr paused and let the fathers walk even farther ahead. “I think …” he looked around, peering into the forest, then lowered his voice. “… they may be our reigning tria.” He nodded with visible glee.

    Skye looked about, chewing on the thought. A secret tria always led each tribe of Andars, its identity concealed from the populace to protect the leaders’ families. If their fathers’ tria held that rank, then Skye’s tria would be in line to become more prominent some day.

    As they finally neared the clearing around the great hall, a building constructed from the darkest Hollowheart wood, blond Andaran warriors fell from the trees and formed into trias, groups of three with one leader standing between his two shield-bearing brothers. The flankers carried great wooden shields and spears. The heart of each group wielded something more vicious, whether an axe, a spiked club or hammer, or an iron sword. The trias remained hidden from the Rezzians, behind the edge of the forest.

    Skye had trained in secret with his tria and his father’s tria, but hadn’t seen so many other armed warriors since the Rezzian invasion seven years ago. Brandr stomped his feet, dancing with joy. Njall slapped Skye’s shoulders wearing an enormous grin. Skye laughed and raised his fists. Look at this! Andars is still strong!

    The fathers calmed their sons, covering up the pride they must’ve felt with stern glances. The other trias remained behind as the six continued on.

    Outside and near the farther side of the hall, a Rezzian legion stood at attention, drenched by the rain. Each tall rectangular shield curled slightly along two long sides and covered the men from knees to shoulders. Skye had seen Rezzian soldiers patrolling the forests and villages many times, but here was a tightly configured formation, a disciplined unit. Tactics, his father had told him many times, you defeat the Rezzians with superior tactics—never head on.

    Another tria emerged from the woods and met Jurg and Folkvar’s tria. The six men bashed their left forearms together in greeting. Folkvar waved for the boys to follow and the nine passed under the awning of the hall together. The knotted wood above them had long ago been carved into thick serpents, thorny vines, and wizened bearded men.

    The musty fragrance of old Hollowheart welcomed them. Animal pelts and centuries-old carvings hung from dark, expansive walls. Nine pairs of Andaran boots tapped the floor like a reluctant drummer sounding the end of the world.

    Six Rezzian dignitaries rose from their chairs on the opposite side of the grandest table in Andars, if not all the world of Gallea, wide enough for a hundred to dine together. Two bald warpriests in long white tunics stood on either side of a Strategos. The commander’s quiet black eyes and long bush of raven hair added shadows to the blood red of his tasseled uniform. Three prized soldiers stood by them, as chiseled and impressive as any Skye had seen. Far behind them, two unarmed soldiers turned a spit of lamb over a fire pit.

    The tension brimmed with anger and fear. An instinctive courage lengthened Skye’s spine. He stood beside his father and tria brothers, ready for anything.

    The aroma of the Rezzian sauce reached his nose and his knotted his stomach: salty red peppers, savory dark herbs, honey. He wished he wasn’t so damn hungry.

    “I didn’t know there would be so many of you,” the Strategos said in fluent Andaran. “Go ahead and sit.”

    Folkvar spoke for the party, waving at the young tria. “Our sons.”

    The Strategos made a strange face with puckered lips and nodded slowly. “Then it would seem you do not take our offer lightly.” The Strategos eyed the young men. Each would likely appear to him as a capable enough warrior, though Njall was still a bit thin at seventeen and Brandr was already heavier than most grown men at nineteen.

    Folkvar cupped one of his hard fists in front of his heart. “When we offer someone cooked meat, we offer brotherhood—”

    “Please. We understand that we will never be brothers on any level. We only want you to know that our proposal is sincere. You receive this meal, and, look, we receive your sons. I believe these talks are off to an auspicious start.”

    “We will eat with you, but without the traditional meaning.”

    “Of course.”

    Jurg’s tria was the first to sit in the magnificent chairs. The other adult tria sat to their left. Each son sat beside his father. Six Rezzians sat across from the nine Andarans. The warpriests wore their flowing tunics that covered all but their hands and feet; one of them had an orange tear tattooed on one of his cheeks and the other wore a gold ring bearing a lion’s maned head. Skye noted the massive arms on the Rezzian soldier in front of him, a mountain of a warrior. Skye wasn’t that big, not yet, but he refused to let a drop of intimidation swim in his gut.

    The Rezzian servants brought wooden plates of sizzling lamb covered in a dark sauce. The scent teased Skye again. His stomach clenched.

    The Strategos gripped the side of the table before he spoke. “King Vieri has recalled my legions.”

    Skye sat taller with excitement. Could it be? After all this time?

    “Where are you going?” Folkvar asked the long-haired Strategos.

    The Strategos smiled with crooked lips. “Now why would I tell you that?” He shared the grin with warpriest beside him.

    “Because you want something from us. And if you treat us like men, you’re more likely to get it.”

    The Strategos sucked in his cheeks, considering. “If I reveal my honest hand to you, I expect you to do the same.”

    Folkvar nodded.

    “My men have been called to fight Pawelon in the canyon. We’re going to help our king turn the tide. Isn’t it true that everything takes longer than one would expect?”

    Yes, Skye thought, so get the Hel out of Andars or let us cut your throats and be done with it.

    The Strategos continued, “To tell the truth, I’m hungry for real battles again. Andars is beautiful, and that’s the best we can say about your men.”

    Folkvar surged to his feet, and thirteen hands flew to the handles of their weapons.

    “I’m joking!” The Rezzian raised his palm. “Easy. Lay a finger on us and another of your villages will be cleansed.”

    “You’re in the Hall of our Ancestors,” Folkvar said. “Insult us again and I’ll piss on your corpse tonight.”

    The Strategos leaned back and laughed. He drew out the mocking sound, enjoying it too much as he turned and shared it with all of his allies. The mountain in front of Skye cracked a smile, revealing his yellow teeth.

    Finally the commander stopped and waved a hand as if it had been a spat among friends. “Now that everyone’s blood is pumping, I am here to make an offering. I won’t insult you again. I won’t pretend this offer is for a final peace, but rather for a long breath—a pause—between Rezzia and Andars.”

    “What do you want from us?” Folkvar asked.

    “Hear my demands. These are not requests. Let our soldiers leave peacefully, do not follow us, do not harass our traders and caravans now or in the future. Do not rebuild your army. We will send monitors to make sure you do not, and you will treat these men well. Should anyone from Andars interfere with Rezzian interests or violate these stipulations, King Vieri has promised to return with double the force and ten times the vigor.” He thrust his index finger into the center of the table and left it there.

    The last seven years had been worse than death. In Skye’s youth their village had been free; it had been safe to wander the forests; warriors were free to train; women felt safe inside their homes. Even with the Rezzian threat hanging over them, to have their hills free of these bastards would be like paradise. The singing that would ring from home to home, from hall to hall! The joy of it!

    Grinning, Skye looked down again on succulent lamb and wondered if he should check his lips for drool. The six elders had resumed eating, along with the Rezzians. He looked to his father for permission, but Jurg ignored him.

    “And you will return after your soldiers have occupied Pawelon?”

    The Strategos almost smiled as he narrowed his eyes. “When the time comes, perhaps we will ask our Exalted if he believes such a course would be wise. It will always remain a possibility.”

    Folkvar pushed his chair back from the table and traded glances with the member of his tria. “We agreed to meet with you in the hall of our Ancestors, men your fathers and grandfathers killed. You offer us a meal as you insult us, hoping we will comply as you leave our lands to oppress another. And then you or your sons will return to kill us or our sons.” Folkvar’s hand swung to point at Brandr, Njall, and Skye. “Have I missed anything?”

    The Strategos’s stare was steady, suddenly bored. “No.”

    The quiet hung like an acidic moss above their heads. The iron links of a Rezzian soldier’s mail shirt rattled as he shifted his weight forward.

    The warpriest with the orange tear tattoo seemed to be prying into Skye’s soul with his black eyes. Skye wanted to throw his hands up to make the bastard jump, but restrained himself. The warpriest looked to the other one, the one with the lion’s head ring, and directed his ally’s attention to Skye. As they both stared at him, Skye steeled his guts with hatred.

    The Strategos leaned back, dismissively. “Now, time to show your honest hand. You haven’t been raising an army, have you, Folkvar?”

    “No.”

    The Rezzian in the tasseled red uniform became even more smug. He played with his fingernails. “We would really have to punish you. You’re lucky we let you in here with your axes.”

    “We could not meet with you in this hall otherwise.”

    “I know. You accepted our meat, did you not?”

    “Wewill consider your proposal.” Folkvar rested one fist on his hips. “But only if you offer us more.”

    The Strategos chuckled and leaned forward. “I want to hear what you think you will get from me.”

    Folkvar held firm, barely moving a muscle. “Give us back the Nastrond Hills, then you will have peace for as long as you want it.”

    “Those hills are for Rezzia’s protection—”

    “They are Andaran.”

    “Until our forefathers took them. You will accept what we offer you or we’ll shed a great deal more blood before we leave your cold mountains.”

    Folkvar shook his head in a wide arc, repeatedly. He had such mettle. Skye respected him for that. Skye looked to Brandr and Njall. Neither had started eating.

    Folkvar said, “Before we can even consider your words, we must appeal to our ancestors.”

    The Strategos turned one shoulder to Folkvar, acting too bored to care, and rested his hand on the table before reaching for another bite of lamb. Folkvar stared at Jurg and nodded.

    “Father Spirit,” Jurg closed his eyes and entered a trance.

    Skye’s stomach clenched again as he examined the meat on his plate. This could go on awhile.

    A surge of rain pounded the dark roof like tiny pebbles thrown from a mountain.

    “Speak to me! Guide us, noble father.”

    Brandr and Njall still weren’t eating. Their fathers had forgotten about them. If Skye started on his lamb, they’d join in too. After their forced hike, the waiting was cruelty.

    Jurg stood, eyes closed, and put his hands on the table to steady himself. His head shook side to side, and he grunted, shivering.

    Skye held his cut of lamb with two hands. No one will say anything. It’s wrong to keep us hungry like this … He raised the meat to his nose and let the aroma tease him once more—slap!—his father’s hand smacked his face so hard that he fell sideways and the meat fell in his lap.

    He turned back to see his father, eyes still closed, looming over him. “Their meat is full of sickness!” Still in his trance, at one with the spirit of his slain father, Jurg drew his axe from his hip and flung it into the forehead of the Strategos across from him.

    An unmanly cry escaped the long-haired Strategos as chairs scraped against the wooden floor and the warriors drew their weapons.

    The Rezzian soldiers unsheathed their short stabbing swords. The warpriests stepped back, muttering in their harsh language. The two elder trias, shieldless, readied their axes and long knives, three of them shoving their sons behind them. Skye stood with Bright Shade in hand.

    As the Rezzians backed away, Jurg surged across the table in his trance, pointing his knife at a soldier’s neck. Folkvar hurled his hand axe at the same Rezzian, but the weapon bounced off his target’s cuirass at his shoulder. Njall’s father, Egill, dove across the table beside Jurg, his knee landing in an uneaten meal. A different Rezzian soldier lunged forward and stabbed Egill’s hip, beneath his leather shirt.

    His blood pumping, Skye’s glance met the soldier across from him, the mountain whose lips were frozen in a snarl. As a shieldman of his tria, Skye needed to wait for his leader’s order. “Go!” Brandr yelled.

    Brandr leapt onto the table with his short sword leading, and no sooner Skye was beside him, guarding his leader’s left. The Rezzian soldier swung his blade in a tight arc to throw off their balance.

    Skye came on, trusting Brandr to advance beside him, and the Rezzian stabbed at Skye’s gut. Skye spun back and met Egill’s stabilizing forearm. Njall landed to Brandr’s right.

    The mountain retreated two steps. Droning from the tear-warpriest buzzed in Skye’s ears, over the clamor of Andaran warriors surging across the table. The other warpriest spoke a prayer like a man yelling into an inferno, “Osalashun Galeazz!”

    Egill struggled to stand, one hand on his wound, as Folkvar shifted right to cover him. Jurg emerged from his trance, his face flushed like a blood-drenched river.

    Skye knew the Rezzians would’ve had more men in the hall if they thought fighting might break out. Outside, men were shouting commands in Rezzian to the rectangular legion. Skye’s grandfather had upset their plans. Angry shouts from the many Andaran trias followed. What would this mean? It could change everything.

    Inside, the three Andaran trias had formed up. Each tria stood opposed by an enormous Rezzian soldier without the benefit of his shield.

    Forget tactics. I like these odds.

    The grating noise from the tear-warpriest pained Skye’s eardrums. His leg muscles responded slowly as he tried to present a moving target. He shook his head to stay alert. Shut up with that damned noise!

    “What sort of poison did you use?” Folkvar pointed his knife at the soldier before him.

    The soldier growled and jabbed with his knife, first at Folkvar, then at Jurg, backing them both away. Egill surged forward with a knife thrust to the Rezzian’s undefended left—but moved too slowly. The Rezzian twisted, stabbing the inside of Egill’s forearm, then backed away, slicing through the air to back off Folkvar and Jurg.

    Skye fought to ignore the hypnotic ringing in his ears. The sound was turning his legs numb. “We’re dead unless we stop that warpriest!”

    Brandr and Njall stepped toward the towering mountain, feinting with jabs. Skye turned and ran around and behind them, dragging his heavy legs. He moved between the two closest soldiers and headed for the warpriest.

    The mountain’s shoulder smashed against his chest, driving the wind from his lungs and sending him tumbling to the floor. Skye kept his axe’s edge pointing up. The buzzing noise careened inside his head and he spit out the only Rezzian curse that he knew.

    The lion warpriest had retreated, but continued yelling his prayer. The tear-warpriest looked toward on Skye and spoke in broken Andaran, “You have family.” His smile showed one crooked front tooth. “We are on them already.”

    Brandr’s axe flew and buried itself in the warpriest’s chest. The racket stopped in Skye’s head.

    The mountain stabbed down with full force.

    Skye rolled into the soldier’s legs and brought up his axe between the soldier’s thighs. The Rezzian’s warm blood splashed onto Skye’s face. Njall leapt at the mountain, cutting across the side of his neck.

    Skye stood to find only one Rezzian soldier still standing. His father stood over the other one, pulling his knife from the man’s groin.

    Skye removed Bright Shade from the same place on his enemy. “Mamma and Idonea!”

    “Go,” his father commanded. “I must stay with the trias.”

    Njall had no other family, and Brandr’s mother and sister were away in Gardar. “Your house,” Brandr said. He and Njall followed Skye as they climbed back over the table, under the wooden awning, away from the commotion of the battle about to begin outside the Hall of the Ancestors. They ran east, between the grandmother mountains.

    #

    Skye’s lungs begged for rest as they neared Jorvik. Rain pelted his face. His tired muscles moved only by determination and fear. No, no, no, no, no. Grandfather, don’t let them be hurt! Don’t let them! Don’t, don’t, don’t! Brandr and Njall ran behind him, but nothing in Gallea could slow Skye’s legs.

    A woman’s scream for help made his heart shrivel into a rotten black pit. His eyes watered. His thighs burned as he leapt over mossy branches and tall roots, his feet pounding the ground like a war drum.

    Male screams erupted through the cover of dense trees, far to his right. To the left, near his family’s dwelling, another woman screamed like Hel.

    Idonea!

    The forest flew past in a dark green and brown blur.

    More screams from more houses. The Rezzians were everywhere, in many homes. They’d hidden. They’d waited to ambush defenseless families. Had they planned it all along as a parting gift?

    Skye stormed down the hill, knees taking a beating as he raced ahead and burst past the open Altrea door. Three Rezzians held his struggling brother upright. Dag’s face had been smashed and bloodied. You’ll feel my axe, all of you!

    Behind them, his mother lay face down beside the family’s meal table, blood seeping from her chest. My dear Mamma … Skye spread his jaw like a wolf—inner scream at a full frenzy.

    To his left … a Rezzian’s ass exposed to the air.

    Beneath him …

    Idonea!

    Skye exploded and swung his axe around with all his fury. As the soldier screamed, Sky yanked his axe’s blade from the Rezzian’s back. He grabbed the Rezzian’s neck and pulled him away from Idonea. For my mother and sister! He chopped down through the man’s swollen penis.

    Another Rezzian held Idonea down by her shoulders. The soldier stood and fumbled for his sword as Idonea rolled away.

    Skye swung Bright Shade and heard it crack against the bones of the soldier’s face. Next to him, the rapist had fallen to his knees, crying like a child, clutching his groin.

    Dag growled like a caged bear, and his captors unsheathed their swords.

    Skye pulled Bright Shade from the Rezzian’s face and hurled it at the soldier to Dag’s left. Another axe flew through the door and landed in the arm of the soldier at Dag’s right. Dag broke free from the soldier behind him and smashed the back of his head against his foe’s skull.

    Damn you all to Hel!

    Skye leapt to his brother’s side and finished the first soldier, cleaving through his neck. Brandr ran inside and knocked the second soldier down. Stumbling, the Rezzian pulled the axe from his left arm and raised it, eyeing Brandr.

    Njall stepped through the door, pivoted, and hurled his axe into the soldier’s face before he could move.

    Skye grabbed Dag’s Budrie knife off the ground near his mother. Dag rolled around, wrestling with the soldier who had held him. Skye yelled, “Hold him down!”

    Brandr and Njall pulled the Rezzian off Dag and pinned him. Skye kicked him between his legs and handed Dag his Budrie knife. “Finish him.” Curse your soul.

    Dag stood, his nose bent and bleeding. The dying Rezzians were moaning, flailing on the blood-drenched floor. Their home was not their home. It was a burning pyre, an open grave, haunted by foul Rezzian spirits.

    Dag raised his knife with both hands. “This is for what you made me watch.” He slammed the wooden blade downward, piercing the Rezzian’s eye. The soldier’s gruesome yell rang through the forest.

    Skye fell on his legs and held him down as Dag pounded his knife into the soldier’s other eye.

    After a few more stabs, the Rezzians were nothing but corpses.

    Idonea sat leaning against the wall, pressing some of the fabric against her pelvis. Her blue eyes were wide with shock.

    Skye knelt by his motionless mother, his blood and breath pounding like a storm that could destroy the world. He lifted her onto her side, her head a lifeless weight. Why did you let this happen, Grandfather? Why? Why? His tears were a sheet of rain on his cheeks.

    He forced a scream up from his hard stomach, through his anguish, through the acid burning his throat, to be heard by every ear in the forest.

    Idonea staggered to his side, shuffling. “Promise me …” her words came out like controlled explosions of fire. “We will behead Rezzia’s King …” One of her crystal blue eyes turned storm grey. “We will burn Rezzia’s Haissem … I swear it, we will even destroy Rezzia’s gods … Promise me!”

    ————————————————————————

    It all started with one very special cartoon series. My first “spiritual” experience came through watching the 85-episode-long Robotech saga at the age of 10. I honestly decided then that I wanted to give back some day and inspire others just as that incredible series did for me (at that time, my goal was to create an epic cartoon series). After high school, I spent 16 years searching for the meaning of life, decided it was simple enough, and returned to my first goal in life: dreaming up epic stories and being an epic goofball. After spending many years writing non-fiction (including a stint as an editor at a local magazine), in 2011 I unleashed my debut epic fantasy novel on the willing.  THE BLACK GOD’S WAR is a bit of an homage to Homer; if I’ve done my job, then it’s an epic story that’s also a page-turner. I blog about the writing life, and I like to spend my free time watching Robotech DVDs with my five-year-old son, Athens.

    Peter Welmerink: The Long And Short Of It

    Once upon a time… the end.

    I told that story to one of my kids one time, just as a joke one night for a bed time story. Yes, he laughed, and every once in a while, he repeats it, as a joke, when we discuss movies, books, etc.

    When it comes to writing, I have nothing against writing longer pieces but, it seems, my forte as a writer is writing short fiction. Other than the novel I co-wrote with Steven Shrewsbury (Bedlam Unleashed, Belfire Press, 2011), the mass majority of my written work available out there is in short story form and in various anthologies.

    I enjoy writing the short story. It takes some discipline, especially when an editor gives you a word count limit, to put your thoughts down on paper (ye olde wood pulp or electronic) when the tale needs to be encapsulated, clear and concise, and actually tell a full story. Perhaps it is the challenge of doing such a thing that piques my interest: stuffing a good story into a condensed space.

    Or perhaps I suffer from writer’s A.D.D.

    A lot of writing down the story is sometimes letting the tale subject and characters take you down that road of discovery. I think a lot of my tales, the characters just don’t like to being dragged down a long and dusty road and I don’t feel the need to drag them or be dragged along with them. Well, not unless we mutually want to be. My characters and stories are on a mission, to tell their tale, get in and then get out of there.

    Tackling the job of writing a short story, as mentioned, one of the challenges and enjoyment, is keeping the piece in or under the required word count. Longer pieces take skill, but I almost see the shorter pieces take equally as much skill if not more. I need to drum up the idea of characters and plot line, figure out how to keep it engaging, how to keep the action and interest within, while meeting the guidelines and requirements of the editor or publisher and the all important word count requirements. It can sometimes be a daunting job trying to drive a tale from point A to point B when the road you are given is the length of a short driveway. Luckily, things can jump out of the bushes and antagonists can parachute into your midst to create adventure and a story even if you’ve only traveled a couple feet down that drive.

    I like writing the shorter pieces because it keeps me focused. I know I have to create and drive the piece down the short road, yet make that road interesting, convincing and full to be able to put that final period on the final sentence, close the thing down, and, most importantly, entertain and satisfy the reader. (Well, I get most enjoyment out of telling my own tale, and if an editor and then, hopefully, the reader enjoy it, it is a win-win for all.)

    With longer pieces, I feel I am only successful when writing them in some sort of sequential short story manner. It is probably just me, or I haven’t put myself to the task enough to feel any other way, but I don’t know if I can keep the suspense and drama, and maybe even the interest of the reader, there long enough in writing Jordanesque-type pieces. (Heck, unless they are REALLY engaging, I don’t typically like even trying to read Jordanesque-type stories and novels.) Strictly speaking about my own writing endeavors, I fear I can’t maintain my own interest and forward motion if I try to create longer novel-length pieces. Just me. Just me. To the folks who can write those bigger pieces, more writing power to you.

    As a writer, in the end, I think you also need to see where your strengths lie. If you enjoy and find success in writing shorter pieces of fiction, if you feel you can produce a more solid piece of fiction or nonfiction in writing shorter material… DO IT. In the busy world we live in, folks like being able to snatch up a short story, be it within an anthological tome (I think I just made up a word) or something in digital form you can read over a lunch break on your e-reading device. If that is your shtick and you find contentment in that (and making a few bucks here and there), then go for it.

    For now, I am happy with writing shorter works. So far, I am able to find home for that work, acceptance of that work, and have even got some pretty good feedback on that work which makes me want to stay on THAT bandwagon. When I graduate to the Jordanesque length stuff, I’ll let you know.

    Once upon the time. The end.

    ———————————————————————
    Peter Welmerink (www.peterwelmerink.com) writes dark fantasy, military scifi, and other wanderings into action-adventure. His work has been published in ye olde wood pulp print and electronic-online publications. His Viking berserker novel, BEDLAM UNLEASHED, co-written with Steven Shrewsbury, is available now! His short story FINAL RIGHTS can be found in the FADING LIGHT anthology as part of the publications e-book offering. He is married with a small barbarian tribe of three boys.

    Edward M. Erdelac: Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft

    I came to appreciate Howard Phillips Lovecraft by as long and circuitous a route as one of his protagonists to some mindbending, formless horror.

    The first time I ever heard the man’s name was in a 1991 HBO Original movie called Cast A Deadly Spell with Fred Ward, Clancy Brown, Julianne Moore and David Warner.  Set in an alternate 1940’s Los Angeles in which magic and magical creatures were everywhere, it was an effective noir mystery dressed with fascinating fantasy horror elements like a sorcerous hitman with a deadly deck of cards, a zombie bodyguard, and an invaluable grimoire everybody was after called the Necronomicon. Ward played the protagonist, a tough old school gumshoe who refused to use magic or talismans of any kind out of general principal.

    His character’s name was Harry Lovecraft.

    Interestingly, I had heard of the Necronomicon because my dad had a paperback a copy of it. My dad was a policeman at the time, working in the juvenile division of our town, and had attended a seminar on occultism and its relation to youth crimes. This was in the 80’s, at perhaps the height of the Satanic cult scare in America, when Patricia Pulling’s BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons) and Rona Jaffe’s Mazes and Monsters convinced every parent that if you played RPG’s you’d wind up cutting somebody’s heart out in a steam tunnel (even though, to Jaffe’s credit, the book isn’t about that at all) for Satan. My dad had brought home three books from that seminar. Anton Szandor LeVay’s Satanic Bible, The Necronomicon, and one I can’t remember (sorry).

    But anyway the fusion of noir and magic in Cast A Deadly Spell really appealed to me at the time. This was 1991, so I was 16, a sophomore in high school. I had already discovered my favorite writer, Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan and Solomon Kane by then, and was looking for anything I could find with his name on it.

    The first time I encountered the Lovecraftian Mythos, it was in a story written by Howard, who was Lovecraft’s contemporary and pen pal, a fellow contributor to the pulp magazine Weird Tales, where both Conan The Barbarian and the so-called Cthulhu Mythos first saw print in the 1930’s.

    The Howard story was The Black Stone, and it just…arrested me. It was like none of Howard’s other works that I had read. There was no kinetic violence, no thundering action. It was suspenseful and repulsive, and dripping with dread.

    It was about a folklorist who reads (in a German book of antiquity called Nameless Cults, a book which has a sordid history all its own) of a certain black monolith situated near a village in the mountains of Hungary, and decides to pay it a visit. After picking up oodles of doom laden legends about the stone on the way (sleeping at its base will give you vivid nightmares for the rest of your life, to mar its surface is to invite death, etc), the unnamed narrator finally finds the thing and nods off in the cliffs overlooking it. He awakens at midnight and witnesses a horrendous pagan ritual, in which a wailing infant is dashed to death against the monolith, causing a disgusting, gigantic black toad-like creature to appear at its summit.

    At this point he faints dead away, his mind overwhelmed by what he’s seen. Further inspection of the local artifacts and records convinces him that the stone is actually the tip of the spire of a tremendous fortress that lies buried beneath the mountains. He goes away wringing his hands and wondering

    “…if such a monstrous entity as the Master of the Monolith somehow survived its own unspeakably distant epoch so long–what nameless shapes may even now lurk in the dark places of the world?”

    Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d just read my first Lovecraftian story.

    A year or so later I saw Evil Dead 2, which mentioned again mentioned The Necronomicon. Then again, it was mentioned in a Stephen King story (I can’t remember which one, but Wikipedia suggests it was Crouch End), so I decided to pick something up by the actual H.P. Lovecraft and see what was going on here.

    The first story I read (being completely unversed in the Mythos – this was before the widespread use of the internet) was Imprisoned With The Pharoahs, a very atypical (I was to later learn) story Lovecraft wrote for Harry Houdini, about the master illusionist being kidnapped and having to escape from an underground chamber somewhere beneath the Sphinx. There was no mention of the Necronomicon or Cthulhu (playing RPG’s by then I’d heard of him too), but I came away thinking it was a neat little story and went on to the next interesting sounding story The Horror At Red Hook.

    I’m going to lose a lot of cosmic cred by admitting this, but I never finished it. It was densely written, and repetitive, paranoid and dull. At least, that’s how I remember it. I have yet to go back and give it another try. Promise I will. It was a number of years before I had the will to pick up anything else by Lovecraft, THARH put me off so much.

    On rabid recommendation from a friend, I started playing The Call of Cthuhlu: Dark Corners Of The Earth video game. I was hooked on the atmosphere of that game. It really was a triumph in regards to translating that xenophobic Lovecraftian dread. While I was playing that, I gave the HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s wonderful silent independent film The Call of Cthulhu a chance, and that made me go back and read the original source material. After that, I quickly went through The Music of Eric Zann (a favorite of mine, which inspired my Lovecraftian take on the Robert Johnson deal with the Devil story, The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues), The Dunwich Horror, and Shadow Over Innsmouth.

    I still couldn’t say I counted Lovecraft among my favorite writers, but I was beginning to understand his appeal. Lovecraft, technically, is not a great writer. There goes more cosmic cred. But conceptually, he’s one of the most influential writers of the last century. And you can hate the Great Gatsby (like I do), but you can’t deny its importance.

    So I became a nominal Lovecraft fan. Or rather, I was a fan of the Mythos. You can’t help but admire something that has not only stayed in print 75 years after the death of its creator, but also so clandestinely permeated the culture – not just of gaming and movies, TV, comics, and horror literature. I mean, my father brought home a freakin’ copy of The Necronomicon that was being taught as a book to watch out for in a national law enforcement seminar! When you figure out that there is no Necronomicon, well you’ve got to appreciate a trick like that. Being a fan of the Mythos sometimes feels like being in on a joke that not everybody gets.

    I guess I should say, the Mythos as it came to be called, is the cosmology Lovecraft posited in his writing, and which he encouraged his writing cronies (like Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and others) to expand upon, in which humanity is an infinitesimal entity created as an afterthought, in a universe in which exist extra-dimensional beings of unfathomable power (The Great Old Ones) and vastness as well as the super-advanced extraterrestrial races who pay them homage. And none of them care a whit for mankind if they’re even aware of our existence. The realization of this ultimate truth more often than not leads to madness in the small minds of men.

    OK.

    Back in 2008 I began plotting and writing The Merkabah Rider series, my weird western about a Hasidic gunslinger who tracks the renegade teacher who betrayed his mystic Jewish order of astral travelers across the Southwest. And in studying Judaic mysticism and folklore, I started coming across mentions of belimah, the world of Chaos which preceded Creation, a forbidden area of study for Orthodox esoteric scholars. And, these entries, from Rabbi Geoffrey Dennis’ supremely interesting reference guide, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth Magic and Mysticism:

    “Rahav – a cosmic sea monster…God slew him when he refused to help in creating the earth. The oceans conceal the lethal stink of his carcass, which is why the water smells so strange.”

    “…chaos is a constant threat, a power that lurks at the periphery of the cosmos, and there is a danger that it can be unleashed again, as it was in Noah’s time…”

    “When King David tried to move the stone [the Foundation Stone – the capstone of Creation] into the Holy of Holies, chaos was unleashed and it was only by using the theurgic power of reciting the Psalms that he was able to drive the waters of the abyss back to their proper place.”

    And something clicked – a way to take the fascinating and mostly untapped world of Hebrew folklore and tie it into something that people already loved, and that made perfect sense.

    And in the course of writing Merkabah Rider, I became a full on Lovecraft fan. I ‘got’ him at last.

    Read At The Mountains Of Madness. It’s basically an extremely long set up for the shoggoth scene (which, when it gets there, is extremely effective). There is no way any reputable editor today would pick up this story (I can’t even figure out how it ever got published in the first place – maybe, as some of the more radical HPL aficionados believe, he truly was tapping into some primal cosmic truth that could not be suppressed by a mere editor).

    Go to dagonbytes.com and click on At The Mountains Of Madness. Do a CTRL F search for decadent, Cyclopean, and nameless. You’ll get eleven, seventeen, and twenty four hits, respectively. That’s an appallingly repetitive use of adjectives!
    And that’s kind of how it reads. You have to sift through a lot of repetition, follow him down a lot of twisty passages that lead nowhere, to get to the good stuff. But it’s there. And it’s rewarding when you find it.

    For all his dense prose, the man was also capable of depressingly harrowing lines like;

    “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

    And that’s the appeal of HP Lovecraft, I think. When you finish one of his tales, you feel more like a researcher who has made a terrible, earth shattering discovery.

    Lovecraft doesn’t particularly empathize with his characters (or humanity as a whole), and so he doesn’t empathize with his readers. His style is cold and clinical, perfectly reflecting the universe he created, a terrifying, indifferent cosmology in which humanity has about as much purpose in the greater scheme of things as a toenail clipping has influence on the President of The United States.

    As writer and creator of his universe, HPL is not the benevolent Judeo-Christian God with a vested interest in his creations. He is a Great Old One (perhaps Azathoth), who has little concern with them, and whose attention they’d be better off not attracting.

    I don’t know what that makes the rest of us who choose to dabble in his world.

    Minions, I guess.

    ____________________________________________

    Edward M. Erdelac is the author of ‘Buff Tea,’ ‘Dubaku,’ ‘Merkabah Rider: Tales Of A High Planes Drifter,’ ‘Merkabah Rider: The Mensch With No Name,’ and ‘Merkabah Rider: Have Glyphs Will Travel’ from Damnation Books. His three winning entries in the Starwars.com Databank via the What’s The Story? feature led to his short story ‘Fists of Ion: Memoirs Of A Champion Shockboxer’ being published on Starwars.com. His short story ‘The Theophany Of Nyx’ will be released this September in the Fading Light anthology. He has written, produced, and directed an independent feature film (Meaner Than Hell 2009) and is an award winning screenwriter. His stories have seen print on both sides of the pond.

    Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he lives in the Los Angeles area with his family.