Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Unsurprising Surprising News

As we move towards the already-extended deadline (end of November), A Rope of Thorns has officially become the middle book of a trilogy. As my friend Jason Taniguchi says: "Of course! The only person surprised by this is Gemma."

Book Three will be called A Tree of Bones, and is due in April of 2012, just in time for the Mayan Apocalypse. Damn my luck!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Queering SFF Review of BOOK up at Brit Mandelo, and crazily good, here:

Also, my World's Biggest Bookstore interview is up on the 'Net in full, here:

I realize I haven't been around a lot, but that's because I really need to pour on speed if I'm going to break my way through Part Two of A Rope of Thorns on schedule. Since it got mentioned in Rue Morgue, and all, feel free to keep up with my slightly more intimate/shameful personal blog over at Livejournal, here:

On right now: Book reviews of my own, at least in passing. With extra small autistic boy sickness report!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

After Great Silence...

…a huge influx of critical response, starting with:

Rue Morgue #102
by Justine Warwick

Graced with an absolutely beautiful cover by designer Erik Mohr, Gemma Files’ first novel, A Book of Tongues, is a “weird West” tale set in 1867. It tells the story of Pinkerton detective Ed Morrow, who is sent to infiltrate a brutal gang of outlaws led by the Reverend Asher Rook, ex-Confederate chaplain and dark magician, in order to learn more about Rook’s strange abilities for the government cause. Morrow becomes increasingly entangled in Rook’s world—one of sorcery, gods, visions and blood—and his only hope of escape, or of completing his task, lies with Rook’s lover, Chess Pargeter, a violent man with a bloody past and, if Rook has his way, a dreadful future.

Files’ poetic prose is pitch-perfect: languid, precise and full of dark imagery. While the plot is sedately paced, the author takes the time to build up the universe in which her characters exist: a pitiless world in which death and destruction are commonplace, loyalties are always shifting and magic flows through ever aspect like a kind of perverse electricity, with the potential to destroy everything it touches. Files’ characters are complicated and profound, motivated largely by lust, both for power and for Chess Pargeter, who becomes a catalytic figure for Morrow and his quest when the two begin an affair. The sexuality of the three central players is as violent as their lives in the desert, the pioneer towns and the slums of San Francisco, and underscores not only their marginalization but their power to destabilize the world they live in—whether through magic or by their very existence.

It’s a brooding and deeply sinister novel, which will undoubtedly be a challenging read for some, but Files has definitely managed to create a world complex enough to sustain the series that this book initiates. A Book of Tongues closes, if not quite with a cliffhanger ending, with a revelation that sets up the reader for the events of a sequel, the upcoming A Rope of Thorns; it will be intriguing to see where the twists and coils of Files’ imagination take us next.

Other reviews I totally forgot to link to (because I am a doofus):

And some just-plain-folks with-blogs reviews, too, like this crazy-flattering one from

So. Much. WIN. In this book. *makes inarticulate sounds of glee* It was a "Merc book" through and through--I need the next one now, please. *fangirls some more* The Weird West, gay cowboys, ancient Mayan gods returning to the world, hexslinging magic, post-Civil War politics and tensions still going on; the novel has a complicated structure, which I liked, and the love story is so refreshingly anti-sentimental. Poor copyediting in places (especially the last third) kept jarring me, but for the story and characters, I could overlook the technical elements. *is a total Chess fangirl*

Plus this slightly less unreservedly positive one from A Wild Book Chase, here (

Finally, a crazy yet incredibly flattering link: Somebody at who calls themselves “radiant song” is reading my book and posting color commentary as they go! ( I like (his? her?) analysis of why Chess is such a damn homme fatale, which is…pretty spot-on, actually.;) I’ll be following subsequent posts with increasing interest.

Steve and I also got interviewed for the Shirley Jackson Awards by Charles Tan, here, about our nominated novella “each thing I show you is a piece of my death” (; Charles later interviewed me about my nominated short story “The Jacaranda Smile”, here (

Oh, and finally, I’m agented: As of last week, Monica Pacheco from Anne McDermid & Associates is my literary representative, contingent on me writing a novel that’s a a bit more mainstream than my current blood-soaked black magic gay porno horse opera id-fic. Hey, I’m game—I mean, I was going to do that anyhow.;)

Okay, so: Hopefully I won't be away so long, next time. Nice to see y'all.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


My Torontoist profile is up , and lookin' damn fine, if I say so myself. You'll find it here:


Sunday, May 23, 2010

ChiZine Short Story Contest

Also: Some of you may recall that I won this particular competition a few years back, with "Spectral Evidence". But as of June 1st, I'm well-pleased to be helping judge the 15th ChiZine Short Story Contest, along with such coolio fellow judges as Dave Nickle, Brent Hayward and Paul Tremblay. Hellblazer writer Mike Carey will be the tie-breaker.


1st, 2nd, and 3rd prizes: Publication in ChiZine: Treatments of Light and Shade in Words at seven (7) cents per word (USD). There will also be five honourable mentions.



• Dark.
• Well-written.
• 4,000 words or less.
• Rich Text Format or Microsoft Word attachment.
• No reprints.
• No simultaneous submissions.
• No multiple submissions.
• Send to ONLY this address:
(Submissions sent to any other address will be deleted unread.)

All submissions will be stripped of author identification and sent to the judges via a third party.
Deadline for the contest is June 30th, 2010. Winners and honourable mentions will be announced by July 31st, 2010. The top three placers will be published in ChiZine issue #46 (October–December, 2010).

(Note: ChiZine editorial staff members are ineligible for this contest.)

So, yeah: Bring it. Da dark. Da creep. I look forward.;)


Ah, can't please everybody!;) (

Actually, I've been waiting for my first Amazon review, and thought it would likely as not be from somebody who was more put off than enthused over my trouser-ripping sensibilities. Nevertheless, I'm happy to note he seems to have liked the other parts of it well enough. Just stop gaying up your blood-soaked black magic horse opera so much, Gemma! Geez!

Luckily for me, a couple of slightly more gay-friendly folks have added fresh and lovely reviews in on top. Anybody out there who'd care to add their own?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

OMG, Fangoria!

Fangoria #294
Book of the Month: A Book of Tongues by Gemma Files
By Chris Alexander

Fango readers residing in Toronto may recall the days when noted, International Horror Guild award-winning Gemma Files used to scribble film reviews for lefty arts and culture newspaper Eye Weekly. As a film-school-slogging youth, I fell in love with her, the way she championed the less fortunate and less popular pictures and how her critical barometer was dictated by her eccentricities and personal life experience. She was also a kick-ass wrangler of words (and I told her as much in an open letter to Eye—the very first time my voice was put in print).

Since those early days, Files’ skills have clearly sharpened, her dark, deeply deranged and unapologetically sexual works careening wildly into the messier realms of the Freudian id while serving as works of unfettered imagination. Her short stories have been adapted for the short-lived The Hunger TV series and collected in two brilliant collections, Kissing Carrion and [The] Worm in Every Heart. But it is in her first novel, A Book of Tongues: Volume One of the Hexslinger Series, that her outrageous but creatively honest chops get free reign to freak out.

The story’s set-up is classic, American Western, with a twist: In a blown-out, post-Civil War West, a Pinkerton[']s agent named Ed Morrow attempts to infiltrate the world of “hexslinger” wizard/outlaw Asher Rook and drag his supernatural secrets back to his employers. But the deeper he gets wormed into Rook’s universe, the more ensnared in homosexually fuelled hocus-pocus he becomes, with Rook’s lover Chess Pargeter figuring heavily into his very survival. Somehow, Aztec goddesses and the fate of the planet also make their way into Files’ completely outlandish head-spin of a story, and the easily offended or those put off by a challenging narrative need not apply.

Files has always worn her influences on her sleeve, and Tongues reads like the culmination of myriad diverse stimuli. The operatic drama of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York rubs against the cross-genre cheek of True Blood, mashed with a healthy dollop pf J.R.R. Tolkien by way of a dusty, mud- and semen-caked Deadwood; and of course, Files’ own hot ‘n’ heavy gay-erotica leanings also get a full XXX-rated workout here. That seems to be the source of her power—blending pulp fiction with profound, often poetic prose that does what all good horror fiction should do, which is mirror our collective humanity while jettisoning us into the black, blood-drenched ether.

A Book of Tongues is truly one-of-a-kind, violent, carnal and creepy, and also serves as the setup for a subsequent installment. With foreplay this good, the follow-up should be the kind of phantasmagorical climax Files’ fans have been waiting for.

N.B.: To think that A) It's been almost fifteen years since I first met Chris Alexander over badly-burnt videotapes of Lucio Fulci films at the St. Lawrence market and B) now he's the editor-in-chief of Fangoria, thus allowing him to pump C) my damn first novel, which I started writing almost as a joke, and is currently in the process of breaking me wide open...

Man. Life is weird, isn't it? And amazing.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Book of Tongues Review, from Locus Magazine (April 2010)

At some point, most religions seem to offer visions of widespread gore and pending annihilation—perhaps none more gorily than the linked faith of the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. For her first novel A Book of Tongues, Gemma Files injects elements from that religion into the already-brutal Wild West soon after the Civil War, amping up the horror of a very dark tale that introduces the Hexslinger Series. Even Clint Eastwood’s stoic gunslinger from those spaghetti westerns might blanch at some of the doings here, as Files describes them with a graphic, unflinching eloquence.

Her “hexslinger” Asher Rook is a former preacher, turned by extreme trauma into a magician who now wields his small black Bible like a weapon. In it he can always find appropriate words for a curse, which lifts “bodily from those gilt-edged pages in one flat curl of unstrung ink, a floating necklace of black gothic type” (shown here in such a text), with devastating results.

Rook’s gang includes his gay lover Chess Pargeter, a green-eyed madman with red-gold hair, tireless sexual appetites, a phenomenal ability with guns, and a complete lack of scruples. A newcomer to the gang, undercover Pinkerton agent Ed Morrow, is on assignment to investigate the criminal use of magic but has few defenses against its use on himself—including one episode that will leave him both horrified and ashamed.

While the members of this little outfit are no strangers to homicide, robbery, and Barbary Coast whorehouses, as bloodletters they’re complete amateurs next to the elder powers who’ve been haunting Rook’s dreams and eventually draw him into a kind of hell where two opposing female entities have different ideas of his (and our world’s) destiny.

Violent, sometimes foul-mouthed, explicit in many ways, A Book of Tongues may discomfort anyone except the most seasoned fan of horror or homicidal Westerns. More than one passage made me wish I could “read” with my eyes tight shut. But a kind of natural poetry runs through even the worst of it, combined with an imaginative view of magic. it’s there in the title taken from one of its epigraphs, a poem by Gwendolyn MacEwen. That quote opens with the title phrase and ends: “Beware! I [now] know a language so beautiful and lethal / My mouth bleeds when I speak it.” Such an image transcends mere gore, and so does this debut novel.

—Faren Miller, Locus Magazine, April 2010.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Book of Tongues Interstitial: Music, Music, Music

Whenever it comes to music, like Laurence-as-Prince-Naveen in Disney’s The Princess and the Frog might say, “I’m for it.” It’s undeniably important to my process—setting a mood, giving me character insight, helping me explain things to myself. For years now, the second thing I always do when I start a new project (after my initial notes) is to cobble together a play-list of songs that remind me of my characters.

What was particularly pleasant with A Book of Tongues, however, is that because it’s ostensibly a historical piece, I was able to cross-breed my bone-deep love for folk, alt-country and stuff that simply hit the right chord. Plus, my beta readers—all great cataloguers of various tracks and artists themselves—were able to recommend and share the things that came into their heads as they followed along with me at every point in the curve, widening my spectrum of influences substantially.

As the year wore on, many original tracks were dropped and replaced, but the backbone remained firm: A soundtrack emerged that revolved specifically around themes of bad love, loss of faith, betrayal, pain and revenge. Some parts of it even began to suggest plot twists and/or character developments, which is (for me) the hallmark of truly great/useful music. Here’s the result:

The Essential Book of Tongues Playlist

1. “Two Sisters,” Roger Wilson

I’ll be true to my love/If my love will be true to me…

The only song to be quoted directly in the text, this is the single most despairing version of an already amazingly sad narrative—a version of the same story told in “The Bonny Swans” by Loreena McKennit and “The Cruel Sister” by Kerstin Blodig, except without the miraculous harp or the denouncement from beyond the grave, let alone any sort of reconciliation or regret. Instead, we’re left with a coda which “proves” humanity’s guiding emotions to be jealousy and greed; only makes sense that this is the one “English” Oona chooses to sing when she gets so low down even the opium isn’t enough to help her forget.

2. “I Go Like the Raven”, Dave Carter and Tracey Grammer

Sonya Taaffe first introduced me to these sadly unsung bluegrass folk artists through “Cat-Eye Willie Claims his Lover”, then supplied me with a flood of supplemental material. I glommed onto several tracks, many of which came to remind me specifically of Chess’s sprightly nastiness—“Crocodile Man”, for example, and “41 Thunderer” (a dreamier version of “The Devil’s Right Hand” which casts a man’s gun as his femme fatale). But then there’s “When I Go,” which would do just as well as a eulogy for “Grandma”, and spat up the image of a swirling column of bone-dust and sand which eventually became the pillar of blood Ixchel peeps out at Rook through. So it all fits.

3. “Black Soul Choir”, 16 Horsepower

Oh, every man is evil, Lord, every man's a liar/
Unashamed with a wicked tongue, singin' in the black soul choir...

As I’ve said, 16 HP quickly became both the inspiration for Sheriff Mesach Love in particular and the quintessential “Fear of God” material embodying Reverend Rook’s ambivalent fascination with the way his own growing power seems to eat away at his always-hypocritical, ever-diminishing faith. Also recommended: “Brimstone Rock”, “Splinters” (Yeah, you saw it comin’/And yet you did not flee…), “Horse-Head Fiddle” (for Rook’s not-exactly-alone-time in the desert) and, naturally, their awestruck, painful, churning live version of “Sinnerman” (And the rock cried out…).

4. “The Bachelor”, Patrick Wolf

Another Chess song, embodying his utter lack of ambivalence about his own contrary nature, particularly as regards his queerness. I love the fact that Wolf really does seem to be writing it like a slightly perverse Childe Ballad (Poor little turtledove, sitting up in pine/Dreaming of your own true love, so why not me for mine?). If I had to put a time and place on it, it’d probably fit best with Chess at War, flaunting himself around and enjoying the mess his new trade gives him license to create. But the Rook comes in view, and it all goes to shit.

5. “There is a Ghost”, Marianne Faithfull

This track, from her album Before the Poison, is very much about the connection Chess and Rook make with each other and the aftershocks which linger behind its severance: Memory, pain, literal nostalgia. (Oh my lover, oh my lover/Never was there another/Where has my lover-man gone?/Away…away…) Not to mention how it twins extremely well with the far more overt violent fatalism of—

6. “Furious Angels”, Rob Dougan

Yes, yes—based on a track from The Matrix: Reloaded, all that. Like “Apologize” by OneRepublic (with or without Timbaland’s participation), this would maybe fall under the “crack” portion of the mix, if I was genuinely ashamed to have it here. But I’m not, since in a lot of ways, this became the emblematic Chess/Rook OTP song of choice; the one that says that by loving this person—or anyone, maybe—it’s like you made a mistake, a whole big heapin’ pile of ‘em, and now you can run, but you can’t hide. Because you better be extremely sure that if you do, God (or the gods—a god, anyhow) is going to find you, no matter how far you go, and fuck your shit up.

Like a sentence of death,
I got no options left,
I've got nothing to show now.
I'm down on the ground,
I've got seconds to live,
and you can't go now.
'Cause love, like an invisible bullet shot me down
and I'm bleeding, yeah I'm bleeding
and if you go, furious angels will bring you back to me.
They will bring you back to me.

You're a dirty needle,
you're in my blood and there's no cure in me.
I wanna run, like the blood from a wound
to a place you can't see me.
'Cause love, like a blow to the head has left me stunned
and I'm reeling, yeah I'm reeling
and if you go, furious angels will bring you back to me.

You're a cold piece of steel between my ribs
and there's no saving me.
And I can't get up,
from this wet crimson bed that you made for me.
That you made for me!
'Cause love like a knife in the back has cut me down
and I'm bleeding, yeah I'm bleeding,
and if you go, angels will run to defend me, to defend me.

'Cause I can't get up, I'm as cold as a stone,
I can feel the life fade from me.
I'm down on the ground, I've got second to live,
and what's that waits for me, oh that waits for me!
'Cause love like a sentence of death, left me stunned,
and I'm reeling, yeah I'm reeling,
and if you go, furious angels will bring you back to me.

See also: Dougan’s own “Nothing at All” and Dave Matthews Band’s “When the World Ends” (also from TM: R’s soundtrack), plus Snow Patrol’s “Run” and “Set Fire to the Third Bar” (featuring Martha Wainwright). They’re mainstream pop apocalyptastic!

7. “Las Cruces Jail”, Two Gallants

Well I...spent last night in Las Cruces Jail, rainin' hail, born to fail/
Nobody comin' for to go my bail, sun, don't you rise tomorrow.../
I see the gallows' altar, a circle 'round the sun/
They gonna hang me if I stay and shoot me if I run...

Like “Sam Hall”—I prefer the Johnny Cash version, because that is how I roll—this is a song about being fast, bad and doomed in the Old Wild West, and illustrates the point that much as I like Chess (and the Rev), it can never be forgot that between ‘em, they’ve killed a whole lot of people who may not have really deserved it. Dicey! Similarly recommended, therefore, for similar reasons: “Train to Jackson”, by Jeffrey Foucault, and “Black River Killer”, by Blitzen Trapper, with its almost John Connolly-esque implications of serial killer as wandering, flesh-trapped fallen angel (I’ve been wanderin’ in the dark about as long as sin/But they say it’s never too late to start again…[but] I killed the first man that I came upon/’Cause the Devil works quick, you know it don’t take long).

8. “Water to Sky”, Thea Gilmore

Along with “Lucinda” by Tom Waits, this is a song I associate specifically with “English” Oona Pargeter, both in her Before and After phases. Indeed, the constant steampunk whoosh-THUNK of percussion behind “Lucinda” even reminds me of the sound the Enemy’s wood-slat ribcage makes when pumping open and closed, open and closed, as well as the Manifold’s nasty chatter. The trick here is that while “Lucinda” casts Oona and her like as infectious forces of negative predestination, “Water to Sky” is about a woman who could be seen as either a weirdly innocent victim or a force of nature untameable even in death—someone worthy of being remembered, either way. Thus moving us subtly towards where Chess needs to eventually end up, vis a vis the ladiez.

9. “Alphabet of Hurricanes” by Tom McRae

Caught in a whirlwind/
Of broken sticks and bones/
An alphabet of hurricanes/
Can’t blow this drifter home…

McRae’s transplanted British voice--hoarse, light, yearning--beautifully echoes the open spaces of my fake Arizona and parts Weird West, a haphazard mixture of scrub and desert and bare, broken rock, buttes and fossils, all ceaseless, mapless movement and activity with no particular aim in mind but chaos. Also good for that: “Me & Stetson”, “Mermaid Blues”, “You Will Rise”.

10. “America”, Tracy Chapman

And here we (finally) have a song representing things as seen from the slightly less white dude-centric portion of our narrative—the “secret” history of the not-exactly-New World, equally suitable for indigenous types like Rainbow Lady Ixchel and the Dine Hataalli known as “Grandma” as it might be for Songbird herself, the first-gen immigrant witch-queen of San Francisco’s Chinatown. One way or the other: You were lost and got lucky/Came upon a shore/Found you were conquering America…

Okay: Way too long, at this point. But here’s eleven more tracks well worth your while, if you want something to read along to--

“Blackest Crow”, Angi West
“Hole in the Middle”, Emily Jane White
“Bad Man’s World”, Jenny Lewis
“Black Hearted Love”, PJ Harvey and John Parrish
“One More Cup of Coffee”, Bob Dylan
“Black Acres”, Elysian Fields
“Up Jumped the Devil”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
“From a Shell”, Lisa Germano
“Damned to Hell”, John Butler Trio
“Sunken Waltz”, Calexico
“Ten Million Slaves”, Otis Taylor

Exciting Developments

Not only did my story "The Jacaranda Smile" get nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award in the Best Short Story category, but the anthology it appeared in--Apparitions, edited by Michael Kelly--was nominated for Best Anthology, and "each thing I show you is a piece of my death" was nominated for Best Novelette. And yes, this means both Steve and I will be going to Readercon this year. One way or the other, an honor. Amazing.

Also: For those of you with (little) money and no ability to get to a bookstore CZP has a distribution deal with, ebooks of A Book of Tongues ( are now available! Just copy, paste and click on the URL to order from Horror Mall; you'll see the link on the bottom left-hand of the page you land on.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Ad Astra 2010

Perhaps you have been wondering where I will be, and what I will be doing, during next week's Ad Astra Convention, in Toronto, Canada. Well, wonder no more!


Saturday April 10, 11:00 AM: ChiZine Publications Panel, Ballroom Centre.
Attending: Brett Alexander Savory, Sandra Kasturi, Matt Moore Gemma Files, David Nickle, Claude Lalumiere, Douglas Smith, Helen Marshall, Laura Marshall, Erik Mohr, Bob Boyczuk
Beginning as the print off-shoot of Chiaroscuro, in less than two years, ChiZine Publications has grown into a small but influential player in independent genre publishing. CZP staff and authors discuss and answer questions about its growth in a bad time for publishing, the future of genre publishing, why a small press might be a better option for beginning writers, and how they have fun doing it.

1:00 PM: Reading with Suzanne Church, Crowne Room.

2:00 PM to 3:30 PM: EVolVe Launch, in Antons'.

7:00 PM to 9:00 PM: CZP Launch for A Book of Tongues and Douglas Smith's Chimerascope, also in Antons'.

Sunday April 11, 11:00 AM: Horror in Poetry, Salon 443.
Attending: Mirriam Harrison (m), Gemma Files, Sandra Kasturi, Marcy Italiano
A discussion of the use of horror in poetry. Panelists will examine past and present horror poets, and what it is about the form of poetry that allows writers to explore the darker aspects of life and humanity.

12:00 PM: Not Your Bitch! - Entitlement, Salon 243.
Attending: Leah Bobet, Gemma Files, Violette Malan (m), Marcy Italiano, J.M. Frey
What responsibilities, if any, do creators have to their fans? Are fans entitled to anything?

1:00 PM: Autographs - Gemma Files, in Dealers' Room.

So...yeah, that's about it. Hope to see some of you there.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WHC, et al

In slightly more personal news, I'm just back from World Horror Con in Brighton, England. Here's my affable and discreet traveling companion, David Nickle, with a far better run-down of what occurred than I could possibly manage ( It has pictures! Some of/including me!

Plus, it sub-showcases my first official review for A Book of Tongues, here ( Publisher's frickin' Weekly thinks I'm dope! (Not that they used that exact word, of course. But I'm happy nevertheless.;))

Also: Bev Vincent, whose own WHC blog entries are well worth your time, notes a great review of EVolVe here (, in the wonderfully-monickered Innsmouth Free Press. Apparently, "When I'm Armouring My Belly" is actually uplifting, at least a li'l bit. Who knew?;))

So, the VERY short version goes thus: I had a great damn time. Met many people I've respected for years, along with people I didn't know at all but who knew me, at least by reputation. Ate great food, stayed in a...not-so-great hotel, got drunk consistently and substantially, partied with a horde of like minds. Bought far too many books. I'm very glad I went, and I'm very glad to be home.

A Book of Tongues Cast of Characters (III): Pinkerton, the Pinks, Ed Morrow

Allan Pinkeron and his “Pinks”

Since we’ve spent a fair deal of time on the opposite (considering that my two great fictional loves are the motivations and internal lives of villains and antiheroes), it only makes sense that we should perhaps take a brief moment to talk about “good guys”. But then again, in A Book of Tongues, the forces of law and order are mainly represented by Allan Pinkerton’s Pinkeron National Detective Agency, a state of affairs which hits the ground already dicey, and never really recovers.

It all started back in the 1840s, when former Glasgow cooper Pinkerton—disillusioned by the failure of the British Chartrist movement—came to America, where he was appointed the first police detective in Chicago. In the 1850s, he then partnered with Chicago attorney Edward Rucker to form the North-Western Police Agency, later known as the Pinkerton Agency. Or, as historian Frank Morn writes: "By the mid-1850s a few businessmen saw the need for greater control over their employees; their solution was to sponsor a private detective system. In February 1855, Allan Pinkerton, after consulting with six midwestern railroads, created such an agency in Chicago."

Pinkerton developed several investigative techniques that are still used today. Among them are "shadowing" (surveillance of a suspect) and "assuming a role" (undercover work). Following the outbreak of the Civil War, Pinkerton became head of the Union Army Intelligence Service in 1861–1862, foiling an alleged assassination plot in Baltimore, Maryland, while guarding Abraham Lincoln on his way to his inauguration. His agents often worked undercover as Confederate soldiers and sympathizers, in an effort to gather military intelligence; Pinkerton himself served in several undercover missions under the alias of Major E.J. Allen. Pinkerton was succeeded as Intelligence Service chief by Lafayette Baker. The Intelligence Service was the forerunner of the U.S. Secret Service

As the agency’s scope grew, its ruthless yet only sometimes efficient methods soon attracted the notoreity that Pinkerton—a genius at self-promotion who literally wrote his own pulp history—so craved; the Pinks were soon universally feared as well as somewhat despised, since their services always went to the highest bidder. Pinkertons were often hired to protect banks so large they feared robbery, and also rode shotgun while trains and stagecoaches transported money and other high quality merchandise between cities and towns, making them vulnerable outlaws. Pinkerton agents gained a reputation for resistance to bribery, easily explained less by their high moral standards than by the fact that they were usually both well-paid and well-armed.

In 1871, Congress appropriated $50,000 to the new Department of Justice to form a suborganization devoted to "the detection and prosecution of those guilty of violating federal law." The amount was insufficient for the DOJ to fashion an integral investigating unit, so the DOJ contracted out the services involved to the Pinkertons—thus effectively making the Pinkertons an arm of “the government”, a status which Pinkerton hastened to exploit.

In 1872, Franklin B. Gowen—then president of the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad—hired the agency to investigate the labor unions in the company's mines. A Pinkerton agent, James McParland, infiltrated the Molly Maguires using the alias James McKenna, leading to the labor organization’s downfall. The incident was the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel The Valley of Fear.

Perhaps on the strength of this nonfiction-to-fiction crossover success, Pinkerton agents were also hired to track western outlaws Jesse James, the Reno Gang, and the Wild Bunch (including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid). On March 17, 1874, two Pinkerton Detectives and a Deputy Sheriff Edwin P. Daniels encountered the Younger Brothers (associates of James Gang); Daniels, John Younger, and one Pinkerton Agent were killed. The Pinkertons later retaliated by blowing up a house where the James boys were “known to stay”—understandably, since it belonged to their mother, Zerelda. But since they weren’t there at the time, all the Pinks managed to do was blow off Zerelda James’ leg and kill Jesse and Frank’s retarded half-brother; not the world’s most useful P.R. event, in retrospect.

(In 1872, meanwhile, the Spanish Government hired Pinkerton to help suppress a revolution in Cuba, which intended to end slavery and give citizens the right to vote. Pinkeron said “yes, please!”, thus further endearing himself to many, many people who thankfully weren’t of much import, because they didn’t speak English.)

In late June, 1884, Pinkerton slipped on a pavement in Chicago, biting his tongue as he did so. He didn't seek treatment and the tongue became infected, leading to his death on July the first. At the time, he was working on a system that would centralize all criminal identification records, a database now maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Agency continued ever onwards, pursuing Pinkeron’s original methodology. On July 6, 1892, during the Homestead Strike, Henry Clay Frick called in a force of 300 Pinkerton detectives from New York and Chicago to protect the mill and replacement workers. This resulted in a fight in which 16 men were killed (7 Pinkertons and 9 Strikers), and to restore order, two brigades of the state militia were called out.

The next year, Anti-Pinkerton Act was passed, and since then federal law has stated that an "individual employed by the Pinkerton Detective Agency, or similar organization, may not be employed by the Government of the United States or the government of the District of Columbia."

In 1895, detective Frank Geyer restored the Pinkertons’ reputation somewhat by tracking first known American serial killer H.H. Holmes to Toronto, Canada, where he also uncovered the bodies of the three murdered Pitezel children. This lead to Holmes’ arrest and execution, but also exposed the fact that the Agency had previously apprehended Holmes just a year before in Boston, on an outstanding Texas warrant for horse theft.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the Pinkertons slowly drifted away from spying and union-busting, eventually dropping their criminal investigation work altogether, and removing the word “detective” from their letterhead and becoming primarily involved in protection services. In 2003, Pinkerton's was acquired—along with longtime rival the William J. Burns Detective Agency (founded in 1910)—by Securitas AB, and the two were folded together to create Securitas Security Services USA, Inc., one of the largest security companies in the world. Securitas and several other major security companies are now under union organization, through the SEIU (Services Employees International Union).

Here’s a .jpg of the Pinkertons’ famous logo, the Unsleeping Eye:

Since he was still alive at the time, I thought it only fitting to involve Allan Pinkerton directly as one of the characters in A Book of Tongues. I see him as reasonably young and energetic at this point, having just emerged from the furnace of the War, and extremely excited by the possibilities attendant on finally being able to track, apprehend and control hexes. It only makes sense that he’d be concentrating on hexslingers rather than human outlaws, since there’s almost no fair degree of competition between the two (especially in terms of attracting positive media attention). Physical template: Maybe Gerard Butler, but definitely in his slightly puffy Law Abiding Citizen mode rather than his ripped-to-hell-and-back 300 mode. So just try superimposing Butler’s face onto this:

Ed Morrow

Pinkerton Detective Agency man Edward Rumsfield Morrow is, on first sight, about as close as we come to a “hero” in A Book of Tongues. Granted, he spends a lot of his time A) lying through his teeth and B) letting Chess and the Rev ride rough-shod over everything in sight, but that’s the nature of his game: He’s gone undercover with the West’s currently most-feared hexslinger, and spends much of his time standing within easy killing distance of a man who’ll pretty much shoot you for looking at him, the Rev, or virtually anything else in a manner he considers funny. When the chips are down, however, this is definitely the guy you want in your corner—someone who’s perceptive, sympathetic and loyal to a fault.

It goes without saying (though I’m saying it anyhow) that Morrow is also the default audience POV character here--the person whose innate decency allow us to be slowly tricked, much as he himself is, into feeling something for far less agreeable characters like the Rev and Chess. And in Chess’s case, eventually, that understanding comes to extend far further beyond the bounds of propriety than a big, straight dude may initially care for—but while I can certainly appreciate the results, I’ve actually come to find the mechanics of Chess and Morrow’s odd little workaday partner/friendship far more interesting, overall.

Finally: Though Morrow originally derived much from a minor character in 3:10 to Yuma named Jackson, the physical template he’s since come to resemble most is that of Liev Schreiber, probably best-known at this point either for playing Sabretooth in X-Men Origins: Wolverine or knocking up Naomi Watts (twice!). He was also the latest iteration of hapless political Cylon Raymond Prentiss Shaw, in Jonathan Demme’s unjustly overlooked/decried 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, and I always see Ed as slightly more Raymond than Victor Creed, except in the sideburns department.

Here’s some mainly-shirtless Liev Schreiber goodness, to see us out:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

For All Your Media Outlet Needs:

"The Gemma Files" (ha, ha), a combination FAQ and Media Kit, can now be found here:


Nota bene: Though I had hoped to have the rest of the Book of Tongues pre-release material up before I leave for World Horror Con, things are moving pretty fast, so maybe not. Apologies in advance. I'll see y'all when I come back...

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Book of Tongues Interstitial: Magic, a Beginner's Guide

You may have already noticed I’m not much of a classic world-builder—resonance interests me far more than consistency, for which I rely on back-up from my RPG-designing husband Stephen J. Barringer (with whom I co-wrote the story “each thing I show you is a piece of my death”, first published in Clockwork Phoenix 2, from Norilana Books; it will be republished later this year in Best Horror of the Year #2, from Night Shade Books). But today I’m going to talk a bit about my theory of magic, specifically as it applies to the Hexslinger Series universe.

As Dr Joachim Asbury explains in Chapter Two of A Book of Tongues, what “everybody knows” in this alternative version of the 1860s-era Wild West is that there are people—magicians, commonly called hexes—who are born with the capacity to suddenly manifest reality-changing power. This manifestation’s methodology seems sex-linked, in that for (most) females it happens during the onset of their first period, while for (most) men it happens during a moment of extreme physical trauma. Since no one has hitherto been able to test people for hexacious potential, however, it always comes as a world-rocking surprise, transforming the person in question into something stuck forever halfway between a pariah-monster and a demigod.

How does magic work, exactly? In the hexes’ case, it seems to be a version of the “quantum magic” powers displayed by DC Comics characters like Arcanna Jones—they are able to choose one quantum possibility from a million-to-the-million undetermined outcomes, through sheer force of will. Because they’re still human, however, they do seem to need a structure to filter those choices through—most start out fetishistically clinging to things like Reverend Rook’s Bible Verses, or Lady Ixchel’s insistence on interpreting everything she does/encounters according to the Mayan-Aztec Blood Engine world-view she originally learned when she was still “alive”. Some graduate from that to a slightly more self-driven philosophy, but all retain the idea (perhaps an instinctual understanding of the law which states that energy cannot be destroyed or created, only transformed) that nothing can be made from nothing, and that everything must be paid for somehow.

No result without sacrifice: You get what you pay for, nothing more or less. And if you really want something to work, if not necessarily to last, you pay for it in blood.

As it turns out, hexation creates a magnetic field, which Dr Asbury has been able to detect and measure with his Manifold. He thinks this field may be something like “what the Chinese call ch’i”, the force which drives everything physical. And this makes a sort of sense, since its’ already been proven that there are sub-sets of “magic” which mere humans also appear to be able to wield—power which comes from working in concert with natural/universal forces (faith-based shamanism), or the types of power which come from inside a person’s mind (psi power). These capacities, like hexation itself, may be genetically linked, but it’s hard to say.

(In case you’re wondering, I like some mystery with my explanations, which is one reason I chose to root this narrative in a time-period where true science and junk science were all-but-indistinguishable. Also, outlaws!)

There aren’t a lot of hexes, thankfully; equally thankfully, they are unable to work together, because whenever you get two or more of them in close proximity, they’re driven to parasite upon each other, sucking out each other’s magical force. "Mages don't meddle," is the truism. Thus all friendships and love affairs end in betrayal at best, murder at worst, and there are no organized “schools” of magic, only apprenticeships which climax quickly and dirtily. Magicians are like tigers, wandering through the world alone, occasionally raising human-based cults and support-systems which will inevitably turn on them—drawn together by mutual hunger, they meet to fuss and screw, then crawl off to lick their wounds, afterwards. This is the mechanism which prevents them from taking over the world…

…or has, thus far.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Book of Tongues Cast of Characters (II)

Today, we'll talk about two men of faith. Let's start with...

“Reverend” Asher Elijah Rook

There’s just something about a bad man who knows his Bible. Much like with Chess and Ben Foster, it all began with Russell Crowe’s Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma—but Ben’s a happy hypocrite in many ways, an atheist autodidact who uses the Good Book as just another way to work his will on idiots. I wanted Reverend Rook to have the sort of faith which can sour, but never entirely evaporate; to be a man literally in love with his own method of damnation, capable of dreadful things, but also capable of teaching a wild boy who’s never cared for anything to at least care for himself. I also wanted him to be big and deep-voiced, ‘cause I (and Chess) like that.

Enter, therefore—as my primary physical template for the Rev—one Clancy Brown.

Now, I realize that to most people these days, Brown’s an official old dude…chiefly recognizable as either the Kurgan in Highlander (which you may or may not find an attractive image—I do, but then, there’s a lot that’s wrong with me), Drill Sergeant Zim from Starship Troopers or Brother Justin Crowe from HBO's Carnivale. When I first began thinking nasty thoughts about Brown, however, both he and I were considerably younger. Here’s a pretty good shot of him from the days when he was also Rawhide in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and might even occasionally be found cavorting naked onscreen with the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis (in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, in case you’re wondering); do feel free to ignore the attached screencap of Lobo, though:

Plus, a good selection of recent Clancy Brown pics can be found here (including one next to Nick Stahl, for body-size reference):

So: What we mainly know about the Rev is that he’s from Missouri, the Mother of Outlaws herself, and only ended up on the Confederate side of the War because he headed south when he first took off running. He’s also a damn man-mountain with an impressive command of Scripture and a not-so-secret liking for “the Other”. This impulse is what spurred him to flee his original posting as town preacher, after his flock burnt a goat-eyed boy alive for the sin of simply having been born a witch-child, and Rook didn’t feel quite morally-uncompromised enough to stop them. It’s also what he thought at first pushed him towards Chess, though the gravitational pull of another magician-to-be actually had far more to do with it, as he eventually learned.

There’s a line I heard once in a terrible movie—it might have been The Wraith, starring Charlie Sheen—that’s always stuck with me: “When you feel nothing, you can do anything.” In Rook’s case, as with all hexes, I think that goes the other way, as well; when you literally can do anything, it’s hard to feel much at all, especially for the day-to-day. What keeps Rook bound to Chess, however, is that he can’t stop feeling for him—it’s impossible for either of them not to get a rise out of the other, whether that be sexually or what-have-you. They were married long before the Mayan goddess Ixchel ever chose Rook as her quote-quote “little” husband.

Like Chess, Rook’s family originally hails from England, though they’ve been in America since before the Revolution. His last name means either “crow” (sometimes used as a euphemism for preacher, due to their propensity to dress in black) or “a swindler—someone who betrays”.

Sheriff Mesach Love

Like Rook, Mesach Love knows his Bible inside-out. He’s a decorated former Blue-belly, a Nazarene preacher of fierce devotion, lawman for and founder of Bewelcome township in New Mexico, and runs his tiny slice of post-War paradise like a combination of former soldier rescue and redemption-through-hard-work boot-camp. People let him get away with it, though, because he’s got great charisma and they’re more than slightly afraid of him. You see, he has God on his side.

When I first sketched out Sheriff Love, he owed a great deal to the music of the band 16 Horsepower, as well as the physicality of their lead singer, David Eugene Edwards. They specialized in "incendiary gospel, hallowed folk and mordant tones infused with a high, dark theatricality worthy of Nick Cave," as AllMusic critic Eric Hage puts it. Here’s the video that really got me thinking they were the cloggin’ shit, “Black Soul Choir”:

Then, after watching the video for their song “Haw”, it suddenly occurred to me: Hey! That guy looks somewhat like a rawboned-up Jared Padalecki (the young Texan actor probably best known as Sam Winchester on Supernatural)! See for yourself:

So now, whenever I think about Sheriff Love declaiming on how GOD hath given him the power to SMITE whomsoever GOD doth choose that he do so unto, part of me is always seeing Jared making that black-eyed nosebleed squinch-face at a demon, before sucking its unholy smoke-soul out and gulping it down like a dry drunk. Or him and Clancy Brown wrestling, which’d be fun as hell, since they’re both Sasquatch-sized.

The variety of Protestant Christianity both Rook and Sheriff Love subscribe to is an offshoot of Calvinism known as Wesleyan Arminianism, which traces his roots back to the teachings of Arminius and John Wesley. Although its primary legacy remains within the various Methodist denominations (the Wesleyan Methodist, the Free Methodist, the African Methodist Episcopal, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion, the Christian Methodist Episcopal, and the United Methodist), the Wesleyan tradition has also been reinterpreted as catalyst for other movements and denominations as well—Charles Finney and the Holiness movement; Charles Parham and the Pentecostal movement; Phineas Bresee and the Church of the Nazarene.

Like a lot of “power in the blood” faiths, Wesleyan Arminianism’s a fascinating mixture of free will and predestination which states outright that although God can save anyone, it won’t work unless that person wills himself to be saved; you are put in charge of your own redemption, knowing full well that Man’s essentially sinful nature will make the road to Heaven an unending up-hill slog. The Scriptures are the primary engine through which a sinner can refine himself, so both study and the expostion of Scriptural ideas through everyday actions are equally important. But the absolute pinnacle, the moment in which we know for sure that salvation is real, is when the Holy Spirit speaks to/through us directly. As Wikipedia puts it:

“Although we are justified by faith alone, we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that makes us holy.

To fulfill all righteousness describes the process of sanctification. Wesley insisted that imputed righteousness must become imparted righteousness. God grants his Spirit to those who repent and believe that through faith they might overcome sin. Wesleyans want deliverance from sin, not just from hell. Wesley speaks clearly of a process that culminates in a second definite work of grace identified as entire sanctification. Entire sanctification is defined in terms of "pure or disinterested love." Wesley believed that one could progress in love until love became devoid of self-interest at the moment of entire sanctification.

Apart from Scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity. ‘What the Scriptures promise, I enjoy’. Again, Wesley insists that we cannot have reasonable assurance of something unless we have experienced it personally.”

And herein lies the main difference between the Rev and Sheriff Love. Rook has never heard the “still, small voice” of the God he purported to serve directly, though he’s trucked with all sorts of supernatural forces and literally gotten into bed with dead gods from other cultures. Sheriff Love, on the other hand, either has, or is convinced he has—and he certainly does have something looking out for him, though what that really is has yet to be determined.

But both of them yearn after salvation, and for both of them, true salvation can come only through sacrifice on another’s behalf. For Love, it’s his wife, his son, his town, America. For Rook, it’s Chess…most days.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Book of Tongues Cast of Characters (I)

Predictably, we begin with:

Chess Pargeter

This pretty little Satan of a man wears his preferences the way he wears his guns—outside his pants, for all the honest world to feel. An unrepentant man-killer in both senses of the phrase, he’s both known since damn early on that ladies ain’t his meat and he ain’t theirs, and consistently sneered at the dangers of living life the way he chooses to. Practical to a fault, Chess is also completely apolitical; he saw the War Between States mainly as a double chance for travel and recreation, even while still serving as a Private in the Confederate Army.

Born in San Francisco, a literal son-of-a-bitch straight out of the Barbary Coast’s deepest stew-pits, Chess spent the first ten to twelve years of his life like any other whore-get—his days were lost in alternately avoiding his Ma, “English” Oona, and helping her feed her opium addiction, his nights robbing tricks or turning them. It took some time to breed what lingering affection he still had for her out of himself, but it certainly helped when she figured out where his true interests lay, and sold him a time or two to cover her debts.

The real moment of decision, however, came after Chess cut the throat of a Pinkerton who was beating him for taking his billfold, stole his first gun from the corpse, and started practising with it. Soon, he discovered that size meant nothing when adjusted against skill with weaponry, especially if you were always willing to shoot fast, shoot first, and shoot to kill—so he signed up with Lieutenant Saul Mobley’s Irregulars and started putting that personal philosophy to work, to deadly effect.

Chess made few friends in the army, though he did gain at least a few admirers (Kees Hosteen included) based on his willingness to swap blow-jobs for extra bullets. Unluckily for everyone around him, however, it was under the Lieut’s command that he eventually met “Reverend” Asher Rook…and the rest is history.

Just as the Hexslinger Series in general takes a good portion of its inspiration from James Mangold’s 2007 3:10 to Yuma remake, I’ve never made much secret of the fact that whenever I think of Chess, the physical template I most often see is that of Ben Foster as Charlie Prince in that same movie, antihero Ben Wade (Russell Crowe)’s ambiguously gay sidekick. Like Chess, Charlie’s young, mean, odd-eyed, bearded, given to sartorial flourish, served in the War, wears his guns cavalry-style, and will do almost anything for his beloved “boss”. However, I do like to think there are enough points of difference to make Chess his own man, coincidental initials aside.

Here’s a representative sampling of Foster, as Charlie and otherwise:

You’ll note that while his eyes do occasionally look green in some shots, the whole “red-haired” thing is me. And Chess.;)

Finally: Chess’s first name derives from the county of Cheshire, in Britain, which is where his mother thought her mother originally came from. He doesn’t know this, however, having never asked her. Which brings us, hopefully less predictably, to the second part of the Pargeter equation—

“English” Oona Pargeter

Oona’s one of those difficult characters, a classic reduction—ie: “your Mom’s a whore!” “Sure is. So?” We don’t know her for very long in A Book of Tongues, and meet her at the very end of her descent into addiction and bitterness, but I’m hoping to do better with her in A Rope of Thorns. She’s a small, red-haired woman with a strong Cockney accent, and the things Chess doesn’t know about her will always make for make a far longer list than those he does.

Oona’s first name means “famine”, and is Irish in origin. Her last name means, roughly, “plasterer”. It’s Norman French. I have this strong sense that Oona’s father’s family may have originally been Jewish, and adopted the name as a way of passing for Christian during the reign of Henry II. One way or another, however, she was born into crime and poverty in the area of London then known as Seven Dials.

Once most of the rest of her family had been Transported, clapped in gaol or hanged, Oona traveled to America as an indentured servant at age ten, was seduced and turned out by age twelve, and had become a gaiety-hall gal/prostitute by age fourteen, working in dives like San Francisco’s Bella Union.

From her point of view, pregnancy with Chess ruined her “chances” of ever graduating from penny-a-dance whore to kept girl, as well as leaving her physically debilitated—pelvis cracked, parts torn, with almost no time off to heal between “engagements”. She suffered from childbed fever, lost her complexion and developed her opium habit. From there, it was a slowish yet inevitable road to the “hospital” under Selina Ah Toy’s.

Sharp-tongued and not unintelligent but woefully undereducated, Oona bequeathed Chess her anger, her stubbornness, her perverse brand of pride, and a world-view which holds that all men are tricks, all women whores, and while most people lie about it to themselves, you’re a fool to do the same—get the money up front, give nothing for nothing. Love’s a mug’s game. Sure, she was more than willing to beat Chess and pimp him out to strangers for as long as he’d let her get away with it, but on some level she always knew there’d come a time when he’d turn against her—and part of her, the part for whom self-destruction had become the only victory left to her, saw that inevitable betrayal as something to be celebrated: Good for you, ya flamin’ molly. Yer free now.

While Oona may have sometimes claimed what she wanted—or considered her due, more like—from Chess was his support, I think his “success” as an outlaw pleased her far more. It’s like his revenge on the world was hers.

Physical template: Emily Watson when younger, Katrin Cartlidge when older. Freakishly, here's a pic of them both (from Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves):

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Book of Tongues Apologia

Due to space and time constraints, CZP Publications were unable to allow me to include my original Apologia at the back of A Book of Tongues. So I thought I'd start my pre-release series of related promotional materials there--by proving I did actually do some research, though not a lot, and explaining a little bit about my "process" (ha ha). Enjoy.

A BOOK OF TONGUES: Apologia, References, Etc.

I began writing A Book of Tongues with one very selfish idea in mind: To keep myself occupied and amused while looking after my son, then less than five years old and newly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in the wake of recently having lost my job. Though I’ve been a writer all my life, for the last twenty years my main focus had been short fiction with a side-order of reviews, articles and scripts; the very notion of being able to write a 100,000-word book by the end of the year seemed laughable—let alone end up with a narrative so large it spilled over into another 100,000-word book, slated for the year after that!

All of which means that from the start, the main audience I was thinking about was composed of me, myself and I. The epic romance of Reverend Rook and Chess Pargeter was an unabashedly fetishistic fantasia spun around things I enjoy, because I enjoy them: Blood, (gay) sex, magic. Bad people behaving badly. Ancient civilizations and not-so-dead mythologies. A vaguely steampunk-y alternate history setting whose twin visual precedents were far too many viewings of James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. Yes, I did research here and there, but it wasn’t exactly deep—and the result, I’ll be the first to admit, is a lot like poetry reformatted on a ridiculously grand scale: Full of metaphor and analogy rampant (next time ‘round, I should probably invest in a search engine which automatically removes the word “like” from random sentences), a shadow-show of red-gold cut heavily with black, in which emotion and sensation very firmly rule over cold, hard fact.

At base, this book exists because I wanted to throw two equally screwed-up dudes together and see if they’d stick; all the girls are monsters (except when they’re also whores), all the boys are whores (except when they’re also monsters), there are pretty much no (really) good role-models of any sex, and I also moved the days of the Mayan and Aztec calendars around at will because I wanted to be able to have things happen on my terms, with cool-ass meta-commentary attached. For all of the above, shame on me: I may try to do better in future, though I know for a fact I will probably never live up to anyone’s expectations (particularly my own).

Still, I do hope you enjoyed at least part of what you found, gore, moral greyness and ass-fucking notwithstanding. If so, there’s more to come. If not, catch you on the flip-side.

For those who are interested, meanwhile, here’s an incomplete list of reference materials I stole from freely throughout: The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900, by Candy Moulton (Writer's Digest Books, 1999); Handbook to Life in the Aztec World, by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (Oxford University Press, 2006); The Lost History of Aztec and Maya, by Charles Phillips and Dr. David M. Jones (Select Editions, Anness Publishing, 2004); Children of the Night, by Tony Thorne (Indigo, Orion Books, 1999); The Barbary Coast, by Herbert Asbury (Basic Books, 2002); plus a whole host of various Google-searched Internet sources, including (King James edition), (yes, I know),,,,, and the Firefly cursing cheat-sheet page.

I was inspired by T.A. Pratt’s use of Aztec mythological tropes in Blood Engines, his first Marla Mason book, and Tess Gerritsen’s wonderfully graphic description of ritual sacrifice in her book The Surgeon. Not to mention Alexander Irvine, whose A Scattering of Jades set the pattern, and Kenneth Mark Hoover, whose Haxan stories do Weird West ten thousand times better than I ever will.

A massive retroactive thank-you also goes out to my tireless pre-Draft Zero readers: Sonya Taaffe, Francesca Forrest, and above all Valerie David, without whose aid and correction the character of Grandma would quickly have degenerated into Yoda gone Dine. I appreciate the time you all took, especially when life and issues interfered.

I’d like to thank my publishers and editors at ChiZine, Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi, for enabling my lurid balderdash. Thanks also to all the friends who, over the years, continued to assure me I would eventually write novels: Michael Rowe, David Nickle, Sephera Giron, Mike Kelly, Marcy Italiano, Leah Bobet, Ian Rogers, Nancy Kilpatrick, Bob Knowlton, Peter Halasz, Monica S. Kuebler, Jason Taniguchi, Donald Simmons, Sarah Ennals, Andrew Specht and many, many others. If I’ve forgotten to mention your name, please take it as wrote.

Next time: Character generation, with photos of the original models. I'll try to get it up ASAP.