Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tree of Bones Available for Pre-Order

Aaaaand here we go: Though not completely finished, you order it here (, for 10% off. So...if you're thus inclined, please do.;)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This Should Be At Livejournal

...but LJ's down, and may be down some time. I suppose there's always the option of switching the Dreamwidth, but...yeah, I dunno. Still not really feeling that place, considering its cast of proselytizing backbone inhabitants. So, instead: Have the entry I would've put up there, if that option was open to me.

At the moment, I'm still behind as hell on A Tree of Bones, still unimpressed by my own work ethic, still wrestling intermittently with a new outline bent on pruning both the one I began with (two years ago) and the one I came up with last year (when I thought A Rope of Thorns would be the end of the haul) down to their best bits and then knitting it all together. At the moment, it looks lumpy to say the least, and I'm frankly scared. Can only hope that my "Deadlines are our friend!" genes will eventually kick in, before things really go to shit.

In the meantime, I've been trying to catch up on various books, including some stuff I got out of the library. Dean Koontz's What the Night Knows was a welcome return to form, crammed with crazy gothic freakery--a serial killer/ghost/possession/body ride thriller full of fairly smart characters who nevertheless make dumb decisions because A) they're young and inexperienced or B) don't know they're in a horror narrative. I was very amused by the scene in which our hero spills his woes to a local priest, only to have the priest recommend a psychiatrist. OTOH, the clear implication that liking Harry Potter/Narnia-type stories opens you up to Satanically-influenced manipulation rings a bit dicey, but YMMV.

Odder and potentially more useful is a collection from Skyhorse called Vintage Vampire Stories, which has the dubious distinction of being the worst copy-edited book I've read in years (one tale has five separate errors in the same paragraph), yet fills a need I never really knew I had: Images of the vampire from well before the "rules" of mainstream vampirism were completely established. Granted, it contains Bram Stoker's original 1890 notes for the novel he was then going to call Count Wampyr (good save, my man), but the rest of the tales--which range in date from 1679 to 1909--are incredibly free-ranging: We've got medical "vampirism" (actually more a combination of berserker rage and cannibalistic hunger), a haunted mirror that sucks the life out of those who live adjacent to it, something which seems like the myth of Tithonus combined with psychic youth-vampirism, little-known localized variants like the Portugese bruxsa, the Chinese "blood-drinking corpse" and the Moldavian "Children of Judas", an African "blood fetish" that's a mummified hand which strangles people in their sleep, and the astral projection of a dead psychic which is finally "laid" by an equally astral-projected Tibetan lama.

At least five of the stories also very specifically recall the archaic connection between vampire and "vamp", or femme fatale: Stuff like Dick Donovan's "The Woman with the Oily Eyes", in which our titular creature might be anything from a con artist/poisoner to a witch or genetic vampire, born with a full set of teeth and her hypnotically mesmerizing eyes sealed together, or Phil Robinson's "Medusa", who keeps her face constantly covered for fear of attracting men whose life-force she'll suck out without even really wanting to. Or Hugh McCrae's "The Vampire", which is basically just a two-page sketch about some sap getting taken for everything he's worth by a turn-of-the-century golddigga with "stuffed busks and stuffed hair". (His brief biography notes that he lived a Bohemian life and belonged to an artists' club called "The Prehistoric Order of Cannibals"; somebody should write a story about that.)

I can't say any of these stories are good per se, but many are quite fascinating...and at least one, Mary Fortune's "The White Maniac: A Doctor's Tale", is unintentionally hilarious. Our hero, a dashing Victorian physician, is brought in to consult on the case of a French "princess" who's been confined by her uncle in an all-white house--he says she has to be kept segregated from all colour (especially red, get it?) in order to stave off murderous attacks of monomania. But she claims it's her uncle who's crazy, and naturally--because she's cute ad uncle isn't--Dr Moron takes her word for it; he decides to marry her, and shows up at the house with a bouquet of red roses. I spoke I uncovered my scarlet bouquet and shook out its blossoms. The sight of it made a terrible impression upon my companion; his knees trembled as if he were about to fall, and his face grew whiter than his garments.

"In the name of heaven, what are you going to do?" he gasped.

"I am simply going to present my bride with a bouquet," I said, and as I said so I laughed, an empty, hollow laugh. I cannot describe my strange state of mind at that moment; I felt as if myself under the influence of some terrible mania.

"By all you hold sacred, Charles Elveston, I charge you to desist! Who or what are you, that you should set your youth and ignorance of this woman against my age and bitter experience?"

"Ha ha!" was my only response, as I made towards the door.

As one might assume, this doesn't turn out well. In Simpsons voices:

"I told you she was crazy and would try to bite your throat out!"

"I said 'ha ha'!"

Okay, I see it's begun to rain outside, which explains my headache. More Tylenol Sinus, and back to the grind...

Monday, July 18, 2011

New Reviews: A Rope of Thorns/A Book of Tongues

I'm consistently amazed by how long the recognition tail on A Book of Tongues has been, thus far, and--given the initial distribution/release problems with A Rope of Thorns--can only hope this state of affairs will continue with the other two (especially once I'm actually done with A Tree of Bones).

But I've been really negligent in terms of linking to new reviews of either, so here we go:

A Book of Tongues
KV Taylor at Goodreads (
Cory Redekop's Shelf-Monkey (
Andrea Blythe (
Inside the Reader's Studio (
CSI:Librarian (
A Rope of Thorns
Sonar4 Landing Dock Reviews (
Library Journal [be prepared to scroll down] (
Jene Moore's The (Hopeful) Librarian (
Cory Redekop's Shelf-Monkey (

Thanks to's amazing.;)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Readercon Schedule

So--I'm off to Readercon as of Thursday, and here's my schedule:

Thursday July 14

8:00 PM G We All Produce, We All Consume. Paul Di Filippo, Gemma Files, Robert Killheffer, K.A. Laity (leader), Jamie Todd Rubin. In a 2008 blog post, Leah Bobet connected the dots of increasing media interactivity and increasing independent authorship. Both trends have only escalated in the years since. When every blogger is an author, every commenter is a reviewer, and every work is assumed to be the start of a conversation, how does that change the experience and culture of reading? Was it ever possible to be a passive reader, or are we simply bringing our marginalia and book-flinging out into the light?

Friday July 15

11:00 AM VT Reading. Gemma Files. Files reads from a work not yet selected.
12:00 PM ME The Readercon Classic Fiction Book Club: Howl's Moving Castle. C.S.E. Cooney, Gemma Files, Theodora Goss, Kelly Link (leader), Sonya Taaffe. Diana Wynne Jones's death earlier this year gave rise to a seemingly endless series of blog posts extolling her many books. Howl's Moving Castle, first published in 1986, was one of the most frequently mentioned titles. This powerful story of magic, riddles, and romance is packed with allegory, clever subversions of common fantasy tropes, metafictional humor, and meditations on the nature of change. Such a work is necessarily slippery, but perhaps 25 years of analysis will help us get a grip on it.
2:00 PM Vin. Kaffeeklatsch. Gemma Files, Terry McGarry.
3:00 PM F Whatever Remains, No Matter How Improbable: Horror and the Scientific Method. Gemma Files, Jack M. Haringa, Caitlin R. Kiernan (leader), John Langan, Sarah Langan. What makes The Exorcist (book only) especially terrifying to a science fiction fan is the slow, laborious exhaustion of all rational explanations for the observed phenomenon, leaving demonic possession as the only alternative. The irrationality of horror becomes much more effective when its natural opponent, the scientific worldview and method, is neither dismissed a priori nor treated as a strawman. Beginning with the presumption that science is wrong and that there is inexplicable evil in the world might well provoke these readers' unconscious skepticism; playing by science's rules and reaching that conclusion is thrillingly convincing. What other works have exploited this dynamic? Are there advantages lost when the demonic worldview is not taken for granted but is instead painstakingly established? How do works that do this read to the naturally horror-minded?
7:00 PM F "I'm (No Longer) Shocked, Shocked!". Gemma Files, Jim Freund (leader), Charles Platt, Joan Slonczewski, Paul Tremblay. There are many good reasons for writers to try to shock readers: to make them reconsider ideas, to evoke or heighten strong emotions, to add to the atmosphere of a horror novel or dystopia. The drawback is that the daring and transgressive can almost overnight turn into the boring or bewildering. When writers actively try to shock contemporary readers, are they also putting an expiration date on their work? Or are there shocks that can transcend the trends of the moment?

Saturday July 16

3:00 PM G Matrilineal Heritage. Gemma Files, Eileen Gunn, Victoria Janssen, Ellen Kushner (leader), Chris Moriarty. Diana Wynne Jones and Joanna Russ were two of the women who greatly inspired other women to write speculative fiction. Who are their heirs? And who are their heirs inspiring?

Sunday July 17

10:00 AM E Autographs. Debra Doyle, Gemma Files, James D. Macdonald.
11:00 AM G The Shirley Jackson Awards. F. Brett Cox, Ellen Datlow, Peter Dube, Scott Edelman, Gemma Files, Caitlin R. Kiernan, John Langan, Sarah Langan, Victor LaValle (moderator). In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson's writing, and with permission of the author's estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916-1965) wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, "The Lottery." Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2010 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
1:00 PM RI How I Wrote the Hexslinger Series. Gemma Files. Gemma Files discusses the researching and writing of her queer western apocalyptic trilogy.
This last will be particularly interesting, given how effing blocked I've been lately on A Tree of Bones. But I'm sure we'll find stuff to talk about!

Monday, April 25, 2011

A ROPE OF THORNS Interstitial #3: Gods and Monsters

As fans of the Hexslinger Series can probably figure out, I’ve been interested in the Mayan and Aztec pantheons for a very long time, so long that I almost can’t actually recall what first pointed me in their direction. Most likely, however, it was a 1974 paperback called Lost Cities and Vanished Civilizations by Robert Silverberg (, which would have made me...six or seven when I first read it. Biiig section on Chichen Itza, along with Troy, Babylon, Angkor Wat, Knossos and Pompeii; I’d already fallen head-first down the Egyptian rabbit hole courtesy of Robert Graves and the Greek and Norse ones courtesy of the D’Aullaires, so it really only made sense.

My introduction to the Aztecs, on the other hand, came later on, with Gary Jennings’ 1980 1,000+-page potboiler of much the same name--Aztec--which manages to rifle Mexica mythology and re-tell the Hernan Cortez story with maximum porno-pulp sensibility. Serriously, if you ever wanted to see a version of Apocalypto in prose form (barring the Aztec-not-Maya thang), this is probably it. From Jennings’ belief that only a gay guy could’ve designed the famous statue of Chalchiuhtlicue in Her Serpent-Skirted Aspect that makes her head look like two anacondas kissing and the Wars of Flowers (with their happy cannibal climaxes) to our protagonist falling for a New Corn Maiden, only to watch her dance up one side of a step-stair pyramid and come down the other as some rotten-toothed priest’s coat, this was all...pretty heady stuff. The sort of thing which leaves a mark, one way or another.

As I got older, things which kept popping out at me included: The legendary Templo Mayor Stone (, which once drove me to appall my art teacher by drawing a delicate little pencil sketch of a creepily-accurate, sadly blonde dismembered Moon Goddess that owed a double-debt to Penthouse and Fangoria; the use of the Mayan goddess Ixtab (“She of the Rope”) as a repeating motif in William S. Burroughs’ gay Western The Place of Dead Roads; the occasional rib-slammin’ appearances of Tezcatlipoca in Les Daniels‘s The Silver Skull; Larry Cohen’s Q: The Winged Serpent, in which Michael Moriarty fights off Aztec priests bent on sacrificing him by simply refusing to say the prayers they tell him to/believe said sacrifice is necessary (damn, those frustrating atheists!); that episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker where Erik Estrada played a corporately-appointed year-king ixiptla of Xipe Totec who walked around some Mexican-owned hotel playing the flute and feeling up his three girlfriends, before freaking out and running at the last minute; the haunting figure of Itzapapalotl, star-demon goddess of the sacrificial knife, whose butterfly wings are fringed in obsidian shards. And come to think, bits and pieces of almost all of the above have since worked their way into the Hexslinger ‘verse, so--go me, I guess.

Believe me, I don’t claim to be any sort of expert. For that, I’d refer you over to the inestimable Aliette de Bodard, author of the Obsidian and Blood novels, Servant of the Underworld and Harbinger of the Storm; the essays she’s written collating her research, starting here (, are far more detailed, more objective and far better-organized than anything I could manage. Indeed, in much the same way that I’ve been careful to never write anything from the “point of view” of our two primary warring Hexslinger ‘verse deities (Rainbow Lady Ixchel, former Mayan goddess of the moon turned theophagic “vampire”, whose ambition has driven her to ingest and incorporate six other Mayan and Mexica goddesses, vs. Tezcatlipoca, Mexica god of magic and deceit, who already enters the game as four gods in one), I sort of find I don’t really want to “understand” more of either system than I already do--I want it to stay alien, contradictory, difficult, poetic, literally mythic.

And isn’t this attitude inherently appropriative/misrepresentative? Probably, given my sack-o’-sheets whiteness--but in my own defense, the thing that’s always appealed most to me about Mayan and Mexica theology (because I’m weird that way) is the idea of the cosmos as “blood engine”, powered not just by human sacrifice but by self-sacrifice, emphasis on the self. That you have to pay for what you get in blood and give the best you have, over and over, to keep the world running. And on the one hand, eventually--inevitably--that won’t even be enough; the world will destroy itself, break down into components and be remade once more, as it already has at least four time over. But on the other hand, things go on, nothing is wasted--indeed, if you trace this river of blood back far enough, you’ll find that every god or goddess began as an ixiptla, a chosen-yet-voluntary sacrifice. That even the most vast and unknowable powers grew from some tiny red seed, the human grist which powers eternity.

(The best grist, naturally, being hexes. So one can assume--and one does, if one's me, operating in the Hexslinger 'verse--that once upon a time, all gods were hexes: Shamans, priests and priestesses, mediums, what-have-you. Sacrificial victims/avatars/"little kings" and "queens". Thus Ixchel. Thus, probably, Tezcatlipoca.)

So yeah, given how a lot of today’s “nicer” theologies seem to pivot on empty promises, on grand conceptual returns which will never be reaped in any quantifiable way, this philosophy often seems to take on an odd sort of merit...becomes worthy of respect, if no more or less attractive than any other form of sanguinary-based magic. I mean, these people walked it like they talked it. Whereas the conquistadors just lied through their asses, stole whatever they could and burnt the rest, leaving a double legacy of literal and mental slavery behind. Not, I have to say, the Catholic church’s finest hour.

Now--historically, the Mayan and Aztec pantheons already sort of sit inside/out each other, like a set of Moebius nesting-dolls. Just as the Olmecs and Zapotec may have pre-dated and influenced the Maya, the Maya may have influenced the Mixtecs and Toltecs, who definitely influenced the Mexica/Aztecs. This maybe explains why the mysterious Mayan “God K”, who just happens to control the wind and be identified with jaguars and have a black mirror for a foot, bears such a specific relationship to Tezcatlipoca, who...also does all of the above. But better!

With each historical layer, however, you seem to get more and more “new” gods--gods possibly derived from human conqueror archetypes, genuine people who “became” “gods” through the twin methods of victory and sacrifice. Those “new” gods, in turn, seem to get their powers “legitimized” by being bound to earlier archetypes, which is how we somehow end up with Tezcatlipoca’s Blue, Red and White Aspects becoming identified as the supposedly separate gods Huitzilopochtli (god of war, god of lightning, the Aztec pantheon’s primary god), Xipe Totec (god of maize, god of renewal, the god who embodies the very concept of year-king-ness) and Quetzalcoatl (the Feathered Serpent, god of the city of Tollan, inventor of books and the calendar, who remade the world from its own bones, and who himself goes back at least as far as Tezcatlipoca, while occupying a different part of the deific spectrum--the only god who does not accept human sacrifice).

Where I ended up going with all this was to assume a few basic truths that form the backbone of the Hexslinger ‘verse’s impending Mayan-Aztec apocalypse: That after the conquistadors cut off their supply of frequent human blood, the deities of this massive, blended pantheon-family sank further and further into slumber and decay; that their two underworlds, Mictlan (Mexica) and Xibalba (Maya), ran into each other, forming an amorphous swamp of archetypes called Mictlan-Xibalba where those few who still remained awake preyed on their “brothers” and “sisters”, hoping to gain enough power to once more affect the waking human world.

The most successful of these, thus far, has been Ixchel, who managed to “eat” the Mayan goddeses Ixtab and Yxtabay, plus the Mexica goddesses Chalchiuhtlicue, Tlazteotl and Coyotlaxqhui--mainly because all of these other goddesses already incorporated metaphorical aspects of her own mythology: Weaving, ropes, long hair, the rainbow, the moon, the earth, filth, sexuality, maternity, a driving hunger for blood and revenge. Like most women, particularly archetypal ones, what she wants is her way or the highway; she likes marrying people (like Asher Rook, her “little husband”), then taking them apart just to put them back together again (like Chess Pargeter, her “little husband’s husband”)--making them her brothers, her sons, her children, her meat. She’s the earth in three of her aspects, not just Mother of All Hanged Men but Mother of Everything, and (as we all know) mother always thinks she knows best.

But even expending the energy necessary to eat these other goddesses in the first place has left Ixchel at a deficit rather than a surplus, which is why Tezcatlipoca--summoned back into the world by the sheer, incredibly amusing hubris-spectacle of her attempts to re-set the cosmos’ clock--is, at the moment, in a slightly more positive place. She needs blood; he just wants it. But both of them will take it, if offered. And enjoy it.

So the key thing to keep in mind is that the dichotomy here isn’t good vs. evil, so much, as disorder (T-Cat) vs. order (Ixchel), or maybe "a version of order which will leave things in disorder". The big difference between these two equally bad choices is that while Ixchel “devoutly” believes that her version of the world can be restored, Tezcatlipoca knows their time has passed, and the fragile, succulent hex-humans they’re both riding and manipulating will be--and must be--the ones to shape their world into its future form. But also that they must somehow do so by rejecting both gods and rely on their own power, yet avoid becoming gods in turn, especially ones whose power pivots on sacrifice--since hexes (more so than other people) are so clearly driven by the same vampire hungers as the Mayan and Aztec deities alike.

From Tezcatlipoca’s Enlightened Chaotic point of view, it probably won’t be fun, because these things rarely are...but it’ll sure be interesting, and produce lots of collateral damage! There’s a reason he’s called “the Enemy”, after all: Yours, and every other’s.

Clear as bloodstained mud, right? Well, next time up, we’ll talk about something slightly less contradictory: Hex City, here we come!

Monday, April 11, 2011

This Is Not A Reading Series

It was a great Ad Astra, but Good God Almighty, I'm tired. And Cal seems to have picked up something, too--he was horky this morning, so he's spending the day with me. Fingers crossed it goes away quickly.

Tonight, meanwhile--for those in Toronto who're interested--we have that This Is Not A Reading Series appearance--me, Claude Lalumiere, David Nickle at the Gladstone Hotel; blackjack, no hookers. For details, go here ( See you there, maybe.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Ad Astra 2011 Schedule

...for those who are interested:

Fri., 8pm, Salon 241, Horror in Unexpected Places -- Ellan Datlow, Craig Davidson, Gemma Files, Rob Shearman, Rio Youers
Fri., 10pm, Salon 343, Tricks of the Screenwriting Trade -- Glenn Norman (m), Michelle Goodeve, Gemma Files, Herb Kauderer, Ryan McFadden

Sat., 11am, Ballroom Centre, Chilling Tales: A New Chapter in Canadian Horror and Dark Fantasy -- Michael Kelly (m), et al.
Sat., 1pm-3pm, Anton's, Chilling Tales Launch -- Michael Kelly, et al.
Sat., 4pm, Crowne Room, Reading -- Gemma Files, Dena Bain Taylor
Sat. 8 PM Ste. 100 -- CZP Spring launch.

Sun., 1pm, Salon 443, I'm Very Flattered, But ... -- Stephen B. Pearl (m), Gemma Files, Sèphera Girón, Michael Rowe

Monday, meanwhile, I'll be doing a This Is Not A Reading Series event with Claude Lalumiere and David Nickle, during which we'll all be interviewing each other and dealing blackjack. Details to follow.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New Story Post at Dark Is Better

"Crossing the River", first published in Dark Arts Books' Mighty Unclean anthology. Cut, paste, enjoy ( Consider it my birthday gift to y'all.;)

A Rope of Thorns Interstitial 2: Hey, Ladies!

I must admit: I always expected to take far more crap than I’ve thus far wound up doing about there being so few women in A Book of Tongues, not to mention the equally fun fact that those few females who do make an appearance are best categorized as whores, victims, bitches, monsters or some amazingly non-PC combination of all four. (In my own defense, I still consider Dine sorceress “Grandma” fairly awesome in her own right, but she does skirt uncomfortably close to being a [literally] Magical Native Person, and she does end up dead.) Grantedly, few seemed to notice, which isn’t really a comforting thought in itself, and those who did were surprisingly pleasant about it; one kind reviewer even said that she liked Chess’s Ma English Oona enough that she trusted I’d be able to write three-dimensional female characters...eventually.

No pressure, right?

Because this is always the dichotomy, for anyone who’s a writer with a vagina (lit, fig, whatever): How do you represent the female side of the narrative equation to the best of your ability, without feeling you’re doing it just to “respresent”? We grow up with a mainstream media pattern very clearly established, and that pattern slots all women as literally supporting characters: The GF, the partner, the wife, the Mom, the bitch. Sometimes competent, but always with these funny little undercutting neuroses attached, to remind you how Mens Are Mens and Womens Are Womens. The things guys get to stand next to and compete for/with. The things they allow to stand next to them, especially if they’re wearing a variety of low-cut outfits. The focal point for all the emotional relationships, but almost always only the ones which support heteronormativity, since straight is usually the first intersecting default--along with often white, often cis, often able-bodied, plus always thin and mainstream-standards pretty if we’re verging into visual media, because this is TV and/or movies we’re talking about.

So we train ourselves not to hope too hard, and then we train ourselves to proactively screen the characters we’re “supposed” to identify with out entirely--because we don’t see ourselves in them, because we don’t want to see ourselves in them, because we’re sick of having them “crammed down our throats”. And then, especially if we happen to have a particular fetish--which I obviously do--our eyes start roving around looking for people whose characters and relationships and motivations we can/want to identify with, and those eyes tend to fall on male characters instead; not so much because we hate our genitals and want to die or worship the peen, but because more fucking time and effort has usually been put into creating these characters, which means they have far more interest and potential, innately.

I come at it from both angles, for understandable reasons. As a fan, I want to be surprised, delighted, seduced, but I expect not to be; I’ve grown up at the “mercy” of narratives I have no control over, narratives that shut me out and erase me. I try to enjoy what I get, but sometimes even that seems too hard. As a creator, however, I understand how the mechanics work--what it takes to extend a narrative, how fans like me can be your best friends and your worst enemies. Do too much, you get shit on; do too little, you get shit on. Try to anticipate what they want/need/don’t want/don’t need, you might hit a bullseye or get a nose-wrecking bounce-back. Don’t try, and just do what the hell you consider correct for a story you created and maintain? The devil itself!

Yet the plain fact is, I did feel bad right from the get-go about that particular component of A Book of Tongues--it made, and still makes, me feel like the very model of a misogynist-by-exclusion slash fangirl, dumping the vag quotient in order to get more face-time with her M/M/M OT3. Which is why, for Hexslinger-‘verse installment two, I knew from planning on that it was imperative for Chess Pargeter’s further development that he realize how badly he was screwing himself over by cutting all women out of his life. Not in a sexual way, obviously, but more in a strategic one--as someone in A Rope of Thorns later points out, female hexes are the majority, not the minority: Women come into their powers earlier, comparatively more easily, and thus have far more time to perfect their processes and form their magico-philosophical theses. They also make better allies than enemies, especially now that A) we’re learning there’s a sub-set of people with powers who aren’t hexes, or ridden/driven by hex-hunger, and B) there’s now a place--Hex City--where hexes can actually work together. Why throw that out with bathwater, even over a half-lifetime’s worth of negative impressions?

The first step, therefore, was to come up with a female character who’d share narrative driving power with our usual POV voices: Chess, the Rev, Morrow. And given all the above, I worried she’d be “too” awesome, and people would reject her, just like I worried she wouldn’t be awesome enough. But most of all, I worried she’d be reduced to being a stand-in for all women, as opposed to being allowed to be a genuine human being--good, bad, difficult, contradictory-who just happened to be female.

But nothing changes unless you make it, right? Right.

Enter (brain left) Experiance “Yancey” Colder Kloves, secretly Jewish hotelier’s daughter and equally-stealth Spiritualist, who gets her “dead-speaking” powers from her late mother. When we first meet Yancey, she’s just about to get married--which she feels ambivalent about, for a bunch of reasons--and is also the one person in Hoffstedt’s Hoard, New Mexico equipped to figure out who Chess and Morrow, there undercover, really are. She’s therefore also the person who comes up with a plan to get them out of town without anybody noticing or getting hurt, thus--through no fault of her own--setting the next series of unfortunate events in motion.

In describing Yancey to people, I used to say: “She starts out a bride, and ends up The Bride”, which is not completely inaccurate. But I like to think there’s more to Yancey than the deceptively simple motor of revenge-seeking. First off, by accidentally inserting herself into the Chess/Morrow menage, she’s able to consistently provide a viewpoint which is just a tad more intellectual, logical and intuitive than either man’s, while also bringing in a point of much-needed emotional stability. For Morrow, she’s proof that while he’ll make an exception for Chess, his rule remains pretty much heterosexual; for Chess, she’s less competition than a nuisance-turned-comrade. She also remains the person who plans ahead, though her plans are sometimes fairly fast and loose. Like Ellen Page, who I always saw as her physical template, she has an innate dignity, a hopefully visible intelligence, a fierceness under pressure, and a sly streak of observational humour which helps even Chess, Mister Blood-Soaked Gay Porno Horse Opera himself, take himself a tiny bit less seriously.

What I liked most about developing Yancey, however, is that other female characters soon seemed to start dropping out of the woodwork around her, as if called into life by her presence. Even already-established characters began to deepen as a result: Not Ixchel so much, because she’s already so far away from being human, or Grandma, because she’s still dead--though “dead” doesn’t mean exactly the same thing as we might usually think it does, when hexes are involved. But definitely Songbird, a character who I’d originally cobbled together because I thought having a 13-year-old albino Chinese mage would be cool, and was now forced to reconsider/reframe as a genuine human being in difficult circumstances. To some degree, this is a natural bi-product of simply keeping characters around while the plot develops further, but...I like it. And it does just keep on happening.;)

So. Did I succeed in my difficult self-set task? I’m not sure, but I certainly had a lot of fun trying. And look--more ladies, in a previously (all but) lady-free story. More, and more coming.

That’s something.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Black Static Interview

The excellent Ms. Maura McHugh interviewed me at Black Static magazine's main web-page. It was a lot of fun to do, and you'll find the result here (

Thursday, February 17, 2011

First A ROPE OF THORNS Interstitial: Play On, Play Often we’ve established, music is a big part of my creative process. And one of the more fun things that happened this time ‘round was that I ended up channeling my period-appropriate tunes obsession into a very weird little sidebar: In order to come up with a suitably enraging plot-point for Chapter Six of A Rope of Thorns, much of which takes place during someone’s post-wedding after-party, I wrote filk for my own narrative. And thus the scurrilously not-exactly-libelous ballad of Chess Pargeter, aka “The Red-Head Pistoleer”, was born. At Francesca Forrest’s suggestion, it should be sung to the tune of “Two Dimes and a Nickle” ( by Dave Davis and the Warrior River Boys, and goes a little something like this:

Chess Pargeter was a pretty little man, his hair was red as flame,

His Ma she knew no better, and she raised him up the same.

The ladies he liked little, the men he liked too well.

Mere repetition of his sins might send a man to Hell!

He danced with men for money, but he'd kill ’em just for fun,

And the only thing he truly loved was the barrel of his gun.

In the army he met Reverend Rook, who tried to pray him ’round,

But Chess sunk in his wicked hooks, and pulled that good man down.

Now, one sin leads to every sin, or so you may have heard—

And sodomy and sorcery are almost the self-same word.

He’d been a saint by all accounts, right faithful to God’s ways,

But once stuck fast in Chess’s toils, the Rev begun to change. . . .

The Good Lord wrote the Bible, Lincoln freed the slaves,

But the Devil made Chess Pargeter to drag fools to their graves.

He made him small and pretty, as bright as any pin,

And set that red-head pistoleer to tempt weak men to sin!

Now if he’d never met him, the Rev might still be right,

But Pargeter, that red-head tramp, a-turned him from the Light.

The Devil gave Rook magic, those mocking him were slayed—

And thus the Rev was proved a hex, and stays one to this day.

They scoured the state from east to west, a-robbing as they went.

Good men they killed, their widows left, ignoring their laments.

They took both trains and coaches, good folk were all appalled,

And the whole town of Bewelcome, the Rev, he preached to salt. . . .

Oh, the Good Lord wrote the Bible, Lincoln freed the slaves,

But the Devil made Chess Pargeter to drag fools to their graves.

He made him small and pretty, as bright as any pin,

And set that red-head pistoleer to tempt weak men to sin!

And what will cool you down after folks have been snapping their fingers and toe-tapping along to a tune that casts you as some sort of male prostitute in the Devil’s service? Why...probably something like “Blackest Crow”, by Angi West. And while I couldn’t find any video of that particular version, this one--by Bruce Molsky with Julie Fowlis--is still very nice. ( The (Angi West) lyrics:

As time grows near, my dearest dear, when you and I must part,

How little you know of the grief and woe in my poor aching heart.

’Tis blood I’d suffer for your sake—believe me, dear, it’s true;

I wish that you were staying here, or I was going with you.

I wish my breast were made of glass, wherein you might behold

Upon my heart, your name lies wrote in letters made of gold;

In letters made of gold, my love—believe me, when I say

You are the one I will adore until my dying day.

The blackest crow that ever flew would surely turn to white

If ever I prove false to you, bright day will turn to night.

Bright day will turn to night, my love—the elements will mourn.

If ever I prove false to you, the seas will rage and burn.

The rest of the approved final playlist for A Rope of Thorns can be divided into four separate categories: Songs that remind me of Chess’s progress, songs for Sheriff Love, songs for Hex City and songs for Bewelcome, where the bulk of the climax takes place. These last songs also evoke the Enemy, Smoking Mirror, the black-red-white-blue God K himself--Tezcatlipoca, that is, primary trickster chaos-god of the already-chaotic Aztec pantheon--and presage the throw-down which is eventually fated to occur between he and Lady Rainbow herself, Ixchel, Mother of Hanged Men.

Like the man they reflect, the Chess songs all share some very specific characteristics: Momentum, heat, anger, betrayal, sexuality. We start off with Larkin Grimm’s propulsive “Ride That Cyclone”, which has Chess chasing the Rev and his own tail equal-aimless through the wasteland (, before moving almost immediately onto the noirish double-shot of Tom McRae’s “Told My Troubles to the River” (I feed on fire and confusion/Of this crime I’ll rid my soul/Gonna slide on down to the river/Gonna tell her all/So I told my troubles to the river/And I tossed them in the deep/And I washed my hands in the river/But the river brings more trouble to me...) and the Dead Weather’s “So Far From Your Weapon” (There's a bullet in my pocket burning a hole/You're so far from your weapon and the place you were born/...I knew it from the get-go the bullet was cursed/Ever since I had you, every little things hurts...)

On the up-side--or the upbeat side, if nothing else--we have Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s infinitely catchy “Beat the Devil’s Tattoo” (Your soul is able, death is all you cradle/Sleeping on the nails, there's nowhere left to fall/You have admired, every man desires/Everyone is king when there's no one left to pawn) and the King Crack selection of this entire mix: “Li’l Devil,” by the Cult. Yes, that “Li’l Devil”--the Robert Downey Jnr. dancing sweatily while hopped up on crack version. What can I say: Female pronoun aside, this song has “Chess” written all over it, for me.;)

Sheriff Love’s songs, OTOH, all have a very different sort of tenor: Loss, dread, a near-Biblical hunger for retribution. The nicest comes from Crooked Still, whose “Undone in Sorrow” ( gives a pretty good indication of his yearning for his similarly-saltified wife Sophy and their son, Gabe. Second-nicest would probably be the Wallflowers’ “God Says Nothing Back” (But I Told You So), which is still fairly freakin’ bleak: Still waters rising in my mind/Black and deep/Smoke behind my eyes/Last night I could not sleep at all/I hallucinated that you were in my arms...

But the rest are all far more Apocalyptic, like Alexisonfire’s “The Northern (Acoustic Version)” (He comes, he comes/Judge so severe/Seven trumpets speak/Speak the sound of fear) or Benjamin Blower & the Army of the Broken Hearted’s “Ringing the Bell for the Last Time” (I saw a hundred thousand towns on fire/...Skies were black with burning hair/Cows and pigs and sheep up there/And he’s headed this way next!). Or that ultimate He Saw What You Did And Now You’re Gonna Pay dirge, Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”, made even more frightening in its inescapable Mondkopff Plus de Sommeil Remix version (

Over in New Aztectlan, meanwhile, Reverend Asher Rook has has plenrty of time to think over his own sins of commission, omission and cowardice--trapped in “marriage” with a goddess-possessed dead body and watching something unprecedented grow up all ‘round him, he’s definitely coming to suspect he’s been used as something karmic’s willfully ignorant whip-hand. These musings express themselves best through stuff like the Veils’ “Jesus for the Jugular” (How'd you preach The Word if you don't know how to read/Where will your soul once you've signed the deed/...There's a bulls-blood fountain in the pit of a moan/I will summon an eclipse on my way to the Lord), or the emo stylings of Augustana’s “Dust” and Black Lab’s “This Night”, though I’m also very pleased by Two Gallants‘ “Fly Low Carrion Crow” (...and seize my body for the dead I owe/and drop me high into the depths below/for the things I’ve seen, no one else should know...)

But then, as we always must, we have yet another version of “Two Sisters”--Clannad’s this time, all happy and tripping and Irish, to celebrate some of the younger, fresher hexes. I chose it because it was (to some degree) the antithesis of the version Oona taught Chess, yet shares most of its key characteristics, including that fatal refrain: I’ll be love/If he’ll be true to me!

Finally, as things careen towards their end, we have a song which became somehow identified with the Enemy in my mind--”Cross Bones Style” by Cat Power (, which sets just the correct tone of slightly wistful yet utterly inhuman detachment: ‘Cause you have seen some unbelievable things... Then, for the god-on-godly smackdown, Murder by Death’s “White Noise” ( of those few videos which, like 16 Horsepower’s “Black Soul Choir”, actually lives up to its inspiration. (Those sea-serpent grins, peeping up through turbulent waters.) And finally, as a palate-cleanser, Elvis Perkins in Dearland’s version of “Weeping Pilgrim 417” ( Terrifying shape-note goodness, for the win.

So...that’s about that. I’m now deep into assembling the playlist for A Tree of Bones, and things are opening up further. Music! It’s so ingrained as part of my process, even I find it a bit scary.

Next up: The growing role of ladies in a previously lady-free narrative. Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year, New Book, New Posts

Yes, I fell off mightily near the end of 2010, for which I'm very sorry. There have been reviews to link to a-plenty since then, along with upcoming supplementals for the newest Hexslinger book. But today's big news is this:

Available right now for pre-order, through Horror Mall: A Rope of Thorns, the hardback
( Marvel at the gorgeous cover! Order early! Order often! Read along over here ( as I quickly do my final edit and write the first chapter of A Tree of Bones, aka Book Three, like you're watching the book itself being assembled right in front of you! are!

Man, I love my life.;)