Latest Sale – “Imperial Ghosts”

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Made a new fiction sale, and received the go-ahead from the publisher to share the details!

My novella “Imperial Ghosts” has been sold to Deep Magic, the E-zine of Clean Science Fiction and Fantasy. Since 2002, this publication has been providing a home for speculative fiction which explores big ideas or conveys a sense of wonder without including heavy gore or explicit sex.

Needless to say I am incredibly thrilled to be working with editor/founder Brendan Taylor and the crew at Deep Magic. Venues that offer professional rates and remain open to longer works are rare in this field. The turn-around time is also nice fast–my story is slated for the December issue, which makes me very happy.

I’m more than usually pleased that this story has finally found a home, however, as I have been sending it out off-and-on for years now. I would tend to dust it off every 18 months or so, give it another revision and polish, and then try sending it to any venue or editor who hadn’t seen it. Nevertheless, this one always seemed to be my “almost-sold” story, the one that the editors would hold onto for a long time, seriously tempted to buy it, but then finally reject with a personal note that said they liked it, but it “didn’t quite work well enough”.

I’ve revised it in a few ways over the years, but it was editor C.c. Finlay at the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction who finally gave me the key to “fixing” the story, by pin-pointing the one scene that really was fatally flawed. I took a step back, looked at it with a fresh perspective, and agreed with him that it actually WASN’T right–that one scene was completely counter to the protagonist’s true personality and her sense of agency throughout the rest of the piece.

So I re-wrote it, in a very simple way. And boom. The story sold to the next editor who saw it.

I always try to listen to constructive criticism, but this is a really fantastic example of the most constructive criticism a writer can receive. A lot of people can tell you that something is not quite working about a piece of fiction–but a person who can point out the exact place where you might have lost your way is worth his weight in gold.

Many thanks, Mister Finlay! I owe you one.

 

 

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Grey Goop is Here!

grey-goop

Just a quick note to let you all know that one of the projects I’ve been working on for the last few weeks is now on-line.

Grey Goop is the latest expansion of Kaiju-A-Gogo, including a brand new kaiju and a new Mad Scientist crew. The proud creator/owner/operator of the Goop is Malady Maleficarum, who teams up with her intern Mister Gill and her retired supervillain father Malachi Maleficarum to take over the world.

The Goop is a really interesting kaiju, composed of programmable nanites. As such it has incredible (and kind of adorable) shape-shifting abilities, most of which appear in its metabolic tree.

It was really fun writing the scripted messages for the  crew and I sincerely hope that all of the kaiju fans out there will enjoy playing with the monster. We even made it a special alternate skin to wear as a Halloween costume!

Buy Kaiju-A-Gogo on Steam

Buy the Grey Goop DLC

Grab the Grave Goop Skin

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Gods, Memes and Monsters – World Fantasy Award!

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Another list of the World Fantasy Award nominees came to my attention this morning, this one from Tor. It seems that editor Heather Wood is also up for a World Fantasy Award this year for an anthology that contains my work–she’s been nominated for a Special Professional Award for Gods, Memes and Monsters, which contains two of my short stories, “Agave” and “Memphre Magog”.

That’s three short stories in two World Fantasy Award-nominated anthologies and one honorable mention in The Year’s Best Horror. Not bad for 2015!

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She Walks In Shadows – World Fantasy Award!

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Just a quick note to say that She Walks In Shadows, the anthology in which my short story “Magna Mater” first appeared last October, has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award.

The 2016 World Fantasy Award Nominees were announced today by Locus Magazine. Competing for the 2016 award for best anthology are

  • The Doll Collection, Ellen Datlow, ed. (Tor)
  • Black Wings IV, S.T. Joshi, ed. (PS)
  • She Walks in Shadows, Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, eds. (Innsmouth Free Press)
  • Cassilda’s Song, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., ed. (Chaosium)
  • Aickman’s Heirs, Simon Strantzas, ed. (Undertow)

Seeing the list makes me sad that I was unable to complete the story I was working on for Pulver’s anthology! This was a project dedicated to female authors within the King In Yellow mythos. I was invited to submit, but sadly for one reason and another I couldn’t make the deadline–too much turmoil in my personal life, which has been a problem for a few years now.

I’ve written two stories which touch upon that tradition, once for Delta Green: Dark Theatres and more recently for an upcoming Paizo Publishing project. It would be fun to have a story like that in an award-nominated project!

Ah well. It is extremely nice to see the great editors at Innsmouth Free Press get the recognition they deserve, and a chance to compete with wonderful editors like Datlow,  Joshi, Pulver, and Stranzas. And naturally it is nice to be part of a project which is deemed award-worthy.

Please wish Innsmouth (and me)  good luck.

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Cthulhu’s Daughters

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Just a quick note to say that Cthulhu’s Daughters, the mass-market American edition of the She Walks in Shadows by Innsmouth Free Press, is now available for purchase.

This anthology is the home of my short story “Magna Mater”, which is based on the H.P. Lovecraft story “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”.

Now that this book is listed on Amazon, the first reviewer was predictably a misogynist troll: this anthology was written by women, edited and published by women, and focuses on the female characters of Lovecraft’s fiction. If you do buy and read the book, please do review it! Support the work of women by purchasing and responding to it publicly in a sane, intelligent way.

That is the kind of feminism the world needs.

 

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The Crocodile

"Ramon", the animatronic alligator which starred in the schlock horror shysterpiece "Alligator".

“Ramon”, the animatronic alligator which starred in the schlock horror shysterpiece “Alligator”.

Since the new Puppetland book has been released in .pdf format from Arc Dream Publishing, I’m sharing the research I did into historical and contemporary puppetry for the game.

My second scenario for the game was called The Box. The setting is a maximum security prison for puppets, which had not really been described in any detail in previous editions of the Puppetland core book.

I thought it would be fun to explore the Box and the implications of such a place. What was the nature of the prison? How and why was it built by the Maker, the god of Puppetland? What sort of puppet was supposed to be incarcerated in the Box? And who is locked up in it?

The Box served as an opportunity for me to dig deeper into older Punch and Judy lore, and bring back some of the characters which had been used in the show prior to 1950. Among them, there were some pretty dark figures: Jack Ketch, aka “The Hangman”, The Skeleton, and The Crocodile.

Ketch is such a fascinating character that he deserves his own entry–the character is rabbit-hole of horrific history and he has a noble pedigree in multiple art forms. To give the Hangman his due, this entry is going to focus specifically on the Crocodile.

My description of this monster as follows (some parts which relate to specific game mechanics or spoilers for the scenario have been removed):

The Crocodile is a menace unique to the Maker’s Land, an antediluvian relic surviving from a bygone age. It is a rare but powerful hand-puppet, huge and aggressive, and possesses no human personality or consciousness per se, beyond the low cunning of a natural killing machine.

The Crocodile is an all-devouring maw with an inexhaustible hunger to devour all puppets, and parts of puppets. Its nature is to find a hidden place, ideally under water, and wait for puppets who are swimming, boating, or walking near the shore. Then it will strike, lunging out to start crunching.

This puppet was built before the dawn of time, long before the Maker created Puppetland and most of the Puppets who live and struggle there today. When Puppetland was built and the Maker decided to remove it from contact with the human world, He deemed the Crocodile too dangerous to roam His new land unfettered.

The Box was originally built for no other purpose than to contain the Crocodile.

In reality, of course, the Crocodile is not an artifact of the really ancient Punch and Judy plays–it’s a more modern invention. Punch is always a wicked rascal in the Punch and Judy plays, and it’s going to be someone’s job to deliver his comeuppenance.

In the 17th and 18th century, the puppet who punished Punch would usually be The Devil, but as time passed and the audience became more secular humanist and class-aware, the Devil fell out of favor. He was largely gone by the Victorian age, especially if the play was being performed for children–replaced by the figure of the eternally hungry Crocodile.

3.-The-Devil-Mister-Punch-photo-courtesy-of-Improbable

Promotional still from “The Devil and Mister Punch”. a 2011 production by the Improbable Theater Group in Britain.

The Crocodile is always after Mister Punch in the Punch and Judy plays–in fact, the beast often kills him, when the Punchman is using modular puppets that can be dismantled on stage.  When the puppeteer is taking a gentler approach, Punch can usually avoid this dire fate by surrendering the Sausages, another common prop. The Sausages in a Punch and Judy play are the treasure which nearly everyone wants, and for which a good deal of blood is shed.

2001_Gold_PunJudy

A set of Punch and Judy special edition stamps released in 2001, and hand-cancelled on the collectible envelope with the Crocodile stamp. Notice that the Crocodile is depicted devouring the sausages! The Reptile always wins.

In the end, the Crocodile is a great symbol for death, in a child’s play. It is natural, inevitable, unstoppable, bigger than we are, and cannot always be appeased or avoided. But if we can dodge it for just a little while longer, we can have a few more laughs.

What more can we ask?

A still from a black and white children's special on television, featuring an excellent Crocodile puppet. Check out that maw!

A still from a black and white children’s special on television, featuring an excellent Crocodile puppet. Check out that maw!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Somnium

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Johannes Kepler, in a portrait from 1610. Artist unknown. From Wikimedia Commons.

Returning today to some research that I was doing in 2012!

Fun fact of the day:

Johannes Kepler wrote one of the first science fiction books, the famous “Somnium” (“The Dream”), over the course of several revisions between 1610 and 1630. The book was an amazing fusion of scientific speculation with conventional horror tropes, a voyage to the moon via demonic conveyance.

First circulated in 1611, it was later used as evidence against his mother, when she was subjected to an extended and savage persecution for witchcraft in 1620. Her trial lasted for over a year, and Kepler mounted an extensive legal defense to save her from torture and death.

When she was finally acquitted, Kepler composed 223 footnotes to the story—several times longer than the actual text—which explained the allegorical aspects as well as the considerable scientific content (particularly regarding lunar geography) hidden within the Somnium.

To learn much more about the Somnium, the life and times of Johannes Kepler, and about Kepler’s important contributions to science, I recommend a visit to the Somnium Project.

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The Shadow Orchestra

wygukur_semar

Semar,one of the most beloved of all the characters of Javanese wayang kulit plays. This particular puppet image was attached to a post by the University of Pekalongan.

In honor of the new Puppetland book released in .pdf format from Arc Dream Publishing, I’m writing a bit about the research into historical and contemporary puppetry that I did to generate the characters, conflicts and settings I contributed to the game.

There are four Shadow Puppet characters in my  “Pretty Polly” scenario, the friends and chosen family of the eponymous heroine. I chose to make them real traditional shadow puppets from Java, partially renamed to conform to the surreal creepy-humorous naming conventions of Puppetland.

I gave them the role of itinerant musicians, traveling as a family to entertain the masses and provide musical accompaniment to Pretty Polly’s magical performances as a dancer.

“Semar, Rama, Sindi and Simba are traditional-style shadow puppets from Java, depicting forms from the Wayang kulit tradition. They are beautifully cut from leather and decorated with paint, lacquer and buffalo horn. Although their construction makes them stronger, larger and more durable than paper Shadow Puppets, they lack many of the traditional strengths of the Shadow Puppet form, in particular the ability to become fully invisible.”

Semar, depicted very well above, is one of the most famous characters in Javanese literature. He is the father and leader of the Punakawan, the sacred clown servants of the epic stories that are performed on the island, and in many ways he is the guardian spirit of Java itself; demonic entities flee before him, and he is the voice of sanity in a sea of conflict.

A leather wayang shadow-pupet from Indonesia--likely depicting the great hero Rama, from the epic Ramayana.

A leather wayang shadow-pupet from Indonesia–likely depicting the great hero Rama, from the epic Ramayana.

Rama, who in my scenario appears as a dashing troubadour adventurer, is derived from the figure of the great prince of the epic Ramayana. Since Rama in his own story is a faithful husband and a rescuer of women in distress, I thought Pretty Polly would benefit from his protection.

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A beautifully painted leather puppet of Sita, the wife of Rama.

The female characters of the Shadow Orchestra are derived from the Ramayana and other Indonesian epics.

Sindi is an elderly, motherly figure, perhaps an older version of a lady like Sita, the wife of Rama, or of Kunthi, the mother of the Punkawan clowns.

Kunthi

Kunthi, the mother of the Punkawan. The model of the ideal mother, her sons are always perfectly obedient.

The younger female character Simba, however, has much more in common with the fierce female warrior of Java’s puppet theater, the unstoppable Srikandi.

Dewi Srikandi: is the exact opposite of the refined, humble female who lives in the shadow of her husband. Srikandi is “talkative, strong willed, warm-hearted, fond of hunting, an excellent archer, she isquite ready to debate with [her husband] Ardjunå or take on a passing satryå in battle. She enjoys travelling about Java, either in search of her periodically missing husband or seeking adventures of her own . . . For the Javanese, Srikandi is the honored type of the active, energetic, disputatious, generous, go-getting woman” (Anderson 2009: 36).

 

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There are many links on the web to learn more about Javanese shadow puppets, as well as several books on the subject. One of the resources I found most useful was a simple .pdf entitled Shadow Puppet Templates, which appears to course material from the University of Michigan.

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Pretty Polly

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Lady Dorotka Marionette is a Czech-made puppet who would make a very nice Pretty Polly, http://www.czechmarionettes.com/en/detail/390-Lady-Dorotka-Marionette

Since the new Puppetland book has been released in .pdf format from Arc Dream Publishing, I thought I would write a bit about the three scenarios that I’ve written for the project, particularly about the research I did into historical and contemporary puppetry, to generate my characters, conflicts and settings for the game.

The first scenario I wrote for Puppetland was “Pretty Polly”, which was inspired by one of the frequently-occurring characters from Punch and Judy shows prior to the 20th century. Pretty Polly was always a dancer, and usually depicted as the mistress or lover of Punch. Here’s the description of a typical Pretty Polly appearance from a Punch script dated 1832:

SCENE IV

ENTER PRETTY POLLY.

Punch. [Seeing her, and singing out of “The Beggar’s Opera” while she dances,] When the heart of a man is oppress’d with cares, The clouds are dispelled when a woman appears, &c.

Punch. [Aside.] What a beauty! What a pretty creature! [Extending his arms, and then clasping his hands in admiration. She continues to dance, and dances round him, while he surveys her in silent delight. He then begins to sing a slow tune and foots it with her; and, as the music quickens, they jig it backwards and forwards, and sideways, to all parts of the stage. At last, Punch catches the lady in his arms and kisses her most audibly, while she appears “nothing loth.” After waltzing, they dance to the tune of “The White Cockade,” and Punch sings as follows:]

I love you so, I love you so,
I never will leave you; no, no, no:
If I had all the wives of wise King Sol,
I would kill them all for my Pretty Poll.

[Exeunt dancing.

My own take on the character and her relationship to Mister Punch is based on three observations:

#1. That Pretty Polly is very much the patriarchal ideal of the perfect woman.

      Beautiful, sexually available without any economic or social strings attached (no marriage and no payment), and absolutely incapable of communicating or expressing her own needs–she never has any lines, and most Pretty Polly puppets don’t have a functioning mouth at all.
pretty-polly

A real Pretty Polly puppet featured in a BBC article and slideshow on the old Punch and Judy puppet shows.: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_9692000/9692233.stm

 

#2. That the story of Pretty Polly may actually pre-date the use of the character in Punch and Judy shows. The folksong “Pretty Polly” is actually a murder ballad about a young woman who falls for the wrong man.

The earliest known version on record is a folio of the lyrics from 1760, when it was called “The Gosport Tragedy”, but the origins of the song doubtless date further back in time.

The song has never lost its power, and variants of the story continue to be sung to the present day. Most of them skip the first few lines, however, which were the ones that struck me the hardest:

Oh Polly, Pretty Polly, would you take me unkind
Polly, Pretty Polly, would you take me unkind
Let me set beside you and tell you my mind

Well my mind is to marry and never to part
My mind is to marry and never to part
The first time I saw you it wounded my heart…

#3. That the Punch of Puppetland and the murderer of the original song had a lot in common. Specifically, I thought that the image of Pretty Polly in both the song and the old Punch plays had a lot to say about the origins of violence against women in general. Patriarchy breeds a dark spirit of narcissism in men, and trains them from early childhood with the expectation that women will be quiet, pretty, and available on demand. Women who stray from this ideal of silent sex dolls are subject to violence, and often death: when these expectations are subverted, the resulting rage can be homicidal.

The character of Pretty Polly in the scenario I’ve written is a survivor. The scenario is my comment on the issues of “stolen hearts” and marital infidelity, the ways that female victims of assault are silenced, and how powerful and precious our joy in living and our art can be as tools of survival.

The character of Pretty Polly echoes throughout time. She is the eternal victim of the world’s violence toward women–whether anyone can save her is the eternal question.

 

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Puppetland Is Here!

Puppetland

Excitement! The digital version of Arc Dream Publishing’s new edition of the Puppetland RPG is here, featuring three brand-new scenarios by yours truly!

You can download the .pdf of the core rule book and scenarios here, at RPGnow. It’s a fantastic little game, and a wonderful exercise in game design. Anyone who is interested in table-top story-telling should definitely try it.

The hardcover version of the book should be going to press soon, which is also exciting. In honor of the release of Puppetland, I’ll be posting some puppet profiles to showcase the historical puppets and figures that provided inspiration for the scenarios I contributed to this book: Pretty Polly, The Box, and The Bottler.

 

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