Wednesday, December 26, 2012

"La Tutayegua" in the SNReview

My short story, "La Tutayegua," will be published in the upcoming edition of SNReview, due out in February.  This will be the first time I've ever had a short story published, so I'm very excited.

I hope you pick up a copy and enjoy!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dedicated to the Brothers Grimm

So I lied.  I thought I had made my last O4S-related post until we finished Book III. I had intended to post a quote from Book III on my Facebook page today, in keeping with the Christmas-themed quotes I've been posting all month.  But as I got to looking for a decent quote, I thought, well, one sentence won't be enough, better go with a paragraph.  Then I thought, well, THAT won't be enough, better go with a page.  Yeah, a page would be good . . . Well, you get the idea.

Today also marks the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Brothers Grimm's first edition of their Children's and Household Tales.  

Book III is dedicated to them and to Lewis Carroll.  

So, in honor of the season, as well as those great men whose work has brought us such delight over the past two centuries, I give you the opening chapter of Where Flap the Tatters of the King: The Order of the Four Sons, Book III.

Merry Christmas!


Chapter One
It was daybreak, and the countryside was barren and still.  The dry grass glittered crystalline and white, the bare black trees silvered with frost.  In some places, dead leaves or frozen clumps of bright red berries still clung to their branches.  A light dusting of snow fell, the wind eddying flurries into low drifts in the hollows and dells.  A snowshoe rabbit paused in a clearing and sat up on its hind legs, ears erect, nose quivering. 
Figures faded in from the snow and wind, bringing their sounds with them, shattering the silence with their voices and footsteps.
The rabbit leapt into the air, spun, and fled back into the dense tangle of frozen briars, its white body melting into the undergrowth.
Christophe looked reproachfully up at the sky, turned his collar up against the cold, and pulled on a pair of leather gloves lined with fur.  Behind him, Alyssa was clinging to Clayton, eyes squeezed tightly shut.  When she became sure of her footing, she raised her head, blinking as snowflakes caught in her eyelashes.
Clayton was wearing a blazer over a linen shirt and an undershirt, and he immediately shivered in the winter air.  Alyssa did not fare nearly so well, dressed in a T-shirt and pants.  She opened her bag and took out a jacket she had picked up at the airport in Edinburgh.  It helped some.
“Please, mademoiselle, allow me,” Christophe removed his cloak and draped it over her shoulders in one fluid motion.
“Thanks.”  The cloak was heavy wool and very, very warm.  She pulled it tightly around herself and pulled the hood up.  Immediately, the snow ceased falling upon her.  Surprised, she looked up. 
It was still falling.  Just not on her.
She looked down at the cloak, then over at Christophe, one eyebrow raised.
He did not appear to notice and in fact had already turned away.  “Now come,” he said briskly.  “This way to my villa where await you a hot fire and food, and I shall tell you of the tragedy that has befallen our fair Corbenic.”  He gestured to the hills, perhaps a mile away, beyond a small forest where they could make out the soaring gables of a great manor house, its lights a glimmer on the pale horizon. 
He set off through the trees.  “Make haste!” he called over his shoulder.  “I cannot be missed!” 
There did not appear to be a trail, but it was evident from the pace he set through the dead undergrowth that he could maneuver through these woods blindfolded.  He seemed to be leading them on a route that ran parallel to the hills.  Dry branches snapped underfoot.  In the trees, tiny dappled wrens fluffed their feathers against the cold, chirping sadly.  They passed a frozen pond fringed with a low profusion of snow-capped evergreens, its coating of dove-gray ice smooth and absolutely pristine.  Some sort of hawk glided by overhead, white-throated, russet and black, with a black-tipped beak, its red eye flashing before it disappeared into a copse of trees on the other side of the pond. 
Alyssa turned her face up to the snow drifting out of the nearly translucent sky.  A silver circle marked where the sun was almost hidden behind a pearl-colored veil. 
“It’s pretty here,” she said in a hushed tone, as if she were afraid of breaking some enchantment.
Clayton smiled.  “When I was here last, it was spring.”
“You have been to Corbenic before?” Christophe asked, surprised. 
“I have had the privilege of seeing Four Mothers in springtime, monsieur,” Clayton replied.
“Ah, splendid, my friend, splendid,” Christophe said reverently.  “With luck, you shall again.”
At last they reached an opening in the trees, where the forest was bisected by a road—a road of smooth black flagstones, blown over with snow.  They followed it until they reached the bottom of the hill leading up to the villa.
The house was of some light-colored stone, with a shingled roof of vivid red shale.  In addition to the gables, there were steeply pointed turrets, their outlines ghostly and stark, backlit against the quickening dawn.  Dozens of windows with elaborate wrought-iron panes held gilded fleur-de-lis, egg-and-darts, ivy, heart shapes, doves.  The windows themselves were arched, rimmed with dazzling stained glass patterns of flowers in red, blue, green and gold.  The road curved in front of the house, leading off to the right where stables and a carriage house stood.
They began the long trek up the hill, heads down, the wind blowing in from the open fields to either side of them. 
All three were shivering violently by the time they reached the wide, heavy front door mounted on gold and silver clasps.  Even the knocker was ornamental—thick, gold, carved with a flower design.  The doorknob was gold, bearing some sort of stylized symbol that was either a slender crescent moon or a bull’s horns. 
Christophe produced a large, ornate key, also gold.
The door opened and a rush of warm air greeted them.  They all breathed appreciative sighs as they stepped over the threshold, into the foyer.
The walls were papered in a soft ivory with gilded moldings.  The floor was marble, its pale coloring matching the exterior stone almost exactly, veined in gold, the slabs fitted together with interlocking diamonds of deep red carnelian like cloisonné, drawing the eye forward to a grand marble staircase with delicate gold railings, which held the same designs as the window panes.  The risers and treads were inlaid with more carnelian, edged in gold.  There were gold wall sconces which held not candles but crystals, their illumination reflecting the gold and cream-colored floors, filling the interior with a warm, almost buttery glow.  Every element had obviously been created in symphony with everything else.  Clayton and Alyssa regarded their surroundings, impressed with the coordinated beauty, the painstaking design of the place. 
There was a wooden door to the right of the stairway.  It opened and an elderly man appeared, thin, slightly stooped, dressed in simple clothing—a homespun shirt, with wool slacks tucked into well-worn boots.  “Master Christophe—is that you?”
He began to cross the narrow hallway to the foyer, and then froze.  His eyes grew wide as he took in his master’s appearance.
“Of course it is me!” Christophe replied impatiently.  “Who else would you be expecting at this time of day, in this godforsaken weather?  With a house key, no less!”  Christophe took off his gloves and threw them at the old man, who caught them against his chest.  “Now come!  Take the lady’s cloak!  We have journeyed far, and we must eat.”
The servant started towards Alyssa, then paused in obvious dismay.  “But Master—” he held out his hands, still clutching the gloves, in a gesture that was almost beseeching.  “What’s happened to you?  What’s happened to your--”
“What has happened?” Christophe interrupted.  “Happened?  Nothing, save that your lord has arrived with guests, tired, hungry, cold, and as yet, still unattended!”
Another servant appeared from the same door to the right of the stairs, an old woman in a faded gray dress and apron, her white hair tucked up in a kerchief.  Her lined face had been alight with joy but promptly fell at the sight of her master, the hearty greeting she had been set to utter vanishing from her lips.  She gasped and reeled backwards, her hand at her heart. 
Quickly, Christophe stepped forward.  “All is well,” he said kindly, patting her arm.  “Just fetch me my dyes.  Run along, now, Idelle.”
Obviously still in shock, she managed a curtsey.  “Yes, Master Christophe!”  She turned and scurried back through the door.  Clayton and Alyssa caught a glimpse of the kitchen beyond.
The old man, having recovered slightly, came over and took the bag and cloak from Alyssa’s shoulders.  Seeing her attire, he paused.
She was wearing what appeared to be a boy’s trousers and boots – very strange boots of a highly reflective material, too smooth and shiny to be leather, surely -- and some sort of jacket, pale green, fitted almost like a sailor’s coat but shorter, with large buttons and four wide, deep pockets on the front.  He removed that as well, and was even more taken aback when he realized that underneath, she was wearing what looked to him like some sort of thin undergarment, short-sleeved, black—nothing else could be so tightly fitted.  Indeed, it clung to her like a second skin.  He hastily averted his eyes.  What in the world had happened to these poor people that the young lady had had to resort to whatever ill-fitting garments were on hand to protect her modesty?  Her hair was not even braided, only pulled back from her face and left loose down her back.
He also took Clayton’s jacket.  Here, at least, was something recognizable; it was a suit, a very strange suit -- there was no accounting for foreign fashion -- but it was nonetheless clean and well-cut, as befitted a gentleman. 
After the servant had stowed everything away in a nearby wardrobe, he opened a door immediately to their right, which led into the dining room, lit with candles as well as sconces.  There was a table large enough to seat two dozen people easily, with a white tablecloth, set with gold cutlery and crystal.  There were gold platters and chafing dishes heaped with food.
Christophe pulled out a chair for Alyssa.  She, missing the cue completely, walked around to the other side of the table, pulled out her own chair and sat down.  Christophe peered at her for a moment, shrugged, then pushed the chair back in. 
Seeing Clayton’s look, she asked, “What?”
Christophe did not sit.  He turned as Idelle appeared with a tray bearing a little silver pillbox and a glass of water.  She also had a lap robe over her arm.
Christophe took the box and the glass.  “Thank you.”  He removed a white tablet and downed it quickly, his head back.  Still holding the glass, he gestured to Clayton and Alyssa.  “Serve them,” he ordered.  “Wrap something up for me.  I shan’t stay.”
“But you only just got here!” Idelle exclaimed, and for the first time, Clayton and Alyssa noticed her accent differed slightly from Christophe’s, her manner of speaking less refined.  Idelle set the tray on a sideboard.  “You got to rest!  And you got to get something on your stomach or else--”
“Idelle,” Christophe said quietly.  His voice was firm, but surprisingly gentle.  “Stop fretting and see to our guests.  My meal will set just as well if I eat here or on the road.”
She clearly disagreed, but went dutifully around the table to begin serving the food.  First, however, she unfolded the lap robe and wrapped it gently around Alyssa’s shoulders, letting it fall to cover her front.  “There you are, mon petite,” she said maternally, patting Alyssa’s arm.  On the back of her hand, she bore some sort of tattoo—Alyssa caught only the briefest glimpse of it before the old woman had moved away again. 
Alyssa looked down at the robe, then at the two men, utterly mystified.  Christophe shot her an amused glance before leaning across the table and helping himself to a slice of buttered toast from a plate. 
Idelle uncovered the gold dishes, revealing a whole slab of ham, a variety of sausages, pies, kippers, and steaks; egg dishes, porridge, tomatoes, biscuits, jellied pastries, currants, syrups, tea, milk.  There was enough food here for a major league sports team, including coaches, referees and commentators.
Christophe, chewing his piece of toast, raised an eyebrow.  “Idelle?  Not that I am at all angry, but . . . did you not get my message?  I thought I had requested a simple meal, did I not?”
“Well, only it has been so long since you been here last, Master Christophe.  When Cook found out you was coming, we couldn’t stop her,” Idelle said apologetically.
Christophe shook his head.  “Very well.  I surrender myself to the inevitable.”  Dispatching the last of his toast, he sat down before the plate she had prepared for him.  “Now leave us, please.  We have much to discuss.”  He unfolded his napkin with a snap. 
Idelle finished filling their plates and cups and then left in a rustle of skirts. 
The door closed and there was a pause as Christophe listened to the sound of her footsteps growing fainter and fainter. 
When at last they disappeared altogether, he shifted forward in his seat.  “As you might have surmised,” he began, his voice low, “our original plan revolved around raising an army.  By which I mean more than two.  Since that is obviously not going to happen, an agonizing re-appraisal is in order.  Thus, you must wait here, for the arrival of your fellows.  I must go at once to make sure all is arranged for their arrival-- undetected by our enemies and yours.  You may stay the night here, but no more than a night, or we risk discovery.  In the meantime, my staff has been instructed to outfit you with whatever you may require.  Then you must make your way to Four Mothers.  You will want to stay off the main roads to avoid Starry Wisdom patrols—at least, until you approach the Capital.”  He hesitated as a new thought occurred to him.  “Pardon my asking, monsieur, but you both can ride, can you not?”
“We can,” Clayton assured him.
He nodded.  “Good.  Once you near the Capital, you and all your retinue will need appropriate papers.  I will make the necessary arrangements.  But you will need a Corbenese identity, monsieur.  I suggest you become a lord.”
“I am familiar with Corbenic as Clayton Hornbeam,” Clayton replied.  “So I can be Lord Clayton Hornbeam of . . . shall we say Gachelen?” 
Christophe nodded.  “I think that will suffice. . . Yes, that will suit our needs perfectly, in fact.  Are the rest of your compatriots so well acquainted with Corbenic as you?”
Clayton shook his head.  “Unfortunately not.”
“Pity.  Then might I further suggest you pass them off as your servants?”
Clayton nodded again.  “I think that would be for the best.”
“In the meantime, try to draw as little attention to yourselves as possible.  On the way, your people should have time to become at least somewhat acquainted with our customs here, as well as recent events.  By the time you arrive, we should, with any luck, have composed a new, equally brilliant plan with the meager resources at our disposal.  Present yourself to the Prince as any visiting lord should, and I will seek you later, wherever you end up staying.”  Christophe sat back.  “So.  That I may send a message with any hope of reaching my friends in time, tell me: when do you expect your people to reach us, and where?”
“Dusk.”  The response came from Alyssa, who did not even look up from the portion of ham she was cutting.
“Dusk?” Christophe echoed.  “Can you be more specific, mademoiselle?”
“Got a watch?”
He took a small, silver watch from the watch pocket of his vest, unhooked it from its button hole and, with a slightly bemused air, passed it across the table to her. 
She examined it curiously for a moment.  It was square instead of round, set with rubies.  When she pressed the catch, it sprung open to reveal a face with not twelve numbers but sixteen—four to a side.  At least, she assumed they were numbers. 
“Which one is one?” she asked.
“Ah, forgive me.”  He pointed to the numeral in the upper right corner.  “This is one.”  He ran his finger clockwise around the rim.  “It runs this way.  An hour is sixty-four minutes.”
She studied it for a moment.  “They’ll be here at 8:28 in the evening.”  Closing the watch, she passed it back to him.  As he re-pocketed it, he eyed her with new interest.
Clayton set his glass down.  “So we know what time.  Where?”
“Not far from here.”  Alyssa looked back at Christophe distractedly.  “Your hair’s darker.”
“Then the dyes are taking their effect.”  Christophe glanced at Clayton.  “I’m sorry, do you prefer older men?”
Clayton turned red.  “We’re getting off the subject.”
There was a pause as Alyssa held Christophe’s gaze.  At last, she said, “About four miles west of here.”
“There is a clearing there,” Christophe said.  “And good conditions for a temporary gate.”
She nodded and absently dug out her pack of cigarettes, shook one out.  No sooner had she touched the filter to her lips then a flame appeared to light it.
She looked at the ornate lighter in Christophe’s hand, then to his face, and back again.  Guardedly, she leaned forward to let him light it then settled back again, exhaling a plume of smoke.  She gave him a small nod of thanks.
He smiled and stood.  “As much as it pains me, I must depart.  Eric and Idelle will see to your needs.  You will certainly need some proper clothes.  And,” he drew a large purse from his pocket and set it in front of Clayton.  “Permit me, monsieur, but I am sure you do not have local currency.”
Clayton accepted the bag.  “Thank you.”
Christophe turned and started towards the door, then turned back to them.  “Oh, and one more thing,” he added, pointing his finger at them for emphasis.  “Do not know me.  When we meet at court, it will be as for the first time.  Please understand, I am regarded as somewhat . . . infamous.  A libertine, in fact.  It is a reputation I have worked very hard to cultivate, and I trust you will do nothing to dispel it.”  They nodded and Christophe smiled again.  “Until then,” he bowed, “Adieu.”

Monday, December 10, 2012

Best Christmas Tales

Our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree

I should say, "Best Christmas Tales for Snooty Literary Types Like Me."  Ahem.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with my oeuvre, (and if you’re not, WHY NOT?  This is my blog you’re reading!), I’m a big sap when it comes to Christmas. 

I love everything about Christmas—snow (so long as I don’t have to drive in it), lights, roaring fires, pines, cards, gifts, carols, the whole shebang.  

Why?   Well, there’s just something about this time of the year that I have always found magical.  There is a very old tradition linking ghost stories and Christmas—think about the ghosts in A Christmas Carol.  The framing device in The Turn of the Screw is a bunch of old friends gathered together at Christmas.  Even the song, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” includes the line: there’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of glories of Christmases long, long ago . . . 

This was popularized, as so many of our traditions by the Victorians, but I imagine there are roots in paganism—I won’t bore you with the new agey details, but Christmas is the solstice, the longest night of the year, when it was thought that the veil between the worlds was the thinnest.  The perfect time for ghosts to walk.

So, yeah, as someone with a lifelong fascination with horror stories, I am naturally drawn to tales of Christmas, and, whenever possible, weave references to Christmas into my own work.  My two children’s tales are Christmas-themed, and were written as Christmas gifts to my best friend and writing partner, Coyote, and his family.  In the Order of the Four Sons series, significant events in the characters’ lives take place at Christmas. 

In honor of the occasion, I thought I’d share a list of great Christmas tales—something sort of off the beaten track from the usual Scrooges and Grinches.  With the exception of Bridget Jones, these stories are somewhat overlooked, probably because no big Hollywood production has ever been made of them. 

Will Make You Laugh: Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
This is a bit of a cheat—the framing device is more about New Year’s and New Year’s Resolutions.  But I make it an annual Christmas read anyway, and it's chock-full of references to holidays . . . including Valentine's Day and, er, VE-Day, so I reserve the right to include it in other lists.  Just so you know.

Will Make You Cry: “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty
This story is about an old woman who makes the long trek from her country home to Natchez to pick up medicine for her grandson.  Her determination to get there despite her age and the many obstacles she faces are heart-wrenching enough, but the end?  The end is simply devastating.  If you read, be sure to have tissues handy.

Will Make You Wanna Pick Up a Sword and Go Slay Some Dragons:  “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” by the Pearl Poet
One of the greatest knights of the Round Table has a Christmas adventure.  'Nuff said.

For a Bit of Intrigue:  “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Yes, Holmes.  I adore all things Holmes about as much as I adore Christmas.  Watson, who is happily married at this point in the series, comes to visit Holmes on Christmas.  Holmes, meanwhile, has been brought a puzzling case-- a man has found the titular blue carbuncle in the throat of a Christmas goose.  Surely there are easier ways to make pate?

Will Freak You the Fuck Out:  “Nicholas Was” by Neil Gaiman
This super-short story (less than 100 words!) packs a wallop in the thrills 'n' chills department.  This tale actually inspired me to start writing my own Christmas stories to give away as gifts.  Gaiman wrote it to send out with his Christmas cards one year, which I thought was a fabulous idea.  I came across it in his short story collection, Smoke and Mirrors. 

Merry Christmas to all, and as always, happy reading!

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Carcosa Soundtrack: Part II

Part II of the Carcosa soundtrack.  Picking right up where I left off . . .

SPOILER ALERT. Proceed with caution. 

17. Kate’s Vision – Fernando, ABBA

"I was so afraid, Fernando
We were young and full of life and none of us prepared to die . . .”

Yeah, I went there.  While Kate is tripping balls to whatever crazy mushrooms the Eerin gave her in Canungra, she starts singing fucking Abba.  You know O4S could fall squarely into the horror genre with no problems, right?  It’s not like we made a secret of that. 

On a serious note, she has a long, strange trip, and Fernando Rios, the poor operative from Book I who got mauled by eretics, makes a cameo.  Can you hear the drums, Fernando?

18.  Doomed Cities & the Unmaker – Apocalypse Please, Muse

“It's time we saw a miracle
come on it's time for something biblical
to pull us through
and pull us through
and this is the end
this is the end of the world . . .”

One of the things Coyote and I enjoy best about writing this series is getting to create myths—there’s a certain amount of world-building required of any sci-fi.  But having our characters troop through other worlds means we get to go off into any number of fascinating digressions, such as the Eerin’s mythology about the Unmaker.  Time for something Biblical?  Well, gnostic, if you want to get technical . . .

19.  Nathan DePriest – Red Right Hand, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

“He's a god, he's a man,
he's a ghost, he's a guru
They're whispering his name
through this disappearing land
But hidden in his coat
is a red right hand . . .”

This song is so perfect for Nathan, it kinda hurts. 

20.  Five Towns - On the Eve of Destruction, Barry McGuire 

“This whole crazy world is just too frustratin' . . .”

The five towns are a frustratin’ kinda place. 

21.  Diego – Devuelveme el Corazon, Adriana Bottina

In ingles, roughly: “But to kiss your lips, I lose my heart, the heart of a night . . .” 

Kate gets tempted by a handsome, gentleman rancher named Diego.  But seriously, she will always be JD’s girl.

22.  Nightmares - Enter Sandman, Iron Horse

You may recall that I put the original version of this song on the Book I soundtrack.  Of course, for Carcosa, we had to go bluegrass. 

23.  Hormiga – Country Death Song, Violent Femmes

“Gather round boys to this tale that I tell.
You wanna know how to take a short trip to hell?
It's guaranteed to get your own place in hell.
Just take your lovely daughter and push her in the well.
Take your lovely daughter and throw her in the well.”

Another unbearably perfect song.

24.  Bill & Emily – Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles

Bill serenades his Georgia Peach.  I can think of worst first dates.

25.  Old Geb – Natural Blues, Moby

“Don’t nobody know my troubles but God.”

Old Geb’s got troubles so hard when he lets our heroes take shelter in his farmhouse.

26.  El Camino del Diablo – King of Arizona, Clutch

“We are the King of Arizona.”

Vickers and the Yellow King.  It would be frightening if it didn’t mean that, once again, Vickers finds himself stranded in rural environs—his personal definition of hell.  Karma’s a bitch. 

27.  Calvera – Don’t Go Into that Barn, Tom Waits

“Shiny tooth talons
Coiled for grabbing a stranger
Happening by
And the day when home early
And the sun sank down into
The much of a deep dead sky . . .”

Nathan’s lair.  Many have entered, few leave.   

28.  The Shoot-Out – Banditos, The Refreshments

“Well, I’ve got the pistol, so I’ll keep the pesos.
Yeah, and that seems fair.”

Obviously, we end on a note of gunfire.  Obviously. 

29.  End - Better World A-Comin’, Woody Guthrie

We can only hope for our heroes’ sake that this is true.

So there you have it, folks.

Hopefully the next O4S post I make will be announcing the completion of Book III, Where Flap the Tatters of the King.  

Exit Carcosa.

Next stop: Corbenic.