Tuesday, July 8, 2014

O4S Trivia: Book III

Confession time: Book III is totally our favorite book of the series.  Maybe it’s just because it’s only been a year since we finished it and the afterglow hasn’t worn off yet.  Or, more likely, it’s because Coyote and I are big fairy tale geeks, and Book III has all the elements—magic, royalty, fantastic beasts, romance.  If I never write another thing, I’ll always be proud to have co-authored Where Flap the Tatters of the King. 

So because of how I feel about this book, this post is a little longer than the previous two.  Also because Book III is freakin’ long (over 330,000 words).  It was a labor of love.  

So it seems only fair to make this little behind-the-scene commensurate, yes?

As always, SPOILERS AHEAD.

1. Christophe
In many ways, this book began with Christophe.  Going into it, we knew a few things: that the setting would be a world of geomancers, under occupation by Starry Wisdom; that the world would have some sort of resistance movement underway; and that someone involved in the resistance would have to help transport Clayton and Alyssa from the Order’s HQ into the Book III world. 

For a short time, we just had this nameless freedom fighter person.  Coyote and I kept making “Viva la resistance!” jokes from the South Park movie.  That led to us referring to the freedom fighter as, “The Mole.”  

Then we were like, “Hey, why don’t we just call him Christophe?” 

We imagined what that character would look like and be like all grown up—small, dark, intense, irreverent.  Which . . . later on, we realized was pretty much Robert Downey, Jr.  (Hey, Robert, if you’re reading this, we’d love for you to play Christophe in a screen adaptation.  Just sayin’.  And if you do, will you wear the Tony Stark beard, pretty please?)    

Having this French character actually made sense.  It was a world under occupation, after all, like Nazi-occupied France.  So then we thought, what if the world’s culture was French? 

As for Christophe’s personality, he started out more like the South Park character—bitter, sarcastic, angry at God.  In his case, it wasn’t because his mother tried to abort him, but because, with all the bi and gay guys in Corbenic, he had to fall for the lone straight one.   

Incidentally, Christophe’s last name, Ecarteur, is the French term for bull dodger, or bull leaper. 

Because Christophe does love him some bull.  By which I mean, he's a bullshitter, as well as a lover of bull men.  Also, he’s a bit of an artful dodger type.

It wasn’t until later, when we introduced Madeline as a character, that we toned him down because we thought—really, how bitter can you be when you have a Madeline in your life and in your bed? 

Now Christophe is our favorite character in the whole series and we can no longer imagine life without him.  Nor do we want to. 

2. It’s All Greek to Me
Another thing we had a vague notion about going into Book III—we wanted to draw upon ancient Greek culture for the society.  I know that sounds odd, what with the French and the Resistance, but bear with me: we knew the setting would be approximately equivalent to Paris or London, circa 1900, the fin de siècle/Edwardian period.  Which meant the society would be incredibly uptight where women are concerned.  Yet, the suffrage movement was alive and well in that time period in England and the US.  We wanted to reflect all these things in the book.

Well, the ancient Greeks had a ruthless patriarchy in which women were viewed as property.  The Greeks took it so far, they believed that the truest, purest love could only exist between men, because only men could be equal.  We also thought of the ancient Greek tradition of man/boy love, and the homosexual relationships encouraged among the soldiery in Thebes and Sparta.  The man/boy tradition had the erastes, the “lover,” and the eromenos, the “inspirer,” respectively.  In Corbenic, since relationships are encouraged between boys of the same age, we decided to call them inspirers.  It’s encouraged in Corbenic for a variety of reasons—social, political, but also because Corbenic is a society steeped in magical tradition.  Mage men who are so attuned to each other, mentally, physically and spiritually, can only wield more powerful magic.

The Corbenese king’s honorific is “Your Wisdom.”  Corbenic values knowledge above all things.  We thought a Platonic philosopher-king was appropriate.  Throughout the series, we refer to our magic-users as mages, from magi, meaning “wise.” 

The Corbenese origin story, the Tale of the Four Mothers, refers to three brothers, Minos, Rhadamanthys, and Sarpedon, who all fall in love with the same boy.  This is an actual Greek legend, and Minos did, in fact, exile his brother. 

We also wove in a lot of Greek mythological beasties: the minotaur, the phoenix, the chimera and Scylla. 

"Goat.  Lion.  Snake.  Smushed."

The herm that the team encounters along the road to the capital?  Those originated in Ancient Greece—they symbolized various deities, and were posted at crossroads and as boundary markers.  They were always associated with Hermes, the god of roads and luck.  The phallus, apparently, was sacred to Hermes.

Very sacred.

The number four was also sacred to Hermes, so they were four-sided.  

Jack the Ripper’s alias in this book is Lord Hercule Haides, both first and last names references to Greek mythological figures. 

The Omphalos, the magic well, the heart of Corbenic, is also from Greek mythology.  As mentioned in a previous post, it means, “navel.”  It is the source of Corbenese power.  In mythology, the omphalos were stones marking the center of the world, located at Delphi.  The Pythia, or Oracle, inhaled vapors from them to make her predictions.  So, naturally, Alyssa can’t go near the one in Corbenic, as it stands at the center of an enormous ley line/dimensional convergence, which just fucks her shit up.  The omphalos is also associated with wombs and feminine imagery, hence it echoes the stone grotto where Kate had her vision in Book II.  It also parallels the Blue Room, the round ritual chamber beneath the Great Lodge of Corbenic.  Finally, the omphalos is associated with the Holy Grail and Arthurian legends.  More on that in a bit.

Back to the Greeks—we used a lot of Greek surnames for the noble and royal houses of Corbenic—Sarpedonne (from Sarpedon), Bassarides, Hephaestion, Argyros, Nereus, Asklepios.  Our thinking was, a Greek surname indicates the more ancient families of Corbenic.  French names are more recent.   

But just for the record, the name Janus is Roman—so named for the two-faced god of doorways.  

Because, what else would you name that two-faced bastard?


A lot of other Greek ideals/values are incorporated into Corbenese society as well, such as the emphasis on hospitality and being a good guest, the honor culture, and the taboo against kinslaying.  

3. The Fisher King Legend
In Arthurian legends, the Fisher King is a custodian of the Holy Grail.  He is connected to his land, so when he is wounded, the land around the castle suffers.  In the stories, he is always wounded in the leg or the groin.  King Henri Sarpedonne is wounded in the thigh.  All the kings of Corbenic are bonded to the land—as he is wounded and imprisoned, the land suffers under a terrible winter.  The wound in the groin area also indicates impotence, and Henri is very concerned about his lack of grandsons to carry on the family line.   

Sometimes, the old King is called the Wounded King, and his son is the Fisher King.  We give a nod to that by frequently having Prince Leopold dine on humble meals of fish and doing everything he can to keep his people from starving.  Leo is also an expert sailor and fisherman.  While not technically impotent, Leo was symbolically neutered by the Grand Master, since the Grand Master inflicted intense sexual trauma on him as a boy.  Also, Leo is regarded (erroneously) as a “bull man” in Corbenic—a man who is not sexually attracted to women at all. 

The name Corbenic comes from Castle Corbenic, the name of the Fisher King’s keep, which housed the Holy Grail.  Frequently, the Holy Grail is described as being carved from emerald.  Emerald is one of the big symbols of the Corbenese Empire.  As alchemists, they subscribe to the principles handed down from the Emerald Tablets of Thoth, or Hermes Trismegistus.  Leo mentions that the chimera at Four Mothers guards “the emerald chalice, one of the great treasures of my ancestors.”   

The Maiden of Corbenic with the Holy Grail

The characters Geoff and Chretien are named for Geoffrey of Monmouth and Chretien de Troyes, both major contributors to the King Arthur legend. 

4. The French Connection
If we borrowed a lot from the Greeks, we also borrowed a lot from French history.  As mentioned, the setting was meant to suggest Nazi-occupied France and the Resistance forces.  Another notable grab from history was the Order of the Garter, which was started by King Edward III.  While dancing at a court ball, a lady’s garter slipped down her leg.  Edward retrieved it, and when the people freaked out about it, he calmly responded with the now-famous phrase, Honi soit qui mal y pense.  (“Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”)  When Alyssa loses her garter at the ball, Leopold gives the shocked courtiers a very similar response.  And, of course, garters are very important to this storyline.

France, being a Catholic country, also figured heavily into the world of Corbenic.  The Prince is “Keeper of the Sacred Heart.”  The Great Lodge and the Grand Master are very Catholic in style.  

A lot of the phrases we have the Corbenese use are actual French phrases, e.g., calling the teacher’s pet a “blue-eyed boy.”  We also injected the lower classes and peasantry a great deal of Creole and New Orleans culture and we tried to reflect that in their language as well, e.g., repeated use of the phrase, "you bet." 

There is a lot of French influence on Kansas/Missouri history.  Coyote and I being from KS and MO, we thought it fitting to include in our books.  Remember, in Book I, Rene Whitefeather had French as well as Indian blood. 

5. The Women’s Movement
Coyote and I are feminists.  If you’ve ever read this blog before, you already knew that about me.  We are deeply committed to gender equality.  It’s a sad comment on modern society that, as we were writing this book, we would occasionally wonder, Are we going over the top with the misogyny?  Should we tone it down a little?  Then we’d turn on the news to hear the latest debates about abortion and contraception, or horrible rape cases and human trafficking, and we would feel vindicated—if anything, we figure we didn’t go far enough. 

I’ve already mentioned the women’s suffrage movement was going strong in 1900.  The women of Corbenic are fighting for the rights to an education—it is believed that an educated woman might go mad.  I heard somewhere once that educating girls was like pouring water into a pair of shoes—it wastes the water and ruins the shoes.  Nice, eh?  That’s very much the Corbenese attitude.  When you consider that magic is part of the general curriculum in Corbenic, no wonder the man got to keep a sister down.  The women are also fighting for the right to own property, for financial independence, and the right to testify.  In Corbenic, rape is not even considered a crime.  Even Elizabeth Bathory and Katarina, usually so brutally self-sufficient, find trouble in this world of men. 

Education, Property, Testify.  Geddit?

Lady Susan Lamprise, the character who leads the Red Garters, the woman’s movement in Corbenic, was so named because of lazy Susans.  Supposedly, in centuries past, orphanages had a lazy Susan type device where mothers could drop off unwanted children anonymously.  Our Lady Susan, of course, wanted her child desperately, despite the fact that she was raped.  Because of her status as a “fallen woman,” she became what is known in Corbenic as a “copper bride.”  As in pennies on the dollar. 

Alyssa being knighted is one of the big moves forward in the Corbenese women's movement.  We had been struggling with an appropriate way for the Prince to honor her for saving his life, when Coyote introduced me to the manga, Hellsing.  When I saw Sir Integra, I knew immediately that nothing less than a knighthood would do.  

I’m sure you’ve seen that picture floating around the Interwebz-- "Harry Potter fans want to go to Hogwarts.  LoTR fans want to go to Middle-Earth.  Game of Thrones fans—er . . . no, thanks.  Nobody wants to go to Westeros."

I’m in no big hurry to go to Corbenic.   

6. Geomancy
Geomancy, in many ways, is at the heart of the O4S series.  The word geomancy is from the Greek, “foresight by earth.”  In Arabic, it’s il-al raml, “the science of sand.”  The Greeks borrowed the term and turned it into “Rhamplion,” which, incidentally, is the name of a province in Corbenic. 

In the O4S-verse, geomancy assumes that all planets (and, indeed, dimensions), have a life force which manifests in ley lines—the mystical veins of a world.  If you can tap into that power, you can do all kinds of cool stuff, like open transdimensional gates, or travel instantaneously from one point to another within the same world.  As far as anybody knows, the Corbenese geomancers are the best damn geomancers anywhere.  Period.  They’re so good, their royal family is jacked right in to the planet’s ley lines and life force. 

We called the resistance movement in Corbenic the Sablists, from the French word for sand.  We figured a world of geomancers would call themselves “sand men.”

The Shield Chart that gets referenced repeatedly in the book, most notably, the little group of witches that the team encounters on the way to the capital, and in the skylight in the throne room at Four Mothers, looks like this:


It was used in divination techniques.  Spread out a copy of the Shield Chart, cast sand or stones over it, and decipher the patterns.  Obviously, the Corbenese have taken it to the next level.

The figures on the Shield Chart are called Mothers, Daughters, and Nieces.

The four figures in the top right-hand side are called—you guessed it.  The Four Mothers.  Hence, the name of the royal palace in Corbenic.  Don’t you love that a patriarchal world’s source of power comes from feminine symbols?

7. No Dragons
Way, way back, when Coyote and I first started writing together, we had a good-natured argument.  He is a traditional scifi geek—comic books, Star Wars, Star Trek, RPGs, cons, all of it.  Ipso facto, he loves dragons.  He has giant dragon tattoos on each forearm (which are, admittedly, pretty fucking cool).  But I think that dragons, like many other fictional beasties, are way, way, WAY overused. 

So the argument basically went like this:

C: Dragons?
L: No dragons.
C: Just a few dragons?
L:  No!  No dragons!
C:  How ‘bout just a dragon?
L:  NO!  DRAGONS!  EVER!

It’s become a standing joke between us.  Because of it, I wrote The Ice Dragon for him and his family as a Christmas gift one year.  In Book III—the Starry Wisdom patrols ride snowmobiles.  Brand name?  Ice Dragons.

Also, that’s how we got this exchange between Leo and Alyssa:

“Please don’t go into that room.”
She turned her head sleepily.  “Why not?”
“Because there is a chimera inside.”
She shot straight up out of the covers, wide awake now.  “A chimera?”
“Well, technically, the chimera.”
Her eyes widened.  “You have a chimera here?”
He sighed.  “Oh, dear.”
“That is so cool.  You guys have everything—fairies, mermaids, a chimera . . . Dragons?”
“What?”
“Dragons,” she said eagerly.  “Do you have dragons here?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.  Dragons are mythological.”

So, no dragons in Corbenic.  Sorry. 

But you do get mermaids, fairies, and ehlems.  (Ehlems are an alchemically mutated strain of fairy, which we totally made up.  The name ehlem came from a Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns called Lisa a “liberal midget.”  We started referring to those little beasties as “liberal midgets,” which we abbreviated to LM’s, el-em.  Ehlems.)  

You also get Garthim, which we cribbed from Dark Crystal. 

Are you sensing the pop cultural influence on our work?  Because, yeah.  We like our movies and cartoons. 

8. Kansas City Shout-Outs (Yes, there’s a few)
Corbenic is all about the bulls and minotaurs.  In addition to all the statues around the capital, most of the noble houses and the provinces, when not given a Greek name, frequently have names from a breed of cow, or something related to bovines—Auroch, Parthenais, Tarentaise, etc.  Ecarteur is a bull-leaper, as I mentioned.  The royal family’s symbol is a bull.  As mentioned in the past two O4S posts, KC is a cowtown.  And a barbecue town.  Which—Alyssa mentions seeing a barbecue joint in the capital called Arzelia’s.  This is a reference to Arzelia Gates, one of the founders of Gate’s BBQ in Kansas City. 

Nellie Belle's - Alyssa tells the General that Carcosa has a place that makes hamburgers and "the best sand puppy pie you ever tasted."  Nellie Belle's is a diner in Claycomo (a suburb of KC) that services the Ford plant.  It operates out of a pink trailer.  They serve my favorite burgers in town. 

Corbenic has lots of fountains.  KC has more fountains than any other city in the world except Rome.

KC is known as the “Paris of the Plains.”  That French connection again.

The capital is like the emerald city—white stone, green glasses, and even green lanterns.  I’m not from Kansas, and I get very irritated when people assume I am.  But Coyote is from Kansas.  So I feel totally justified in making Wizard of Oz references. 

The Red Garters sing a song about the Lady of Marais des Cygnes—this is a reference to a river in Kansas near where my husband grew up. 

Master Healer Carondelet - named for Carondelet Medical Center, a Catholic hospital here in KC.

Lady Tuileries - named for a strip mall up the street from an apartment I used to live in.

The obligatory Jesse James references - Alyssa sings "The Ballad of Jesse James" at the Bassarides estate. 

9. Parallel Characters
In all of our books, characters tend to mirror each other.  In Book III, two such characters are Christophe and Jack.  They’re both small, unimposing, but handsome men.  They’re both well-dressed.  They both hide in plain sight.  And they both have very special relationships with working girls.

Clayton and King Henri have a lot in common—they’re both leaders.  They’re both single fathers to an only child, to whom they are very close.  An argument could also be made for Clayton and Leo—again, both leaders, both very politically savvy.  They’re both verbose.  They even look alike—tall, thin, clean-shaven, dark-haired.  (Well, Clayton was dark-haired before he went gray.)  No wonder Alyssa digs Leo.  

Alyssa and Madeline were another pair where we saw distinct parallels, as well as Alyssa and Leto.  All three women had horrific childhoods.  Madeline and Leto were used physically, while Alyssa was used mentally.  All three were given up by their parents.  All three have had, for various reasons, a lot of sexual partners.  

10. Stephen King Shout-Out 
We always manage to work in at least one.  When Alyssa is telling Michael what worlds she's traveled to, she mentions Eluria-- from the Stephen King short story, "The Little Sisters of Eluria," part of the Dark Tower opus.  

Bonus: If you can stand just one more inside joke . . .
My husband always gets to read the first draft of our work.  As he was reading Book III and he came to the part with the Bassarides, he said, “The Bassarides are liberal bankers who champion literacy?  So they’re like the Jews of Corbenic?” 

Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.


Motifs & Symbolism
The Cover – Violet for royalty, with smoky swirls to suggest air.  Corbenic is “a kingdom of air.  Men and swords.”  Air is the element associated with words and intellect.  In the Tarot, it is associated with swords and conflict.  The silver bull seal is for the royal house. 

Bunnies – the book opens with a rabbit hopping out of the way as Clayton, Alyssa and Christophe arrive from St. Matthew’s Field. 

Water – Corbenic is a world with lots and lots of water—oceans, rivers, canals, snow, rain, ice, and a magic well.  The Corbenese love their baths, the noble houses have the most luxurious lavatories imaginable.  We wanted Corbenic to stand in sharp contrast to Carcosa.  Corbenic is hyper-civilized and fertile where Carcosa is savage and barren.  Corbenic is full of magic while Carcosa is just doing what it can to hold itself together. 

Sri Yantra – appears in both the floors of the main entry hall of the palace as well as the ball room. 

Phoenix – incorporated into the Tale of the Four Mothers, the Corbenese origin story.  It is the symbol of Atymnius, the first Sarpedonne’s inspirer. 

Minotaur – bull men everywhere in this story—the sentinel standing on the bluffs overlooking the city, the giant statues guarding the throne room, and then Leo himself, the bull man. 

Pomegranates – Jack’s persona as Lord Haides required a heraldic symbol.  So of course he would chose a pomegranate, associated with Akhenaton, Isfet, chaos and madness.  He reverts to his old tricks by luring streetwalkers with an offering of fruit.  Akhenaton himself, as usual, shows up and has himself a glass of pomegranate juice.  A pomegranate also shows up—it’s the first thing Alyssa really accepts from Leo.  Those two have a very Hades/Persephone thing going.  Not because she’s some little ingénue, but because there’s always this slightly dangerous edge to their relationship, almost dom/sub.  

Once she’s accepted his hospitality, she cannot leave his kingdom.    

Colors – this is a violet and emerald world, for the most part, but silver and gold have significant symbolism in Corbenic as well.  The Corbenese consider silver the active, masculine metal, and gold the passive, feminine metal.  The various Corbenese lords have colors that match them—the Bassarides are scarlet, black and silver, of course, for the foxes that they are.  Christophe and Lord Haides both are partial to wine and gold colors.  Janus almost always wears something yellow—beware (false) Kings in Yellow. 

Names Alyssa – Greek, for the alyssum plant; a- “not,” lyssum, “insane.”  The one lucid Oracle.  Related to the name for Alice, and we tip our hats to Lewis Carroll whenever we can.  (Did you catch the hookah-smoking caterpillar in the bazaar?)  Also related to the name Elissa, Arabic for “wanderer,” which our girl certainly is.  Calderon is a Spanish surname, from the Latin, “cauldron.”  We had assigned her the element of fire, since she has a fiery temperament.  It’s also perfect for an alchemist’s love interest, Atymnius to Leo’s Sarpedon.

Clayton – in this book, he is known to the people of Corbenic as Lord Hornbeam, a literal translation of his surname, due to the very precise translator devices the Corbenese have.  

We used several occupational surnames.  The Grand Master is Perseus Vitrier-- Vitrier meaning "glazier," which implies that the Grand Master rose from humble beginnings.  This is why there are blown glass pieces in his office, and the reason for the nickname, "gaffer."  Chretien, a musician, has the last name Trouvere, which means "trobador."  Which is what Chretien de Troyes was.  


This, of course, is just a taste of what went in to the making of Book III.  This will be the final trivia post for a while—at least until Book IV is finished, which is at least a year away.  

As always, feel free to comment or leave questions below. 


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