Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bookshelf: Fall Picks

I'm always on the lookout for new reads and new reasons to deplete my meager paycheck. Luckily for me, I've come across a couple that are right up the alley for this blog. First:

 Servant of the Underworld by Aliette De Bodard

Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan – the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, high priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead. But how do you find someone, living or dead, in a world where blood sacrifices are an everyday occurrence and the very gods stalk the streets?

Once I read that description, I knew this and the rest of the trilogy was going on my shopping list. Merry Christmas to me! Aliette's blog is also a good place to find out more about her world.

Then there's :

Meiji: Book One by Milton Davis

On the continent of Uhuru, in the grasslands of the Sesu, Inkosi Dingane is granted his wish. His Great Wife Shani bears him a son, an heir to his growing empire. But the ancestors have plans of their own. Shani bears him twin boys, meji, an abomination among the Sesu, but a blessing to Shani’s people, the Mawena.

Thus begins the story of two brothers destined to transform their world. One brother, Ndoro, fights for his place among the Sesu, hoping to shed the stigma of abomination. The other, Obaseki, grows to a man among the people of his mother, struggling with a gift that alienates him from his family and eventually leads to his exile. Both brothers set out to find his destiny, traveling through teeming savannah, mysterious forests, haunted ocean cliffs and infernal deserts, fulfilling a prophecy that would change them and their world forever.

I've had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Davis and he is one of the biggest advocates for African based fantasy. The other being Charles Saunders, but I'll get to him in another post. If you have to beg, borrow, or steal (okay, don't steal) seek out this wonderful work.

Now that I've shown a couple of my picks, does anyone know of some other writers I'm missing? Who are your favorite authors in this vein of fantasy?

Friday, October 7, 2011

In Writing, Patience Is A Virtue

I have a problem with waiting. I pace the kitchen waiting for cookies to bake. I skip ahead in a book to see if my favorite character makes it. And I know personally that a watched pot never boils, no matter how long and angrily you stare at it.

Boil, darn you!
With my writing I'm no different. As soon as I get a new idea for a story I want to dive right in. No plotting. No planning. Do the characters even have names yet? Ah, who cares? Jim and Biff will do until rewrite. When I was younger I would delightfully give in to these impulses and often end up with craptastic romps. Entertaining, but still utter drivel. I might post an excerpt one day. Maybe.

Now I've grown older as a writer and have come to realize that waiting a bit is good, not only for me, but for my story as well. Letting it simmer for a bit, like a big pot of soup, develops the flavor of the tale, deepens it. You can concentrate your story down from lofty ideas to something truly enjoyable.

No matter how great an idea may seem at its conception, take the time to think it through. Get to know your characters; flesh them out. Know your setting. Play with plot ideas. The time you spend with your new idea could be the difference between a story not worthy of seeing the light of day and a true gem.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Vampires: A Drain On Society

Vampires don't sparkle!!
Vampires were very “in” when I was in high school (back in the 90’s). Then, it seemed they were ditched for elves. Now thanks to Twilight and books of the like, they’re back in the forefront of popular culture. However you may feel about that series, you have to concede it that. Erotic fantasies have capitalized on them, particularly the European vein of the bloodsuckers. Other fantasies can use them well, but do they have to be the same type we’ve seen since Uncle Bram* put pen to paper? The world has quite a few wonderful answers to Europe’s famous vampires.

In the ancient Assyrian kingdom, legends spoke of the Utukku, vampiric souls that were spawned from the bile of Ea, one of the three creator gods. They made their homes in caverns, cliffs, and ruins (much like the ghul type of djinn). While still humanoid, they have the heads of animals and complete the look with horns and claws.

If you look to Africa, there is the Mwanga, a vicious were-beast that falls into the vampire category. It feeds at night like most of them, but, unlike many, can be wounded by normal weapons. But it’s far from a pushover! Even in Timbuktu there was a vampire that made the citizens take cover at night. It was called the Tyerkow. It would shed its skin during the evening to feed on the city dwellers. The only way to defeat it is to hide its skin before dawn. The rising sun would cause it to burst into flames. This story was so strong that versions of it survived with African descendants in the New World.

One similar tale is found in Surinam. There you’ll find the Azeman, a female vampire that dons the skins of animals at night to feed on her victims. There are three ways to defeat her: lay a broom handle across your doorstep, scatter brooms across your floor (she’s compelled to count EVERY bristle) so she’s caught by the rising sun and burns, or sprinkle pepper on the skin she’s using so she cannot hunt.

An Utukku from a RPG
Latin America also has quite a few others. In Chile, there are Pihuechenyi, winged serpents that feed on blood at night. In Mexico you have the Civatateo. These deathly white vampires were once noblewomen who died in childbirth. You can spot them by the death’s heads on their clothes or branded on their skins. And believe it or not, the famous Chupacabra, or goatsucker, fall into this list too.

Over in India their vampires are called Vetalas. These are actually evil spirits that enter corpses to feed on the blood of the living. Interestingly enough, Vetala is also the word for a necromancer.

My final example comes from China which has the Hu-Hsien, shape shifting fox spirits. They take the form of beautiful young men and women to enthrall their lover/next meal. Unfortunately, they’re fond of wine and drop their mortal disguises when drunk.

I know their must be a host of other kinds out there just waiting to be used. As I further my research I’ll add on, but for now, my friends, go! Create!

*Bram Stoker. If you didn't know, shame on you!!