alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
When I asked friend of the blog Brian LeTendre to write a guest blog about his latest novel, Lovecraft's Curse, I didn't expect myself to appear in his entry! Since Brian's been so vital in helping me find an audience for my writing -- Brian has been a huge supporter of the Redemption Trilogy since Into the Reach first came out, and was one of the first reviewers (and definitely the first interviewer!) to cover the book -- I'm excited to know that the support and inspiration travel in both directions.

Without further ado, Brian LeTendre!

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Lovecraft's Curse Front Cover Drive Thru

My pal Alana Abbott graciously offered to let me guest blog over here on Myth, the Universe and Everything to celebrate the release of my new horror novel Lovecraft’s Curse. Before I tell you about my book though, I want to talk a bit about inspiration.

Alana Abbott has been inspiring me to write since I met her in 2006. We were first introduced to each other right around the time Into the Reach was released. After interviewing her for my podcast (Secret Identity) and doing some playtesting for the Chronicles of Ramlar RPG (which she was working on), we continued to stay in contact. Alana did some guest gaming segments on the podcast, and we even covered WoTC’s D&D Experience event with our pal Max Saltonstall in 2007, chronicling the release D&D 4th Edition. The rest, as they say, is history.

I fell in love with Alana’s writing when I read Into the Reach. I read to escape, and my favorite stories are the ones that feature worlds I can immerse myself in. Alana’s attention to every detail in the worlds she creates makes you want to live in them. She puts so much into the culture and history of the characters she creates that you can read her stories multiple times and always find something new to dig into.

In many ways, meeting Alana and reading Into the Reach inspired me to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in 2007. I completed the 50,000-word challenge and came out with the first draft of what would become Courting the King in Yellow, my first horror novel. From that point on, I was on the path to taking my own writing seriously. I began doing freelance writing for a major comic news site covering games, and working on my own projects on the side. In 2010, I launched a webcomic called Mo Stache, which is still going strong today. Last year, I finally published Courting the King in Yellow, as well as a hot-to book about podcasting called Making Ear Candy. Which brings us to the here and now, and Lovecraft’s Curse.

Lovecraft’s Curse is my homage to the man I consider to be the greatest horror writer of all time--H.P. Lovecraft. It’s sort of a “What if?” story about his legacy and the things he wrote about. Here’s a quick teaser trailer for the book:



Lovecraft’s Curse combines my two favorite genres, fantasy and horror. Parts of the story take place in the Dreamlands, one of Lovecraft’s more famous creations and a place where worlds intersect and can be accessed through dreams. My main character Fela Barton is a young woman who has a connection to the Dreamlands that she doesn’t understand, and it has put her and those around her in great danger.

If you think that sounds interesting, you can grab a digital copy of Lovecraft’s Curse on either Amazon or Drive Thru Fiction, where you can get the print version as well.

Thanks to Alana for her continued support and inspiration!
alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
It's not Friday, but C. E. L. Welsh couldn't wait -- his Kickstarter, which features friends of the blog Jeremy Mohler, Emily Hall, and Scott Colby -- has left than a week left to fund! I asked him to talk a little bit about the world behind the project, Seven Stones, and I hope you'll be intrigued enough to go over to the Kickstarter an check it out!

Without further ado: C. E. L. Welsh!

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The World of The Wrecked Earth

In the summer of 2010 I saw a world where civilization was all-but-gone, where hordes of mutated animals roamed the wilds, and where shooting stars filled the sky, day and night, in a never-ending display of deadly celestial majesty. This world was, of course, all in my head, and there it remained until I managed to move a small part of it to paper, where it became CLUTCH: Book One of The Wrecked Earth. Now it is the summer of 2013 and I am trying to bring more of that world into existence, but this time I’ve enlisted the help of thirteen others to lend me a hand.

The project is Seven Stones, a collaborative short story & graphic novel effort with fourteen talented writers and artists. The idea: each of seven writers create a short story that centers around a meteorite (thus the title) in The Wrecked Earth. Then those seven tales are converted to comic scripts and seven artists bring their post-apoc vision to the table and create comics based on the stories.

We are at the short end of a crowd-funding run to pay for all this amazing work, and the logistics of coordinating so many moving parts form a complex and sometimes maddening spiderweb of tasks and roles—many of which I’ve had to learn how to fulfill on the fly. At the heart of it all is the world of the Wrecked Earth, a deliberately open playground that I created to give myself as much freedom as possible and, luckily, that worked out just right when it came to inviting others to the game.



Back in 2010 I wrote a three page comic script called “No One Escapes The Wizard”, with the idea that Danny Cruz would draw it and then we would pitch it to Mark Millar’s CLiNT magazine, which was having an open call at the time. The comic didn’t get made, but during the course of writing the script I had to answer quite a few questions, the answers to which later became the foundation for my world. It was to be a post-apocalyptic comic, short and sweet in the manner of the old Judge Dredd comics. Something filled with big ideas and over-the-top action, a pulpy-feel that didn’t require a great deal of scientific explanation behind why things were the way they were. Just some short-hand, thinly veiled reasoning and then we could get on with the action. As I developed the world I deliberately made choices that would give me maximum freedom for future stories (at this point I knew, regardless if this comic got made, that I wanted to do a lot of work in the world I was creating).

I didn’t want to be too tied down to the facts. If I wanted to tell a story where the hero fought his way through a ravine filled with mutated cows, but there was no ravine in that location in the real world, I didn’t want that to stop me! So I set to work creating the world my way.

What was the apocalypse? Meteor strikes! LOTS of them, all over the planet, for thirty days straight. Add the impacts to triggered earthquakes and screwed up weather systems and I could re-shape the landscape however I wanted. Keep the meteors falling, but make them sporadic and unpredictable to keep everything on a constant edge.

Where did the monsters come from? Radiation! Strange radiation that SOME of the meteors leaked, creating unpredictable mutations. (There are other reasons for the monsters I can’t go into yet… )

With these two elements in play, I could really come up with a ‘logical’ explanation for whatever I wanted/needed to inject into the world. From there other aspects of The Wrecked Earth started to take shape on their own, and I found myself discovering as much as I was creating.

With the re-sculpted (and still changing!) landscape, those that survived Rockfall (the initial meteoric destruction) were cut off from one-another. This meant that two towns only a few miles apart might evolve very differently over the years, creating perhaps radically different societies. Yet another advantage when it comes to storytelling.

There is a meta-plot involved in the arc of The Wrecked Earth’s creation and history. I am taking things in a specific direction. But along the way there are so many stories to be told… and not just by me. I have my way of writing, my voice, as it were. Even when I choose to tell different kinds of stories in this setting, they are still my stories. The setting is bigger than I am, and I just knew there were things that could be done with it that I wouldn’t be able to do, because I’m just one writer.

So I invited a few others to come and play.

I did my best to give them the rules; I wrote a Writers Guide to The Wrecked Earth, and I laid out the parameters of this specific project. Inside that framework, however, I not only gave them the freedom to write whatever kind of story they wanted, I encouraged them to do so. I wanted to see The Wrecked Earth through their eyes, and I have been delighted with the results.

I get to become a reader in the world I created, and that is an amazing thing.
alanajoli: (mini me)
Recently Mike Thomas from Blue Ridge Communities reached out to me to see if I'd like to post an infographic here on the blog. I get a lot of requests like this for another site I help manage, and often, they're not relevant, but I think this infographic about Mountain Folklore is just too cool not to share. It's not an area where I'm an expert, certainly -- I'd not heard of a couple of the bogies that live in the Blue Ridge Mountains before this! -- but I thought it was not only full of fun imagery and stories, but well sourced. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! And thanks again to Mike Thomas for sharing the link!

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mountain cabin


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I big welcome back to Jennifer Estep! Jennifer's Mythos Academy series is continuing with Dark Frost, which releases on May 29. As the first stop on her blog tour, we've got an excerpt from that book -- she'll post an additional excerpt on May 23rd at Young Adult Book Reviews, so check it out!

Jennifer's also offered a US ONLY giveaway of a print copy of Dark Frost. To enter, make a comment below; you can earn an extra entry if you tweet a link to this post and tell us about it in the comments. Posts and tweets must be in by midnight EST on Monday May 14. We'll announce the winner on Tuesday the 15th. And now, without further ado, here's Jennifer!



--

“Is Logan here with you?” I couldn’t keep the hope out of my voice.

Nickamedes had opened his mouth when a voice interrupted him.

“Right here, Gypsy girl.” A low voice sent chills down my spine.

My heart pounding, I slowly turned around. Logan Quinn stood behind me.

Thick, wavy, ink black hair, intense ice blue eyes, a confident smile. My breath caught in my throat as I looked at Logan, and my heart sped up, beating with such force that I was sure he could hear it.

Logan wore jeans and a dark blue sweater topped by a black leather jacket. The clothes were designer, of course, since the Spartan was just as rich as all the other academy kids. But even if he’d been dressed in rags, I still would have noticed the lean strength of his body and his broad, muscled shoulders. Yeah, Logan totally rocked the bad-boy look, and he had the man-whore reputation to match. One of the rumors that kept going around the academy was that Logan signed the mattresses of every girl he slept with, just so he could keep track of them all.

I’d never quite figured out if the rumors were true or not, or how Logan would even manage to do that in the first place. Sure, I’d touched the Spartan and flashed on him with my psychometry, but I’d mostly seen his fighting skills, since that’s what Logan had been thinking about and what I had needed to tap into at the time. I didn’t know how many girls Logan had dated, but the rumors didn’t matter that much to me because the Spartan was just a really, really great guy. Smart, strong, funny, charming, caring. Then, of course, there was the whole saving-my-life-multiple-times thing. Kind of hard not to like a guy when he kept get you from getting killed by Reapers and eaten by Nemean prowlers.

Logan’s eyes dropped to my throat and the necklace I wore there—the one he’d given me before school had let out for Christmas. Six silver strands wrapped around my throat, creating the necklace, while the diamond-tipped points joined together to form a simple, yet elegant snowflake in the center of the strands. The beautiful necklace looked like something a goddess would wear. I thought it was far too pretty and delicate for me, but I loved it just the same.

“You’re wearing the necklace,” the Spartan said in a low voice.

“Every day since you gave it to me,” I said. “I hardly ever take it off.”

Logan smiled at me, and it was like the sun had erupted from a sky full of storm clouds. For a moment everything was just—perfect.

Then Nickamedes cleared his throat, popping the bubble of happiness I’d been about to float away on. A sour expression twisted the librarian’s face as he looked back and forth between his nephew and me.

“Well, if you’ll excuse me, the museum’s closing soon, and I need to make sure the staff is ready to start packing up the items for transport back to the academy in the morning.”

Nickamedes pivoted on his wingtips and strode out of the weapons room without another word. I sighed. Yeah, I might not be the most dedicated worker, but I always felt like there was another reason that Nickamedes hated me. He’d pretty much disliked me on sight, and I had no idea why.

I put the librarian and his bad attitude out of mind and focused on Logan. He’d texted me a few times over the holiday break, but I’d still missed him like crazy—especially since I had no idea what was going on between us. Not too long ago, we’d shared what I thought was the kiss to end all kisses, but he hadn’t exactly declared his love for me in the meantime—or even asked me out on a real date. Instead, we’d been in this weird holding pattern for weeks—one that I was determined to end.

I drew in a breath, ready to ask Logan how his winter break had been and what was going to happen between us now. “Logan, I—”

Shouts and screams ripped through the air, drowning out my words.

I froze, wondering if I’d only imagined the harsh, jarring sounds. Why would someone be shouting in the museum? A second later, more screams sounded, followed by several loud crashes and the heavy thump-thump-thump of footsteps.

Logan and I looked at each other, then bolted for the door. Daphne and Carson had also heard the screams, and they raced along right behind us.

“Stop! Stop! Stop!” Daphne hissed.

She managed to grab my arm and the back of Logan’s leather jacket just before the Spartan sprinted out of the room. With her great Valkyrie strength, she was easily able to yank both of us back.

“You don’t know what’s going on—or who might be out there,” Daphne warned.

Logan glared at her, but after a moment, he reluctantly nodded. I did the same, and Daphne loosened her grip on us. Together in a tight knot, the four of us crept up to the doorway and peeked through to the other side.

BIO INFO:

Jennifer Estep is a New York Times bestselling author. Jennifer writes the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington. Dark Frost, the third book, will be released on May 29. Touch of Frost and Kiss of Frost are the other books in the series. Visit www.jenniferestep.com for excerpts and more information about her books.
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I've been working with Scott Colby for some years now -- he's been my editor for several of the Baeg Tobar pieces I've written, all of which have been better for his input. Now, he's just released his first self-published novel as an e-book! (It also features cover art by the awesome Jeremy Mohler, who was my editor on Cowboys and Aliens II.)

Shotgun is now available at Amazon, and if it's anything like the quality of Scott's short stories for Baeg Tobar, it will be well worth checking out. You can also keep up with news on Scott's novel on facebook.

In honor of the recent release, Scott wrote up a guest blog about his writing process. Without further ado: Scott Colby!


--

When I self-published my debut novel, Shotgun, a few weeks ago, it was the culmination of years of hard work, several dozen gallons of coffee, and lots of time spent staring off into space debating whether my latest idea was a brainstorm or just a brain fart. I wrote the first version of the story ten years ago, in the back of my high school classrooms, when I should've been taking notes. Following several rewrites later and a decision to finally get serious about it this summer, I've got a story I'm very proud of and a world I plan to play with for a while.

One of the most fun parts of this process has been looking back at how my work has changed. I'm not sure what happened to my original spiral notebooks, but thanks to the magic of technology, I can look back at what I wrote in college and directly after. I didn't do much thinking ahead back then, but for some reason I had the presence of mind to save multiple versions of Shotgun rather than just overwriting my previous attempt at literary stardom. I can find the point where, after reading Frank Herbert's Dune, I introduced a reluctant traitor and commoditized an item that had previously just been a plot device. There's a few discarded documents where the comedy went way over the top, and there's a version where I brought it back down to Earth–well, as close to Earth as contemporary fantasy with a dash of very silly magic can get. There's the point where I ditched my terrible original first chapter which featured my main character singing along to “Sweet Home Alabama” as his pickup truck bounced along a dirt road on his way to meet his soon-to-be-murdered friends in a hunting cabin. And there's the time I decided to stop taking my elves too seriously and just let them fall off the rails. I've got fifteen chapters of an unfinished sequel that doesn't work at all anymore and another twelve of a prequel that might be salvagable with a bit of finagling and a strong pot of coffee.

What I've got is a complete record of my favorite hobby. It's proof that even though I don't know all there is to know about writing, at least I'm improving. It's an in depth look into a corner of my psyche throughout the years, flavored with elves and magic and terrible, horrible ideas I'm glad I got rid of but which I know seemed awesome at the time. Nullet the talking donkey? Pike's live-in groupie? Good riddance! None of you were as good as the pound cake summoning scene that's survived three iterations.

Anyway, to the point: keep copies of what you write, even if you think it's absolute garbage. Maintain files for different versions, too, rather than just overwriting what you've all ready done. I've been lucky with my computers, but I'm not foolish enough to keep anything in just one place anymore. I'm a big fan of Dropbox and I suggest you find something that works for you. Losing work is one thing; losing memories is another.

Oh, and check out Shotgun. I guarantee it's worth at least the $2.99 I'm charging. And if you read it and you think it isn't, well, just be glad this easy self-publishing technology wasn't around when I was an even crappier writer.
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I am delighted to have Jennifer Estep back here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything in honor of the release of her second book in the "Mythos Academy" series, Kiss of Frost. Rather than doing a guest blog, as Jennifer did for the release of Touch of Frost (here), we decided to do an interview, which gets into bits of the novel that I enjoyed, as well as some series questions.



Jennifer has also graciously offered to do a giveaway of Kiss of Frost to one of our commenters! Leave a comment answering the question: What kind of Mythos Academy warrior do you think you'd be: Valkyrie, Viking, Roman, Amazon, Celt, Samurai, Ninja, Spartan, Gypsy, or something else? Give us a second comment with a link to a tweet or blog post where you mention the contest and we'll enter you a second time. (This contest is U.S. only -- sorry international friends!) Only livejournal comments will be counted as contest entries, so if you're reading this on a syndicated site, pop over to lj to comment! Comments must be posted by 11/30 at midnight EST to be counted as contest entries. I'll announce the winner on December 1st.

And without further ado: here's Jennifer!

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MtU&E: Although Kiss of Frost is the second "Mythos Academy" book, it's actually the third story -- you published the prequel story "First Frost" as an e-book along with Touch of Frost when the first novel was released. We've got some interest in e-books here at MtU&E: What made you decide to release the e-prequel, and has it done well for you?

JE: It seems like more and more authors are doing prequels, short stories, and other bonus material to tie into their books. As a reader, I like extras like that, and they can be fun to create as an author. I’ve written several free short stories to go along with my "Elemental Assassin" adult urban fantasy series. Readers really seem to have enjoyed those stories, and I thought it would be fun to write something for the "Mythos Academy" series too. My editor and publisher agreed, and we came up with First Frost, a prequel story that shows exactly how my heroine, Gwen Frost, winds up at Mythos Academy. I’ve gotten a lot of nice comments from readers about the prequel story, which I appreciate.

I’ve also written "Halloween Frost," a "Mythos Academy" short story, that is in the Entangled e-anthology that I am participating in with several other authors. Proceeds from that e-anthology benefit the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. "Halloween Frost" takes place after the events of Touch of Frost.

There are also some extras in the back of Touch of Frost and Kiss of Frost, including Gwen’s class schedule, a who’s who of characters, and things like that. Hopefully, readers have as much fun reading the material as I did writing it.

MtU&E: One of the ideas in Touch of Frost that is mentioned very briefly in Kiss of Frost is that if a person believes an illusion is real, that illusion is as dangerous as if it were real. Awesome metaphysics! Will illusion magic like that come into play as the series progresses?

JE: Thanks. Glad you liked that. The illusion magic is something that I hope to do more with in future books. I think it would be fun to dream up different ways the heroes and villains could use that sort of magic. As the series goes along, I hope to introduce some new magic/powers as well. For example, in Dark Frost, the third book in the series, someone has a similar power to the illusion magic mentioned in Touch of Frost.

MtU&E: In Kiss of Frost, we get to hang out with not one, but three Spartan warriors. How did you decide that their most formidable ability would be using improvised weapons?

JE: When I was thinking about the warrior whiz kids at Mythos Academy and the various abilities they might have, I thought it would be interesting to have some warriors who didn’t need traditional weapons to fight with. So I decided to give these warriors a killer instinct that would let them pick up any object and automatically know how to wield it as a weapon, and that this instinct would make them some of the most feared fighters at the academy. So the idea just sort of snowballed into Logan Quinn and his Spartan friends, Oliver Hector and Kenzie Tanaka.

MtU&E: In Norse mythology, Fenrir (or Fenrisulfr) is one of the big bad monsters, destined to kill Odin at Ragnarok. One of Gwen's lessons in myth-history class is about how the monsters trained by the Reapers have free will -- that they are not inherently evil. There's a great scene in the book where a Fenrir wolf shows just how true that lesson is. What was the impulse behind that moment in the story?

JE: There’s a lot of talk and stories in mythology about things being fated, and that you can’t escape your destiny, good or bad. Then, you have beings like the Fates themselves.

So I thought it would be interesting to do a mythology story and play around with the idea of what may or may not be destined versus free will. A couple of characters talk about free will in the "Mythos Academy" books, and the idea that people are responsible for their own actions and their own destinies. I thought if people are responsible for their own actions, then why not the mythological creatures too? So that’s something that comes into play with a Fenrir wolf in Kiss of Frost. Plus, the idea of free will is something that will also play a part in future books in the series.

MtU&E: Last (and easiest) question: how many "Mythos Academy" books do you currently have under contract, and how many do you hope will eventually finish off the series? (Here's hoping that those two numbers match!)

JE: Right now, I’m under contract for six books in the "Mythos Academy" series. Dark Frost, the third book, will be out in June 2012, while Crimson Frost, the fourth book, is tentatively set to be published in January 2013. At this point, I’m not sure if I will finish out the series with these six books or not. I’ll just have to see where Gwen and the other characters take me.

For more information about my books, folks can visit my website at www.jenniferestep.com. Happy reading, everyone!
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Last May, Alma Alexander visited us here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything to discuss myth and fairytales. Since then, I had the tremendous delight of reviewing her most recent novel, Midnight at Spanish Gardens, over at Flames Rising and for Mythprint. The premise of the book is that a group of friends, on the night of a reunion, individually have the opportunities to live a completely different life. For the duration of that experience, they will not remember their original paths; at one moment, however, they will remember both lives and have to choose between the one they had first and the one they've just experienced. The book is utterly captivating, and it's available as an ebook at both amazon and Smashwords. Alma agreed to come back here to MtU&E to chat about the novel -- so without further ado, the interview!




MtU&E: The Spanish Gardens cafe is an incredibly vivid setting; you write about how it and other familiar places have some sort of magic about them. Do you have your own Spanish Gardens?

Alma: Well, yes [grin] it's called Spanish Gardens... This place, the place in the book, it is real. Was real, at least, since I am told that it doesn't exist anymore and hasn't for some time. But it really was magic, it held true magic, and it's always tragic how often you don't actually realise the truth of that until it's too late and the magic (and the place which held it) are gone. But this is one place that
will always be as real to me as though it were surrounding me right now -- it's that strong in my memory. I hope those who read Midnight at Spanish Gardens get a sense of that when they dive into the book -- and, more, that they might be moved to remember their own version of what this place means to me.

MtU&E: In the novel, your characters have to choose between two different lives. Thankfully, you never make them choose between two sets of children, which would have been almost unbearable for me to imagine! When you decided on the different lives, how did the alternate version of the characters come about? Were there specific life contrasts you wanted to wrestle with?

Alma: Tough one. No, I had no real idea what the alternate lives were going to be until I basically started writing them. Some of the issues surprised me -- for instance, John's true parentage was a bit of a
shock, to be honest, and that goes for both of his lifestream choices (only his responses, reactions, to this truth were different). But what I ended up with, in this book, is a story steeped in magic which is somehow the most real thing I have ever written -- and whether in this life or the other, all of my characters are wrestling with a huge monster known as The Truth. Sometimes they win. Sometimes the monster eats them alive. Partly I wanted to convey that every so often you will make the right decision by accident or serendipity, or you will spend a long time agonising over something that is in the end fairly
simple (and can still manage, no matter how much time you spend on the decision, to make the wrong one...) I think... it's like looking in the mirror... and the person you see is still recognisably YOU. It's just that you might find that on the inside something important shifts, and a decision cog goes this way or that way according to the way your mind is working. I guess one of my themes here was simply, know thyself -- and if you don't yet (which isn't necessarily a sin) then at least make an effort to start to. Because the way to be happy is to understand what makes you so. This is not always easy -- and yet, sometimes, it's bewilderingly simple once you strip away all the things that do not.


MtU&E: One of the characters changes gender in her alternate life, and sees a very different career path. Why did you choose to showcase two different careers instead of having the male version of the character in a similar profession?

Alma: As I said -- I had no real idea where they were going to go until they went there. I'm one of the most organic writers out there -- the way I've explained it to people before is that I get a story seed in my hand and I stick it into the soil in a flower pot -- and I have no more idea what is going to grow there, if it is going to be a cabbage or a redwood tree, until it sprouts and I see the shape of its leaves
opening up to the sun. Showcasing two different careers was not deliberate, or a stunt, or a message. That was the set of choices that the character happened to take, and that was the road that they led
him or her down. I hear some people tell that their characters do what they told and go where the author wants them to go when said author cracks the whip of authority. Sometimes I envy that -- my characters go where they please and do what they will, and my role in it all is to see the bigger story in which they are involved and tell it. But I don't control it, I never have. This is why people in the industry cringe when they ask me (as they have to sometimes) what my next book will be about, wanting and needing a more or less detailed outline thereof. The short answer is, I don't know, I never know, I won't know until I write it. And it might surprise me by featuring an entirely different career than the one I had planned [grin]. The basic bedrock of everything I write is that I write the story that needs or wants to be told, and comes up to me and takes me by the throat and doesn't let go until I tell it. Other than being a good listener and a competent amanuensis, I have learned not to interfere with that process. My story knows, and I will respect that.

MtU&E: The premise of the story is that the characters are meeting for a reunion at the end of the world in 2012 (all of them assuming that life will, indeed, go on the next day). What about the 2012 end-date appealed to you?

Alma: There's just something about a good Apocalypse, isn't there? Perhaps that's why that poor pastor keeps on predicting the Rapture, over and over and over again, and when it clearly hasn't happened (well, clearly, else he wouldn't still be here, right...?) he just "recalculates" the date and tries again. Seriously, though – the concept of ending is a very potent one in the human psyche, and in some ways we are willing to go to the wall to ensure that some things end, or others do not. The idea of having a deadline to do these things by (as in, the world ends at midnight on December 20 2012) gives you... a certain kind of impetus, a certain urgency. You only have this much time to do everything you have left to do and after that... after that you don't know what happens so you can't plan for it. It's the very idea of looking down into that abyss that intrigues me -- because of the varying reactions of the people who do so. Some will not look at all because they are paralysed with fear; some will look, and see a bottomless pit; others will see great spires of rock waiting to tear them apart or deep water ready to drown them, or the very flames shooting out from the Gates of Hell themselves. And then there are people like me, who see... everything, and nothing. A whole new world, maybe. Why not? Things are often circular. Ends may be simply beginnings of something new. It's that trembling uncertainty, the curiosity, the vivid joy of discovery of things I've never known before, that appeals to me. And the idea that all of this lies just over a year away at the end of 2012... it's practically irresistible.

MtU&E: One of your characters is woven into all of the alternate lives in the book, yet this character chooses a different life. How do those two things -- the character being so important to the others and yet being able to completely absent herself from their lives when the choice is hers --
correlate?

Alma: Olivia is the pivot point. I am not sure how that works, exactly, but in all the flux that goes on around us certain times, certain places, certain people are the fixed points, the things around which everything revolves. In this story, it's Olivia, Spanish Gardens, a certain midnight in December of 2012. These are the fixed things in a changing universe. You might say that Olivia forces a change, in that she does not remain in her "fixed" position -- but everything else still orbits around her. Her "fixed" quality is now that she is so comprehensively absent from the lives of those friends in whose timelines -- particularly their alternate timelines -- she was so fundamentally important. But in some ways this entire book is Olivia's story, she is the sun, and everybody else simply revolves around her and reflecting back her fire like planets of a solar system. She is a Schroedinger's Cat -- a creature who is at once so ordinary that she finds a place in every single life she touches because she is to ubiquitous and necessary and a part of the weave of the world and at the same time something different, something greater, something transcendental, something that Ariel (the Messenger) recognises immediately as being not so much woven into the world's fabric as... being a weaver of that fabric. It all sounds rather metaphysical and confusing when you ask that question and I try to answer it within the space of a paragraph. I think a better answer would be, read the book, and find out...
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I'm pleased to introduce one of my co-contributors to the new Haunted anthology, Alex Bledsoe. When we were chatting about how to promote the new book, a few of us chatted about guest blogging, and Alex volunteered to do a post here. I hadn't read Alex's work previously, so I immediately went to his site and found out that he's the author of novels such as fantasy Sword-Edged Blonde (a title I think is made of win), vampire tale Blood Groove, and his new Celtic-folklore influenced The Hum and the Shiver. Since the last is newest -- and relates most closely to our usual mythology theme -- I asked him to talk a bit about the concept behind the novel. I hope you all enjoy it and (like me) get a chance to check out his fiction!

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THE SECRET COMMONWEALTH AND THE TUFA
by Alex Bledsoe

My novel The Hum and the Shiver deals with a mysterious group of people living among the Appalachian mountains of East Tennessee. They have a distinctive physical appearance (jet-black hair, darker-than-normal skin and unusually perfect teeth), a profound relationship with their music, and a history shrouded in contradiction and secrets. I call them the Tufa.

The novel tells of a rebellious Tufa girl who leaves home to join the Army, then must return after being seriously injured in Iraq. She has to find her place again in her family and among her people, where since birth she’s been prepared for great things.

To create the Tufa, I looked at the true stories of the Melungeons, who genuinely are an isolated, distinctive group living in Appalachia. But because I intended to write a fantasy set in modern times, I didn’t want to use something so real. I needed room to bring in magic.

Instead, I imagined a group like the Melungeons, forced from their ancestral home and settling in the mountains because of the similar terrain. After all, the real Scotch-Irish settlers did that very same thing. At first the Tufa were able to stay hidden, but as technology and populations grew, it became impossible. So they decided to hide in plain sight by passing for normal human beings. They drove trucks, watched TV, used computers and farmed with tractors. Occasionally they intermarried with other races. Some of them left home, but the majority of them stayed. And for the most part, this approach worked and the world ignored them.

A touchstone for my writing--both in its contents, and the tale of its composition--was Robert Kirk’s supposedly nonfiction book, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies, written in 1691. Kirk, a minister with an unusually sympathetic view of the supernatural, was supposedly captured by the fairies for publicizing their secrets, and never seen again. While the truth of this can’t be established, the power of the story is undeniable: mess with the fairies at your own peril.

I wanted to embrace that element of danger, something we’ve bled out of what we now refer to as “fairy tales.” The supernatural is always dangerous, and the Tufa are no exception. They will try to hide, to dissemble, and even to agree with a falsehood to avoid scrutiny. But back them into a corner, force them to acknowledge their true nature, and they will fight back, just like the fairies encountered by Reverend Kirk.

Kirk also detailed the various societies among the “Good People,” as he called them. I created a mostly unseen structure for the Tufa, with a loose system of government and a sense that certain tribal divisions are intrinsic. In this first book the reader learns about one particular aspect of their society: a governing body called the First Daughters.

I call The Hum and the Shiver a “gravel-road fantasy,” as opposed to “urban fantasy,” since it takes place in the contemporary world but not in the city. Its roots, though, go back as far as the human belief in magic. They represent a modern version of those ancient and mysterious “Good People.”
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A few years ago, I stumbled on Karma Girl, the first romance novel in the "Bigtime" series by Jennifer Estep. I've mentioned it a few times on this blog; superhero romance? What's not to love? I've followed Jennifer's career since then, and she's had some excellent urban fantasy success with her "Elemental Assassins" series. When I found out, via her newsletter, that she was launching a young adult series called Mythos Academy, I couldn't wait to invite Jennifer to do a guest blog post here. Months have passed since then, and the release is coming right up -- and thus, I'm pleased to introduce Jennifer and her new series!

Even better, Jennifer offered to do a giveaway of Touch of Frost, the first book in the series. Answer Jennifer's questions at the end of the post, and you're entered! Give us a second comment with a link to a tweet or blog post where you mention the contest and we'll enter you a second time. (This contest is U.S. only -- sorry international friends!) Only livejournal comments will be counted as contest entries, so if you're reading this on a syndicated site, pop over to lj to comment! Update: Comments must be posted by 7/28 at midnight EST to be counted as contest entries.

If you're interested in a review of book one, Touch of Frost, you can read what I had to say over at Flames Rising, where Jennifer has also posted an essay on her world design for the series.

So, without further ado: Jennifer Estep!

--


Greetings and salutations! First of all, I want to thank Alana for having me on the blog today. Thanks so much, Alana!

My name is Jennifer Estep, and I write the Mythos Academy young adult urban fantasy series for Kensington. The books focus on Gwen Frost, a 17-year-old Gypsy girl who has the gift of psychometry, or the ability to know an object’s history just by touching it. After a serious freak-out with her magic, Gwen is shipped off to Mythos Academy, a school for the descendants of ancient warriors like Spartans, Valkyries, Amazons, and more.



First Frost, a prequel e-story to the series, is available now. The first book, Touch of Frost, will be out on July 26, while the second book, Kiss of Frost, will hit shelves on Nov. 29.

So today, Alana asked me to talk about how I’m using mythology in my Mythos Academy series. The thing I love about writing fantasy books is that you can take elements from mythology, fairy tales, folklore, or whatever other kind of stories that you like and put your own spin on them. Creating a fantasy world is a step-by-step process, and when I get one thing nailed down, it seems like it always leads to something else. So here’s how I did some of the world building for Touch of Frost and the other books in my Mythos Academy series:

I use bits and pieces of various mythologies and more, but mostly, the book draws on Greek and Norse mythology. The bad guy is Loki, the Norse god of mischief, and I draw on the myth of Loki’s tricks leading to the death of another god and Loki being imprisoned for that. But in my world, Loki managed to get free and decided to try to take over the world. So he created an army of followers known as the Reapers of Chaos, and he plunged the world into the long, bloody Chaos War.

But the other gods and goddesses banded together, forming a group known as the Pantheon. Led by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, the members of the Pantheon defeated Loki and imprisoned him a second time. Ever since then, the Reapers of Chaos have been working to free Loki so he can plunge the world into a second Chaos War.

So you have two gods struggling for control of the world. Once I had that set up as my backdrop, I figured that Loki and Nike would both need something to help them in their epic battle – warriors. So I populated the book with Spartans, Amazons, Valkyries, Celts, Romans, Vikings, and many other types of warriors. I thought using such a wide range of warriors would give me the chance to come up with some interesting powers for the various warrior whiz kids, as my heroine Gwen calls them.

As for Gwen herself, she’s a Gypsy, and she doesn’t know what that really means or where her power comes from. Those questions get answered in Touch of Frost, though. The answers surprise Gwen, and I hope that readers will find them interesting too.

Of course, warriors need to be trained, and that’s how I came up with the idea for Mythos Academy, a school where the modern-day descendants of all these ancient warriors train with weapons and learn how to use their magic to fight the good fight – or the bad fight, since some of the students are really Reapers of Chaos. Also, putting Gwen and the other warrior whiz kids in a school setting let me come up with a landscape where a lot of the action in the books can take place.

But warriors need something to fight, and that’s when I thought about monsters. There are tons of monsters in mythologies all over the world – everything from gargoyles to gryphons to dragons to sphinxes. Again, I decided to use a variety of monsters just because I thought they would be fun to write. Plus, I think having statues of these various monsters on all the academy buildings adds some creepy atmosphere to the Mythos campus.

So there you have it – a little bit about the mythology and world building in my Mythos Academy series. I hope everyone has as much fun reading the books as I did writing them. Happy reading, everyone! ;-)

What about you guys? What are some of your favorite myths and monsters?
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I read a lot of books. As of today, I've read 74 books so far this year, including children's books and graphic novels (though I weigh some graphic novels differently than others -- it usually takes two volumes of manga to count as one book on my list, for example). I've been thinking of how to do a recommendation of what I've read so far this year that I think pretty much everyone should pick up if they haven't already read them, but haven't really gotten my thoughts thoroughly together on that. So, it being Friday once again, I thought I'd share an excerpt from one of my favorite discoveries of the year: Triptych by J. M. Frey. It's a time travel novel, a story about aliens trying to integrate into their new homes (while their perspectives continue to remain completely foreign), and a tale of the trouble societies have making changes in worldview to accommodate new ideas.



When people leave one land or world to come to another, they bring their stories with them, and those stories reveal a lot about their culture. The way the listeners receive the stories says a lot, as well. This section is from more than midway through the book, and so that I don't reveal too much, I'm only including a very small part of the retelling of a legend, from the perspective of the main alien, Kalp. It describes why romantic family units on his planet come in threes. I think it captures a bit of the novel's tone -- and I hope it'll whet your appetite to pick up the novel in full. It's very much worth reading.

--

"In a place that is not here," he starts. Kalp's parents had told it like this. All parents did, where he was from. They started their stories differently on the other continent, but neither was better than the other. It was just a preference. Tradition.

"In a place that is not here," Kalp repeats, because the start is the most important part and bears repeating, "There was Vren."

"Who's Vren?" Basil asks, sinking into the sofa on the other side of Gwen, clutching his mug of tea like a lifeline, like he always does.

"Shut up," Gwen says.

"Vren was tall," Kalp said. "And his eyes were very yellow."

"Is that usual?" Basil asked. "Yellow eyes, I mean? Or is it a... a, yunno, a signifier? A symbol?"

Gwen elbows him. "Shut up, Baz."

Kalp does not lift his head. The story is for the baby, not Basil, and Basil's questions will wait for later.

"Vren had long strong arms and a long strong body and a long strong mind."

"How can a mind be long?" Basil asks. A glare from Gwen and Kalp both makes him roll his eyes. "Yeah, yeah, shut up Basil," he says.

"Vren was not wealthy. He was not High Status. He was not renowned for any particular trade. He was, however, completely and devotedly happy, and in those days, that was rare."

"Why rare? Yes, yes, shut up Basil. I gettit."

[Note from Alana: the myth goes on, but, to avoid spoilers, we'll skip to the ending]

"Is it true?" Basil asks, ever the empirical scientist.

Kalp performs the shrugging motion. "Does it truly matter if it is?"

"No, don't suppose," Basil allows.

"We call those myths," Gwen says. "Histories that are fantasy."

"Myths," Kalp repeats, committing the new word to memory.
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For the last two years Lora Innes of The Dreamer has spearheaded the Comic Creators Alliance, which raises funds to end human trafficking. In the past two years, I've discovered two incredibly awesome comics through the fundraiser: in 2010, I found an awesome comic that deals with the American Civil War, Dovecote Crest. This past year, I discovered Thistil Mistil Kistil, a compelling story that features characters from Norse Mythology with a distinctive art style that I love. I corresponded with creator Sarah Schanze and asked if she'd like to talk about using mythology for her comic -- I did a little jig when she said yes! So, without further ado, here's Sarah. After reading her blog, check out the comic from the very beginning. You won't be disappointed!

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My name is Sarah Schanze, and I write (and draw and color, etc.) a fantasy webcomic called Thistil Mistil Kistil. It’s about Vikings and Norse mythology and follows a fifteen-year-old boy (who happens to be a dead warrior) named Coal on a quest for the gods. To complete this quest he needs the help of none other than Loki the Trickster. Coal and Loki then embark on a journey (with a somewhat living ship no less), picking up a few stragglers along the way.

Norse mythology is popular. It’s in comics, movies, books, video games, you name it. Its characters are re-imagined and recreated by different people every day. There are several other webcomics out there taking inspiration from the same source I am – as well as a big blockbuster movie based on a comic book character whose entire world was ripped right out of the Eddas (Thor). Lots of other people have ripped things from these Eddas, including me.

My interest in the mythology started with the history. I did research into Vikings for some other thing not related to comicking, and the culture and the world spoke to me. I read about what the people wore or ate or how they were buried before I read about the mythology. I’d already known about Loki and Odin and Thor just from random browsing on the ol’ Wikipedia. After reading specific Wiki articles, then books, then the Eddas themselves (the Poetic and Prose Eddas respectively), I decided to incorporate the gods and myths into the vague story idea I had with Coal.

But then I ran across a problem, or at least a concern. I felt taking characters -- like Loki -- and using them as my own personal characters for my own personal story ran the risk of people waggling a finger at me and comparing my interpretation negatively to the original. I even worried about reading other people’s interpretations of the characters for fear I might come across a reinterpretation like my own. I’m happy to say that, so far, neither concern has actually materialized, but in the beginning it definitely colored how I thought about the story. How could I make my version unique?

(Chapter 2, p. 22)

As it stands now, Coal has to find three pieces of the gods’ weapons before his quest is over and everything is hunky-dory. When I first started, he had to find seven pieces (maybe even nine) since seven and nine are magic numbers. He also forced some demon-dog thing to help him, and this demon-dog thing was related to Loki. Originally I didn’t intend to use the actual Norse gods as anything more than side characters, Loki included.

Then, after brainstorming and whittling, I decided to just bring in Loki as a mainstay. He’s the most intriguing character from the myths, and probably the most popular thanks to his sly ways (and coercing Thor to dress like a woman). He’s often the antagonist, the sidekick, the loveable jerk, or the hapless victim, but he never seems to be a hero. In the myths he’s the villain, a representation of chaos and evil (as all the jotnar were), so it stands to reason he’s more an obstacle than a throughway in most retellings.

Then there’s Ragnarok. Whether or not the myths were skewed by Christianizing monks, Ragnarok is still our basis of the end of the world in Norse mythology. Loki plays a pretty big part in it. While he’s shown for most of the myths to be on the gods’ side, he fights against them in the last battle. The biggest reason for this, in the myths, is simply that he was always a bit evil to begin with. He’s a jotun, a giant, and that race is considered the embodiment of evil and destruction (no matter how many of their women the Aesir married and slept with).

When I was figuring out TMK, I struggled with this particular aspect of Loki’s character. In the stories it’s simply written that Loki became bitter and angry. It’s not understated, it’s spelled out for you. I couldn’t really do that in the comic. I wanted to show, or at least allude to, more subtle reasons for his growing bitterness. This involves a departure from the myths, establishing a different personality, and incorporating elements hardly mentioned in the myths–like Sigyn and Angrboda, the two women in Loki’s life. They’re given only a passing mention in the Eddas, but who knows how they could have impacted Loki’s development?

When TMK begins and Loki makes an appearance, it’s kind of obvious (or I hope it is) that he’s not some exuberant prankster out to make everyone miserable. Those myths he’s famous for happened in his younger days. In TMK, he’s matured. He helps Coal throughout the story, and becomes a parental figure to Coal and the other secondary characters. The real difference between TMK Loki and other Lokis is that he is a parent. He feels that responsibility. The third chapter has him going home to his wife and kids, and he obviously loves them and cares about them. He’s a family man; he’s an adult. He’s grown up. He’s changed. I can’t go into the reason behind those changes without spoiling the story, but he has changed nevertheless.

The fact he has changed is what makes him unique in Thistil Mistil Kistil.


(Chapter 3, p. 4)
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Back in March of 2008, author Melanie Nilles first posted here at Myth, the Universe, and Everything, talking a bit about the angel lore she was using in the series that became her "Dark Angel" novels. Since then, she's released several e-books, including the first two stories in the "Dark Angel" series. The third volume, Crystal Tomb, is releasing this week! I'm honored to be one of the hosts on Melanie's blog tour, and am hoping for a fantastic book birthday for her newest title. She's offering a prize for commenters here at MtU&E, so be sure to read to the end of the post!

To check out the first book in the "Dark Angel" series, you can currently download it for free at amazon or Barnes & Noble. You can also follow Melanie's adventures here on livejournal at [livejournal.com profile] amsaph.

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Crystal lore applied in Starfire Angels

When Alana emailed asking to host a day of my blog tour, I felt a little giddy inside. It's an honor to be asked back. Yes, back. I've been here once before, a couple years ago, when Starfire Angels was going to be a different book with a different name, before it was rewritten into something greater. It's done well for itself, and I'm proud to announce the release of the third book in the series, Crystal Tomb. (The second book, Broken Wings, was released last August.)

In keeping with the theme of myths and legends in books, I want to discuss crystal lore and how it applies in the series. Crystals have long been considered to have mystical powers connected to the earth from which they come. I actually knew very little about the metaphysical properties of crystals when I started writing the books, but that changed in searching for what might best represent the Starfire crystal in the stories.

First, a little science. Crystals contain structures formed by repeating arrangements of molecules or ions throughout. The internal arrangement of those particles is often related to the external appearance. I assume everyone understands what atoms and molecules are. Often, we think of salt, which has a cubic appearance, or quartz with its hexagonal points when we think of crystals, but they aren't always faceted in these ways when we see them. It all depends on the molecular arrangements, which is revealed by the external shape. Crystals can contain other crystals or strands within them (phantoms or rutilations). They may also be polished or cut, such as gemstones, which changes the external appearance; but the crystalline structure remains intact.

Crystals are more than a geologist's inspiration, however. They have also inspired mystics. The history of using crystals in healing can't be dated. It has been with us for as long as we can trace our history.

In science, we learn that everything is made up of atoms, which are constantly in motion, even when matter is in a solid state, thus everything has energy. This energy resonates at a particular vibration, which varies for each object; thus the shatter of a crystal wine glass from a high musical note. In the study of crystal healing, it is understood that each crystal has a unique vibration that affects the body's energy and can realign it so that the negative energy can be cleared and the body cleansed to promote healing. Some crystals are thought to be record keepers said to hold the imprint of all that has gone before and open the self to spiritual wisdom.*

In many science fiction series, crystals are often seen as data storage devices or to align energy in a particular way, such as the Go'a uld ships on Stargate SG-1 using crystals rather than circuit boards in their devices, which was adapted into the Prometheus, Daedalus, and other ships of that fleet. Babylon 5 used memory crystals like we use flash drives, for data storage. In real life, we're not far off—lithium and quartz and silicon are in our computers and clocks.

Given all this, I didn't consider it a big leap to create a living, sentient crystal as my Starfire. Originally I needed a tool to give my angels the powers attributed to angels in mythology. But it couldn't be just anything. In a trunked novella from many years earlier, I had a story of a living, magic crystal that needed protection from those who sought to abuse its power. In that story, it had fallen to the world from the stars and was called the Starfire. I took that and modified it to give me what I needed, but there was one thing missing.

The Starfire needed a reason for existing, and I gave it one. It had to be special and it had to be plausible, not magic. I decided that the new Starfire would be from another dimension, one where solid matter can't exist, where only energy can. But in crossing dimensions, that energy must become solid matter, so it formed a crystalline structure, which would allow its energy to be contained and the entities to live. But in that form, they could not move. They could only influence the atomic energy in contact with them, whatever its form of matter. They were subject to the whims of physics and the intelligence of creatures which discovered them.

In giving the Starfire a background and history, it took on a life of its own. I'm still continuing to learn more about it, and learning about the metaphysical beliefs of crystals has helped to open up possibilities. My own spiritual beliefs have given me something more in deciding how the Starfire entities fit into the setting of the story. In Crystal Tomb, readers will gain a larger glimpse of the crystal's purpose in the series beyond life after death.

Learn more about the Inari as angels on Earth in the Starfire Angels series (Starfire Angels, Broken Wings, and Crystal Tomb) at the website at starfireangels.melanienilles.com.
To enter the drawing of a Starfire crystal (aqua aura natural quartz point) and a set of the ebooks in your choice of formats, please post your comments on or before June 1st. (Comments may include questions for the author.)
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* For more information on crystals, I recommend The Crystal Bible by Judy Hall. (Walking Stick Press; Cincinatti, Ohio. 2003)
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You may have heard the news by now: Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall novels, died of a heart attack on February 5th at the age of 71. I was lucky in getting to attend readings by Mr. Jacques three times -- all as a college student and an adult. I asked him to take part in the autobio project back when I was working on it in house, but I think the official letter immediately got handed off to part of his book tour staff and I never heard back from him on that score. It's too bad, because I have a feeling the story of his life -- even told in forty pages -- would have been amazing. He was, as well as a consummate storyteller, an amazingly gifted performer, keeping the audiences at his readings hooked from the youngest to the oldest, telling jokes for kids and alternating them with thinly concealed adult humor.

As a kid, I devoured the books to the extent that, for the summer reading program, our children's librarian got me a copy of Redwall as my participation reward, instead of giving me one of the books from the participation list. She later took my copies of Redwall and Mossflower (which, if memory serves, I bought for myself out of allowance money, back in the days when I had to go to the local book and gift store and make a special order if I wanted a particular book) to a conference at which Mr. Jacques was speaking and got them signed for me. I still have those signed copies.

There have been some nice articles about his life: the one at SLJ and Matt London's at Tor.com in particular. In his memory, today, I thought I'd post a little excerpt from Redwall. Travel well, Mr. Jacques.

--

Strolling through the dappled shade of the orchard, Matthias sought out old Methuselah. Slumping down beneath a damson tree, the young mouse munched away at his lunch. Methuselah was sitting with his back against the tree, his eyes closed in an apparent doze. Without opening them he addressed Matthias. "How goes the practice war, young stavemaster?"

Matthias watched some of the tiny ants carrying off his fallen breadcrumbs as he answered, "As well as possible, Brother Methuselah. And how are your studies coming along?"

Methuselah squinted over the top of his spectacles. "Knowledge is a thing that one cannot have enough of. It is the fruit of wisdom, to be eaten carefully and digested fully, unlike that lunch you are bolting down, little friend."

Matthias set his food to one side. "Tell me, what have you digested lately, old one?"

Methuselah took a sip from Matthias's milk bowl. "Sometimes I think you have a very old head for such a young mouse. What more do you wish to know about Martin the Warrior?"

Matthias looked surprised. "How did you know I was going to ask about Martin?"

Methuselah wrinkled his nose. "How do the bee folk know there is pollen in a flower? Ask away, young one, before I doze off again."

Matthias hesitated a moment, then blurted out, "Brother Methuselah, tell me where Martin lies buried."

The old mouse chuckled drily. "Next you are going to ask me where to find the great sword of the warrior mouse."

"B-but how did you know that?" stammered Matthias.

The ancient gatehouse-keeper shrugged his thin shoulders. "The sword must lie buried with Martin. You would have little use for the dusty bones of a bygone hero. A simple deduction, even for one as old as I am."

"Then you know where the Warrior lies?"

Methuselah shook his head. "That is a thing no creature knows. For many long years now I have puzzled and pored over ancient manuscripts, translating, following hidden trails, always with the same result: nothing. I have even used my gift of tongues, speaking to the bees and others who can go into places too small for us, but always it is the same--rumors, legends and old mouse tales."

"Matthias crumbled more bread for the ants. "Then the Warrior's sword is only a fable?"

Methuselah leaned forward indignantly. "Who said that? Did I?"

"No, but you--"

"Bah! Nothing of the sort, young mouse. Listen carefully to me. I have an uncanny feeling that you may be the one I have been saving this vital piece of information for..."
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With all the hullabaloo about zodiac signs changing scattered around the internet, I thought it would be fun to break out my copy of Hamlet's Mill (sadly, not the one with my college notes in it) and do an excerpt from the venerable tome by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend. The pair of authors relate mythology to astronomy, and discuss mythology as a scientific language that describes events in the heavens. They delve into the concept of world ages, as well as discussing a lot of material that I didn't entirely comprehend in college and have yet to really delve back into. (In fact, in my final paper for Mark Vecchio's Mythic Imagination class, which was required as a script of multiple voices, including the writers and myself, one of the characters comments on my analysis of Hamlet's Mill that I still haven't quite figured out what they're talking about. I knew my own shortcomings.)

So, for your reading pleasure, the Precession of the Equinoxes.

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First, what was the "earth"? In the most general sense, the "earth" was the ideal plane laid through the ecliptic. The "dry earth," in a more specific sense, was the ideal plane going through the celestial equator. The equator thus divided two halves of the zodiac which ran on the ecliptic, 23 1/2 degrees inclined to the equator, one half being "dry land" (the northern band of the zodiac, reading from the vernal to the autumnal equinox), the other representing the "waters below" the equinoctial plane (the southern arc of the zodiac, reaching from the autumnal equinox, via the winter solstice, to the vernal equinox). The terms "vernal equinox," "winter solstice," etc., are used intentionally because myth deals with time, periods of time which correspond to angular measures, and not with tracts in space.

This could be neglected were it not for the fact that the equinoctial "points"--and therefore, the solstitial ones, too--do not remain forever where they should in order to make celestial goings-on easier to understand, namely, at the same spot with respect to the sphere of fixed stars. Instead, they stubbornly move along the ecliptic in the opposite direction to the yearly course of the sun, that is, against the "right" sequence of the zodiacal signs (Taurus->Aries->Pisces, instead of Pisces->Aries->Taurus).

This phenomenon is called the Precession of the Equinoxes, and it was conceived as causing the rise and the cataclysmic fall of ages of the world. Its cause is a bad habit of the axis of our globe, which turns around in the manner of a spinning top, its tip being in the center of our small earth-ball, whence our earth axis, prolonged to the celestial North Pole, describes a circle around the North Pole of the ecliptic, the true "center" of the planetary system, the radius of this circle being the same magnitude as the obliquity of the ecliptic with respect to the equator: 23 1/2 degrees. The time which this prolonged axis needs to circumscribe the ecliptical North Pole is roughly 26,000 years, during which period it points to one star after another: around 3000 B.C. the Pole star was alpha Draconis; at the time of the Greeks it was beta Ursae Minoris; for the time being it is alpha Ursae Minoris; in A.D. 14,000 it will be Vega. The equinoxes, the points of intersection of ecliptic and equator, swinging from the spinning axis of the earth, move with the same speed of 26,000 years along the ecliptic.

The sun's position among the constellations at the vernal equinox was the pointer that indicated the "hours" of the precessional cycle--very long hours indeed, the equinoctial sun occupying each zodiacal sign for about 2,200 years.
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Here it is, the post you've been waiting for! I "met" Alayna Williams (who is also the pseudonym for urban fantasy novelist Laura Bickle) over at Pocket After Dark in a discussion about book blogging. She mentioned her plans to do a blog tour this coming March for the release of Rogue Oracle, her second novel in the Delphic Oracle series...

At which point I came to a full stop, went and looked up her books to this point, and send her an e-mail. Delphic Oracle, you say? Magic using tarot cards, you say? (And, as Laura Bickle, you're writing UF in Detroit?) Already convinced that she must be awesome, I shot her an e-mail, and all our interactions have confirmed it. Alayna rocks, and she's got a really fun mythic sensibility.

So instead of waiting 'til March, I've brought her over to the blog now to talk about the Oracle at Delphi and Delphi's Daughters. She's also generously offered to give away a copy of her first novel, Dark Oracle (which came out in June), to a commenter on this post! No sophisticated rules, here, gang: one comment is one entry, and if you leave me a link to where you've posted about this elsewhere, we'll give you another entry. (As usual, if you just want to comment, but not be entered, please mention that. *g*) Contest runs through Wednesday the 29th -- we'll announce the winner on Thursday the 30th.

And without further ado: Alayna!



--

Ancient and Modern Oracles
by Alayna Williams

The Delphic Oracle is probably the most famous oracle of the ancient world. The priestess of the Temple of Apollo, the Pythia, wielded a great deal of political influence over leaders who sought both her advice and the advice of the priestesses who served the temple. The Temple of Apollo was sited over a crevasse in the earth emitting noxious vapors, leading to modern-day speculation that the Pythia’s visions were not sendings from Apollo, but toxic hallucinations. The Delphic Oracle operated from roughly the eight century BC until 393 AD, when all pagan oracles were ordered to be dismantled by the Emperor. After that, no one knows what became of the priestesses.

I was intrigued by the idea of an order of women exerting subtle and powerful influence over the ancient world. I wondered what would happen if that order of priestesses went underground and survived to the modern day. What would their role in world events be? In Dark Oracle, the title of Pythia is handed down through generations of women, all oracles with their own unique talent for foreseeing the future. Delphi’s Daughters are a secret organization, nudging world events and gathering information through vast networks of helpers. Their behavior is sometimes sinister, sometimes pure, but always secretive. No one but the Pythia herself knows how the puzzle of world events fits together, and her priestesses are often left in the dark, guessing at her motives.

In the worlds of Dark Oracle and Rogue Oracle, the current Pythia is a pyromancer. She sees the future in dancing flames. The heroine of the story, Tara Sheridan, is a cartomancer who uses Tarot cards to create criminal profiles. Other characters have abilities with scrying, astronomy, and geomancy. Delphi’s Daughters come from all walks of life: they are physicists, soccer moms, artists, farmers, and dancers. They are women just like women you know and walk past on the street. But they are women with a secret.

Tara's talents were a challenge to create. Use of Tarot cards requires both an intellectual understanding of the ancient symbolism of the cards, as well as the ability to make intuitive leaps from the cards to one's current situation. Using the cards in her work as a profiler, Tara spends a great deal of time in her own head. She's not a brash woman who rushes into situations with guns blazing. She's a thinker, a planner, and it's simply not in her analytical nature to shoot off at the mouth -- or with her guns -- when she can get her mission accomplished using less attention-getting means. She is accustomed to having to hide her talents from the people with whom she works, which makes her very circumspect... and isolated. Especially since she's survived an attack by a serial killer that has left her scarred for life. She's withdrawn from her work as a profiler and as a member of Delphi's Daughters.



In thinking about how such an order might survive into the modern world, I imagined the limitations inherent in being an oracle in a secret organization. It would require secrecy, sacrificing a large part of one’s life, and committing to a larger ideal. I decided that, as time passed, fewer and fewer women would be interested in unquestioningly serving Delphi’s Daughters. In Dark Oracle, the order is dying out. Tara Sheridan has left the order after her mother died, refusing to return. After surviving an attack by a serial killer that left her scarred for life, she is unable to bear children. And there are no young women in Delphi’s Daughters any longer.

The Pythia must try to continue the line, whatever the cost. She is challenged to convince the rebellious Tara to return. Or she must find new blood to move into the future, a new order for a new age. And blood will be spilled in the process.

-Alayna Williams
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It's Friday, and it's high time to do a guest blog! A little spoiler for next week: I have a brand new contribution lined up! Alayna Williams, author of Dark Oracle, is going to pop by, complete with contest. So, bookmark next Friday. :)

Alayna and I got to chatting about tarot cards over at Pocket After Dark, which reminded me of a brilliant novel by Charles Williams, The Greater Trumps. I knew next to nothing about Tarot prior to reading the novel, and Williams's use of the cards is, as per his usual, deeply symbolic and spiritual. In our game during the England trip (the "dirigible" game), I had a young Williams using Tarot cards to create protective circles, based on my memories of the novel. Below is an excerpt from the novel and (hurrah!) a contest. I'll send you a copy of The Greater Trumps for your own reading pleasure if you'll tell me what card you've drawn from a deck of your imagining. Take that in any direction you like. Contest ends on Wednesday the 22nd, so I can announce the winner on the 23rd, and get ready for Alayna to join us on the 24th!

(Also, feel free to comment even if you don't want to be entered in the contest, but let me know you don't want a prize. *g*)

--

She picked up the last card, that numbered nought, and exhibited it. It might have needed some explanation, for it was obscure enough. It was painted with the figure of a young man, clothed in an outlandish dress of four striped colours--black and grey and silver and red; his legs and feet and arms and hands were bare, and he had over one shoulder a staff, carved into serpentine curves, that carried a round bag, not unlike the balls with which the Juggler played. The bag rested against his shoulder, so that as he stood there he supported as well as bore it. Before him a dragon-fly, or some such airy creature, danced; by his side a larger thing, a lynx or young tiger, stretched itself up to him--whether in affection or attack could not be guessed, so poised between both the beast stood. The man's eyes were very bright; he was smiling, and the smile was so intense and rapt that those looking at it felt a quick motion of contempt--no sane man could be as happy as that. He was painted as if pausing in his stride, and there was no scenic background; he and his were seen against a flatness of dull gold.

"No," said Henry, "that's the difficulty--at least, it's the unknown factor."

"The unknown factor in what?" Mr. Coningsby asked."

"In--" Henry paused a second, then he added, "in telling fortunes by the Tarots. There are different systems, you know, but none of them is quite convincing in what it does with the Fool.... They are very curious cards, and this is a very curious pack."

"Why are they curious cards?" Nancy went on questioning.

Henry, still staring at them, answered, "It's said that the shuffling of the cards is the earth, and the pattering of the cards is the rain, and the beating of the cards is the wind, and the pointing of the cards is the fire. That's the four suits. But the Greater Trumps, it's said, are the meaning of all process and the measure of the everlasting dance."
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I met Dylan Birtolo in Authors' Avenue at GenCon of 2006, where I was looking for novels by new authors to send off to a buddy of mine stationed in Iraq. We had a great conversation, and on the way home from the convention, I read Dylan's first novel, The Shadow Chaser. I was so engaged in the story, and in Dylan's world of shape shifters, I finished it on the plane. Since then, I've kept up with his blog (he's here as [livejournal.com profile] eyezofwolf), where I learned that he's also a sword-for-hire (he's a member of the Seattle Knights combat troupe), and I've had the chance to work with Dylan on a story for the Ransom anthology, which he edited. Along with his novels, his short stories are showing up in several anthologies and e-zines, from The Edge of Propinquity to the upcoming Boondocks Fantasy (DAW) and Human Tales (Dark Quest Books).

Without further ado: Dylan!

--

I often get asked where I got the inspiration for my novels. Yes, I grew up on tales of werewolves, and yes I have played a lot of D&D and am familiar with other lycanthropes. I also enjoyed the White Wolf storyteller series and have played Werewolf with other races thrown in (Bastet, Gurahl, etc). And while all of these played a part, these aren’t the core inspiration - they are merely influences on the main theme. The main theme comes from what I have learned about some Native American spiritual beliefs.

Let me back up a step and talk about storytelling for a moment. I specifically mention storytelling because I think this is true whether you are writing the story, showing it, or even running a game campaign. With storytelling, one of the golden rules that I have learned and heard many times is that you should know much more about your world than you ever show to your audience. You should know things about your characters, about the world, about the situation that is currently happening, and you should know what other characters not currently in focus are thinking and doing. Putting in all of these details will ruin the story. It will lose some of the mystery and some of the magic. It also has a very high chance of boring most of your audience to tears if they do manage to slog through it.

This is a rule that I have tried to follow, with differing levels of success, in all of my stories. I also try to make sure everything has a reason and even the fantastical situations follow rules. Rules are a good thing in stories. They make fantasy more believable. It makes it so that your audience is more willing to suspend their disbelief and engage in the story. If I am continuously breaking rules for no reason, it makes the story less engaging and my audience (readers, players, etc) is going to leave.

If you read through my novels carefully, you will see trends. Each of the characters (with one or two exceptions that I will get to later) can only change into one specific animal. You also notice that each of the shifters has an animal that they get along with, even if the animal is a wild, undomesticated creature. This pattern comes from one idea that I had – what if there were people who were blessed by an Animal Spirit?

One theme I have seen in multiple Native American traditions is Animal Spirits. There is the Great Spirit who presides over everything, and then there is an Animal Spirit for each animal. This spirit is the difference between Wolf and wolf. The animals in the world are the physical embodiment of everything that the Animal Spirit represents. The traits and mannerisms that an Animal Spirit has are demonstrated through their associated animal’s behavior. My thought was to create a world where people were blessed by an individual Animal Spirit. As part of this blessing, they could take the form of the animal and could get along with any animals that were representatives of their spiritual benefactors. In short, the shifters became champions of the Animal Spirits – part animal and part human.

This led me to the idea what would happen if an individual was not blessed by an Animal Spirit, but was blessed by the Great Spirit. It seemed to reason that whoever was blessed by the Great Spirit would be an overseer of all of the animals, and as such could take the form of any and get along with all of them. And thus, my main character was born.

None of this material is explicitly spelled out in my novels. But it is all there, in subtle ways if you know what to look for. The important thing is that it gave me a set of rules to follow. And following these rules made my stories more believable and more engaging. At least, I hope it did!

Thanks, Alana for letting me ramble. I hope it was entertaining, educational, or maybe even both!
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Today's guest blog comes from fellow substrater, Thomas Scofield, who is launching an exciting new interactive fiction project this month. I corresponded with Thomas originally when friends introduced us for purposes of forming a writing group, but didn't meet him the first time until I showed up on his doorstep with [livejournal.com profile] lyster, driving home from ICon on Long Island (after the last ferry left me with a very long drive ahead of me, instead of the short jaunt back across the Sound), and said, "Um, hi. We sorta know each other. Can I crash with you?" (Thomas had been expecting [livejournal.com profile] lyster -- I, however, was a surprise.) Then, despite the late hour, we spent a few hours talking about literature, gaming, and all manner of interesting and engaging stuff. In short, I discovered something I'd suspected from his e-mails -- Thomas is an intelligent and generous man who as engaging a conversationalist as he is a writer.

This month, Thomas is launching Adrylle.com, which he talks about in the post below. Check out both Adrylle and Thomas's home page, where he has several ongoing serials and shorts posted.

--

a’drylle, v. – To slide or slip away. Source: The Oxford English Dictionary

I have a weakness for words, and have had for as long as I can remember. I’m particularly fond of odd, old, unusual or otherwise unused words. There’s something appealing to me about a word that’s been all but forgotten, like it’s a little secret that I and only a few others are party to. I like that. I like half-forgotten things. Mythic things. Because you can’t really be mythic if you’re remembered perfectly, can you? There’s always that element of mystery, or legend, of the unknown.

Or at least there is to me.

Adrylle is bound up in all of that. It’s a half-forgotten word that I’m using to describe a place made up of lost and forgotten things, people, places, ideas. At least, that is what it is on one level.

Adrylle.Com is, at the core, a hypertext adventure game, where you play the part of yourself, or a version of yourself, fallen through the cracks and forgotten. You find yourself in this new world of old and forgotten things, with its old secrets and new adventures. The world itself is made of words, right there on the computer screen, and a lot of those words describe (what will be) 120 in-game “locations,” like “The Darchives” (Dark-Archives) or “The Fairy Ring.”

Hidden throughout these locations (often in plain sight) are all sorts of standalone adventures, set in all sorts of worlds--be that the world of Adrylle or a world that exists only in that story. In the Darchives, for example, you can play out such stories as Rotmeo and Jujuliet (or, Romeo and Juliet and Zombies) or Titus Androidicus (a Bloody tale of Android vengeance). Or at least you will be able to play them out, when they are written and posted to the site.

There are secrets, too, hidden pages that you have to be clever enough or lucky enough to find. These hidden pages might have cyber-graffiti on them, from the winners of contests past, or secret little things, lost snapshots or fragments of text, maybe even pictures or other, stranger things in the future. We’re even working on a lay, the verses of which will be scattered across the site.

Right now it’s a labyrinthine and twisted labor of love. Of course, we’re all for sharing the geeky love, and there will be plenty of contests and prizes and giveaways linked to the site, its secrets and the stories embedded therein.

Right now, in fact, we’re running our first contest. The prize is a $500 gift card, which one lucky winner will be able to use to purchase a new eReader and a whole passle o’ eBooks to go with it. You can check that out here.

The whole labyrinthine mess can be found at http://www.adrylle.com.

Slip on over and visit us, sometime.
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Quick reminder: still a few hours left to enter this contest to win a copy of Angels' Blood by Nalini Singh!

--

It's been awhile since we've done a guest blog here. (It's been awhile since we've had a regularly updated blog here. But be patient with me, dear readers, I'm still learning to be a writer-mother or a mother-writer; it will take some time.) This is actually courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] holmes_iv, since he's the one who gave me the sheet music a few weeks ago. He attended a Congregational church service at which they sand the hymn "We Limit Not the Truth of God," which was written by George Rawson in around 1835, but is based off of an address by spiritual leader John Robinson to the pilgrims who founded Plymouth Colony. Robinson died in England, before the pilgrims set sail, but his words were recalled by governor Edward Winslow as the Mayflower set sail in 1646. He said: "...if God should reveal anything to us by any other instrument of his, to be as ready to receive it, as ever we were to receive any truth by his Ministry. For he was very confident the Lord had more truth and light yet to break forth out of his holy Word."

The idea here, of course, is that faith is emerging, that the understanding of God, religion, and spirituality can change as more is learned -- or revealed. New information should not be rejected because it is new, it should be considered, probably prayerfully. It seems like a wonderfully modern sentiment, but dates back all the way to the 1600s.

The following is Rawson's hymn adaptation of the teaching.

--

We limit not the truth of God to our poor reach of mind,
by notions of our day and sect, crude, partial and confined.
No let a new and better hope within our hearts be stirred:
The Lord hat yet more light and truth to break forth from The Word.

Darkling those faithful pilgrims went the first steps of the way;
'twas but the dawning yet to grow into the perfect day.
And grow it shall, our glorious sun more fervid rays afford:
The Lord hat yet more light and truth to break forth from The Word.

The valleys passed ascending still, our souls would higher climb,
and look down from supernal heights on all the bygone time.
Upward we press, the air is clear, and the sphere music heard:
The Lord hat yet more light and truth to break forth from The Word.

O God, we pray that thou wild send us increase from above,
enlarge, expand all Christian souls to comprehend thy love,
and make us to go on, to know with nobler powers conferred:
The Lord hat yet more light and truth to break forth from The Word.
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It's one of the wonders of the age that I have never met most of my coworkers in person. I realized when reading one of the science fiction stories about people living in an online reality that actually, that's not too far different from what my life as a writer is like. I contract with, network with, and hang around virtual water coolers with other freelancers who work in bubbles like I do, or editors with whom I'll never share a real world cup of coffee. The really amazing part about this, however, is that you actually do get a feeling for these people you may never meet, and you get to know them about as well as you know coworkers the next cubicle over. Some you know better than others.

It's been my tremendous privilege to get to know Daniel Tyler Gooden in this way. He's a wonderfully talented writer (he's the author of the BT novel The Unmade Man and cowriter of the main storyline web comic, The Torn God), a great editor, and an ace with keeping continuity in his head. As the Baeg Tobar content editor, he worked pretty closely with [livejournal.com profile] lyster and me when we first started fleshing out Blood and Tumult, and once our draft is done, I imagine we'll be chatting more frequently again. I'm also hoping we'll start talking parenting: his son sounds just a bit older than Bug, and it's always exciting to watch kids just a bit older than her do momentous things -- like take their first steps -- when I know that's in Bug's near future.

Without further ado, here's a musing from Daniel on my favorite subject: mythology in fiction.

--


I had been mulling around the importance of mythology in fiction when Alana asked me if I would like to guest blog. Knowing she is a fan of the topic, it seemed destined to be the subject of the day.

Two works recently had me thinking about mythology’s importance in fiction, specifically for world building. I read Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind. In the same week, I ran across an article in Analog, September ’09, by Richard A. Lovett, "From Atlantis to Canoe-Eating Trees: Geomythology Comes of Age."

Rothfuss has a well-developed world, much of it due to his main character, Kvothe, being born into a traveling group of entertainers. Stories spill out in every direction, as Kvothe performs with his family and learns of the legends and lore that are the core of the troupes’ trade. Rothfuss takes it one step further with Kvothe’s father's quest to writing an accurate song around the world’s greatest boogieman, the Chandrian. What I liked best about the Chandrian is that they are so feared that the only place you hear their name not whispered is in the play songs of children. Needless to say, the Chandrian take a big part in the storyline as it develops.

The use of bards, minstrels and storytellers to flesh out a world certainly is not new. For me, though, Rothfuss used it so well that the importance of mythology for building solid back-story really drove home. I felt I had a solid sense of not just the history of Rothfuss’s world, but why its people were who they were.

Lovett’s article further shored up the great value of mythology with a number of excellent examples of our own legends explained through the study of Geology and science. The story that stuck with me is from the Indian legends of the Pacific Northwest.

Twin sons of the Great Spirit, Wyeast and Pahto, spent their time feuding from opposite sides of the Columbia River. The cause of their spat was the beautiful woman Tah-one-lat-clah. Tired of the sons throwing fire and rock at each other, the Great Spirit intervened. To honor the brother’s truce, the Great Spirit built a stone bridge over the Columbia, near present day Bonneville Dam. Long story short, the brothers couldn’t keep the peace, accidently set the woman on fire, and all three retired to be later known as Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, and, as Tah-one-lat-clah, Mt. St. Helens.

It is a good myth -- just a good story -- until you look at Louis and Clark’s journals. They found tall trees submerged in a slow section of the Columbia. It was figured that a large landslide had blocked the river. Geological studies of Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood show evidence of eruptions several hundred years ago, and Mt. St. Helens somewhere in the late 1400s. Dating on the tree trunks in the Columbia put the landslide early to mid 1400s, right in line with the legend. Lovett produces many more such examples, and if you like this kind of detective work, hunt down this article.

For myself, I have used mythology a handful of times in a world-building project, Baeg Tobar, Alana and I are involved with. Needing a legend surrounding a tall natural stone tower, I wrote of a curious boy who wished to see all the world. Climbing for days, he reached the top but found his curiosity unabated. Following the gods' advice (everyone knows you can hear godly voices better from high altitudes) he casts himself off the tower. The boy hits the ground, shattering into hundreds of crows who spread their race around the globe, ever watchful and curious. The best part of writing this as fiction is it might be a story wrapped around a more plausible event, or maybe it is just true.

Thanks for lending me your time, even though, if you are a writer as well, you know you should be writing.

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Alana Joli Abbott

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