Category Archives: Writing

No Sleep Till Zothique—Part Four


The Hoofprints of Retribution—”The Dark Eidolon”

Here we are with installment #4 of our continued waltz through the Zothique fantasy cycle of Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961). To briefly review, CAS was part (the best part, IMHO) of the ‘Lovecraft circle’ that also included Robert E. Howard (1906-1936), a regular contributor to the pulp fiction magazines of the Great Depression era, of which Weird Tales is perhaps the best known.


The Dark Eidolon by SergiyKrykun

One of my main regrets in life is that I came to Smith so damn late—after reading a few of Lovecraft’s tales in my twenties, I don’t mind telling you I was bored stiff by his pedantic style. Smith is a whole other animal of prose accomplishment (although admittedly purple and archaic) and engagement with fantastic landscapes—now let’s also consider that CAS started life as a poet and considered HPL a mentor of the highest order. CAS doubtless leaned a great deal from Lovecraft. But I’ve experienced so much fucking overblown hype over HPL I really started to burn out after revisiting his complete works during my thirties. That should not be surprising because he hadn’t grabbed me during my twenties, either. But Smith arrived on my reading list just in the nick of time. And his physical hotness (I mean Jesus fucking Christ!) never threw his appeal, either.

Okay, there’s the lead-up. We have well-over a dozen Zothique stories to experience and discuss (comment away and/or hit me up on Facebook/Twitter if you give a fuck). I say we get to it, because “The Dark Eidolon” is one of the most epic stories of the cycle, certainly one of the most grim.

“The Dark Eidolon” is the title story in the volume of collected fantasies and poetry edited by S.T. Joshi for Penguin Classics in 2014. Considering that HPL has at least three similar issues of his collected works on offer from Penguin (Lord Dunsany also has one), this was a pretty big deal for the CAS fangirl over here. This was my first time reading the story, and it struck me as being the most Arabian Nights-influenced of the Zothique cycle so far. Sorcerers, reanimated mummies, and gilded chimeras are the absolute reality of this world (specifically, Xylac in the northwest quadrant of continental Zothique, think of it as Seattle, LOL), evocation and world-building are in full swing right out of the gate. Perhaps this is why Zothique is my favorite cycle, second only to Hyperborea (the farthest past of the same this-our-terrene planet). As I stated above, much of Smith’s work was derided for its dark content, but that is exactly the characteristic that drew me to his work.


The Dark Eidolon” is an evocative fable of revenge gone awry. Both of its principal characters (and antagonists), the Emperor Zotulla and the Sorcerer Namirrha, engage in a battle of wits and hallucinatory intrigue that affects not only their city-state of Ummaos, but also the citizens who hadn’t had the foresight to get the fuck away from them when the getting was good (more on that later). The narrative is largely told in summary, rather than scene–here is a mode I like to use sparingly in my own writing, but Smith’s command of language, elements, and color qualify this. We should also consider that this narrative mode dates back to the 1930s, and fantasy fiction had a considerable road in its ongoing development. We are told of how the young noble Zotulla (not yet emperor of his city) had spurned and trampled (with his horse) Narthos, a beggar child of similar age. Smith goes on to tell of how Narthos recovered from his injuries and went into self-imposed exile from Ummaos, and almost perished in the desert wastes of Tasuun until he was taken in and apprenticed by the lone sorcerer Ouphaloc.

Smith himself wrote in a 1932 letter to August Derleth =

“It’s a devil of a story…there is one scene where a wizard calls up macrocosmic monsters in the form of stallions that trample houses and cities under their hooves like eggshells. The tales end with the wizard gone stark mad and fighting his own image in a diamond mirror under the delusion that the image was the enemy on whom he had sought to inflict all manner of hellish revenges…”
–Clark Ashton Smith, letter to August Derleth, December 24, 1932

After the apprenticeship of Narthos, he reinvents himself as a dread and formidable sorcerer Namirrha who after a time returns to Ummaos, bent on avenging the inignity perpetrated upon him by the haughty Zotulla.

Zotulla himself becomes emperor of Ummaos after his father is smitten by a viper in his bed, and Smith wastes no time in describing the debaucheries and excesses of the freshly minted king. Better yet, the people of Ummaos seem nonplussed by their regent’s debauched priapism, because if the people are amenable to the same impulses why complain?

One morning Zotulla and his people awaken to the sight of a entirely new and stately palace built next door to his own. As the king learns that Namihrra, the dread sorcerer whose renown is by that time the primary fear of all in Xylac, then begins a battle of wits, imposed nightmares and hallucinations, and finally a full-scale feast of nercomantic spells that culminates in mutual damnation for both players and the downfall of the city.

See, all along Namihrra had concentrated most of his power and desire in the underworld god Thasaidon, familiarized in a huge columnar statue within Namirrha’s palace. Namihrra hopes the god will aid him in besting Zotulla. When it turns out the god has his own plans for Zotulla, the battle between the sorcerer and emperor reaches a hellish new level that none of them could have prepared for. If a moral or lesson is to be had from this story, we might consider that it’s never wise to place all of our trust in one resource, no matter how infallible or formidable it seems. When it comes to revenge, diversify your portfolio. The god Thasaidon does exactly that.

Maybe this is part of why I love the CAS Zothique cycle the most–almost everyone is so extreme due to the ecological disaster surrounding them (and the religions that currently dominate and terrorize our modern era are but a footnote, at best, and never mentioned). Zothique is like The Road meets Las Vegas with blasphemous necromancy as a given reality. How is that not the coolest world ever. Mordor looks safe by comparison.

Okay so next up in Part Five is Smith’s “The Voyage of King Euvoran.” I heard an audio version of this tale a little over a year ago and remember that it touches upon the same themes of greed, pride, and the curse of the self. It also contains the fantastic adventures and beasts we can expect in any tale of the Zothique cycle, so stay tuned and let the mayhem continue.

Stay safe out there, and defy this newest encroachment of the worm.

Smith, Clark Ashton, and S. T. Joshi. 2014. The Dark Eidolon and other fantasies. ISBN 9780143107385.

Smith, Clark Ashton, and Scott (edt.) Connors. 2008. The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith: the Maze of the Enchanter. Nightshade Books. ISBN 9781597800310.

Hoppenstand, Gary. 2013. Pulp fiction of the 1920s and 1930s. Hackensack, NJ: Salem Press. ISBN 9781429838276.

Connors, Scott, and Tim Kirk. 2006. The freedom of fantastic things: selected criticism on Clark Ashton Smith. New York: Hippocampus Press. ISBN 0976159252.

Smith, Clark Ashton, David E. Schultz, and Scott Connors. 2003. Selected letters of Clark Ashton Smith. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 087054182X.

No Sleep Till Zothique—Part Three


A Dying Sun, A Necrophagist Cult, and the Creepiest Courtship EVER

lllustration by SergiyKrykun at DeviantArt

“The Charnel God.” lllustration by SergiyKrykun at DeviantArt.

WARNING: some spoilers herein. Normally I am loathe to reveal any plot details of a story, you crazy kids really should read these stories with a fresh mind and minimal expectations. But “The Charnel God” offers up a fairly elaborate plot, so in discussion of this one, divulging some story detail may be inevitable. I’ll do my best to minimize that, nonetheless–LG

“Mordiggian is the god of Zul-Bha-Sair.”

That’s the solemn edict that sets up the story we’ll be exploring in this the third installment of my exploration (and in this case, re-examination) of Clark Ashton Smith’s dark fantasy story cycle Zothique. In this post, we’ll explore “The Charnel God,” published in the March 1934 issue of Weird Tales.

I’ve been lining up some practical matters for my surgery this month so I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like, but have nonetheless resolved to offer at least some base-level insight for every CAS Zothique story before Necronomicon 2017 next summer. It seems fitting that I should pick one of the most grim and grotesque stories of Zothique, and one of my absolute favorites.

TCG was actually the first CAS story I heard when I began exploring him on Audible (my commute sometimes restricts me to audiobooks, which is a great way to discover new writers). The version I found is actually set up like an old-school radio drama, which makes the creepiness of the story all the more immersive.

A young exiled prince Phariom enters the remote desert city of Zhul-Bha-Sair, unaware that its supreme and foremost law is that everyone who dies within its walls becomes the property (read: dinner) of their god Mordiggian. His masked and powerful priests see to that with a startling and unwavering punctuality. Their hidden and masked visage does little to betray their physical ninja-level physical strength. The cult along with their god then literally eat the corpses once inside their temple, often waiting for days so that rot has set in nice and proper. Hey, we’ve had worse at Arby’s, haven’t we?

When Phariom’s wife Elaith succumbs to a seizure (obviously misdiagnosed narcolepsy), Mordiggian’s priests are summoned to their inn, force their way in, and make off with Elaith. All others are convinced she is dead, despite the explanations of her true condition by Phariom. Consequently, the young exile spends the next phase of the story tracking these priests down to the massive, dark temple of Mordiggian that lies at the center of Zhul-Bha-Sair, but once inside he meets a new obstacle he could not have anticipated.

The plans of Abnon-Tha, resident necromancer of Moriggian’s temple, are as simple as they are creepy. The dude obviously can’t get laid, so he uses his admittedly advanced sorcery to fatally poison Arctella, a young noble maiden of the city to whom he has taken a certain necromantic shine. He then plans to resurrect her within the confines of Mordiggian’s temple, and by way of his magic and with the assistance of his pupils Nargei and Vemba-Tsith, plans to resurrect her from death and make her his “unquestioning slave.” They will all then leave Zhul-Bha-Sair in short order, leave the ghoul cult of Mordiggian in their dusty wake, and make tracks for balmier climes in the south of Zothique to the realm of Tassuun. They know all-too-well that to remove any dead from the temple is a dire blasphemy rewarded with extreme wrath. Abnon-Tha haughtily dismisses this threat, and they proceed with their plan.

As this parallel track returns to Phariom, he sneaks into Mordiggian’s charnel fane under cover of darkness, and he runs afoul of the sorcerers when they suddenly decide, upon seeing his wife Elaith laid out on the slab next to to Arctella, to take her along for the ritual. The apprentice necromancer Vemba-Tsith is taken with Elaith’s beauty, unaware of both her betrothal to Phariom and her narcoleptic condition. They are also of course convinced that she is quite deceased, and thus a prime candidate for resurrection, whereas Phariom realizes with horror that she could awaken at any moment.

As Phariom watches the sorcerers commence their ritual in a remote antechamber of the temple, Elaith does awaken from her seizure, but due to shock and disorientation she finds herself unable to move. Her supposed resurrection pleases the apprentice Vemba-Tsith, who boasts to his master that his incantation for Elaith had been quicker than Abnon-Tha’s sorcery with Arctella. No sooner is this spoken when Arctella herself then rises from her couch, but with more of the effect intended by the necromancers: she is still and emotionless as an “automaton,” and stands before Abnon-Tha awaiting only his directives.

Phariom then bursts into the chamber in hopes of rescuing Elaith from the sorcerers. After confronting the group, he succeeds in bringing his wife to his side, and as the necromancers make ready to kill him, they are all interrupted by a new guest: The Charnel God of Zhul-Bha-Sair.

This may very well be my favorite story so far of the Zothique cycle, matched perhaps only by “The Weaver in the Vault,” but keep in mind I’ve got about twenty more stories to go in the cycle, many of which I have not read.

CAS doesn’t speak much about the inner workings of TCG in his published letters, but the elaborate nature of the plot in addition to the smothering, dark atmosphere conveyed within make me think that the story may have gone through multiple drafts. Of course, the often florid prose characteristic to Smith’s dark fantasy writing may not be to everyone’s liking–adverbs abound throughout, but as many pulp writers were paid by the word, let’s keep in mind that CAS was trying to make a living selling these stories during The Great Depression, a time that may have had a direct influence on his portrayal of the dying world of Zothique–a once prosperous era full of wine, promise, high fashion, and cakes is suddenly plunged into chaos, disease, bewilderment, and searing pain. I’ve been wholly familiar with this constant sensation and given reality my entire life, which may be another reason the stories of this cycle, a dying world and our desperate, fumbling efforts to survive within its trappings, appeal to me so readily.

1.) The Double Shadow podcast (devoted entirely to discussing CAS) recently posted an episode about The Charnel God, and I encourage anyone interested to not only listen to what they have to say about the story, but to subscribe to them as well and follow them on Twitter.
2.) Connors, Scott, and Tim Kirk. 2006. The freedom of fantastic things: selected criticism on Clark Ashton Smith. New York: Hippocampus Press.
Among other marvelous insights into the dark fantasy and poetry of CAS, this volume contains the chapter “As Shadows Wait upon the Sun: Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique” by Jim Rockhill, much of which has informed this series of blog posts I am attempting to share with you.

NEXT UP: “The Dark Eidolon”
I am not familiar with this story, which is apparently one of Smith’s most renowned, and also appears to involve a world where sorcery is the default and actions have dire consequences. Sign me up for the ride!


“Incredible worlds, impossibly beautiful cities, and still more fantastic creatures. . . Take one step across the threshold of [Smith’s] stories and you plunge into colour, sound, taste, smell and texture: into language.”Ray Bradbury

The Sisters of Slaughter—Mayan Blue and The Art of Bloodletting

The Sisters of Slaughter—Mayan Blue and The Art of Bloodletting

Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason, aka The Sisters of Slaughter, are ripping faces off with their debut novel, Mayan Blue. I knew I was in for a pretty old-school action-horror ride, but there is also some unique “lost history” this book offers its readers right out of the gate.

A small group of anthropology students begin fieldwork at an apparent Mayan site located in rural Georgia, but when their professor carelessly opens a portal with an ancient artifact they all find themselves trapped within Xibalba, The Land of The Dead where torture, ritual sacrifice, wakeful dismemberment, and eternal enslavement are the only logic.

Michelle and Melissa have been writing SF/horror since they were very young, and the prose carnage of Mayan Blue strikes the reader with equal doses of refinement and relentlessness, cinematic and punishing like the most hoarse gasps of nausea (and ecstasy) elicited by the works of Jack Ketchum and Clive Barker. MB also reminded me of the best parts of The Evil Dead, Fulci’s The Beyond, and The Descent.

This is a hyper-violent novel with a startling pace and as the casualties ramp up, the story begins an intriguing parallel track narrative that reveals the horrific intricacies of this “hidden” world (on a high-fantasy level, even) that swallows the unwitting and the innocent with vicious ferocity. The violence also hit me where I live on a personal level–my insecurities always tell me that I totally deserve all the bad things that happen to me, so navigating the nightmare world of Xibalba with these characters really messed with my head.

Once I finally made it through the punishment of Mayan Blue I knew I had to hit the authors up and ask them about their workflow, background, and influences:

LG: This has been a really intense year for the both of you. How are you both feeling about the way 2016 has been shaping up?

M&M: This year has been both extremely exhausting and also pretty amazing. We tend to take on a million projects at once and it wears us out but the payoff is worth it. Mayan Blue was released in May and so far, it has been well received. We jumped into another horror novel right after that and while writing it we were asked to write our science fiction novel, Vengeance, for Nick Webb’s Legacy Fleet Kindle World so we worked on those simultaneously. Now we’re working on another horror novel for a publisher that should be completed by Halloween and sent off, hopefully it gets accepted because it would be big for us. In 2017, we are continuing with at least one more horror novel and also a dark fantasy novel.

LG: Where did you get the idea/inspiration for Mayan Blue? I assume the Kenimer Site in North Georgia lit a spark.

M&M: The Kenimer site was definitely inspiration for Mayan Blue. Melissa was watching a show about it and just got goosebumps considering the possibilities of writing a story about what would happen if the Mayans had come to the southern states. She discussed it with me (Michelle) and we took it from there, of course it had to be a horror novel because that’s our thing. The Mayan underworld of Xibalba was perfect for what we required to convey the vibes of a good old fashioned horror movie, riddled with death and blood.

LG: You really build quite a world with Xibalba. I’ve studied the history of Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs, and what strikes me is that both civilizations both thought they were righteous in the eyes of their God/gods. Had you any interest in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican society/religious practices prior to writing/researching Mayan Blue?

M&M: We have always been into ancient civilizations and mythology so this was right up our alley. Actually before we wanted to be writers we really wanted to be like Indiana Jones. 🙂 We used to walk to the library when we were in Junior High just to read about different civilizations, it intrigued us to find out how they lived and died. For horror writers the past holds so much inspiration, there has been so many atrocities wrought in the name of religion and conquest that one doesn’t have to look very far for sources of darkness. The Mayans weren’t new to us when we began research for the novel but to dig deeper into their beliefs was a labor of love and even though Mayan Blue is a work of fiction, we hope we did their mythology justice in the way we portrayed it.

LG: One of the things I loved about Mayan Blue is the parallel track narrative towards the end as Alyssa and Wes both try to navigate their situation. Then as the stakes get really high, you both really pick up the pacing. How do you feel about the struggle of these principal characters trying to survive the horrors of Xibalba? It’s quite an intense ride and it really resonated with me on an emotional level.

M&M: We really wanted the story to be action packed, we didn’t want to lose the attention of the readers with very much lag. Also, we thought logically if this were real life these characters would do anything just to get the hell out of the underworld, especially Wes because of the depth of his knowledge about Xibalba. It’s the land of fear, a place of not only death but painful humiliation. Humans that find themselves there are put through trials that are meant to be hopeless and its pure entertainment for the malevolent beings that live there. We decided that while one was put through these trials the other character would be on their own path of darkness, creating no safe zones for either one, no time to breathe for the reader, torturing them as we torture our characters. Most people that have read it enjoyed its rapid fire pacing. Our main characters were both people we felt we could identify with, being geekier and not the athletic jock type. We were attached to them by the end of it all and we hope the audience was as well. We had a few readers message us while reading it saying they hope the main characters end up together, and in a way they do. 😉

LG: I know you both have a collaborative system firmly in place from so many years of working together. Do you both develop ideas as you go, what is your process and/or do you try to experiment with new approaches to writing?

M&M: We both keep notebooks of ideas and descriptions of stories, just the things that pop into our minds on a daily basis. We sit down together and choose the best out of those ideas and write the magical outline that we will adhere to, we rarely stray from that outline and if it happens it is discussed first. This method has always worked best for us because since we tag team manuscripts we don’t want any discrepancies in the story as it unfolds.

LG: What was some of the first horror/SF you remember when you were growing up? (books, TV, film) What drew you to the genre and kept you there?

M&M: Some of our first horror and sci-fi would be the Universal Horror Classics, Hammer Horror movies, The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Kolchak the Night Stalker, Scooby Doo, Dark Shadows, Battlestar Galactica and of course Star Wars. Most of this came from our mother who was into the classics and allowed us to watch with her, sometimes she’d get excited when reruns of old shows came on TV and we’d sit beside her on the couch, spellbound. Our older brothers had the coolest Star Wars toys and lunch boxes, probably had a collection worth a ton of money but we played with Chewbacca and the gang outside in the dirt. The He-Man action figures were also our favorites until our dog chewed their faces off. We grew up in a very rural area, with horses and chickens and other farm animals, on a dirt road with no sidewalks or streetlights, it was a wonderland of the imagination. We loved horror, sci-fi and fantasy because it was a playground for the mind, a place where wondrous things could happen. We’ve never let that go.

LG: Have you both always lived in the Southwest? Does the region have an influence on your fiction?

M&M: We were born and raised in Arizona and still dwell here. The desert is a harsh environment; most would consider it ugly–sometimes we agree with them–but the mixture of cultures down here in the border states is beautiful. The art, the food, the music, it seeps into your soul and its magical. It has influenced our fiction; we’re working on a novella with our friend Kam Lee [LG–one of the original members of the legendary Death !!!–aka Mantas] that is about a young Curandera battling a cartel leader who uses Black Magic to gain ultimate power, it’s a bloody tale about the devil coming to a border town and the young woman that does battle with him.

Of course it’s hotter than Satan’s taint and it doesn’t rain often, and we love rain, but it definitely shaped us as people and as writers. We’re a little rough around the edges but we always try to look on the bright side of life (Cue Monty Python’s Life of Brian music) we’ve lived through many summers and each time that we’re greeted by the reprieve of fall weather we are reminded that it isn’t so bad out here in Hades, at least we don’t have to scrape the heat off our windshields in the morning so we can drive the kids to school. Maybe it wasn’t completely the environment, maybe it was more our upbringing that taught us to keep trying and never give up, even the shittiest shit can’t last forever.

LG: Michelle I know you and I have geeked out about outlining vs. pantsing (sometimes the combination of both) as part of the writing process. Melissa I’d be interested in hearing your take on how you like to prepare/develop a story with Michelle.

Melissa: Don’t tell my sister but she’s kinda a nag about the outline. Just kidding. We work together really good, and she sometimes has to remind me of the outline so I don’t get off track but we’ve done this our whole lives so it’s more of a labor of love than actually working. We get together about three to five days a week and we talk about our projects. We have a schedule of everything we want to accomplish and in what time frame. Each time we meet up we will write together or sometimes split up chapters to take home then when we get back together we read them out loud. Most of everything is written by hand first and then typed, so our handwritten work is like our rough draft that can be changed once we get behind a keyboard. We usually take notes along the edge of the paper about anything we need to add or take out.

LG: What can you tell us about your new book Legacy Fleet: Vengeance? How did you land this series? Had you any interest in Military SF?

M&M: Vengeance takes place between the first two books of Nick Webb’s Legacy Fleet trilogy. It’s about a captain that has already saved earth once from a massive attack by a hostile alien force. Our story tells the tale of what happens after that attack, the story of two more swarm (the bad guys) attacks on different planets and the sacrifices made to drive them away once more. It has been well received so far and we will more than likely write another one for this kindle world. We worried if our sci-fi chops would be up to par because Nick writes very intriguing stories, he keeps his audience engaged and his books are packed with action. To have people like it really makes us feel accomplished.

We got involved in this Kindle world by being in a writing group with Nick, we became buddies and when he made the announcement that he was getting his own kindle world he asked if anyone would like to write for it and we expressed interest so once the time got closer he emailed us asking us to join his fleet and we accepted. We’ve always been interested in it and wrote two sci-fi novellas for a boxset that was on Amazon for a while that sold very well so we guessed we could write in that genre but we worried about giving his fans what they wanted. It looks like we were successful!

LG: What are you reading these days?

M&M: When we can squeeze in reading between mothering our hell spawn (joking, they’re angels.) and writing like maniacs, we are reading the works of Brian Keene, Gabino Iglesias, Adam Cesare, and Glenn Rolfe. Michelle has also been doing some reviews for This is Horror and she got the chance to check out some really awesome anthologies so keep your eyes peeled for those.

LG: Do you both set writing goals, like word counts or anything like that?

M&M: Our writing goals are based on our projects due, sometimes that’s 3000 words a day and sometimes that’s 500 words in a week. We might not write daily but we definitely keep up other parts of the game like promotion, interviews and plotting stories. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading mythology, demonology and true crime stories until inspiration hits for another story, but we rarely take a day and do nothing at all when it comes to our writing.

LG: Do you think women in horror/SF are being taken more seriously nowadays? What do you think could be improved upon?

M&M: Women are smashing down walls within the genre, we’re taking it by the balls. We got to thank those ladies that came before us and braved the turbulent waters ahead of us. It’s getting better but it still isn’t perfect, there are still pricks out there that think women can’t write as well as men but guess what? They’re a dying breed, like dinosaurs that spew misogyny and hate. A flaming, feminine comet of horror is coming to drown them in seas of fire and ash, one day they will be spoken of only as a joke when we laugh about how they couldn’t scratch their nuts with such tiny arms and maybe that’s why they were always so cranky … Anyone who disagrees can lick our buttholes.

LG: What’s next for the Sisters of Slaughter?

M&M: We’re going to have more horror and dark fantasy in 2017 and probably more sci-fi. We love writing, we love mixing and playing with all of these genres. We’re so grateful to be where we are right now and refuse to stop. No rest for the wicked!

LG: Thank you! ❤

Mayan Blue is really fucking intense. It is available in both electronic and paperback editions, and Legacy Fleet: Vengeance, the new military SF novel from the Sisters of Slaughter, has just been released in September 2016.


No Sleep Till Zothique—Part Two

No Sleep Till Zothique—Part Two

I have verified that the Zothique cycle written by fantasy/pulp writer Clark Ashton Smith consists of sixteen short stories and one single-act play “The Dead with Cuckold You.” As I’ve mentioned last week, my intention is to read or in some cases re-read the stories of the cycle, hopefully one every week or two.

Honestly, my TBR pile is growing and teetering,so my timeframe is likely to vary. But with Necronomicon 2017 next summer, I have every intention of qualifying myself for a potential CAS discussion opportunity with some horror luminaries whom I greatly admire.

Now, while the first story of the cycle, Empire of the Necromancers (WT 1932) dealt with complacent capitalism in a fairly satirical (if grotesque) way (but come on, it is CAS), Isle of the Torturers (WT 1933) deals with rare, even mystical disease and bodily degeneration with a scoatch more doom and gloom. Of course, it opens with that opulent, somewhat overwrought but doubtless immersive style so characteristic of CAS’s fantasy fiction =

The Isle of Torturers

“The Isle of Torturers.” No attribution. But this is too cool. Does anyone know whose illustration this is? I wonder if they’re from Uccastrog.

**//”Between the sun’s departure and return, the Silver Death had fallen upon Yoros. Its advent, however, had been foretold in many prophecies, both immemorial and recent. Astrologers had said that this mysterious malady, heretofore unknown on earth, would descend from the great star, Achernar, which presided balefully over all the lands of the southern continent of Zothique; and having sealed the flesh of a myriad men with its bright, metallic pallor, the plague would still go onward in time and space, borne by the dim currents of ether to other worlds.

“Dire was the Silver Death; and none knew the secret of its contagion or the cure. Swift as the desert wind, it came into Yoros from the devastated realm of Tasuun, overtaking the very messengers who ran by night to give warning of its nearness. Those who were smitten felt an icy, freezing cold, an instant rigor, as if the outermost gulf had breathed upon them. Their faces and bodies whitened strangely, gleaming with a wan luster, and became stiff as long-dead corpses, all in an interim of minutes.

“In the streets of Silpon and Siloar, and in Faraad, the capital of Yoros, the plague passed like an eery, glittering light from countenance to countenance under the golden lamps; and the victims fell where they were stricken; and the deathly brightness remained upon them.

“The loud, tumultuous public carnivals were stifled by its passing, and the merry-makers were frozen in frolic attitudes. In proud mansions, the wine-flushed revelers grew pale amid their garish feasts, and reclined in their opulent chairs, still holding the half-emptied cups with rigid fingers. Merchants lay in their counting-houses on the heaped coins they had begun to reckon; and thieves, entering later, were unable to depart with their booty. Diggers died in the half completed graves they had dug for others; but no one came to dispute their possession.

“There was no time to flee from the strange, inevitable scourge. Dreadfully and quickly, beneath the clear stars, it breathed upon Yoros; and few were they who awakened from slumber at dawn. Fulbra, the young king of Yoros, who had but newly suceeeded to the throne, was virtually a ruler without a people.”//**

King Fulbra is the main character who leaves Faraad behind in search of survivors. He has survived the plague because of the enchanted ring. He steers his vessel for the Island of Cyntrom in the southern sea, but is blown off course by a hurricane and ends up at Uccastrog, which, yep you guessed it, is more commonly known in Zothique as The Isle of the Torturers.

King Ildrac of the island then put Fulbrah through a series of increasingly elaborate ordeals from which his magic ring cannot protect him but all the while he is given quiet words of encouragement and consolation by Ilvaa, a strange, beautiful woman of the island.

I don’t want to spoil the ending, but my main problem with the story (apart from its somewhat xenophobic overtones) is that I could see the turnabout coming from miles away, it is SO predictable. Granted, this was written in 1933 and in order to sell his writing to the pulp markets (and care for his aging parents), CAS often had to paint-by-numbers according to the editor’s whims, even if they were formulaic.

The ending of IotT doesn’t completely ruin the story for me, far from it. I read CAS for the colors and the shapes, and sometimes he really does manage to reach a deeply rooted part of me that yearns for magic and adventure in real life, just as I had when I was a child. But see, it’s best to not linger too long because I see “The Charnel God” is number 3 in the Zothique cycle, and boy is that story incredible for its atmosphere and yes for its plotting (two parallel tracks collide at the end).


No Sleep till Zothique—Part One

No Sleep till Zothique—Part One

As part of my preparation for geeking out at Necronomicon 2017, I have determined to read all of the Zothique cycle stories written by Clark Ashton Smith in chronological order of their publication.

Necronomicon is essentially a huge Lovecraft-love fest but they also program panels for horror, markets, publishing, all the fun things. It takes place in downtown Providence, of course. They also cover other writers with Lovecraftian ties: Clark Ashton Smith was a contemporary of Lovecraft along with Robert E. Howard, and I generally prefer his stories.

Zothique is my favorite fantasy cycle because it depicts a grim, dying earth plagued by ecological decay and widespread anarchy. That said, this possible future appeals to me: our current religions have become extinct (superseded by regional cults practicing varying degrees of hospitality), and all technology has been replaced by sorcery and proto-medievalism. The new world has essentially reverted to the very, very old.

The first story in CAS Zothique is “The Empire of the Necromancers,” published in Weird Tales, September 1932. Of course, he starts grim right out of the gate with his description of Zothique (it reminds me of the Skeksis castle/valley in “The Dark Crystal” actually):

zothique map//**”The legend of Mmatmuor and Sodosma shall arise only in the latter cycles of Earth, when the glad legends of the prime have been forgotten. Before the time of its telling, many epochs shall have passed away, and the seas shall have fallen in their beds, and new continents shall have come to birth. Perhaps, in that day, it will serve to beguile for a little the black weariness of a dying race, grown hopeless of all but oblivion. I tell the tale as men shall tell it in Zothique, the last continent, beneath a dim sun and sad heavens where the stars come out in terrible brightness before eventide.”**//

Brother necromancers Mmatmuor and Sodosma are exiled from the west of the continent for political reasons. During their travels into the deserts of Cincor, once home to a great civilization, they raise an army made entirely of the dead and enslave the souls to their will. As the necromancers settle into the ruins of Yethlyreom in Cincor, however, they become lazy and complacent and forgetful of their own powers. Meanwhile, the dead long for a return to their rest. Ultimately, one of the enslaved nobles of a late Cincor dynasty uncovers a prophecy that offers the dead their liberation and vengeance upon their oppressors.

This is a characteristic Smith fantasy–excessive, bold, ribald–but entertaining nonetheless. I think other Zothique stories like “The Charnel God” and “The Weaver in the Vault” present a more tactile atmosphere, a more compelling cast of characters, along with more satisfying reversals of fortune, but this is the start of the Zothique cycle and I’ve signed on for the whole wild, grimdark ride.

So much of Smith’s influence obviously stems from The Arabian Nights, which I am ashamed to admit I have not read, but I purchased a good unabridged 3-volume set from Penguin Classics and I’m going to be reading those right along with Zothique. If and when I find vivid parallels between these sets of fables, I hope to share my insights.

The Empire of the Necromancers can of course be read in its entirety at The Eldritch Dark and The Double Shadow Clark Ashton Smith podcast devote an entire episode to the story (their insights are always entertaining, often hilarious). And yes, as you can tell, I am quite the CAS fangirl.

Enjoying the dim sun and sad heavens,
as always,

On Writing, finding community, finding my way

On Writing, finding community, finding my way

This summer, there is an opportunity for me to participate in a writing workshop that I never thought would happen during my lifetime. The week-long session takes place in New York City, that epicenter of publishing, glitz, good coffee, efficiency, and brainwaves.

Two storied writing instructors with exemplary publishing credentials will help develop the writing skills and emerging voices of transwomen writers. Here is an an opportunity for over two-dozen of us to write, offer feedback, learn, and network.

I speak, of course, of the Summer Writers’ Workshop administered by Topside Press at Brooklyn College, August 2016.

And here’s the really cool part: you can help make this happen. The fundraiser is active and gaining ground, and Zoey the workshop organizer has composed a detailed breakdown of how raised funds will be put to good use. This is a great and easy way to become involved in a marvelous, forward-thinking, educational initiative.

As far as I am aware, this is the very first workshop of its kind, designed to help develop the writing skills of a heretofore underrepresented population. And this is SO important, especially today, because even in 2016, transwomen are discriminated against and excluded from too many creative spaces and opportunities, and/or the trans-centric narrative is largely regarded as illegitimate.*
* = memoir is a notable exception, but believe you me–prejudice is a huge problem even in otherwise queer spaces, and the utterly cynical and exasperating public restroom non-issue is only the tip of the iceberg.

Why is this inaugural workshop so important to me? Well–shall I start with fear?
I am no stranger to writing workshops, groups, and I am certainly not new to transition (I’m 19 years in). But the fact remains that whenever I wanted to address my experiences, ambitions, or even just my SF-affinity, I’ve held my tongue out of fear of being judged, or that again I’ll be told I need to audition for my Trans101 right to exist. But now I’m frankly a little weary of squashing my narratives out of fear–it only makes life worse.

Okay so fear is nailed shut, next let’s consider the very real–PUSHBACK.
Whether it’s TERFs, religious mania, the far right, or even Ms. Jenner herself (right), as visibility and voices do find their way into the sunlight, we will be told to be silent, we have no place at the table and/or microphone. Attempts will be made to legislate us out of existence, as precedents have shown in certain other nations. My upbringing during the Reagan/Bush era offered plenty of that pushback, or if not that, utter misrepresentation. Those iniquities are utterly familiar to me (and unfortunately pretty hardwired in my psyche–that was their intention.) Our voices and stories can change that signal, and stand fast against that resistance (it’s all just ignorance, anyway). Pervasive human rights and honest stories told tend to produce wonderful results on a universal scale–and besides who do you think helped design the very technology that we’re cat-paw-typing on?

Finally let’s consider this primary motivation of mine–to learn.
I’m am going to write, but really also to listen and learn from my peers. Over the past few years, I’ve found story and publishing opportunities are optimized through tactile human contact. Meeting SF/Horror practitioners and especially fans at cons optimizes my writing workflow exponentially, but I will always need improvement. We never stop learning–it’s what makes human existence so grand (albeit, frustrating also, but worth the effort). Again, this summer workshop is singular in that it places over two dozen trans writers together, writing and discussing from different standpoints of experience, but all with many similar goals. I’ve never been in that place, and it should be a great place to work.

Still writing from the wound, still writing from the dreams,

PS–One way I dealt with fear of not belonging was/is to read other trans narratives. Apart from memoir, most of these narratives were penned by cisgender authors, but when their central spotlight focused on living trans and actually becoming the heroine? Believe you me, during the 1990s there wasn’t much available, so I lapped up everything I could find: Sick Burn Cut by Deran Ludd, Breakfast on Pluto by Patrick McCabe, Sarah by J.T. Leroy. Leroy turned out to prove a vastly problematic author for a number of reasons I’d rather not go into at the moment, but keep in mind that when I first transitioned, trans narratives written from honest, died-in-the-wool firsthand experiences of living transfeminism were hardly what one would call pervasive, much less daylighted by mainstream society or its media. Over the past decade, however, our own voices got pretty hot, our signal pretty strong. We have some amazing stories, as it turns out. It’s awesome.

PPS–and if my Trans101 viewpoint is really wanted that badly, we can start with a discussion of Clark Ashton Smith, the hidden dangers of lanyards, or what constitutes a legitimate Venom lineup.

On Trying to Write Badass Women

On Trying to Write Badass Women

Things happened quickly this month, my dying earth SF/F piece “Imperator–Terror Lizard (Part One)” appeared in The Healing Monsters, Volume One (Despumation Press), and my SF story “Miriam” was accepted for the Procyon Science Fiction Anthology 2016 (Tayen Lane Publishing). Jacob Haddon included me in a list of over 400 women writers working in Horror/SF. This makes me want to step up my game and get more subs out. I have the advantage of a day job with relative flexibility and bountiful academic resources, but I find I can sometimes lose momentum when I stray from my normally scheduled routine. Some health problems also sidelined me a bit over the last month, but I cleared that hurdle finally. Now it’s a matter of getting the routine back on track.

I read this piece over at Mythic Scribes on finding your Writer’s Voice. This was exactly something I was thinking about with the two pieces mentioned above: “Terror Lizard” and “Miriam” are both first person narratives written in past tense, and both command quite an assertive, even defiant female character presence. Both voices seemed similar in that they are tough with an air of regret, sadness. I’ve borne the sadness throughout my adolescence and adult life, but the toughness may be wish fulfillment on my part. Most people who have met me know I’m quite introverted but friendly, eager to please. I think that stems from my hardwired desire to be liked, and this often works against my own best interests. But when I channel these character voices, I go into full-on Xena mode. Wish fulfillment, sure—but it obviously sources from a legitimate spring. No author wants to sling bullshit when it comes to voice.

Another interesting thing in that article is that we can reveal a good deal about a character by what we omit, or merely imply with the use of voice. I’ve given away plenty of uncomfortable realities about myself in what I say but especially in what I don’t say. This is something I’d like to take better advantage of in my work, to thicken the complications and emotional resonance.

Heroes and heroines appeal to us as much through their faults and/or insecurities as do their victories and conquests. Strider/Aragorn/Elessar totally rips on himself after losing the Hobbits and The Fellowship at The Falls of Rauros, but he manages to regroup and make the best of it that he can.

I think what I’m trying to say is that with first-person narrative, I’d like to continue to channel that assertive, rebellious voice, but only where appropriate to the story. If there is too much commonality between stories in that wish-fulfilled muse, I could become my own banality, and that is a terrifying prospect for me—to cancel myself out just because I want to be more assertive in my own comings and goings.

Does this mean I want to channel the voice of a passive character, rather than an active one? Not necessarily. The voice of a victim is all the more compelling when she turns her situation around and at least escapes her lot (think the ultimate final girl—Sally Hardesty [Marilyn Burns] in Texas Chainsaw), but I also feel the polarizing forces, the ones that make me want to bring a character around and exact vengeance upon her antagonist[s]. But if she’s sneering with defiance all along, how can one detect a change in her character arc?

These are some things I want to try and work on as I move forward.