fantasy

Review: The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest

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The Green Man: Tales from the Mythic Forest is collection of fantasy short stories and poems that I found at the library. It was edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, the same duo who had edited another book I enjoyed, Black Swan, White Raven, so I decided to check it out. I loved the theme of the book, and since I just returned from a trip to the Redwood Forest, it felt like the right book for me to read. I'm glad I did, because while I didn't love all the stories, many of them were haunting and unique, and I'm looking forward to reading more from those authors.

Some of my favorite stories were "Grand Central Park," by Delia Sherman, "A World Painted by Birds" by Katherine Vaz, and "Joshua Tree" by Emma Bull. These stories captured the theme in beautifully imaginative ways, but each one was as different from the others as water from fire. In particular, I loved the coming-of-age theme in "Grand Central Park," as well as the heroine's kindness and generosity even as she "wins." Vaz's story is as gorgeous and lush as a canvas, yet as sorrowful and haunting as a poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca. I loved her imagery, and how the worst characters had some humanity in them, even the selfish General's Wife. In contrast, Bull's "Joshua Tree" was spare and understated, yet the germs of hope and freedom her main character discovers in the desert felt as tough as the trees in her title. It was a reminder that there's a beauty even in harsh, hard-to-survive environments, like high school and the desert.

Other notable stories included "Fee, Fie, Foe, et Cetera" by Gregory Maguire, "Remnants" by Kathe Koja, and "The Pagodas of Ciboure" by M. Shayne Bell. I loved Maguire's matter-of-fact take on fairy tales, where Jack has to contend with taxes and bureaucracy as much as a giant. Koja's "Remnants" on the other hand, had one of the darkest takes on the theme in the anthology. The forest of trash is both a refuge and perhaps a trap for the main character, who seems both magical and deeply disturbed. The dark secrets she uses the forest to conceal lurk beneath her supposedly sunny outlook, and the enemies she fears might be people trying to help her, if perhaps ineffectually. It's a story that definitely sticks in your mind, and raises uncomfortable questions about society and the "trash" we throw away. In contrast, "The Pagodas of Ciboure" is a charming, lovely story about the imagined childhood of one of my favorite composers, Maurice Ravel. I loved, loved, loved the pagodas, which are not Chinese temples but a type of French fairy creature made of porcelain, jewels, and crystal. The lovely little creatures and their relationship with a kind but sickly boy made this story one of the most enjoyable to read.

Overall, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in fantasy stories. Like many anthologies, there's such a wide variety of voices and approaches to the theme that it's easy to find stories to love.

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Five More SciFi/Fantasy Very Short Stories (July 2019)

I’ve stayed pretty busy, so I haven’t been posting as many very short stories on Twitter as I was. But I am trying to keep it up, since it’s so much fun! I wrote these stories for #vss365, #scififri, #scifansat, and #satsplat.

Soup

She stirs a pot of water, smiling. "I'm making soup," she says. "Try some."

"Delicious," I say, wishing we had real soup. 10 more days. "Sweetie--"

"Don't worry, Mommy. I know we don't have rations. I'll be brave until we land."

"Yes, baby." Tears cloud my eyes.

Greetings from Earth

The craft unfurled like a tangle of vines. The beings inside shimmered and glowed like sentient mists. I tried to call off the airstrike. Too late--they'd triggered our 1980's paranoia. I cried when it hit--burned everything to ash. I hope they didn't suffer.

Contact

It was nothing like we thought. The first signs were in the flight patterns of butterflies and the song of the whales. When the ship arrived, it was a green and translucent, more like a bubble than a craft. Their contact brought a revolution of peace.

Fortune

It was a joke, a fun thing to do for my bachelorette party the night before the wedding. But the old woman had palsied hands and milky white eyes, and she gasped when she touched my hand.

"What's my fortune?"

"Run," she said. "Don't look back."

I wish I'd listened.

Liberty

Her hands stray over the shackles she's spent months shaving away. Liberty, almost... A key turns in the lock; a guard shoves something in her cell. A child, tiny shackles around bony wrists. Sobbing. She wraps it in her arms.

"Shhh, it's okay. We'll be free. Someday."

If you enjoyed these stories, and are interested in reading more of them, please make sure to sign up for my newsletter!

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Xanthuss Marduk, the Sorcerer of Tea, Discusses Mythology and Worldbuilding!

How to Use Mythology to Worldbuild

I recently wrote a post about how to create better mythology for your world. If you’ve read that, or you’re already confident creating myths then this is the next step - using myths to worldbuild.

Using myths as a vehicle for worldbuilding is something I love to do. I often write a creation myth before anything else in my world. But how do we do this?

Remember, Myths were Once a Religion

If you’re writing myths that people still believe in, think of it as a religion. The primary difference is that classical myths were not codified like modern translations of the Bible are today. There was no single version, and many were recited by entertainers and not written down.

The myths we read today were once working religions. It is important to remember this. Much like the Bible, people truly believed in these stories and followed them. Using them to set their morals by, and understand the world.

If you’re writing myths that have no followers left, think about their impact when they did have followers.

Use Myths to Set the Tone of your Setting

Myths are an important way to colour your setting. For both your characters and your reader, they give context to history and natural laws. If all the heroes die, it sets a darker tone than a myth or legend where the heroine gets the girl.

The god of the moon, Gywndolin, from Dark Souls.

The god of the moon, Gywndolin, from Dark Souls.

Dark Souls tells the bulk of its lore through fragments of stories, many of which are merely legends and myths. They tell of a grander era than the one the player explores. A golden age of gods. That contradiction immediately tells us what is going on. Dark Souls is a story about the world slowly fading. Through each game, the myths get warped and we hear less and less about them. The facts start to give way to rumour.

If you instead decide to set a bright and heroic tone, your myths may always see the heroes win, and the gods will hand down the details of these events in perfect clarity.

Mix Politics and Mythology

Politics plays a surprising role in mythology. Many myths are promoted or rewritten to promote royal families or noble lineages who claim heroic ancestry. Cities are named after mythological figures. And oracles become the tools of politics.

The Oracle of Delphi was often a central player in the politics of the Greek city states, and for the right amount of gold, you might get a prophecy that’d cement your legacy. Whether or not the Oracle really spoke to Apollo was less important than the fact that the average person believed she did.

Marble busts of Hadrian and Antinous.    Photo by Carole Raddato   .

Marble busts of Hadrian and Antinous. Photo by Carole Raddato.

Another example. The death of Antinous, the lover of the Roman emperor Hadrian, led him to deify his love. Though it may have been solely because of his grief, creating a cult of worshippers loyal to his lover gave Hadrian political clout in Egypt. In the following centuries, the cult of Antinous became a political hot potato. Everyone from Christians to the Sibylline oracles criticized the legend of Antinous, often as a vehicle to attack Hadrian’s legacy itself. In the fight between Christians and Pagans, Antinous was used as a central figure and medals were issued with his face as anti-Christian propaganda. Christians responded by destroying statues of the god, and in 391 banned his worship entirely.

Think about how your world’s queens and lords have used myths to support their own rule or undermine their enemies. Do they claim descent from a god? Have they compared their enemy to a heartless villain? Have they proclaimed their favored historical figures demigods?

Consider Why the Myth was Popular

Who did your myths appeal to? The rich, the poor, the marginalized, the ruling class?

Farmers might hold agricultural myths close to heart, and these myths might hold important wisdom farmers need to know - like the order of the seasons or movement of the weather. The cult of Dionysus was popularized because it justified the excess of the Athenian elite, and parties under the pretense of worship were a great tool to make allies.

Today, LGBTQ people have adopted many myths like Tu Shen and Antinous into their own religious practices. They do this because they seek out representation like themselves, and find it in these ancient stories.

So what do the people of your world see in your myths that appeals to them?

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Thank you for your insights, Xanthuss! I personally love coming up with mythology that’s unique to my worlds, or else using existing mythology in a new and interesting way.

Reviews, Book Spotlights, and Author Interviews for Saints and Curses!

I’m so happy that Saints and Curses has been getting some excellent reviews and ratings on Goodreads and Amazon! In particular, I’m really happy about this review from Killian Wolf.

This Anthology is like opening up a portal and dipping into different magical worlds all in one book. Alexis Lantgen does it again in her newest Anthology, Saints and Curses, with her ability to weave magical worlds, so detailed, that you could almost hear the music playing from within the pages, or taste the food being served at a festival.

If you’d like to know more about how people are liking Saints and Curses, check it out!

In addition to an excellent review, I did another author interview at Meet the Author by Camilla Downs.

What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?

My family went on an incredible trip to the Redwoods National Park in California. Seeing the redwood forest–they’re the tallest trees on Earth, and it’s impossible to convey their majesty. It was the most magical place I’ve ever been, and I loved it. I want to go back again someday, and show the redwoods to my children.

Last but not least, I’m happy to have a book spotlight for Saints and Curses on Timothy Bateson’s Website! Thank you once again, Timothy!

My author copies for Arlingcon—I’m so excited to get them in!

My author copies for Arlingcon—I’m so excited to get them in!

Review: The Goblin Emperor

I'd heard about Katherine Addison's new book, The Goblin Emperor, and since it seemed like a story I might enjoy, I decided to give it a try. I'm happy I did, since it's one of the most refreshing and wonderful fantasy stories I've read in a while. Addison's main character, Maia, the half-goblin fourth son of an Elven emperor, is one of the most likable, sympathetic characters I've read in fantasy since Samwise Gamgee.  

Unlike much of the fantasy released today, The Goblin Emperor has very little darkness or dramatic action. It's a novel about how Maia, a neglected, exhiled fourth son, becomes emperor after the murder of his father and brothers and learns to navigate the treacherous, complex intrigue of his court. Yet the book has a profound emotional resonance, considering it's the story of a young man thrust into a new world were he struggles to find friends and allies, while worrying that people's lives depend on his every decision.

Maia grew up untrained in the skills he needs to rule, but he throws himself into learning everything about his court with enormous dedication. His compassion, sensitivity and willingness to defy traditions at first seem like terrible weaknesses in a place more used to the impassive, often cruel reign of his cold-hearted father. But as Maia grows into his role, his kind heart wins him the loyalty and love of his servants and some of his family. Although there's an intriguing mystery that unfolds as Maia searches for the people responsible for the airship crash that killed his family, the book on the whole is a domestic drama. Indeed, while the assassination and coup attempts against Maia give the book moments of intense drama, the true story feels more like a Bildungsroman (a coming of age story). 

While I enjoy Game of Thrones and other dark fantasy, I'll admit it was a huge relief to read this somewhat light-hearted, optimistic book about courtly intrigue. It shows how much real drama and emotion can revolved around the fear of public embarrassment or the longing for acceptance and friendship. I nearly cried in the last few pages when Maia ultimately rejects cruel, if well-intentioned advice to avoid friendship. The book's warm, positive message was a healthy reminder that while cruelty exists, there are far more Maias out there than Ramsey Boltons. Indeed, in The Goblin Emperor, Addison shows how love and loyalty can ultimately defeat ambition and cruelty. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the lighter side of fantasy, especially intrigues. 

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More Very Short Stories, Mixed Genres

Here are five more very short stories I’ve written recently in a mix of genres—science fiction, dark fantasy, and realistic. I had posted them on twitter under #vss365 and #scififri. Also, if you are a writer, some of the members of #vss365 are going to be making an anthology of very short stories, submitted on twitter via the hashtag #vss365a. You can find out more on the Making Fiction website, so if you’re interested in submitting, check it out!

Orion

Capt. Dayne surveyed the icy surface of Enceladus from the deck of the Orion.

"What are the surface readings? When can we attempt a landing?" she asked her science officer.

"Tomorrow," came the taciturn answer.

"Good. We're ready."

"Perhaps."

Regrets

I have a thousand regrets. Paths not taken, love not given, friends lost for no real reason. But I have never regretted even one kiss I gave your soft baby face, or one nuzzle of your fuzzy hair. There is never enough time to tell you how much I love you.

Sudden Silence

I perk my head up, aware of the sudden silence.

"What are you doing?" I call, my heart beating in trepidation. No answer.

"Kids! What are you up to?" There's a flurry of footsteps and whispers.

"Nothing, Mommy!"

I start running upstairs.

Reciprocated

"What happened?" Sal yelled over the blaring alarms.

"Meteor," Jen said. "Pierced the hull."

"Isolate the compromised sector."

"That's us. We'll die."

"Put on your breather. We'll work fast and find a patch."

"Done. And I love you."

"Reciprocated."

A Dream

The sound of rain on her window inspires reverie. She runs a hand over her swollen belly.

Who will you be? she wonders.

The baby kicks. She closes her eyes. She sees the rain turn to blood, and the patter on her window becomes the sound of distant gunshots.

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Five More Science Fiction/Fantasy Very Short Stories

Yes, I’m still writing tons of very short stories on twitter! Most of these I wrote for #vss365, with a couple that were for #scififri and #satsplat as well. I hope you enjoy them.

Vile

"What are these vile things?" he said, peering at the android.

The bot shuddered at his touch, and kept her eyes downcast.

"We should throw them into the fire along with the pervert who engineered them."

The bot transmitted a silent warning to her sisters.

Embrace

Her poisoned filaments floated in the water like gossamer strands of silvery hair. She stretched out her arms and smiled at him, a sailor who'd caught sight of her from the prow of his ship.

"Come to me," she sang. He dove after her. Sweet and soft, just as she liked.

Listen

"Listen, listen deeply. The susurrus of magic is there, like the heartbeat of the earth. You must hear it first, before you can sing back to it."

Flowers

Mist flows along the river like breath from the mountains. She hears the scream of a black hawk winging its away across the gorges. The paleden flowers are high on the slopes near the water, a dangerous climb. Raeda looks for a secure handhold.

Lamb

The fields bloomed a verdant green. He stroked lush leaves, the wealth of the earth, inhaling the heady scent of spring.

"Please," the Lamb whispered. "Let me go."

He smiled gently, almost kind. "You are a gift. Your blood will water the earth gods. Rejoice."

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Review: The Emerald Circus

I’ve written about Jane Yolen’s books before, which I have really enjoyed, especially her short stories. like Sister Emily’s Lightship. With that in mind, when I saw a new collection of Yolen’s stories, The Emerald Circus, I decided to take a look (I actually checked it out of the library!).

This book has some reprints of earlier stories I liked, including Sister Emily’s Lightship and Lost Girls. But I especially enjoyed reading some newer stories I hadn’t read before. In particular, I loved “A Knot of Toads,” which was a creepy, modern-gothic story set on the coast of Scotland. I loved the origins of the story and the references to history, but the characters really shine through, and I love how the main character’s views of the people around her are suddenly upended. Likewise, “The Quiet Monk” was passionate and romantic and beautiful, and the ending had a kind of quiet devotion that I loved. “Evian Steel” was another Arthurian -inspired story I enjoyed. It had a great twist ending, and gave a really fascinating perspective on familiar characters.

“Blown Away” was a dark and disturbing retelling of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz, form the point of view of one of the farm hands on Dorothy’s Uncle’s farm. It was strangely creepy and bleak, and the ending was both haunting and “off” in a fascinating, if not exactly satisfying way. The unreliable narrator and the constant uncertainty about who is telling the truth about Dorothy’s strange disappearance made it feel like there were terrible family secrets welling just beneath the surface.

Overall, I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in Jane Yolen’s writing, or in reading fantasy short stories, particularly reinterpretations of fairytales and legends.

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Fantasy Integration in Saints and Curses

Welcome to everyone stopping by from OWS CyCon 2019! Be sure to check out my author booth (I have one for fantasy and one for science fiction), and sign up for my newsletter using the form at the bottom of the page. Don’t forget to sign up for the giveaway too! I hope you enjoyed your previous stop on this blog hop, and now for my take on fantasy integration into society.

My newest book, Saints and Curses, is a collection of fantasy short stories. Since each story is different, the way fantasy relates to society is slightly different as well. So I’m going to focus on just two stories, “There Was a Nicholas Once,” which you can listen to for free at the Gallery of Curiosities podcast, and “Braids,” which you can find online at Swords and Sorcery Magazine. *Trigger Warning—Depicts Domestic and Sexual Abuse

“There Was a Nicholas Once” is set in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution. War, deprivation, and terrifying government purges have left many people struggling to survive. The main character, a witch-child, has horrifying visions that she can barely understand. In a society that brutally punishes anyone accused of disloyalty or dissent, her visions are a danger and a curse. Yet, the witch-child grows more comfortable with her visions, and with the dark powers she can feel in the cold winter forest.

In this story, fantasy isn’t integrated into society so much a dark undercurrent, a sign of the blood and trauma of the past and the desperation of the present.

“Braids” is set in the Middle Ages. When the Haar-witch Cresputina comes to Mont Noire, many people are at first afraid of her. But Cresputina can weave magic into women’s hair as she braids it, and soon all the women of the village come to her for their troubles. But while Cresputina is welcomed by some, others see it as dangerous and evil.

One of the things I like about this story, is that it shows many different reactions to magic, from joy and excitement, to fear and hate. I think that if we discover real life magic, it would likely face the same kind of mixed reactions. Not everyone will want to embrace it, just like some people reject modern medicine or other scientific discoveries today. Yet, I think most people would love a touch of magic in their lives!

Thank you for stopping by my post for the Urban Fantasy blog hop! The next post is on Mary Woldering’s blog, so be sure to stop by her blog next. And if you’re interested in hearing more from me, I’ll be taking over the Fantasy and Sci-Fi Reader’s Lounge Friday, May 17 from 1-2pm, and again on Sunday, May 19 from 8-9pm. Finally, make sure you sign up for my newsletter using the subscribe box below (and put that down for the giveaway)!

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Yes, even more Scifi/Fantasy Very Short Stories!

Yes, I wrote even more science fiction and fantasy Very Short Stories! These appeared on Twitter on the hashtags #scififri, #satsplat, and #vss365! I hope you enjoy them!

  1. "WILLOW! Bring me that antidote!" His slave stumbled into the room, tripping over her feet. He poked her with his cane.

    "Hurry!" Her hands shook as she poured a drink into his mouth. He cursed.

    "Wrong one, stupid girl!" He fell, his mouth foaming.

    Willow smiled.

  2. Water poured out of the sea caves and frothed at the bottom of the cavern, tearing at the rock with hungry force.

    "They call this place Charybdis," he said. "If someone fell down there, they'd be torn to pieces."

    Was that what had happened to her sister? she thought.

  3. She dropped her eyes and blushed, looking pretty and demure. It gave her the opportunity to give surreptitious glance at their guests' weapons. The milk-faced boy carried a fine sword, Damascus steel. His fingers drifted to the hilt like he knew how to use it.

  4. The cauldron boiled and seethed. Frothy black effervescence floated to the top. She sprinkled a couple of milky eyes into the brew. At last, when the smell burnt her nostrils, she poured him a tumbler full.

    "There," she said. "The strongest hangover cure I can make."

  5. The delicate butterflies flit over the surface of the lake, their wings silver and blue in the moonlight. They float around the waterfall and vanish in the mist.

    "Where do they go?" I whisper.

    "No one knows," Gran says. "But mayhap the fairies."