These Things Happen

Tags

Note: Another product of pondering this story and that. In stories, and sometimes in real life, people who put a toe out of line or are in danger of getting caught by the authorities tend to spontaneously lose their will to live. Funny how that works. 

“Yes, the police said it was an accident. He fell down an elevator shaft. Onto some bullets.” –Mystery Men

 

They found her wrapped in bandages, a mummy from a flick

They found the cordite in her hair, the marks from when she’d kick

They found her in a box outside the governor’s estate

“Suicide,” said the coroner, and then they closed the case.

 

They found the burning papers in the garden of the man

Who was on the lam for decades, playing catch-me-if-you-can

But when the cops caught up, it was his toe they had to tag

“Suicide,” said the coroner, putting pieces in the bag.

 

They found the dirty money paid out just before the drop

They found the buried files and the body of the cop

Who had asked too many questions of a lady and a gent:

“Suicide,” said the coroner. Man’s got to pay his rent.

 

They found, and kept on finding, and the question did arise

How a man bound hand and foot could shoot himself between the eyes

How the governor’s wife was always somewhere nearby, close to hand

Her alibi, impeccable. Her silence, iron-clad.

 

Suicide is painless if already dead when hung.

Suicide is simple when you’ve done what you have done.

And if askers keep on asking, ask the coroner his thought:

“Suicide,” said the coroner, “is easy. Just get caught.”

Advertisements

The Bill

Tags

,

Here’s Brian, the hero. Here’s Johnny, the fool.

Here’s Robert, the bastard, and Jonas, the tool.

Here’s Michael the cats’-paw and Miller the wise

And here’s follower Mary of the big blue eyes.

 

Here’s Will, the fanatic. Ah, but that one could hate!

Here’s Coll and Bill Starkey–damn me, what a weight!

Here’s Joe, who just wanted a new suit of clothes

And here’s pretty young Susan, who followed her Mose.

 

Here’s Roger and Roderick. In life and death

Some brothers fight bloodiest, choking for breath

With their knives in their backs and their hands around throats

For a woman–and both of ’em ugly old goats.

 

Here’s another one coming–I haven’t his name

But here’s old Badger Burley, who so wanted fame.

Here the smell’s growing thicker. Ah, pass me the cloth

And give over Dame Shovel to help see ’em off.

 

Here’s Mac from the north, who was led by a star

Here’s Amos, who took the wrong turn from the bar.

Here’s Susan’s young Mose–ah, they’re not parted rough.

Put him back by her side, boys, she’s small–room enough.

 

Here’s a pocket of coins. Well, it won’t feed the dead.

I’d say “Here’s to you,” but you haven’t a head.

Still, I’ll drink to your memory, whatever I will

And thank God it’s not me who is paying the bill.

Kill Your Muse

Tags

, ,

Inspiration is like an ex you’re not over yet. You want it, fantasize about it, maybe even structure your life around it … But you can’t rely on it, and when you try, all you end up with is a broken heart and the manuscript equivalent of a drained checking account.

I recently conducted an experiment in killing my muse. I deleted inspiration’s phone number, planted my ass in my chair, and walked another writer through doing the same. Let’s talk about it.

Continue reading

A Fossil Prayer

Plenty of people work out their religious thoughts in text. Some of the results are brilliant–see, for example, The Screwtape Letters. But I’m no C.S. Lewis, so I write doggerel instead.

On the other hand, this kind of thing is useful for keeping the words flowing. Speaking of which, new post coming soon on just that topic, so stay tuned.


 

A Fossil Prayer

Now I creep into the Temple, as the priests are gone away

As the beggars and the merchants watch a night come during day

As the children leave their schools, as the farmers tend no fields

As the ruler of the city stands behind his soldiers’ shields—

Now I creep into the Temple, with my basket on my arm

And I ask you, gracious idol god, to stand ‘tween us and harm.

 

Now I stand before the altar, where the braziers blaze and fume

Where the blood of sacrifices turns to smoke to fill the room

Where the endless golden tributes gild the altars and the gate

Where a dozen glorious gods will guide our city’s glorious fate

Now I stand before the altar, making tribute as I bow

And I ask you, snake and lion gods, to aid our city now.

 

Now I bend the knee in silence, while the heat grows ever worse

While the citizens around me cry and scream and pray and curse

While the clouds glow like a furnace and the earth is baking dry

While the wells are sudden emptied, and the sulfur stink is high

Now I bend the knee in silence, as my heart is full of fear

And I ask you, Baal and Asmodai, to make the sky turn clear.

 

Now my tongue is thick with ashes. Goddess, will you hear my plea?

Will the rain wash out the fire, will the desert turn to sea?

Will you come to aid your children who have poured out precious resin

On your altars and your shrines? Are they coming, all your djinn?

Now my tongue is thick with ashes and my throat is full of dread

And I ask you, Mother Goddess, why this curse is on my head.

 

Now the ash is all remaining. I am left to kneel alone

Now my flesh is cracked like pottery, my throat is filled with stone

The silent shell around me has imprinted what I am

An idol for the counting in the city of the damned.

And no gods have come to aid us, and no tongues will speak a word

As I kneel in prayer for Sodom, with all my prayers unheard.

Karidach’s Daughter (2018)

karidachsdaughtercover

“The Christians called it the Year of their Lord 942, and the Jews of Itil, with longer memories, said that it was 4702, while the Muslims and Persians insisted on different numbers altogether. But the Turkic-speaking nomads of the western plains of the Khazar Empire knew only that spring had come round again, and there was no need to confuse matters by assigning it a number …”

So we begin, with a scene of Sibir nomads beginning their version of spring cleaning by packing up to move to the grazing grounds. And so we meet Bahar, daughter of Karidach and daughter-in-law of Kuyuk, who is about to see more of the world than she ever thought possible.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up alongside my mother’s book. I saw it through multiple drafts, all the way from the old DOS files through the latest versions of LibreOffice. It was part of the background of my childhood.

Copies of various drafts were written, discarded, lost, misplaced, found, written on, used as drawing paper, and once provided the hiding place for a truly inventive silverfish which proceeded to scare years off my life. Mom’s upstairs workroom was graced with a map of early York, and in the later stages of the project, we might see her spinning raw wool with a drop spindle in the evenings. (She took her research seriously. I’m fairly certain the only reason we never had horse meat for dinner was that it’s pretty hard to get in Illinois.)

Twenty-six years since that project began, it’s finished. And Bahar, daughter of Karidach, Sibir nomad, is ready to be introduced to the wider world.

The book is Karidach’s Daughterby Anne Butzen, and it’s available on Kindle now. I can attest to the amount of exhaustive research that went into the story: the steppes and the proto-Kiev of 942 are only the beginning. It’s part of a setting and an era that don’t get a lot of attention in fiction, and it’s as true to life as a writer with twenty-six years of practice can make it.

And despite reading thousands of books in my own thirty years, I’ve never met anyone else quite like Bahar. She’s quiet, steady, practical, pious, and seemingly biddable, with a hidden core of pure steel and a fire that her hardships haven’t quite managed to stifle. She faces up to the challenges of her new life, but isn’t entirely immovable either; part of the joy of following this project was seeing how the main character grew and changed as the story unfolded.

Karidach’s Daughter. After twenty-six years, it’s ready to be read.


Disclaimer: As the author is my mother, I own some obvious bias here. Karidach’s Daughter is a novel intended for adults and contains some mentions or depictions of adult subject matter, including sexual assault, so be aware of that if you find such topics triggering.

Radziwill’s Mysterious Mummies

Tags

,

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to join a board game party at the house of a friend. It’s always a delight to be in a group with other nerds: conversation flows fast, but you never know just what you’re going to end up discussing. Except when I’m in the party, of course, at which point the conversation always somehow ends up touching on Egypt.

(I know, I know. I have a problem.)

During the party, someone asked me just when mummies became monsters. I wasn’t able to give a full answer (though I did manage to issue my usual pre-monologue warning, which is something along the lines of “Do you have about thirty minutes for the answer?”), but it’s definitely a topic I love, and when I got home I spent some time reading through some bits of this and that from my research. And one piece I’ve decided to share.

The classic answer to “when did mummies become monsters?” is usually “Around 1699.” That’s when Louis Penicher published his Treatise on Embalmingincluding a story of a supposedly cursed or malevolent pair of mummies that bedeviled a ship. The tale is taken from the letters of one “Radzevil,” who appears to be one of the Mikolaj Radziwills; which one, I’m not sure. Penicher sets the scene and then turns it over to Radziwill, who has purchased two mummies to bring back to Europe.

Continue reading

Dreams of the Rude-Book Fiend: An Ode to Bibliophilia

I love the word “rude.” Nowadays it’s mostly used to just mean … well … rude, IE unpleasant, uncouth, uncivilized, and a host of other “un”s related to how one behaves in polite company. But back in the olden days I love to talk about so much, it variously meant things like “roughly-made” (“a rude table” certainly wasn’t cussing anyone out), “ignorant or unsophisticated” (the rude peasantry, staging all those uprisings) or even “robust.” Much like a certain f-word which rhymes with “maggot,” the word “rude” went through many meanings. And when I call myself a fan of rude books, I use all of those meanings.

Most of my book collection consists of books which are either roughly-made (small-press releases, half-bound review copies), unsophisticated (explosions! Explosions everywhere!), robust (if it doesn’t merit at least two rereads, it doesn’t go on the shelf), and, yes, uncouth (at least in the eyes of the “genre fiction isn’t real writing” crowd). I love rude books, in all their forms. And aside from the few rarities that live on my designated Egypt Shelf, the books are well-loved: I tend to read them until they fall apart, at which point I either buy another copy or get out the Scotch tape.

Here, then, is part of my library, and some of the books that I consider invaluable for a collection. Please forgive the terrible photographs.

Continue reading

Review: Cadaver & Queen by Alisa Kwitney

Tags

,

Now, I’m not the sort of person who’s going to make fun of people who want sexy monsters. I’m proud to say that I’m one of the few authors to comprehensively treat that vital question, “How do you make a dried-up walking corpse attractive?” However, it is worth nothing that there’s been a recent upswing in the number of monsters the Internet has collectively deemed sexable. Vampires have been objects of sexual attraction for over a century; werewolves have a longstanding reputation for animal magnetism; in recent years, even zombies and fish-men have gotten a chance to shine as romantic leads. And truly modern creations like the Predator and Venom (of the Spider-Man franchise) have legions of fans who would be willing to take a walk on the wild side with them.

Out of all the classic horror creatures, though, Frankenstein’s monster has been somewhat left behind by this new trend. Like the Mummy and the zombie, Frankenstein’s monster has the taboo of necrophilia attached to it, and unlike the Mummy or the zombie, the monster can’t excuse away his undead nature via the use of convenient magic. His origin story is inextricably tied to mad science and all the gruesome details that come with it. Furthermore, he’s chiefly familiar as the Boris Karloff monster, and the subtleties of his original book incarnation have been overwritten in the public memory by the green-skinned, bolt-necked, grunting giant.

Alisa Kwitney’s Cadaver & Queen finds clever ways to solve all of those problems. Not only does her monster owe more to the intelligent, tragic creature of the book than the Karloff incarnation, but she kills two birds with one stone by rolling monster and creator into one. In this late-Victorian alternate universe where steampunk-esque mad science has created a whole new category of life, Victor Frankenstein has himself become the tragic undead.

Some spoilers ahead, so beware!
Continue reading

Here’s to Mothers Who Write

Tags

Imagine turning over your drawing paper to abruptly find a scene of chaos in a tenth-century Norse tavern. Previously, your main concern had been to see if the other side of the paper was blank, so you could draw another picture without having to make another trip to the scrap paper box; now you’re frantically digging through that same box, looking for the paper that holds the next piece of the scene.

From about 1995 onwards, digging through the scrap paper box in our family home was a bit like literary Russian roulette. Both parents were voluminous writers, but while Dad’s scrap paper would have code sequences and technical documentation that a seven-year-old couldn’t make heads or tails of, Mom’s papers provided brief glimpses of a strange, ancient world full of culture clashes and vivid characters. It sounds like the beginning of a joke: “A Turkish nomad, an Anglian wool merchant, and a Norse whoremonger walk onto a ship …”

Continue reading

Gods and Monsters VII: Conclusion (It’s Always Sunny in Hamunaptra)

Tags

, ,

(This is the finale of a series about the man, the myth, the legend–the Mummy. Part one is here, or follow the “gods and monsters” tag to see all the installments. Information was sourced from a variety of books, articles, films, and museum resources, but all opinions and conclusions are my own. A spoiler warning is in effect. Thank you for reading!)

VII — Conclusion (It’s Always Sunny in Hamunaptra)

The Mummy began as an artificial construct. Unlike fellow Universal alumni Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man, the Mummy did not derive from a longstanding mythological tradition or primal human fear. Instead, he arose from a fundamental cultural misunderstanding, as modern Western minds misinterpreted ancient Eastern practices.

In a time when it was seen as the West’s right to control, exploit, and plunder the ancient dead, the prohibitive moral hazards of tomb desecration—and the natural hazards of exploration, such as disease and death—manifested in the popular consciousness as evidence of vague but dangerous curses. The cinematic Mummy initially arose to explain these curses, but through multiple iterations became the central figure of the drama. In doing so, he evolved his own character: as a cursed man, cast out for love. A sacrilegious man at the least, often a murderer, but almost always a tragic character whose downfall came from the best of intentions.

Continue reading