City Spirits 2: Customer Disservice


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customer disservice cover“Play stupid games, win stupid prizes.”

Monster hunter John Sawyer is laid up with the shingles, but that’s not going to save him when trouble comes calling. Now, face-to-face with a passel of fairies who have big plans for him and his friends, John will have to get out alive — and figure out just why his mysterious boss sent him there in the first place. The City Spirits series continues with Customer Disservice.


City Spirits 1: The Shrine on Harrison Street



theshrineonharrisonstreet“My God!”

yes. i am.

You never know just who you’re going to meet in a bus station. But until today, even monster-hunter Abby Marquise has never encountered haunted plumbing. Spirits, the power of belief, and practical ways to hide explosives while traveling all come into play in the first installment of City Spirits: The Shrine on Harrison Street.

Telling Tales: A Short Story Collection?


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I’ve talked before about how I date my writing career not from my first official published book (which is, nevertheless, a huge milestone) but from my first fanfiction efforts way back in 2001. The evidence is all gone now, thank merciful Christ, but those were still the days that began the grueling and still-ongoing process of teaching me how to make words line up good. That means that, as of today, Catherine-the-writer is now eighteen years old.

To celebrate, I’m going to be sharing some news I’m excited about. I’m compiling a series of short stories!

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“So Many Snacks, So Little Time”: Venom and the Art of Pacing


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I’m a big fan of this year’s least expected superhero smash, “Venom.” As you might have expected from somebody who had a staggering human-hearted clay-bleeding golem for a romantic hero, I’m not averse to a little body horror with my genre fiction, and the story of Eddie Brock–a man bonded with an outer-space parasite that wants to eat people–was certainly weird enough to qualify. Critics hated it, but “Venom” scored a surprise hit with audiences worldwide, hitting $822 million worldwide as of late November.

Not bad for a movie whose chief attraction was two hours of Tom Hardy losing his mind.

But there’s more than symbiote antics and acclaimed actors biting the heads off prop lobsters to recommend “Venom.” This humble tale of man and alien has done something that, in my opinion, most big-budget genre movies have failed to do in the last five years. “Venom” understands pacing.

Let’s talk about that. Spoilers follow.

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These Things Happen


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.”

The Bill



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


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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.

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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)


“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



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.

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