Sunday, February 14, 2016

'Weird' is resurrected, and seeks your identity - Weirdbook Review by SE

Weirdbook 31Weirdbook 31 by Doug Draa
S.E> rating: 4 of 5 stars

'Weird' is resurrected, and seeks your identity: Weirdbook Magazine aims to deliver a menu of genres: “fantasy, dark fantasy, sword and sorcery, ghost, horror, heroic fantasy, science fantasy or just plain odd” (quote from their submission requests online). This is fitting because “Weird Fiction” grew out of the pulp magazine era (~1920’s) when the above list was all mashed into one genre. In 1967 W. Paul Ganley edited Weirdbook magazine, its compelling run ceased in 1997 (Back issues available via Ganley’s ebay store). A century from its origins, Weird Fiction still has followers, but its identity is split across myriad markets/venues; in 2015, editor Doug Draa partnered with John Betancourt of Wildside Press to reboot the magazine.

Cover and Themes: Weirdbook 31 contains 19 short stories ( ~10 are traditional length, ~9 are very short/flash fiction) and 8 poems. Many associate Weird Fiction with “Mythos/Lovecraft Horror”; expect some influence, but the net was cast wider. The vast majority of the 19 stories are modern-day ghost/horror stories; less represented are ones with sci-fi elements--which had ~3 entries, and the Sword-n-Sorcery/Fantasy-Myth type--numbering ~2. This mix was unexpected because the Front cover by artist Dusan Kostic appeals to Dark Fantasy readers. The cover arguably leads nicely into the opening story by John R. Fultz, which is one of my favorites of the collection. The back cover by Stephen Fabian was originally planned to be the front cover.
Weirdbook31 back cover by S. Fabian
If there is a predominant theme across these disparate stories, it is “Finding Personal Identity.” Greater than half of the stories deal with possession, haunts, or missions around the protagonists defining/dealing-with “who they are.” I enjoyed finding that theme but it was not clearly designed. I would have enjoyed the collection even more if there was an explicit sub-theme. With all that could be ‘Weird Fiction,” having a theme per issue would help readers know when they should delve in.

My personal favorites include: Fultz’s ghostly myth Chivaine, the two wilderness adventures from Riley and Aquilone (Into the Mountains with Mother Old Growth and The Grimlorn Under the Mountain), Schweitzer’s ghost story Boxes of Dead Children, and Laish’s plight of a raven The Jewels That Were Their Eyes. Short-fiction wise, Harriett’s Zucchini Season and Gregg Chamberlain’s Missed It By That Much both made me laugh aloud. On the poetry front, the one that most affected me as Bride of Death by Dave Reeder.

In all, Weirdbook is solidly reborn with #31; looking forward to see how #32 shapes up.

Content / Author/ milieu-tone

  • Chivaine by John R. Fultz (sword-n-sorcery, ghosts, myths)
  • Give Me the Daggers by Adrian Cole (modern/gothic noir, silly side of carnivals & crime)
  • The Music of Bleak Entrainment by Gary A. Braunbeck (modern horror sound - physics)
  • Into The Mountains with Mother Old Growth by Christian Riley (modern wilderness adventure-weird)
  • The Grimlorn Under the Mountain by James Aquilone (another modern wilderness adventures- weird)
  • Dolls by Paul Dale Anderson (modern possession ghost-like witches)
  • Gut Punch by Jason A. Wyckoff (modern possession – crazy mother and psychologists)
  • Educational Upgrade by Bret McCormick (modern Possession - Gypsy magic)
  • Boxes of Dead Children by Darrell Schweitzer (modern Ghost Story)
  • The Forgotten by D.C. Lozar (very short fiction – modern trippy experience)
  • Coffee with Dad’s Ghost by Jessica Amanda Salmonson (very short fiction – modern ghost story)
  • Missed It By That Much by Gregg Chamberlain (very short fiction – very funny zombie/writer theme)
  • A Clockwork Muse by Erica Ruppert (sci-fi-ish, robots)
  • The Rookery by Kurt Newton (very short fiction – modern day hunting story)
  • Wolf of Hunger Wolf of Shame by J. T. Glover (sci-fi-ish, non-humanoid protagonist)
  • Zucchini Season by Janet Harriett (very short, meet Death herself, she can laugh)
  • The Jewels That Were Their Eyes by Llanwyre Laish (medieval, non-humanoid protagonist)
  • The Twins by Kevin Strange (very short modern day, resurrection gone bad)
  • Princess or Warrior? by S.W. Lauden (sci-fi-ish, very short modern day)


  • The City in the Sands by Ann K. Schwader
  • NecRomance by Frederick J. Mayer
  • Walpurgis Eve by Kyle Opperman
  • Sonnets of an Eldritch Bent by W. H. Pugmire
  • Castle Csejthe by Ashley Dioses
  • The Shrine by Wade German
  • Bride of Death by Dave Reeder
  • Modern Primitive by Chad Hensley

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Ken Kelly Original - Found by Rathen (Grant Elliot Smith)!

Spawn of Dyscrasia - Original on the move!

Ken Kelly with Grant Elliot Smith
The concept and making of Spawn of Dyscrasia's cover by Ken Kelly is documented in three posts; in short, after springing for the commission and the rights to use it as a cover, I had exhausted my funds. To obtain copy for my house I purchased a signed giclee print in lieu of the original. At that point, I did not know what would become it. 

This month a fellow Sword & Sorcery author, Grant Elliot Smith, reached out to communicate that he had purchased the original from Ken. What an honor! It gratifying on many levels, and it is great to know where the original lives.  It is equally rewarding to connect with like-minded writers, and I'm proud to help with the cover reveal of Grant Smith's adventure due for release in Feb 2016:

Rathen: The Legend of Ghrakus Castle

by Grant Elliot Smith (cover by Matt Stawicki)

Rathen, a former Captain in King Delvant’s army, retired to a quiet backwater town after the Kingdom’s forces were dissolved following the King’s sudden death. Trying to forget his problems by the copious use of strong ale, he is approached by the emissaries of a powerful lord to lead a team of fighters, healers and mages to dispel brigands from his lands. Rathen quickly recruits his best friend, an ex-gladiator and landlord of the local tavern, Bulo, to assist him. The two join other members of the group and begin to hear stories of magical creatures and numerous dead in the land they are supposed to cleanse. Despite this, they head for Ghrakus Castle and on the way they learn of the Castle’s dark and mysterious history.
Finally arriving at Ghrakus, where the full horror of their task becomes clear, they realize that their chances of returning home were indeed very slim and that betrayal awaits him.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues is Highly Recommended Dark Fantasy - Review by S.E.

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and RoguesBlackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues by J.M. Martin
S.E. Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues is Highly Recommended Dark Fantasy: This collection is largely Dark Fantasy. As the subtitle says, this not just about Assassins--there are plenty similar lawbreakers featured: Thieves, Smugglers, and Mercenaries. As J.M. Martin clarifies in his introduction:
"Blackguard, by the way, is actually pronounced ‘blaggard,’ as in haggard. The term seemingly originated from scullions and kitchen-knaves, in particular those in courtly caravans who were in charge of the pots, pans, utensils, and the conveyance of coal … one could extrapolate that a ‘blaggard’—also ‘blagger’ in some texts—is a ‘rag-tag deceiver with grandiloquent habits.’"
Crowdfunded Gateway: Anthologies often function as a way to speed-date authors. Want to get acquainted with those who write about a theme you crave? Then find a thematic anthology and shop around! The Sword & Sorcery genre spawned from short stories; for many decades anthologies needed no classification. But in the last few decades, within the dark fantasy genre associated with S&S, there has been a move toward themes—which is great (i.e., Rogue Blade Entertainment’s Rage of the Behemoth and Heroika 1: Dragon Eaters come to mind). Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues provides a whopping 27 stories—24 of which are linked to established series. The “Roll-Credits” section in the end is designed to link readers to the authors they just liked. Classy. This book was launched via Kickstarter and Ragnarok Publications delivered a solid product. Me? I was just a Bung Nippers level supporter, but am still part of the band wagon and proud to be acknowledge in the contributor section.

Variety: A menu of 27 entries starts off with ~4 female protagonists, which was unexpected and enjoyable. The range of characters and milieu is truly broad. There is surprisingly little redundancy. As mentioned above, the Sword & Sorcery genre was influential: Michael J. Sullivan and Paul Kemp offer duos reminiscent of Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar “Fafred and Mouser”; and Jon Sprunk seemed to write a pastiche/fan-fiction of Glen Cook’s The Black Company.
Many are tales of betrayal and grim situations; the most impactful was Peter Orullian ’s "A Length of Cherrywood" which was uber-dark, but very well written--this story is one you’ll enjoy reading once, and then never again. Not all these are grim. There are several comedic entries, the funniest for me was Richard Lee Byers’s "Troll Trouble" which had me laughing out loud. There are several others that have the protagonist as savior/hero, or the target of blackguards; Kenny Soward’s "Jancy's Justice” was one such which also offered a bit of steampunk/gnome technology. The last several entries really cast the net: James Enge casts Odysseus as a blackguard, Lian Hearn provides some Japanese inspired darkness, Snorri Kristjansson offers Viking flare, and Anton Strout brings a psychic- sorcery into contemporary art crime.

Personal Favorites: S.R. Cambridge’s "The Betyár and the Magus" blends magic into western-European history—great characters and setting. Equally entertaining & well written was Shawn Speakman’s dose of druidic/Celtic lore; his "The White Rose Thief" made me aware of “Rosenwyn Whyte” a musician with a dark past which I am anxious to read more about. Tim Marquitz ’s "A Taste of Agony" got me intrigued about the “outlaw, eunuch assassin Gryl”, even though the story’s mission was obscure. Anthony Ryan’s "The Lord Collector" offered it all—an intriguing world of assassins, dark magic, and interesting characters.

Art: The cover art by Arman Akopian is nicely done and representative on the book’s contents (yes, there are plenty of female protagonists). Interior art for each of the stories is bonus flare, well done by artists Orion Zangara and Oksana Dmitrienko

Foreword by Glen Cook
Introduction by J.M. Martin
JEAN RABE, "Mainon" (Original tale) *
BRADLEY P. BEAULIEU, "Irindai" (Shattered Sands) *
CAT RAMBO, "The Subtler Art" (Serendib)
CAROL BERG, "Seeds" (Lighthouse Duet)
KENNY SOWARD, "Jancy's Justice" (GnomeSaga)
MICHAEL J. SULLIVAN, "Professional Integrity" (Riyria)
RICHARD LEE BYERS, "Troll Trouble" (Plague Knight)
PAUL S. KEMP, "A Better Man" (Egil and Nix) *
DJANGO WEXLER, "First Kill" (Shadow Campaigns)
MARK SMYLIE, "Manhunt" (The Known World)
JOHN GWYNNE, "Better to Live than to Die" (Faithful Fallen)
MARK LAWRENCE, "The Secret" (Broken Empire)
LAURA RESNICK, "Friendship" (Silerian Chronicles)
CLAY SANGER, "The First Kiss" **
SHAWN SPEAKMAN, "The White Rose Thief" (The Dark Thorn)
PETER ORULLIAN, "A Length of Cherrywood" (Aeshau Vaal)
TIM MARQUITZ, "A Taste of Agony" (Prodigy series)
JAMES A. MOORE, "What Gods Demand" (Seven Forges)
DAVID DALGLISH, "Take You Home" (Shadowdance)
JOSEPH R. LALLO, "Seeking the Shadow" (Book of Deacon)
JON SPRUNK, "Sun and Steel" (Shadow Saga)
S.R. CAMBRIDGE, "The Betyár and the Magus" **
SNORRI KRISTJANSSON, "A Kingdom and a Horse" (Valhalla Saga)
JAMES ENGE, "Thieves at the Gate" (Morlock)
LIAN HEARN, "His Kikuta Hands" (Tales of the Otori)
ANTHONY RYAN, "The Lord Collector" (Raven's Shadow novella)*
ANTON STROUT, "Scream" (Simon Canderous Chronicles)
* stretch goal achieved
** open submissions winners (

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Relic Hunted - Guest Post by Ohioan Terry Ervin

Today we welcome author Terry Ervin as guest blogger as he announces his newest novel Relic Hunted (released - January 18th, 2016).  Here he discusses his inspirations for writing.

Terry W. Ervin II is an English and science teacher who enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction. He hails from central Ohio. His First Civilization’s Legacy Series (fantasy) includes Flank HawkBlood Sword, and Soul ForgeThe Crax War Chronicles, his science fiction series, includes Relic Tech and Relic Hunted (his most recent release from Gryphonwood Press). In addition to writing novels, Terry’s short stories have appeared in over a dozen anthologies, magazines and ezines. Genre Shotgun is a collection containing all of his previously published short stories. You can get his work from a variety of vendors and sites (link).

What Ifs

Readers, and occasionally writers early in their careers, ask where I come up with ideas, because indeed, some of my ideas are out of the mainstream, even for fantasy and science fiction.

Thoughts strike me when driving and thinking, or while watching a Discovery or History Channel program on TV. Sometimes it’s the news or something I’m reading, or maybe simple curiosity on my part. Now, a lot of people have ideas and ‘what if’ questions that strike them. But a writer is someone like me that types (okay, word processes) them out, and gets them published for others to read.

My first published story “Tethered in Purgatory” originated from pondering what might happen to souls of individuals placed in cryogenic preservation. I was curious—heck, aren’t you, at least now that I brought it to your attention? So, after a research and reflection, I wrote a story that explored one possibility.

I read about and study history and follow modern politics, after a fashion. Recalling an episode of Space, Above and Beyond (a short-lived and moderately interesting series) that featured a black hole as part of its plot-line, while doing a little research on Winston Churchill, I came across one of his quotes:
"If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory, because it is better to perish than to live as slaves."
From that combination of thoughts (black hole, Churchill quote, modern politics), I wrote “Seconds of Eternity” where humanity, through shortsighted leadership, is on the brink, facing its twilight. Enter Mac ‘Race’ Parson, a second line fighter pilot with his green wingman, Bronco Bob, in their antiquated Starfury IVs. What will Mac Parson risk—be willing to endure—on a long shot bid to stave off humanity’s extinction for maybe another six months?

A fantasy example? That would be where the notion for Flank Hawk originated, which became the initial novel in my First Civilization’s Legacy Series. The initial spark occurred while driving home from work. I was thinking about two books I’d recently re-read, Zelazny’s Guns of Avalon and Turtledove’s World War: In the Balance. One of the main turning points in Guns of Avalon occurs when Prince Corwin discovers a way to get gunpowder to function in the magical city of Amber. In the Balance is about an alien invasion during the height of World War II. The disparity in technology between the invaders and humanity is a major element in the novel’s conflict. Then I began to ponder, what would happen if a dragon encountered a World War II aircraft? Okay, maybe one can see how the line of thought formed. From there I began to devise a world where such an encounter could take place.

Next came the people and creatures that would inhabit the post-apocalyptic world, how it came to be, and the long-running, multi-layered power struggle that would come to influence events in the plot that I was devising. Finally, came Krish and Lilly, Roos and Road Toad—the main characters in the novel.

Relic Tech, the first novel I wrote, but not the first one published (an interesting story there, but not germane to this article), came from a combination of me thinking about socio-economic disparity, and what type of socio situation might segregate humans in the future. The notion of technology, including access to and use of it, took center stage. Also, at the time, I was presenting some literary terms and devices to my classes (I’m an English teacher). One of those concepts was a Frame Story.

From there, Relic Tech was born, with the protagonist, 4th Class Security Specialist Krakista Keesay. Being an R-Tech or Relic, Specialist Keesay uses and depends on late 20th century technology to do his job—serving as a security specialist aboard the Kalavar, an aging interstellar civil transport. With shotgun and bayonet, brass knuckles, and a chip on his shoulder, Specialist Keesay gets caught up in political and corporate intrigue, all while trying to survive an overwhelming interstellar invasion that threatens humanity’s existence. Or, better yet for Specialist Keesay, killing as many Crax as possible before they bring him down.

That brings me to my newest release, Relic Hunted, the sequel to Relic Tech, as part of my Crax War Chronicles. To the backdrop of the continuing Crax War, again meaning plenty of action, the theme of security vs. personal identity is explored.

To contact Terry or learn more about his writing endeavors, visit his website at and his blog, Up Around the Corner at

Friday, January 15, 2016

Fiction & Art Inspired By the Mappae Clavicula, Guest Post by S.E. Lindberg

Fiction & Art Inspired By the Mappae Clavicula, Guest Post by S.E. Lindberg

"...I have to say this is probably the most interesting guest post I’ve ever read! I love hearing what inspires the other authors, I really do, as for me ‘the story behind the pen’ is at least as interesting as the story itself...."
Sincere thanks to my host Jennifer Loiske who extended an invitation to discuss my muses & recent contribution to Perseid Press’s Heroika: Dragon Eaters. Please follow the link and check out my answers to:

1)  What are your muses?

2) What is the Mappae Clavicula?

3) How did medieval artists source their materials?

4) What is magical about making paint and art?

5) What is the allure of alchemical writings?

6) How did alchemy inspire your Heroika: The Dragon Eaters contribution?

7) Do you write other books inspired by alchemy

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Stephen Leigh - Immortal Interview

2021 Update: This interview was refreshed for a Black Gate posting with a annotated/deleted chapter!

The series of "Art & Beauty in Weird/Fantasy Fiction" interviews engage contemporary authors & artists to reveal their muses; this one features Stephen Leigh, author of many books including Immortal Muse (S.E. Review link), which is a beautiful blend of historical fiction and alchemical fantasy. Let's learn about his muses.

Bio:  Stephen Leigh (SL) hails from Cincinnati and has professionally published over 26 novels and ~50 short stories (including those in George RR Martin's WILD CARDS).  Steve has several identities, having also written under the pseudonyms “S. L. Farrell” and “Matt Farrell” in both the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres.  He is a musician and vocalist too, active in several local bands. Stephen teaches creative writing at Northern Kentucky University and has mentored many via his teaching and his online essays.

SE: Pseudonyms & Genre Muses:  You've written dozens of novels in various genres. Do you have different muses per genre?

SL: No, I just have wide tastes in what I like to read, which means I have similarly wide tastes in what I like to write.  To my mind, there’s only one Muse, no matter what creative endeavor I’m engaged in or what genre I’m writing.

SE: Cross-over Muses: Is there any muse that inspired you to express something in multiple forms?  If so, please identify the books/music that are connected.  If not, have you considered linking the content of your music and writing?

SL: In CROW OF CONNEMARA, my latest book (like IMMORTAL MUSE, a stand-alone novel... sorta), one of the main protagonists is a musician. As a result, there’s a lot of Celtic music referenced and quoted in the novel, and at one point, he sings one of his ‘original’ songs… but of course that’s one of mine, actually.  Unfortunately, though I’ve played the song out several times on gigs, I don’t have a recording of it to share…

Similarly, in the WILD CARDS shared world series (edited by George RR Martin), with which I’ve been involved since the beginnings way back in the mid-80s, one of my characters is “Drummer Boy”, who’s in a band called “Joker Plague.”  The Joker Plague lyrics I’ve quoted in a few books in that series are all mine, some from songs I’ve written, other just made up for the situation.

SE: Fine Arts: You play in bands and write, but your bachelor's degree is in Fine Arts. Any chance your foundations will emerge publicly? Is there a sketch, photograph, or painting we can share? 

SL: Here are a few…  Below is a sketch I did a few years back -- of nothing in particular, just a landscape in my head...
S.Leigh Sketch 
Here are a couple others, another pencil sketch and a watercolor, again imaginary landscapes.
S. Leigh Watercolor and Sketch

A Miccail, by S. Leigh
And just for a change of pace, I drawing I did of a Miccail for DARK WATER’S EMBRACE, which never went into the original publication, but was added when I got the rights back to the book and re-published the novel through Arc Manor/Phoenix Press -- that version’s still available on Amazon.

On my website, in what I call “The Attic,” there are some old illustrations that I put together to help me visualize the setting of a novel, but were never used by the publishers.  The Attic’s at if anyone wants to check them out.

Oh… and for epic fantasy books set in alternate worlds, I generally create a map to help me ‘see’ the landscape of the world.  You’ll find such in the Cloudmages series (by S.L. Farrell:  HOLDER OF LIGHTNING, MAGE OF CLOUDS, and HEIR OF STONE) and in the Nessantico Cycle (also by S.L. Farrell: A MAGIC OF TWILIGHT, A MAGIC OF NIGHTFALL, and A MAGIC OF DAWN) -- for all of those, I created the maps that are in the books.

SE: Pubs and Beer: Is there a bar/pub within greater Cincinnati/Newport that inspired Immortal Muses' "Bent Calliope"? Is there a coven of artisans who meet there?

SL: I like the idea of a ‘coven’ of creative types, but I’m afraid not; the Bent Calliope was wish fulfillment on my part. I’ve played music in (and had a drink or two in) lots of bars and taverns over the decades. I wish here was a local bar like that -- a kind of creative “Cheers” where everybody knows your name (and what you wrote/composed/drew/painted/sculpted/published), and where a real Muse occasionally dropped in to enhance what you were doing -- wouldn’t that be nice!

But if one exists, I’ve yet to find it.  Alas.

SE: Art & Alchemy? Prior 1600, scientists and artists had overlapping interests/skills; scientists had to draw their own data in sketchbooks; conversely, artists had to craft/prepare their own pigments and materials (via chemistry). Artists and alchemists frequented the same apothecaries. The art & science of transmuting materials was a shared goal. What inspired you to fictionalize alchemical history and begin Immortal Muse?

Modigliani's Jeanne Hébuterne
SL: Honestly, the alchemy came in late in the process -- for me, inspiration for novels generally springs from more than one source.  Here’s how it happened with IMMORTAL MUSE… (It’s a longish tale, so settle in…I’ll try to be concise. Honest.)  In January of 2010, I’d finished A MAGIC OF DAWN, the last of the ‘Nessantico Cycle’ books (written as “S.L. Farrell”) and I’d begun thinking about what I wanted to write next.  In the mornings, I generally go through a short list of websites as part of my routine; one site was the BBC’s “Pictures of the Day” (alas, they no longer do this…) where they collected striking photographs from around the world.  That day, one of the pics showed a woman reflected in (I believe) a hubcap, which stretched and elongated her figure.  Huh, I thought, that reminds me of the Modigliani paintings from my Art History classes… which sent me off googling Modigliani.

In doing that, I noticed that many of Modigliani’s portraits were of the same woman, Jeanne Hébuterne.  Here’s one. So I also googled Jeanne Hébuterne, and came across a photograph of her.
Jeanne Hébuterne
I was immediately struck by her, especially those wonderful, dark, soul-searching eyes.  I looked up the incredibly tragic story of the love affair between Jeanne and Amedeo (I’ll leave it to the reader to find that for themselves). I also wrote a blog post about that bit of serendipitous research, the last line of which was: “If a (much younger and unattached) me were sent back to 1916 or so, I might go looking for Jeanne. Maybe I'll just put her in a story instead...”  Mind you, I had no thoughts of actually doing that at that moment.  But the thought was now in my subconscious.

So, moving on…  I habitually read a lot of non-fiction (I think of it as “mining for ideas”) and one such was a book by Francine Prose called THE LIVES OF THE MUSES, about several well-known women who had been the muses of and influenced the artistic creations of the artists whom they loved.  It was a decent book that I enjoyed reading (though someone needs write a book which includes male muses…).  And I started wondering: What if…  What if there was a genuine Muse, a person who literally did enhance the creativity of an artist?  Maybe that could be my next book: an urban fantasy around that concept.  Hmm…  But I couldn’t quite find the ‘hook’ I wanted in that idea.  (And so that thought went into the subconscious hopper, too).

While I was flailing around, I read through some old novel proposals I’d started and abandoned.  One was about two immortal people chasing each other through time.  The proposal really sucked (which is why I never sent it out), but I found that I still had some fascination with the core idea there.  (Into the hopper…)

Thinking about immortality took me into doing some research on alchemy, which quickly led me to Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel, and the story that after Nicolas died (as a fairly rich man), grave robbers broke into his tomb because they thought there might be valuables buried with him… and found that the tomb was empty.  And there were rumors that people had glimpsed Nicolas and Perenelle long after their supposed deaths.  Hmm…  Into the hopper.

I was also at the time reading another non-fiction book (translated from French) called PARIS IN THE MIDDLE AGES, by Simone Roux.  It looks at the same timeframe as the Flamels (though it doesn’t particularly mention them) but there were lovely atmospheric details in the book that drew me into wanting to set a story in Paris in that time.  Yes, into the hopper…

And (finally, at last!), at a dinner with some friends, we started talking about vampires and why every other book in the bookstores at that time seemed to be another vampire story.  (No, IMMORTAL MUSE has no vampires!)  I posited during that conversation that one reason vampires had such popularity is that can potentially live forever, and that hey, I might be willing to trade having to suck blood from the living for that chance.  (Into the hopper…)

It all came together in the shower, a morning or two after that conversation. (I know, try to get that image out of your mind…)  What if -- again, that lovely seminal phrase for so much science fiction and fantasy -- Perenelle Flamel had been Nicolas’ muse, and he hers in return?  What if she, not he, created the immortality potion that was half of the Philosopher’s Stone?  What if that accomplishment really ticked off Nicolas?  What if -- as a result of taking the elixir -- she was ‘cursed’ (somewhat vampirically, if I can coin a word) by being required to ‘feed’ on creative energy: she must be a Muse for the entirety of her immortal life?  What if Nicolas has also taken her potion and has been similarly cursed (though he ‘feeds’ on physical pain -- in the book, Nicolas is not a good person). He is chasing Perenelle through time, eternally angry with her? What if some of these famous artistic muses of history were actually Perenelle?

Aha… The structure of the book began to fall together for me:  a ‘present-day’ thread that would go through the entire novel, with historical tales layered in-between.  Why, Modigliani and Jeanne could be one of those… I wrote up the proposal in a creative heat in March of 2010 and sent it to Sheila Gilbert at DAW, who’s my editor; she loved it.  I started researching artists and muses, and putting together the book…

Mind you, the book would undergo several significant and major changes during the writing and revisions.  For instance, I wrote up a long (15,000 words or so) historical segment with Modigliani and Jeanne that I really liked, then realized that for a few good reasons it didn’t work with the overall arc of the book, and ended up reluctantly cutting it.  A similarly long and completed Nathaniel Hawthorne sequence was likewise abandoned, as were unfinished segments with Sonya Noskowiak (a photographer) and Artemisia Gentileschi (one of my favorite Baroque painters).  The Gustav Klimt, Charlotte Salomon, and Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier segments emerged late in the revisions, partially as ‘replacements’ for the cut sections.

Sometimes, no matter how fond you are of what you’ve written, no matter how much effort and labor you’ve put into the creation of a segment, you have to kill it to make the book a better book.

     SE:  Is there a specific Klimt or Salomon work that you worked from?

SL: I’ve always been fascinated by Klimt’s paintings and drawing, and his distinctive style.  From a research standpoint, I read GUSTAV KLIMT: Painter of Women by Susanna Partsch, as well as VIENNA MODERNISM 1890 – 1910 by Isabella Ackert, along with some online, spur-of-the moment research at need.  Again, I borrowed real historical characters from his life and times, but the ‘Perenelle’ in this timeframe, unlike most of the others, is entirely fictional.

Salomon's "Life? Or Theater?"
Klimt's Lady With Fan (Emilio Floge)

Charlotte Salomon I hadn’t been familiar with, but in researching artists of the WWII era (because I felt I needed someone from that timeframe), I came across her and was fascinated by her story.  Like Anne Frank, her life was tragically cut short, and who knows what she might have done had she lived.  Still, her evocative autobiographical paintings are a great legacy.  For research there, I read TO PAINT HER LIFE: Charlotte Salomon in the Nazi Era by Mary Lowenthal Felstiner, as well as doing a fair amount of research into the political environment in France at the time.

For those interested in what was true and where I took fictional liberties in the various historical eras, I detail that in the Afterword of IMMORTAL MUSE.

Waiting for a Muse: In your essay "TenThings I've Learned (As A Writer)" you address how mature professionals have to move past waiting for their muses. Can you comment on your current relationship with your muse? Is she understanding that you can't always work on her timing?

"4: Make writing a dirty habit
In my early career, I waited for the muse to appear before I wrote. I thought stories were supposed to flow in sparkling fire from my pen to the page, fully formed and perfect. I’d always been told (by people who weren’t writers themselves but who taught literature) that this was how Capital-A Art worked. 
That’s complete and utter bullshit. 
... What I slowly realized was that if I hoped to forge a career as a writer, I couldn’t wait for the fickle muse to appear. I had to write without her… because once you start writing, the muse can’t stand to be left out and eventually shows up at your side. The very act of writing attracts the muse to you." - S.L. Farrell
I think it’s more a matter of me realizing that my job is to write, whether or not the Muse sits down with me or not. If what spews out onto the page is crap, well, that’s why we revise (and revise, and revise again).  Unlike the math tests I remember in school, writers don’t have to ‘show their work.’  No one except the writer is required to read the ugly, deformed drafts or view all the changes that get made, scenes we’ve cut,  rearrangements we’ve made, mistakes we’ve made and corrected, essential foreshadowing we added at the last minute, and so on.

If you persist, eventually the Muse does show up. Eventually. At some point, things start to gel and come together.  All we give our readers is the final, polished version. My task as a writer is to make sure that what I send out to Sheila and other editors is the best I’m capable of writing at the time. If I don’t like what I’ve written, then it doesn’t go out. If I can honestly say that I couldn’t write the story any better than I’ve written it at this point in time and with the skill that I currently have, then I’ve done my job (and so has my Muse).

If the editor to whom I send the piece passes on it, that’s their decision -- it happens. If a reader, once the piece is published, doesn’t care for it, well, that happens too; I’ve no control over that. Writers write. Once the writing is done and the work has found a home somewhere, our job’s done.

Thanks to Stephen for taking the time for revealing all these details. Readers can learn more about him via his blog and reading his work!

       Amazon Page

Friday, January 1, 2016

Immortal Muse - An Entertaining Blend of Art and Alchemy

Immortal MuseImmortal Muse by Stephen Leigh
S.E.Lindberg rating: 5 of 5 stars

**update: the author was kindly open to an interview which uncovered all sorts of splendid perspectives and fine art (link) **

Stephen Leigh’s Immortal Muse blends modern day fiction with alchemical history. As a chemist and artist, and fantasy genre fan, this was a perfect match for me. How neat would it be if your muse was not just a one-way source of inspiration? What if you muse was a person who provided feedback and even shared a symbiotic relationship with you such that your creations benefited her? What if your muse’s life was threatened by a darker counterpart?
“Yeah, artists want immortality all right, but the immortality we’re after is the kind you don’t know you achieved because you’re dead when it happens. It’s the work that’s supposed to live forever. Not the artist.”

Complementary Art & Alchemy: Prior 1600, scientists and artists had overlapping interests/skills; scientists had to draw their own data in sketchbooks; conversely, artists had to craft/prepare their own pigments and materials (via chemistry). Artists and alchemists frequented the same apothecaries. The art & science of transmuting materials was a shared goal. Alchemists codified their goal in the substance called the “philosopher’s stone,” which was either the understanding to transmute materials into anything they wanted (i.e. gold)…or the base material itself. Harnessing the power of the stone could also enable one to live forever (in which case the “stone” was called “the elixir of life”).

Immortal Muse blends these complementary disciplines. It is half contemporary fantasy (New York, 2010), and half Historical Fiction, which covers a range of times, European geographies, and art (detailed below). This is an entertaining soap-opera/thriller.
-1400, Paris: Perenelle Flamel & Nicolas Flamel (scribes, alchemists)
-1635, Rome: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Roman artist &sculptor)
-1737, Vienna: Antonio Lucio Vivaldi (Musician)
-1790, Paris: Jacque-Louis David (Painter)
-1814 England: William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelly (Poets)
-1900 Vienna: Gustave Klimt (Painter)
-1940 Nice, Italy: Charlotte Salomon (Jewish artist)

Artistic Philosophy: Immortal Muse is chock full of artistic perspectives and shout-outs. I was thrilled for the mentioning my favorite artisanal recipe book : Mappae Clavicula: A Little Key to the World of Medieval Techniques. There is a somber but nicely executed arc regarding the persecution of Jews, beginning with the ~1394 Jewish migration from Paris and ending with Charlotte Salomon’s tragic plight during the Holocaust. There are plenty of moments like the quote below in which an artist is caught between following their muse (and creating something to be shared) and lacking the trust of the audience to care or judge them (or having their art taken away).

“Ana let the pages of the sketchpad fall back and handed it to [Charlotte]. She pressed it to her chest as if she’d never expected to have it returned.”

Author Stephen Leigh: The writer taps his own artistic experience for this. As a musician and creative writer, who also practices Aikido, it is obvious that he funneled a lot of his own muses in this. I half wonder if there is a bar called the Bent Calloipe in Cincinnati which he plays his guitar. I'll have to track him down for an interview (I was able to catch his book signing in 2014).  His Immortal Muse is recommended for historical fiction, art philosophy, alchemy buffs, and fantasy enthusiasts.

Immortal Muse book signing - Barnes & Noble Mason OH (3-8-2014)

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