Getting Around

Recently I listened to Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles Of Amber series yet again.  It’s one of my favorite SFF works (and I consider it both Science Fiction and Fantasy).  There are a lot of reasons why, but mostly the characters.  I like Roger Zelazny characters a lot, and, yes, I do think that the second series–the Merlin books–are as good as the first series–the Corwin books. They are good in a different way, and Zelazny’s style changed somewhat between the end of The Courts Of Chaos and The Trumps Of Doom.  But that’s okay, Merlin is a different narrator than Corwin, with different skills and interests and life experiences.

Anyway, one thing that struck me on this particular read-through (because it is important to my current WIP) is how important the central conceit of “walking through shadow” is to the novels.

Not just in terms of the storyline, but in terms of making the cosmos palatable.  Zelazny created an impossibly huge universe–everything that could possibly exist is not only real, but reachable by his characters.  It is an insanely ambitious plot device and really shouldn’t have worked, but it did.

What makes it work is Zelazny’s  immediate and sensual description of shadow walking.  The first shadow walk (okay, “shadow drive”) in Nine Princes In Amber is full of details, from sparkling sidewalks to “Kentucky Fried Lizard Parts”.  The section where Corwin and Bleys move against Amber is more of a montage, but feels like a series of war dispatches. In a metaphysical sense shadows may lack the “true reality” of Amber, but the ground truth is that if an actualized theoretical abstraction bites your head off, you are truly, really dead.

I don’t want to copy the cosmology of the Amber novels for Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts, but I do want to emulate how he combined infinite possibilities with a concrete sense of quotidian reality.  In particular I am working on the transitions between the Midworld and the various realms of Nightmare. Although my main character travels via astral projection through the Dream Sea to the Realms, I want to give the feel that the incorporeal is not imaginary–there is real effort and real danger involved in making the journey.

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New Cirsova Cover Reveal

Cover 5 Reveal + New T-Shirt Designs Up –

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New Blog up on Castalia House

I have never owned a Dungeon Masters Guide.

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What is “Appendix N” and why should you care?


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In 1979 a company called Tactical Studies Rules published Dungeon Master’s Guide, which was the third hardcover book in their  extensive reworking of the Dungeons & Dragons game.

The growth of the game’s popularity had been explosive, considering that the original set of rules had been published only five years before.

Those five years had seen the publication of several officially authorized supplements to original rules as well as an officially authorized monthly magazine.

The wealth of unofficial and unauthorized material for D&D published during those same years is hard to estimate.  It seemed as if anyone with access to a mimeograph machine and a copier was producing adventure modules, collections of monsters and treasures, and pamphlets of optional rules.

At this same the authors of the original game, Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, had a falling out, with Gygax remaining with TSR and Arneson moving on to other projects.

All of this led to Gary Gygax deciding to reboot the game, producing the three hardcover books that would become Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Gygax wanted to set down the definitive rules.  These books were a stark contrast to the ad-hoc garage shop feel of many of the mimeographed “supplements” with construction paper covers that were circulating at the time.

To get back to the original question, though, “Appendix N” refers to the Nth appendix to the DMG.  Titled “Inspirational And Educational Reading”, it is a listing of the fiction that inspired Gary Gygax to create Dungeons & Dragons in the first place, and that he recommended to players of D&D.

So that’s what it is.  Why you should care is a little more complex. In fact, it’s complex enough that Jeffro Johnson wrote a book on the subject.  How that happened is, well, kind of a funny story, because he didn’t set out to write a book.

Jeffro Johnson is gaming blogger.  His blog is called Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog.  Despite the name, he doesn’t limit himself to space gaming, he writes about all manner of subjects relating to gaming as a hobby, as well as a wide selection of games.

A while back he had the idea to do a series of reviews of the books listed in Gygax’s Appendix N.  As near as I can figure it, (and I’ve been reading his blog for some years now) that’s all it was.  He was going through his old DMG and saw the list of recommended reading and wondered if anyone had ever sat down to do a series of reviews on those particular works, as a sort of companion piece to the original appendix.

When he didn’t find one he decided to do it himself.

And therein hangs a tale.

Over the course of the project Jeffro discovered not only a number of neglected classics of the Fantasy genre, but also a tradition of adventure-oriented storytelling.  His observations regarding those traditions have helped to spark the current Pulp Revival movement in genre fiction.  They have certainly had an influence on my own work.

While this collection of reviews is unapologetically written by and for role playing gamers, with numerous specific examples of  how a particular narrative was adapted as a particular set of rules, the insights into what makes good storytelling are applicable to fans of genre fiction in general.

What’s more, the press that his series has garnered, both positive and negative, has helped to introduce new readers to older works that have unfairly forgotten. As such, I can recommend this book to anyone who is interested in discovering the roots of the Fantasy genre.

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What do your dreams do when you are awake?

Chewing over that question is what has got me stuck on Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts at the moment.

You see, I am working from the premise that what humans dream is actually an objective reality and that when humans sleep they astrally project into another universe. (Well, one of nine different alternate realms, each with their own physical laws and inhabitants and culture and so on.)

The inhabitants of the Realms of Nightmare are collectively called oneiroi, with each realm having its own people (“norns” for Messidor, “morauxe” for Nivose, and so on.)

The technology of the oneiroi is based on harvesting ectoplasm from the human souls, which is a physical manifestation of emotional energy. So many of the oneiroi work as harvesters, making the dreams of humans vivid and powerful, with a strong emotional component (the exact emotion that they strive to induce is dependant upon the realm–different sorts of oneiroi harvest different emotional states.)

So far so good. But what about the oneiroi life outside of humans? To be compelling and realistic, I need to be able to understand the “backstage” of oneiroi cities and daily life. Some would be involved in manufacturing, I suppose–refining the emotional ectoplasm and using it as both a material resource and a power supply.

But it’s what they do outside of their work that is giving me problems. Particularly because it won’t be the same for all realms. So far most of my “rules” for oneiroi in general are negative in nature. I know that none of them sleep, and I know that they don’t raise children (oneiroi reproduce collectively–there are places in each realm where the young essentially grow wild–they begin as plantlike sessile creatures and then metamorphose into animals, gradually becoming self-aware as they grow).

They do eat, although they can’t starve to death. If they can’t get food they shrink and revert back into animals and eventually root again.

I suppose that they would have their own arts, which also would be realm-dependant (the blind djinn of lightless Brumaire, for example, could hardly be painters).

So. Norns, then. Norns feed on human despair and resignation, particularly on the dreams of those who are near death. (This concept comes from a line from the band Shreikback’s song “Nemesis”: “We drink elixirs that we refine from the juices of the dying.”)

And then there is trade with the Midworld.  The realms of Nightmare are also the basis of the magic system in the human world.

Plus, of course, the internal politics.  Oneiroi would have their position in society, their own concepts of wealth and status (gak–I’m going to need nine economic systems, too!) Each realm has a ruler who is the next best thing to a god in that particular realm, so there would be competition for status within the ruler’s court.

Okay, I think I have a better idea of what I need to do.  Often just writing things down helps me to clarify my own thoughts.

Thanks for listening.


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On the midnight watch I realized why twice you ran away

This past weekend I went to Springfield, Missouri.  It’s on the opposite corner of the state from my home in St. Louis, but Missouri is one of those medium size states in the middle of the country.  It takes me about five hours to make the trip, but I like to stop and stretch my legs and get a bite to eat along the way.

I have an uncomfortably complex relationship with the town. I grew up there and left at a critical age–I was in the middle of high school and finished out (well, failed to finish, actually) at a completely different school in a very different place. For a long time I had transferred my feelings of pain and betrayal at being uprooted to the town itself, which was both unfair and understandable of me.

So I used to hate Springfield, MO.  But then a very strange thing happened.  My two eldest children, for different reasons, ended up settling there.  And so I began to visit them, which has involved me revisiting my own past.

This has had some profound effects on my writing.  I write in what is probably the exact wrong way.  I tend to throw a bunch of words at the paper, taking ideas and images from whatever happens to strike my fancy, and then go back and try to figure out just what the Hell I’m talking about.

With The Book Of Lost Doors (and the more distance I have from that project the more I realize that it’s really one big novel told in four parts–which helps to explain why the ending of the first one, Catskinner’s Book, is so gawdawful) I didn’t really understand what I was saying until I was nearly finished with Gingerbread Wolves.

It was on a trip to Springfield that I put the whole thing together, driving slowly around my old neighborhood.  That neighborhood is called “Village Green” and those of you who have read Gingerbread Wolves will recognize the name.  The middle third or so of that book–from James’ first entry into Village Green to the final battle with Nyarlenthotep–was conceived and written in my head while cruising the streets I grew up on.

When I got back to St. Louis I just had to write it down.

On this last trip I had a similar revelation about Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts.  I am still not quite sure what the book is about, but I suddenly understood who Sam Jackknife really is. In The Book Of Lost Doors the identity of Catskinner was one of the few things I was certain about when I started the project–from a personal standpoint, Catskinner was based on a part of myself that I called The Hanged Man, who was what psychologists who specialize in dissociation call a “protector altar”.

When I started Bad Dreams & Broken Hearts I just wanted a narrator who was different from James.  I was looking to try out a different voice.  I took the name “Sam” from Roger Zelazny’s Lord Of Light (and made it short for Samhain rather than Samuel to keep from echoing Samuel the Pale Surgeon) and “Jackknife” from the Alice Cooper song “Jackknife Johnny” on the album From The Inside.

The Jackknife part was a deliberate mismatch–Sam is the antithesis of the deeply wounded veteran of the Cooper song.  Sometimes I do that–pick a name with associations that are completely wrong for the character.  I’m not sure why, but it seems to work. Blame Michael Moorcock, who chose “Mr. Smiles” as the name of a depressed loser in The Final Programme.

In any event, it suddenly occurred to me that Samhain Jackknife, who is a wealthy idler, musician and dancer, clothes horse and style mavin, pretty rather than handsome and arch rather than clever, was based on another part of myself–my anima, the feminine part of myself who I had objectified as Valentine.

It’s the kind of understanding that changes everything that I thought I knew about the book, and is going to involve rereading everything I have so far written with a new eye. But then, I keep rewriting the damned thing as my cosmology evolves, so another time won’t hurt.



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Waiter, there’s a grobginthnik in my x’nibblierk!

Without warning the captured gnomish thief reached into his cloak and removed a g’tharknik–

[Hang on, wait–what’s a “g’tharknik” again? Isn’t that the big shaggy animal with horns? How did a gnome fit one of those in his cloak? Is it a cloak of holding or something?  Gonna have to check the glossary–

Flip flip flip flip…

Oh, here it is: G’tharknik, (n) A ceremonial dagger used by gnomes to commit vernarkdik (c.f)

Vernarkdik?  What the heck’s that?

Flip, flip, flip…

Okay: Vernarkdik, (n) An act of treachery performed by a gnome.

Got it.  The gnome has a knife up his sleeve. Now where the heck was I?]

Without warning the captured gnomish thief reached into his cloak and removed a g’tharknik, which he plunged into the heart of the soldier holding him.  Leaping nimbly across the floor he leapt on the back of his waiting g’liptrik–

[Right, the “g’liptrik” is the big shaggy animal with horns, I guess]

Leaping nimbly across the floor he leapt on the back of his waiting g’liptrik, which instantly took off into the air–

[Hang on, “g’liptriks” can fly?  Lemme see–

Flip, flip, flip…

Oh, wait: G’liptrik (n) Giant eagle raised by Gnomes as a riding beast.

Oh, that was an eagle in the corner–I was thinking it was like a longhorn sheep or something.]

Leaping nimbly across the floor he leapt on the back of his waiting g’liptrik, which instantly took off into the air, narrowly missing the flishoopalert on the castle wall–


Flip, flip, flip…

Flishoopalert, (n) An Imperial bowman.

Now where the hell was I again?]

Leaping nimbly across the floor he leapt on the back of his waiting g’liptrik, which instantly took off into the air, narrowly missing the flishoopalert on the castle wall, then escaping eastward towards the waiting ygg’nimblinks–

[Screw it.]

This is why I don’t read much Epic Fantasy.

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