December 29, 2010

"Hiei" by Carol Phillips

The old Haitathe castle known as Hiei (pronounced “He-i”) is a stronghold of the Sisterhood of Light and is one of the pleaces visited in Book 1 of the trilogy, The Dead Held Hands. It’s a gloomy old castle by the sea located in the far northern reaches of the Estherlands on Kana. As with most Sisterhood strongholds, it’s in the middle of nowhere, miles from any large habitation and occupying lands rumored to be haunted.

The Sisters use Hiei as a vast repository for arcane books they keep in their collection. The books are stored in a gigantic vault under the castle. The upper levels are uses as dormitories for Sisters on sabbatical. The books kept at Hiei are considered to be of medium-level security, meaning nothing there is thought to be overly sensitive or dangerous.

The Grand Abbess of Hiei is, for a Sister, rather open and progressive. She allows non-Sisters to visit the castle and study some of the books in their collection. Of course there are a number of rigid conditions that must be met:

1)–You must be favored of the Sisters and have a Programmable designation of no less than: Canistronmi

2)–Any wishing to visit Hiei must ask for permission in writing a year in advance.

3)–Any approaching Hiei must come on foot. No civilian vehicles may pass within a hundred miles of the castle.

4)–The Sisterhood must pre-approve any and all content for viewing. Any books considered RESTRICTED shall not be viewable.

5)–No photographic, visual or scanning equipment is permitted inside the castle. Hand-written notes are permitted as long as they are first reviewed and approved by the Sisters.

6)–Any visiting Hiei shall have a Sister observe them at all times.

7)–Any attempting to steal property belonging to the Sisterhood of Light shall be considered “encastate” and their lives shall be deemed forfeit.

copyright 2011, Ren Garcia

Love Letters from Satan

December 28, 2010

I can honestly say as a fully functioning adult that I’m much happier and at ease now than I was as a child. I was a worried little kid, haggard with what I perceived to be the weight of the world on my shoulders and made brittle by guilt. I was just a kid–what did I have to be guilty about?

Why, everything, that’s what. Children are, by nature, ego-maniacs. Everything revolves around them, and such was the case with me. I was convinced that I was personally responsible for all of the bad things that happened in the world, and following the proper Catholic path was key in saving not only myself but the world as well. That’s a lot of responsibility.

That I took my CCD training seriously is an understatement. I sat there in the church classroom listening to all the horrible things that were waiting for me should I not be a good and upright boy. It was not enough to simply act in a saintly way, one’s thoughts had to be pure as well, and I was convinced that the nuns standing at the head of the class in their orthopedic shoes were talking directly to me. “The Devil will test you,” they said, “and he speaks.” So, ten years old, I looked for signs of the Devil everywhere. And there he was.

Case in point, I was certain the Devil was out there trying to sway me and cause my fall from grace. The `70’s was a big time for the Devil. You had things like The Exorcist, The Omen, Beyond the Door, The Devil’s Rain, and on and on. Each one, I was convinced was a personal message from the Devil to me. Of course my parents didn’t take me to any of these movies, however there was a new thing called HBO which brought them uncut right into my livingroom. I didn’t treally want to watch these movies, but I felt I had to. It was my job. It was my responsibility to know what I was up against. So I watched, and I spent a lot of sleepless nights wondering how I could have let things get so bad.

Everything I saw somehow related to me and was proof the movies were meant to send a stern message. After I saw The Exorcist, I became chronically afraid of my bedroom window, thinking that the Devil was out there trying to get in. The demon-kid in The Omen looked a lot like me and The Devil’s Rain took place in Texas–I was from Texas, and on and on and on. I was, if anything, good at seeing connections in things, even if it was misguided.

So, I spent most of my childhood resisting what I perceived to be a constant assault from the bowels of Hell. When I write about all-seeing Sisters, and giants and hidden demons all around I write of things I was afraid of as a terrified little kid huddled under a blanket straining to keep my wicked thoughts in check and praying for relief. When I write about people who feel no fear, that’s how I wanted to be.

As an adult, I’m a lot more laid back, and cut myself a break every now and again.

Bowl Naked


The Machine

December 26, 2010

"The Machine" in three views, by Justine Marie Hedman, Eve Ventrue and Fantasio

The enigmatic Machine is the center of Book 2 in the Temple of the Exploding Head trilogy, aptly titled The Machine. As you can see by the collage, The Machine has been interpreted in various conrasting ways by different artists.

In its most basic form, The Machine is a silver arch. It’s about seven feet tall and three feet wide. It has a rather ruddy look to it–appearing as two tree-trunks covered in silver foil. Though it’s an inanimate object, The Machine has a certain up-and-ready personality to it, as illustrated in the pics. One aspect that all artists agee on, The Machine has a purple stone centered in its arch, giving it a rather one-eyed look.

The Sisterhood of Light captured The Machine in 000012ax. They were eager to get their hands on it, as its creator, Lord Revis of Want, was known for producing fabulous inventions that surpassed even Elder tech. They entered the House of Want and found Lord Revis gone–vanished, never to be seen again, and sitting in his abandoned workshop was The Machine. They took it to their research facility at Valenhelm where they sought to uncover all its secrets. Though the Sisters were adept at reverse engineering, they could not get The Machine to do anything. There were rumors that the Sisters even began to fear it to some extent, claiming in rumors that it “spoke evil” to them in their dreams. Whatever the case, The Machine held its secrets frustratingly close to the vest, and after centuries, they gave a final terse pronouncement:


They then disassembled it into three pieces that eventually went their separate ways over the years, one even ending up deep in Xaphan Space. And The Machine was generally forgotten.

Centuries later, Lady Sammidoran of Monama would have a strange dream of a tall silver creation with a purple stone in its center:

The man looked at me with a wall-eyed, Elder gaze. “So, you want to know what it does? I’m dying for somebody—anybody—to properly appreciate it. For lack of anyone else, you’ll do.”

Yes, I wanted to know. I wanted to know very much.

“Well, sit back and I’ll tell you.”

He then started his talking. “Now pay attention! I’m only going to go over this with you once …”

And I did. I listened. I hung on every word he said.

Gods! Can it be true? Can this be real?

And I never had that vision again, but I never forgot a moment of it. I set it in stone in my memory. I often thought about it at night, replaying the dream in my thoughts trying to sift hidden meaning out of any small detail.

I never forgot the machine I’d seen and the wondrous thing it could do. The man told me what it did in exacting detail.

Could such a thing actually exist? The silver machine was the key, a miracle. It could indeed change everything.

I like to think that, if this somehow works out, we shall use the machine on a carefree day sometime in the future and go to this man, this Lord Revis, House of Want, and stand before him as man and woman, and thank him as he is due.

Thank him for his genius and his machine that he left behind.

copyright 2010 Ren Garcia


December 24, 2010

"Kay and Sam" by Eve Ventrue

It’s all about marketing, people. I always try to stay keen on what’s attracting people at the various shows; on what pulls folks in, what causes them to stop and foster up a conversation.

I often go to shows with my friend, fellow author Denise Verrico (Cara Mia). It’s better to go in pairs, as you’ve got a wingman to watch your back and keep your chin up. Denise writes urban horror/ vampire books. She has a furry little pillow that she brings with her that says “I Love Vampires.” I noticed that her little pillow was reasonably successful in making people stop and talk. “Oh, I just love vampires,” folks often said, bouncing up and down.

I just loooooove vampires …

And the wheels in my fiendish little Chipotle-soaked brain began to turn.

I do not write about vampires. I write about loose sci-fi fantasy and romance, lots of people fighting and wearing odd clothes in space, or wearing nothing at all as the case may be. It occurred to me that I needed to capitalize on the popularity of vampires to help attract attention–not on vampires themselves, but the word: Vampire. If I could tack up some big, proud marketing with the word VAMPIRE blasted out in lurid print, then maybe, just maybe, I could snag some of those Vampire-lovers to my table. And, then, using all the charm at my disposal, I could seduce the buggers and send them away with a League of Elder book tucked under their arm before they knew what the heck was going on. It just had to work. I just needed to figure out how to do it without libeling myself in the process.

My favorite heroine of the Temple of the Exploding Head trilogy, Lady Sammidoran of Monama, came to my rescue. Sam, all chalk white and matte black, has a rather Night-Stalking look to her. Sure, she looks an awful lot like a vampire. Of course, Sam isn’t a vampire, she’s an alien and ….

Ah … mindwave.

I had this painting done up for me by Eve Ventrue, that Teutonic Titan from Germany, of Sam and her man, Lord Kabyl. It was perfect. All I needed was a slogan. So, Sam looks lie a vampire, but she’s not. She’s an alien. So, how about using a play on words: not vampire, alien. Yes, I liked that, and, I’d strumpet it out there in gigantic, all caps text: not VAMPIRE: no, no: ALIEN.

"not VAMPIRE: ALIEN" by Eve Ventrue

I had Eve paint me up a second Sam/Kay pic, this time donning Sam in a pair of steampunk goggles.

And, it works. People stop all the time and look at it. Getting people to stop and talk is the key to success. I had shirts made of it as well, and I sold out of them at a recent show.

So, when in doubt and you need a marketing angle, use pop culture and twist its ear a little to suit your needs. Works every time.

Bowl Naked


Lady Sammidoran of Monama

December 23, 2010

Painting by Fantasio

LADY SAMMIDORAN OF MONAMA was born in a jar. When she was delivered, along with twelve other brothers and sisters in the same clutch, the Searchers found her badly under-developed and still bearing her yolk sac. The Searchers knew what it meant. “An Anuian is born to us!” they cheered, and her tiny, fragile body was taken to the jar and submerged. There, she was tended to daily with warmth and nutrients for three more months until, finally ready to meet the world, she “knocked” and was pulled from the jar, born a second time.

She was the youngest of the Astralon tribe, an austere group inhabiting a white ruined castle on the north lakeshore. In total, she had over seventy brothers and sisters from previous clutches. There would be no more, however, as the Demons came and took her parents in the night without a word. In the morning they were gone and never seen again. Sam was left to be raised by her grandmother, who was an Anuian just as she was.

As she grew, the differences between herself and the rest of her family was obvious. She was bigger than the rest, stronger and much faster. She also had the restless, defiant spirit Anuians were said to have. She often wandered alone, going past the edge of the lakeshore where the fog ended. There she ran with the wild gazelle and sat in the sun.

What sort of way was that to behave? Her aunts and uncles had a very stark motto that they tried to impress upon her:

Live your life while you can and hope for the best, and when the end comes, let your head swarm and take you to places where there is no pain and sadness; where the demons can’t hurt you.

The Demons always won out in the end.

Like the rest of her people, Sam began having visions of her Arin-Dan when she was five years old. The Arin-Dan was the “dreamed of”, the “beloved”. Hers was an Elder boy far to the north in the killing cold. Every night she dreamed of him, and every morning she awoke and longed for what could someday be. Her family was alarmed. It was dangerous to dream of the Arin-Dan, for that was sure to bring the Demons, and they would twist her love into something horrid. They would turn her into a Berserkacide and send her against the one she loved most. They did it all the time.

They had a ritual to rid themselves of their Arin-Dan. Take a White Emilia flower and plant it by the Wall, and though it would hurt terribly, all her dreams of the Elder boy would fade into nothing. Then she could wear her black Monama gowns and mourn what never was.

She took a flower and went to the wall, seeing the white carpeting of flowers growing all around it, planted by those who’d come before her.

All those lost dreams.

And there she planted her flower to rid herself of her Arin-Dan.

Or, did she?

copyright 2010 Ren Garcia

The Idea of You

December 22, 2010

Ok, so I went on and on about how hard it is to be a new author in my last post, and it certainly is (a few of my readers were obsessed with my apparent inability to properly shop for peanut butter, of all things). But, all is not lost.

What is the goal of a new author? The goal of any new author is to foster an idea and share your work, spread it around and get it into the hands of your readership. Do that, build the Idea of You, and all good things will follow. The key to spreading that idea and overcoming the wall that exists between you and your potential readership is you … the author.

People, I’ve found, are fascinated by the creator of a thing, be it a work of art of some sort, a piece of music, or, in this case, a book. People acknowledge how difficult it is to not only create something, but to have the tenacity to see it through, make it grow and have it sitting in front of you as a realized project. Grab twenty random people walking down the street and ask them if they’ve ever written a book, and your affirmative response will probably be pretty low; however, ask that same twenty people if they’ve ever thought about writing something, and almost all of them will probably say “yes”. You, as a published author, have accomplished something many people think about doing, but for whatever reason, never do, and that impresses them. Rightly so.

The author, be they known or unknown, has immense power when it comes to convincing people to tread in unknown waters. The main difference between the known and unknown author is people willingly come to the known author while, you, as the unknown, have to go to them and make the first move so to speak. You have to get past the initial, and in some cases, debilitating, wall of skepticism and mistrust and foster a positive atmosphere. That can be easier said than done, but it must happen. And when it does it’s like magic: people gathering by your table to see what’s going on, listening to you speak and taking it all in like eager pupils from a benevolent master.

Engage the people, get their imagination going, make them feel like they’re part of the process a little bit. Be energetic. Stand, don’t sit at your events. Sitting implies an aloofness and detachment from the situation. If you can, stand in front of your table instead of behind it. Be at their eye level and talk to them, not at them. And, once you’ve got their attention, all the little things you’ve brought with you come into their own: business cards, table cards and other bits of colorful media, that were worthless before, now become essential (the pic at the beginning of the post is an example of a table card–just a pretty picture on the front and all your info on the back). If you can send someone away with your card in their hand, that is a win. Those people do, sometimes, come back. They come to you, and it’s a remarkable thing to see. If you do nothing but get rid of all your business and table cards, you’ve had a great day. That is what you want. You spent the day spreading an idea, you are the idea, and the rest will follow.

New authors have a hard way to go no matter how you look at it. You were tenacious in creating your work, now, be equally tenacious in getting it out to the people. There will probably be a few sessions that you’ll have to write off as a “Howdy-Do occasion” and leave it at that. Those sessions, however humbling, are critical in making the transition from being unknown to known. Once you burn your mug into people’s brains and learn how to harness the power that you as a creator of a piece of work have to inspire, moving your stuff will become significantly less of a chore. It’s actually pretty fun.

Bowl Naked

The Wall of Nobody

December 20, 2010

Picture this …

You’re a new author just hitting the scene. Your book looks awesome. You’ve got a good idea and a story to go with it. Your book is written with heart and soul, and it’s just crying out to be taken home and read. You’re standing there at the show, your books in a nice stack; you look good and you smell good, and you’ve marked it down to nothing. Heck, you’re practically giving it away.

But, avast! … nobody’s buying. Why??

Dude–nobody knows who the hell you are, that’s why.

Let’s face it, we’re all creatures of marketing. We just love surrounding ourselves with the familiar and the tried and true. Jingles pounded into your head like a ten-penny spike up a Geek’s nose, and slick slogans burned into your retinas. It’s like sucking on a tailpipe your whole life, no matter how rotten it is, you start to need it after a while, and a bit of fresh air just won’t do. Things that are unknown to us are things not to be trusted no matter how pretty and cheaply priced–just like a guy stepping in front of you trying to sell a pocket watch out of the lining of his trench coat. Your mother warned you about shady guys like that, and she warned you about strange authors at shows as well.

Just ignore them and maybe they’ll go away.

Take this for example. My wife wanted to go into an Aldi the other day. We never shop there, but she wanted to go inside, God only knows why. So, we stopped, went in, and I was immediately put off. Look at all these weird brands that I’d never heard of before, it was like I’d fallen into Bizarro-world in there, or a particularly uncomfortable episode of the Twilight Zone where nothing’s as it should be, and I wanted out.

Crackers, and toothpaste, and breads of all kinds, each made by obscure people in obscure places. It was Hell. I was in Hell. “Don’t you need peanut butter, hon?” my wife asked. No–don’t go down there! I ran to take her by the arm and flee, but, there she was, browsing like it was no big deal.

Look at the peanut butter! Where’s the Jif? I want my Jif! I don’t give a flying hoot about Golden Bunny Peanut Butter. Where did that come from? It’s evil. I made her put down her purchases and I carried my wife out of that den of horrors, back into the comforting sunshine of trans-fats and mass-marketing.

So, that’s a rather manic example, but it’s basically what you’re going to run into as an unknown writer selling an unknown book. There is a wall between you and the people you’d like to sell to. You’re on one side and they’re on the other. Your image on the other side of that wall is distorted and demonic. Oh, they pass by and politely smile and try to get away from you as quickly as they can and forget the whole thing ever happened. Try and say a few words to your potential customers and it’s like you just spat out the Lord’s Prayer backwards. Seriously. Nothing you can say or do’s going to get past that wall, and it’s simply because these folks don’t know who you are.

Is there any hope for you, the unknown author? Are some authors just born “Somebody” and others are forever “Nobody” and therefore consigned to the dregs of obscurity and oblivion?

Sure, there’s hope. Sure there’s a way to step out of the shadows and become a familiar face.

There is a way to get out from behind the Nobody Wall and let somebody else occupy it for a while.

Come back tomorrow, and I’ll tell you what it is.

Bowl Naked



December 20, 2010

The Temple of the Exploding Head trilogy visits many places as the books unfold. One of those places is Waam, a large city in Xaphan space. Occupying an entire continent in the northern corner of the distant planet Gothan, Waam is a progressive city, built in a wagon-wheel pattern with the very center of the wheel being known as Waam-Prime. It is clean, well-organized, democratic and is one of the few Xaphan cities that allow Elder religion to be practiced. A popular place, it is home to over 100 Black Hats, including Wilhella Cormand-Grande, the so-called “Mad Black Hat of Waam”.

The architectural movement of “Bondarunga” was created in Waam and is practiced there in its most severe and pristine form. The founders of the city were said to be refugees from the ill-fated space station Zall-88, and were dedicated to the evolution of the species. To that end, numerous sound-emitting bastions placed throughout the city pelt the ears of the Waamites, supposedly to promote evolution. Something might be said of these efforts, as the people of Waam have developed a number of notable abilities, including, in some cases, the ability to fly.

The great Xaphan hero, Princess Marilith of Xandarr, is a popular folk hero in Waam, with many statues, restaurants, pubs and casinos dedicated in her honor. In the municipality of Marilith, all citizens are expected to dress and wear their hair as she did on her birthday. (picture by Carol Phillips)

On Unintentional humor

December 19, 2010

I’m often told that I’m a really funny guy. I’ve heard it from enough people that there must be some sort of truth to the claim, though I personally don’t think I’m an overly funny person.

I got an early inkling of this from Carol Phillips, my talented cover artist. She read the first book, League of Elder: Sygillis of Metatron, and said on several occasions how she enjoyed my sense of humor. Odd, I don’t recall anything overly humorous in Book 1. I shrugged it off and continued.

I got another dose of my alleged “funny writing” not long ago while having my daily row with Jasmine B. Brennan, a dear friend whom I love to death on those select moments when I don’t want to hide her body someplace after I’ve murdered it. Jasi said I was one of the funniest writers she’d ever read. “And,” she said, “the fact the you proceed about your business completely oblivious to just how funny you are makes it even more hilarious.”

My good friend, the incredibly gifted Chris Westover, also says the same thing.

I fell into a funk. So … what are you saying, Jasi? What am I … a clown, is that what I am? What about all the death and destruction I write about–what about that? Did I bring a clown-suit to the blood-letting and didn’t even know it??

“Yeah,” she said.

I actually got pretty down on myself after that. What am I? Who am I? I really didn’t know anymore. Of course I realize I add little things here and there in the story to add a bit of levity. For example, Syg’s tendency to want to bowl naked, that’s sort of funny. I consider such things satirical humor, just like in Robocop, when a malfunctioning ED-209 pumps the poor businessman full of lead at the beginning of the movie. There’s really nothing funny about a man getting horribly killed, but, in the context of the movie, it was quite funny. The extreme nature of the killing made it funny, and hence my tendency to put rather extreme bits into the books, like Syg’s naked bowling.

After Jasi informed me what a comedian I am, I vowed to do her one up and churn out nothing but flesh-rending dirges, cold-steel elegies of such sorrow and hopeless lamentation that every turn of the page would be a new cry for death. I was determined, and, to that end, I plunged into the works of my brilliant friend, Cheryl Moore’s Unbound Boxes, Limping Gods. Cheryl paints a relentlessly bleak picture and beats down her characters without mercy. That’s what I wanted to be: bleak and merciless.

However, I’m no Cheryl Moore. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sustain it. Something Jasi said then came back to me.

It’s a gift you have, she said. “Your writing wouldn’t be the same without it. Some people strive very hard to do what you do naturally–and unconsciously. Just go with what you’ve got.”

It’s a gift.

Ok, I’ll do that. I’ll just go with it. I suppose every so often, I pop into a clown suit and a funny nose and dance.

And, I guess the suit doesn’t fit all that bad after all.

Bowl Naked


Magistrate and Portator of the municipality of Auld in the Xaphan city of Waam, Thomasina is the 19th lady of Woolover. Traditionally the Woolovers, a stern matriarchal House from the city of Saga, were known for their piety and prohibitionist ways, often closing pubs and other drinking establishments at the butt-end of a club. In 000000ax, when the various Vith Houses betrayed the League and went to the Xaphans, a fragment of the House of Woolover went with them to preach piety and Elder teachings. They settled in the city of Waam and lingered there, becoming more Xaphan-Like over the centuries. Traditionally, the fittest to lead the House is given the appellation “Thomasina”. She leads a bar-rousting contingent of ladies known as the Singing Ten and is either greatly admired or wholly despised in the city of Waam.

Thomasina’s father was a man of Bondar, known for their odd structures superhuman abilities. Thusly, Thomasina can fly through the air like a wingless bird. She is savage and skilled with the MT CALM, the traditional weapon of the House of Woolover. She is also thoughtful and giving, freely donating her wealth to any who truly need it. (Picture by Fantasio)