StG: Epochs of Time

December 10, 2013

The history of the peoples making up the modern-day League is an extensive one, going back almost a million years into the cloudy veil of the ancient past. The great bulk of most of that history is lost to the ages, it is a difficult task to remember the past just a few years old, much less a million.

The planet Eng was home to the League in the DX Time Epoch (Carol Phillips)

The planet Eng was home to the League in the DX Time Epoch (Carol Phillips)

The Sisterhood of Light, as prime historians of the League, maintain a narrative of those many years past. Per their accounting of history, the League has been a vagabond people for the bulk of their existence, drifting across the cosmos in servitude to their masters, the eponymous Elders–25 beings of colossal power. The peoples of the League served the Elders, did their bidding, fought their battles and scouted out food for them. The Sisters have broken down the history of the League into six distinct sections, or Epochs of Time. Each Epoch details a different homeworld which housed the Old League for a time and a significant event that occurred.

The Sisterhood of Light and the Elders drove the League across the cosmos in the early days (Eve Ventrue)

The Sisterhood of Light and the Elders drove the League across the cosmos in the early days (Eve Ventrue)

FORCED MIGRATION: The 25 Elders fed upon starlight and could only remain in a certain area for so long before the need to seek new sources of food forced them to move on. The League scouted the starways, looking for suitable places for them to feed, and, once a location was discovered, they would up stakes and migrate across the cosmos leaving everything they had behind.

NOTE–None of the previous League home worlds are currently known, other than what the Sisters have written in their histories. The stellar locations of these fabled places are lost, though various scholars vigorously seek them.

All years measured in Kanan Standard.

AX EPOCH–The Beginning: The Sisterhood tells on an ancient place called Earth where the peoples of the League originated from. Some say the eclectic fashions of the League, the languages they speak, and a smattering of other traditions are hold-overs from mythical long lost Earth. The Sisters recount that the Elders took the peoples of the League from Earth and journeyed with them across the heavens to a place called Lemmuria where they served the Elders for 200,000 years.

BX EPOCH–The Age of Riches: The Elders journey to the fabled world of Emmira to begin the BX Epoch. The Sisters recount that Emmira was a paradise and the League matured and grew in its light. The Sisters as a sect first formed on Emmira. They remained there for 90,000 years.

CX EPOCH–The Age of Youth and Health: After Emmira was Cammara, a place of towering clouds and cities in the sky. While on Cammara, the Elders rewarded their League servants and engineered out the ravages of age and sickness, essentially making them young throughout their lives. It is rumored that the Elders also made them immortal as well, though the Sisters dispute that assertion. Darker texts talk of the Gods of Cammara, the people who live forever guarding the gateways of the Universe and the oceans of the dead. The League remained on Cammara for 157,000 years.

The Monama peoples of southern Kana are not Old League--they are indigenous to Kana and were incorporated into the League in the EX Epoch.

The Monama peoples of southern Kana are not Old League–they are indigenous to Kana and were incorporated into the League in the EX Epoch.

DX EPOCH–The Weakening of the Elders: After Cammara was Eng, a cold and somewhat hostile place. There, the Elders grew weak and sick, seeing their time coming to an end. One Eng, the Elders once again attempted to bio-engineer the League, this time with the alien Haitathe race plucked from an unknown world. Their goal was to create a larger, stronger League Elder. While on Eng, the peoples of the League spilt into the Seven Tribes that exist today. An Eighth Tribe was said to have existed and been banished by the Sisters for chaotic behavior. The Old League shivered on Eng for 188,000 years.

EX EPOCH: The End of the Elders, coming of the Xaphans: After hostile Eng came golden Kana. Here the Elders died and passed into lore. With their passing, the League was lost and without guidance. The Seven tribes fought against each other and the Haitathe hoards feasted on their flesh. The Sisters managed to calm the League, to focus it, forging the roots of the modern star-faring League.

Several millennia after the passing of the Elder, the Xaphans came. The Xaphans were creatures similar to the Elders, though they were cruel and bizarre, demanding sacrifice and death. The League vowed to fight the Xaphans and thwart them.

The EX Epoch lasted 145,000 years.

Princess Marilith of Xapndarr--a wild, uncivilized member of Xaphan royalty, ever at odds with the League (Carol Phillips)

Princess Marilith of Xandarr–a wild, uncivilized member of Xaphan royalty, ever at odds with the League (Carol Phillips)

AX EPOCH: The Great Betrayal and the Modern League: In the Great Betrayal, 20 Households abandoned the League and went to the Xaphans, becoming their servants. The Sisters decided to end the EX Epoch and start again with the second AX Epoch. The years have seen much strife with the League pitted against the Xaphans, constantly engaged in warfare. Still, in the AX Epoch, the peoples of the League, and the Xaphans as well, have blossomed as a collective entity, growing and finding their own way. On Kana and the surrounding League worlds, they have built a home at long last.

copyright 2013, Ren Garcia, Eve Ventrue, Carol Phillips

As League sects go, none have more power or authority than the Sisterhood of Light. They come and go as they please, they take what they want, they have their own police force and their own fleet, and they dictate the course of the League. The Sisters are the de-facto rulers of the League.

There is, however, one very outspoken group that mocks and challenges virtually everything the Sisters do: The Hertogs.

The Hertogs are a loose band of disaffected scholars, chefs, tailors, craftsmen and scientists whose ongoing mission is to bring down the Sisters. They operate in secret, their origins and membership are unknown.

The Hertogs insist the Sisters are bizarre and demented and much more capricious then they publically let on.

The Hertogs insist the Sisters are bizarre and demented and much more capricious than they publically let on.

They first came to general attention in 003120AX when they published a book in the city of Jacarta called: The Real History of the League and of the Elders in Particular written by, mysteriously enough, “The Hertogs”. The book challenged a number of key points in ancient League history as told by the Sisters and presented a much darker history, especially regarding the old, departed Elders. Essentially, the book claimed the League is enslaved to the Sisters, claimed they are bizarre and demented, and called for an end to their reign. Predictably, the Sisters reacted badly to the publication, censuring the publisher and calling for an “open debate” with the Hertogs to cover the key points made in the book.

The Hertogs were a no-show to the debates. Instead, they circulated a number of pamphlets claiming the Sisters intended to smoke them out into the open, capture and most probably torture them to death.

Since then the Sisters have gone on a quiet, but persistent, campaign to discover the identity of the Hertog membership. Unfortunately, the Hertogs appear to be adept at avoiding the Sisters’ vaunted Stare as, so far, they have yet to uncover a single one. They suspected Grand Dame Hannah-Ben Shurlamp, EVoR of the University of Dee as being a key member, but they could not prove her involvement. Their search continues.

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp is frequently associated with the Hertogs, though her direct involvement is not proved.

Hannah-Ben Shurlamp is frequently associated with the Hertogs, though her direct involvement is not proved.

The Hertogs are seldom quiet. They publish frequent comments and critiques, usually blasting the latest Sisterhood proclamations. They once, famously, shot holes in a simple article written by a Sister proclaiming her fondness for the lunch menu at the Empire Hotel in St. Edmunds. Such childish antics, their tendency toward paranoia and hyperbole, and their unwillingness to come out into the open tends to lessen their impact and gives the general League populace pause. They are considered to be an interesting, if not entirely credible, voice in the regular postings not to be taken too seriously.

There is word that the Hertogs produced a groundbreaking work called The Splendor of the Vith detailing the considerable power the Vith peoples of Northern Kana once possessed and how the Sisters waged a successful bloodless war to rid them of it. This book, if true, would be particularly damning and could lead to the downfall of the Sisters. So far, the existence of the book is a mere rumor and no copies are publically available to be read.

copyright 2013, Ren Garcia, Carol Phillips and Eve Ventrue

Sorry I’ve been away–the Con Season has been a pill.

"Tree of Life" by Ewelina Dolzycka.  The plot of Book II is told in this mural, with Carahil in the center as protector, the Planet Xandarr the object of his protection, and, in the wings, a weeping Maiax.

“Tree of Life” by Ewelina Dolzycka. The plot of Book II is told in this mural, with Carahil in the center as protector, the Planet Xandarr the object of his protection, and, in the wings, a weeping Maiax.

Book II, “The Hazards of the Old Ones” is the tale of Carahil and his quest to save the planet Xandarr. Running throughout the book in the background is the story of the god-turned-demon Maiax and the House of Bodice and the terrible tragedy that befalls them. The story is intended to be a parable of sorts, illustrating what happens when the gods interfere too much in the doings of mortal man. Carahil himself makes frequent reference to the story, using it as a cautionary tale in his own efforts to save Xandarr.

The story goes like this:

In 099989EX, the House of Bodice found themselves beset by demons. Their land in the northern Hala region of Kana went bad and they heard never-ceasing drums in the night. They went to the Sisterhood of Light for help, but were politely turned away. The Sisters did not believe their lurid tales–certainly they were over-exaggerating. (As it turns out, the Bodice’ land was sitting directly over the terrible Temple of the Exploding Head, and the demons they saw were the comings and goings of the Killanjo, the skinless servants of the Horned God who lived there.)

"Maiax Deceives the Bodice", by Justine Marie Hedman

“Maiax Deceives the Bodice”, by Justine Marie Hedman

Eventually, the demons became bold and tried to capture the Bodice and drag them below to the Temple where they could be offered up as sacrifice. Just as the Bodice were being carried off to their fate, a great creature came from the sky. It was Maiax, a god in the form of a gigantic elephant. He had seen the Bodice’ misfortune and had taken pity on them. Fierce and terrible, the demons rightly feared Maiax and they fled. Maiax became the patron god of the Bodice and he defended them faithfully for years. The LosCapricos weapon of the House of Bodice became the MAIAX, a little soapstone carving of an elephant that would summon Maiax himself when needed.

"Maiax in Flames" by Ewelina Dolzycka  Storytellers eventually cast Maiax as a liar and deceiver who personally oversaw the death of the Bodice

“Maiax in Flames” by Ewelina Dolzycka. Storytellers eventually cast Maiax as a liar and deceiver who personally oversaw the death of the Bodice

The problem with this arrangement was that Maiax was violating the Universal Rule of Balance. The gods cannot directly intervene on behalf of man. As a god, Maiax should have inspired the Bodice, provided leadership and offered advice, not directly defended them. In doing so, he brought a fearsome fate down upon their House, and they were all eventually burned alive in the Temple after first having been made to slowly starve and go mad in the cold emptiness of space. Once the Bodice were all dead, Maiax himself was punished by the Celestial Arborium. He was turned into a demon and sent to the Windage of Kind–the hell of the gods.

The Sisterhood of Light realized they failed the House of Bodice. They erected a statue in the ruins of their manor and created the holiday St. Porter's Day in their honor (art by Carol Phillips)

The Sisterhood of Light realized they failed the House of Bodice and erected a statue in the ruins of their manor. They created the holiday St. Porter’s Day in their honor (art by Carol Phillips)

In time, Maiax’ role in the death of the Bodice changed. Over three thousand years of telling and retelling the story, Maiax became not a protector of the House, but a deceiver, a liar, a demon revealing in their destruction who personally oversaw their deaths in the temple. When the Sisterhood of Light created St. Porter’s Day in their honor, they placed it at the extreme opposite end of the calendar as Maiax’ traditional feast day, to separate them as far as possible from their “destroyer”.

Eventually, Maiax escaped the Windage, along with Barr, the monkey god, Ibilex the crane and Mabsornath, the cat goddess. The foursome dogged Carahil as he attempted to save Xandarr and even tried to tempt him into becoming a demon himself. Carahil soon turned the tables on them and reminded Maiax of the tragedy of the Bodice. Still feeling the weight of their deaths, Maiax collapsed in misery. Carahil eventually forced the Celestial Arborium to forgive Maiax and the rest, to give them a second chance. Maiax though, was unable to forgive himself.

The story has a happy ending. Gathering his courage, Maiax goes to the spirits of the Bodice in Paradise to beg them for forgiveness (something he was forbidden to do as a demon). To his surprise, they are overjoyed to see him. They surround him and sing his name. They tell Maiax the one thing they lacked in paradise was him, and that they had missed him. He joins them in celebration forever.

copyright 2013, Ren Garcia, Ewelina Dolzycka, Justine Marie Hedman, Carol Phillips

The Fiend of Calvert

July 9, 2012

The mass murderer and psychopath who came to be known as the Fiend of Calvert terrorized the southern portion of Kana for well over thirty years. The Calvertlands of Kana have always been considered the lowest and meanest on the planet and the specter of a mad killer loose amid the crooked streets and seedy wharves wasn’t surprising to both the Sisterhood of Light and the League Ex-Commons–why they assumed such things were common in Calvert.

Map of the Calvert region of Kana

Calvert, though not overly wealthy or picturesque by Vith standards, was a tight-knit place. The three main cities in Calvert: St. Edmunds, Bezzel and Calvert were all the same: full of hard-working people who all knew each other, often dined in each other’s homes and went out of their way to assist a neighbor or passerby. What was wrong with Calvert, they wondered, why was it thought to be such a poor place: warm breezes, calm seas. Nothing was wrong with Calvert.

Coming of the Fiend
The murders began quietly enough, with various stumblebums and drunken sailors falling victim to the killer, sometimes out in the alleys and docks, sometimes in their modest rented rooms. The usual method of death: strangulation. The occasional death of a bum or sailor wasn’t unheard of in Calvert and not much attention was paid. But then more and more sailors and bums turned up dead, turned up missing. The Night of Unheard Cries in the city of St. Edmunds officially began the hysteria when ten sailors were found strangled to death in various sections of the city. The posts proclaimed: A Fiend Walks The Streets Of Calvert. The faceless killer now had a name.

There were plenty of clues to follow and it was assumed a simple genetic scan would bring the killer’s reign to a swift end. But, while the Fiend left a tantalizing abundance of clues: bits of cloth, shoe prints, partial fingerprints, his genetics were never found, not once in over a hundred murders. Another aspect of the Fiend’s work: he never harmed a single woman in thirty years, only men.

Lord Plaid, one of the Fiend’s more well-known victims

Investigators pursuing the Fiend would have to discover him the hard way, by observation and old-fashioned detective work. They created a profile of the killer they thought reasonably accurate: A man of some means to keep his genetics hidden (possibly wearing a bio-suit), strong and possibly well-connected. The early image of the Fiend wearing a bio suit and tanks hit the posts, soon replaced by the more iconic cloak and hat image that would capture the public’s imagination.

The Spirit of Calvert Dies
When the investigators from Calvert found the case too daunting, they brought in Gifted investigators from the west and the North, from Remnath and Vithland. Even they, however, could not stem the growing tide of death and mayhem and one of them, Lord Plaid, fell victim to the Fiend himself, found strangled to death in his room.

A result of all this was a pronounced change in Calvert. The locals began locking their doors at night, they began walking the streets with eyes down-cast and refusing a strangers’ needs. The greatest victim of the Fiend of Calvert was the spirit of the region itself.

The Mad Lord of Walther eventually put an end to the Fiend’s reign of terror

After twenty-five years of murder, abduction and failed attempts to capture the killer, the people of Calvert had had enough. They rallied on Calvert Square and held vigil there for a week, demanding justice. A vigilant from the north known as the Mad Lord of Walther heard the Calverts pleas for help and came to subdue the fiend.

The City of the Dead
With the Mad Lord’s help, the rate of murders in Calvert plummeted. His presence appeared to hinder the Fiend and kept him in check in the final five years of his reign. The Mad Lord eventually made a key discovery. He located a vault near the Ruins of Woodward where a great many men from Calvert, assumed to be victims of the Fiend, were imprisoned. They seemed to be in a trance of some sort from which they could not be roused, and the posts called the vault the City of the Dead.

Harvesting a trove of clues from the Woodward vault, the Mad Lord successfully engaged the Fiend in St. Edmund’s and defeated him in battle. Wounded, the Fiend fled across the rooftops of St. Edmund’s with the Mad Lord in close pursuit, and he was not seen again.

And so passed the Fiend of Calvert.

Grand Dame Miranda of Rosel is a noted historian on the Fiend of Calvert

In time, the wounds left by the Fiend would heal and some of the spirit of Calvert would return. As with many things, the Fiend became an iconic, romantic face of the region and became synonymous with Calvert itself. Books would be written about him, plays enacted and a whole cottage industry with the Fiend at its core sprang up in Calvert; tours, inns, merchandise. Now that he was gone people couldn’t seem to get enough of this horrible killer. The fact that he was unidentified made his allure all the more potent.

The Mad Lord, the man who stopped the Fiend, often wrote about him in his memoirs. The Mad Lord was always known to spin a good tale and his claims regarding the Fiend were particularly spectacular. He claimed that he saw the Fiend not as a man, but as a powerful woman dressed in gray.

None took the Mad Lord too seriously.

See the Fiend of Calvert in LoE Book VI: the Sands of the Solar Empire, coming July 2012

copyright 2012, Ren Garcia and Carol Phillips

I’m a small author. I have no illusions. I have my small but loyal fan base, and every day I add a few more, but it’s a lot of work. Keeping your brand moving is like a hamster running on the wheel–as long as the hamster is moving, the wheel turns, but, the moment he gets tired, goes for lunch or–God forbid–takes a day off, the wheel refuses to turn any further. It really would be nice if the wheel turned by itself. Keep on turning, you wheel you.

A key component of spreading the plague that is my brand is showing my smiling face: craft shows, bake shows, car shows, any place I can set up a table is fair game. And, truth be told, those lowly roadside shows can be a virgin goldmine: “You wrote this??” they cry. “Really?” An author standing proud amid fresh fruits and salted meats is a real novelty, and out comes the wallet and off goes the book sitting merry in its bag. Everybody wins.

A convention, on the other hand, is a whole different sort of cat. You got mind-scanned people coming and going in droll waves, you’ve got costumes and flashing lights and buffets of questionable foods … and you’ve got authors left and right, coming out of the baseboards, reading, speaking, standing in front of their tables, hucking and shucking. Wow! At a convention, being an author isn’t really a big deal. It’s pretty normal.

And then, you’ve got the handful of “Name Brand” folks moving about, the authors who are rather Big and have an Established Following, messiah-like amid the eager faithful. Just like in Lankhmar on the Street of the Gods, the bigger gods take their place at the end of the street and all the little gods and ragged priests line up nearby, hoping to snag a wayward or drunken worshipper or two. In such an environment, being shy and coy simply will not do. You cannot simply wait for the fish to jump into your boat, you’ve got to trawl for them.

My good friend Pete Grondin, author of the McKinney Brothers murder-mystery series, is a master at it. People pass by and Pete fearlessly casts his line: “Hey, lady! You like murder?” he asks to astonished stares and quickening paces. But, occasionally, people stop: “Yes, I do like murder,” they reply and the sale is transacted. So I sigh and give it a go: Hey! You like Science Fiction?? No? You like Fantasy? How about Romance … I got `em all!”

Oh is it tiring…

For me, the greatest value of attending a convention is the contacts and genuine friendships I make. I walk around and talk to the authors and show genuine interest in their work. I listen to them. I support them either with a pledge to mention them at future events or with my money. I speak on panels, and occasionally people remember that. I’ve met some great people. I met the incredible Shandahars–Tracy Chowdery and Ted Crim, and Denise Verrico. I got to know Nic and Fiona Brown of “Werewolf for Hire” fame, I met the sweet and misunderstood Elizadeth Hetherington (is she ever tall) and, of course the amazing and also upbeat Stephen Zimmer. I come out of these conventions exhausted, a little soiled, but enriched–people who didn’t know I existed before know me afterward and that is worth it all.

I sometimes wonder what it might be like to be the Brand Name, the Big God sitting at the end of the street entertaining throngs of followers. Does the Big God know the names of his followers, can he recall their faces?? Certainly, it can’t be as fun and fulfilling as snagging that select person or two and making a real connection. Now that’s a happy ending.

Bowl Naked


In attempting to grow my readership, I take the Carnie approach–I hit the road and mingle with the people. It’s exhausting, sometimes it’s dirty and unpleasant, but it’s also effective and, when successful, is quite fun. I’ve learned a lot in the past year or so and have refined both my setup and my personal technique, and I thought I’d share some of those revelations. Most of this is probably Basic Marketing 8:00am Day 1, but hey, each nugget of information presented here is hard won and battle-tested, and is therefore gold.

YOUR BASIC LAYOUT First thing. You need to present the idea to a customer that you’ve got something to sell–Seems simple, right, but for a beginning author with usually one solitary thing to offer, creating the impression to the buyer that you’ve got something they might want to buy can be difficult. An unknown authors sitting behind a drab table with naught but one thing to offer is, nine times of out ten, going to get passed by. You can attempt to cloud the issue with lots of marketing–you know, standups, banners, balloons–anything colorful and eye-catching that fills up the empty space around your table, but, when you get right down to it–people like seeing a lot of stuff in front of them. Seeing a lack of product is depressing.

In my case, I’ve got a six foot table, so I try to fill up that space as best I can. I push everything out front, creating the illusion that the table is bursting with product. I then organize the table with sellable items on my right and Swag, or free stuff on my left with advertisements (specials, combos, Coming Soons, etc) in the middle.

THE SELLABLES: Here’s my sellable marketing rack. First of all, notice how full it looks. I only have three titles to sell (Books I, II and III), however I create the convincing illusion that I have many many more titles to choose from. I accomplish this with (A) vertical striping that pulls the eye from top to bottom, and (C) I space the books out so that they fully encompass the entire rack–having empty spots is a downer. I also further enhance the illusion by having the same titles only in different covers (Notice B–Book One. Same book, just different look). I also fill out the rack by offering titles from other authors–in this case from my friends Chantal Boudreau’s Fervor and Justine Marie Hedman’s Kailey’s Bugs. It’s a symbiotic relationship.

Also, notice (B)–All of the titles are at eye-level. That’s the main thing. The customer doesn’t have to do much work to locate the product for sale, such as look down to the table-top–it’s all right there in front of them. For an unknown author expecting a passerby to look around for your stuff is an investment in time and effort many folks are not willing to make, it’s an unfortunate truth. Make it easy for them by getting everything up and off the table.

SWAG: People just love free stuff and having lots of swag around is always a must. I’ve got a smaller rack just for oversized cards with art, I’ve also got pens, pins, posters, shirts, bookmarks and magnets. For cards, I’ve found people really like the oversized cards, which was a surprise to me. I usually charge one or two bucks per piece of swag, but, if someone buys a book, they can have all the swag they want for free and that sometimes makes a deal.

So that’s my deal on book marketing. Of course no amount of marketing or swag will help without your critical input. You’ve got to stand up, be vocal, look people in the eye and be prepared to have to work hard for every single sale. Do that, and you can’t lose.

Bowl Naked



March 21, 2011

James Barnes with Loconeal Publishing setting up our table

Whew! Spent a long three days at Millennicon in Cincinnati. It was a great show: sold some books, made some new friends–lots of fun.

I met the incredible Stephen Zimmer, author and filmmaker, and plan to hit a few shows with him this summer. There was also the amazing duo of T.R. Chowdhury and T.M. Crim of The Shadow Over Shandahar series (who are joining me in the Loconeal fold–Welcome guys!) Can’t wait to hit the circuit!

Of all the wacky events I attend, the craft shows and bake shows, yard sales and pretty much any place I can set up a table, conventions are by far the hardest to attract buyers. People there are often on a mission for a certain kind of book, either by genre or author, and aren’t really interested in looking for anything else. Also, there’s lots of competition from other authors who are sharing space with you on the floor. Still, perseverance will win out in the end and if you’re tough and do plenty of smiling, you’ll come home with fewer books than you brought with you.

Note the monitor. It's displaying Carol's remote desktop with the illustration she's painting

At this convention we had Wi-Fi access and were able to get Carol Phillips, the Queen of the LoE Universe, to do several live paints. I dragged her out of her warm bed on the west coast to work on an illustration and she didn’t disappoint. We beamed her in via web conference and away she went, pulling and dragging, picking up color and causing an attendee at the Con to lose his heart (“She’s a Goddess,” he said).

That she is.

"Lt. Kilos and the Cat God Pub," by Carol Phillips

She started off with a flat sketch of Lt Kilos and Tweeter standing in front of the mysterious Cat God Pub in Blanchefort Village. Then, live before our unworthy eyes, the painting took shape, first the background and then the foreground. Due to a scheduling snafu on my part, Carol couldn’t quite finish the pic, but she’s getting close.

She knocked in the cobbles and added texture to the village in the background, rolled in some fog and added the “Octagon” to Elyria (the moon). She really wanted to have it finished before the Con ended, but that’s how life goes. People had various questions for her–mostly regarding layers, as Carol has over a hundred created for this painting and only very few of them are labelled. Next time, we’ll have to mic her up so she can talk as well as paint.

Next–I’m going to Piqua.

Bowl Naked


"The Cat God Pub" by Carol Phillips

I’ll be attending Millennicon in Cincinnati this weekend, March 18, 19 and 20 with Loconeal Publishing, signing books and promoting the release of Book III, The Dead Held Hands.

One of the things we’ll be doing is a Live Paint. Artist Carol Phillips will be working on this unfinished pic of Lt. Kilos standing in front of the elusive Cat God Pub, via Wi-Fi and a 17 inch monitor. She’ll even take questions via text while she’s working. It should be lots of fun.

Come and see us at Millennicon.

Cincinnati, Ohio

You know you want to …


The Gray Note

February 12, 2011

Perhaps you’ll understand what I’m about to share with you, and perhaps you won’t.

I often seek something I call The Gray Note. What is it?? It’s a sound that, when you hear, it takes you away, time forgotten, and your mind begins working at an incredible pace and in a rare harmony. My mentor at Ohio State told me about the existence of the Gray Note–that it was something he experienced once years before and had sought it out ever since. You never simply hear the Gray Note, it pulls you inside, like the embrace of an ancestor, and once you’re there conception is unbound and you’ve access to places in your own imagination never visited before–places you didn’t know existed. It’s like unlocking a hidden floor in a department store, full of treasures, where the public normally isn’t permitted to see.

Roebling Bridge (Cincinnati, Ohio)

I encountered it once on the Roebling Bridge in Cincinnati, Ohio about ten years ago. The bridge doesn’t have a paved roadway, instead it’s simply a segmented metal grate with large square holes through which you can see the rushing waters of the Ohio River far below. Cars rolling across this grated surface make the most incredible sound, full and mournful. On rainy days, when the air is thick, the sound sometimes changes a bit in timbre and becomes the Gray Note. I was walking across the bridge one rainy day and fell into it, standing there, mouth open, captivated, listening for hours, not wanting to come out of it. It was like an LSD trip, only without the drug, just a perfect communion of your mind and your senses. Eventually, the clouds parted and the sound changed, and I was dumped back to Earth, lamenting the perfection I’d experienced and then lost.

I often returned to the Roebling to try and recapture The Gray Note, but it never was the same, and I’ve looked for it ever since, always elusive and just beyond my reach. I’ve hunted it, like King Arthur’s Questing Beast.

Today, I found the Gray Note again, in an unexpected place.

My wife wanted to stop at Target and get a few things. I really didn’t want to go, but she insisted. We went inside and she grabbed a cart and started shopping. We made our way to the vast frozen food section, all the cases full of whirring fans, that droning staccato sound they made.


That sound…

As we moved down the aisle, there it was, in just the right spot, I re-discovered the Gray Note, rich and proud, full of life and creation.

As before, I fell in. Vast new worlds opened up, I created entire novels, beginnings and endings. Whole lives danced in front of me. I could have died there …

And then my wife shook me and it was gone. She said I was standing there in a stupor, like I was catatonic.

And there I was, back on Earth.

“Did you hear it?” I asked her.

“Hear what? I just hear noise.”

And my hunt continues …

Bowl Naked


The Yoda Way

January 20, 2011

Antioch College

I wanted to share this musing with you. I once saw something in Yellow Springs which I thought was really stupid at the time, but now, years later, I see the truth of it.

Yellow Springs is a pocket of profound liberalism tucked deep in the conservative gullet of Southwestern Ohio. Founded with the intention of being a Utopian Society, it’s like a weird Austin Powers movie brought to life where long hair, bad teeth and men who wear skirts is the norm rather than the exception. Ground Zero of all this strangeness is Antioch College, which often seems more like a bizarre cult or Celtic tribe right out of the Dark Ages rather than an institution of higher learning.

Near Antioch College is a very nice bike and skating path that goes fifteen miles all the way to Xenia, passing through haunted Medway where Tecumseh was born. I used to skate that path every day. I could do it in about two hours.

On the approach to Yellow Springs, the path dives into a thick forest full of deer and wild turkeys–I liked to call it the “Sherwood Forest of Ohio”. One day I saw a man dragging another prone man off the path into the woods. I didn’t know what I was seeing–possibly a homicide in progress. I didn’t have anything to defend myself with, but I couldn’t allow it to go on unchallenged.

As I got nearer, I saw the man being dragged along the ground was actually a dummy made of cloth and rags. He was dressed in a plaid shirt and filthy jeans. He had on a werewolf mask and a pair of woolly clawed hands from a costume shop.

I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to know what was going on. I ground to a halt. “What are you doing?” I demanded.

The man doing the dragging was a typical Yellow Springs guy–unbathed, rather stinky and generally unkempt. He was wearing a hooded butternut robe that went down to his ankles. He wiped his brow and explained that it was his son’s tenth birthday.

“So?” I said.


He said he was going to put his son to a test, a-la Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back. As he explained: he was going to make his ten year-old son walk down a path deep into the woods. Eventually, he would come to a fork in the path. If he chose the right path, he would eventually encounter the dummy, which was supposed to represent evil and vice. If he chose the left path, he would discover a hollowed-out tree at the end of the path which, the man explained, had a large mirror stuffed into the hollow–meaning that his son had discovered himself.

Only in Yellow Springs …

I thought about it a moment and started laughing. I laughed so hard I nearly fell down off my blades. “That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard! You’re going to take a hackneyed Jedi Force test from a movie and apply it to your son in real life and hope that it somehow has a profound effect upon him?? You’re dumb! You’re so dumb!” I said, hardly containing myself.

The man waved me off and continued his work, dragging the dummy into the woods. I finished my skate and had no further thought about the matter.

Years later, I sit here in the basement wondering about the future. My wife wants to have a child. She’s working very hard at it, and it’s very challenging. I wonder, if we’re successful and actually do have a child, possibly a son, what will I do to teach him between good and evil, right and wrong? I actually have no idea. I can preach and cajole all I want, I can punish and rage–will any of it work??

Maybe the Yoda Way is the best way after all.

Bowl Naked