24 April 2013

Ready up! It's ColossalCon 2013!!

Love that anime and manga!
Image (cc) by Hosomi
Oh man, oh man! Summer will be here before we know it, and that means it's time to celebrate anime, manga, video games, and pop culture!

After finishing my book, my next big writerly project is the fabulously awesome Colossalcon. If you recall, last year I had an absolute blast. It was the first time I presented a writing panel to the public, had my first cosplay experience, and got to meet some really awesome guests as well. 

And now I'm preparing for my second Colossalcon, with TWO writing panels (!!) and an elaborate cosplay I thought up at the last minute. Oh, and there are like seven guests I want to meet this year. It's going to be great.

Download it here or here

I'm proud to present my panels FANFIC INTO FICTION (on page 15) and GIVE GOOD SPEC! (on page 17). My pal Kitsune Hazard and the AlcoBronies will also make a triumphant return to Colossalcon with BRONIES LATE NIGHT (on page 8).

Last year I presented Give Good Spec and tweaked it for this year's convention--deeper content, and no Power Point presentations! Hooray! Fanfic into Fiction is also a Power Point-free presentation, and I'll be going into a variety of topics from why people write fanfic, how it makes you a better writer, and other important stuff like copyright and fair use! Although I get to use the disclaimer, "I am not a lawyer or legal representative of the United States" before I go into it. 

I ordered some business cards from Moo especially for Colossalcon (they were running a promotion at the time so I got 100 cards for free, yay!) and I get to burn around 100 discs or so of content for my panel attendees.

On top of that, my cosplay idea is pretty insane. Last year I wanted to cosplay from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. I didn't want to bother with sewing at all, and I couldn't find a dress that I could alter reasonably into a Lust costume, so I paid a talented seamstress from Etsy to make my outfit, and it came out really well. 

Because my health got crappy in the winter, I knew I couldn't fit into my costume again for Colossalcon this year (which made me really sad, although I've lost 8 lbs so far!). I was going to wear my kimono only, but then I watched Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo and fell in love with the anime's rich, textured visual style. I decided to do a female version of the Count, so at Colossalcon I will refer to myself as Lady Gankutsuou, La Comtesse de Monte Cristo.

And since this was a last-minute decision, I knew I couldn't hire anyone to make a costume in time, so I'm doing A LOT OF SEWING this time around. I'm altering pre-existing clothing and doing it all by hand because I hate sewing machines. They scare me and I screw up every time I mess with the bobbin. Blehh.

I tweeted my work in progress and some of the gorgeous fabric I'm working with:

But my progress is slow-going. That one flame I sewed into my jacket sleeve took me hours. And, the fire fabric is really messy and fraying. I tried hemming the flames first to prevent it from falling apart, but the shape got really distorted when I did that. So, I sewed it straight onto the sleeve so the fire could keep its awesome shape, but it looks crappy close-up. Nothing looks clean. I think I'm going to have to outline the flames with some black trimming to make it look more professional. So, I expect this will be incredibly time-consuming, but much more fulfilling since this costume will truly be my baby.

I've got a cape (I just need to add the paisley fabric to the lining), the silk fabric for my cravat, a gorgeous black velvet jacket (I need to finish the flames and trim the sleeves with the red/gold pattern), a satin Victorian bustle-style skirt, and white gloves.

As far as the makeup and hair goes, I've got that awesome Arda wig you see in the picture: The Claudia in Midnight Blue. I'll pretty much wear it as pictured, except I'll brush out some of the tighter curls at the bottom of the wig. I wanted to get the ears but now I don't think I'm going to bother because I think the wig will cover my ears. But I am going to get vampire teeth. Oh yes. So I need the teeth, the blue skin makeup, and some blue lipstick (since I'm playing the Count as a female).

I am worried I'm going to overheat in the costume. I sweated in my Lust costume last year, but it was because I wore like 30 pieces of hair extensions. I'm wearing a lot of velvet and the hair may be heavy like last year's hairpieces...but at the same time, I know I'll be more comfortable because I'll be wearing PROPER FOOTWEAR this time. I just hope I don't sweat everything off. The convention center at the Kalahari is nice and air-conditioned, but there will still be a lot of people running around. Fingers crossed I don't burn out!!

Anyway, I'm so excited about this year's Colossalcon. It's shaping up to be something amazing, AND I HOPE TO SEE YOU THERE!!

23 April 2013

The Magic of "The Anubis Gates"

Cover of the 1997 edition,
via Goodreads.
A few weeks ago, my Readings in the Genre: Fantasy Classics class at Seton Hill University recently completed a unit on Tim Powers' marvelously unique The Anubis Gates. Because I have difficulty even describing this book to other people, here's how Amazon.com Reviews describes it:
Author Tim Powers evokes 17th-century England with a combination of meticulously researched historic detail and imaginative flights in this sci-fi tale of time travel. [...] The colonization of Egypt by western European powers is the launch point for power plays and machinations. Steeping together in this time-warp stew are such characters as an unassuming Coleridge scholar, ancient gods, wizards, the Knights Templar, werewolves, and other quasi-mortals, all wrapped in the organizing fabric of Egyptian mythology. In the best of fantasy traditions, the reluctant heroes fight for survival against an evil that lurks beneath the surface of their everyday lives.
The book is really nothing like I've ever read before. I enjoyed it, but it's also loaded with a lot of detail, and it's not something you can speed-read by any means. A few of my classmates had trouble wading through some of it, especially the magic systems. Luckily enough, though, doing research for my own novel allowed me to recognize and understand why Tim Powers made the choices he did. Honestly, if it wasn't for what I learned while writing my own story, I wouldn't have been able to connect the dots so easily. Here's my class essay, word-for-word. My book response ended up being one of my most popular school posts, with a lot of supportive comments. My favorite:

We definitely need a like button. This is fantastic  Kristina. Powers should add this as an appendix to his book so that it can all make more sense. You explained beautifully the way all the magic works and how all the Egyptian (or almost Egyptian for the Roma) all tie together. You descriptions are clear and logical and really help me understand the book better. Well done!

Without further ado, let's talk about The Anubis Gates and its powerful magic.


I'm going to go into the magic systems for The Anubis Gates, because it touched me on a very personal level. My graduate thesis, The Name and the Key, deals with Roma myth and magic, as well as alchemy (in fact, some of  The Anubis Gates gave me a heart attack from unintentional similarities to my book). I've also visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art many times while growing up, and our favorite section was the Egyptian wing, which features The Temple of Dendur and pages from the Book of the Dead, among many, many, many other things. We were obsessed with Egypt when we were children so I feel like I've got a good grasp on that mythos.  And now onto the book!

A popular representation of the gypsy.
But does it truly represent the Roma?

French postcard,
La Femme avec un Tambourin, circa 1910
When it comes to the author's treatment of the Roma, I have mixed feelings about it. There are two stereotypes of the Roma--the bohemian, magical, mysterious gypsy, and on the other end of the spectrum, the gypsies who are criminal kings and thieves and murders. There never seems to be any middle ground between the two when it comes to the literary treatment of the Roma.

So, first things first: "Gypsy" is a misnomer for the Roma, who also consider it insulting to be referred to in such a way. It was mistakenly believed that the Roma came from Egypt, hence the creation of the word, "gypsies." (Think of it like Native Americans who are referred to as Indians when Columbus thought he crossed the Indian Ocean).  Research shows that the Roma most likely originated in India and Pakistan, based on certain genetic qualifiers, folk and religious beliefs,  and linguistic ties (many of their words connect to Sanskrit).

Now, Tim Powers wrote this in 1983, so it's not like genetics could've determined the origination of the Roma, but as early as 200 years ago, scholars already made the connection that the Roma came from the Indian subcontinent. So Powers should've known that the Roma culture would be based off of Indian culture rather than Egyptian.

But you can see why it's appealing to use the gypsies in the novel as 'Gyptians--that's making a theme come full circle, and it would explain why the gypsies would have anything to do with Dr. Romany and his plans. The Roma also have a reputation for being a superstitious and magical people, so that also works well for this book.

Some stuff I do know right off the bat--when the gypsies in Powers book flip in and out of their language, the words Powers uses is accurate. Even small details like hotchi-witchie (hedgehog) help round out the representation of their culture. And when magic is concerned, creatures like the yags also have ties to Roma language (yag means fire).

So here's the thing. Powers took some creative license with Roma culture in order to make clear ties to the Egyptian mythology. That's why I think Powers chose to use the misnomer "gypsy" and only refer to the Roma properly when explaining the origin of Dr. Romany's name. If Powers referred to his gypsies as Roma, then he'd have to do a true representation of that race, which means, no ties to Egypt. And since "gypsy" also refers to the stereotype of the Roma, he can have more creative license there, too. Shady underworld? Check. Actual magic? Check.

Let's hop on over to alchemy, then. This isn't mentioned directly in the novel very often, but it does have a presence in the book.  In the opening magic spell, where Fikee tries to bring Anubis to life but it backfires (notice how Fikee howls at the moon like a jackal, which is the head of Anubis), some of the writing on the magic tools aren't just hieroglyphics, but they are alchemical symbols as well, though there isn't much detail as to what they are, exactly.

The Tabula Smaragdina
Alchemy engraving by Matthäus Merian, 1618
Alchemy did lay some of the foundations of today's modern science. Alchemical symbols did reference actual substances, like silver, gold, salt, mercury, and sulfur, but also the elements earth, air, fire, and water. And the alchemical processes (sublimation, calcination, etc.) have symbols attributed to the planets. If you've ever heard the phrase As Above, So Below, it's another way of referring to the principle of the All and the One. So things like space, time, the universe, whatever…all of it is connected. Which could account for the union of magic and science in The Anubis Gates, since alchemy also consists of magic and science. It's also a magical connection to time travel employed in the book, since alchemy is a system of patterns and repetition--the time gaps are part of a pattern, for example, and since time is simply a part of the All and One, technically anything could be possible.

And how does alchemy tie into Egypt? The basic fundamental principles of alchemy (including As Above, So Below), the creation of the Philosopher's Stone, and the secret of transmutation, were inscribed on the Emerald Tablet (Tabula Smaragdina), which is attributed to Hermes Trismegistus, or the Thrice-Great Hermes. Hermes Trismegistus is another representation of the Egyptian god Thoth. Thoth holds in his hand the ankh, the Egyptian symbol for life, and the goal of the alchemist was eternal life through the creation of the Philosopher's Stone.

Elixir da Longa Vida Alquimia
The Elixir of Life, from
 J.D. Mylius' Anatomia Auri, 1628
Another thing tied to alchemy are homunculi, which is what Powers refers to as the Spoonsize Boys. Homunculus, meaning "little human," refers to an artificially-made human being. Often they were considered to be tiny, but the term evolved to become an equivalent to any artificial human (like a Golem). Paracelsus, one of the greatest contributors to alchemy, believed that homunculi existed in human sperm, and to harvest the homunculi to become a live being, it had to live in a state of incubation (in a flask, for example) and undergo the "putrefaction" stage of the alchemical process…as well as being fed human blood. Then the homunculus could be brought to life.

If you notice now, the similarity of the creation of the homunculus also matches the creation of the ka in The Anubis Gates. I tried to look up the term "paut," which is the book's name of the substance before it becomes a homunculus or ka, and the only thing that remotely works for that word choice is that it's a Scottish word meaning "to rise and walk around slowly." Other than that, paut doesn't seem to be a real word or alchemical concoction.

Ka statue of Hor Awriba
from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo
Since we know what a homunculus is already, let's tie it to the "ka." Ka were depicted on many of the mummy caskets and funerary art when Egyptians died and were entombed. The Ka reflects a mirror image of the deceased person, but it refers to the life essence or soul within a human being. If the Ka left the body, then the human died. It was believed that the Ka was made from the breath of the Gods, given to a person right at the time of birth so they could have a soul.

In The Anubis Gates, the ka is really a homunculus, but because the ka is a spiritual double of a human being, it would account for the creation of a homunculus that looked exactly like its blood source.

Other random tie-ins to the Roma or Egypt or alchemy:

Werewolf.  The inclusion of the werewolf plot may seem totally random, but if you remember, the curse to bring Anubis to life fired back on Fikee. Anubis is a jackal, or dog. And since he's called Dog-Face Joe as opposed to the Wolfman, we can assume Fikee's appearance takes after the jackal more than it does a wolf. So that's the tie to Egypt. The tie to the Roma? The curse of the werewolf has been attributed to gypsies forever (thanks, Hollywood!). And lastly, the link to alchemy? Transmutation.
Elementals. I already mentioned the "yag" which was the Roma word for fire, and Powers used this as the name for the Fire Elementals. It's later confirmed that there are other Elementals as well. Hermes Trismegistus named the four elements in the Kore Kasmou. If you recall, Hermes Trismegistus is the Egyptian god Thoth. Hermes Trismegistus originated the principles of alchemy. And centuries later, one of the fathers of alchemy, Paracelsus, developed the idea of an Elemental Being: the Gnome (Earth), the Salamander (Fire), the Sylph (Air), and Undine (Water).

My thesis relies heavily on Roma culture and alchemy for its own magic system, which is why I thought I'd share with you what I've learned from researching it for my own novel. It may seem random at first, but The Anubis Gates magic system is very cleverly interconnected.

So, this is pretty amazing:

Why I'm floored--the director is Ruth Pe Palileo of Current Theatrics, and she's referring to the cast of The Anubis Gates World Stage Premiere, which debuted the stage adaptation of The Anubis Gates in London for August 2014. WOW!

14 April 2013

How I Finished the Book: Everything Must Go!

Image licensed from Stock Unlimited.


83,236 words totalling 386 pages

Amazing, crazy things can happen when you're nearing a deadline. When I started writing The Name and the Key, I never had an entirely clear vision of the book or its plot, and I've documented this struggle for the past two years. 

But there were several things I did intend for the book right from the beginning. The book was an enormous concept and I seriously thought I'd be popping out a novel that would be 500-600 pages. 

But when you're running out of time, and when you're trying to submit solid, clean work, you'll be amazed at what goes on the chopping block. The book I turned in has such surprising plot changes to it that it honestly doesn't resemble anything I promised to friends and family whenever I talked about it. 

Which means when everyone gets around to reading it, there are definitely some "whhhhooooa"s in store you. 

In a lot of my writing, I tend to drop clues or references that will later be relevant to future events. This made up the bulk of my earlier chapters. When you don't have the time to wrap up all of those loose ends, they become the first things to go. 

Here's what got chopped:
  • Five entire chapters deleted (!!!!)
  • Beauty and the Beast references and influences cut
  • All fairy tales and storytelling scenes cut
  • Highgate cut; referenced in one paragraph only
  • Finale with Lily and Dead Mother cut
  • Thomas Marxham character arc with Laney deleted
  • Ballroom assault plots cut--no ballroom scenes at all
  • Major plot points and timelines cut
  • Lily burning a hole through "reality" and its consequences
  • Uncle Zurca teaching Lily magic
  • A really on-the-nose reference to the book title has been cut, yay!
  • There was going to be a whole mystery and build-up to Lily finding out about Andresh's magic and how to use it--that's gone. Circumstances force Andresh to flat-out confess everything, including why he went on the Walk 
  • No clear resolution for Kale, Zurca, Laney, and Viollca 
  • And remember these cuts? (Early deletions)
Here's what bloomed out of nowhere:
  • New minor characters: Madame Zimina, a fortune teller, and her young son Pesha 
  • A heavy romance element: I had always intended for Lily and Andresh to deny their sexual attraction until the very end. But, I said screw it, everybody knows they like each other. So now they jump each other halfway into the book, and Lily initiates most of it. But because the story is still based on a historical time period, I did observe the rules of propriety and didn't have the characters do things that would normally ruin their lives. I've never written romance before, so I'm terrified that it'll be too corny or unrealistic. The dialogue is quite emotional at times.  
  • Lily personality tweak: I really liked Lily, but consistent complaints from friends and mentors essentially said, "She really needs to get a grip and calm down." I tried to make her strong but she came off snarky; and when I tried to make her concerned for other characters, she came off fussy. So what did I do? I deleted almost all of her internal dialogue, tried to make her more affectionate and giving, and I tried to make her more accepting of things and not ask too many questions. 
  • Race and Culture: I hinted at the Roma's persecution and unfair treatment a lot more frequently; I also did it to remind readers that most of my characters are not white (although yes, Caucasian Roma do exist). I love my artwork of Andresh, but his skin color is frequently changed. Despite me informing artists that he has reddish-brown skin, he's been portrayed in a variety of colors. He is beautiful in every single depiction, and I don't think the artists purposely tried to change him. Human beings picture things as they know them--they draw on personal experience and imagine things based on what they're familiar with. If I didn't make it more obvious that my characters were of different races, they would default to what readers commonly expect in fantasy--the stereotypical white medieval noble lord. 
  • Naked time! I knew Andresh would have to get naked because of his magic, but Lily gets naked, too, for a grand old Naked Time finale. Lily and Laney also give Andresh a bath (long story) which I included just to mess with Laney and her crush on Andresh. 
  • Lily's magic: There's a very simple reason as to why Lily can do what she can do. She's not chosen or anything like that; she just has a genetic disposition toward magic. Which explains why Lily and Laney are raised as "outsiders." Also, Lily ends up showing she has even more power than Andresh because I have her doing something really crazy (and new!) at the end of the book, which kind of makes her badass.
  • Larger sense of geography: The main settings are Rookwood and Mariner, but other locations are frequently referenced. So now we have Silva (the capital); Ingelore, the port city of Geldenwald; the Verda foothills that lead into the city of Sorra; and Capua Cora, a town developed from the enormous ruins of an old abbey. I am so proud of Capua Cora that I'm going to have to use it as a setting again somehow.  
Even some events in the book that I've kept (Lily sending Uncle Zurca supplies, for example) now have a completely different reason for them occurring. 

After all that, now what?
  • When I finished the book, it concluded the major arc between Lily and Andresh. That felt like the book's natural ending, but I left many, many things open and unanswered. I didn't want it to be like Lord of the Rings and have seven different endings so we know what happens to all the other characters, but I think the reader will probably want a little more than what I gave them. Right after I sent the manuscript to my mentors, of course, I decided that I should probably write an epilogue. 
  • The book will have to be proofread again. I cannot tell you how many hours it took me to read through the whole thing to clean it up, only to spot errors in it right after I turned it in. BLEHH!
  • Going to work on The Step and the Walk.
  • Going to research agents to query. This is the part of the game that terrifies me. 
  • Going to develop a graphic novel series that I may self-publish. Came up with the plot a few weeks ago. 
In a follow-up blogpost, I'll tell you more about the book and its story--you know, the part where I give you a proper elevator pitch/back of the book blurb and other fun things such as that. Huzzah!

03 April 2013

Jennifer Loring is Awesome

Jenn's story "In Remembrance" is featured in this
Check it out here!
Hooray for signal boosts!

If you've hopped over to my Authors tab on this website, you might've seen me mention Jennifer Loring along with some other great authors like Tim Waggoner, Anne Harris, and Scott Johnson.

Jenn and I met through Seton Hill University's Writing Popular Fiction program, and she was assigned to be my crit partner my second term at school. She's the only person who's seen my work from the beginning to its near end, and her helpful advice has shaped my book into something better than I ever could've hoped it to be. She's also taught me many important things about writing fiction as well (especially since I came to the program with playwriting experience and nothing else).

Anyway, here's a shout-out and congratulations to Jenn for having her short story "In Remembrance"  (a  sweet take on zombies) featured in the Tales of Obscenity anthology.

And I'd like to point out, if you click on the pic to maximize the size of the image, Jenn's name is the first you see on the list of fiction authors. I'd call that top billing, wouldn't you? So awesome!

To get the anthology, go here. To read Jenn's take on the anthology, read her post about it, and to keep up with Jenn's great works, follow her blog and reach out to her on Twitter.

Congrats, Jenn!