Keep the west weird

If you like weird westerns or my Angel Azrael gunslinger stories — or both! — then you may be interested in the Beneath Ceaseless Skies 8th Anniversary Sale.

Buy or renew a BCS ebook subscription or buy Best of BCS Year Seven at Weightless Books, and you’ll get a free BCS anthology of your choice — including Ceaseless West, which contains my first ever Angel Azrael tale.

BCS Ebook Subscriptions are still only $15.99 for a whole year/26 issues (that’s less than 30 cents a story). Subscribers can get issues delivered directly to their Kindle or smart phone (any device with an email address), and they get new issues early, a week before the website. You can renew at any time, no matter when your subscription expires.

BCS is one of the best magazines out there and my personal favourite. Check it out and treat yourself!

The red Hugos

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Over at my day job, I talk to bestselling fantasy writer Sebastien de Castell about the time he met George R.R. Martin at the Hugo Awards and it didn’t go so well. Check out de Castell’s Greatcoats series if you have the chance — it’s one of my favourite reads right now, and we have all the same influences.

“He grabs this invitation for the Hugo losers party,” de Castell said, referring to the annual party that Martin hosts for those nominees who don’t win a Hugo Award. “He says, ‘I may as well give you this now because it’s safe money you’re going to lose.’”

Together again, for the first time

It’s the very first time I’ve seen all my Cross books together in a bookstore! Thanks, Chapters!

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Well, that’s the Sixth Seal broken. On to the next one.

My VCON events

I’ll be attending VCON 41 in Surrey this year and appearing on a couple of panels that look like great fun:

Building Monsters

Mary Shelley utilized the novel concept of “galvanism” to infuse her creature with life. What recent scientific findings could be used to craft modern monsters?

With Rob Boffard, Joe Fulgham, Catherine Girczyc, Kevin Harkness and Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Sunday, Oct. 2, 12:00-12:50, Green Timbers 3

 

Beyond Lovecraft

Lovecraft is synonymous with Weird Horror fiction, sometimes even with the whole field of horror fiction. But who are the contemporary writers making a splash in this field? And what of the other, older writers of the Weird that time has forgotten?

With Julie McGalliard, Rob Boffard, Graham J. Darling and Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Sunday, Oct. 2, 4-4:50, Tynehead 2

 

 

“I’m burning books right now to stay warm”

My publishers at ChiZine did a reddit AMA to talk about life at a Canadian publishing house. They have some useful advice if you’re looking to publish a book or if you want to see what the super-sexy life of editing and bookselling is like. (Spoiler: It is neither super nor sexy. But there is scotch.)

Also, NSFW.

If you like Cross, you may also like Kincaid Strange

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If you like my Cross books, you may want to check out Kristi Charish‘s new Kincaid Strange series. Strange is a voodoo practitioner in Seattle who lives with the ghost of a dead grunge rock star and solves supernatural mysteries. What more do you need to know than that?

Charish is also the author of the Owl series of books, about a relic hunter who travels the world encountering various magical artifacts and supernatural baddies. It would make a great video game!

Check out the interview I did with Charish about the first book in the new series, The Voodoo Killings, if you want to learn more.

Venice is a state of imagination

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Lately I’ve been thinking about Venice. I visited it for the first time earlier this year, during a mini-tour of Italy. It was by far my favourite city out of the four I explored — the others being Trieste, Florence and Rome — because, well, it’s Venice. It’s a maddening labyrinth with a strange history and almost unreal nature — it’s a city that shouldn’t be possible yet is somehow there anyway. When you walk its streets, it’s like you’re walking through a mad dream. Perhaps that why it’s so popular. We have enough cities in the world, but how many dreams can we actually explore?

cryptThe whole time I was there, I kept wondering how Venice had even come about. A little Googling revealed that the city’s history is one of crazy ideas. A city founded by refugees who built it out of a swamp and transformed it into an influential city state thanks to a combination of shipping power and religious relics. The city continues to be a crazy idea today — imagine a city that sometimes still floods, and where parts of it are permanently flooded, like the Flooded Crypt of San Zaccaria. A modern city where automobiles largely don’t seem to exist. A city that depends on tourism for its economic success but where tourists are told to go home for fear they may destroy the whole place, as if reality may sink the fragile foundation of the dream city.

Is there a real Venice that exists under the tourist façade? Even that is uncertain. I mean, obviously there is a Venice that physically exists there. But what is it exactly? Which parts make up what we think of as Venice?

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Is it the bridges crowded with tourists — the bridges that used to host bloody fistfight spectacles?

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Is it the island of the dead?

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The island of the fishermen?

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The various abandoned and forgotten islands?

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The picture here is my copy of Shawna Lemay’s Asking in the soil of the island of Torcello, an island home to an abandoned monastery turned tourist destination. An island that is on its way to being forgotten? Or transformed into some new form of Disneyesque attraction? I finished the book on my travels, and it’s one I’ll likely return to again, much like Lemay’s blog Calm Things. When I have time, I’ll also check out her book about Venice, Against Paradise.

I also read Sebastien de Castell’s Saint’s Blood during this trip, which turned out to be an appropriate choice. Right before I left, de Castell and I met up for lunch and he advised me to remember to experience the moment while in Italy. I think he’s right in saying too many of us spend too much time thinking about how to present the moment to others and not live it while it happens. I kept this thought in mind while travelling and it made a difference in the way I remember Venice. I think.

I can’t help but think of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities when I think of Venice. The book is like the city itself, something magical and indescribable. You have to experience it to understand it and everyone’s understanding of it will be their own. (A glimpse of it from a distance.) The book is a mythical travelogue of sorts, with the explorer Marco Polo describing 55 incredible, impossible cities to Kublai Khan, such as Octavia:

Now I will tell how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed.

This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants.

Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will last only so long.

In trying to map out Venice in my mind, I came across this intriguing bit by Jeanette Winterson on Calvino’s book and Venice. Seems to fit here:

Venice is a city you must design and build for yourself. The tourist Venice is a chimera, the historical Venice is a museum. The living Venice is the one where every canal and palazzo and sun-shy square, with its iron well and unlisted church, has been privately mapped. No one can show you Venice. There is no such place. Out of the multiple Venice’s, none authentic, only you can find the one that has any value.

Venice’s extremes – its Disneyishness and its invisibility, are not unique, they are the lesser experience of many cities. In Venice the experience is concentrated. There is nowhere less rewarding, nowhere more maddening. The secret Venice guidebooks are useless. This is not New York or Rome. Venice can only be read as fiction. Visiting Venice is to become a fiction yourself – at least if you want to get any sense of it. The facts tell you nothing. This is a cusp city, working at the intersection of art and life – where the best fiction works too.

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To return to Calvino, I think of Venice like I think of Calvino’s Tamara. “You leave Tamara without having discovered it.”

Finally the journey leads to the city of Tamara. You penetrate it along streets thick with signboards jutting from the walls. The eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things: pincers point out the tooth-drawer’s house; a tankard, the tavern; halberds, the barracks; scales, the grocer’s. Statues and shields depict lions, dolphins, towers, stars: a sign that something — who knows what? — has as its sign a lion or a dolphin or a tower or a star. Other signals warn of what is forbidden in a given place (to enter the alley with wagons, to urinate behind the kiosk, to fish with your pole from the bridge) and what is allowed (watering zebras, playing bowls, burning relatives’ corpses). From the doors of the temples the gods’ statues are seen, each portrayed with his attributes — the cornucopia, the hourglass, the medusa — so that the worshiper can recognize them and address his prayers correctly. If a building has no signboard or figure, its very form and the position it occupies in the city’s order suffice to indicate its function: the palace, the prison, the mint, the Pythagorean school, the brothel. The wares, too, which the vendors display on their stalls are valuable not in themselves but as signs of other things: the embroidered headband stands for elegance; the gilded palanquin, power; the volumes of Averroes, learning; the ankle bracelet, voluptuousness. Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse, and while you believe you are visiting Tamara you are only recording the names with which she defines herself and all her parts.

However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it. Outside, the land stretches, empty, to the horizon; the sky opens, with speeding clouds. In the shape that chance and wind give the clouds, you are already intent on recognizing figures: a sailing ship, a hand, an elephant. . . .

Yes, I would like to visit Venice again, and experience once more that joyous act of discovery where we encounter not only a strange and foreign place but also experience our own mad, impossible imagination.

Zen

This moment of zen brought to you by Qualicum Beach

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Adventures in History

I’ll be appearing at Word Vancouver, Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2:30 in the Suspension Bridge venue, as part of the Adventures in History session. I’ll be reading from The Apocalypse Ark or my teenage journal or something like that. I’ll be followed by Ronald Wright at 2:50, who will be reading from his book The Gold Eaters. Unless, of course, the time travel experiment goes awry, and then all schedules are off.

Set sail for the sea of imagination

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There are all numbers of things fantastic in my third Cross novel, The Apocalypse Ark. There are angels and a crazed Noah, sorcerous pirates and sunken cities, a vampire and a white whale, to name just a few. In one sense, the book is a stand-in for the ark of the title, which in Cross’s universe is not the ship that saved humanity but is instead the storage place for all of God’s misfit creations. There are many such misfits in the book. In another, more personal sense, The Apocalypse Ark is a return to some of the things that inspired me to begin writing when I was a child.

The cast of curious creatures is nothing new for the series. The first two Cross books, The Mona Lisa Sacrifice and The Dead Hamlets, also have their share of the mythological and wondrous. With those books, though, the fantastic was much more grounded in the real. I’ve always loved fantasy, but I really wanted to create a fantasy series that was about our world rather than some made-up realm — I wanted readers to feel a real-life connection to the characters and places in the books, even if the characters were immortals, faerie and the like.

In The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, the fantasy elements are very clearly tied to our world — the Gaudi church in Barcelona inspired much of the book (as I’ve written about before), the gorgon is linked to a statue in the Louvre and a glass skull in the British Museum, Cross’s love Penelope is enmeshed in the spiritualist movement, an abandoned factory in Detroit is the setting for a key scene and so forth. There’s even a real-life painting or two that play a role.

I continued to find the fantasy in the real with The Dead Hamlets, where the Tower of London plays a key role, as does the castle that likely inspired Hamlet. There are a few other things, such as a certain cemetery, a legendary historical text, Westminster Abbey, the church where Shakespeare is buried, a real-life haunted theatre and rumoured ghost, and so on. I let my imagination run a little more wild in The Dead Hamlets, creating settings and characters that are definitely out of this world, but for the most part I was working within pre-existing myths, legends and texts.

With The Apocalypse Ark, I set sail for the seas of the imagination instead of the real world, though. The novel originated in a mad fantasy rather than the real world, after all — the idea that Noah was God’s jailer rather than humanity’s saviour and had gone mad and sought to end the world. As with the other books, I wanted a wild assortment of mythic characters and magical settings, but rather than find their origins in real life I wanted to anchor them in books, movies, and other works of art that had meant something to me. (Some of you may say there is no difference between real life and art, but bear with me….)

In many ways, The Apocalypse Ark is a tribute to the works that inspired me as a youth and lit the fires of my imagination. Chief among them is the film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on the Jules Verne novel. I remember seeing the movie in a school gymnasium right before the holidays when I was in elementary school. I sat on the floor in the dark with hundreds of other students and watched, mesmerized, as the secret submarine Nautilus emerged from the depths and its crew did battle with a giant squid. It was a dark, stylish film with more than a little moral ambiguity and complex ideas for a young child such as myself. It was a far cry from the usual Disney fare I was used to, and I was hooked immediately.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea was one of those things that changed the way I thought about books and movies — Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Amber were a couple of other notable atomic texts for me. It wasn’t long after I saw the movie that I found myself reading HP Lovecraft’s books and devouring the Conan tales, which are every bit as dark and disturbing as Lovecraft. If I were to go back through my life, I could probably follow the wake of the Nautilus through all my younger, formative years, right into university, where I discovered Melville’s tale of Ahab and the white whale. Another work of art that changed everything for me.

There’s so much of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in The Apocalypse Ark — the Nautilus and Nemo are both present in more than a passing manner. There’s a bit of steampunk to it, which was deliberate as I see 20,000 Leagues as one of the early steampunk works — not only for its stylish vision but also for its critique of capitalism and industry. The whole Cross series follows an antihero, of which we have a couple examples in 20,000 Leagues. Jules Verne even makes an appearance in The Apocalypse Ark! And, of course, The Apocalypse Ark does have a memorable giant squid attack. I hope it’s memorable, anyway….

I also wrote in the other books that influenced me, the ones that Verne’s Nautilus led me toward. The Sunken City may remind you of a certain Lovecraft aquatic abode, and I tried to channel the madness of Moby Dick with my own version of Ahab and the white whale.

It’s not all echoes and homages, though — I like to think I managed to create my own dark and wondrous world populated by deranged angels, cunning vampires and crazed kraken and the like. I would love it if readers set sail into the sea of my imagination and find it as much a shock and inspiration as that moment I found myself huddled in the dark on a gymnasium floor, watching a strange new world come to life before me.

I hope The Apocalypse Ark carries you away, dear reader, much as 20,000 Leagues carried me away to a world I never could have imagined but can now never forget.