Narmer And the God Beast Cover Reveal!

As I alluded to in my July Newsletter, I have worked up a short story in my ‘Egypt and Dinosaurs’ setting. It is called Narmer and the God Beast. As I so eloquently put it then:

“I even paid for a cover and everything . . . “

https://alligatorsandaneurysms.wordpress.com/2021/07/02/july-newsletter-new-fiction-master-of-secrets/

Well, that cover is here. It was created by illustrator Lee Eschliman who is absolutely fantastic. You can take a look at his other work on instagram. Lee’s artwork has been in my life since I can remember. One of his logos graced the deck of my very first skateboard (if you can believe I used to skate) and he’s influenced several of my hobbies overs the years. I was absolutely ecstatic that he was willing to craft the cover for my story. It turned out simply amazing.

Anywho, without further ado, here’s the cover for Narmer and the God Beast (and the back cover blurb to pique your interest):

Had I anything in my heart but hate for my brother and pity for myself . . .

I may have suspected I was about to meet a god.”

Broken and bleeding into the cool Nile waters – shattered by his brother’s cruelty – young Narmer pays the crocodile no heed as it enters the stream. Let it come.

But the hunter swims on, and only then does Narmer know its aim, the defenseless god-beast drinking and playing up-river.

Dinosaurs will again roam the desert sands, uniting the disparate Two Lands into one great Egypt, if Narmer can drive off the crocodile, if he can endure his brother’s malice.

If he can save this sacred creature and be saved by it . . .


So, there you have it. Narmer and the God Beast is officially announced. The launch on Amazon will take place on October 4th, but you can also preorder it now. I’m going to be doing a series of posts this month about my influences for the story and how it came together so stay tuned for those. Some stories and teasers in this world have already been posted on this blog so look for them on my fiction page.

And finally, you can just follow my progress on things and get quarterly updates and new fiction by subscribing to my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. For signing up, I’ll send you a copy of the first story I every wrote about a warlock doctor.

See you next time!

*Update 9/14 – I’ve begun posting some of the “influence” posts I mentioned before. Here’s what I’ve completed so far:

Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt (review)

Hi all. We’re just 13 days out from the release of my short story, Narmer and the God Beast, so I’m here with another Ancient Egypt themed post. I’ve been doing a series of posts about my influences for the story (to which this one will be added), so please check those out if you’re interested.

Now, what is Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt by T.G. Wilfong, and how has it influenced my writing so far?

Well, in some respects, the answer to that question is is somewhat misleading.

Artwork from the Age of Mythology Wiki

When writing Narmer and The God Beast, my knowledge of jackal-headed gods was quite limited. I had heard of the god Anubis before and was vaguely aware of him from movies like The Mummy Returns, or games like Age of Mythology. He seemed a fierce thing, more brutish warrior than anything else. Any contact he had with the living seemed a brutal punishment and a promise of suffering in the afterlife.

In my own story, Narmer must retrieve linen from the ‘House of Anubis’, and my research focused on the things he might find within an embalmer’s workshop. Things like natron salt, linen wrappings, ointments made from frankincense, myrrh and ox fat. I focused on the implements of mummification, such as chisels, knives, and spoons.

But eventually I found that there was so much more involved in the ritual and service provided for the dead, that my opinion of this god began to change. The embalmer’s workshop might also contain stone sarcophagi, faience ushabti (for a great story about shabti, I highly recommend Robert Sharp’s The Good Shabti), gilded silver masks with calcite, obsidian, and onyx eyes! I also read that the bones of the gods were made of silver and their flesh was made of gold . . .

There was much more here than I had ever imagined.

My search took me to Cynopolis next. A city from the Ptolemaic times dedicated to Anubis and his followers, the ‘cult of the dog’ (Cynopolis means ‘City of the Dog’). I go into further depth about this amazing city in my post Ancient Egyptian Doggos! (I even try to imagine what such a place would be like) but needless to say, I was awestruck a second time. Cynopolis ended up becoming one of the many locations my (unreleased) novel’s protagonists visit during their adventures.

But still, there was still more to learn: enter Death Dogs.

I genuinely feel, this book will be a fascinating read for anyone interested in ANY of the jackal-headed gods which Ancient Egyptians worshipped. Yes, MANY jackal-headed gods.

The book opens with the one we’ve already talked about, Anubis, but its understanding of this deity is much more nuanced than anything I’d yet come across.

It explains that sometimes Anubis is depicted as a man with a jackal’s head, but is more often shown as a sitting/laying jackal with jet-black fur and starkly pointed ears. He’s a mysterious figure, who’s name and visage invoke as many meanings as there are grains of sand in the Sahara. For some, he is a grim reaper like figure, coming to collect the dead and show them to the afterlife. For others, a protector of the dead, standing watch over their graves. Anubis alone knows the secrets of the embalmer’s hut and guards them with unbridled ferocity.

It was information read in Death Dogs which inspired a second (and more recent) short story which I wrote as a newsletter exclusive called Master of Secrets.

And of course there is still more!

For instance, who are the other jackal gods I mentioned earlier? What could their role be in this intricate and intriguing mythology. For instance, what role could the jackal-headed Wepwawet — The Opener of the Ways — play in the future adventures in this setting? Who was Duamutef? What does it mean to be the son of Horus the Elder . . . ?

Seems like that could be our Jackal headed friend standing next to St Christopher . . .

I’m pretty much brimming with ideas for stories I could tell after reading this book.

Finally, the book also talks about how the jackal headed gods of Ancient Egypt were perceived throughout the ages and in the modern day. We’re pretty familiar with the imagery I described above, but it was interesting to learn that, until the Anubis Shrine was found inside the Tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun in November of 1922, there were not many images of Anubis which had survived.

The idea of Anubis, and various myths and stories of Ancient Egyptians had morphed and changed through incorporation into Greek (see Hermanubis) and then Roman ideologies, falling victim to millennia-long games of telephone.

I could continue writing this post for seemingly forever, but I think it’s probably better just to recommend you read the book. I’m anxious to research deeper into the topics discussed within, and maybe visit the Kelsey Museum someday to see if I might glean anything new from seeing the artifacts shown in this book in person.

Anyway, that is all for now. What’s your favorite fact about jackal-headed gods? Your first exposure to Anubis? Let me know in the comments.


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Death Dogs: The Jackal Gods of Ancient Egypt (review). As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb a few weeks ago, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Paralititan Stromeri: The Tidal Giant

Well, here we are, 17 days away from the release of Narmer and the God Beast, and we’re gonna just keep marching along doing posts about what went into this short story (although more realistically, even though the short story is what’s complete, all of this really set up the larger universe which hopefully a novel will be set in!).

Next up on the docket? The God-Beast itself, Paralititan Stromeri!

Hah! No. That’s a paradiddle and a stromboli.

Sorry, bad joke (for any drummers out there looking for actually funny jokes, I recommend Jens Hannemann (Fred Armisen)’s Complicated drumming. I pretty much die every time I watch Just in Time.)

Anyway, Paralititan Stromeri, meaning “Stromer’s Tidal Giant” is the second star of the show. Now you may be wondering why I picked this dinosaur to play beside Narmer when there are so many others I could have chosen.

And this is a great question. One that has several answers:

  1. It’s huge!!! The latest estimates say that these creatures would have come in at 88 ft. long, and weighed 30 tonnes (from the wikipedia page). These are monument sized animals. When it was discovered in 2001, “Its 1.69-meter-long [about 66.5 inches] humerus [was] longer than any known Cretaceous sauropod.” (Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt, pg. 5). When asked how the creature might compare to an elephant, Matt Lamanna — a grad student on the team who discovered this beastly animal — responded: “This animal is as big as an entire herd of elephants.” (LDoE, pg. 6)
    Needless to say . . . it’s a big boi.
  2. It’s Egyptian!! Well kinda. Mostly it’s bones were found in the Bahariya Formation, which is located in the Bahariya Oasis in Egypt. Assumedly, back in the days of this majestic creature, the land looked very different, and it’s my understanding that things get pushed around quite a bit because of plate tectonics etc. but for my purposes, this thing is Egyptian. Other dinosaurs found in the area (and with which Paralititan would have lived) like Aegyptosaurus, and Spinosaurus Aegyptiacus have Egypt in the name so . . . I’m counting it.
  3. It just seemed to fit. I’ve often heard about the “Boy and His Dragon” trope, in which a young boy finds a dragon’s egg, or something similar and it hatches, blah blah blah. Well one of the original conceptions of this particular story (though not the universe) was “What if I told a ‘Boy and His Dragon’ story, but the boy was Narmer, first Pharaoh of Egypt, and the Dragon was a 30 ton dinosaur?” The rest was history . . .

Like Narmer, there is not much left behind by these surely amazing creatures. From what I can tell, only three types of bones have been found by which to identify them (Kenneth J. Lacovara identified them. I’ve written about him before in my review of his book: Why Dinosaurs Matter).

This ended up being perfect, because it meant that I could weave this creature’s story however I needed to in order to tell the story I wanted to tell.

So what story was that?

Well, imagine the rippling emerald water of the River Nile as it rushes toward the Mediterranean Sea. Imagine the warmth of a golden sun, and the relief of a young Paralititan as it dips its head into those cool depths for a drink. Imagine its whip-like tail splashing as it plays . . .

Imagine the crocodile as it slips silently into the water, hungry for its prey . . .

And that’s it for now. Another 17 days and you can read the rest. You can check below the separator for details.

In the meantime though, what is your favorite dinosaur? What setting would you love to see it in? Answer in the comments!


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Paralititan Stromeri: The Tidal Giant. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb a few weeks ago, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Dinotopia: A Remembrance and Review

For the next post in my series of “influences” posts for Narmer and the God Beast, I wanted to review (gush about) a veritable classic.

DINOTOPIA!!

There’s almost nothing to critique about this book. I mean, I’m sure there probably is, but reading it, I’m so dazzled by the grandeur and majesty of what’s happening in the images, that all I can think about is how beautiful they are. And how much THIS IS THE WORLD I WANT TO LIVE IN!

Ok. . . deep breaths . . .

I’m ok.

Anyway, in case you couldn’t tell, I really enjoy this book. I keep enjoy in the present tense, because I don’t know that I’ve ever really stopped reading it. Published in 1992, I was pretty young when this book came out, which I think only made it more relevant to me as I grew older.

I think the early 90’s were a good time for dinosaurs. In August of 1990, one of the most complete T-Rexes ever found was discovered by Sue Hendrickson. November of that same year saw the release of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park which would become a huge blockbuster film in 1993 (a sequel novel, The Lost World, was published in 1995). And many more discoveries continued to keep dinosaurs in people’s minds.

For me, I think I experienced a bit of an intense interest in dinosaurs between ages of 2 and 6, and while — considering all the dino craze I’ve just described — I can’t pinpoint exactly which discovery or fiction put me onto dinosaurs, I can say my interest in them never completely faded like in most children. Certainly Dinotopia never did.

Tell me these couldn’t be Hieroglyphs!

The island presented in Gurney’s book is so idyllic and serene, with intelligent dinosaurs that have language and a culture of their own . . .

So different than the terrifying raptors or the indominable T. Rex portrayed in Jurassic Park.

Despite my love of Crichton’s classic, Dinotopia always held a special place for me.

** Fun fact, the first story I ever tried to write (when I was still in elementary school) was called Eventutopia and was pretty much a mix of Star Wars and Dinotopia. Boy do I wish I had saved that word doc haha.

So when it came time to start writing my own dinosaur story, it was only natural that I read through this classic once again. It had been quite a while since my last read through, and I wondered if Dinotopia would still hold up, after all these years. My only clear remembrance from the story was of the iconic Skybax, soaring above the city, or under the archways of Dream Canyon. But I could not remember much of the plot at all. I was slightly nervous that perhaps I was wearing rose colored glasses after all, and that as an adult, I would not find the story nearly so enchanting.

I needn’t have worried. It was as wonderful as I remembered.

Dinotopia is very much in the travel-log vein of fantasy, in which the main characters simply explore an unknown land and experience its wonders (and there are so many wonders to behold!). I suppose that you could criticize the story somewhat, in that there is not really a particularly strong narrative drive. But I actually think this is a feature, not a bug. Each of the images shown seems to pick up a narrative thread that the actual text may leave behind, but because it’s just an image, the reader is able to fill in the gaps with their own imagination.

It was perfect for inspiring me in my own writing . . . and then sending me into a crisis . . .

I pretty much froze dead in my tracks when I saw this image. This was (more or less) my idea, already realized by a master with which I could never compete. I had not remembered this from my reading as a kid, but here it was.

Did I just copy Dinotopia? Had this been hiding in the back of my mind, influencing me without my knowledge (or permission).

The answer is, to a certain degree, probably yes, but what I’ve come to realize is that just because something influenced my writing, that does not necessarily mean that I’ve copied it. This is one image in a book of many, and my Egyptian Dinosaurs will invariably be different than whatever Gurney had in mind while painting this. I’ve actually kind of come to see this image as a reassurance, that my love of both Ancient Egypt, and Dinosaurs (and wanting to combine the two) is not so far-fetched. That maybe some others will enjoy it, just as they (and I) have enjoyed Dinotopia.

Have you read / enjoyed this classic? What’s your favorite image? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to talk some more about this book!


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Dinotopia: A Remembrance and Review. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb a few weeks ago, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Who was Narmer IRL?

I’ve recently revealed the cover for some upcoming fiction of mine, Narmer and the God Beast, in which a young boy, Narmer, has been brutalized by his brother Bahek, and floats — bleeding — in the Nile, just waiting for a crocodile attack to finally kill him. Instead, he discovers a young Paralititan (a brontosaur-like dinosaur) playing in the river and realizes that it is in danger. What he does next will cement his legacy in the history of Egypt forever.

Obviously, my story is a work of fiction, and the final product is the work of my own (possibly deranged) mind, but I drew from many different sources when concocting the story. In fiction, it was Jackie French’s Pharaoh: the Boy Who Conquered the Nile from which I was drew a good deal of inspiration for Narmer’s character.

But Narmer was a real historical figure, credited for being the first Pharaoh, and the leader which united two halves of a disparate Ancient Egypt. A lot of what made it into my story, is pulled from what we know of him in real life.

My two main inspirations, were the Narmer Palette, and the Narmer Macehead, which really gave me an idea of the power this figure had, and the epic journey which he would need to go on to accomplish the feats attributed to him. And because I love words, the first thing that stuck out to me, was his name.

The Angry Catfish

Yes, you read that correctly. The name Narmer, comes from the hieroglyphs N’r and Mr which we would pronounce today as Narmer. N’r is represented by the glyph of a Catfish, while Mr shows a glyph of a chisel, which (according to wikipedia) means, “painful,” “stinging,” “harsh,” or “fierce”. I suppose I took a little bit of liberty to say that those things mean angry, but I think it’s a pretty good fit just the same. I believe the same chisel is also used in the word for ‘to be united in’, which seems to make a good deal of sense if Narmer really did unite Egypt under his reign.

But like many things in Ancient Egypt, the first pharaoh was more than just one thing. He had another name (which a lot of scholars seem to fight over whether either of these names is actually real), which was perhaps more fitting for a king, and conqueror. That name was Menes, which (also according to wikipedia) means ‘he who endures’.

These two names really shaped my conception of Narmer’s character.

So who was he IRL?

At this point, it is still difficult for scholars to pull fact from fiction, and myth from legend, but it seems that this Narmer had quite a resume. After first Pharaoh, and unifier of Egypt, Narmer/Menes is credited with founding the city of Memphis (after diverting a canal), inventing writing (I think Thoth might have something to say about that), and bringing Egypt into a general era of luxury and prosperity. He supposedly liked to hunt, and was attacked by his own dogs, then saved by a crocodile, for which he founded the city of Crocodilopolis.

He’s been implicated in the biblical flood myth, either as Noah, or some other player. And then was finally killed one day by a hippopotamus.

Ultimately, all of this made it pretty difficult to figure out what Narmer was actually like, and try to formulate into a neat little character, so ultimately I kept it simple, and stuck with the basics: First Pharaoh and Unifier of Egypt. From here I could weave in other bits of Ancient Egyptian history which interested me, and not have to worry too much about contradicting reality (although I guess after I put dinos in the story that contradicted reality pretty hard).

Anyway, that’s all I have on the history of Narmer right now. I’m hoping to do more research in the future as I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface. Perhaps I can follow up with more later.

I’ll certainly be following up with more posts about my inspirations for the story, so please keep coming back and reading. What do y’all think about Narmer? Was he on the Ark? Could he ride a Crocodile? What’s the coolest thing you’ve learned about him so far? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks all, and I’ll see you next time!


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Who Was Narmer IRL? As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb last week, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered the Nile (Book Review)

So this is will be something of a hybrid post for me. On the one hand, I’m going to review Jackie French’s Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered the Nile, and give you my thoughts about the book, but on the other hand I thought it might be cool to consider how the book influenced an original piece of fiction I wrote, Narmer and the God Beast, which I revealed the cover for last week.

Here we go!

Review: I really enjoyed this book. French’s writing style is super accessible and easy to read, probably something that means success for this book in the juvenile fiction space, which I believe is the audience this book is written for (confirmed on Compulsive Reader in Interview with Jackie French). Typically, now that I’m an adult, I often find that reading YA or Juvenile fiction is difficult because it often seems ‘written down’ to its audience or super infused with things that the author believes are ‘hip’ or ‘what the kids like’ these days. I didn’t notice any of this in Pharaoh.

As for the story? I think it was definitely well researched, well imagined, and well realized if not quite what I was expecting.

I’ll start with well researched because it’s immediately clear to anyone reading this book that French put in work here. Not only is Narmer’s world immersive and rich with detail and vivid imagery, but you can then flip to the back of the book and see just where all detail came from. I think I almost enjoyed reading the research section as much as the actual novel as I learned a good deal about Ancient Egyptian culture, religion and history, and was inspired to pursue my own inquiries after finishing.

For instance, the land of Punt, which Narmer and The Trader travel towards in hopes of wealth and riches, was called Ta Netjer by the Ancient Egyptians meaning “The Land of God”. Ta Netjer does not play a roll in Narmer and the Godbeast’s story (yet), but it did become important to some other writing in this universe (ahem the novel — what?). Also, I have mild suspicions that it became the Ta Ntry of Chakraborty’s Daevabad trilogy as I think they are in about the same spot.

But I digress . . .

I say well imagined, because truth be told, there is not a ton of history (or literature) that covers this period of time. There are a few main artifacts associated with Narmer (his palette and his macehead) but otherwise, there is a lot that we still do not know. French had a pretty blank canvas to fill in (perhaps an advantage, but I know for me it would be a disadvantage) and I feel she did so beautifully.

Which brings me to well realized. Just read this passage:

It was like a dream, thought Narmer, as servant after servant brought in bales of panther skin, fragrant wood carved into delicate boxes, beads of lapis lazuli and turquoise, the bronze plates he now knew as mirrors, heaps of myrrh resin, slabs of ebony wood, piles of elephant tusk, small bowls filled with a strange, almost green-coloured gold, the rarest in the world, curls of cinnamon bark, khesyt wood, small coloured jars of incense, and eye cosmetics.

French, Jackie. Pharaoh: The Boy Who Conquered The Nile. 2007 pg 143. . . accessed on Compulsive Reader in A review of Pharaoh by Jackie French

I know while writing my own story, I definitely tried to re-create passages like this in order to immerse the reader in my version of Ancient Egypt (which has dinosaurs)

My last critique of this piece is unfortunately a bit of a negative one. I feel like when we see a title like “Pharaoh” and think of Ancient Egypt as the setting to a story, we have certain expectations. We want great pyramids, golden sands and golden jewelry adorning the living person of an ancient king, or the gilt sarcophagus of one long dead (mummies!).

I felt this book was a little slack on some of the imagery we often associate with ancient Egypt. I think this is because a good portion takes place away from Egypt, in search of Punt, and later, in Sumer (Mesopotamia). And the portions that are in ancient Egypt feel little like the Ancient Egypt we know. This Egypt is one of small river towns, long before any pyramids were ever built. This is accurate to the time period, but a little disappointing if you’re expecting “peak Egypt” (does that count as a pyramid joke?), or Ancient Egypt at the height of it’s glory and mystique.

So . . . Read it?

Oh yes, definitely give this one a read. The book is well researched, and French’s imagination despite little historical inspiration, is a triumph. Also, the book is just beautifully written and realized. After finishing, I immediately looked for a sequel but sadly, I could not find one.

Welp. That’s about it for the review. Have you read this one? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments. What were your favorite parts? Tell me everything . . .

See you next time!


Still here? Awesome. I hope you enjoyed Pharaoh: Boy Who Conquered the Nile (a Review). As mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was a major influence on my own story, Narmer and the God Beast. I revealed the story’s amazing cover art and blurb last week, illustrated for me by Lee Eschliman and I’ll continue to be putting out posts about my influences for this story all month until the story’s official launch on October 4th. If you like anything you’ve seen so far, you can head over to Amazon and preorder it now.

If you want more of my writing, please check out my fiction page, or consider signing up for my newsletter at https://jdweber.news/EgyptAndDinos. It will give you access to exclusive fiction, special offers, and just my general life and nonsense (here’s a sample newsletter). Just for signing up I’ll send you an email with the very first story I ever wrote about a Warlock Doctor.

Thanks for your time, and I hope to see you around here more!

#Smaugust Day 27: RESCUE!

Hey all,

It’s Friday so I’ve written another snippet of fiction inspired by the #Smaugust tag on social media. Not sure what that is? Well it’s essentially a portmanteau of the words Smaug (the dragon from The Hobbit) and the word for the eighth month of the year (my fav month for reasons not related to dragons) August.

Artists all around the internet come up with lists of themes which they then use as prompts for their dragon artwork. I’ve pretty much been fascinated by this for quite a while now, but can’t draw worth a damn, and so I decided to try and write some fiction based off the prompts. I’ve posted the list of prompts I’ve been using just below this text (I’ve completed short piece’s already for LEGEND, FOREST, and HYBRID). Today’s word is RESCUE and it’s the last piece I’ll be doing for this year. Hopefully it’s an awesome one.

Like pretty much every one of these I attempted, I did not really land on a completed piece. I’m hoping each of these snippets will go into a larger short story (or possibly novella) which sat gathering dust on my hard drive for a really long time. Trying to write for this event has really inspired me to get back in this world, but I keep feeling like I never actually get to the dragons. Oh well . . . practice makes perfect.

Lastly, since this is supposed to be a drawing event, I found some fun tips on how to draw dragons. The first was 8 Pro Tips For Drawing Dragons by creativbloq.com. The second was put out by Adobe and called How To Draw a Dragon. Both of these were so inspiring that I actually decided to attempt #Smaugust more properly and create an image for my story and the prompt RESCUE.

It’s not great, but I think for me it’s pretty darn good. Anyway, enjoy the story (and artwork) below.


Rescue

When Galleed finally makes contact, I’m halfway into his Stack, and it’s giving me some weird mix between tingly-itchy-numb and I-just-felt-every-grain-of-this-wooden-table. My limbs feel like they’re jumbled in a heap on the other side of the room, but at the same time I’ve never had more control of them in my life. There’s so much magic sung into the god’s iron that my gauntleted hand could probably catch a fly by its wing without bending the tip.

It makes me want to run and fight and do everything all at once. Instead, I pace with worry, and I don’t know whether I’m worried about Galleed or if I’m worried this feeling might end.

Of course, Galleed has told me about the sensation before – how men spend months wearing a single piece of their armor at a time in order to acclimate themselves – how after a lifetime spent wearing the suits, he still feels a bit of a rush when attaching the final piece.

It’s hard to focus on the words writing themselves on the parchment I have spread across the worktable. They might as well be written in a foreign language for all I can make of their meaning. Galleed’s handwriting is abysmal when using Crotania’s finest implements, and now it’s clear to me he’s forming the glyphs with a badly broken stick and mud.

But by the will of some god neither of us have ever prayed to, but who must want our little drama to continue for another act, the words resolve into sentences.

Caught. Prison on north cliff. Beast coming. Now or never. Use the suit.

I run my hand through my hair and feel a sharp pain on my scalp as I accidently rip free a lock of my curling hair. The suit’s magic regenerates the brown coil within an instant and I curse, chiding myself for a fool and for wasting some healing. 

I sigh and shape my response in glyphs with my finger atop the parchment:

On my way . . .

But it’s a lie.

I can’t save Galleed.

I don’t know how. I’ve run through every strategy we talked through during our plans, simulated every outcome. There are half-finished notes covering every surface of the shop, but none of them are a formula which balances on both ends. Not one contains a solution.

And of course, the reason for it is simple. Galleed. He’s on the wrong side of the equal sign.

My job was to build the weapons and the suit. A Full Stack with custom magic abilities, and an easily used keyword interface.

His job was to use the suit and slay a god damned dragon.

But now all of that has changed. After failing to fight off all the hybrid dragonkin in Failmor Forest, we each triggered our portal which only led to two destinations. Home to the shop, and to the base of our quarry’s hoard, The Secluded Mountain.

My portal didn’t work, and so Galleed pushed me through his. But they were only designed to transfer one person and so it closed after I came through leaving him in the Hybrid’s clutches. Miraculously, Galleed managed to trigger the portal to Secluded Mountain instead, jumping quite literally from the boiling kettle into the crackling fire.

But its only fate deferred.

Even if we’re generous, and I claim a tenth of the ability Galleed possesses, it is not enough to battle the dragon. Not enough to do so and win.

My first thought was that perhaps we did not need to. The suit has wings and uses magic to fly. All I need do was swoop in, grab Galleed and fly off, savior to a Crotanian prince.  

This is still my current strategy, but of course, we’ve run into the same problem that got us into this mess. The suit is only designed for one person. Galleed. It won’t fly with two, not enough magic.

I continue pacing but the giddiness I felt before is wearing off – oh I still want to leap tall buildings but there’s something else too – replaced by a kind of resignation.

Fate deferred.

I can still save Galleed, but it will require me to get the variables back on the right side of the equation. Galleed back in the suit making his escape, me left behind rent by tooth and claw . . .


Welp. That’s it . . . That’s all I wrote. Hope you enjoyed the snippet (sorry it ended on a bit of a downer but obvi it’s gonna turn around I just haven’t written that part yet).

If you liked anything about what you saw here, I have more fiction to read, and a newsletter which you can subscribe to. It basically lets you know more about what I’m up to, and how different projects are going.

Anywho, this has been a wild ride. See you next week!

Should ‘Open House on Haunted Hill’ win a Hugo?

This piece is currently my front runner for the short story category. Granted, I’ve only read one other nominee so far (also take a look at the full list of my reviews of Hugo nominated works), but I’m feeling like I generally enjoyed this piece more.

My initial thoughts are that the piece is fun, with a good twist baked right into the premise. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that it’s about a haunted house, and not much of a spoiler to reveal that it’s from the house’s POV that we see the story. What makes this story unique, is that the house is a lonely thing, and just wants to HELP a family recover from the death of a loved one.

I’ve been seeing some comments around that say the kid’s characterization is inconsistent, alternating between too childish in some moments, and too adult in others. I didn’t notice this. Kids are surprisingly mature in the moments you least expect them to be so perhaps Wiswell’s characterization is spot on. Regardless, I felt seen by her stomping around the house pretending to be a dinosaur. According to my parents, this was my true-form at four years old as well. It’s nice to see myself represented in fiction.

My only disappointment in the story, is that even though the story uses a haunted house as its subject, it seems strangely disconnected from the long lineage of haunted house stories it purports to be a part of.

The author references Haunting of Hill House in the piece’s author’s note, and the title seems to allude to a 1959 film named House on Haunted Hill (I believe also a kind of parody), but Wiswell’s story seems to have little to do with either. Aside from some rather standard ‘haunted house’ things like creaking floor boards, rooms that shouldn’t exist, and doors slamming shut when no one is around to do so, there isn’t much of the usual tropes and motives we’re used to.

In that same author’s note, Wiswell says:

“I tend to put Horror-y things back out as humorous stories or heartwarming stories. Off the top of my head I gave them the example that if I wrote a haunted house story, it wouldn’t be like Haunting of Hill House

https://www.diabolicalplots.com/dp-fiction-64a-open-house-on-haunted-hill-by-john-wiswell/

So perhaps, by the author’s own admission, this piece doesn’t purport to be a haunted house story despite the title and the POV.

In which case, Wiswell nails it in the execution. This house is not a repository for unexpiated sin, or the waning relevance of aristocracy, or even a mirror into the horror we find within ourselves. It’s a friend and comforter instead.

The realtor in this story doesn’t really play a large role even though the title seems to connotate the action of a realtor. But just because of the fact that they are there at all, I couldn’t help thinking of Surreal Estate, a TV show in which a group of realtor’s try to prove or disprove hauntings (often solving whatever causes the haunting in the first place) in order to up the sale price of the home. It looks like Wiswell’s story was released just before the show was announced, but it still makes me wonder how our views on haunted houses have changed that we’ve shaped them into these most recent forms which (to my mind) bear a likeness. Perhaps that’s an essay for another day . . .

So . . . Hugo?

Yep! Right now, this is the one to beat. If you haven’t given it a read, I highly recommend.

If you have read it, what are your thoughts? On the the story? On the name? On any of the other properties I mentioned during this review. What really makes a Haunted House in 2021?

See you next time!

#Smaugust Day 20: HYBRID

It’s a Friday in August so I guess that means I have another #Smaugust post for y’all. What’s a Smaugust? Well, apparently it’s the word you get when you combine the words August and Smaug, the main antagonist in Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

I got a little curious about the history of this event and was able to find that the Brush Warriors have done some sleuthing in their post: Smaugust — Drawing Challenge. Apparently it was started in 2016 by and artist named Katie Croonenberghs, aka Kamakru and Oh My Gawd, her artwork is absolutely beautiful.

Anyway, you may have noticed that I’m not an artist. I can’t draw to save my life, but I still think this is a fun and cool event, so I’ve decided to adapt it to my own purposes . . . writing fiction. I don’t have the bandwidth right now to write new fiction everyday, but every Friday has been pleasantly doable. You can see the list of prompts I’m using in the image below, and check out my two previous entries for the prompts LEGEND, and FOREST.

That’s pretty much all you need to know about that. Let’s get to the fiction. Today’s prompt is HYBRID. Enjoy!


High Breed

After Galleed had finished drying out, and I’d finished writing up my notes from our encounter with the Gorgusa, we decided we must continue testing the Full Stack’s features – after all, the test had revealed valuable flaws in both our methods and assumptions – though we both agreed that perhaps another look at those assumptions was needed before we reached Failmor’s southern edge, and the home of the Blensdcale.

Several long and expensive afternoons spent in The Capital’s premier library, The Anathenaeum, had given us nearly a thousand reports of encounters with our next quarry, some benign, but most disastrous. We poured through those accounts all over again while ambling down the slowest route to the southern edge, hoping to find some sliver of information we’d missed in our original search.  

Neither Galleed nor I had admitted it to each other yet, but we’d both been shaken among those ancient ruins and roving tupelo. Our first test, and we’d nearly failed. Our first bet, and we’d nearly lost it all.

We were determined not to make the same mistake twice, and so we worked.

But as the wind grew colder, and the hills began to climb, Galleed and I were no closer to the certainty of our next victory.

Most of the encounters we’d read which involved the Blensdcale had been taken from a single source – a chronicle so-to-speak – of a nomadic people who’d travelled to every corner of Failmor’s wood, and beyond.

They seemed to be a curious and detail-oriented people, which naturally I appreciated, and their runes and speech had been adopted as keywords for one the King’s infantry units to trigger the offensive magic sung into their armor and weaponry. The unit had guarded young Galleed for nearly a quarter of his life before being sent to the front to fight Severants.

He knew the runes almost better than I did. It had been the most logical account to base our hypotheses.

But in light of our last failure, the texted seemed bungling and amateur. It was seemingly filled with discrepancies and contradictions. Even within the same account, written by the same author, one stanza would describe the terror of beholding the dragonkin’s breath as it set its prey aflame. While in the next stanza it would describe the same breath as freezing a second man where he stood.

Having just been turned to stone by our last challenge, Galleed did not seem very keen on any interpretation of the runes involving the words freeze, frozen, or frost. I could not say that I blamed him, but I also could not ignore the meaning either, for perhaps the very same reason Galleed wanted to pass it by.

Whatever the truth of the account was, neither of us could divine it. It simply made no sense.

This was not the only mystery that our newly found caution had revealed to us. One grouping of runes stood out to us now as particularly strange and we spent nearly our entire journey trying to puzzle it out. Back in the Anathenaeum, the words seemed to translate literally to ‘High’ and ‘Breed’, which we had taken as simply a descriptor of the dragon’s status as an apex predator.

But Galleed pointed out the way in which the accounts expressed awe at the dragonkin’s majesty and nobility, as well as fear of their cruelty. Many of the accounts might have sold back in Crotania’s capital as romances in which star-crossed lovers were exiled to the far reaches of Failmor for their forbidden coupling.

And through it all, the High Breed, the High Breed, as if referring to some kind of lineage.

Of course, it was only when we finally reached the foot of the Blensdcale’s territory and saw the charred remains of a great pine encased in slick but never melting ice that we realized how we’d missed the forest for the trees. It was only after we were deep with the creature’s clutches that the meaning of those strange runes became clear.

Not ‘High Breed’ as we’d though but one simpler and more accurate concept.

Hybrid . . .


This prompt actually turned out to be way more fun than I anticipated. When I first looked at it, I hadn’t even the slightest clue what to write for it, nor how it would fit with the other pieces I’ve done so far, and the larger story I have planned for these snippets. But I’m happy to say I persevered and am pretty happy with what eventually came through.

I’m particularly proud of The Anathenaeum which is (to me) a sort of funny and ironic portmanteau (please try to guess what words it combines in the comments!). I’m kind of embarrassed by Blensdcale but I’m terrible at coming up with names for things (feel free to bash me in the comments for that one yeesh).

Anyway, I think that’s all I have for now. I hope you enjoyed High Breed. If you’re at all interested in reading more of my writing, or what goes into these stories, I’ve started a newsletter (which is hopefully released quarterly) so people can get a more “behind the scenes” look of what I’m doing and what’s going on in my world. Please consider subscribing. Just for signing up, I’ll email you the first story I ever wrote, about a Warlock Doctor. Fun times. Thanks again!

See you next time!

Should ‘Little Free Library’ win the Hugo Award

So it’s been a little while since I’ve posted any reviews related to the 2021 Hugo Awards. I’ve been pretty busy (first two weeks back to work full time! and a bunch of birthdays, mine included) and while I don’t feel like I’ve been slacking, I have not had as much time for reading and writing as I had before August hit (also before #smaugust hit lol).

Anyway, I think the perfect way to remedy that is to add some Hugo nominated short story reviews to my ever-growing list of Hugo related reviews. It’s been quite a while since I reviewed any short stories on this blog (the last one being a Robert Sharp number in 2018), so I’m feeling a little unsure how to proceed, but I supposed it’s just the same as any other review I’ve written . . . and who cares if it isn’t. I’m here for the funzies.

So, should Naomi Kritzer’s Little Free Library win a Hugo award in 2021?

Hot take: Probably not?

Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful short story, expertly crafted with much to love in the moment, but seems to crumble under further scrutiny. It does, perhaps, capture the essence of a portal fantasy, not by the literal use of a Little Free Library as a portal within the text, but in the fact that while you read the story, you are transported away from reality briefly and returned more or less able to continue on, refreshed but not really affected (in the times we’ve been having, perhaps this IS award worthy). I feel, especially since we have books like those in the Wayward Children series such as In and Absent Dream, that as a genre this is too simple a way to look at portal fantasies in general.

But I suppose I should try to break it down a little better.

Stuff I enjoyed:

I think one of the main parts of the story which gives it appeal to a wide audience is all the references to other books. Of course, there is the initial hook, Lord of the Rings, which every reader will recognize and kind of lets the reader know that they’ll be reading a fantasy, or at the very least, something fantasy related (interesting that they didn’t pick anything from The Chronicles of Narnia. I mean why not call it what it is haha).

And then we continue to get bread-crumbed through the mystery of who is on the other side of this portal through the other books which they select. The main character, Meigan, kind of thinks of this mystery as a game, and the reader is encouraged to do so as well, which makes it a fun puzzle. Points to everyone all around for fun puzzles.

Perhaps the second portion that I enjoyed, was simply that it was about libraries, and specifically a Little Free Library. I work for a library, so I’m always excited when one is featured (well) in a story and we have tons of these little book boxes all around (although MY neighborhood just took theirs down hmph) and I’ve always had a great experience swapping books through them. I have wondered where the books came from and who gave them up (although I never imagined something as crazy as this).

It’s just a cool concept, and another aspect of the story which lends itself to wide appeal. Even if people don’t know about Little Free Libraries, they have usually had SOME experience with a library and it’s pretty popular in our culture to romanticize them as gateways to other worlds (which for a lot of people they metaphorically are). I liked that in this case those other worlds were real and the gateway was literal.

Stuff I didn’t like:

Stories that rely heavily on allusion to other works, or references to them, are kind of a double-edged sword. If the reader knows them, or can mostly figure them out from context, the author is in the clear, but if not, the reader will be quite helpless to know what’s going on. It’s hard to imagine — especially reading all the Sci-fi and Fantasy blogs, channels, and books that I do — but there ARE people who haven’t read Lord of the Rings, or seen Starwars.

I haven’t read Ready Player One but I’m told it’s an extreme example of this, where the book is highly referential, and for a niche that actually isn’t all that big. I think this story falls into that a little bit. I’ll admit that I actually didn’t recognize too many of the books Meigan gave away. Some of them had titles that were generic enough that I could kinda get what they were about but, who knows? I don’t think this story did it enough to be ostracizing, but it’s a slippery slope.

Plus the whole thing felt vaguely nostalgic which I sort of have a love/hate relationship with. I’ll work this out someday and look back on these times of loathing and hatred with a fondness as I — Dammit stop that! Anyway, moving on . . .

— SORRY, SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT —

What was most interesting about the story to me:

I’ve been feeling that with a lot of stories these days, other people’s reactions are almost more interesting to me than the actual content of the story. For this book, people seem to feel that it’s very hopeful, and cute (which nothing that is ever called cute wants to be called cute lol) which I would have agreed with, immediately after reading, but actually began to think the opposite of as I pondered further.

Why you ask?

Well, the story essentially ends with what’s (assumedly) a dragon egg, sent through the portal with a note that says all has been lost, please take care of this baby for us. I don’t think poor Meigan is at all prepared to take care of a child out of nowhere (Who would be?), and this particular one has the added disadvantage of not even being a human. Whatever hatches from this poor egg is going to have a hell of a time living in a strange place, with strange people, and no others even remotely like itself to relieve any of the pressure of being (essentially) “the last of my kind”

Through this lens, the story is actually pretty bleak . . .

And what of it? What is the purpose of such tragedy? Not all stories need to have a message, or moral, or theme. It’s ok to have stories which are the literary equivalent of popcorn. Which is what this story seems to portend itself to be.

But even popcorn stories, which are not intentionally written with a theme, will usually still have one, even if it’s just the author’s outlook on the vast topics that happen through the story.

Little Free Library does not seem to give us any clue as to what that theme might be, and when we think deeper on the story (and assume the rather bleak outlook I described), it seems to need that theme or message badly but I just wasn’t sure what it was.

So . . . Hugo?

I think the lack of discernable theme, whether intentionally hidden or unintentionally left out is what lowered this story in my esteem. It had a wonderful premise and great execution of that premise, but (for me) did not deliver on the higher level which we typically associate with stories which are “award worthy”.

I can recommend this story to read, but not for the award . . .

What are y’all’s thoughts? DID this story have a theme which I just completely missed (this would not be the first nor last time)? Please let me know what you loved or didn’t love about the story in the comments as well as anything I’m missing here. Thanks so much for stopping by.

See you next time.