19 November 2017

I'm Not A Blogger


No, seriously, I'm not, however much this particular internet artefact may attempt to convince you otherwise. I have a blog, sure, conceded and admitted. But I am not a blogger. Bloggers, to my mind, are people who devote their time and attention to producing blog content of a quality where that content stands alone. The blog, as Hamlet would probably say if he knew about blogs, is the thing*.

My blog is not the thing. If I'm honest I don't think novels are the thing either. I love writing novels but, of late, I like writing them in order to have material to turn into audio books. Audio content, ah, well, that might very well be the thing... more on that to follow.

All of this is a roundabout way to lead up to me saying that the days of "three massive content pieces every week" are going on hold now. However, dear reader, you should not presume a return to the days of "one post a year" because that's no good either.

I think where we want to be is regular check-ins and progress updates and maybe two serious content pieces every month, tangentially riffing off the content I have going on at the time.

So, I hear nobody clamouring to know, whither Discordianism? Is that last year's news. No, not at all. I credit my recent good fortunes in the well-spring of chaotic creativity entirely to my renewed interest in the Erisian principle and the Holy Chao. Since re-discovering Discordianism I have got Starfall done and published, pulled some eyeballs into this blog, which, at the end of the day is a blog, in the original sense of the word.

For those now puzzled, what I mean to say is, the early days of blogging allowed the blog producer the liberty to be as random as they wished to be in the content. It's only in later times that you have "food bloggers" or "tech bloggers" or "society bloggers". The idea in the early days was that a blog was an ongoing public journal that would go from cabbages to kings.

I am still running this joint on that basis, people are queuing up to tell me I'm doing my marketing wrong, but I've come to realise this misses the point. If I wanted to "market" with the objective of selling as much as possible indiscriminately then I guess I could. But that's not the kind of doodad I make.

I have never made a secret that the things I cherish most are things like my copy of Over The Edge which I bought after the system had lived it's short beautiful life and passed, long since, out of print. I love it because it speaks right to the core of me. So it took me 15 years from first publication to find it and embrace it, so what. I am the message in a bottle guy. I don't want a thousand bottles to reach a bunch of randoms, I want one bottle to reach the right person.

That's not a way to get rich but it's the way to connect nodes in the great global chaosphere. And that's what I am looking to do. I am a mystic, not a magician. It's all about understanding, it's not at all about power. For which reason, I realise I need to devote the little power I have carefully and, currently, the blog is sucking up too much resource. So, expect less carefully crafted content bombs but I am here, and I do check this and you can reach me, not that anyone has.

Now I'm off to start cooking some audio, it'll be ready in 2018 so you have plenty of time to clear your ears.

Sri Syadasti,

The Monkey

*Which has sent my mind off onto a tangent where I imagine proto-emo grandaddy of all emo kids Hamlet writing long screeds into his LiveJournal about how Claudius is a bastard and Gertrude just doesn't get him. "Oh, God," he would write, "my soul is a cavern of inky despair. Ophelia caught my eye in the courtyard earlier. Doesn't she know she's a popular girl? She and I could never have a meaningful relationship because all she cares about is lipstick and flowers. Going to hang out with Laertes later and listen to some My Chemical Romance. Mood: Contemplating The Void."

3 November 2017

Review Copies



Starfall's been out now for ~2 weeks and very rapidly I've found out that I don't want to give people the option of getting a copy free. Actually, that's not quite true, free as in beer I can handle as long as I know who wants a copy.

I worked a long time on Starfall, over a decade, in fact. Over the last two weeks "people" have stopped by my Smashwords page and chosen to "Pay What They Want" for a copy and none of them wanted to pay anything.

Here's what I think about those people who don't pay anything for the book. First, I suspect they're screen scrapers, procedural bots who hoover up anything that's not nailed down, digitally speaking. Second, I think that if they're not, they're worse.

I take free books when those books are marked "free". If I were to release a free book, and I have, I would say, this is free, enjoy it. Pay what you want, on the other hand, means "not nothing". Or at least it does to me. There are many albums on indie music site Bandcamp that are marked "Pay what you want". If an artist wants you not to pay for their music then they add **FREE DOWNLOAD** to the album title. Then you can take the music for free.

No doubt there are some people who take Pay What You Want music from Bandcamp for nothing. I am not one of those people. Even a nominal fee for the music is a way of saying that the work was worth something to you, the listener. Taking Pay What You Want stuff for a sum of zero just makes you look like a giant, unthinking content hoover.

I am not saying that those people - if they are people - who took my book for free are not going to read Starfall. What I am saying is that I don't believe they are. I find this to be like baking a bunch of delicious cookies and taking them out into the street to offer them to people. If the people believed that I was trying to poison them fine. But this is more like people are taking the cookies but they just snatch them on the way past, no eye contact, no greeting, no sense that they are aware that the human being that baked the cookie is standing, you know, right there at all.

Then, it's like those people throw those cookies away, after taking them, without even looking at them or smelling them or detecting that I threw a dash of vanilla in. Like the cookie was good enough to take but not good enough to eat afterward.

That's what I don't like. Take my book for free, or, at least for a like on my Facebook page and a message that says "Hi, I would like a free copy of your book because it looks interesting and I am happy to go on your mail list about future releases." If you want to not pay money for the book on that basis I am totally fine with that.

But I am not fine with you taking the book for literally nothing as if I am just a book writing machine that needs no more acknowledgement than a kettle. Sometimes I write things for a bit of fun, with a "take it or leave it" kind of attitude, then I will say, hey, just take a copy, that's fine. Starfall, in particular, is not one of those projects. I worked too damn hard on that book to have people not even say "Hi" when they have a copy gratis. So that is no longer an option.

If you don't want to engage with me but you want to read the book now the price is $4. A $0 copy is for people who are happy to like my facebook page and go on my mailing list.

Grump over. Have a nice day.

31 October 2017

Vodou Cymru


Wild Welsh Vodou came to play,
From the top of the Beacons to Tiger Bay.
This land can be darkened with trouble and toil,
Countrymen take comfort in the breath of hwyl.

Raise up your voice, through the valley it rings,
Reawaken our loa, our gods, our kings.
Thrill to the ancient, earth-born song
Invoke the dragon-spirit that was once thought gone.

Sweet, clear harmonies the druid's song,
No invader kept them silent long.
The bards soothed souls when they raised a harp,
Told epic stories with wits, razor sharp.

The land hears stories, on tales it feeds,
Myth and magic, words and deeds.
One thousand spirits from the heights to the deep,
Dwell in rich, dark earth where the rhythm sleeps.

Hear the old ones call, whispers after dark,
Pay the piper at the gates of Cwmdonkin Park.
There's a sprite or two that will grant your wishes,
Pay due respect at the fortress of the fishes.

'Neath a bone white moon tread the coastal way,
Hear the call of the mermaids, raging surf in the bay.
Feel the weight of ages, nearly sets the soul mourning,
But the song of the earth awakens new dawning.

26 October 2017

(Mis)Adventures In Mysticism


The word "mystic" gets thrown around a great deal. Or, at least, it does by me, when I'm in a certain mood. In the end, though, what does "mystic" really mean? Does anybody really know?

As it turns out, yes, Wikipedia knows. It's not like love, or culture, or Winnebago, it's not one of those words that defy sensible definition. Mysticism is a case in a world where so many things appear to be more "edge" than "case".

What's really weird about getting the meaning of mystical (at least the definition of the word) all tied down is that I didn't understand what it meant before. In a metaphysical realm so often rife with double meaning, vagueness and general goal-post moving matters of mysticism appear to be relatively straightforward.

As always, it doesn't take long before the deception provided by appearances becomes obvious. The bit we can be sure of is that mysticism is about making a connection to something. What the something is, ah, that's the rub.

If you're going to be glib about it then you can say it's about making a connection to God, capital-"G" and walk away ensconced in a cocoon of meaningless sophistry. Don't get me wrong I'll sink a pint with the bearded sky daddy any time he wants to get down to my local boozer, but the entire concept is as easy to forge a mystical connection with as any arbitrary non-god-like person on the planet.

There are plenty of non-god-like people already in the boozer, so why wait for bearded sky daddy to leave cloud mansion? They don't like him down the pub anyway, the management maintains burning bushes are a health and safety violation. Besides, his wallet is always "unfortunately" burned to a crisp in his lower branches.

The first question that springs to my mind in the matter of mysticism is "what do you mean by connection?" Say we're limbering up for "the big one" (whatever that turns out to be) so we decide to start small by making a connection to another human being. How do we do that?

If the goal is simply to speak to them then a simple "Hi" will suffice. Although the aspirant may feel the experience, if it is that, is on the underwhelming side. It has to be that "connecting" with someone is a deeper experience than "greeting" them. At this point, I can imagine many readers groping around to find a genital-themed experiment to try next.

Let's just leave that be. You can definitely get happy by slapping another person on the wobbly bits but are you "connecting" to them? A soup of mind-altering hormonal responses says yes. But good luck charming the infinite ineffable into the sack. The clue is in the name, the ineffable must, by default be un-eff-able. This whole business is like eating an entire chocolate trifle when you're hoping to gorge on chocolate cake. A trifle is not a cake, they both taste nice but once you're hungry again the craving for cake will resume.

So if we're not talking about talking with a person, and we're not talking about practicing dubious personal hygiene with a person, then how do you "connect" with them, in the mystical sense?

All of a sudden the scale of the problem becomes apparent. At least a person exists to be connected with. When it comes to the mystical experience the other end of the mystic telephone is connected to something we can't comprehend.

With mounting disappointment we realise, the mystic experience is about doing something that is ill-defined with something that you have no physical evidence even exists.

Did I mention that I wrote a novel? Did I further mention that the novel is out this week? (Oh, come on, you didn't expect to get off without the sales pitch, did you?) As it so happens and entirely coincidentally the revelations at the heart of the mystic experience are a crucial component of the antagonist's journey in that very novel. Crazy, ou quoi?

Of course, he gets it almost entirely wrong, he doesn't know what it is he is communing with. The wretched fool screws up the relationship and when the relationship entirely takes place in the metaphysical beyond, well... stars will fall if you follow my drift.

What is super-bizarre here is that I only realize that I wanted to talk about the pitfalls of frail humanity experimenting with the mystic experience right now. I wrote the novel a decade ago. It is possible to want to talk to your audience about something and not even know what that thing is.

There's a connection for you. The storyteller is trying to connect to the story reader through the medium of the story. The story, for its own part, comes from, somewhere, out there, beyond. Ask any author and they will tell you, they write down the story but they tend not to create it. At some point, the author is a "receiver" of the story from... from... where? Where in Hades does the story actually come from?

Sounds to me like the author, in that act of creating fiction is connecting to something vast and undefinable. Once they're connected like that they bring back messages. Like a broken Oracle the author is trying to communicate truth by spitting out thousands of lies. The art of writing is to pare down the lies and to tip the wink to the reader what they are so the reader can sift out a truth it would have been impossible to find were it not for the fiction.

It's not the only way to get there, but that definitely sounds like a mystic experience to me.

22 October 2017

Starfall


Two major things happened in 2006. The second most important of these was that I began the novel whose cover you see above as a NaNoWriMo novel in the November of that year. The more important one was that I met the woman who was to become my wife and I dedicated this book to her.

For eleven long years, she has berated me for releasing novels dedicated to other people, but never one dedicated to her. Well, at last, she will have to move on to saying instead: "It took you over a decade to release that book that's dedicated to me." So, that's something I guess.

Why so long, why did No Dice RPG, Shadow Cities, Three Chicago Shadows novels, The Elias Anomaly and the first volume of Tales From Bridgetown beat Starfall to print? Because I wanted it to be as right as it possibly could be and I set myself one hell of a task to achieve that.

Over the past month, I have been writing about Vodun and a little about Celtic Myth (more on both to follow, I am not done), and it has made me realise that I was either inspired or an idiot to combine both of these topics into one volume, especially as I also touch on actual events from the history of the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border from Roman times on, handle the tricky business of casual domestic abuse, and try to wrap it all up in a tale about gods, alchemists and holy fools taking a long journey into a curious state of metaphysical awakening.

That kind of thing takes a while to bake. I am not saying that I did it perfectly. I think Starfall is a challenging book, sometimes I think it is too heavy for anyone to actually finish reading it, then I consider its various nooks and fascinations and I wonder whether I am too unkind to my own work.

This is a novel that can't not exist. Too much time and love and power have been rolled into it. It stands alone as the only novel I know of that makes heroes of practitioners of Vodun, and I don't really know why that is because nothing I have read about that spiritual practice since has led me to think they are unworthy of being heroes. In a way, what makes them interesting is that the loa are more than heroes, they can be champions of life and defenders of the human condition, but always know that they have secrets and duties and they must fulfil those as well. It means that they are difficult, dangerous heroes and those tend to be the better kind.

Also, the book takes a good long look at a kind of Western spiritual exceptionalism, via an examination of some of the main points of the alchemist's work, the loa of Vodun are the perfect counterpoint to the pomposity of the dry, arcane spiritual man's club of alchemy. I am not kind to alchemy in this volume, although I am careful to make it plain that most of the alchemy performed by characters in the novel is nothing of the sort.

In case you worry that I am spoiling the novel for you, rest assured, that I am not. I have merely become aware that Starfall is a book that would benefit from a guided tour and I am the most qualified to be the tour guide.

Working on Starfall has led me to the conclusion that if a book would not benefit from the addition of annotations and a study of its mythos and philosophy then it is not a book that I would care to read, and certainly not one I would care to write. I see too many authors now concerned solely with fun, and product, and sales rankings, and selling, selling, selling. I would like people to buy this book, I think it is well worth the time and energy someone would invest in reading it, but people buying Starfall is not the point, I don't think it ever has been.

I am not even sure you can confidently say that any artistic creation has one, definite point. So I am glad that Starfall exists beyond one point or another, so I can hope that each person who comes to it finds their own point in this strange conjuration of spirits, gods, and monsters.

(P.S. If you are here on the 22nd of October then, congratulations, you have won a special internet no-prize for actually finding the book a little prior to "official" publication. I will not attempt to drive people here until the 23rd)

18 October 2017

About Messing With Magic...


In my study of magic, I have found that the biggest question to be answered is "What is magic?". Of course, I have studied magic only really as a storyteller but I think that the problems for someone making an explicitly fictional narrative that includes magic are exactly the same problems that beset someone seeking to define the term in any internal narrative of the world.

The journey starts off easily enough. Magic is a means of achieving the impossible. So, five hundred years ago a man flying was magic, since the invention of the aeroplane the matter of which part of flying is magic has become context dependent. Magical flying is now more like "levitation", whereas flying at all has been ossified into science and engineering.

Science is a big problem for magic because science allows us to achieve the magical "within the rules" thus rendering the accomplishment non-magical. We can scientifically turn lead into gold in a particle accelerator but achieving this effort "within the rules" means that the cost is prohibitive.

For this reason, magic becomes any means of circumventing the rules. It is an action that has no equal or opposite reaction. It is a reaction that happens without a preceding action. Magic is any violation of the rules of natural philosophy.

Herein lies a big problem. The rules of natural philosophy are pretty handy at our size and scale. They stop us melting into walls, boiling away into space, they create some really handy reality-shaped boundaries. Sure, get small enough and all those rules go away, the quantum universe, in an immediate sense, is where the magic literally happens. The next problem becomes that in this framework "magic" and "roiling inferno of ultimate chaos" are one and the same.

By this time I wouldn't blame you if you were all at sea as to what magic actually is. A lot of people are similarly confused. It's an easy thing to say "I want to wish really hard and have a bunch of money materialise in my bank account" but how would that ever work? If you have the answer you either have magic, the fruits of hard work and good fortune, the wages of sin or you have an insubstantial and unfulfilled wish.

Magic, in short, is the ability to manifest will without having to fill out the paperwork and avoiding all the problems of playing a system that affords you your very existence.

As with any essentially worthwhile endeavour magic is a very risky proposition. Stories about magic must present the danger of magic because otherwise a reader's story sense will tingle and fantasy will quickly be rendered idle. People who wish to perform magical acts in the real world tend to be desperate or to understand desperation.

I've been writing about Discordianism, and also about Vodun in recent times. Magic is a meeting place for the two disciplines. The sister school of enchantment for Discordians tends to be that thing called Chaos Magic. To an outside observer, Vodun would appear to include within it the practice of magical acts, hence the offshoot into the Westernised sensational shell artifact, voodoo.

Repeatedly those with an interest in Vodun, or Vodou but no route in or reason for are told by those who practice that their pursuit is without form and therefore their goal an impossibility. From what I can tell you do not use vodun to achieve something, you practice vodun because that is part of who you are. For this reason, I am a Discordian. I do not do Discordian things to use Discordianism to achieve an end. I am a Discordian because that tells me something about who I am.

Chaos Magic is, quite explicitly a method of practicing "magic" where the individual has the aim of "utilizing supernatural forces". The key word here is "utilizing", not "acknowledging", "interacting with" or "contemplating" but "utilizing".

This is where I have a problem. Science is the practice of utilizing nature to achieve ends within the rules set down. When science gives us an atom bomb we realize we have really "used" nature. The destructive force of an atom bomb is a direct view on what happens when you uncork the quantum universe and up-end many of the rules of reality. The results are not pretty, not controllable and useful only for purposes that satisfy the darkest shadows of our unconscious minds.

The atom bomb is what happens when we "utilize" nature in a cynical manner. The idea that we are anywhere near ready, as a race of organisms, to "utilize" anything that might count as "supernature" is completely laughable.

The more I study Vodun and Vodou the more I perceive there is an inherent layer of spiritual respect baked into it. People are people and some of them will always try to cut a corner or achieve something "off book", but in Vodun you say "please" and answer "thank you", not things one has to do in science. The idea of treating nature with respect sounds like hippy crap, but look where not doing so leads, boom.

From a personal point of view I would like to say "hello" and "how are things with you?" and "what can I do to leave things in both the visible and the invisible world better than when I found them?", I am beyond "what's in it for me?" because when I used to ask that the answer has traditionally been "not much" and, besides, even with all that not much I have to acknowledge that I currently have more than I need in most aspects of life anyway.

What I want is to connect, and, where relevant, to improve. Other than that I don't want anything. So, I fulfil my karma and, if that karma will include an interaction with the unknown, then I will deal with that too. And if I were to hand out advice about attempting to fill a hole with magic this, or supernatural that I would ask myself, what's the nature of the hole? Nine times out of ten, in my experience, the matter of filling it will not depend upon the supernatural.

9 October 2017

Early Encounters With The Horned God



I grew up in Wales and I read all the 2000AD I could lay my hands on, so Cernunnos was going to be an obvious gateway into the world of Celtic myth. The Horned God is a tricky one, for sure. He is the easiest way to understand that there's more to life than a binary categorization of things into good and evil.

It's a long way to get from one place to another, for sure, and through a tangled wood of myth-making, shadows and appropriated truths. I am just over forty years old so I was of an age to be reading children's literature in the early 80s. This was a long, long time before Wikipedia so, although I can send you straight to reasonable definitions of all the things I mention here, you have to understand this is a modern luxury.

I think my first encounter with the Horned God in any sensible shape is with the inclusion of the character Herne the Hunter in the 1984 adaptation of John Masefield's The Box of Delights.


Which, obviously I can now just show you via YouTube. As you can tell it's a bit of a head-bender, even now, adapting the transformation battle from the myth of Taliesin and adding a strange interlude into the flow of the plot of the story. Naturally this would lead to an inquiry about who the hell that Herne the Hunter guy was from any nine-year-old boy. The problem is that in 1984 the available adults around me had lost touch with the notion of the Horned God, and tended to view the world as a series of dualities.

The matter was further confused when I encountered Alan Garner's Bresingamen books, at the time there were two The Weirdstone of Bresingamen and The Moon of Gomrath. The 20th Century was a wild time for children's literature. I think a lot of stuff got past editors who might have questioned the completely insane trips through philosophy and mythology that occurred in these volumes because it was "for kids" and hence didn't need to be coherent and were allowed to be disturbing in a deep place where lives the soul of man because it had been trivialised. (Trivialised in the heads of the marketing bods at the publishing houses, the writers showed every signs of taking this stuff very seriously.)

The Moon of Gomrath introduced me to the Wild Hunt, which in some places was thought to be lead by Herne the Hunter. Somewhere along the line I got introduced to Pan from Greek Mythology as well. I remember asking my grandmother for some explanation of the Wild Hunt and she couldn't do much better than explain that it was a "third force" in the book beyond the forces of good and evil.

I think that's doing pretty well without going into the exact idea of expanding out from a Tolkien-esque allegory into a new space in which myth connects the human soul to the very well-spring of magic and creativity. Much apart from anything else I think those concepts are troublesome to me even now, let alone when I was nine and I think my grandmother, despite her love of weird fantasy fiction, would have thought that notion beyond the pale.

Right at this moment it seems obvious to me that as a budding writer of fantasy and horror, living in Wales from the age of 7 until I left at 20, that I would develop a fascination with the lore of the British Isles and, more specifically, the mushy corpus of "Celtic Mythology"*. One of the most fascinating things about the Celtic mythology specifically was that it served as an inspiration for authors like Garner but rarely was it adapted in the way that, for example, Roger Lancelyn Green wrote The Tales of Robin Hood. Robin Hood is a fascinating folk hero for different reasons, in that his story is believed to be tied down and defined; this is impossible. Green also wrote of King Arthur, a figure who edges into the Celtic realm and preserves this idea that his myth cannot be definitively captured or set down; this is true but it shouldn't stop us from trying, in fact in the struggle to attain an impossible definitive telling of a tale is the well from which all storytellers should draw.

At the time of experiencing this fascination, however, there were frequent times when I felt like I should just give up. It was immensely frustrating to read stories by people inspired by stories that they appeared to know when I couldn't find an "authoritative" version to separate out what was "real mythology" from the poetic licence of the author.  Now I know that they only had a little more knowledge than I did and a better idea of how to do research, they were riffing off the same anthropological sources as I was, so, in short they had more idea of how to look for stuff and so had a slightly broader experience of the topic. I didn't appreciate in my late childhood/early teens how slight the older author's advantage was.

As I grew older still I continued not to have the internet, I continued to experience a surrounding apathy for my own interest in these topics, but I did continue my interest due almost entirely to my love for the stories of Slaine in 2000AD

Next Time: My Adventures With Slaine and Celtic Mythology

*Celtic Mythologians tend to attach the lore to Ireland and then add Scotland as a footnote to that, get quite excited about also mentioning the Cornish and leave the Welsh out of it because they have the Mabinogion.