Sunday, July 22, 2007

A Special Announcement About the Future

Hey folks,

I hope this post finds all of you well. I'm a bit busy and wanted to share with everyone my plans for the future.

As you may or may not know I am the founder and proprietor of Black Swans with Atom Bombs Publishing, hereafter referred to as BSWAB. In January I published my first paper zine, called "Bleeding from the Nose, Twisting in the Wind", under the BSWAB label. In the near future I will be publishing more paper zines.

Among my many constant concerns is streamlining the presentation of my work for ease of consumption and enjoyment for my audience. As a result, virtually everything I do henceforth shall be under the BSWAB label.

Starting in August I will be revamping a few things in the hope of streamlining my material and presentation.

In August I will be re-launching (my site) with a whole new design and some added content. I hope you all will return in the future to check it out.

Also in August I will be re-launching this blog with a new design. It will still be my official blog, but with more focus.

"Sketches of Cool" will become "Atomic Swan Serials". Seeing the amount of response I received via email and comments (which, again, I thank all of you for) to the fairy tale "The Children of Gods" I have decided that the major purpose of this blog should be to present serialized stories to my loyal fans and friends. I still may throw in a rant or a poem or a news piece here and there, but this blog's focus will be serialized tales.

Nothing is currently set in stone as to what my first offering of a serialized tale will be, but the most immediate idea I have includes multiple kaiju (giant monsters like Godzilla).

In September I will be publishing the first Atomic Swan paper zine under the BSWAB label. The first issue will contain some of my journal entries, fiction and poetry all concerning my battles with Hepatitis C.

Then in October I will be presenting my annual Halloween edition of my e-zine If - E - Zine(tm): The Free Online Magazine of Thrilling Speculative Fiction! This will be the first ever MONSTER ISSUE, meaning that not only will there be about twice as many stories (I usually average 2 or 3 stories per e-zine, so this MONSTER ISSUE will have 4 or 5 stories) but there will also be at least one tale with a monster as its main focus. In fact, I think I may steal the idea of "one monster per episode" from the original Outer Limits television series and require the e-zine to feature not only some elements of science fiction, but at least one story with a monster. What do you think? Let me know!

The e-zine will also be published for the first time under the BSWAB label this October.

My plate is full, to say the least. Wish me luck and please check back for updates and leave comments should the mood strike you. Also please be sure to check out the e-zine's MySpace profile and request an add if you have a profile, too!

Thanks again to everyone for the loyal readership and let's hope things only get more exciting from here on in.

~ charles

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Here's two poems fer the price of one blog.


"The Cricket King's Grand Medicine Show"
copyright 2007 by charles shaver. all rights reserved.

After the last of the snows
I delve into the basement
to return with rockers
to sit on the porch
watching the world sighing
under a sun
futilely fighting the night

Sometimes there's kids on bikes
or running
or playing
or whatever
one or two will
but usually
they're too busy to notice
me much

There's an old guy
across the street
sitting in a plastic chair
watching the world
sighing under the sun

The neighbors on either
come and go
at all hours
but always

I'm happy to wave or
nod and

Then sometimes
the kids can be heard
but not seen
the old guy across the street
goes inside his house
probably to watch TV
the neighbors on either side
come or went
I'm left alone
with the evening breeze
the maples, pines, poplars
all chatting
at once

Then there are nights like tonight

The children have gone
to a faraway
of their own making
the old man's chair sits empty
no blue flashing
from his windows
all neighbors have gone
there's no wind

Only my lonely rocker creaks, speaks to me

Everything is quiet, quiet

I am left so very alone

What an odd creature am I
content with a wave
and a nod
hating conversations
happy to watch children playing
fine with old men staying away
enjoying welcoming neighbors home
yet nothing more

Here now I sit
an alien frost creeping in
under my skin

A cricket
hops oddly
to achieve the stairs
and when he does
he hops up next to me
and gives me a look
and I swear
if he had a top hat
he woulda tipped it
and said, "Hellooooo, up there!"

I laugh
doing my best not to stomp
my feet
for fear of squishing the little creature
leaning over
I wave and say
"Hellooooo, down there!"

He begins to clean
much in the way
a cat does
I watch
his odd, struggling hop came from
a long
wrapped about one of his legs

"Poor guy,"
I say

Reaching down
I catch him
unravel the thread
he struggles
little legs kicking
I'm surprised I remember
how to catch and hold
a cricket
the thread comes away
with a final pull
I set him down
placing the thread in my pocket

He stares at me a long while
before returning to his cleaning
paying particular attention
to his once-caught leg

He looks at me
he looks and cleans
looks and clean
then starts his engine

He looks at me a long while

I imagine his graditude
I imagine him returning to his friends
and like a barker
calls out,
"Come one, come all! Come see
the Grand Cricket King!
Cures all! Loves all!
Gotta cough? He's got an elixir!
Gotta troubled love life? He's gotta potion!
Hurt? Injured? Ailing? Or just generally down?
He'll be a friend!
Come one, come all!"
waving his top hat at collected crickets with sweeping flourishes
'til one and all are convinced
and he returns
a cricket army
behind him
hopping, hopping
onto my porch

The neighbors would arrive home
I'd not wave
the old man would venture across the street
but stop
half way
seeing no room on the porch for him
to sit
and visit
the kids would bike by
"What's all that noise?
It sounds like a million crickets!
Or a thousand chainsaws!"

There I would be
smiling, waving
not needing friends
or neighbors
or kids

But I know that can never be

The lone cricket at my feet
without a look
without a "Goodbyeeeee, up there!"
off the porch
into the grass
and is gone

I am once more alone
no neighbors
no kids
no crickets
the trees look up, away

The world is empty

I am alone

I pull the red thread from my pocket
and as I examine it
an alien frost creeps in under my skin

what an odd creature am I

"The Saints of Dort Highway"
copyright 2007 by charles shaver. all rights reserved.

I know this guy
named Joe
at least that's what I call him
he comes into the strip club
every night
driving his big metallic blue Hummer
he's always dressed like some
important guy
we are complete opposites
in appearance
where he's young and broad and muscular
I'm old-ish and growing in the belly
he's always clean-shaven and faux-tanned
I've got perpetual shadows on my jaw
he's loud and fun-loving and carousing with others
whether he knows them or not
I'm silent and defeated
on the surface we're complete opposites
then one night
he came in quiet
though still loud
but quiet for him
and after buying the usual round for the regulars
he came and sat
next to me
we sat there
all quiet-like
at the stage
music booming
everyone but he and I
partying it up
he drags at his drinking
not noticing the girls
and says,
"Ya know, one of these days I'm gonna die"
"yeah," says I, "me too"
we sip our drinks
a girl appears
rubbing against his thigh
"how'd ya like my dance?"
"fine," he says though
neither of us
saw it
"how'd ya like ta see it again, up close and personal?"
he says "sure" and they were gone
i throw a dollar on the stage
girls dance for me
and others
the world outside
is going to hell
but in here
is safe
and these girls are like nurses
healing, speaking softly
chasing away pain
and every goddamn one
of them

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"i laugh and cringe and vomit and die all at once"

copyright 2007 by charles shaver. all rights reserved.

watching the tube
last night
there was this chick
this dame
this broad
talking with letterman
about her tat of a bluebird
on her wrist
and he asks
"so do any of these tattoos have any meaning
or are they just pretty?"
and she says the bluebird on her wrist
was inspired
by a poem
by charles bukowski

i laugh and cringe and vomit and die all at once

here's this porcelin goddess
even has the brit accent
expounding upon
the birdhouse of bukowski's soul
the bird in the heart of a dead drunk
what the fuck
what the fuck did she know
i wanted to cheer cuz someone on the grand stage
of our times
knew who the hell he was
i wanted to throw a red card
throw a red card
of foul, foul
for what could this chick
this dame
this broad
with the brit accent
truly know about creativity
with her multi-million dollar movie contracts
at such a young age

i can't say im closer to buk than her
or any other
no holier than thou's from me
he was a prick at best
but im not flaunting
my bluebird soul
on my wrist
for forty million viewers
while promoting my million dollar movie

i got up from the couch and came in here to my computer
and began to write

Sunday, July 1, 2007

AFTERWORD: "Drawing Down the Sun, Uplifting the Stars"

Here is this week's offering of a short story or essay. This essay is number 13 of 13 weekly essay or short story posts.

"Drawing Down the Sun, Uplifting the Stars"
by Charles Shaver. Copyright 2007 by Charles Shaver. All rights reserved.

AFTERWORD: Wherein Charles discusses the major themes, purposes, influences and references within the fairy tale "The Children of Gods".


Part 1

BILL MOYERS (BM): What happens when a society no longer embraces a powerful mythology?

JOSEPH CAMPBELL (JC): What we've got on our hands. If you want to find out what it means to have a society without any rituals, read the New York Times.

BM: And you'd find?

JC: The news of the day, including destructive and violent acts by young people who don't know how to behave in a civilized society.(1)

When first I heard these words they were revolution to me. In the infamous interviews conducted by Bill Moyers with the late Joeseph Campbell the condition of modern society and importance of unifying ethos became apparent. As Campbell spoke those words "What we've got on our hands" I knew them to be true for I was living proof.

I am an American and like many Americans I was taught I come from a place besides the United States. I am an American and like many Americans I was taught the United States is my homeland. I was taught that I and my ancestors are German, yet if I venture to Germany I find myself a foreigner. I was taught that I and my ancestors are Hawaiian, and thus Native American/American Indian/First Peoples, yet if I travel to Hawai'i I find I feel as an outsider. It took a great deal of time, observance and humbling quietude to feel at home on Maui where my ancestry dates back some 500 years. When finally I did feel at home, I was torn away from the island viciously by economy.

What I see in myself is what Joseph Campbell so simply and precisely described within these few lines quoted above. What I see in myself I see in my friends and family who grew up or old around me and with me. What I see in myself I see on the front page of the New York Times. What I see in myself is an odd mixture of backgrounds; a conglomeration of histories; a mutt gone astray in the neighborhood of his owning family and, while still near his home, unable to find his way back to his master.

What's more, as early as 1994 I began to see this in other parts of the world as global industrialization was expanding at a mad pace. On January 1 of that year, indigenous farmers took up arms in Chiapas, Mexico in a struggle against the industrialization of their land-owner heritage. They called themselves Zapatistas.

I see within continued global industrialization the threat it poses against regional cultures and people. This is not necessarily a negative criticism against industrialization, at least not for my purposes. It is an observation made about the difficult process of industrialization, difficult most of all for the people that live within the region that is being industrialized. Their lives and the rules of their society are being completely changed, sometimes over night. I can only imagine that such a process would leave a person feeling quite new and different from what they once were, an alien within one's homeland.

Yet regions currently going through industrialization are not the only ones to produce such feelings of alienation. For example, look what I wrote above about being Hawaiian: "I was taught that I and my ancestors are Hawaiian, and thus Native American/American Indian/First Peoples..." In many cases such as this we don't even know how to refer to ourselves. This is not unique to me. Having spent time at powwows and other indigenous gatherings it can be a difficult task for even the veterans of such events to speak articulately about who they are.

It was with these observances and this line of thought I set forth to writing tales of new gods, the children of old gods, to create a new mythos and perhaps reintroduce old ethos to a society fractured and broken in this area of understanding. Thus was born Xiao-tep, the fish-god both Egyptian and Chinese yet truly neither for he is not pedigree. He is uniquely American in this, or American-like, or post-industrialized-like.

Within this essay I will discuss the origins and purposes of Xiao-tep. I will break this essay into three major parts: a discussion of origins and analysis of themes within the fairy tale "The Children of Gods"; a listing of names and their root meanings, as well as other notes pertaining to original characters; and a point-by-point breakdown of the tale with underlying notes, references and trivia.


Part 2

JC: People say that what we're all seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. That's what it's all finally about, and that's what these clues help us to find within ourselves.

BM: Myths are clues?

JC: Myths are clues to the spiritual potentialities of the human life.

In 2000 I began working under the flag of the ideas of shifting global economies, a shrinking global village and regional cultures being threatened. Since then I have been working on what J. Ho dubbed my 'pirate epic'. It's a collection of fantasy tales that indeed have pirates and is ultimately closing in on the epic scale, but it's so much more. I wanted to use the words of Joseph Campbell as my battlecry and pick up the banner of the now fallen Tolkein and carry his quest further, but where Tolkein was attempting to create new tales for the future generations of the United Kingdom to latch onto, I want to do the same for the whole world. Therein lies the purpose of the 'pirate epic'.

Anthropomorphic characters play a major part in the 'pirate epic' and at one time I thought about introducing a talking koi fish to act as advisor to the main character. I felt the koi had little use in the 'pirate epic' and didn't quite fit the make-up of the rest of the cast of characters. I loved the idea of the talking koi, however, and stored him in the back of my mind for future uses.

Once more I was speaking with my good friend J. Ho. He is an illustrator by trade and has a blog wherein he posts different pieces of his art on a regular basis. He once asked if I would suggest something for him to draw and thinking of my little koi I said "mystical fish". From that was born 'ankh-fish'. I loved the idea of a fish with an ankh embedded into his forehead and asked J. Ho if I could write up the background to the little guy. He agreed.

I mixed J. Ho's ideas with my own and wound up with five Acts, 134 pages and some 30,000+ words of the fairy tale "The Children of Gods". I made the fish once more a koi and kept the ankh on his forehead. Seeing this fish in my mind, I knew I had the makings of a modern mythology that could express the odd feelings of displacement and, at the risk of sounding cliche, disenfranchisement so prevalent in the United States and areas of the globe being industrialized. I was intentionally creating a mythology for today. I was also cutting my teeth for further work on the 'pirate epic'.

I named the fish Xiao-tep.

As much as I am a fan of Robert E. Howard, I didn't want Xiao-tep to be a typical nor stereotypical brute slaughtering the evils of the modern age blindly. I wanted him to feel every death, to take in every breath, to be as much a thinker as a warrior. I didn't want him necessarily enlightened, but struggling to achieve whatever he deemed was right and just in the universe. I wanted him to be lost, unwanted, depressed even. I wanted him to feel every last emotion every single one of us, his readers, experience on any given day through the course of our own lives so that in future times we can look back and say, "What did Xiao-tep do here?" and then read or re-read part or all of his tales and appreciate them.

I wanted readers to look at Xiao-tep and, though he may be a god and a koi that can speak and fly, feel the very human struggles he was having.

I also used mythology and religion from all over the world so that no matter where a reader may be from the chances are they could find a character or something within the tale they could associate with on a cultural level. I'll discuss the specific origins of characters and such in Parts 3 and 4.


Part 3

Here I will discuss the original character's names, the meanings thereof and give other assorted facts about characters. I will discuss only the original characters and not the gods or goddesses of the mythologies I pull influence from.

Xiao-tep: 'Xiao-tep' is a contraction of 'xiao', Chinese for 'little' (amongst other meanings), and Imhotep, an ancient Egyptian priest of Ra and the architect for the first pyramid (Step Pyramid at Sakkara aka Pyramid of Djoser). This, of course, means that his name could be roughly translated as 'Little Imhotep'. Xiao-tep is a koi fish, a symbol most commonly associated with Japanese culture. His mother is Lei-zi, the Chinese Goddess of Thunder, and his father is Hapi, the personification of the Nile River. In this, Xiao-tep represents three cultures: Egyptian, Chinese and Japanese. I wanted his name to reflect something amiable ('little') and intelligent (hence the reference to Imhotep).

Wu Chan Chu: I once more have to give thanks to J. Ho for he helped me translate 'battle toad' into Chinese. 'Battle toad' is a reference to the late-80's early-90's video game heroes Battletoads, a semi-generic rival for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Wu Chan Chu roughly translates as 'warrior toad' and, as it is discussed within "The Children of Gods", is a misnomer since Wu Chan Chu is actually a frog. She is the daughter of Hapi, the god of the Nile River, and one of the many mortal frog attendants within his harem. She is largely Egyptian in origin, but her later name suggests a Chinese influence. Wu Chan Chu was originally named 'Kat Depet' by the slaver Kem Seqdew. 'Kat Depet' translates roughly from ancient Egyptian to English as "Ship Work" (please note within the original tale I wrote 'Kat Depet' translated as "Work Servant", I was wrong there and the story will be changed to reflect the correction in later versions). Wu Chan Chu is a demi-goddess, meaning that she is part mortal and part goddess.

Comet Fox: Comet Fox is the child of Coyote, the Trickster God of the Plains People of North America, and the Zorya, three sister Goddesses of Light from Slavic origin. Comet Fox is a god and is named thusly because he was born as a fox but can fly and when he does trails behind him a streak of white light like a comet's tail.

Ketsueki Sato: The Great Horned Demon of the Cottonwood Chamber. I wanted this demon to be truly vile and, taking a note from Been Eter (discussed below) I thought of calling the demon something along the lines of "Blood Drinker". I came up with 'Ketsueki Sato' instead. 'Ketsueki' comes from 'ketsueki-gata', roughly translating from Japanese as 'Blood Type'. It is often associated with a theory that one's personality may be predetermined by type of blood. 'Sato' has many translations, including as a Japanese surname or family name. It is also a Puerto Rican parlance for 'mutt'.

Kanaka Nui: The mortal fisherman that catches the large carp for Lei-zi to send in place of Xiao-tep for Hapi's meal. 'Kanaka Nui' roughly translates from Hawaiian as 'Big Person'.

Aileas: The Bean Nighe captured by the Dwarf brothers Brok and Sindri and bound to the Spear of Sorrows, the weapon that becomes Xiao-tep's trademark. She acts as a catalyst for Xiao-tep to receive the pains of the deaths of those he kills so that no death is simple nor without consequence to him. 'Aileas' is the Scottish form of 'Alice'. Bean Nighe are closely related to Bean Sidhe (most commonly written and pronounced 'Banshee').

Been Eter: Pronounced 'behn et-ur', he is the troll that becomes the first creature killed by Xiao-tep. 'Been Eter' roughly translates from old Dutch as 'Bone Eater'. I would be remiss to not include a mention of Tolkein's trolls from The Hobbit. Within that book I gained my first real exposure to trolls as characters and I'm sure my ideas of a troll are close to those depicted by Tolkein.

Awiti: The priest that prays to Hapi to discover the cause of the recent quakes. 'Awiti' is generalized as African in origin and means something to the effect of 'a child thrown away'. I used this to re-iterate the theme of this tale.

Kem Seqdew: A slaver that purchased Wu Chan Chu from her father with the intent of selling her. However, he could never bring himself to selling her and kept her instead under his watchful eye. 'Kem Seqdew' translates roughly from ancient Egyptian to English as 'Black Sailor'. That doesn't necessarily reflect his skin tone but his trade. Kem Seqdew's ship is called Mew Khet, which roughly translates from ancient Egyptian to "Water Thing".

Yannick: The Briton that Wu Chan Chu (as Kat Depet) spoke with aboard the ship Mew Khet. 'Yannick' is Breton and French for 'John'.

King Kleos: The Imp King and lap-dog of the demon Ketsueki Sato. Kleos is the ancient Greek concept of honor and renown, something that is hereditary and is meant to be a goal. For ancient warriors in Greece, it was an abstract concept that brought respect and was fought for. It is similar in may ways to the concepts of honor found within the samurai class of feudal Japan. Kleos was often a major theme for Homer, the epic poet of ancient Greece.

Hermit Snow: I borrowed the imagery of Hermit Snow from the classic kung-fu movie The Bride with White Hair, but also the general and stereotypical idea of what an old master hermit should look like. He is the essence of the element of snow and, as such, cannot be destroyed but instead turns back into snow from his human-looking form when Wu Chan Chu finally defeats him.

Master Liu: I named Master Liu for the venerable Gordon Liu, also known by many as Master Killer. He is most recently known for his portrayal as Johnny Mo, the leader of the Crazy 88, from the movie Kill Bill Vol. 1 and as Pai Mei, Uma Thurman's master, in Kill Bill Vol. 2.

Moon Maiden: The goddess that Master Liu convinces to make weapons for Comet Fox. I had originally wanted to make this the Inuit moon god Alignak to support the background of Comet Fox's weapons as being Inuit in origin, (he fights with dual ulus) but I liked the idea of a Moon Maiden better and the name seemed to fit. I simply created this goddess for my purposes.

King Spyridon: King Kleos' father, killed when bitten in half by a wolf. 'Spyridon' is Greek and Russian taken from the Latin 'spiritus' meaning 'spirit'. I wanted the imps not only to have Greek-like names (since imps are often credited to Greek mythology, though it is often assumed the concept of imps existed prior to the Greeks) but names reflecting their closeness to nature as well.

Demetrios: The imp soldier that finds the fishing village of mortals. 'Demetrios' is the original form of Demetrius which comes from the goddess Demeter, the 'Earth Mother'.

Georgios: The mortal fisherman met by Demetrios the imp. 'Georgios' is the Greek form of 'George' which translates as 'Earth Worker'.

Ipiretis: The Seneschal to King Kleos. His name translates roughly as, if I remember correctly (I cannot find my own source now... my apologies), 'one who sees' or 'overseer'. It may also be translated as 'aide'.

Sam and Tom: The two boys within the Epilogue of the fairy tale. Sam gets his name from Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain. Tom is named for Tom Spaulding, Doug's younger brother in Ray Bradbury's novel Dandelion Wine.

I should note that I gave no background for the villains in this tale. I think such things are often done in complete error as they are often not handled correctly. For instance, the three prequels to the original Star Wars movies above all else takes the character of Darth Vader, an otherwise icon of evil within our everyday language and society, and humanizes him. A background presented incorrectly takes the sting out of a villain's villainy. I refuse to do that with these tales. That does not mean that knowing the background to a villain will instantly make him or her likable. The creation of a villain can actually add to his villainy, but in many cases storytellers wind up doing the opposite by portraying their villains as victims and victims are almost always sympathetic characters. Sympathy and villainy can mix, but rarely do they not take away from one another. The only care an audience should ever have towards a villain is the care to see them stopped.

The villains in "The Children of Gods" are simple. They kept the heroes from doing the tasks they wanted or needed, most specifically the villains kept Xiao-tep, Wu Chan Chu and Comet Fox from escaping the Cottonwood Chamber.


Part 4

Herein I will go page by page through the story and point out bits of trivia and relate notes concerning what went into creating the fairy tale "The Children of Gods".


First, a note about style. I move back and forth between a narrative voice that appears omnipotent ("Few know of the Celestial Garden...") and a more contemporary voice similar to that found in novels and short stories of our time. The omnipotent voice brings attention to the storyteller and is popular amongst those that tell tales at powwows or other live forums. It can be more engaging as it brings some focus onto the teller of the tale. It is similar, also, to the written tales of Homer whose epic poetry we know so well, at least by reputation. It is also a voice similar to that of the narration in All Men Are Brothers, a classic epic from China about 108 warriors battling tyranny. Besides Pearl Buck's translated version, All Men Are Brothers has also been translated under the title Outlaws of the Marsh. If you like wuxia (high fantasy martial arts) you'll definitely be wanting to read about the Mountain Bandits found within All Men Are Brothers or Outlaws of the Marsh. Also be aware that Gandhi wrote a book called All Men Are Brothers. Make sure to get the correct book.


The concept of the willow branch acting as a carrier of tears is relatively common in many regions of the world.


Of course, I used legends from Norse mythology and even some influence from R. E. Howard's tale "The Frost Giant's Daughter" to imagine the 'hoary hinterland' that Xiao-tep comes into at the top of Act II after having fled from his father in the Celestial Garden.

It was important for me to show what happens to Xiao-tep without his willow branch. Here in Act II, Part 1 i separated him from the branch. Eventually, Loki, disguised as Brok and feeding Xiao-tep lies, practically cripples Xiao-tep with sorrow. I needed to show the enormity of the sorrows Xiao-tep has the capacity to feel. As long as Xiao-tep has his branch, he still feels the sorrows but not to the extent of being unable to do more than double over and sob. I also used the moment to build up the villainy of Loki.


I needed to deal with some logistics of a fish handling a spear as a weapon, so I added Loki presenting the elixir from the Morrigan Hags that allowed Xiao-tep, once he drank it, to grow to any size up to his full size and morph his fins into arms. In my mind's eye, Xiao-tep's full natural height is about fifteen or so feet and I knew, too, he would one day travel to the mortal realm and would need to be able to grow smaller so as not to appear so monstrous to mortals.

My main purpose of introducing the troll Been Eter was to incorporate the element of fighting. These tales, above all else, were from the very beginning meant to be adventures filled with both emotional drama and combat. I looked at Act II as I was writing it and realized there was no real element of fighting to it, plus I needed to show Xiao-tep performing with his newly acquired Spear of Sorrows.


Coyote stars in some of my favorite tales. Long ago, I want to say 1987, I came across the book American Indian Myths and Legends. It's a great resource for anyone interested in such subject matter as the title would suggest. At the start of Act II, Part 3 I talk about Coyote being full of summer strawberries. It's a small reference to a tale within the aforementioned book. Coyote sees several beautiful women picking strawberries and he desires them, so he goes to the end of the long row of strawberries and buries himself completely except for the tip of his penis which sticks out, looking somewhat like a strawberry that's on the ground. The women come to the end of the row of strawberries and see this one lying on the ground. Try as they might they cannot pick it from the ground. They pull at it and pull at it until it excretes a small bit of milk-like substance. They move on and Coyote digs himself out of the ground. ;)

I named Comet Fox prior to researching his mother, so I had to find a goddess (or in this case three goddesses) that represented traveling light. The Zorya fit the bill.

There are many layers to Hell ruled by the Yama Kings, but I really liked the name Chamber of Dismemberment by Sawing. The other layers are: Chamber of Wind and Thunder, Chamber of Grinding, Chamber of Flames, Chamber of Ice, Chamber of Oil Cauldrons, Chamber of Dismemberment by Chariot, Chamber of Mountain of Knives, Chamber of Tongue Ripping, Chamber of Pounding, Chamber of Torso-severing, Chamber of Scales, Chamber of Eye-gouging, Chamber of Heart-digging, Chamber of Disembowelment, Chamber of Blood, Chamber of Maggots, and Chamber of Avici. (2)


I wanted my faun unlike those protrayed within recent movies(Mr. Tumnus in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and the faun in Pan's Labyrinth) so I did some research on fauns and discovered Lupercus the epithet of Faunus, the god of wilderness and fertility. I wanted him friendly and wise.


The kappa is another favorite legend of mine. I first learned of it in Obake: Ghost Stories of Hawaii by Glen Grant. It's a book I purchased in the first month or two after moving to Maui. I then came across the legend again while reading the graphic novels Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai. In one Usagi tale he battles the kappa demon.


I currently live in an area of Michigan that becomes practically infested with cottonwood puffs every spring. It can be quite pretty, but also signals allergy season for me. In a discussion I remember with J. Ho long ago, I told him it makes the area look like I'm caught up in a wuxia tale. It was only natural I add cottonwoods to this tale and eventually call Ketsueki's realm The Cottonwood Chamber.

It was important that I did not have Xiao-tep out-and-out tricked to go into the Cottonwood Chamber. Having him actively seek it out and the aide of Ketsueki shows his desperation and hate towards his father.

Imps are often associated, some would argue incorrectly, with Wiccans. Some claim them tiny demons acting as familiars for witches. The truth is that imps have a history separate (largely) from that religion. But I drew upon this misnomer and portrayed the imps as having the once-perceived familiar-like quality of suckling blood from the third nipple of another's body. I understand fully I was playing on false beliefs developed by ignorance, but the legend has come into mainstream consciousness and felt it fit my needs. I took great care not to associate Ketsueki, Kleos or anything having to do with them with Wicca. My respect and love goes out to Wiccans everywhere.


I needed to incorporate more fighting into the tale, hence my choice to incorporate flashbacks showing Wu Chan Chu's and Comet Fox's training and attainment of weapons as well as their fights with Xiao-tep.

The nose flute is a common musical instrument within Polynesian culture.

The idea of Wu Chan Chu watching the hawk comes from a quote in the Hagakure and recited by Forest Whitaker on the soundtrack to the movie Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai. The quote goes: "According to what one of the elders say, 'Taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird. Even though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them it pays no attention to any bird other than the one it has first marked.'"


I wanted the entirety of the Cottonwood Chamber to appear alive and organic, hence my incorporation of spriggans. I got inspiration for them in the Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game. With gratitude to Kevin Siembieda.


There is a brief reference to the tales of All Men Are Brothers here. In those classic Chinese tales, the character Black Whirlwind must take up residence with a school of monks. Black Whirlwind is the polar opposite of what a monk should be: he eats meat, does no chores, loves luxury and wealth and violence. As such, he does not hold sacred that which the monks hold sacred. One night, after sneaking away to a nearby village to eat and carouse, Black Whirlwind returned drunk and needing to pee. He winds up peeing behind the statue of the Buddha in the temple. Of course, the monks are outraged and a small moment of hilarity ensues. Here Comet Fox, drunk and needing to pee, urinates upon one of the hand-carved stone dragons of Master Liu.

While not necessarily the comic relief of the story, I did want Comet Fox to have a sense of humor about him and wanted humor to enter into the situations he found himself in. For instance, Master Liu reminiscing about watermelons while Comet Fox rages about plums. One of the things I find endearing about the Coyote tales that inspired Comet Fox was Ciyote's sometimes simple nature. Coyote wants what he wants and he'll do as he needs to get what he wants. I wanted Comet Fox to be much the same.


Strategy and forethought is quite important in combat as is in life. The observation of nature is also important, most especially in kung fu. I wanted to portray that with this flashback-within-a-flashback from Master Liu's younger times. Most martial arts are also based upon basic principles and I wanted Master Liu to express those principles in his own way and portray them as he had learned them in life.


From almost the first I wanted Comet Fox to brandish ulus as his weapons of choice. The problem I found was inspiration for how they were made. These heroes are in many ways quite plain and simple, but I wanted them also to have certain uniquenesses to them. Their weapons is one area I chose to make extravagant. Xiao-tep's Spear of Sorrows was made by dwarfs and has within it a bound Bean Nighe; Wu Chan Chu's brass knuckles were made by a master craftsman especially for her; Comet Fox's ulus needed, I felt, a mystical origin and since ulus look so much like half-moons I thought it only appropriate they come from the moon.


I love Drunken Style. It looks so comical yet can be quick and effective and even graceful.


When it came time to write the final Act of this tale, I realized I needed to add a background story to the imps since they were to have a part in the usurping of Ketsueki Sato. I didn't want them to be the calvary riding in to save the day and all that schtick. They needed a reason, a purpose, and a stake in the outcome. Sadly, I went forward with this background in the final Act. I say 'sadly' because I felt that by the final Act the stage should have been completely set so that we could concentrate on the final battle. This did not happen. When I edit this for future readings, the background story of the imps will go in Act 3 just before the imp (you later discover him to be King Kleos) visits Xiao-tep and tells him to escape the Cottonwood Chamber.

I drew heavily upon ancient Greek culture for inspiration for the imps. It would seem that, while imps may have existed within the minds of humanity prior to Greece's heyday, the ancient Greeks were the first to truly adopt them into their culture in some way.

The separate bog-kingdoms I loosely based upon the Greek idea of city-states, with King Kleos' bog-kingdom being somewhat like Sparta in that they are the most war-like and most successful at war.

The wolf is a common character within ancient Greek tales.


I wanted to incorporate some level of political power within the imp's part of the tale, which is lacking elsewhere.


I also wanted the power struggle to last a bit to add a parallel level of the rising tension of the fight in the courtyard. I didn't want the finale to be one-dimensional where everyone was just fighting and things become more bleak by the minute as the enemy increases his troops and pressure. I wanted to express that rising tension through a feeling of emergency and emotion. Herein we find King Kleos not wanting to see his people slaughtered, yet wanting to fight for their freedom. I pulled inspiration for this from Homer's The Iliad
. In The Iliad the hero Achilles must make the decision to join an on-going war. He does not desire to do so, thus Homer creates an emotional trial for Achilles as his friends and countrymen die while he sits at home safely. I am not the world's biggest fan of The Iliad because it takes so very long for Achilles to join the war and, quite frankly, the ending is not without flaws. But had Homer made Achilles join the war far earlier within the tale, I might like The Iliad a bit more. Nevertheless, I borrowed the idea of having a perplexed character deciding to go to war from The Iliad.


King Kleos tells Ipiretus and his people to hack at the heels of the toad demons to sever the tendons within. For those of you who don't know, that tendon is often called the Achilles Tendon and if it is not in tact, a person will fall, incapable of walking or standing on that foot. Why is it called the Achilles Tendon? Once more I reference you the The Iliad


I wanted Ketsueki to be practically impenetrable. I also wanted the heroes to work together to defeat him so that no single character could say they did more than the rest. Lastly, Xiao-tep, being our main hero, needed to be the one that delivered the final blow. As a result, Comet Fox severed the horn of Ketsueki that would be used as the death-weapon, King Kleos gave the horn to Xiao-tep with the information that Ketsueki was weakest in the pit, Wu Chan Chu broke the knee of the demon which made him raise his arm and finally Xiao-tep drove the horn into the demon's pit. None could have succeeded without the other.


When all is said and done, I am simply writing a fairy tale (often associated with children's entertainment) about a flying, speaking fish. A certain amount of levity and light-heartedness must be taken when approaching the subject matter. I do approach it in this way, no matter how much heaviness of thought or philosophical background I may put into these stories.

But the backdrop of culture and ideas of post-industrialization are there. If you can latch onto them, by all means please do. If all you get out of reading this tale is a kick-in-the-pants kind of fun, that's great as well.

Thanks to everyone who has read and supported this work.

One last note: the title of this afterword is "Drawing Down the Sun, Uplifting the Stars". It is inspired from two sources. One is the Wiccan ritual of 'drawing down the moon' wherein a coven requests divine guidance. The other comes from, once again, All Men Are Brothers wherein the 108 heroes are released as spirits into the world and they fly through the sky like shooting stars. Hence, the title of this afterword could mean a calling upon divine guidance coupled with the releasing of heroes. The title could also mean banishing the light so that heroes can be raised in the hours of darkness.

With much love and respect,

~ charles

Here is a quick picture I did in MS Paint of Xiao-tep.