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Saturday, January 27, 2024

Me and My Demons

How do you like the family portrait that now adorns the top of this page?

Yes, that is myself sitting at the keyboard, no doubt diligently writing away on the next literary masterpiece. I have to say the picture flatters me. It’s now clear that I should have always been an animated character.

I’m surrounded by none other than the renowned Demon Hunter Orpheus (a.k.a. Septimus Bridge), the renowned actual demon Astaroth (a.k.a. The Fiend), and the last two Demon Hunters in the world (as far as we know) Izanami (a.k.a. Chiharu Ito) and Sapphire (a.k.a. Lola Blumquist). You will know them all from reading The Curse of Septimus Bridge and its sequel Last of the Tuath Dé. I like how the human beings are looking vaguely impatient, as if they can’t wait to see what ordeals they are going to be put through next. Meanwhile, The Fiend appears over-eager, as if he’s the one who’s going to have all the fun. All the while, I seem to be cracking a wee bit under all the pressure.

The artwork is by Tamlyn Zawalich, the same talented illustrator who produced the images for the covers of the two Demon Hunters books. It was organized as a birthday surprise by my wonderful friend Dayle, who is not only responsible for making my books read as coherently as they do but who saves my bacon with fixes, corrections and suggestions and who encourages every possible drop of quality in the final drafts.

My friend Michael once suggested that I should turn the Sapphire/Izanami tales into a graphic novel. I was immediately open to the idea, and I’m even more so now.

Maybe, though, we need to extend the saga a bit more first. If you agree, then I have good news. Writing has begun on the sequel to the sequel. I’m only on Chapter 1, but that’s where I always begin.

There has been a longer break than usual (about a year and a half) between the publication of my last book and starting the next one. I had a couple of other projects in between as well as a couple of film festivals to attend, and then it was the distracting Christmas season which, where I live, always seems to run from late October to mid-January. This is the time of year when I usually get most of my serious writing done—even more so when there is pandemic along with government-mandated lockdowns in effect.

There is no lockdown in effect at the moment, but we did have a couple of storms. Last weekend these islands were buffeted by two named storms, Isha and Jocelyn, within a three-day period with us being located in the red zone for the former. We were without electricity for a night and a day, and with phones’ and other gadgets’ batteries running down, I was eventually left without the internet but still had a fully charged laptop to work with. There was actually nothing else I could do except make things up in my head and type them out. It was as though the universe forced me to start the next book.

So yes, the next book is definitely a continuation of (addition to? complement of?) the world of Septimus, Sapphire, Izanami and all the other characters in my own little fantasy world (see illustration above). My other ideas for books—including a story set entirely in Ireland and even also possibly one that returns to the world of Dallas Green—are still out there, but they will wait and gestate a while longer.

So, where does the story—actually multiple stories—go from where we left off at the end of Last of the Tuath Dé? I have an outline, but experience suggests many things could change by the time I’ve finished fleshing it all out. Some of the familiar characters will be back, and there will also be new characters.

So, where does the story go? Let’s find out together.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away

  When I had taken all the obvious pictures, I just started pointing the camera around the beach zooming in on things that might be interesting. I was zooming in on a palm tree when I realized that there was someone sitting against it. I zoomed in closer. And I actually gasped. It was a girl. But not just any girl, but the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my whole life.
  —Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, chapter 6 (“Meeting Mary Loneliness”)
I have always wondered what it would be like to meet one of my novels’ characters in real life. You know, like in some fantasy meta scenario in a movie written by Charlie Kaufman. Of course, things like that don’t happen in real life, but I had the next best thing happen last week. I came across a photograph of one of my characters.

I was going through a box of old papers and documents that had been in our garage since we moved here 22 years ago. It was stuff that got thrown into boxes after leaving various jobs over the years in the Seattle area. Suddenly my eyes got hit by a blast from the past. It was a page from a calendar, specifically February 1985, consisting mostly of a photograph. It was a freebie from a vendor in the suburb Tukwila, and it came with a lot of info on the back, including lots of details about the photographer/designer as well as the customer graphic coordinator. It was printed on a four-color Heidelberg GTOVP52 printing press, and the paper was 80-pound Eloquence cover. It was the fourteenth “in a continuing series of designer calendars.” It even gives the name of the model in the photograph and where it was shot: Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

What prompted me to hold onto it? Well, look at it. I think I was in love. I could say I was in love with the idea of a beach in Jalisco, of the sand, the tropical trees, the soft warm light, the margaritas that were probably being mixed just out of frame, but why bother? You’ve already judged me.

Long after I had forgotten that this artifact was in my distracted possession, the image endured in my mind. When I knew that I was going to write about an 18-year-old kid from California meeting a young woman on a beach in Sonora and taking her photo, I knew that this was the photo he would be shooting. It was as though my novel Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead were a true story that occurred in a parallel universe and Dallas Green’s photo of María Soledad Carvajal somehow traveled through time and space to land in my Seattle place of employment in 1985.

Maybe I held onto it for the same reasons that, in that parallel universe, Dallas held on to it.
  And then there were the pictures of Marisol. Photo after photo showed her leaning back against that palm tree on that beach, throwing her head back, laughing at me and smiling that smile that made me fall in love with her. But now I was seeing something I hadn’t seen before. Something like a trace of sadness underneath the laughter. I had seemed to strike a chord when, in my ignorance, I translated her name as Mary Loneliness. Just when I had started to think that the whole business with her had been some sort of temporary insanity, here she was back and making me fall in love with her all over again.
  —Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, chapter 19 (“Partings”)
Not all of my characters’ physical aspects are so vivid in my mind. When first conceived, they might start out looking like someone I know in my own personal life, but they quickly take on a life of their own and morph into a completely new person with their own distinct appearance. Marisol, though, remained consistent and faithful to that 1985 photo.

Only when I finally brought Marisol back in my post-trilogy coda, the short story “Rendezvous,” did she mature and age. Still, it didn’t diminish her beauty. I’m sure of it.
  “Marisol?” Valérie’s gaze deepened. “And he met you in Mexico?”
  “Yes, in a seaside town called Guaymas.”
  After a long pause, Valérie said, “No, he never mentioned you.”
  “There is no reason why he should have. It was so long ago…”
  “I did see your photo once, though.”
  “My photo? How…?”
  “I recognize you now. Obviously, you were much younger then, but it was definitely you.”
  “He had a photograph of me?”
  “Yes. I saw it only briefly. You were on a beach. Leaning against a palm tree. You had a book open on your lap.”
  “That’s right. He did take a photograph of me on the beach. And he kept it all those years?”
  “Once when we were living in Paris, he left a book on a table. I picked it up to see what he was reading, and the photo fell out. It had been between the pages. He blushed when I teased him about it. I asked him why he was hiding a photo of such a young girl. He did not want to talk about it. I could see it was several years old. The colors had begun to fade. Still, it was a nice photo. It made… an impression on me.”
  —“Rendezvous” (short story)

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Back to Deauville

  “Yes. Tell me, are you familiar with the Deauville Film Festival?”
  “Dough ville? Uh, no.”
   “Deauville is in Normandy. For six years now they have been holding a film festival there dedicated to American cinema. And this year you will be attending. What do you think of that?”
  “I, I don’t know what to say. This is kind of the last thing I expected.”

In Chapter 12 of Lautaro’s Spear, our protagonist Dallas Green gets thrown a curve. Out of the blue his boss tells him he’s being sent along with a reporter to take photographs at a film festival in France. It turns out to be a godsend because Dallas needs an escape from his chaotic life in 1980 in San Francisco where his affair with a married woman is unraveling disastrously and his friendship with a drummer in an aspiring rock band has turned a bit weird.

  The weather was very much like San Francisco with a cold, stiff breeze bearing down on us. The terrain was a lot flatter though. I could smell the ocean even if I could not see it. I had the distinct impression it was not very far ahead of us. We stopped in front of a large and impressive building that looked like some sort of castle with high windows and columns at the front entrance.
  “This is the Casino,” she said, pronouncing it “ca zee no” the way the French would say it. “This is where we will be tonight for the opening.”

At the time I wrote Lautro’s Spear, I had never been in Deauville. I had lived in France for a year as a student many years previously, and I had visited Normandy then and since, but I had no actual memories of that particular vacation spot to draw on. I had to rely on research and imagination in describing Dallas’s impressions of the place.

“So, how accurate did your research turn out to be?” asked an extremely affable taxi driver named Benoît. He was driving us to Le Havre to catch a ferry back to Ireland. Benoît had rescued us five days earlier when an unreliable local bus system had left us stranded in the delightful town of Honfleur. I had told him about my novel and that I was keen to see how good a job I had done in conjuring the place without actually having been there.

After a major birthday several months ago, I decided it was finally time to follow in my fictional alter ego’s footsteps and experience the Festival du cinema américain de Deauville myself—43 years after Dallas had been there. Accompanied by wife and daughter, I spent a glorious five nights and four days attending the film festival. Of course, in four decades much had changed. The main venue for the big events is now the elaborate CID (Centre international de Deauville) situated between the Casino and the town’s fabulous beach. The beach itself looked exactly like every photograph I had ever seen of it with its iconic colorful umbrellas on the wide expanse of sand and the boardwalk that functions as a virtual walk of the stars with famous movie names adorning the long line of beach cabins.

We made a stop at one famous name, that of Clint Eastwood. He was at the 1980 film festival to screen his movie Bronco Billy and is one of several real-life attendees mentioned in my novel. In fact, he has sort of a walk-on cameo. On Eastwood’s beach cabin was a poster highlighting the fact that his son Kyle had participated in the opening night festivities of this year’s festival, marking the release of his album Eastwood Symphonic, dedicated to the music of his father’s movies. An accompanying documentary Eastwood Symphonic: A Family Affair was also screened during the week. If I had been better organized, I might have tried to crash the event in an effort to make contact with Kyle and shove a copy of Lautaro’s Spear into his hand. Instead, I dropped by the festival office and left a copy with two staffers who were quite gracious upon learning about the book’s existence and receiving a copy.

It was a strange experience seeing the hotel where Dallas stayed during his time there and where he first spotted the love of his life, Valérie Destandau. And to walk along the beach where the two of them strolled one night and she first mentioned her boyfriend back in Bordeaux. While there, I enjoyed much warmer weather than Dallas did. I’m pretty sure I checked the weather records and found that it would have been cool early in that September of 1980. Anyway, that is how I described it. Benoît sort of verified as much when he told us that the warm weather we came into was in stark contrast to the cool, wet weather of the previous week.

  “I almost forgot,” he said. “There were some photos on one of your film rolls. They were of a woman. Nobody here recognized her. We thought they might have been for your personal use.”
  I took the envelope into the darkroom for privacy. I knew immediately what photos they were, and I wanted to look at them alone. One by one I pulled them out of the envelope and stared. The sight of Valérie’s laughing face was more than I could bear. There she was on the beach in Deauville in the darkness of the evening. She looked embarrassed and amused at the same time. It was the evening she taught me the word galoche. I missed her so much. I loved her so much.

I will have to re-read chapters 16 through 23 more carefully to determine what mistakes or misrepresentations I might have inadvertently made. Benoît suggested that I might want to release a revised edition of the book. Hopefully, it won’t come to that.

If you would like to know some more about my visit to Deauville, particularly the movies I saw there, I invite you to read my recent post on my movie blog.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Indy Selling Success Story

Things to have come full circle in the book business—well, at least in my book business. When I published my first novel nearly nine years, I didn’t bother with a paperback version. I had bought into the hype and buzz that told us that print books were dead or dying and that the future was digital.

Then, after hearing from a surprising number of potential readers that they wouldn’t be reading Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead until they could do so on paper, I corrected my course. Three months later the paperback version (with a new more printer-friendly cover) was released. Ever since, the digital and paper versions of my novels have been released simultaneously.

Despite the stubborn (determined?) paper readership out there, however, most of my sales were digital, specifically via Amazon Kindle. In the past year or two, though, that has changed. Maybe it had something to do with Covid or perhaps with the type of people who read fantasy books like The Curse of Septimus Bridge and Last of the Tuath Dé, but print books have been making up a larger share of purchases. As far as I can tell, print is definitely not dead.

In January I informed readers of this blog that I now have my own sales portal at for paperbacks. The beauty of that site is that it offers the same stay-at-home-and-have-it-delivered convenience of any other online seller, but it also offers readers the possibility of supporting authors they like or any of the hundreds and hundreds of independent brick-and-mortar book stores that have also signed up with them.

I have lately learned more about the history of and philosophy behind thanks to a great article by Kate Knibbs posted on Wired magazine’s website a couple of weeks ago. As chronicled in that piece, it was the brainstorm of Andy Hunter, who ran a midsize literary publisher called Catapult. The profile describes his sometimes difficult childhood and how the local library became a place of solace for him.

Hunter became obsessed by a random comment he heard over dinner from a board member of the American Booksellers Association: what if ecommerce was a boon for independent bookstores, instead of being their existential threat? That led him to propose converting the association’s IndieBound program, which promoted independent booksellers, into an alternative online bookseller.

The association wasn’t interested in that approach but offered Hunter support if he wanted to start his own online bookshop. The beauty of his concept was that neighborhood bookshops and authors can get money for selling books online with a minimum investment of time and effort, as takes care of inventory and shipping by partnering with wholesaler Ingram. I suppose another way to look at it is that is an online seller like any other except that it generously shares its profits with local bookstores and authors.

Hunter’s timing turned out to be fortuitous because of the pandemic, as loyal local bookshop customers couldn’t get to their favorite sellers in person. Even without an advertising budget, its growth has been spectacular. Knibbs’s article recounts small bookshop owners’ stories of the cash windfalls that bailed them out of disasters thanks to having opted into Bookshop’s earnings pool fueled by 10 percent of the operation’s sales.

It’s an inspiring story, and a great lesson of what can be accomplished in the capitalist system when people approach business with good intentions.

      * * *

You may have been wondering what I’ve been up to in the eight months since Last of the Tuath Dé was released. I can tell you that I have been writing but not much more than that. I’ve been working on something that is a departure for me, in that it’s speculative, it’s non-fiction, and it’s got a personal angle.

If anything comes of it, and I’m hopeful it will, you will be the first to learn about it here.

And yes, I plan eventually to continue the saga chronicled in The Curse of Septimus Bridge and Last of the Tuath Dé.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Same Books, New Portal

Something on this blog has changed.

At the top of this page, if you click on any of the three links for my own online bookstore Afranor Books, they will now take you to a different place than they did before.

It was only two years ago next month that I announced that I had become an online bookseller. As I acknowledged back then, calling myself a bookseller was something of an exaggeration. Ingram, the company that prints the paperback versions of my novels and distributes them to sellers, had encouraged its authors to set up their own online shops. For this purpose, they provided the portal (called Aerio), and we authors set up (within limits) the design and inventory. It was another way for readers of particular authors to find and buy their books.

Then a few days before Christmas, Aerio informed us that it was getting out of the authors-selling-books business. What? It seemed like I had only just set up my bookshop, and now I was being evicted?

The Aerio online storefronts will close down at the end of this month. If for some reason you need or want to visit my Aerio site before it vanishes, here (for the final time) is the link to it:

Aerio further suggested, if we wanted to continue to have a place (besides, of course, all the other online booksellers out there) to direct readers to purchase our books, that we consider! Coincidentally, mentioned that site on this blog back in August when discussing issues with some of the more prominent online sellers.

As I wrote then, “They provide centralized ordering, delivery and customer service for a network of local independent bookstores. They are mostly in the US, but recently they have begun expanding internationally, specifically in the UK and Spain. Their website claims they’ve raised nearly $22 million for local bookstores.”

“This is how it works,” I continued. “On their website you select a local bookstore (there are more than 1,400 to choose from) you want to support. Once you’ve done that, any online orders you make from the website are fulfilled by and the local bookstore gets 30 percent of the retail value.”

It turns out that has an affiliate program for authors like me, so rather than giving up having my own online portal altogether, I have set up shop over there.

You can check it out by clicking this link: Or any of the three other links (can find all of them?) at the top of this page.

Note: unlike the Aerio site, which sold both paperback and digital versions of my books, my page just sells paperbacks. So, if you are looking for my novels as e‑books, you will want to select from among the many sellers of digital (and print) books listed along the right-hand side of this page.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Hand of Maradona

  To my surprise Donal called out after him, “Just for the record, mate, you lot most definitely stole the World Cup.”
  He stopped in his tracks and turned to face us.
  “The cast on van de Kerkhof’s wrist was completely illegal,” he said with annoyance.
  “Bollocks. You were stalling for time. You were doing anything you could to throw the Dutch off. You had your own referees, and they were so one-sided it was a bloody joke.”
  “What the hell are you two talking about?” I asked.
  “The 1978 World Cup. It was here in Argentina, and they bloody well stole it.”
That exchange from Chapter 14 of Searching for Cunégonde is about the first time Argentina won the World Cup in 1978. It is between Dallas Green’s English friend Donal and Alberto, one of a number of people the pair encounter in Dallas’s quest to find his long-lost friend Antonio. As they anticipate the next World Cup, Alberto tells Donal to watch out for an up-and-coming player named Maradona. Of course, Alberto has the full benefit of this author’s hindsight, but in fairness the young Maradona’s promise would have been apparent to most Argentine sports fans.

That promise would be borne out eight years later in Mexico when Argentina won its second world soccer championship thanks to Diego Maradona and his “Hand of God” goal and his “Goal of the Century.” I reflected on that two years ago when Maradona died suddenly at the age of 60.

For Argentina’s third World Cup trophy, it would have to wait until, well, yesterday. This time the World Cup was held (somewhat controversially) in Qatar, and it was Lionel Messi (born the year after Argentina’s previous most recent championship win) who led his country to victory in a knuckle-biting match with penalty shoot-out for the ages. I would like to think that, somewhere out there Alberto and Donal are still around and were watching like 14.9 million other viewers. Alberto would, of course, be crazy with joy over the triumph of his team, called la Albiceleste for its colors. Donal would be disappointed that England’s team (called the Three Lions for its insignia) crashed out at the quarter-final stage. Perhaps, though, he would take some consolation that his team did pick up the tournament’s Fair Play Award.

In other life-sort-of-almost-imitates-art news, Chile’s Láscar volcano rumbled back to life a bit more than a week ago. That wasn’t a complete surprise, as it is one of the most active volcanoes in the northern Chilean Andes. It is 38 miles from the Licanabur volcano, which isn’t believed to have been active for the past thousand years—and as far as I know still isn’t.

As readers of Last of the Tuath Dé will know, the interior of Licanabur is where the Grisial was created and is the the weakest point between our world and Tír nAill, otherwise know as the Otherworld and home of the Old Ones.

Speaking of Last of the Tuath Dé and Searching for Cunégonde, as well as my other novels, if you are stuck for gift ideas with only a few shopping days left until Christmas, books definitely make nifty presents.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Colonel Mustard’s Return?

I have always loved the tone, quality and entertainment value of readers’ letters to The Times (“of London”). It was sort of a dream come true for me nearly a year ago when a letter of mine was actually printed in that newspaper—though it was “only” in the paper’s Irish edition. (In case you’re wondering, I was exhorting readers to sample as many diverse news sources as possible—even ones they might disagree with—in the interest of avoiding information blind spots.)

I didn’t actually sit down and write the letter on a piece of paper and then drop it in a mailbox. It was originally a comment on an article on the Times web site, and an editor contacted me to verify my identity and to ask for permission to use it in the print edition. I don’t know if anybody actually writes letters to the editor on paper anymore. My guess is it’s all electronic now.

There was a good example yesterday of a classic Times reader’s letter or, rather, comment. It was beneath an article about new information on an old murder case suggesting the crime did not happen spontaneously but, in the words of an investigator, “it makes me think the whole thing was pre-planned.”

The most highly rated comment (with 114 recommendations as of this writing) on the article: “Isn’t planning pre-planning?” Say what you want about Times readers, but they care about the language.

You may wonder why am I am taking up space with all this on my book blog. It’s because the presumed murderer in the article was a certain Lord Lucan. He has been an object of fascination for the UK (and by extension the Irish) media since he vanished without a trace in 1974. This was immediately after his wife and his children’s nanny were attacked with a lead pipe. The wife survived, but the nanny, who was attacked first in a basement kitchen, died.

The newly revealed information is that three Cluedo game cards were subsequently found in a Ford Corsair that Lord Lucan had borrowed and which was found abandoned at Newhaven in East Sussex, suggesting he may have taken his life by leaping into the sea. The cards matched ones missing from a set owned by the lord. Which cards were they? Colonel Mustard, the lead pipe and the hall. Like Lord Lucan, the fictional Colonel Mustard is a former military man with a mustache. How very Agatha Christie.

The article further reveals that subsequently a woman insisted to police that she later met Lord Lucan at a party at a villa in the Algarve in Portugal. Today’s Irish Independent (like The Times, drawing from original reporting from The Daily Mail) informs us that a facial recognition expert, using AI photo analysis, has made what he claims is a 100-percent match between photographs of Lord Lucan and an 87-year-old pensioner in Australia. If they’re not the same man, says Professor Ugail, then they’re certainly identical twins.

On the other hand, my own neighbor here thinks I solved the mystery five years ago with the release of Lautaro’s Spear. His first comment after reading the book was that “you should have never killed off the other fella.” (He never forgave me for the demise of his favorite character from Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead.) His second comment was, “We finally know what happened to Lord Lucan.”

The name of the infamous lord (born Richard John Bingham) never appears in Lautaro’s Spear, but in Chapter 3 Dallas Green and his friend Linda go to a restaurant called Balthazar’s in San Francisco where their waiter is a dapper Englishman named Richard. Later in Chapter 13 Dallas has a chat with Marty, the mysterious proprietor of a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in the Mission District. Dallas is taken aback when Marty brings up Balthazar’s.
  “You would be surprised at the interesting stories lots of ordinary-seeming people have in their pasts. Here’s an interesting one. You ever been in a restaurant near Union Square called Balthazar’s?”
  “Yeah…” I said suspiciously.
  This was a perfect example of the weirdness that went through my conversations with Marty. Balthazar’s was the only restaurant in that area I had ever been in. What were the odds of that?
  “There’s a waiter there. His name is Richard. He’s an English guy.”
  “Yeah, he waited on a friend and me.”
  “You don’t say? Well, don’t tell anyone where you heard it, but that guy is a murderer.”
  “You’re joking, right?”
  “It’s true. I swear it.”
  “If you know this for sure, shouldn’t you tell the police or somebody?”
  “Nah, there’s no need for that. He only killed one time, and he won’t ever do it again. He was a British lord back in England—and a professional gambler—but things just didn’t go well for him. He was separated from his wife and children. One night he slipped back into the house and killed the nanny. Beat her to death with a lead pipe. Poor girl wasn’t even supposed to be working that night. Not sure if he mistook her for the wife or if she just got between him and the kids. Anyway, he took off and no one has heard of him since.”
My guess is that this exchange, which has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the book’s narrative (other than to establish Marty as a man with unusual connections and mysterious sources of information), went right over the heads of most readers. It would take someone, like my neighbor, who would be the right age and who lives on this side of the Atlantic to pick up on that reference. I believe this is what is known as an Easter egg.

Speaking holidays, it’s only 48 more shopping days until Christmas, so it behooves me to point out all the links on this page that will lead you to places to buy all kinds of great holiday gifts, including not only Lautaro’s Spear but also the other Dallas Green books as well as The Three Towers of Afranor, The Curse of Septimus Bridge and my newest tome, Last of Tuath Dé.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Stamp of Approval?

In a generous gesture to honor a humble writer residing on its soil, Ireland’s national postal service, An Post, has released a new commemorative stamp in honor of Last of the Tuath Dé.

Okay, actually not. I only wish.

It’s just an interesting coincidence that, at the beginning of September, An Post issued stamps featuring the mythical namesake of one of my latest novel’s characters. As the official blurb explains, the stamp is “based on Balor, a legendary figure in the Formorian supernatural race in Irish mythology.” It continues:
    According to the Irish folklore tales, Balor caused great pain and anguish to the Tuatha Dé Dannan, the other supernatural race in Irish folklore.
   The legend centres on Balor having an eye that, when unleashed, could cause instant death or poisoning. Balor’s Poisoned Eye is the main focus of one stamp. The second stamp relates to the legend that claimed Balor had only to look on the landscape to cause damage, such as in the Poisoned Glen in County Donegal.
   In both cases, contemporary colours are used to create the impression of poison almost leaping off the stamp.
A domestic postage stamp depicts Balor’s Evil Eye, while an international one illustrates the Poisoned Glen. They are part of PostEurop’s collection of stamps across Europe celebrating this year’s theme of Stories & Myths. The collection includes a whole array of mythical and legendary figures from various European countries.

Other examples include Saint Hubertus from Belgium, the mermaid Melusina of Luxembourg, the Bogeyman of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Emperor Charlemagne of France and Switzerland’s William Tell. Who knew that post offices could be such a great source for potential character names for future fantasy novels?

To be clear, the authentic mythological Balor does not actually appear in Last of the Tuath Dé. That Balor is my own creation, inspired by the Irish myths. The narrative conceit is that the Tuath Dé and the Fomóire in my book were the true inspirations for the Irish stories—even though in the real world it’s the reverse that’s true.

Quite a coincidence that An Post would be highlighting Balor within just a couple of weeks after the release of Last of the Tuath Dé, eh? But wait, it gets better.

It so happens that Greece’s entry in the Stories & Myths stamp collection is none other than Orpheus. As my readers will well know, Orpheus is the Demon Hunter name—or as Hadrian the Necromant would dashingly put the term (see Chapter 12), nom de chasseur de démon—of none other than the title character of The Curse of Septimus Bridge. Sadly, the two Greek stamps depict Orpheus’s demise as he’s about to be ripped to shreds by the Thracian Maenads for having forsaken his former deity patron Dionysus in favor of the sun god Apollo. A further reminder, if any were needed, that it’s always a bad idea to tick off a Greek god.

That’s a fate even worse than being trapped for eternity in the Netherworld.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Who’s Who?

Madame Bovary, c’est moi.

That is what 19th-century French novelist Gustave Flaubert is reported to have replied when asked if the title character of his best known novel, Madame Bovary, was based on a real person. He himself was she, he said.

That seemed strange when I first heard it lo these many years ago in my student days. How could a 37-year-old bachelor writer, who was a frequent customer of prostitutes, base a young, sheltered, convent-educated female character obsessed with romantic novels on himself? Now, however, it makes perfect sense to me.

I once read or heard from a source that seemed authoritative that, when we dream, all the people in our dreams are versions of ourselves. We might think we dreamt about a friend or relative, but it was really us. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sounds like it might be. I suspect something similar goes on with creators of fiction. I find it plausible that the inner lives of every fictional character is essentially an extension of that of its creator.

These thoughts are prompted by my previous post in which I anticipated—and shot down—the question of whether the character Antonio, who features in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead and its two sequels, was based on my longtime Peruvian friend Mañuco. If I think about it for very long, the real basis for Antonio becomes obvious. Antonio, c’est moi. Or more appropriately, Antonio soy yo.

No, of course, I’m not—and never have been—an abandoned Mexican street kid living by my wits on the streets of Los Angeles. But look past that. Antonio is an avid reader of comic books. He loves movies and the Spanish language. If you read Chapter 10 of Max & Carly carefully, you’ll even find circumstantial evidence that he’s a fan of the 1960s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. The case is open and shut.

A lot of readers, including those who personally know me well, have assumed that it is the narrator Dallas who is me, and to be sure I did make Dallas’s circumstances close to my own—even to the point of having him be born in the same month and year. That, however, was to make it easy for myself in terms of getting the history right and to minimize my own need for research. What can I say? I’m basically lazy. But why waste time denying whether or not I’m Dallas? I’ve already bought into the idea that all my characters are me.

If that’s true, this has interesting implications for a literary debate that raises its head from time to time. Is it some kind of inappropriate appropriation for a male writer to attempt conveying the female experience through a fictional character? For a white fiction writer to write at length about the African-American or Hispanic experience?

For that matter, what about a California-born, straight, Scandinavian-American, male writer attempting to portray in fiction a Japanese-Canadian bisexual woman who happens to be a Demon Hunter? Yes, I had to bring the conversation around to my latest book, Last of the Tuath Dé, lest anyone forget that it is still out there and available for purchase.

Basically, I feel about fiction-writing the way I feel about the acting profession. In principle, any artist should be able to portray any character in any medium. In practice, though, it doesn’t cost me or anyone else anything to try being sensitive to legitimate issues people may have when it comes their own experiences and to history. In the end, though, my philosophy in artistic matters is to err on the side of creative freedom.

If I have my own escape clause for slipping through the imagined tentacles of the so-called political-correctness police, it is that I am either writing fantasy or else focusing on what I know personally—and none of my characters are meant to emblematic or representative of an entire group of people. I’m just telling stories.

That is why I feel secure in proclaiming, Izanami et Sapphire, ils sont moi.

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Traduttore, no Traditore?

Sometime during the past few days, as I write this, my words are being or have been read out at a poetry festival. This is not something that occurs for me often. In fact, virtually never.

But wait. Are they really my words being read out? That’s a fertile subject for discussion.

You see, I have this friend. I met him years ago when I was making my way home from a year’s study in Chile and found myself with several hours to kill during a layover in Lima. Through a series of events too complicated to go into right now, I wound up being invited to his family’s home for Sunday dinner and to pass the time until my evening flight to Los Angeles. Despite a significant gap in our ages, Mañuco (as he was called within the family) and I hit it off and formed a friendship that has endured through decades, marriages, parenthood and international relocations. He has lived many years in Paris, while I have dwelled these past score of years in rural Ireland. He is a poet, designer, dancer, all-around artist and general purveyor of Peruvian culture in the City of Lights.

If his name rings a bell with my readers, it is probably because he was one of the people to whom I dedicated my very first novel. And in case you are about to ask, no, he is not Antonio, the young traveling companion of Dallas and Lonnie in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead whose presence also weighs heavily in the two subsequent novels. Of course, any insights I gained from having a friend from a different (specifically, Latin American) culture informed the fictional character, but Antonio himself was more directly inspired by various Mexican and Mexican-American friends and acquaintances I had in my younger days. Still, the long-lasting bond between Dallas and Antonio does echo that of Mañuco and myself.

My Paris-based friend has always been a spinner of poems, and he has always written them in his native Peruvian Spanish. For years he has submitted them to various academic and literary journals. Many of these journals require works submitted in languages other than English to be accompanied by an English translation. At some point he asked me to translate one of his poems, and always up for a challenge, I gave it a go. He was delighted with the result and happily submitted it along with the original version. Since then, these requests have become a somewhat regular thing.

To be sure, I undertook this job with no small amount of trepidation. For one thing, I am not trained as a translator. My Spanish is pretty good (if I do say so myself), but translation is a whole different skill from simply understanding and communicating in a foreign language. Translation requires a specialized sort of training. Furthermore, I can in no way be considered a poet. I do read and appreciate poetry and have even churned out the odd bit of doggerel when the occasion required, but I am totally ill-equipped to write serious poetry of my own.

Despite this, I willingly produce translations of Mañuco’s poems because, for one thing, he is happy with and grateful for them. For another thing, it just seems to work because of the long and unusual mental bond between him and me. It’s a wondrous thing, as he and I are products of such different cultures, are native speakers of different languages, are different ages, and have actually spent precious little time in each other’s company. The vast majority of our communication has been through letters and, later, emails and internet audio conversations. Despite all this, when I read his poetry, I have some kind innate understanding of what he’s thinking, something he himself confirms. I do have to do a lot of research, sometimes painstakingly word by word, to find the right words or phrases, but only rarely do I have to consult Mañuco directly about his intentions or nuances. I doubt I could do the same for any other writer.

Part of the challenge of Mañuco’s poetry for a translator is that is tends toward themes of nature, earthiness and ribaldry along with a serious dose of surrealism. He tells me that my translations are invariably well received, although once he delighted in telling me a submission resulted in feedback that went roughly like this: your poem is pornography, and your translator is even more pornographic than you. It was never made clear to me whether this was contained in a letter of rejection or acceptance.

From Mañuco’s point of view at least, the old Italian aphorism traduttore, traditore (translator, betrayer) does not apply. He insists my translations make me a poet in my own right. Personally, I’m not so sure about that. Translation is definitely an art, but I’m not convinced that the translation of poetry is itself a form of poetry. I confess, though, I don’t mind the flattery.

Poetry or not, though, my English version of Mañuco’s words are being read aloud this weekend—along with the original Spanish words—at the inaugural edition of La Tour Poétique organized by the Association Apulivre in Paris. Hopefully, no fastidious listeners will be offended.

I’m definitely more comfortable with prose. And speaking of prose, allow me again to thank those of you who have purchased and read Last of the Tuath Dé. While the sales numbers certainly pose no competitive threat to the likes of James Patterson and J.K. Rowling, I’ve been gratified by the numbers of people who have sought out the book at the various online stores. I’ve been particularly impressed by the numbers of people who have gone to the expense of buying the paperback version.

Thank you all. (A translation of gracias a todos.)