Trumpeting My New Project

I’m excited to announce I’ve signed a contract for another novel.

Gabriel’s Trumpet is based my short story of the same name, which will appear in the upcoming anthology Speakeasies and Spiritualists from 18th Wall Productions.

The anthology features supernatural stories set against a 1920s backdrop of spiritualism, prohibition, and jazz culture. Expect not only horror but also adventure, mystery, fantasy, and pulp with supernatural elements.

Mississippi Delta plantation

Mississippi Delta plantation

Gabriel’s Trumpet is a supernaturally-tinged mystery telling the story of two men. Gabriel Gibbs is a Delta trumpeter who, tales claim, has returned from the dead with extraordinary musical prowess, and is shadowed by rumors of crossroads deals, grave robbing, and other occult dealings. Hot on Gabriel’s trail, seeking the truth about the musician’s background and abilities, is Dr. Marcus Roads, an investigator for the Boston Society for Psychical Research.

Action takes place across a broad swath of 1920s America: Boston, the Mississippi Delta, New Orleans, and Harlem at the height of its renaissance. Along the way, Roads confronts truculent authorities, hostile locals, rival investigators, and, just possibly, supernatural agents and their mortal minions.

In his travels, Roads encounters a colorful cast of characters, some stepping out of the pages of history books: Langston Hughes, Harry Houdini, King Oliver, Charles Fort, Walter Franklin Prince, and NOLA photographer E.J. Bellocq. There may even be a character borrowed from classic Weird Tales canon, no names … but your hint is Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn!

Look for both the short story and novel versions of Gabriel’s Trumpet sometime in 2017 from 18th Wall Productions.

How to “Dr. Frankenstein” Extinct & Poorly Documented Languages for Fiction

The Pictish language (or dialect, see below) was spoken in what is now northern and eastern Scotland approximately between the Fourth and Tenth centuries, when it was eclipsed by the language which evolved into modern Scotts Gaelic. Very few records of Pictish language have survived, mostly as brief mentions in Irish or Welsh sources.

That presents certain difficulties for one of my w

orks in progress, a novel tentatively titled Caledfwlch, the second book in my historical fantasy/progressive pulp series Bel Nemeton. The Picts feature very prominently in Caledfwlch. As part of bringing that people and their land to life, I wanted to be able to use some “Pictish” in the story.

I’ve turned that quest into a blog post not only because some of my readers may find it interesting but also in hopes it might be useful to other writers seeking to use a poorly documented extinct language in their work.

First, a few caveats on the scope of my project. I am not so ambitious as to try to go Tolkien/Star Trek on the problem and create a fully functional language. My goal is much humbler, to be able to drop the occasional word or phrase into the text for effect. Also, I am not attempting to recreate the actual, historical Pictish language. With such a miniscule sample size, that task has proven beyond the abilities of the world’s best linguists. I know I have no hope of doing so (nor do I have the time or inclination). Rather, my objective is creating plausible facsimiles of fragments of Pictish for use in fiction.

Here is how I tackled the problem.

I began by looking at how Pictish relates to other languages, living and dead:

Yes, there are a few claims that Pictish was a non-Indo-European tongue…or other outlier hypotheses. But the overwhelming academic consensus is that Pictish was an Insular Celtic language and a member of the Brittonic/Brythonic (P-Celtic) sub-family. From there, opinion appears about evenly divided whether Pictish was a dialect of or a sister language to Common Brittonic. Either way, that means the surviving languages descended from Common Brittonic (Breton, Cornish, and Welsh) are the closest living relatives to Pictish.

From there, I made an assumption (a well-reasoned one, I hope): geographical proximity suggests, of those three living languages, Welsh is likely to have been the most similar to Pictish. That geographical argument is strengthened if one considers the now extinct Cumbric dialect of Welsh, which was spoken in northern Britain and southern Scotland.

So I used Welsh (Old Welsh or Middle Welsh when available) as my jumping-off point for Pictish. There are a number of sources for Old and Middle Welsh online. When I couldn’t find relevant Old and Middle Welsh information, I turned to the plethora of Modern Welsh resources as well as good ol’ Google Translate.

Locating a Welsh translation for the word or phrase I wanted, sometimes I used it directly as Pictish. Other times I shifted a few sounds. Again, I understand this is not a linguistically sound way to actually recreate an extinct language. But I am hoping it creates a plausible, if utterly fictitious, facsimile that helps bring that fascinating people to life in my novel.

So, my solution to using a poorly documented extinct language was to identify the closest living language (or nearest well documented extinct language) and use it as inspiration for the language I was trying to recreate.

So, yes, at the end of the day, I am not so much trying to “Dr. Frankenstein” the language as I am making a hand puppet out of the corpse’s fist and hoping that will engage the suspension of disbelief of my readers. Nevertheless, I hope this has been entertaining and possibly useful for my readers.

Follow Jon at @BlackOnBlues on Twitter.

Eggs of Horror

on the second book (still tentatively titled Caledfwlch) in my historical fiction/progressive pulp series is significantly ahead of schedule. So, with the intent of not putting all my writing eggs in a single genre basket, I am dusting off four stories I wrote earlier in the year. While none of them are quite horror, they all nibble at its edges.

In the tradition of Lovecraft’s Arkham and its environs, three of the stories are set in Junzt County, a fictional county within the Texas Hill Country. One of the most historically rich regions of the state, the Hill Country also has the advantage of being an area I’m highly familiar with and offering the right cocktail of isolation and mystery.

The Eye Teeth: Set in the 1940s, is classic weird fiction with strong Cthulhu Mythos overtones. As with my series, historical sources and research play a prominent role. A well-known politician from Texas also puts in a guest appearance in the role of quest-giver.

Pioneer House: This flashback to the 1980 blends weird fiction with an “outsider” archetype protagonist, portrayal of small town ennui, and the question of free will.

So Lonesome I Could Die: Is a 1920s Western Gothic ghost story with nods to “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The story draws heavily upon my background in music journalism for mood and atmosphere.

The fourth story, and the only contemporary tale, is The Renewal Room, the tale of a music journalist (write what you know, right?) whose quest for a forgotten bit of music history leads him to a town on California’s Salton Sea which is equal parts Arkham and Twin Peaks.

With the exception of So Lonesome I Could Die, these stories were submitted elsewhere and rejected. I will spend the next few weeks retooling and strengthening them prior to submission for other upcoming anthologies or magazines.

So, wish me luck … oh, and Ia, Ia, Cthulhu fhtagn!

Follow Jon at @BlackOnBlues on Twitter.

Bel Nemeton Q&A: Part V

The following installment concludes my Publisher’s author interview for the short story “Bel Nemeton.” The template for my upcoming novel of the same name, “Bel Nemeton” can be found in the anthology After Avalon, from 18th Wall Productions.

Q) Your story features brief scenes with Merlin in the distant past. What
were those like to research and write? In fact, your story builds itself from a complicated web of real historical fact.

How was the whole research journey?

It is possible I did just enough research to get into trouble. If hope any archaeologists, historians, or linguists that happen to read “Bel Nemeton” will forgive my errors in the interest of narrative license.

With that caveat, it was a wonderful opportunity to research and highlight many interesting things occurring in the Sixth century.

Giving life to the complex and cosmopolitan civilizations along the Silk Road, such as Sogdia, was particularly enjoyable.

It was my goal to transfer the delight of that research and discovery directly into the narrative itself through the eyes of Vivian and Jake.

Readers who enjoyed that aspect of “Bel Nemeton” will be happy to learn the upcoming novel significantly expands the attention given to Merlin’s wanderings and exploration of the world of the Sixth century.

Please check out earlier answers in previous blog posts. Follow Jon at @BlackOnBlues on Twitter.

Bel Nemeton Q&A: Part IV

The following is part of my Publisher’s author interview for the short story “Bel Nemeton.” The template for my upcoming novel of the same name, “Bel Nemeton” can be found in the anthology After Avalon, from 18th Wall Productions.

Q) Tell us more about your two leads, their relationship, and what
inspired them.

Dr. Vivian Cuinssey is a professor of Celtic linguistics. Jake Booker is a two-fisted treasure hunter. While the “academic” and the “man of action” are common archetypes of contemporary pulp, one of the great joys of writing “Bel Nemeton” was playing both leads against type. Vivian comes to the table with considerable moxie and a willingness to dust it up with the bad guys. Conversely, as the story progresses, Jake reveals that, underneath his action hero exterior, beats the heart of a nerd.

Initially an alliance born of convenience, Vivian and Jake’s relationship evolves into a symbiotic partnership rooted in mutual respect – none of which prevents the obligatory barbs and banter which are de rigueur for an action-adventure duo.

Interestingly, I began writing “Bel Nemeton” without plans for romantic tension between the leads. Regardless of intentions, as I wrote, it was clear there was chemistry between them. While it’s not heavily emphasized in the story, it is definitely there.

I have been blessed to have a lot of strong, capable women in my life, many of whom are academics. As cliché as it is to say, especially my mother. These women provide much of the raw material for Vivian Cuinnsey. Jake Booker emerged more organically. I began without a strong conception of who Jake was and he gradually revealed himself through the process of writing.

Drop in on Friday for the interview’s conclusion. Please check out earlier answers in previous blog posts.

Follow Jon at @BlackOnBlues on Twitter. ,

Bel Nemeton Q&A: Part III

The following is part of my Publisher’s author interview for the short story “Bel Nemeton.” The template for my upcoming novel of the same name, “Bel Nemeton” can be found in the anthology After Avalon, from 18th Wall Productions.

Q) Merlin is one of the most influential and long-standing of Arthurian
characters. What inspired you to use him–and send your heroes on a
globetrotting quest to find his tomb?,

Of all Arthuriana’s characters, I felt Merlin had the widest potential for an “After Avalon” story. I envision him as a Dark Ages proto-Renaissance Man, with a whole world of possibilities open to him. Taking that sentiment literally, I imagined Merlin wandering the length of the known world seeking to fill the void left by the fall of Camelot with new experiences and encounters.

Initially, I conceived of Vivian and Jake primarily as a lens to reveal Merlin’s travels as they searched for what would be the archeological discovery of the century. As I began writing “Bel Nemeton,” however, they quickly assumed a life and agency of their own.

Drop in on Wednesday for another question from the interview and check out earlier answers in previous blog posts.

Follow Jon at @BlackOnBlues on Twitter.

Bel Nemeton Q&A: Part II

The following is part of my Publisher’s author interview for the short story “Bel Nemeton.” The template for my upcoming novel of the same name, “Bel Nemeton” can be found in the anthology After Avalon, from 18th Wall Productions.

Q) Other than your story, what is your favorite Arthurian tale (regardless
of medium)?

A) I have a special fondness for the 2004 film “King Arthur,” starting Clive Owen and Keira Knightley. I appreciate its late Roman/early Dark Ages setting and its exploration of the interplay between the various cultures in Britain at that time, including Celtic, Roman, and Saxon. Those are elements I explore in “Bel Nemeton” as well.

Though I am confused by why all the Saxons in the film have American accents.

Drop in on Tuesday for another question from the interview and check out earlier answers in previous blog posts.

Follow Jon at @BlackOnBlues on Twitter.

Bel Nemeton Q&A: Part I

The following is part of my Publisher’s author interview for the short story “Bel Nemeton.” The template for my upcoming novel of the same name, “Bel Nemeton” can be found in the anthology After Avalon, from 18th Wall Productions.

Q) How did you discover the Arthurian Legends? What do they mean to you?

A) My family is, in part, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish. My father’s middle name is Merwyn, a name related to Merlin. He was my introduction to Arthuriana. As a child, his tales of Merlin, Arthur, and the knights were my bedtime stories.

I am fascinated that a mythology so rooted in a specific time and place could become so ubiquitous. For nearly a millennia, the Arthur Cycle has been both a mirror and a painter’s pallet for the values, hopes, fears, and concerns of vastly different societies. Part of this, I believe, stems from characters that offer a complete set of archetypes which represent the virtues, vices, dreams, and obstacles that exist within each of us.

Drop in on Monday for another question from the interview

Follow Jon at @BlackOnBlues on Twitter.

Writing a Sixth Century Road Trip

I am still doing research for “Caledfwlch” and will be for many more months. I have, however, also begun writing. As with “Bel Nemeton,” the second book in the series features a split perspective with part of the action split between a contemporary time frame and a Sixth century Arthurian one (other, shorter, perspectives may also be introduced, I haven’t decided).

Part of the Sixth century storyline involves Myrddi (Merlin), Bleys (Blaze), and Arthur (for reasons of aesthetic preference, I’ve kept the king’s name in its familiar form rather than reverting to its Celtic versions). Traveling overland from a nebulously placed Camelot (there are so many suggested locations for a historical Camelot, none of them terribly convincing) to Pictland.

It would be entirely possible to fast forward through all that and simply resume narrative upon arriving among the Picts. If this was a short story, I certainly would. In a novel, however, I can afford to give some detail to their travels, using the opportunity to bring the world of Sixth century Britain to life, provide some character exposition, and insert a little derring-do.

The research underpinning this part of the story has been every bit as challenging as the research into the Picts (see my previous post). There is, of course, no authoritative map of Britain in the early-to-mid Sixth century. Even determining what lands and kingdoms Mryrddin and his party would pass through on their journey requires sifting through vague and contradictory information before making my own assumptions (possibly shaded a little by dramatic potential).

To the best of my ability, their travels will take the thrio through Powys, Pengwern, Elmet, Reghed, Damnonia, and Dal Riata before entering Pictland.

Along the way, each of those lands will get a little bit of color, if not a small story. Pengwern contains an abandoned Roman city whose name appears to be a Latinization of the Britonnic term for “City of the Werewolf” (really). How could I not play with that? Elmet, I think, will be Bleys’s home turf, good for some exposition about the history of Myrddin’s tutor. Reghed is often considered to be the “Gorre” of Arthurian legend, which gives some hints about what I may do there. Unlike the previous lands, which were are all Brittonic or Welsh, Dal Riata is the land of the Scoti (Gaelic speaking invaders from Ireland from which the name “Scotland” is ultimately derived). So there’s some good opportunity for cross-cultural tensions and, I think, maybe a bar brawl.

After that, it’s into Pictland and Sixth century Wally World (just kidding, mostly).

Knit-Picting

Book Two in the series isn’t due until May 2016. Nevertheless, I’ve already begun my research. The story will feature the Picts prominently. Delving into what is known about the Picts has been both fascinating and challenging.

Of all the Celtic peoples (acknowledging of course, that even the term “Celt” is anachronistic) of the Isles, the Picts are arguably the most enigmatic. Aside from archeological evidence, almost everything known about Picts comes from other peoples … and even that is not a large corpus of information. So it might appear to be an open question, what was a Pict?

In the absence of a large volume of hard data, it appears many people have treated the Picts as a blank canvas on which to project their own ideas, hopes, and fears. Often, this leads to depiction (no pun intended) of Picts as a kind of uber-Celt, with every trait common associated with Celts exaggerated. Others portray Picts as the ultimate “other,” ignore solid evidence as they portray Picts as non-Indo-European (to say nothing of Celt) and an outlier or exception to much that is commonly understood about human society.

Popular conceptions of the Picts … as technologically primitive, socially primitive, and extremely warlike appear deeply ingrained in both popular consciousness and mass media – from Robert E. Howard to the 2004 Clive Owen/Keira Knightley film “King Arthur.” There may be a kernel of truth in the last aspect, sources from multiple cultures describe Picts as notorious pirates and, certainly, they were one of the barbarian groups troubling Rome and even southern Britons. It is difficult, however, to build a case they were more “barbariany” than other barbarians. Conceptions of technological and social primitivism, however, are utterly erroneous. Archeological evidence supports that Pictish material culture and technology were on par with their other Celtic and Saxon neighbors. In fact, in some areas, notably metal working and artistry (Pictish art tended toward the naturalistic, in contrast with the stylized forms of their neighbors) a case could be made they were slightly ahead of the curve. Socially, while Pictland apparently lacked the larger settlements of southern Britain, its political and religious systems were also on par with their neighbors.

At this point, as presented in my story, the Picts will adhere strongly to the model supported by archeology and other scholarly research … while also featuring a nod to those more fanciful conceptions of myth and legend (especially of the Robert E. Howard variety).