Saturday, 10 May 2014

Story notes: In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath

Inspired by Bogi Takács' "story notes" series, I decided to post something about "In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath," my short story featured in Innsmouth Free Press' Sword & Mythos and translated from the Spanish by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. You can read it for free here (and then buy the book so you won't miss stories by E. Catherine Tobler, William Meikle, Bogi Takács and Orrin Grey, among others).

[Possible spoilers ahead. But did I mention you can read the story for free? Go. Now. I'll wait. But not for long.]


  • I wrote "In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath" specially for this anthology. I'm not sure what I would've done with it if it hadn't been sold. Maybe forget it for a couple of years and then revise it.
  • I've been living in the land of the ancient Matlazinca for 25 years, so why not include them in my fiction? Besides, I recently moved to a place where I can see Xinantécatl volcano from my window, that's inspiring, I tell you.
    From my window: Xinantécatl obscured by a streetlight (March, 2013)
    I can't take pictures, I know

  • There's little we know about the Matlazinca apart from a couple of codices and Fray Bernardino de Sahagún's Historia general de las cosas de la Nueva España (General History of the Things of New Spain –because we love extremely long titles–) from which I took the epigraph.
  • Matlazinca is a Nahuatl word (it's unknown how they called themselves) that comes from 'matlatl,' a net made from agave fibres. It probably means 'those who weave nets.' They used them for everything: from fishing, harvesting, warfare or sacrificing people to their gods (I wish I've made that up).
  • Sword & sorcery plus mythos in a pre Hispanic setting:
    • The Aztec empire, commanded by its tlatoani Axayácatl, conquered the Valley of Toluca (where Matlazincas lived) in 1473. I like to think this story was kind of retributive justice for the meek.
    •  Shub-Niggurath is not referred to as goat since they were not known in Mexico before the Spaniards' arrive, but to a deer since they were quite common in the region (sadly, not anymore).
  • I first wanted to portrait a powerful woman as an eagle warrior (part of an elite "warrior society" in the Aztec militia). Unfortunately, in that time women were not allowed to participate in warfare (what a surprise, uh?) so my female character ended up being an enemy priestess. There is an eagle warrior in the story, though. But I deliberately described her having the same hairdo as "the shorn ones," the highest ranked and prestigious warrior society of the Mexica.
  • Pre Hispanic culture was based in dualities. It was represented in religion, habits and many aspects of political and social life. Nahuatl language, for example, used an interesting gramatical construction called difrasismo in which two different words put together form a metaphorical unit. In xochitl in cuicatl literally means "the flower, the song," but together they mean 'poetry.' Hence this story's title is a disruption of that pair which, I hope, creates a third new meaning.
    Two-page panel from Cem Anahuac, comic by my friend Napoleón Bonilla

  • Just after I submitted the story to Innsmouth Free Press, I imagined it in comic form (a floppy, brief one). I fantasised some specific drawings in the style of the image above. I even imagined a trilogy and gave titles to the remaining two stories! ("In cuauhtli in ocelot in Yog-Sothoth" and "In teoatl in tlachinolli in Nyarlathotep") Some day, maybe...
  • My writing soundtrack was Mexican music from Colonial times (XVI-XVII centuries). I know it was not from the same era, but many songs are sung in Nahuatl and use pre Hispanic sounds and instruments.
  • I can't deny I'm a pantser by nature. Sometimes necessity brings the plotter out of me, though. This story was outlined in two different ways: as a timeline and as a hideous storyboard (pictured below). Its was a great experience and helped me so much to stay in focus while developing the narrative. I'll surely do that more often.
Before I erased my whiteboard: my shadow obscuring a hideous outline
Did I tell you that I can't take pictures?

If this series of random ideas made some sense to you, go purchase Sword & Mythos. Otherwise do it for the other stories and essays are way much better than mine.

You can also read a review here, which happens to say that "In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath:"
is exotic tale of warriors, blood sacrifice and ancient gods. I should definitely look for more from this author...

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Original fiction: REM



And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you'd be? 
Lewis Carroll 



Alice tried to catch her breath. She had been running for so long she almost forgot what she was running from.


Fit to snore his head off!” Said Dum, one of the fat hitmen, and bursted out laughing. “Heard that, bro? Snore his head off!”

He, then, shot.


Her legs hurt and her toes were bleeding, but Alice couldn’t stop running. Not now that she was so close to the edge of that damned forest.

You ought to pay.” That hideous voice was still sounding inside her head. “You ought to speak.”

Alice couldn’t help but crying. Her tears felt real, realler than ever, but her dream started to feel like someone else’s. Maybe they were right.

John Tenniel, 1871


REM had taken control over the Looking-Glass with extreme violence. The Red King could be an ever-sleeping capo, but his lieutenants and hitmen were always awake taking care of his business.

No mercy.

Everyone was a sort of thing in His dream. The Red King owned everything and everyone. Including Alice.


The couple of fat hitmen had stopped Alice in her way out of the forest. They were nasty men who smelt like sweat and cheap liquor. Dee and Dum, as they called themselves, took Alice by the arms and threatened her.

She ran from them. But mostly she ran from her dream because it was her dream, wasn’t it? She was dreaming all that nonsense about the violent cartel that was controlling each and every movement in the Looking-Glass. Of course it was her dream and not some crazy drug lord’s who spend the day sleeping, dreaming about her, about everything.


It all had been sudden. One day the beheaded bodies of the Walrus and the Carpenter were found on the beach. Their heads and a message were inside a garbage bag left resting against Humpty Dumpty’s wall. “Aren’t they a lovely sight? -REM.”

Rex Ex Machina, as everybody knew later, tortured and beheaded many of the high profile White King’s court men and advisors. Whoever questioned being part of the Red King’s dream were executed.

Then, Alice arrived to the Looking-Glass.


She halted. A sound like a roar, like an engine, was rapidly approaching her. How could it be?

The Red Queen came galumphing on a bandersnatch. Not far, a weird engine-like device carried the sleeping body of the Red King: the king from the machine.

“Hullo, dear. Going somewhere?” Asked the Red Queen. “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Alice remained silent. She had heard dreadful stories about the Queen’s cold and calm way to torture people. But, had she? Wasn’t this a dream? Her dream?

John Tenniel, 1871

“Has the cat got your tongue or is it just the pleasure of seeing Him in his REM sleep?” Said the Red Queen. “You are not so talkative, are you, child? Do you want to praise your King? Bow a little, maybe?”

“I just want to wake up,” said Alice to herself in an angry voice. “Wake the damned up to end this madness!”

“Hush! You don’t want to wake Him up, do you, dear child?” Said the Red Queen. Her voice trembling, waiting for the worst.

“Wake the hell up, Alice!” She screamed her lungs out wishing for it to be HER dream.


Everything goes out —bang! —just like a candle!




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Friday, 28 February 2014

Women Writing Lovecraft

I was 7 years old when I read Lovecraft for the first time. My sisters and I were given an anthology of short stories from around the world; the story from the US was "The Cats of Ulthar" which I instantly loved and re-read many times. I wasn't aware of who was the author then. Authors weren't that important when I was that little, what mattered was the text itself. At that time nobody told me it was weird for a girl to like Lovecraft and vengeful cats.

I went back to Lovecraft when I was a teenager and by then I had read everything Poe-ish I could find (how I loved Julio Cortázar's translations of Poe into Spanish!) This way, I found the Mythos (those had poor translations, though) and I liked them despite not having any characters to relate to. I liked them because people didn't "win", because horror and anxiety were embodied by things and creatures that were impossible to overcome. Imagine how surprised I was when I found out that the Cthulhu guy was the same that had written one of my favorite short stories as a little girl. This time nobody told me either that it was weird for a teenage girl to like the short stories and monsters written by a man who clearly had problems creating female characters –and POC in general *sigh*–.

Back in college I became friends with my now fiancé because of Lovecraftiana. He found me reading inside an empty classroom and asked if I had read Poe and Lovecraft. "Of course I have, you dumbass," I thought –I just said "yes"–. He, then, proceed to tell me all about Eternal Darkness and how the game was Mythos-like. He didn't tell me it was weird for a woman to be reading in an empty classroom and to like genre fiction that had inspired survival horror video games.

I first published a Lovecraftian story in 2011. Because of that I've read other women who also love and write that kind of stories much better than I do. Nobody told us it was weird at all, right?

Wrong.
#TeamSquid mascot drawn by Lisa Grabenstetter

It seems that some people think women like me are weird. They believe Lovecraftian stuff is a "guy thing" and that there are very few women writing it. They even wonder if we just don't like to play with squids. Silvia Moreno-Garcia answered that question:
Women do write Lovecraftian fiction. We aim to prove it with your support. More than a dozen female authors have gathered to write original Lovecraftiana and place it in a single volume under the title She Walks In Shadows.
She Walks In Shadows will be the first all-women Lovecraftian anthology and, if all goes well, I'll be part of it. How weird cool could it be? I mean, I'm a Mexican woman who loves to read and write Lovecraftiana *pause to let some heads explode*. And, of course, I like to play with squids.


It's me and Cthulhu! Hugging each other!


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Help crowdfund She Walks In Shadows' Indiegogo campaign by sparing some money or just spreading the word. But hurry because it ends on March 13th, 2014.




Friday, 17 January 2014

Reprint: 13

This is a mathematical kind of horror and a mutant kind of flash fiction at the same time. I believe numbers have their own way to tell stories.

The original Spanish version first appeared in Penumbria 13, September 2013. Translated into English by myself.


13


I

Mathematicians use to say that, among prime numbers, Thirteen is the most dreadful.

II

Thirteen is happy. He factorizes and adds himself, he squares himself. He's one.

III

Prime numbers inhabit the sieve of Eratosthenes, a strange building of infinite wonder.

IV

The sieve of Eratosthenes' elevator makes an actual stop in the 13th floor.

V

Thirty-one is afraid of looking in the mirror. Her reflexion brings bad luck.

VI

In the hallways, they speak about those mathematicians who started a weird cult.


VII

Mathematical monks count every moon of the year from the algoritmical Eratosthenes observatory.

VIII

The mathematical monks' algebraic calendar marks 13 dreadful days for13 bleeding moons.

IX

A portentous thirteenth month arrives. Pythagoras officiates the dreadful wedding building a triangle.

X

The thirteenth moon accelerates the tides. Mathematical monks go mad. Soaked calendars float.

XI

Five and Twelve cry. "What Pythagoras has joined together..." Thirteen bares his teeth.

XII

13 monks play ring-a-ring o' roses: "one, one, two, three, five, eight... ¡thirteen!"

XIII

Mathematicians read the tarot cards. The same arcane is always revealed: XIII. Death.