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...