Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Urban Myth of Santa Claus

Luna Lindsey

Long ago, I wrote a comedic essay on the parallels between Santa Claus and Satan.  I was surprised to find quite a few things in common, though I was really only joking.  I finished the piece "...and the North Pole is as cold as hell!"

Back then, I didn't even know that "Nick" or "Old Nick" is also another word for The Devil in some parts of the world.  It is also the root of the name for several types of fairies in different regions (neck, nykk, nissie, nixsie, nyx, etc.  This itself may have come from the Roman "nymph".)  When we accept that many of our Christmas traditions have pagan roots, it's easy to see where all the confusion might have come from.

I've studied a lot of world mythologies this year.  And in doing so, I have taken a step back from my own culture's mythologies and seen it anew.  To us, we are a rational culture which has abandoned actual belief in strange tales of gnomes with funny names who spin straw into gold and gods with hammers who strike lightning out of the sky.  What silly nonsense!  Yet we have a large number of our own myths, that when viewed from outside, are just as silly.  When it comes to Christmas, those myths are borrowed from the same kinds of people who believed in giants and gods who live on Mt. Olympus.  And we find we are no different.

Think about it.  We cut down a tree and put it in the living room and place a star on top.  We hang socks from the fireplace.  Then we place cookies and milk out all night for a fat man in a red suit, who will come down the chimney at midnight and fill the socks with treats, then pull brightly colored packages (made by elves) out of his sack and place them under the tree.  But only for children he has judged worthy.  Then he will climb back up the chimney, hop on a flying snow-craft pulled by a team of reindeer, and fly back to his home in the North Pole.

If you hadn't grown up with that story, you would laugh, and say, "People really believed that crap?"  And yet parents tell the tale to their children as if it were fact, take their children to the "marketplace" to sit on his lap, then stay up on Christmas night to enact the ritual.  We put statues and images of Santa and all his followers all over our houses and marketplaces and sing songs about him.  Revealing the secret to children is taboo.

Have we really changed all that much?  In the future, when antiquities scholars will tell of our God and our Demigods, Santa will be highest on that list, akin to Thor in his second-place status next to Odin.  He will be the god associated with giving, kindness, children, winter, snow, the cardinal direction of "north", and the color "red".  The Easter Bunny and cupid and leprechauns and ghosts will be right up there, too, and academics will debate whether we held them as gods or animistic spirits.  For all our science, we haven't really left our myths behind.

Everything about the Santa myth is a fairytale.  With actual fairies.  It's so ingrained in our culture that we often miss it.  But all the elements are there:
  • Magic.
  • Elves.
  • Flying.
  • Leaving out food to appease him.
  • Inexplicable gift giving (remember the shoemakers elves?)
  • Time dilation to get around the world in one night.
Fairies themselves were a pagan belief, existing long before Christianity.  In an effort to get people to stop worshiping false gods, the Catholic church literally demonized the fae folk, turning them into devils, the very minions of Satan.  Hence, when studying fairytales, I've often seen "devil" being synonymous with "elf".  The original horned gods (often with the cloven hoofs of goats) were Pan, Puck, and the satyr.  But the devil himself, once the imageless antithesis of God, was given a makeover to resemble these formerly-benign gods, to remind people where their loyalties should lie.

Given the great distances back then, words evolved over time.  The nixies became nykks which became "Nick" (the devil), which became "to nick something" (meaning to steal).  Saint Nicholas' name is most likely a coincidence, but he was actually from Turkey waaaay back in 270CE.  He didn't wear a fur lined coat at all, but he did give things away, year round.  Most notably, he saved women from prostitution by giving them dowries and prevented children from being butchered by cannibals by raising them from the dead.  Not a very familiar image when thinking of Father Christmas...

But we are pretty sure that the Germanic peoples associated Saint Nick with the god Odin for some reason.  In Odin we see a more familiar figure: one who was celebrated at the pagan winter holiday of Yule with the practice of leaving carrots outside in boots for his flying horse to eat.  In exchange he left treats for the children.

It is easy to imagine the Church trying to re-label the pagan nykks as devils, and their god Odin as the devil, and them hearing the name Saint Nicholas, and then deciding it was ok to celebrate him during Yule, and since he was a "Nick", and so was Odin, and they both gave things away, then it was all one and the same.

Maybe.  That last bit was just a wild guess, but in seeing how Roman nymphs evolved into European fairies in the first place, it's easy to imagine how these things can happen.

We can read recently-written stories about vampires and werewolves who wander among us, but few, if any of those will achieve the status of myth: beliefs about how the world is, or how we'd like it to be, that are passed along from parent to child, slowly evolving through the ages, until no one can quite remember just exactly where it came from.  When we think of urban fantasy, we can't forget that the old stories are just as alive today as they always were; the living, breathing spirit in the body of our culture.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Indy help

One of the hardest things about deciding to become an Indy, is knowing what to do. As a writer, writing can be hard or easy. Sometimes it's a little bit of both. In the end however, because I am a writer, I write. No ands or buts about that. Still, once I finish writing and editing my work, what then? There's a great big world out there and no real road maps to follow. At least there wasn't when I started over a year ago. Today, however there are several road maps that have been put together by authors that, like me, started out when there were none.

They have cheerfully put together their experiences, both the good and the bad, and have done their utmost to help you to avoid the pitfalls that they had to learn from real world experience. If you're thinking about pursuing a career as an Indy author, but don't have a clue as to where to start after finishing that manuscript, then I would recommend three different books for you. All of them have there own merits and each one will give you a little something different. So if you're serious, then please take the time and read at least one of these, as they will surely make your trip into Indy publishing that much easier for you.

Are You Still Submitting Your Work to a Traditional Publisher?--- By Edward C. Patterson

The Newbie's Guide to Publishing (Everything A Writer Needs To Know)---JA Konrath

Becoming an Indie Author (Smart Self-Publishing)---Zoe Winters

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Mind Control, Mystical Mesmerism, and Other Magical Compulsions

What is mind control?  We love watching our heroines lock eyes with the vampire and immediately come under his thrall.  Or our hero robotically stumbling to perform an act he simply cannot bear, fighting himself and the foreign voice inside his head. 

It is a common theme, these various methods through which a major or minor character is magically compelled to act against his or her will. 

In the real world, mind control takes a lot more than magic, and a lot less than a hypnotist's pocket watch.  The treatment of this topic from a scientific point of view would take much more than single blog post.  Believe me, I've tried to fit it into a couple of posts, and could only cover the basics.  In real life, psychological manipulation is not all-consuming, and it requires a long process to win trust, appeal to ideals, give the experience of group euphoria, and then slowly build a trap of fears, thought terminating cliches, and other mental tricks to keep the person from listening to reason.  As difficult as it sounds, it is also appallingly common, and of course people who have been coercively persuaded don't even know it.  That's sort of the point.

In fantasy, it's a lot easier.  And much more glamorous, if you pardon the pun.  Our villains have the advantage of magical prowess, so they can cut right to the chase.  Unlike real life, their powers are all-consuming.  They work 100% of the time, without fail, on anyone they choose.  They can make people go against core beliefs, without the messy complications, or years of preparation.

We are all familiar with the black and white celluloid of Bela Lugosi compelling Renfield to leave the window open, the nurse to remove the protective wolfbane from around Mina's neck, and of him luring Mina herself out into the garden for his final bite. His power, like that of many other vampires, is part-magic, part-seduction... there is an theme that deep down, the victim wants to succumb.  Something about the monster is irresistible.  She already craves that which is forbidden, and the vampire uses this to his advantage.

Many vampire worlds contain another form of compulsory magic: the blood bond.  Three sips of the vampire's blood, or in some cases, just one, is enough to completely take over your mind.  The vampire now has a hold of you.  He has earned your unquestioning loyalty and can command you to do anything.  Even if you started the plot as his sworn enemy, it no longer matters.  Your will is his.

The werewolf equivalent is pack dynamics.  The Alpha has the magic ability to command and control all members of his pack, whether they like it or not.  This is much less about seduction, and more about brute force.  Perhaps you want to obey, because the pack leader is admirable, or out of a sense of tradition or duty.  But when push comes to shove, none of that matters.  Pack magic trumps all.

For the human villain, spells seem to do the trick.  Themes of sympathetic magic are common in modern fiction.  A witch or wizard can obtain a personal item or make a symbolic image, and through this, gain control over the victim's body, mind, or pain centers.  These myths originate from a number of traditions, including European folk tales and the African practice of Vodun (often fictionalized as "Voodoo").  All it takes is a lock of hair, a lost button, or a captured tear to turn another human being into a puppet.

The Celtic peoples had a concept of part-oath, part-taboo, part-compulsion, called a geas or geis (pronounced something like "gesch").  A certain behavior would be proscribed or prescribed, and should that person fail, a dire consequence would ensue.  A king could demand such a geas to ensure loyality from a warrior, or an old hag could use it as a curse.  It could even be used as a means of protection, if for example, the person is compelled to never die except under very particular, supposedly impossible circumstances.  In the famous Irish tale of CĂș Chulainn, the hero is bound by geas to never eat dog meat.  He has a second geas (actually a part of Celtic culture) compelling him to always accept hospitality.  His enemies used these to create a double bind and defeat him.  He is offered dog meat, and being forced to accept it, he becomes weakened enough to be defeated in battle.

A love potion can make anyone fall in love, which is quite an act of compulsion, especially since love itself is arguably a form of compulsory magic.  A love potion is created by a scorned admirer to force the object of her affection to requite.  In the typical tale, the potion backfires, causing the subject to fall in love with a squirrel, a rival, or "a cop down on 34th and Vine".

Faeries have it easy when it comes to mind control.  Whenever the mortal wanders into the faerie glen, or stumbles upon the faerie banquet in the basement, you can always bet they will be tempted into eating the fairy food.  After that, there is no escape. 

Originally, the zombie was another form of magical mind control.  While most modern zombies are dead or diseased people acting on their own with a built-in, single-minded compulsion for brains or killing, the original zombie was an undead puppet of a magical shaman.  This interpretation lives on in our metaphorical language, when we refer to TV viewers or mall shoppers as "zombies".

Demonic possession is perhaps the most terrifying form of supernatural mind control.  In this case, the monster lives inside the victim, mind and body given over entirely to the demon's will.

Resisting mind control in real life involves a constant skeptical mind and persistent mistrust of even the nicest people.  In fiction, mind control is often inescapable.  When dealing with faeries or magical tricksters, the best bet is to never agree to anything.  And never eat the fairy food!  Or drink any suspicious potions labeled "#9".  When dealing with vampires, the best bet is to immediately deploy a wooden stake.  Wards are said to combat sympathetic magic, or you can simply become OCD about never letting your possessions out of your site (lest you become one yourself).  Religion is said to combat demons, and if you never give your soul to a bokor, you probably won't become a zombie.

But when it comes to resisting mind control, magical or otherwise, perhaps Jennifer Connelly said it best when facing down the Goblin King:

For my will is as strong as yours, my kingdom as great. You have no power over me.

What are your favorite mind control powers in urban fantasy?

Luna Lindsey

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Day in the Life of an Indie Author

Today was one of those days that just didn't have enough hours - do you know those?

When I quit my day job and became an Indie Author full time back in February this year, I thought I'd finally have time to go for leisurely lunches with my friends, enjoy walks around the city, and maybe even do some volunteering.

Nope - didn't happen. As an indie author I do more than one job now.

The morning started out with doing last minute edits for my latest release, Gabriel's Mate, Book #3 in the Scanguards Vampires series. When I was finally finished with it by 11am, I started uploading the manuscript - together with the cover I changed last night - to several e-book sites including Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

You'd think I'd take a break after that accomplishment, but no such luck. I spent the remainder of the day formatting the manuscript for the paperback version. Of course, when I converted it to the print-ready pdf that's needed, Adobe wouldn't cooperate and inserted blank pages where I didn't need them. It took me hours to get it right (and I still don't know what I did).

I also drew winners of the free copies of Gabriel's Mate I had promised to readers, then sent emails to those readers to notify them of their win.

After spending some time on Facebook, Twitter and my own blog to announce my latest release, I continued with starting the upload for the paperback. But I'm not done yet: I still need to create the cover and finalize my book cover blurb.

To change pace a little, I started proofing an Erotica short story for my critique partner, who will soon release it on Kindle, but only got about 1/3 of the way before my eyes became too tired. No point in continuing if I won't be able to spot any more typos because I'm too tired.

Yes, being an Indie Author can be exhausting, but it's also rewarding. I got a wonderful email from one of my readers today. She wrote: "...and thank you for sharing your wonderful work with us!!  I haven't read one of your works yet that I haven't loved! :)"

Suddenly, I don't feel so tired anymore.

Tina Folsom
Author of the Scanguards Vampires series and the Out of Olympus series

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Nanowrimo and what else has been going on.

So, I hope everyone is well today. Nanowrimo is over now, and I am proud to say I participated and won. It was weird holding myself to such a tight schedule. Normally I only write if I feel it. I hate to just sit down and write if the story isn’t flowing, which means it could take me some time to actually complete a book. Other times I can fly right through it, like a hot knife through butter. The problem is that it's usually the former rather then the latter when it comes to writing.

After doing Nanowrimo, I have found I can actually write even when I don't feel like it. Oh it can be a pain then, but I can do it. I'm hoping to move sometime soon, and my hope is that I can get my own writing room. One that allows me to sit in it all by myself, have my soft command chair and table/desk, my own fridge so I can have all the drink I need, and just sit back and chill, and write without being bothered. Especially, no phone or family demanding my attention. When I do get this dream I hope to write a whole lot more then I'm doing now. I think it will be great, and thanks to Nanowrimo, I will be able to write even if I don't feel it. I think that’s cool.

Tainted Blood is in editing, and I hope to God to have it done before Christmas. I wish I could say, yeah such and such a day. But edits are hell, and they take some time. I should be putting a paperback up this month for Shades of Twilight, and now to decided on my next project. I have 4 or 5 chapters done on Revenge a vampire/mystery/romance, which I need to finish. I have a novella I have some work on, that I'm not sure if I will finish. It is adult and I'm embarrassed about that one, so I'm not sure I want to finish that one. Vampire, of course.

Plus, I have a virtual tour in January for Shades of Twilight, so I'm thinking I should try to have at least its sequel mostly done. After all, it's my highest seller at the moment and has been each month. I will be releasing free ebook copies of Fallen Blood this week on the, so sign up if you want a shot at them, and I will be giving away a paperback version on Goodreads I think this month. So I think that has me all caught up for all those who are interested. I hope you had a wonderful November and are looking forward to a better December.