“The Charge” by Sharon Bayliss

25 Mar

 

I’m honored to guest host Sharon Bayliss, fellow CQ scribe and author of the newly-released The Charge. Specifically, Sharon shares her story of her ancestral relative Joseph Bayliss, who was involved in the Alamo.

Storm's comin'.

Storm’s comin’.

 

*

When my husband and I visited San Antonio for a weekend away, he said, “You know, I think I know why I don’t like San Antonio.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because someone in my family died here,” he said, somberly.

“What? Who?” I silently admonished myself for forgetting such an important fact about my husband.

“Joseph Bayliss.”

I laughed. “So, you’re saying you don’t like San Antonio because you’re still upset about The Alamo?”

Bayliss

 

At least according to family members who have studied our genealogy, my husband is a descendant of the brother of Alamo defender, Joseph Bayliss. Joseph Bayliss himself died childless.

It is believed that Joseph Bayliss came with a small company from Tennessee, which was joined by Davy Crockett himself. Joseph Bayliss fought and died at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.

Unfortunately, not that much is known about Joseph Bayliss, but Donna McCreary Rodriguez posted some great stuff she has found on her genealogy website, including letters from one of the men who travelled in Joseph Bayliss’s company.

So, you may be wondering…did my husband’s famous relation inspire me to write The Charge? I suppose it probably did, but not consciously. It wasn’t until after I wrote the story that I realized, “Hey, that sounds familiar.” :) I can say that having that connection to The Alamo has made research much more interesting and makes the story really come to life.

 

Purchase Links: http://amzn.com/B00BNPCHGQ

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-charge-sharon-bayliss/1114745688

 

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheChargeBook

 

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17239442-the-charge

 

NetGalley (free review copies): https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/show/id/28197

Behind the Book: “The Prince of Earth’s” BIG GREY MAN

21 Feb

As some may know, Curiosity Quills Press has released my latest novel, The Prince of Earth, which touches on a phenomenon that, uniquely, is vied for by the ufological, cryptozoological and spectral branches of the general Forteana (or paranormal) community: the Big Grey Man of the peak Ben MacDui. A famous, or infamous, presence of Scottish mountaineering lore, no consensus yet exists on what it actually is.

POE cover

The Prince of Earth

Emerging!

Emerging!

In December 1925, respected mountaineer and climber Professor Norman Collie stood before an annual general meeting of the Cairngorm Club in Aberdeen, Scotland. Staring out over the expectant faces, he took a breath, preparing to impart an astonishing account, a personal incident that had happened over thirty years ago, in 1891, though the years had not lessened its ghastly clarity.

“I’d reached the summit of Ben MacDui,” he said, referring to the peak that, at just over 4,000 feet, marks the highest point in the Cairngorms, and the second highest in Scotland. “Coming down through heavy mist, I began to think I heard something else other than the noise of my own footsteps. For every few steps I heard a crunch, crunch, and then another crunch, as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own.”

As though caught in a fire, Quincy kept her perspective low as she scanned the diminishing area about her. Then she saw it: in an interstice of earth, thinly fog-dressed, a foot lifted from the cigar- brown grass and disappeared into the higher, thicker realms of murk.

“Hey!”

On instinct she started crawling fast towards the apparition, unimpeded by the monstrous proportion of that foot, which seemed the length of her forearm from elbow to middle fingernail. from The Prince of Earth

Collie had turned, his alleged pursuer concealed in mist. “The eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me,” he continued, “and I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles.” Winding down his address, Professor Collie made a promise to never return alone to MacDui, as “there was something very queer about the top.”

This well-documented account, featured in Karl Shuker’s The Unexplained: An Illustrated Guide to the World’s Natural and Paranormal Mysteries, slots neatly amongst many others of climbers or hikers, local or non, who’ve described a frightening variety of odd activity atop Ben MacDui, from wafting strains of phantom music or laughter, to footsteps reminiscent of those noted by Professor Collie, to the talon-footed, pointy-eared humanoid entity of impossible height spotted in the mist by mountaineer Tom Crowley, in the 1920s. Technically, this latter sighting occurred in the neighboring peak Braeraich, but by proximity is lumped into MacDui’s canon of strangeness.

Most of these stories involve fits of panic. Some are just the panic: several climbers, scrambling amongst the mist-frosted stones, have nearly plunged themselves to their deaths in frantic attempts to elude an unseen, unheard presence they intuit as malign.

Quincy turned again in the direction from which the deer had come but there was nothing. Or the appearance of nothing — the trees were apt conspirators. She understood the phenomenon of panicking in the woods — the arresting terror of an unknown source␣because it twitched in her now, as it had in the deer.

It is not surprising, given the testimony, that a certain lore has coalesced around Ben MacDui, that of the aptly-termed Big Grey Man, or, more locally, Am Fear Liath Mor. By now the place and its enigmatic inhabitant have garnered a reputation such that any new encounter, depending upon severity, might be chalked up to suggestion. Indeed, one of the more grounded explanations for the Big Grey Man is the climber’s shadow, reflected and elongated upon the mist. The imagination, after all, does enjoy a blank canvas. Yet that doesn’t explain the phantom music, laughter, footfalls or fits of inexplicable trepidation, much of which have come from experienced climbers.

As to be expected with any mystery, there is a lengthy scroll of other, more spectacular theories, from that of a Scottish Yeti, to a guardian spirit, to a marooned alien, to an interdimensional traveler.

The novel The Prince of Earth, however, offers quite a different explanation.

“So, then what’s the story?”

“It’s being written,” said the man. “It’s a myth-in-progress, wet and alive, not the dried text of a thousand years ago. The story is still coming. The story is growing and will be ready for generations down the line.”

“So, I could be a chapter,” said Quincy. “In an unfolding myth.”

“Precisely.” The man extended his hand, which swallowed hers as they shook.

Prince of Earth cover

BONUS

The Prince of Earth draws from a range of Scottish myths, including the boobrie, a massive bird said to haunt lochs and salt wells, as well as the Shellycoat, a bogeyman dwelling in rivers and streams, whose presence is betrayed by the rattling of its shell-covered body.

Excerpt of THE PRINCE OF EARTH, coming February 9, 2013

3 Feb

An excerpt from an early section of my imminently forthcoming novel, The Prince of Earth.

The Prince of Earth Mock 3

The wilderness began only feet beyond Ballater. As soon as she reached the other side of the bridge, Quincy felt as though she’d entered some kind of portal. Something thrived out here, something she hadn’t felt before even during recent travels: an unseen, extra dimension to everything, time itself having become snared and congealed in this tight wood-web. She could feel it everywhere far and immediate, felt it beneath her soles, could taste its ancient flavor on the wind that chilled her skin.

For several hundred yards, she followed the gray flow of the Dee until the flanking broadleaf and pine trees grew in numbers and gradually led her away from all sights and sounds of the river and Ballater. Soon, there were only the dark Caledonian branches scrawled against the wet sheet of clouds.

There doesn’t seem to be anyone else out here.

It’s reserved for you and for you only.

Lover-ly.

The mist was bunched-up, a ghostly-gray impression of the foliage. Quincy increased her pace but made an effort to notice all this around her, this ancient eerie beauty she, for a long time, might not see again in person. Somewhere in her memory the Child knocked elbow and fist to be released, to play Hobbit, to play Knight, to engage The Quest.

Almost an hour into the forest, the trail lost distinction though there was steady enough clearing to press on. To both sides the woods drew long and dense, cutting into slivers the pale light from the murky glaucoma sky.

She wanted to leave the forest well behind her in time for her first night out in the Cairngorms. This wouldn’t be difficult, though it did extend farther than she expected.

Quincy alighted on a large boulder, rested and took two gulps of water. Hunger squirmed deep within but she was still too keyed up, still too apprehensive, to eat.

In the silence of these woods, the motion of anything else was downright loud, and she turned instantly at the hasty crackling approach of a large creature that had taken off at full speed. She watched the graceful cursive of this thing as it bounded through the trees, its blurred shadow-form a connective ribbon across the trunks. She thought there might be more but there was only one, and the lone deer stopped on the other edge of the haggard trail not fifty yards from her, trying to compose itself though fear persisted in its sad jeweled eyes and jittering muscles.

What spooked it?

Quincy turned again in the direction from which it’d come but there was nothing. Or the appearance of nothing—the trees were apt conspirators. She understood the phenomenon of panicking in the woods—the arresting terror of an unknown source—because it twitched in her now, as it had in the deer.

And, of course, it wasn’t just the woods. Mountaineers, in open expanse, had known such a soul-deep paralysis. They were bad memories evolution had buried far but never thrown away, perhaps.

Perhaps.

Quincy slipped from the rock and the deer took off again, its sight lost long before its sounds. After the sounds died, Quincy’s loneliness grew, as did the stirrings of panic, but she kept focused as she pressed on. In time, the trees became fewer and fewer, giving way to larger quantities of mountain willow scrub and long whispering grass, the earth itself on marked ascent towards the further vast tundra of the naked highlands.

 *

Uphill for a stretch, the terrain eventually flattened some, and the valley extended before her in a great yawning bowl. The pass was a cold vast swath stretching into blue mists beyond which lay things ancient even to prehistory, and it was flanked by massive peaks sweeping up like a stone tide, an earthen wave parted to biblical proportions. Rocks dotted the ground between the yellow wind-slanted grass.

The solitude was thrilling and terrifying.

She walked until dusk.

Bigfoot Vs. Chupacabra by M.J. Miike

28 Jan

…But first! This must be acknowledged:

It appears that dung beetles, in addition to using the moon and sun as reference points (which I didn’t know), also use the Milky Way. How cool is that? A hundred writers writing a hundred years would do well to capture in any passage even half the simple profundity of this. Something as minuscule as an insect playing off such vast and distant bodies. A reminder of the constant dynamic between micro and macro.

And now….

Ready to Rumble? Or Stomp?

Ready to Rumble? Or Stomp?

Bigfoot Vs. Chupacabra

Don’t be fooled by the title. I must admit, purely by conditioning from indulging a taste for B movies, that I half-expected something of a SyFy kind of monster story — not in terms of SyFy quality, mind you, just more their general mode of putting brash or blithering characters amidst rampaging, cathartic monster mashups. I don’t mean to state this as a good or a bad. In seeing the title, it was simply one of a few thoughts that sprang to mind.

But I was surprised. Pleasantly. More than pleasantly. And these days I I relish surprises. To quote Bill Murray of Groundhog Day, “Anything different is good.”

Okay, perhaps not “anything”. But with its big heart and tone alternately sage and playful, there’s every little to dislike about Bigfoot Vs. Chupacabra, which is far less a monster mashup than an ecological meditation from an unlikely source: a Yeti. With tempered detachment, our seven-foot narrator describes trouble brewing in South America, the encroachment of Bigfoot creatures on Chupacabra grounds. We learn that Bigfoots are lesser cousins of the Yeti, whose species were responsible for the civilization commonly termed Atlantis.  Working beside him is the pretty and good-natured Sarai, a regular human helping to resolve the crisis while careful not to reveal the existence of these communities of supposedly mythical beasts.

Certainly there’s a plot, but the story shines in its short bursts of observation, the Yeti offering thoughts on everything from the Cold War to our unfortunate preoccupation with smartphones (making a sage point that, as humans already have trouble missing the present moment, ubiquitous screens only worsen that). Chapters are quick, and the prose is clean and colloquial with a hint of humored wisdom. Imagine a Yeti being openly smuggled into bureaucratic offices to discuss ecological devastation. Or imagine a Yeti’s cry — known for loosening human bowels — creating among loggers a panic of cholera.

The book encourages such imagination at the same time it provokes rumination of serious topics, all filtered by a unique perspective.

Homo Hirsutus Website

Bigfoot Vs. Chupacabra on Amazon

 

 

 

Punctuation Problems: “That Semi-colon Bitch Had to Die”

19 Dec

“You know, I thought I’d heard of everything….I’ve never heard of a relationship ruined by punctuation!” – Jerry Seinfeld, “Seinfeld”

 

On Amazon

Harry Potter Meets Jack Torrance? Not really. Just musing.

Harry Potter Meets Jack Torrance? Not really. Just musing.

 

4.5 / 5 stars

Tom Conrad’s That Semi-Colon Bitch Had to Die occupies two emotional hemispheres, and the swing from one to the other is at once exhilarating and nightmarish, particularly for writers like myself. The beginning is almost hazy-edged in its dream-like charm: via Twitter, aspiring novelist Frankie Drake touches digital souls with the intoxicating Abbey Archer, also an aspiring novelist. The relationship carries over into the real world, where they soon come to share an apartment together, their time away from the page spent largely in cinematic coital. It is almost enough to override the taint of darkness introduced at the front of the book, where we learn things eventually go horribly — possibly even murderously — awry for the couple.

I won’t say any more plot-wise. The book is a wonderful sampling of many familiar authors and stories, synthesized anew by Tom Conrad’s remarkably fresh voice and wit, which, especially towards the darker latter half, manages prose both raw and stylized, an emotional disarray well-controlled. It is an impressive achievement — more, it is a performance, and it enthralls. One recognizes in the pages/screens blended echoes of Philip Roth, Kingsley Amis, Kurt Vonnegut and Woody Allen, filtered into the world of Twitter.

Significantly, the book feels authentic. Frankie, a very alive personality, squirms and wiggles against the limits of his own story, occasionally breaking the fourth wall. To a certain meta degree, he knows he is speaking to you. The reader is almost a silent therapist, listening to his outpouring. You cringe in empathy at what he tells you. The vividness is so that, when he tells you to Google Abbey Archer’s musket-thrust of a book, I had half an impulse to pull up the web on my Kindle and see it for myself.

The .5-star was shaved for an ending that, while mostly successful, felt abrupt. I wanted Frankie to be able to stretch his legs further. But perhaps it’s best we leave him where he is.

It must be noted, too, the bullseye of the name “Jasper Woolf” for a pretentious hipster.

Nuts & Bolts: Nathan L. Yocum’s “Automatic Woman”

12 Dec
Imagine this coming for you in the middle of the night.

Imagine this coming for you in the middle of the night.

 

Having little experience with the subgenre (or bourgeoning genre) of “steampunk”, I was curious to delve into Automatic Woman. However, my unfamiliarity also meant I had no expectations going in of what I was to find, or what I was to miss. Whether the author, Nathan Yocum, abided by certain genre tropes, heightened them or subverted them, are conclusions I leave to steampunk veterans.

As a pure read, Automatic Woman surely was fun, even if it didn’t “sing” as much as I might have hoped it would. The protagonist and narrator, a by-all-accounts homely, overweight, snide-but-warmhearted fellow named, well, Jolly Fellows (though “discretion” is his Christian name), works as a thief -catcher for Bow Street Firm. He is alerted to a case involving the good Dr. James Saxon, of odd repute, who displays for Fellows a Swan Lake cast of fully artificial, gear-jointed ballerinas, one of whom, the Swan Princess, winds up causing a good deal of trouble. In an admirable detour from conventional mystery, Fellows bears witness almost immediately to the catalyzing case in question: the murder of Saxon at the crushing limbs of the insidious Swan Princess. After narrowly escaping with his own life, Fellows is imprisoned, loses his job and, making bail, has finite time to piece together a larger conspiracy looming.

The book is a smooth mixture of action and intellect. The brooding spirit of Chandleresque noir hovers over every page, strong throughout Fellows’ every cleverly cynical quip and every dodged bullet or rough-and-tumble. Yet as a fully rounded (no pun intended) personality, Fellows never quite steps beyond his own story. Rather his voice seems an entertaining vehicle assembled of similar narrators past. We don’t know too much about him other than what we need to. This doesn’t, however, prevent the occasional brilliant observation from surfacing. And there is no slowdown in the silky current of Yocum’s prose.

From bits I’ve read or heard on steampunk, it appears standard to feature one or a few historical characters, which Yocum certainly does. One of them plays a very prominent role, and is hardly the grandfatherly type one might imagine in seeing his famous visage. He is also the subject of the novel’s fantastically resonant ending line.

The historical “cameos”, however, did begin to feel forced. I remember the comedy “Shanghai Knights” — I could chuckle at Sir Conan Doyle, but once they threw in Charlie Chaplin as a child, it became excessive. Automatic Woman as a whole is not plagued by this, but Fellows himself might be — putting him next to overwhelmingly interesting historical characters dilutes his personality. I wanted to stay and chat with Mr. Stoker, among others. Fellows’ lady interest, a prostitute named Mary, is also his spiritual rival. By virtue of being with him, especially towards the end, she adds more dynamic color to Fellows.

One thing I certainly appreciated about the novel was its foregrounding against the period’s intellectual tumult of creationism and evolutionary science. Inherent in the story are questions of intelligent design, free will, distinguishing inanimate matter from animate matter — essentially, what makes life life. In seamlessly weaving Fellows’ quest into the macro-story of a collective worldview creaking (like gears?) towards major change, the book attains a deeper, more poignant dimension, plants firmer roots than would a typical run-and-gun mystery.

3.5 / 5 stars

Check out AUTOMATIC WOMAN on Amazon!

At Curiosity Quills Press

 

God of a Thousand (or Five) Masks

29 Nov

I give credit where credit is due: this post is almost totally inspired by the film (and book) Life of Pi. I read it when it came out, and my anxieties were very much relieved that director Ang Lee did every bit of cinematic justice to it.

For those unfamiliar, the young Indian protagonist, nicknamed Pi, practices three religions simultaneously: Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, much to the chagrin of his rational-minded father, who tells him “believing in everything is the same as believing in nothing”.

In the tradition of this post, I’ll say I both agree and disagree with Pi’s father. Confused? Good.

Below is my “digest” of the five major religions, and what I feel embodies their core, distilled wisdom, or emotional / cognitive benefit. Some folks like Pi’s father may warn against “piecemeal ideology” — picking apart things you like and ignoring the rest. In a time as geopolitically, culturally and spiritually complex as ours, however, I think such a practice is imperative. It seems to me not only intellectually sluggish to not do this, but borderline immoral.

So, without further ado…

Hinduism: The Bhagavad-Gita teaches one to see Krishna in everything — every tree, dog, leaf of grass, and human being. It is the spark of divine in all, the thing we all share, the substance of which we are all made.

Buddhism: Self-examination and “inner-journeys” are essential to figuring out who you are (a distinct part of the Universe) and making peace with that. Such enlightenment also comes not from excessive poverty or materialism, but the Middle Way, a balanced life. I enjoy Bill Maher, but on his show he was absurdly trivial and shortsighted in his unfortunate portrayal of the ideals of Buddhism.

Judaism: Of course, Moses made clear the “commandments” of God, some of which are terribly outdated, some of which we still abide by (or try to). Judaism was also newly monotheistic, indicating not many gods but one God, or, as I see it, one energy holding together all things.

Christianity: Talk about a mucky overlay of baggage with this one. But Jesus, whatever his historicity, nevertheless imparted a truly revolutionary message. He taught that all people, rich and poor, of all races, are equal in the eyes of God, that we should love our enemies, and that “you cannot love both God and money” (please try to tell me, rightwing Christians, how you reconcile that one with your blind love for billionaires). When Christ said “I bring not peace, but a sword”, I believe he was warning of how radical his message was, and of the potential violence that might ensue.

Islam: This one might go broke at the airport, what with all the charges for checked baggage (yes, yes, pity laughs, sure). Forget all the jihads and bombings for a moment, though. The most striking thing to me about Islam is the five-times-a-day praying. One writer put it very poignantly: “[Muslims] don’t want to spend a moment away from the Divine”. I think that’s remarkable. The ideal of constant prayer is to revel in awesome perspective and humility, to remind one’s self of kinship with a Bigger Picture. In various ways, I try for that all the time.

Agnosticism: Reality is the strangest thing in the world, of course, so how can we claim with pure certainty to know anything? It’s good to understand that we should always carry in our pouch a reserve of doubt.

Atheism: I notice lately that there’s been a subtle shift in how atheism is generally defined. It used to be, “I don’t believe there’s a God”. Now, it’s more like, “I don’t happen to have a God”. The author Sam Harris articulated this, when he said, “We’re all atheists when it comes to Zeus, or Thor…..Christians are atheists, for instance, with Allah”. No, atheism is not a religion, as some religionists like to counter, but it does have a worldview, one that, in some people, can easily mutate into dogma. All that said, however, most atheists I know are willing to entertain new concepts and definitions of God (pantheism, let’s say, or more modern forms of Gnosticism). Their conceptual malleability is admirable, and they recognize the basic, observable truth that every generation offers new revelations on the inner-workings of the cosmos.

If you’re curious, here’s my personal position:

I believe in God. I believe unquestioningly in evolution, the Big Bang, and everything science tells us. I also believe there is no greater plan, either for us collectively or individually.

How are those things compatible with a belief in God?

I don’t believe in a separate, white-bearded, judgmental God. I believe that we, and everything around us, are synonymous with God. To me the universe is like a giant brain, or body, that is experiencing itself through its billions of life forms, which includes us. The “idea” at the outset was to turn Concept into Experience.

Think of it this way: you can conceptualize being an artist, but until you experience creating art, what fun (or growth) can you possibly you have?

Of course, if we remembered our origin, then we couldn’t have a truly new, exhilarating experience, could we? So, as Robert Heinlein wrote, “We all created the universe amongst ourselves and decided to forget the gag”.

Why forget? So we can eventually remember.

At a very fundamental level, we are not separate from anything else. We’re just one giant ball of energy, portioning itself out like a lava lamp. A saint and a cockroach are two “identical bands of light”, as Kurt Vonnegut wonderfully noted.

YOU are the universe deciding for itself its own path. You control it. You are the cosmos making up its own mind about itself. Right now, you are the cosmos reading this, on a computer-shaped piece of yourself. At this moment, I am the cosmos writing this.

Evil, disease, war, etc. all exist because this is a physical world based on polarity and relativity. You can’t know hot without cold. It doesn’t take the creaking, straining, contrived arguments of a Mere Christianity to figure this out. I believe it’s simpler than all that.

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