Labyrinth of Souls

by Elizabeth Engstrom

It’s Christmas, so what could be better than a little self-promotion?

If the self-promotion includes the genius of others, that’s what could be better.

If the self-promotion also includes the ease of Christmas shopping for loved ones, that’s better yet.

Several years ago, Matthew Lowes wrote quite a brilliant solitaire card game called Dungeon Solitaire—The Labyrinth of Souls.

rule book

After reading the rule book, and looking at the amazing art that had been done by Josephe Vandel for not only the book, but the Tarot cards to accompany it, I was inspired to write a novel set in this fictional universe.

cards

Matt and I talked with other authors, many alumni of the infamous Ghost Story Weekends, about writing similar books. Christina Lay signed on to publish, her feet already solidly planted by publishing the successful anthology Shadow Spinners: A Collection of Dark Tales, and voila! a series was born.

current books

The basic rules of the solitaire card game (and you can watch Matt play a few games on YouTube), is that the hero delves into the underground, where he encounters a labyrinth. The cards the player turns over dictate what the character encounters down there. Monsters. Treasure. Light. Food. Deity. Some things he must have, other things he must vanquish, or avoid. At some point he must turn around and have enough resources to return above ground. Sometimes he makes it, sometimes he doesn’t.

Each of these novels is set within this realm.  Each one is completely different from the other. There is only one requirement: the hero must delve underground at some point in his quest.

These novels by Matthew Lowes, Eric Witchey, Stephen T. Vessels, Christina Lay, Mary E. Lowd, L.A. Alber, and me (your obedient self-promoting servant), are really good reads. Littlest Death by Eric Witchey has won awards. They’re fun, they’re daring, they’re exciting, and they’re like nothing else you’ve ever read before. Fantasy with a twist, always with a twist. And there are more in the publishing pipeline by Cheryl Owen-Wilson, John Reed, Pamela Jean Herber, Cynthia Coate Ray, and others.

Treat yourself. Treat your loved ones.

What’s better than receiving a good book for Christmas?

Nothing. Seriously. There’s nothing better.

The Mercy of Magic: Inspiration

by Christina Lay

My post this week is inspired by Matt Lowe’s article last week regarding the many inspirations for his story A Darkquick Sky. He got me to thinking about my story The Mercy of Magic. Both stories are included in ShadowSpinners: A Collection of Dark Tales. Both qualify as dark fiction, and I think it’s fair to say that both arose out of long, tangled love affairs with the fantastic.

My story is high fantasy, and its evolution is really the story of a novel and an entire world I’ve been crafting for several years

. The Mercy of Magic is one of those off-shoots which are so much fun to write once you’ve built a fictional universe in your head, populated it, built up buildings, torn down reality and let your imagination run amok.

Many winding, burrowing roots extend beneath the short story. I could talk about my grandmother’s escape from Czechoslovakia just ahead of Russian tanks. I could ruminate on the peccadillos of working in a Victorian House museum. I could mention my partner’s suicide and how it lead to the long dark winter when I took refuge deep in the comforting world of this fantastic universe emerging from my subconscious. I could laude the benefits of attending weekend getaways with other writers in which we all write a fantasy story in 24 hrs.

All those things laid the foundation, pushed and pulled me toward writing The Mercy of Magic. Even the words, Mercy and Magic, have great weight for me, and the dream of being saved, or at least guided, by a benign spiritual force resides deep in my psyche, even though I “know better”.

But truly, if I had to pick one trigger for this rather bizarre story, I’d have to say “Prague.”

The fictional world, the novel and the short story all sprang from a dream. My heritage is Czech, and as my mom and I discussed visiting the Czech Republic, I had a very vivid dream about wandering, lost, along the streets of a strange, obviously European city. When we finally made it to Prague and were wandering, lost, down a rather nondescript side street, I had an incredible sense of déjà vu. The reality of the city exactly matched the images from the long-ago dream.

As a writer, I can’t help but observe myself observing things. How American of me, I thought, how naïve and tourist-y, to lay any claim on this incredible city with its thousands of years of history, history which extends far beyond the picturesque steeples, imposing castle complex and quaint cobblestoned streets. There’s this rather looming presence in the Czech Republic called The Remains of Communism. Ugly utilitarian industry crowds the middle-aged jewel. And that sprawling, unlovely city is where most natives live and work. The heart of the city is a dream. A dream we all help maintain even while we pummel it to dust with our Nikes and our delusions.

This insight into my own longing for a mystical city to call home was the key to the workings behind the story. The shared dream we maintain, parallel to, beneath and entwined with reality. Thus was born “The Dark Side of Dreaming”, my epic fantasy novel. The epicenter is a medieval city lovingly maintained by a group of dreamers, down through the centuries, where magic and fantasy exist, invisible to the “real” world.

The Mercy of Magic takes place in The City, which is divided and dissected into worlds and realities of its own. The world of reason up in the castle, and down in the muck, the world of magic. Belief and non-belief, glory and horror, fear and hope. mercy and cruelty.

It’s a lot of weight to put on one little fantasy story, and I certainly never planned it. I started with a cool setting, a character’s whispering voice and an inkling of how we create reality through our individual perspective. Add to that a generous helping of Bohemophilia, a fascination with medieval history and the relentless pursuit of evidence to support my new-age theories of ancestral memory, and voila, a story appears.

Matt listed several fictional inspirations for A Darkquick Sky. I have to say most of my influences, beyond the groundbreaking fantasy works of Charles de Lint, are nonfiction. Or, maybe the nonfictional view of how we as a species create and maintain our stories. Below are a few of them.

Prague Mystical CityAlchemy and alchemists

Medieval Reader