Today I'm over at Elise Rome's site as part of her March Madness Blog Party. There are prizes galore, so check out the March Madness rules first, then hop over to my author interview and answer the reader question for a chance to win an ebook copy of The Fallen Queen. There's also an extra treat for those who haven't read the book yet, of an Anazakia/Vasily excerpt for your reading pleasure. And here' a little snaphot of Anazakia and Vasily to go along with it:
Things are heating up on Twitter, with the heroes of Entangled Publishing duking it out next week using the hashtag #HeroWars. I've convinced Belphagor to play along, even though he isn't quite sure what's expected of him. Here's a sneak peak at his stats:
Name: Belphagor, an airspirit demon of Raqia in the Third Heaven
Build: Wiry but muscular
Eye color: Ebony
Hair: Dark, short, spiked on top
Body art: Numerous Russian prison tats, including on hands and fingers; pierced eyebrow; pierced nipples
Strengths: Fiercely loyal; able to manipulate the element of air, including influencing the mind; as a BDSM top, he makes people feel cherished and protected with an almost paternal sensibility
Weaknesses: Has difficulty trusting others and keeps things to himself to his own detriment, resulting in getting himself into trouble he might otherwise have avoided
Leading Man: Vasily, a firespirit demon
Favorites: The game of wingcasting (a kind of celestial poker); cigars; spanking naughty “boys”; a good Russian tea
Occupation: Gambler and thief
Nickname: Prince of Tricks
Quote: "I can't imagine why you think I'd have sex with a girl."
Stop by Coffee and Porn in the Morning where I'm blogging about Belphagor today, in the middle of Butt Week. (Where else would you want to be??) Below are some images that say "Belphagor" to me, to get you in the mood:
Researching the landscape and the layout of the city of Arkhangel'sk for my latest WIP, I came across this photo via Google Earth that just took my breath away:
This is actually near Mezen, but still in Arkhangel'sk Oblast, and perfectly fits the setting of the middle of The House of Arkhangel'sk. The photographer, Andrey Larin, has a number of photos up on Panoramio that are tagged to Google Maps, and I find myself browsing them for hours whenever I come across them. Googling "Arkhangelsk" in images rarely turns up much for some reason, but on Google Maps, there are a wealth of them.
Here are some others from Arkhangel'sk proper:
I love to imagine Anazakia and Vasily wandering here.
I've marked this post "Character inspiration" because Arkhangel'sk is as much a character as any angel or demon in my books. It's also one Russian setting I've used (along with the nearby Solovetsky islands) where I've never actually been. Clicking through Andrey's pictures makes me feel like I have. So, thanks, Andrey; hope you don't mind a little promotion.
So I've gotten to that point in my latest work in progress where all the pieces have fallen into place, and I know exactly what's going to happen from here to the end...except for One. Little. Thing. It's a fairly crucial thing. My demon character Belphagor is supposed to have a plan that he unveils at the last minute to save the day in a certain situation. And now it's time for me to write that scene. But he won't tell me what it is. And people wonder why writers drink.
In lieu of actual writing getting done, I will now post some random tattooed males. This first one definitely has something young-Belphagorian going on:
Is this a cute boy or a hot dyke? Oh, who cares!
This one's just plain easy on the eyes:
And you may thank me for this one later:
There was not enough of this in this movie and there is not enough of it on the Internet:
And Sif's wearing way too many clothes, but still hot:
And there was a distinct lack of this:
Now for some random hotness:
Another Jane I admire posted on her blog some time back about the importance of professional headshots for authors. I bookmarked that post, and promised myself I'd get professional photos done one of these days. But I put it off as long as possible because I hate having my picture taken almost as much as I hate getting my hair cut. It always seems to change how I see myself, and makes me self-conscious about the way others see me. In short, it messes with my proprioception in a big way. (Yes, I'm sure I'm using that word incorrectly, but it's one of my favorite words to misuse.) But I finally bit the bullet and suffered the indignity and angst of soul-stealing fancy-magic, because my most recent pictures were so old I was beginning to feel like a liar whenever I used one.
I chose the fabulous Patty Nason of Gåvaphoto to steal my soul this time, appropriately enough at the San Francisco Columbarium where I hope to leave my ashes one day in the distant future. (Look! There's dead people right next to me in the photo on the left!)
These are my favorites from the photo shoot, along with the new official author photo I've added to my bio page. Maybe these will make up for the lack of words on the blog last week. (I just knew saying I had a blog posting schedule out loud would derail the whole thing.)
Last spring, while I was still writing up my ideas for The Demons' Daughter, Book 1 of the Queen of Hell trilogy, the main character Ola Vasilyevna suddenly informed me—very insistently—that this is what she looks like: This is Rumer Willis, daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. And it is also, as I have been told in no uncertain terms, Ola Vasilyevna of the House of Arkhangel'sk.
She has the most fascinating face.
The pictures I've chosen, of course, are Rumer with auburn hair, because my Ola, daughter of Vasily, is a fiery redhead.
For another glimpse of Ola, here's the opening scene from The Demons' Daughter in its current incarnation (note that this contains some spoilers for the events in the first trilogy, so if you hate that, look away, quick):
My father is a Seraph’s bastard. And I am his, born of the Queen of Heaven. Whether my mother loves him, I have never known. He is a member of her court—gotten on the wrong side of the blanket or not, his blood is angelic—but he was raised an orphan among the Fallen and the people see him as one still. His emotions are worn with as much restraint as the fire-red locks of his hair, and so it is no secret that he loves my mother in his way, yet his heart and soul belong to a demon named Belphagor.
While this picture isn't representative of the air of royalty Ola normally projects, it's one I particularly adore. I think Ola may have to escape her current predicament for a bit and have a brief romp in the modern-day world of Man wearing dark shades and a black leather jacket.
Searching for an image of my Hades, I came across this insanely androgynous beauty, model Andrej Pejic:
His androgynous look is so perfect, he almost doesn't look human. Instead he calls to mind Storm Constantine's Wraeththu.
Like Danila Polyakov and Bartek Borowiec, he's frequently photographed in deliberately feminine attire, makeup, and poses.
I am loving this trend in male modeling. :D
I just realized Tuesday was exactly one year from my first post on this blog. I was sitting down to talk about gardening today, and remembered my first post had been about gardening. And what do you know? I started gardening almost the same day last year. It was the end of a long saga of building painting and deck rebuilding on the part of my landlady, wherein I ended up with my "Solomon's step":
I also ended up with a brand new deck I was told I could not water plants on lest the wood rot. San Francisco gets enough moisture from fog and rain that I thought I'd just let things go and see what happened. They did okay for awhile. Then my autumn depression set in and I stopped going outside and everything died.
A couple of weeks ago I was surprised to see bright orange flowers peeking through my back fence and I went out to find that one of the planters I'd left out behind the fence to toss out had spontaneously sprouted a lovely crop of nasturtiums. So I brought that one back onto the deck and enjoyed the lovely color among all the dead things. Then a couple of days ago I spotted more nasturtiums growing in two additional planters that had been full of weeds. I love it when, as Jeff Goldblum's character said in Jurassic Park, "life finds a way."
Today I finally got the yen to go out and deal with the weeds and see if there was anything to salvage. Most of my succulents are actually thriving. My Betty Boop roses are beyond dead. :( But my little "unintentional bonsai" fig tree is still struggling along and sweet alyssum has popped up in several of the pots. I spent an hour weeding, and pruning down the rosebush in hopes that maybe there's a tiny bit of dormant life in the roots, and then watered everything.
I'd forgotten how much I love spending time in the garden, even if it's just weeding. It's a little like editing, finding all the useless things sprouting among the good and tidying it all up so the good stuff can thrive. You're still there engaging with the creation you love even if you're not actively growing it at the moment. And sometimes you'll find unexpected surprises, things you'd forgotten or have a new appreciation for. Maybe something you thought wasn't going to work out turns out to be a lovely blossom.
This weekend I'm planning an outing to a plant nursery to get some petunias and lavender and mint, little things I can plant around in the small pots on the deck to give it some color, and then I'm going to look through their roses and flowering vines and see what strikes my fancy. I'm hoping for a nice jasmine plant, and maybe I'll give the bougainvillea another shot (haven't had much luck with them, but I love the profusion of bright pinks and purples and crimsons I see in other people's gardens and can't quite give up on them). This part will be more like the excitement of starting a new story, choosing the elements that will be in it and imagining how they're all going to fit together.
And then along with those, I'll go through my seed packets and see what I've got. Then the real fun begins: putting it all together and watching it grow. At that stage it's "first draft" and I don't have to worry yet about the weeds that will invariably crop up among the things I meant to plant or the pests I'm going to have to deal with down the line when the garden is in full bloom. It's just me and the fertile earth.
Ooh. I just found my young Belphagor:
Isn't he sweet? Of course, he should have dark brown eyes, and young Belphagor had no tattoos, until...oh, right. You have to read the second trilogy to find that out. Sorry for the horrible tease. (notsorry)
To make up for it, here's a brief excerpt from young Belphagor's introduction to the world of Man:
“His skin is as smooth as a girl’s.” The angel watched him from the low light through the sheer-curtained window.
So that was how it was. On Earth as it is in Heaven. He had paid for his supper in Raqia in much the same way on more than one occasion. Belphagor gave them a winsome smile. He was not above playing whatever part was required to the hilt.
And because I just happened to have some spare nekkid tattooed people "lying about," I thought I'd post a few bits of candy for everyone:
Personally, I don't think he's nearly as hot as Mateo, but...OMG...I'm typing right under his groin!
Seriously, though, I prefer this one:
And in keeping with the theme of my ume tattoo, this one's not too hard on the eyes either:
But this one is my favorite:
Sigh. Tattooed girls in love.
You may thank me now.
So an interesting thing developed while I was writing the Queen of Heaven series. The beginning of The House of Arkhangel'sk opens on a card game. It was one of the first images I had of this world: a den of "iniquity" in heaven, where an angel of the ruling House of Arkhangel'sk, disguised as a local in heaven's ghetto, played cards with a demon. I thought my demons should have a deck of cards more suited to heaven than earth, so I invented one that used the angelic orders in four suits for the cardinal elements, and called the game "wingcasting." (Don't ask me where the name came from. It's lost in the primordial soup of the book's beginnings. All I remember is that I was looking for Victorian card games, and something put this combination of words into my head, and it stuck.)
The game is played much like poker, but to make it more complicated, I added a twelve-sided die with a different animal representing one of the four cardinal elements on each face. The play of each hand is preceded by a cast of the die, giving one's opponent the opportunity to call out a symbol before it lands. If that symbol appears on the face, the casting player must surrender a card. If it doesn't, the opponent must increase his bet to continue to play.
This was all well and good, and deliciously impossible to win. My naughty demon Belphagor became a master player—through both skill and tricks—and beat the pants off my little angel. (Or rather, beat the pants onto her...well, you'll have to read it.)
Little did I know, there were other demons hanging around the slums of Raqia who used the cards for something else entirely. One demon in particular likes to keep things from me until she springs them on me at the last minute out of the blue, and she was busy turning this harmless little deck of cards into a much more useful tool. Thus the divination system called the Chora (for the choirs of angels depicted on the cards) was born. More than just a device for fortune-telling, it became a means of communicating between the spheres, when such practicalities as the Internet and cell phones could not be had in my late-Victorian Heaven.
Why am I telling you all this? Heavens, I don't know. You're the one who came to the blog; don't blame it on me. What do you want, pictures of half-naked tattooed men every day? Well...okay, then!
Oh, and I'll be blogging over at Here Be Magic tomorrow about plotting with the tarot.
Belphagor turns out to be much harder to find than Vasily...and I never thought I'd find Vasily. Sigh. But here's a model who has a certain Belphagorian look to him:
Is that a gun in his pocket, or...?
And here's another one; no tattoos, unfortunately, but he has a little something of Belphagor in the eyes. Interestingly, both of these models are Brazilian. Is Belphagor Brazilian? Who knew?
But if I could find a 30something, tattooed, cigar-smoking, pierced Robert Downey, Jr., he'd be perfect.
Whaddya think? Can you see any of these guys spanking Vasily? Ah, well. The search continues.
Everybody else has candy. Why can't I have candy? A lot of my writer friends are known for posting "man candy"—which I love; don't get me wrong. I just figured turnabout's fair play, so I thought I'd post a little candy of my own.
This reminds me of Ola Vasilyevna, my little Russian angel-demon. I don't know who that is behind her; certainly not Thiel. Maybe it's Hades.
Love this one, too.
Update: I've linked to the photos I'm referring to after finding the photographer's website: Olga Guzhevnikova. She has several more of this gorgeous model, whose name I don't know.
Several years ago when I finished writing my first novel I started a tradition: each time I finished a book, I would get a tattoo. The first tattoo was my blue moon. This was for my novel Blood Maiden, and represents a carving on a dagger that one of the characters carried (though hers had a blood moon instead of a blue), as well as representing the (erroneous) popular definition of a blue moon as the second full moon in a calendar month.
In addition, it represents my connection with my mother, who died when I was 14. In college I chose "Blue Moon" as one of my performance pieces for voice class, and when I went out for dinner with my father for my 21st birthday, I happened to mention it as I was ordering my first-ever alcoholic beverage with Dad, my new favorite: a rum screwdriver. My father stared at me for a moment and said, "that was your mom's favorite drink," and then when I mentioned the song, "your mom sang that in college." Ever since then, the image of a blue moon made me feel connected to her, so the tattoo seemed fitting. I don't drink too many rum screwdrivers anymore, but the tattoo is forever. ;)
My second novel was Anamnesis, and for reasons too complicated to explain, Isis and Kali became symbols of the divine feminine for me during the emotional upheaval of writing that manuscript. So for Anamnesis, I created my own version of a tyet or "Isis knot."
The two Sanskrit characters framing it represent the bija "seed sound" mantras for Agni (fire): hum, and Kali: krim. With these three symbols together, I was invoking the ultimate in kick-ass goddess protection. After a thwarted assault by a stranger while I was walking home from the BART station one day after work, I felt I was in need of it. It has stood me in good stead ever since.
In 2005, I finished my first draft of The Devil's Garden. At the time, I thought a matching tattoo for the tyet would be appropriate: the djed. These are the two symbols carved on the pillars of pharaohs' tombs. I came up with a design for it, but was never happy with it. I even received tattoo gift money for my birthday from two dear friends who insisted I go and get it. But I just couldn't seem to get motivated to rework the design until I was happy with it, and it languished in a folder of "things to do."
After finishing up the final line edits for TDG last night, I decided to do an image search for Belphagor from the Arkhangel'sk books to go along with the Vasily images I found recently. While browsing tattooed models, I came across a tattoo of plum blossoms, and suddenly it hit me: the plum blossom sprig is the perfect symbol for TDG. It's the symbolic proof of the divine that Ume (whose name means "plum" in Japanese) receives from the Meer—and not just a plum blossom sprig, but one covered in snow. Like the symbols in Anamnesis that I later discovered were common in Middle Eastern mythology and religion, this detail was something I thought I'd invented, and yet while searching for plum blossom imagery, I discovered the blossoms often do indeed bloom while still covered in snow.
While I work on the design for my new tattoo, I've been looking at pictures of plum blossoms on the Web. Here are a few of my favorites:
[gallery link="file" orderby="ID"]
Hmm. The WP gallery insists on including the two tattoo pictures in this display. When I take them out here it deletes them from above as well. Ah, well.
Holy crap...I found Vasily:
And here he is complete with Pushkin mutton chops (although Vasily wouldn't be caught in the realm of the dead wearing this):
And one more:
Of course the hair would be a little more like this:
And as a bonus, I also found young Vasily:
I'm in swoony Vasily heaven. (Well, where else?) :D
There are two things of goodness coming, neither of which I'm able to fully divulge yet. But I can partially divulge them, and partially divulge I shall. I hope to be able to post the full details in the next week or two, but in the meantime, I've uploaded a new batch of images to the slide show in the banner. La-la-la, aren't they pretty? (The images that were in the banner are now below.)
[gallery link="file" orderby="ID"]
The first one is from my recent trip to New York (okay, Hoboken, but I ran away for a day and went to The Cloisters); this shot of the chapel inside The Cloisters (taken with a phone and no flash) looks like a painting to me. I thought it was cool, so I thought I'd share it. Next are a few shots from my recent business trips to Hoboken and Chicago, and the rest are things I've seen recently on my hilly San Francisco walks (all cell phone pics, so don't judge me).
Oh, what's that? The things of goodness? What, you don't think my pictures are good enough? Oh, fine.
Thing One: I am very pleased to announce that The Devil's Garden has found a new home, and one I'm very excited about. It has a tentative release date of June 27, 2011.
And Thing Two: I've received an offer of representation from a fabulous literary agent for The House of Arkhangel'sk.
You might be wondering what that slide show is in the banner. Those are the last nine pictures I uploaded to Flickr. At the time I originally wrote this post, they were pictures from my trip to St. Petersburg, Russia in June/July 2006, now shown below. View the progression of sunset beginning at midnight on July 6: [gallery link="file"]
When I first arrived in St. Petersburg in early June, the sun "set" around 2:00 a.m. (more of a twilight than a setting), and was back at it by 3:00 a.m. By the beginning of July, twilight started around midnight, with some near-darkness around 2:30 in the morning that lasted a couple of hours.
The pictures were taken on my last night there. My roommate and I took the metro to Finland Station from our Lesnoy Prospekt flat to see the bridges rise on the Neva. The last bridge finished rising around 2:45 a.m. The metro had stopped running for the night, so we walked back to the flat in the grey semi-darkness. That walk continues to appear in different guises in my books. (Right now, it's doing a stint as a walk in the underworld.) So many memories from that trip I will always cherish, but that last, quiet walk, knowing I was leaving for the US in the morning and might never see the White Nights again...that will stay with me forever.