Ageism in SFF

Here lately on Twitter, I've noticed people pointing out the ageism in SFF--sometimes as much as every other day--with little witticisms such as:

Jesus, won't you old people die so we can have your jobs? or
Why did they let  [insert name] moderate a panel? Didn't they know s/he was ancient? or
Isn't [insert name] old and NEAR DEATH?

Those are paraphrased, of course, and just a sampling. There have been several variations on the theme over the last few weeks from many different accounts.

Still, those things weren't said by the kind of users that we would normally call trolls. The people that made these remarks were folks that I thought were sensitive and empathetic to others. That's what stunned me.

I didn't think I needed to point out to this particular group that there are a lot of people, such as myself, who are over fifty and are very liberal. Nor should I have to tell them that advocating people should die to open up the job market isn't funny, especially given how many people over fifty suffer from depression.

To be truthful, I don't believe that I deserve instantaneous respect for the number of years that I've managed to stay alive. Respect is something earned, not given. Likewise, I don't believe that I deserve anyone's derision simply because I'm older than you, nor does anyone else.

If you have a problem with something someone says, focus on the problematic language, not their age. One has nothing to do with the other, because if someone is saying (for example) racist things, those racist thoughts have been a part of that person long before they reached the age in question. Misogyny is just as prevalent in the twenty- and thirty-something young men I see online as it is in older men. Age is moot when it comes to prejudices.

I do know I've lost a lot of respect for several people over the last two weeks, and once lost, earning back that respect back can take years.  Neither do I expect apologies.  Silence will be the overwhelming response to this post, but don't tell me that there is no ageism in SFF, not after what I've recently witnessed.

[Guest Post] Kitsune and the Game of Kitsune-Ken by Beth Cato

One thing I love about Folklore Thursdays is the chance to explore the folklore behind modern stories, so I try to reserve Thursdays for posts that are folklore related. Beth Cato is with us today to talk about the Japanese folklore surrounding the kitsune--a type of Japanese werefox that I first encountered in M.L. Brennan's fabulous Generation V series.

Beth's latest novel, Breath of Earth, also features those trickster kitsune in an alternate version of 1906. Check out the blurb:

In an alternate 1906, the United States and Japan have forged a powerful confederation—the Unified Pacific—in an attempt to dominate the world. Their first target is a vulnerable China. In San Francisco, headstrong Ingrid Carmichael is assisting a group of powerful geomancer wardens who have no idea of the depth of her power—or that she is the only woman to possess such skills.
When assassins kill the wardens, Ingrid and her mentor are protected by her incredible magic. But the pair is far from safe. Without its full force of guardian geomancers, the city is on the brink of a cataclysmic earthquake that will expose Earth’s powers to masterminds determined to control the energy for their own dark ends. The danger escalates when Chinese refugees, preparing to fight the encroaching American and Japanese, fracture the uneasy alliance between the Pacific allies, transforming the city into a veritable powder keg. And the slightest tremor will set it off. . . .
Forced on the run, Ingrid makes some shocking discoveries about herself. Her powerful magic has grown even more fearsome . . . and she may be the fulcrum on which the balance of world power rests.

Amazon     Barnes and Noble

Kitsune and the Game of Kitsune-Ken

My novel Breath of Earth was released this past Tuesday. It is steampunk fantasy with a unique twist on alternate history: a military alliance between America and Japan has likewise blended their cultures. Japanese-inspired fashions are all the rage in San Francisco. It is customary to switch to house slippers when indoors. Food, language, architecture--the cross-pollination of Japanese culture is everywhere, along with a massive influx of Japanese immigrants.

People aren't the only entities to venture across the Pacific Ocean. The world of Breath of Earth features not-so-mythological magical creatures that are often labeled as fantastics. It's not uncommon to see fairies flutter about the garden, or an iron-shod pooka forced to pull a rich man's cart. Japanese fantastics are present as well, including kitsune.

If you play video games or watch anime, you're already familiar with kitsune to some degree. If you see a fox with more than one tail, that's a kitsune. Even Sonic the Hedgehog's friend Tails would count. Kitsune are fox spirits and tricksters of a nefarious sort. Stories vary a great deal, but to speak in generalities, they can shapeshift, seduce men or women, and even steal human bodies. A kitsune gains another tail with every century of life, with nine-tailed foxes regarded as incredibly powerful and dangerous. As part of their fox nature, they are afraid of dogs.

If you have ever heard the Japanese phone greeting of "Moshi moshi"--the equivalent of "Hello"--that goes back to an ancient test against kitsune. The foxes are said to be incapable of pronouncing "moshi moshi." Therefore, if you say that to a faceless person over the telephone and they can't repeat the phrase back, that means the person on the other end is a kitsune and impostor.

I stumbled upon an interesting way to introduce kitsune within my book.

Early on in the revision process, my agent suggested that I show more bonding between my heroine, Ingrid, and her mentor and adoptive father, Mr. Sakaguchi. I wondered if there was some kind of game they could play together. That's how I discovered the game kitsune-ken.

Kitsune-ken is a hand game not all that different from American games like Rock, Paper, Scissors. As I describe it in chapter 1 of Breath of Earth:

[Ingrid] knelt to face him and tilted an ear toward the Graphophone, her hands poised in midair. Simultaneously, she and Mr. Sakaguchi clapped hands to a beat of three. She quickly moved her hands to make two Vs atop her head--fox ears--while at the same time Mr. Sakaguchi briefly rested his hands on his lap. 
Ingrid cackled. She won that round--a kitsune's magic could bewitch a chief. Mr. Sakaguchi's face twitched as they began the clapping again. This time, she positioned her hands as if on a rifle, with her right hand on a trigger and her left extended like the barrel of a gun. Mr. Sakaguchi made fox ears. The hunter's gun could kill the kitsune. She won again.
"At least try," she teased.

This was one of those remarkable moments when a surprise historical nugget worked seamlessly into my existing manuscript. The YouTube video was especially helpful because not only could I see the geisha demonstrate how to play, but I could listen to the shamisen music as well.

If you want to learn more about kitsune, the Wikipedia page is a good place to start. Be sure to scroll to the bottom to the reference section and look for a downloadable old book called Kitsune — Japan's Fox of Mystery, Romance, and Humor. You'll learn how to identify kitsune possession and how to, ahem, be medicated after intimate relations with a fox spirit.

For a more modern, academic exploration of the subject, Karen A. Smyer's The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship is a fantastic read that explores the role of the fox throughout Japanese culture and religion.

* * *

Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger series from Harper Voyager, which includes her Nebula-nominated novella Wings of Sorrow and Bone. Her newest novel is Breath of Earth. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cat.

You can follow Beth at her website or on Twitter.

80th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War

Without realizing it, I took a big chance by placing the novellas that make up the Los Nefilim omnibus during the early days of the Second Spanish Republic. I assumed that most of my readers were passing familiar with that time period. I suppose there are days when ignorance is truly bliss.

Or maybe it's just karma that one unsteady beginning--a fledgling Republic finding its place in history after deposing its monarch--led me to my own shaky beginning. I had originally intended for the Los Nefilim series to take place during the Spanish Civil War, but the more I read about the conflict, the more I realized that I had to go backwards to the beginning of the Spanish Republic in order to understand the events preceding the actual war. It was sort of a reverse approach to research.

Due to the many different factions involved in the Spanish Civil War, I wanted to be clear about my characters' motivations, and the best way in which to do that was to comprehend what induced people to act. This research helped me to formulate some of my scenes in the novellas, especially those between Diago and Garcia in Without Light or Guide. Whereas Diago has socialist leanings (he doesn't deny Garcia's accusations), Garcia is strictly nationalistic in his loyalties. It's a pattern that plays out between them beautifully, and I probably wouldn't have conceived it without the research.

Like the civil war between the angels, the Spanish Civil War simply didn't happen. No war ever does.

With the Spanish Civil War, years of political strife led to a group of Spanish generals, under the leadership of General José Sanjurjo, to declare war by a prounciamiento (a declaration of opposition) against the democratically elected government of the Second Spanish Republic. On his way back to Spain from his exile in Portugal, Sanjurjo was killed in an airplane accident, and leadership of the coup and the Nationalists then shifted to General Francisco Franco Bahamonde, or as we know him: Franco. 

Prior to these events, different factions within the Second Republic were at one another's throats for years. Stochastic Terrorism is a phrase that has only recently come into play, although the philosophy behind Stochastic Terrorism has been around for a long time. Hitler used it with his Brownshirts, and Spanish politicians of the early twentieth century were also quite adept at inciting their followers through openly violent rhetoric in their speeches.

The upper-classes of Spain resented the workers' demands of fair pay and reasonable workdays. The people, on the other hand, had been long taken advantage of by the upper-classes. They sought better incomes and unions to represent their needs, and the politicians latched onto the national frustration, like leeches do. In order to solidify their backers, politicians promoted discord rather than harmony. They made promises they couldn't fulfill, which only increased everyone's disappointment with their respective situations. 

In order to deflect the public eye from their own shortcomings, the politicians managed to inflame people's passions to the point that churches were burned, and politicians and judges were shot in the streets.  The politicians eliminated their enemies through inflammatory rhetoric that begged for action while cushioning themselves from actual murder charges.

Because, gosh, who could have known someone would actually assassinate a person based on the rhetoric from a speech?

The entire period--from the beginning of the Spanish Republic until the war--was a jockeying for power by the old school politicians that believed in Church and king against the new democratic government, fighting for a government by and for the people. Caught in between these factions were the common folks like you and me, and those are the people I wanted to write about in Los Nefilim.

Oh, sure, there are angels and daimons and supernatural trysts. Still, I tried to interweave a few of the political viewpoints from the early Republic into Los Nefilim. I wanted to hook readers into the time period, because fiction can often serve as doorway into a deeper interest of history.

Anyway, 2016 is the 80th Anniversary of the Spanish Civil War, which began with a well-planned military uprising on July 17, 1936. Whether Los Nefilim piqued your interest in the Spanish Republic, or whether the anniversary moves you to open that door of curiosity, you may check out some of these titles to read more about the Spanish Civil War.

Beevor, Antony. The battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. New York: Penguin Publishing Group, 2006.

Brenan, Gerald. The Spanish labyrinth: an account of the social and political background of the Spanish Civil War. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Buckley, Henry. The life and death of the Spanish Republic: a witness to the Spanish Civil War. London: I.B. Tauris & Company, Limited, 2014. 

Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015.

Preston, Paul. The Spanish Civil War: reaction, revolution, revenge. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.

Preston, Paul. The Spanish Holocaust: inquisition and extermination in twentieth-century Spain. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

Rhodes, Richard. Hell and good Company: the Spanish Civil War and the world it made. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2015.

Yglesias, Jose. The Franco years: the untold human story of life under Spanish fascism. Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1977.

Books, mirrors, and a slightly different angle

A while back, author T.O. Munro asked me if I'd be interested in doing an interview for Fantasy Faction. The questions were a lot more in-depth than the usual run-of-the-mill interviews that I've done in the past, so I had a lot of fun with this one. You can probably tell which question was my favorite, because I wrote a short blog post with my answer. That answer is where you will find out about books, mirrors, and angles.

In other news, Los Nefilim has picked up some nice reviews lately. Here a a few links:

There are many elements in these novellas (a storytelling form gaining quite a resurgence in this age of digital publishing) that have pleasing resonances. The setting itself gave off echoes of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s masterpiece, The Shadow of the Wind. The demonic creatures and haunting beauty felt like something out of a Guillermo del Toro film. More recently, I was also reminded of Aliette de Bodard’s wonderful House of Shattered Wings and Daniel Jose Older’s Half-Resurrection Blues and even the Garth Ennis/Steve Dillon comic Preacher. But, Frohock’s linked novellas are more than the sum of those influences and are a showcase for her unique voice. --SFFWorld
Los Nefilim is a slow and dark burn, and that slow but steady rise to intensity makes you want to know more and more about what’s going on.  There is a lot of darkness in this story,  but also some laugh out loud funny moments.  And when the reveals come, they are that much more satisfying. --Little Red Reviewer
The foundation of this powerful story is a poetic prose, dark and moody, yet infused with color and music as it embodies hope, love and loyalty. Yes, there is a lot of conflict in that last statement, as is appropriate in a story full of internal and external conflict. It’s the grounded, devoted love that keeps it all together. --Neth Space

Seeing a Song, or through the eyes of Los Nefilim

Michael McLendon graciously shared a video with me this morning:

Melissa McCracken is a young artist, and she uses her synesthesia to paint music. If you want to see the world through the eyes of Los Nefilim, I can think of no better example than this short video, where Melissa describes her synesthesia and how she incorporates music into color into art.

Seeing a Song: Painting What She Hears: