Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

who fears death.jpg

This book covered a lot of difficult, distressing topics in great detail. In the first three chapters, rape, genocide, and female circumcision are not only addressed but experienced firsthand by the characters. The first few chapters were hard to get through. That's fine. It's good to read about things that make you cringe or cry.

At first, this book didn't even seem like a fantasy novel. I figured this was just taking place in a modern-day unnamed African country. It wasn't until much later that I figured out that some sort of cataclysm happened and turned the land into a desert. In fact, it was never made very clear what had happened or where and when this was all taking place. And for the longest time, I thought the attacks on the Okeke people were just random raids by the Nuru. I never got a feeling that they were all led by some great general until the end. In fact, a lot of valuable details weren't even given until the very end of the book and I felt like they were tacked on.

Still, I loved the main character Onyesonwu. She was strong, she was outspoken, and full of a bullheaded fire that I loved. I enjoyed following her as she learned and trained in the art of sorcery. It was very clear she lived in a culture that refused to acknowledge powerful women. And I loved hearing about juju and the masquerades.

The ending was a bit of a letdown. I felt like the main characters got to live happily ever after because MAGIC said so. I'll have to read the next book to find out if that was really the case.

The Short Story Section is Going Live on Friday

Obligatory stock photo of blogging

Obligatory stock photo of blogging

I was sitting at my local coffee shop, trying to decide what to write for my next blog post. I didn’t have any news, any announcements, any events, or much of anything. “Hey guys, I’m still working on stuff,” doesn’t make for a compelling post.

I’d much rather be writing about anything else other than my life. Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. It’s pretty freaking sweet. But when you have a choice of writing about the silly thing Luma did and writing about an extradimensional consciousness stuck in the burnt-out remains of a Blockbuster that just wants to see the upcoming Jurassic Park 2, I’d choose the latter.

So that’s why I made a short story section to this website. I’ll add a chapter every week so be sure to check in regularly. The first story is called neXus and it’s the story of a massively multiplayer online role-playing game and the agoraphobic young man who calls it home.

Tales from the Backburner: Beatitude, KY

As Venomous nears completion, I can’t help but look to the future. What am I going to write next? Undoubtedly, it will be the third and final book in the Dusk Eternal series, but every so often I find myself thinking about this nearly complete manuscript that I’ve kept on the backburner for over a year. It’s a tale set in modern day, extremely rural Kentucky and centers around a singular young man named Tom who works at a gas station. Here’s the first chapter and let me know what you think.


"There ain't no way that's him."

Three young men peered through the gas station window at the skinny clerk sitting on a stool behind the counter. If he noticed the fly buzzing around his head, he made no sign of it. He just blinked at a spot on the wall with sleepy eyes. The flickering fluorescent lights washed his skin in a sick white-blue hue. A mop of dull brown hair curled behind his ears. A short growth of hair grew on his chin, making him look a like a dirty goat. His left eye socket bore a red splotchy mark, like he had been suckerpunched by the Kool-Aid Man. He looked like he had been there since the building was first built. He looked neglected, like someone forgot to water him; and above all, he looked bored in the persecuted way that people looked in old-timey photographs.

"That's him, all right." The young man with an unfortunate lazy eye adjusted his hooded cloak around him. "The Master of Shadow-Beyond-Shadow, King of the Dark Yet Darker Still."

The other two made complicated hand signs in the air. "All things will return to black," they recited in unison.

"So, what's your plan?" The man who asked had a thin, scraggly beard trailing from his jaw. He, too, wore a hooded cloak though it had gotten stained last time he went muddin’.

"We go in there, pay him respect, and ask to be taken in as apprentices." The third man tried to straighten his lank, straw-colored hair.

"We should have brought him something." Lazy-Eye said.

"Like what?"

"I don't know. A virgin?"

"What virgins do you know?" Straw-Top snapped. He whirled on Lazy-Eye, yanked his cloak, and snapped off an orange-colored tag that happily announced 'The Spirit of Halloween'.

"Really, dude? Really?" Straw-Top shook his head. "Get your shit together!"

"I brought him some beer." The man with the sad beard held up a six-pack. Each can claimed it was the 'Champagne of Beer'.

"That'll have to do," Straw-Top said. "Let's go."

The clerk didn't even look up when the three entered the store. He just sat behind the counter, waiting for his shift to be over and was content to stare at the wall until it was done.

The gas station was like any other, with a small cooler section for beer and Coke and aisles of candy and beef jerky. Over by the counter stood a locked cabinet displaying seemingly mismatched items: pairs of socks, fake roses in long narrow glass tubes, and whipped cream cartridges were some of the offerings.

The cloaked men strode up to him, trying to appear simultaneously humble but confident. They glanced at each other, mentally willing the other to be the first one to speak.

"Excuse me, sir. Have you seen the empty spaces?" Straw-Top finally asked. He pitched his voice so that he sounded like the announcer for the Saturday Late Night Monster Movie Feature.

"Yes, sir. Truck didn't come today like it should," the clerk said. "We ain't gonna have Combos, Hot Pockets, or Gatorade for a while."

Straw-Top blinked and, not knowing where to go from there, retreated. Sad-Beard patted him on the back, as if saying “At least you tried”.

"Excuse me, sir. I heard you know about stuff that most folks don't," Lazy-Eye said. "Stuff that can't be seen by most."

The clerk blinked his sleepy eyes. "No, sir, I ain't sellin'. You're gonna have to go down the road a ways and try the diner. Dishwasher there is usually carrying though it ain't what he says it is."

Lazy-Eye sighed and retreated next to Straw-Top.

Sad-Beard pulled out his six-pack and laid it on the counter. "This is for you."

"Why?" the clerk asked.

"Ain't you Ezra Carmichael?" he asked.

"No, sir. My name is Tom Gaster."

"Sure, sure." Sad-Beard gave him a conspiratorial wink. "I know how it is. I'm sure there's some who would seek to do you harm, sir. Not us though. We wanna be your apprentices."

"Lucky's 85 Gas ain't hiring." The clerk sneered. "Hard enough for me to get this damn job."

"No, I mean about the sorcerer stuff."

The clerk fixed Sad-Beard with a hard look from under his sloppy mop-hair. "Those are just stories. Plenty of people got birthmarks. I ain't a witch or nothin' like that. Now if you ain't buyin', I suggest you get on your happy way. I'm busy here."

"Doin' what?" Straw-Top asked.

"Keepin' this here stool in place." The clerk resumed staring at the wall behind the three. "Can I help you gentlemen with anything else?"

The fluorescent lights flickered.

"Can I use the bathroom, sir?" Sad-Beard asked.

"You gotta buy something."

Sad-Beard glanced around the store. "You got strawberry Twizzlers?"

The lights flickered again. This time they stayed off for too long to be comfortable.

"Nope. Just regular."

"Oh. I guess I’ll just hold it."

"Then take your beer and get out," Tom said. "Take it to Jeff's Garage. You know, the one by the old chicken and fish place? He's tryin' to put together a metal band and I think he's lookin' for someone to play the zither."

"What's a zither?" Sad-Beard asked.

"Fuck if I know. Could be anything. But make sure you call him Lord Wrongness. That's his stage name," Tom said.

"Metal is gay," Lazy-Eye said.

"Yeah, it's kind of queer for grown men to dress all in black and go around talkin' about Satan and magic and shit. Isn't it, fellas?" The clerk put an edge into his voice but never took his eyes from the far wall.

"Hey man, fuck you," Lazy-Eye said. "I'm gonna get behind this counter and kick your scrawny ass."

"Dude, what?" Straw-Top asked. "This wasn't the plan!"

"No, this guy has been an asshole to us since we got in here!" Lazy-Eye said. "He ain't even look us in the eye." He finally turned around to see what the clerk could possibly be staring at 

 "I thought we had a deal," the clerk said, glaring at the wall.

"What deal?" Lazy-Eye asked. Tom kept staring past him. The would-be apprentice finally turned around to see who the clerk was talking to. but he just saw a dingy gas station wall covered in Budweiser posters from two decades ago...and then perceived something else.

The only way Lazy-Eye could comprehend it was to view it as a Magic Eye poster. It was all just color and pattern, a smorgasbord of visual sensation that made no sense. But when he relaxed his vision and moved his head in just the right way, he saw it. Mouths upon mouths gaped at him then coalesced into eyes that opened back into mouths again. Teeth. Countless teeth of all shapes and sizes grew, flowed, collapsed, and emerged again. Noses protruded and fell back into the master shape, only to return as delicate forms with ridges and whorls, to become ears and chins and faces on faces on faces on faces.

Everything was faces. And they were all looking at him.

"Go on!" Tom shouted at it. "Git!"

"Oh man, he's flippin' out! He ain't a sorcerer. He's just crazy!" Sad-Beard said and Straw-Top laughed. 

The wall of features trembled but remained. Lazy-Eye felt his pants become wet, but he was of no mind to be ashamed.

"I warned you." Tom uttered sounds that had no place in a healthy language, not even Klingon, which Lazy-Eye would never admit to knowing. The clerk's voice wasn't just his anymore. It shook with a reverberation that caused the obscene wall to flinch and flicker. Tom stepped forward, holding out a hand that contained something girthy and wrapped in foil.

"Now he's gonna beat us up with a burrito!" Straw-Top said. "Oh my God, buddy. I'll pray for you."

"I was planning on giving this to you later, but you had to go and act a fool," Tom said. He unwrapped the burrito, took a bite and shook it at the wall. "Mmm! Beef and bean this time. What a shame you're missing it."

The thing in the wall let out a squeal far beyond the edges of hearing. Lazy-Eye grabbed the counter to keep himself from collapsing. He lost the battle and slumped to the greasy gas station floor.

"Here, buddy. Take this." Tom handed Lazy-Eye what was left of the burrito. "No good without hot sauce, but you can have it."

Another ungodly cry echoed throughout Lazy-Eye's existence as he sat, staring at the burrito in his hand. It was the only real, only good thing left in his world. It was the flotsam that a drowning man clung to after going overboard.

"I tried to be nice. I tried to give you a place to stay but you had to go and throw it in my face. You gonna be good now?" Tom asked. Sad-Beard and Straw-Top kept laughing.

"Well, then. Fuck you!" Tom made a gesture in the air, repeating something that sounded like 'akaluthra', getting louder and louder until he finally ended with 'zhro!'.

The wall-thing was gone. Sad-Beard was doubled-over, laughing. Straw-Top snickered until he noticed Lazy-Eye.

"Hey, are you okay?" Straw-Top asked.

He tried to respond but as soon as he opened his mouth, a high keening whine escaped from him. Tears rolled down his face.

"Where'd you get the burrito?" Sad-Beard asked. "Dude, you need to pay for it before you eat it."

"Don't worry fellas," Tom said. "It's on the house. Now kindly get the fuck out of my store."

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow

You know the old saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”? When I saw this book, I totally judged it. I judged it so hard, you guys. I mean, look.


And when I read that it was a fantasy that took place in Jazz-Age Mexico, I couldn’t get my money out fast enough.

The story starts out just like Cinderella, and the main character, Cassiopeia Tun, even makes mention of how similar they both are. She’s a ‘poor relation’ who is employed by her wealthy, mean-spirited grandfather and her bully of a cousin Martín. She longs for finer things, to drive in a car, to dance the trendy fast dances, and to see the ocean. She wants to get out of her town, Uukumil, just once, but there is no hope for her. She’ll end up just like her mother, slaving around Grandfather’s house, expected to be thankful for room and board.

Getting frustrated with her lot in life, she finds herself alone in her grandfather’s room. She sees the strange carved trunk that he always had but never spoke of, and thinks to finally see what is in it. She expects to find gold, silver, some kind of treasure hidden away, but she didn’t expect to see a pile of bones. Before she knows it, she pricks her thumb on a bone shard. In front of her eyes, the bones reassemble themselves into a stately, beautiful man.

But he is no man. He is Hun Kamé, Supreme Lord of Xibalba, god of death. And he requires Cassiopeia’s assistance to reclaim his throne. Or else.

The whole book was an amazing journey into Mayan mythology and Mexican history. Every page brought up something I had never heard about, but I want to learn more. Cassiopeia was a very believable character, both full of longing and born with a practicality born of necessity. She was both rebellious but also nervous about breaking social rules. (Cutting her hair short? How scandalous!) And Hun Kamé’s transition from an aloof, proud god to feeling mortal emotion was a gradual, skillfully done change.

And I don’t want to spoil the ending but it made me cry. Well done, Silvia Moreno-Garcia. I can’t wait to read more of your books.

In other news, I’m working on a map of the world in Vessels. I’ve got the lineart done, and now I’m working on the colors. I’ll try and figure out a way to print it in Venomous.


Also, I’m debating about whether or not I should include a list of characters. I saw it done in River of Stars and I found it was helpful to keep track of who was who since all the names were unusual. I think having to keep track of names like Mwarthes, Nephtet-Ka, and Eshmedi is taxing enough to warrant a cast of characters.

3 Overdue Book Reviews

I am an awful human being. I yearn for more book reviews of my own, and yet I’ve let the books that I’ve finished go without reviews of their own. No more. Here are the books that I’ve needed to review for a while now.

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

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Okay, I love fantasy. I really do, but I’m tired of the same old tropes. Cool brave white dude defeats impossible odds with his sword, wins the heart of the sexy elf/princess/dragon in lady form? And saves the kingdom.

Fantasy can be so much more than just the tried-and-true medieval European setting. This is why I was excited to pick up River of Stars. It takes place in a land clearly based on China’s Romance of the Three Kingdoms. It was very low-magic, which is something I liked, with the main conflicts being solved with sword and bow, and clever political manipulation.

However, I couldn’t help but feel like everything came too easily to the main character, Ren Daiyan. He was geared up to be a child of destiny, the one who would win back the lost prefectures of Kitai from the warmongering Xiaolu. All his plans, all his efforts went perfectly and the only conflict he faced was from his own court. He could do no wrong.

Some might call the resolution of the book a letdown, and I felt that way at first. Then I realized that Kay had set us up to believe we knew the inevitable ending, and let us know that things don’t always turn out as planned. Then I was okay with it. I will definitely read more from this author.

John Goblikon’s Guide to Living Your Best Life

As a massive fan of Nekrogoblikon, I had to preorder this book when it was announced, and I was not disappointed. You see, John Goblikon is a goblin...from outer space...who sells insurance but also is the mascot/hype man/best band member of the metal band Nekrogoblikon. He’s even got his own show.

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The book was, at times, inspiring, but mostly it was full of laugh-out-loud moments. I read it in one sitting and afterwards, I did as John said and went to Chili’s.

When Women Ruled the World by Kara Cooney

Wearin Nefertiti’s hat, felt cute

Wearin Nefertiti’s hat, felt cute

I don’t read much nonfiction, but I absolutely love ancient Egypt, so I picked up this book while at an exhibit at the National Geographic museum. I am so glad I did. Cooney is, of course, very knowledgeable about the goings-on of ancient Egypt, but she also has a casual and accessible writing style. I never felt I was being lectured to. She explained events that happened so long ago and gave them a modern-day equivalent to really hit it home. I learned about six queens of Egypt who rose to power because a woman’s rule was what the country needed at the time, and I just wonder when America will get to that point.

Okay, I’m all caught up with my reviews. I’ll be sure to put these on Goodreads and Amazon, of course. Am I a book blogger now? I don’t think I’ll make reviewing books the main focus of my website, but I want to be a good literary citizen, so I’ll post the reviews here.

A Quick Update

Ignite Peoria

First up, as you all may already know, is Ignite Peoria. There will be 100 Artist & Maker booths - 28 Performance Groups - 6 Workshops - ALL UNDER ONE ROOF!

A few of the MANY talented artists that will have booths, including:
2 Birds CollectiveJeremiah LambertKiley BeecherCamron JohnsonKagan MastersJaci MusecJeremy Berkley and Quinton Thomas.

Don’t just come for little ol’ me. Come see all these amazing creators! And if you can’t make it, I’m in plenty of other events coming up. Just head over to my events page.


Advanced Readers

I should be done with the manuscript for Venomous by September. But then it goes into the hands of my advanced readers, so it’ll still be a little while. Would you like to be an advanced reader? It would probably help if you’ve read Vessels before. Let me know if you want to help me out. To all of you who have already volunteered, don’t read what I gave you. I mean, you can if you want. It’s just not the finished version.

Writing books is hard, you guys.