“Secrets” by Joel Clapp

Hey, so I just bought a 12×16 piece of art from my friend Joel Clapp, titled “Secrets.”

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Joel has done some concept art for my stories, including the Grinning Man helmet, the sketches of Oroboro and his scary-ass smile, and the city of Ibiza, from “Hypnotica.” Here’s what he has to say about the piece:

“I was inspired by two of my favorite painters, Zdzislaw Benksinski and Chet Zar. Their apocalyptic tones and surreal, fleshy creations have fascinated me for a long time. I tried to capture a feeling of ruin and foreignness and focus on a lone entity, with the secrets of the fallen civilization locked away within its fortress-like skull. It all really started with trying to emulate my favorites, really.”

I’m gonna hang this on my wall, right above the bloodstains. You can check out more of Joel’s work here.

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Hypnotica: New Short Story and Sketches from Joel Clapp

9 months after its inception, my new short story, Hypnotica, is out for submission to fantasy magazines!

If you want to learn more about the inspiration behind it and how I fleshed out the magic system in the story, you should check out the posts DREAMWAVE: FANTASY WRITING, QUANTUM THEORY, AND DAFT PUNK and NARCOMANCY: MORPHINE, LUCID DREAMING, AND BINAURAL BEATS.

If you want a taste of the story, I’ve included a short excerpt below, along with sketches from my friend Joel Clapp. Hypnotica is the story of dreamwrights, mages who use music to shape dreams into surreal raves, and the Yoshiwara, a ghost-city that exists at the boundaries of waking and sleeping. The sketches depict the setting of the story, a ruined city carved into the side of the mountain, named Ibiza. In the story, the protagonists, two narcomancers named GRIN and NO-FOOT, travel between Ibiza and its mirror reflection in the dream world, the Yoshiwara.

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“The Yoshiwara is a dream city, and there are breeds of magicians here that only exist between sunset and sunrise. The most famous ones, the ones only the Yoshiwara can make, are the dreamwrights, who play their music for the ghosts and the dreamers, carrying their songs in their bones.

Each night, the flesh-and-blood bodies of dreamwrights fill the coma houses in Ibiza like stacks of wood, and their sleep-selves find their way to the other Ibiza, the one that exists in dreams. That mirror-city is the Yoshiwara, whose streets and buildings match the waking Ibiza only loosely. The Yoshiwara is where they make names for themselves.

            These days in Ibiza, shrines and cults spring up around the celebrities, the dancers and the artists, and for a while their autographs are exchanged like gold for anything and everything. Invitations from the courts of the drug lords and architects flood in, and gold flows as freely as the liquor when they go out.

            But standing over all the petty celebrities, towering like the ruined buildings of Ibiza, are the dreamwrights and their names. DEKAY. OZO. ENAF. Their fans paint buildings with their names in the middle of the night, writing love notes in twenty-foot-tall letters. Their fans carve their names onto tables, wooden joists, scaffolding, tattoo them across the skin, weave them into robes and scrawl them onto the margins of menus in tea houses. The popularity of dreamwrights is measured by the ubiquity of their name. But for every one that makes a name, a hundred wither away into addiction, and no one remembers them.”

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Hypnotica: New Short Story and Sketches from Joel Clapp

My New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: Paradise Lost

Yesterday my new essay, Paradise Lost: A History of Fantasy and the Otherworld, was published online in the July Issue of the Hugo Award-winning Clarkesworld Magazine! This marks the culmination of a conversation that started four or five years ago, when I was standing in my driveway at night with my friend Joel Clapp.

We had just finished a game of D&D, and I was telling Joel about “the candlelit world,” a theory I had about what made the fantasy genre unique. I said that fantasy was defined by folktales and myths, which came from a world lit by candlelight. Humans lived within the flickering circle of their lights, and the great, unknown world loomed out in the dark. Looking up at the fifty-foot pine trees in the dark, I said there were two sides to that unknown world: horror and wonder. There were wondrous adventures to be had in the unknown, paradises to be found and treasures beyond imagination, but also nightmares, unspeakable horrors, and death.

I grew up in Washington State, surrounded by forests and the outdoors. There, the immensity of the world seems to hit home a lot harder than here in New York. The sheer vastness of it, the oldness of it, boggles the mind. There’s a sense that you could explore for years and never scratch the surface of it. It evokes Jon Krakaeur’s  Into the Wild, but what I thought of when I looked out into the rolling dark forests were the stories in Time-Life’s Enchanted World series.

The 2013 article I wrote for Clarkesworld was titled The Candlelit World, spoke about myths and the woods, but it only spoke about the horror and darkness–its subtitle was The Dark Roots of Myth and Fantasy. It drew heavily on H.P. Lovecraft and his essay, “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” and It was the first chance I got to speak about my view of fantasy. Now, three years later, I finally get to tell the other half.

Clarkesworld Magazine is one my favorite fantasy short fiction magazines, and I’m so excited to have another piece go out to their readers (as well as you!). If you get a chance, read some of their stories and donate to Neil Clark and his wonderful team on Patreon.

My New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: Paradise Lost