samedi 1 septembre 2018

Incoherent Gods - now available for pre-order

Hercules, guardian of the Lemuria Zoo, has a big problem: the Zoo’s divine animals have been going crazy. To make things worse, Queen Louhi, the CEO of Gods Incorporated, has just arrived for her yearly visit… with a new fiancé in tow (along with his yenta-minded grandfather Jupiter). Of course, the fact that Hercules is desperately in love with her doesn’t help his plight in any way whatsoever.
His attempt to cover up the situation quickly blows up in his face and they finally realize the animals’ madness is caused by artificial means. Cue in the bodiless god Mimir, who reveals that the real target of the mind-altering poison is Yggdrasil, the World Tree.

And if the Tree loses its cohesion, then so will the barriers between the worlds, crumbling the foundations of reality. Who in gods’ names could be crazy enough to want to do something like that?

jeudi 2 août 2018


Whenever I tell someone (be it excitedly or with false modesty) that I am now a published author, that my third book is coming out this fall (save the date folks – great Christmas present for everyone in the family), always comes that question:
“What kind of books do you write?”
It comes even before “What is the title of your book?” In a way, that’s perfectly all right, there’s only so much you can deduce from a title. I mean, Incompetent Gods could be about anything, fiction or non-fiction: a tsunami in India, the tribulations of an animist priest in Africa, the banking fiasco in Iceland… Name it, I’m sure there’s a way to blame the gods for it.
I answer, and there it is: the blank stare, the Huh?, the what the *&?%$#@ is Satirical Fantasy? I guess I could be condescending and say that it’s Fantasy mixed with Satire, but most of the time, the person I’m talking to is smart enough to have gotten that. No, I think they just don’t quite understand how the two genres can blend together. So I give the Terry Pratchett/Douglas Adams reference, but sadly, in the United States and Canada, they are not the literary idols they should be.
If I have more time, I try to explain: “It takes place in a world that is different than ours, and in poking fun at its society’s quirks, actually points out the absurdities of our own.” I personally feel it’s a pretty good explanation, but it doesn’t seem to help, the blank stare is still there (despite the ardent nodding accompanying the fixed smile).
And I have to ask myself: why is that? In a way, this mix is almost as old as the written word. If we remember the Ancient Greeks more for their tragedies, they wrote just as many comedies, and the most constant thing you can say about their plays is that the fantastic was always involved somehow. Even at the birth of European literature we find examples of it: Aesop’s Fables led to the stories of Reynard (a multilingual corpus of fables that pits a malicious talking fox against medieval society). Later Rabelais shook the world with his giants Gargantua and Pantagruel. In modern times, the genre crossed the channel and gave us Gulliver’s Travels and Animal Farm.
These books are all well known, great classics of literature even, so what is it about Satirical Fantasy that bothers people to the point of having difficulty acknowledging its existence?
First, let me specify that none of the aforementioned novels was ever classified as such. Usually, they were stuffed in an uncomfortable category, like Gulliver’s Travels – and its almost savage satire of British contemporary society – finding itself in children’s literature… And yet, they all make use of the fantastic (gods, monsters, sorcerers, talking beasts, magic, giants, Lilliputians, fairies, and so on), they all make you laugh, and, most importantly, they can all make you think (if you feel so inclined).
Of course, it doesn’t help that the term Satirical Fantasy is not official. Most Satirical Fantasy novels are classified in opposition to heroic High Fantasy (which is inherently hostile to laughter), and so dubbed Low Fantasy – a derogatory term if I ever heard one – or Humorous Fantasy. This last actually works quite well as a classification (maybe I should use it – make my life simpler), but feels a little too large and vague.
Satire is not quite comedy. While it is often confused with parody or pastiche, it is fundamentally different: if they are meant as funny imitations of a (usually) more serious work, satire aims to be an ironic parody of society itself. It exposes the difference between man as he is and man as he should be, and can be tragic in its humor. This brings us back to our main issue: if satire is meant to laugh at our society, our institutions, how can it be layered onto Fantasy?
The problem stems from the many misconceptions that plague Fantasy and Science Fiction. Both genres are usually considered with disdain as paraliterature, or mere fluff, and while sometimes this reputation is fully deserved (there is plenty of mind-bogglingly bad fantasy out there), many authors have managed to rise above it to give us thought provoking, beautifully written prose.
However, the most important thing people forget about Science Fiction and Fantasy is that the worlds they present are meant to be transcendent images of our own. They can help apprehend reality, pierce through its illusions. Like Tolkien posited, Fantasy is in fact about simple, fundamental things, but these banalities are valorized by their environment. Another advantage is that if the inhabitants of these other dimensions have the same moral and spiritual concerns as we do, these can be more clearly defined, making the necessity for a solution more vital. In building a world, writers of fantasy study questions that have preoccupied political philosophers since the dawn of organized society.
Think of the incredibly complex universe of the Dune series (to my taste, the best mix of Fantasy and Science Fiction ever written). Jumping across large spans of time, Frank Herbert explores one salvation after the other (creating systems that are often eerily familiar), then debunks each one, extrapolating its end or eventual limit. He shows us that maybe there is no single or simple solution; that we are doomed to always be searching for what will inevitably become a temporary fix-up.
When you think about Fantasy that way, then adding Satire to it doesn’t seem as far-fetched. What’s more, irony, far from invalidating Fantasy, adds dimension to the often over-simplistic ethical commentary of the genre, bringing it closer to real human preoccupations. And in return, Fantasy, with its intense moral aspects, allows the critic to address issues at a more profound level.
Satire coupled with Fantasy brings us to the realization that no matter what world a sapient being inhabits, life remains a constant source of frustration, tragic ridicule, and comic absurdity. Through that Other’s eyes, you can turn preconceptions around: the impossible becomes logical, logic reveals its absurdity, and the absurd suddenly seems familiar. 
Turn evil into ridicule, and it disappears; evil has its pride. Laughter destroys fear and veneration, but it needs, and creates, familiarity. To make you laugh, the writer of Satiric Fantasy must anchor the imaginary in reality. And herein, perhaps, lies the problem: is Satirical Fantasy too real? Realer even than reality? Does it touch a nerve?
Fantasy is free-form, and in that mirror image of infinite possibilities, the reflection Satire shows us can be difficult to accept.

Brave enough to peek? Here are a few suggestions:
      Terry Pratchett – All the novels of Discworld
      Tom Holt – Pretty much everything
      Douglas Adams – the Dirk Gently books
(The Hitchhiker series is wonderful too, but more Sci-fi than Fantasy)
            And, of course, Yours Truly – The Gods Inc. series.

Mikhaïl Bakhtine, Esthétique et théorie du roman.
John M. Bullit, Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire.
Andrew Butler, Theories of Humor, in Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Litterature. 2nd Edition.
Jean R. Sheidegger, Le Roman de Renart ou le texte de la derision.
Ann Swinfen, In Defense of Fantasy. A study of the genre in English and American litterature since 1945.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf. Including the poem Mythopoeia.

vendredi 4 mai 2018

An Excerpt from Inclement Gods

** Giveaway alert - for a free copy of Inclement Gods click here

Two thousand years ago
Minutes from the meeting affectionately dubbed:
“Oh Us! Will it ever end?”
“Let’s kill’em all!” yelled Mars, presiding in lieu of Jupiter.
Ahura-Mazda sighed wearily. These young gods were exasperating, and now that the meeting was in its fiftieth year, there were always a few standing in for their elders. Mars, always hot under the helmet, was one of the worst.
He smoothed his long curly beard, rose and rearranged his silken robes. “How many times must we explain this? We tried that before. Does the Deluge ring a bell? And now we’re back to square one. There has got to be a better way.”
“Not to mention how much work it was,” said Vishnu, playing with his nose ring. “Exhausting! All that rain… and then having to recreate everything.”
“Well, I for one wouldn’t mind getting a good storm on,” said Thor. “It would be more interesting than this meeting.”
“You gods do what you want with your humans.” Inti’s sun-disk crown of feathers was disarrayed from shaking his head so much. “My believers are still faithful, and no one is dumping a shitload of water on their heads.
“How long do you think that’s going to last?” asked Mwari kindly. “We’re well isolated, both of us, but sooner or later this plague of disbelief will spread.”
“Not to mention that Yahweh fellow,” said Amun with aristocratic disgust. “Telling people he’s the only real one and that they should renounce us. The gall!”
“Says the god who tried it a thousand years ago,” retorted Vishnu.
“Hey, that was a disagreement with my pantheon. I never tried to encroach on any of yours.”
“What about that Science gal I keep hearing about?” wondered Thor. “Who is she?”
“I don’t think she’s a goddess,” said Ahura-Mazda, unable to repress a frown of doubt. “It’s rather a way of explaining things that doesn’t give us any credit.”
“Like those humans who says the sun would come up no matter what since the earth is round,” said Athena.
Everyone turned to look at the tall young woman in armor. She stopped playing with her long auburn braid and blushed, partly with embarrassment but also with pride (the humans in question were her worshippers).
“What? Who let them find that out?” said Inti, leaning in and staring up at her with suspicious eyes.
“So, what you’re saying is that some humans are studying phenomena and then giving us the finger?” asked Thor. “A good thunderbolt always puts that to right.”
“It’s more complicated than that,” said Ahura-Mazda. “They are questioning our power and so their belief wanes. This in turn weakens us and so reduces our influence.”
“So we’ll kill’em all!” repeated Mars. “They’ll believe in us then.”
“Who?” Athena’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “The dead ones?”
Amun stood up before Mars could reply. “Talking of death, what about Anubis’s proposition the other day? That thing about us going back to earth to live with the humans.”
“Might not these scientists interpret this move as one of weakness?” asked Inti.
“Not if we kill them all!” shrilled Mars with mounting anguish, cheeks now red under his strawberry blond peach fuzz of a beard.
“Ah yes, good idea,” said Athena. “Live with humans and piss them off so they revolt.”
Thor twirled his hammer. “How can they revolt? We’re gods.”
“Perhaps,” said Ahura-Mazda. “But we are few and they are many. Personally, I preferred Mwari’s idea about creating a new dimension, even if it does mean leaving what’s left of my believers without guidance.”
“Both ideas have merit,” said Athena, “and their faults: I think the disbelief runs too deep here for our presence to do any good. What if we tried a combination of the two?”
“You mean create a new world AND live with the humans?” Vishnu’s voice became pensive.
“No!” Mars’s whole face turned vermillion. “Killing them is the solution! A nice little blood bath… Ah! Come on!”


jeudi 26 avril 2018

An Excerpt from Incompetent Gods

**Giveaway Alert: for a free ecopy of Incompetent Gods, click here

Chapter 2 : Vexations of Monarchy

In the Summer Palace near Karta, the two robed figures stood on the rim of the glowing abyss.

“Well, that worked… not at all. What did you do, you… your Highness?” asked Goblin, with what he considered admirable restraint.

Three times, the king had shouted Ba’al’s summons. Three times, nothing but silence had answered. They couldn’t try for a fourth without a new goat, and gods knew it smelled bad enough in here.

It wasn’t a BIG surprise; His Lameness King Japhet was renowned for failing at most things. This being said, he did look the part. He was, to put it simply, majestic. Exceptionally fit, with ebony skin and a great white smile, he towered over everyone. He also had big broad shoulders, ideal for taking the blame if things went wrong.

Right now, His Uselessness was leaning on the altar and pouting.

“I did everything you told me to. It’s your fault it didn’t work. Why didn’t you stay with me instead of hiding in the next room?”

“I told you, Your Worthiness,” said Goblin with all the patience he could muster. “If you want the titan to be YOUR servant, you must conjure him alone.”

That was a lie: a summoned divinity only ever obeyed his invoker, but Goblin preferred not to be seen by Ba’al. Not to mention that if there was a fault in the summons, if he had missed the aforementioned dot for example, divinities could get quite rude about it.

Alone, Goblin would have punched the wall. They had to postpone everything. There were many possible reasons for tonight’s failure, but none could be remedied now. Prince Asset would arrive soon and he could not find out about the plan.

Goblin glared at the King, thought for a second about replacing one goat with another, different kind of goat, then got a hold of himself. Even if His Odiousness was not strictly necessary, Goblin didn’t enjoy wearing KICK ME signs. He preferred to work from the shadows. He pulled the hidden lever and the two panels slid into place, closing the abyss.

“It’s all right, Your Industriousness.” Goblin bowed obsequiously. “Go and rest, I’ll clean up in here and find out why the summons didn’t work.”

“But Goblin!” The king was petulant. “I was supposed to be the world’s most powerful ruler in less than a week. We need my brother, he’s good with the gods…”

“And the other rulers,” said Goblin. “Do you really trust his lack of ambition? Especially when you’ll have so much power?”

The king frowned in puzzlement before stomping his foot. “Oh, Poo! Just hurry it up, will you! I want the world; I need new concubines, and fast!”

His Pompousness left in a huff, in the timeless manner of dim-witted kings, and slammed the door, leaving a bemused Goblin staring at it.

He shook his head. He had chosen Japhet because of his stupidity and childish behavior. Now was not the moment to be surprised by the extent of both.

**Want to read on? Get your free copy here!

mercredi 15 novembre 2017

PLAYING GOD: The creation of a Fantasy world.

Ah, writing a new world: drawing strange landscapes, giving life to fantastic creatures, constructing societies… Sounds fun, right? Liberating? Heady even? It is, but it comes with a price. Lack of constraints can easily trip the unwary fabulist and the derived enjoyment has given speculative fiction a bad reputation: it’s escapism, fluff, too much fun to be of any real consequence…
Well pffft! Let me tell you the dark little secret: even the most grounded and realist writer of fiction (and a lot of so-called non-fiction) creates a world that is, be it ever so slightly, different from reality. ALL fiction is fictional, it’s only a question of degrees.
What’s more, inventing other worlds is a fundamental aspect of human intelligence. Margaret Atwood posits that the ability is within us from infancy, that the limited confines of the crib make us imagine an elsewhere, that then our first encounter with death forces us to confront the idea of an after-world. Then we grow up, we forget… but we keep doing it unconsciously, for framing reality with our values often distorts it.
Let’s get back to writing a Fantasy world. Not all writers of Fantasy feel the need to do this. The basic tenet of the genre only asks that we naturalize the supernatural, and this reality has proven most accommodating: over the centuries, authors have dropped in hordes of wizards, vampires, werewolves, witches, gods, aliens, and so on, without readers batting an eyelash.
So how does a new world come into being? It’s a well-known fact that there are two sorts of writers: the ones who plan their story in advance (planners) and the ones who let the story write itself (pantsers). Typically, a planner has outlined all the parameters of their universe before writing the first sentence. Me, I’m the other type. I didn’t realize I was setting up an Elsewhere until I was quite far into the story, it just kinda… happened. Who’s right? Who knows? The Church likes to profess that God has a plan, but if you ask me, it all makes a lot more sense if you think of God as the create-as-you-write sort.
Jokes aside, whatever kind of world creator you turn out to be, there will come a point when you need to stop and think about your creation, define its rules. This is when you must start taking your readers into consideration, for a fictional universe cannot be anything but incomplete: if it is born in the writer’s imagination, it is fulfilled in the reader’s. The latter has to be able to penetrate it, believe it. In the name of what some call “suspension of disbelief” or “impression of reality”, this world will need to possess a structure somewhat similar to the primary reality and a coherent equation of cause and effect. And while these concepts are important for any work of fiction, they are absolutely essential to any work touching on the supernatural.
Then you will need to think about your aims as an author, and if you don’t know what these are, it might mean digging deep into your unconscious. Fantasy has the potential to be didactic and moralizing: it simplifies life and by doing so, allows an author to enlarge society’s defects and draw the reader’s attention to real problems by changing their setting and magnifying them in contrast. Moreover, the removed standpoint permits the subtle handling of difficult, often delicate subjects. By using echoes or flipping the reader’s perspective, it becomes possible to reveal absurdities while sparing sensibilities… And they call it fluff ;)
This being said, always remember that the more you diverge from the primary reality, the harder it will be to debate concrete notions and critique society. Sadly, this means that most imaginary worlds will be parasites of our own, but how? Will your creation be linked, or completely independent? What will be its mechanics?
You can choose the oldest trick in the book: the geography or spatial angle (think Jules Vernes, Gulliver’s Travels, or the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), in which the distance traveled by the hero explains differences and where comparison with the primary society is built in.
Or you can reverse the Science Fiction thing, make your world a blast from the past, or something that feels like it could be our past (even if you set it in our future). Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, along with our fascination for Arthurian romances, has made this the conventional choice of High Fantasy. In these realities, traditional and heroic values of days yore are often imbued with a nostalgic glow to denounce the evils of our modern societies.
You can go Quantum, create a parallel dimension. This sort of world will usually be linked to ours, be it by a rabbit hole (Alice’s Wonderland) or a wardrobe (C.S. Lewis’s Narnia), thus permitting comparisons. There are exceptions, especially in realities only slightly different than ours, although this means you cannot define it as a parallel dimension in the story itself. You can do a Harry Potter and use a pocket dimension existing within our own. Of course, you may find a wholly new way – Bravo! – or you can mix everything up and create something in the lines of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. You may want to explain your world, or not, or just leave tantalizing clues.
At page thirty of Incompetent Gods, I realized I had created a parallel dimension. I opted to explain it, for its genesis was directly responsible for its society. My world split from ours two thousand years ago, when the ancient pagan gods, sickened by the spread of atheism (and perhaps the arrival of new competition), decided to rip the fabric of time and space, and leave this reality for a new one. This time, they said, we will live amongst the humans, so they will never stop believing. They didn’t realized that knowledge is not faith… Forward two thousand years, a couple of centuries after the end of an era marked by global warfare where gods had become the equivalent of atomic bombs, and they are now safely ensconced in Gods Incorporated, a huge multinational that regiments the relations between mortals and immortals.
Mine became an exercise in extrapolation (or retrogression for some parameters – remember I was already on page thirty), perhaps closer to Science Fiction than Fantasy: change a variable, and see where it takes you. Divine beings exuding it like we expel carbon dioxide explained the omnipresence of magic (while its unreliability dictated the need for technology). The combined existence of pagan gods, by definition promiscuous and weirdly shaped, and breaches in the space-time continuum that permit teleportation (and resulting splicing accidents), justified the presence of mythical creatures. And in a society where divine intervention is expected, miracles and acts of gods became bought and paid for commodities.
Whatever your model of choice, whether you choose to explain it or not, you will need to know how your world works, what is possible and what isn’t, for the smallest inconsistencies can shatter the illusion you have worked so hard to create.

References & suggestions for further reading
Margaret Atwood, In Other Worlds. SF and the Human Imagination.
Stephen King, On Writing.
Ann Swinfen, In Defense of Fantasy. A study of the genre in English and American litterature since 1945.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Tree and Leaf. Including the poem Mythopoeia.

dimanche 22 octobre 2017

How do gods blaspheme?

"When you hit your thumb with an eight-pound hammer, it's nice to be able to blaspheme. It takes a very special and strong-minded kind of atheist to jump up and down with their hand clasped under their other armpit and shout, "Oh, random-fluctuations-in-the-space-time-continuum!" or "Aaargh, primitive-and-outmoded-concept on a crutch!"
Terry Pratchett - Men at Arms

As a reader, there’s nothing that brings me as much pleasure as discovering a new way of cursing. Disclaimer: this might be a French-Canadian thing. People in Québec, oppressed by the Catholic clergy until the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, have developed a unique way of venting their anger: almost every sacrament (even the word sacrement), every implement of the mass, has become an expletive – Baptème! (my father’s favorite – baptism), Tabarnak! (Tabernacle), Ostie! (Host), and so on, which you can link in an endless chain with a de: Tabarnak de caliss d’ostie de ciboire de marde!
If not innate, my affection for swearing started at a very young age (before I even knew what it was, and long before anyone would tell me the words), with the discovery of comic books, which I read without knowing how to read. Most of these were, if not aimed at children, then at least kid-friendly, so the authors had to convey the anger and frustration inherent to a satisfying curse fest in creative ways.
There was the good old number’s-uppercase-line, but the best added to it with symbols and drawings – and the character’s expression was often quite telling, as in this lovely one from Greg’s Achille Talon.

In the next one from Astérix et les Goths, Goscinny and Uderzo pushed the irony a little further by translating the picturesque oaths.

Some found more original ways. In Gaston Lagaffe, Franquin would write out the sounds – meaningless on paper, they would regain their full sense once said aloud. And you gotta love the red face.
I grew up, sorely feeling the lack of older siblings (those treasure troves of the best profanities). I had two older brothers, but they were well into adulthood, and they couldn’t be persuaded to teach bad language to their little sister. On the other hand, they taught me that the words themselves don’t matter that much: with the right intonation, you can make up your own.
I remember my brother being cut by a bad driver when I was nine and him thundering “Cornichon à Roulettes” (pickle on wheels). My friend and I laughed for hours. And just like that, I saw the genius in Capitaine Haddock’s strings of literate insults (Tintin by Hergé). Here – Bighead, Cukold, a sort of inedible leek, Slime, Pest that attacks grapevines, and Cannibal.

When I reached my teens, I was shipped to an English speaking boarding school in Southern Québec (possibly because my language was deemed unfit by the nuns at my Catholic school). Lo and behold! A fresh new world of profanities opened itself to me. Sadly, the school library was poor in such things and my swearing vocabulary did not expand much further than what I could catch on American television.
Upon reaching adulthood, the singing ribaldries of 90s French comic cinema attracted me to the other side of the pond. Perhaps unsurprisingly, French cursing is mostly about sex, but whereas it feels puritanical in the US, the French revel in it and are not the least bit apologetic. What’s more, many French oaths also have a mundane meaning. And so a Frenchman can yell out Bordel! then look you straight in the eyes and say that no, he didn’t say whorehouse, he was just commenting on the mess.
Three years later, an incidental bachelor’s degree in my pocket, I was swearing like a native and ready to go back home, but my Great Epiphany was laying in wait. Stuck in a dreary London hotel, I discovered British humor. The sky opened up, the sun came out as I finally heard real British cursing. Colorful, irreverent, bouncy, fun to say… I fell in love instantly. It might even be the main reason I write in English instead of French.
How a person swears, the words he chooses to do it with, is revealing of his personality, but it’s also revealing at a cultural level. For a writer, it can be valuable tool that hints at a character’s nationality, and develops his personality.
My Gods Inc. series is, you guessed it, about gods. I wasn’t far into writing Incompetent Gods that the question presented itself: how in gods’ names would gods blaspheme?
But I’m not telling. You’ll just have to read the books to find out.

mardi 18 juillet 2017

Inclement Gods
When you live in a world pullulating with gods, can you truly be an atheist? Well, yes…if you know a way to get rid of them. Mysantheos, a fanatic atheist at the head of a powerful lobby/terrorist organization, has created a weapon able to kill gods and his kamikaze army is ready to attack.

As the divine bodies pile up, resentment builds at Gods Incorporated and violent factions start pushing for the extermination of the human race, and the CEO/Queen Louhi is running out of ideas to calm them down. Hopefully, her black ops teams are doing better. But will the Nerds and Richard (a down-on-his-luck private eye), saddled as they are with a group of angry gods, manage to find 
Mysantheos before all hell breaks loose?