Sunday Inspiration: Play

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
—George Bernard Shaw


Sneak Preview: The Pooka’s Day

The release of Fell Beasts and Fair is now two weeks away! I’m about 2/3 of the way through the anthology, and every story has been a winner. You can pre-order your (electronic) copy today—see my previous post for details.

To whet your appetite, here’s a snippet from my contribution, “The Pooka’s Day.”


Danny stopped cold as the end of the woman’s walking stick poked him in the chest.

“We don’t want any trouble,” she whispered. “You can just move along.”

He should have heard them coming—five of them all told, but he hadn’t been paying attention. Too much on his mind. He just charged across the cow path on his way back to the creek, and there they were.

As it was, he barely had time to throw on a decent husk. He was pretty sure they didn’t notice, though, when his ears and nose shortened to more human proportions and the glow faded from his amber eyes.

Whoever these people were, their leader meant business. One of the others sucked in a labored breath. Two more, children, whimpered in the dark.

“M-miss Claudia?” a different woman whispered, “Lige… he ain’t looking so good.” This woman was helping the only man in the group to stand. Danny sniffed the air. Amid the soil and grass and growing things was the unmistakable iron scent of blood. He spied a ripped and bloody trouser leg.

The first woman’s eyes blazed. She and her friends were dressed in dingy, patched clothes barely fit for a brownie. That and their dark skin was all he could make out.

He raised his hands. “Whatever you say, ma’am.” He wasn’t in a mood for any mischief. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. He still had three more farms to case before daybreak. But he didn’t have time for anybody else’s mischief. Not tonight. Not with him liable to show up at any minute.

“And not one word, you hear?” The rumble in her voice demanded Danny’s full cooperation.

He was about to say something when he caught the sound of dogs barking.

“Lord have mercy!” the other woman gasped. The younger child, no more than four years old, started to cry, but his big sister slapped a hand across his mouth.

The first woman spun and raised her stick horizontal to the ground.

“Head for the woods,” she ordered. “Go!”

Four shadows stumbled past.

“Those are my woods!” Danny’s throat went dry. Something settled in the pit of his stomach. He was fairly sure he shut the door…

“You want to make something of it, mister?”

“You don’t understand. You ain’t got no business poking around over there. It could be… dangerous.”

“It’s about to be dangerous right here, now that those slave catchers have caught up with us.”

Slave catchers! It suddenly made sense. He’d stumbled upon a group of runaways. Seems he’d overheard something about a new law the deathlings had passed. Folks at the Crawford farm were talking about it. Even in a free state like Indiana, runaway slaves could be rounded up and sent back down south.

There was no way they were going without a fight.

Two hound dogs burst into view. The woman, Claudia, held out her walking stick with her right hand and angled her body away from them. She let a worn leather satchel slip off her shoulder to the ground. Danny dropped to a crouch.

“If you know what’s good for you, mister, you’ll stay nice and still till I say differently.”



The dogs bounded forward.

The woman uttered a word. The nearest dog flew backward with a yelp.

Magic! Danny stood mystified as the woman trained her walking stick on the second dog. She blasted it just as she had the first one.

“You’re a witch?”

“Later,” she said. She held her walking stick upright. “They’re coming.”

Claudia was right; Danny heard the sound of approaching footsteps.

She began to chant a singsong tune.

“You find ‘em, boys?” a man said. He lumbered into view on the edge of the corn field—big and swaggering, with a shotgun in one hand and a lantern in the other. “Chief? Banjo? Here, boys!”

Something told Danny Chief and Banjo were taking the rest of the night off.

Two more shadows joined the first. The woman kept chanting. Her voice was barely audible beneath the cold autumn breeze.

The three men trudged forward a few more steps, but slowly. The closer they came, the slower they got.

The first man toppled to his knees by the time he came even with the first of the unconscious dogs. The second brought his shotgun to his shoulder… but wobbled backward with the effort. A minute later, all three lay on the grass, mumbling and snoring.

“That was some mighty slick conjuring,” Danny said.

“Not now,” the woman hissed. She had spun around to see where her friends had gone. She gave an exasperated sigh. “They were right there!” she said.

“Uh oh!” Danny said. The others were nowhere to be seen—and Danny had a sinking feeling he knew where they had gone.

Fell Beasts and Fair

Fell Beasts and Fair is an anthology of noblebright fantasy short stories now available for pre-order. I’m honored to have been chosen as a contributor. My story, “The Pooka’s Day,” describes how Danny and Claudia first met. You don’t need to know anything about Into the Wonder to follow the plot, however.

You can check out the official announcement on the Spring Song Press website. Here’s the blurb:

In this exciting collection of noblebright fantasy, fresh new fantasy voices and award-winning authors explore grief and hope, sacrifice and heroism. Rediscover the best aspect of classic fantasy – the noblebright ideals that made heroes heroic, even when the world grew dark around them.

Thieves, dragons, nightmares, fairy warriors, pookas, enchanted bear-men, and other magical creatures will delight you in these unique tales of possibility, courage, and hope.

This anthology features stories from:

Leslie J. Anderson, C.A. Barrett, Terri Bruce, Aaron DaMommio, M.C. Dwyer, Anthony Eichenlaub, Francesca Forrest, Chloe Garner, W.R. Gingell, Lora Gray, Kelly A. Harmon, Tom Howard, Rollin Jewett, Tom Jolly, Samuel Marzioli, Amanda Nargi, Aimee Ogden, Beth Powers, Darrell J. Pursiful, Charles D. Shell, April Steenburgh, Alena Sullivan, and Troy Tang.

Edited by Robert McCowen and C. J. Brightley.

I’ve been reading my advance review copy, and so far every story has been a winner. You probably know that isn’t always the case with an anthology! Thanks to C. J. Brightley (gotta love that name!) for seeing fit to include my little contribution.
And finally, here are the links to get the ebook in your preferred format:
The paperback can’t be preordered on the regular retailers, but it should go live a few days after the ebook becomes available on March 20.

How to Speak with a Wakandan Accent

According to Charles Pulliam Moore at io9, there’s a good reason there are a variety of “Wakandan” accents in the new Black Panther movie. Pragmatically, it’s because the cast comes from a variety of backgrounds and couldn’t help but bring their native idiolect into their respective roles. Beth McGuire, the dialect coach on the film, does a great job of explaining that at the linked article.

But there’s also an in-story explanation that actually makes some sense:

In both Marvel’s comics and movies, a significant part of the lore about Wakanda focuses on the fact that the country was never colonized—something that might make one assume there would be a singular Wakandan accent. But because the MCU’s depiction of Wakanda is so deeply rooted in much of the iconography and traditions of real-world African cultures, it makes sense that there would be a multiplicity of accents.

What’s more, Black Panther actually goes out of its way to emphasize the fact that modern-day Wakanda began as a coalition of multiple tribes who seized the opportunity to unite and grow together around the impact site of the vibranium mound. Respect for tradition and history is a central element to the MCU’s Wakandan society, and it stands to reason that the different accents unique to each tribe would still very much be a part of modern Wakanda.

So, linguistics and superheroes! Yay!

Random Thoughts on Renaissance “Clerics”

I’ve previously written about how I’ve found it helpful to think of worldbuilding in terms of RPG game mechanics. I’ve shared with you a little of how the magic of my current WIP can be quantified in terms of the Fate Core RPG rules, not because it’s necessarily the best system out there but because the rule set seems rather intuitive and well-suited to what I’m aiming for as a writer. I’ve described the rules for faery magic as well as (human-centered) arcane magic. With both systems, I’ve attempted to stay reasonably true to beliefs about what magic could or could not do as perceived in the late Medieval and early Modern periods, circa 1350–1700.

Old-school D&D nerds might well be wondering about divine magic: the realm of those characters that Gary Gygax dubbed “clerics.” And the truth is, I don’t foresee the need for any “clerics” in my WIP. But if I did, how might one go about quantifying the religious-oriented magic of this time period? I don’t have any suggestions for actual game mechanics here, just a few random notes about how I might proceed.

Arcane Magic, Re-skinned

The first thing to note is that the boundary between “arcane” and “divine” magic is blurry and often contentious. What one person may describe as “sacraments” and “prayers,” another might perceive as “spells” and “incantations.” Much of what I’ve already described as arcane magic could simply be “re-skinned” and applied to divine magic.

In rural areas especially, the practices of old religions often live on beneath the veneer of orthodox faith. The parish priest, for example, might well be called upon to perform rituals that mix “magic” or “superstition” with orthodox rites. For example, they might perform a ritual of sympathetic magic to make fields fertile. In general, these kinds of folk magic were permitted as long as they were used to help people and never to harm.

So, in keeping with what I previously proposed for mages, clerics might take levels of “Arcane Magic” skill, but instead of specializing in “Folk Magic,” for example, they might specialize in “Sacramentals,” minor rituals or prayers that vary in flavor depending on the specifics of the religious tradition.

In Judaism, for example, the “practical kabbalah” related to mystic contemplations of the divine names of God would be an appropriate template. Instead of an arcane ritual, the kabbalist might simply recite a divine name or formula, or perhaps inscribe it on a piece of parchment or some other surface.

For a parish priest in the Highlands of Scotland, the prayers, incantations, charms, and poems of the Carmina Gadelica might be an excellent place to start in depicting the flavor of such a re-skinned system.

Healing rituals would pretty much be a no-brainer for clerics of nearly any tradition. One might also propose “Insight” or “Prophecy” as a re-skinned version of “Divination.” Note, however, that the actual practice of divination through horoscopes, tarot cards, crystal balls, etc., is generally forbidden in the monotheistic religions. If you really wanted a high-powered divine magic system (which I don’t think would be period-accurate), you could allow a cleric to specialize in “Miracles” as a re-skinned version of “Theurgy”—though definitely impose limits on what sorts of miracles are possible based on the specific spiritual tradition the cleric follows.

Arcane Magic and Orthodox Faith

Christian and Jewish clerics in fact pursued certain disciplines of arcane magic during the Renaissance. Leonardo de Candia Pistoia and Marsilio Ficina, responsible for bringing the Corpus Hermeticum to the West, were a Byzantine monk and a Catholic priest, respectively. The Baal Shem of London was both an alchemist and a rabbi.

The great monotheistic faiths generally drew lines to distinguish “permitted” and “forbidden” arcane magic. Depending on the specifics of each religious tradition, the forbidden category generally involved magic that summoned supernatural entities (demons, angels, etc.) to do a mage’s bidding as well as magic intended to harm others in any way.

The Power of Faith

Divine magic, the kind of things that D&D clerics can do but D&D wizards can’t, works on the principle of faith. Rather than bending to the will of the practitioner, these forms of magic bend the practitioner to the will of his or her perceived ultimate reality—God, the gods, the universe, or what have you. Divine magic can only be practiced by someone of amazing piety and upstanding morals (as interpreted by the faith community). It can only be performed to advance the agenda of the highest values and aspirations of the practitioner’s spiritual worldview.

Different spiritual paths manifest different divine powers. In general, divine magic in the monotheistic religions should be quite rare, with the most spectacular displays of power tied to saints or bearers of sacred relics.

Indigenous Religions of Europe

Some spiritual paths followed in Renaissance Europe originated in indigenous traditions that predate the coming of Christianity. Sometimes, these faiths have themselves been re-skinned as Christian: gods or spirits have been made into saints, for example, or rituals have been recast to incorporate Christian iconography and patterns of belief. This spiritual “makeover” is more thoroughgoing in some cases than in others, and in at least one case never happened at all. Here are two examples:


The Benandanti or “good walkers” were the Christianized remnant of an older pagan fertility cult from the Friuli region of northern Italy. Rather than a learned skill, they believed their magic was something bestowed upon them at birth. They regarded themselves as Christian, fighters in service of Christ against malevolent witches to preserve the well-being of their lands. The Inquisition accused some of them of being witches or heretics, and benandante remains a regional term synonymous with stregha or “witch.” They were closely associated with the arcane specialties of “Spirit-riding” and “Healing.”


The vaidilos or pagan priests of Lithuania are probably the closest to ancient Druids to be found in Renaissance Europe. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania only formally embraced Christianity in 1387, and the new religion was not accepted by its various states until the fifteenth century—and only then for political reasons.

The modern revival of Lithuanian paganism is called Romuva, meaning “temple” or “sanctuary.” The old religion apparently emphasized the sanctity of nature as well as ancestor worship. The divine is represented by fire, and ceremonies are performed before a fire altar.

For the most part, Lithuanian pagan priests can be “re-skinned” druids with maybe a few tweaks.

The Larger World

Of course, other systems of divine magic could be identified and quantified for this period. This was an era of growing global trade, and the mages and divines of Europe were coming into more frequent contact with other spiritual traditions.

Someone who can do it justice might work out how “magic” might work in terms of practitioners of Vodun, Santería, or the spiritual traditions of other indigenous groups. But such a project should only be attempted by someone with the necessary sensitivity and permission from the relevant groups, who must be the final arbiters of what is an offensive appropriation and what is an acceptable depiction of their spiritual traditions.