All this week, I’m highlighting interesting things about Empire of the Goddess. Check out the new editions.
There’s rarely a single source of inspiration for any story I write. Empire of the Goddess had three: parasites, religious myth, and my sons.
One day, as I raised my invisible antennae to detect inspiration, I took a long walk around the neighborhood. My part of Staunton, Virginia, resembles the DC suburb I grew up in, with its single-family homes and trees. In the middle of the work day, with folks away at their jobs, it can feel like a ghost town. The familiar becomes quiet and sinister. I noticed odd details that I dutifully dictated into my handheld voice recorder. A squawking bird flew by with strange, mechanical motions. A puddle in a rain gutter concealed a bottomless pit. But what really caught my attention was the empty lot at the end of the street.
Beyond a gravelly area that marked a future road extension, a line of woods opened into another world. The trees formed a corridor into a forest of unnatural overgrowth. It felt like peering down the maw of some planetary vampire, sucking life out of the world. What if one of my boys, then aged 3 and 5, were lured into that throat? I would have to go after them.
From that visceral feeling came my main character, Thomas Dylan, whose young son, Walter, is abducted through a portal to parallel world — a world that feeds off ours.
But what kind of planet would do that? What kind of society would steal our children?
At the time, I was reading Reza Aslan’s terrific book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Aslan describes a first-century Palestine teeming with itinerant holy men performing faith healings and exorcisms. They sometimes called themselves messiahs and made resistance to the Roman Empire a religious duty. In such a time, to preach about an empire of god rather than man was a capital offense.
I reasoned that a fantasy world structured similarly would seek to keep its populace under an iron fist of control. With disease and sin entwined caduceus-like in meaning, a theocratic imperium would ensure it alone dispensed healing and its deity’s forgiveness. Imagining the most dramatic mechanism I could for such oppression, I followed this garden path of thought back to the forested portal at the end of my street.
Why would this parallel world want to kidnap people from ours, casting a net into which Thomas Dylan’s son falls? The answer: to sacrifice him as part of a long-running parasitism on our world by a state religion and political power dating back to Columbus.
Make that world a dystopian version of contemporary America, set rules that allow for actual magic, and mix in some romance and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and Thomas Dylan is off on the most transformative adventure of his life.
Perhaps some part of you will feel the same.
The Washington Post and The Denver Post yesterday reported on 18-year-old Brendan Johnston’s quandry when faced with the prospect of facing Jaslynn Gallegos for a high school wrestling bout. The competition would have brought him one step closer to a Colorado state wrestling championship, but instead, he decided to forfeit. Johnston cited unspecified religious beliefs for his decision and also a reluctance to show physical aggression toward a female. He’s done this with other female wrestlers, too, and been praised for it. As the news outlets detail, this is emblematic of a larger debate about the 17,000 girls nationwide in scholastic wrestling.
Speaking as a former two-year high school wrestler and now a six-year Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, I have problems with his decision on many levels.
On the personal level, it dishonors both wrestlers. It makes us wonder if Johnston’s real reason was that he was a coward, afraid of losing to — and therefore feeling emasculated by — a girl. And by robbing the girl of her chance to compete, it leaves her — and us — to doubt the legitimacy of any subsequent victory; i.e., the only reason she can now step closer to the championship is because someone gave her a “bye.”
On the gender-relations level, it dishonors men through guilt by association. In this context, men are once again choosing for a women what she may or may not do with her body. If a female chooses to use her body in a grappling sport — or any sport — then who are you to take that away? Johnston said he doesn’t want to show physical aggression toward a female off the mat; fair enough. But on the mat? That’s the nature of the sport, and girls who wrestle have made that choice.
And on the commonsense level, the decision is illogical. The online comments to the above news articles give at least two main points to unpack.
Scholastic grappling, in fact, further reduces the possibility of unfair physical advantage because wrestlers have to compete within narrow weight classes. Johnston and Gallegos are theoretically evenly matched because they weigh the same.
But don’t take my word for it. Go observe a martial arts class or a wrestling practice. Talk to the women you see there. And for bonus points, put your own butt out there on the mat and experience it for yourself.
Nixon’s real complaint is that the news media don’t agree with him. Since the First Amendment doesn’t require the press to agree with the President, he doesn’t dare say this openly and instead charges unfairness.
[A Marine general] criticized the news media for failing to present a “positive” picture of the conflict and said how long the war lasts would “depend in lots of respects on how good treatment it gets from our news media.” So the main obstacle to victory is the First Amendment, and Jeffersonianism will soon be un-American again.
Plain Political Incompetence
In Saigon the regime is cracking down on the press as dissatisfaction rises. Here the Administration is trying to make independent reporting seem unpatriotic. In the events of the tumultuous last two weeks, the Administration has been demonstrating its incompetence on many levels; to give it freedom from criticism would be an invitation to mismanagement.
Nothing is more dangerous than weak men who think they are tough guys.
This Administration is capable of suicidal folly. … But there are bitter battles ahead. We had better get ready for them.
Last night, I rewatched Gladiator (2000), starring Russell Crowe, and heard a number of lines I thought apropos to current events. I’m copying them over from Screenplays for You without further comment:
COMMODUS: But these senators, they scheme and squabble and flatter and deceive.
LUCILLA: They care about the greatness of Rome.
COMMODUS: Greatness of Rome? But what is that?
LUCILLA: It’s an idea, greatness. Greatness is a vision.
GRACCHUS: Fear and wonder. A powerful combination.
GAIUS: Will the people really be seduced by that?
GRACCHUS: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. He will conjure magic for them and they will be distracted. He will take away their freedom, and still they will roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble floor of the Senate; it is the sand of the Colosseum. He will give them death, and they will love him for it.
PROXIMO: He knows too well how to manipulate a mob.
MAXIMUS: Marcus Aurelius had a dream that was Rome, Proximo. This is not it. This is not it!
MAXIMUS: The time for honoring yourself will soon be at an end, Highness.
MAXIMUS: Time for half measures and talk is over.
COMMODUS: Now the people want to know how the story ends.
MAXIMUS: There was once a dream that was Rome; it shall be realized.
Empire of the Goddess includes a chapter in which Thomas, my main character, encounters the government’s dubious eminent domain efforts to clear the way for a gas pipeline. I was doing a one-off concerning the real-world Atlantic Coast Pipeline, Dominion Energy’s prospective construction of which farmers and local governments have resisted for years. It’s easy to spot all the “No Pipeline!” yard signs in my town.
On the parallel world of Terra, its prospective pipeline won’t channel natural gas but oil created from pig manure. The “pig shit oil” pipeline, the farmers call it. The government’s solution to eminent domain is to send fire engines to farms in the pipeline’s way. Instead of spraying barns with water, however, they spray structures with napalm. This leads to a really exciting chapter where Thomas rescues a . . . hey, have I mentioned you should read Empire of the Goddess?
Anyway, imagine my shock this week when I saw headlines about real-world pig shit electricity, like this one in today’s paper: “Dominion and Smithfield Foods plan to convert pig poop to power”
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The world’s largest pork company is teaming up with a major energy company to turn pig manure into renewable natural gas.
Smithfield Foods and Dominion Energy announced a joint venture partnership Tuesday to trap methane from hog waste and convert it into power for heating homes and generating electricity.
The article goes on to say the gas will be recovered from waste-treatment pits and “channeled to processing centers.” So that’s the part I want to know more about: channeled how? And will there be another eminent domain fight? . . . And how much napalm can a fire truck actually hold? Can Dominion give me royalties for the pig shit power idea?
So, my children had a little photo shoot yesterday for Total Defense Martial Arts. (Click to follow link:)
Here’s a Larry King-esque collection of thoughts for today:
— The Traipse/WQSV Treasure Hunt begins in Staunton again next week. Last year, my family spent a lot of blood & sweat to win. (Writeup) Of course, we plan to win again this year. It was a lot of fun, and I hope fellow Stauntonites will give us some friendly competition.
— Cursed by Christ is doing surprisingly good sales-wise, despite it being my first self-published title. I’ll be a guest speaker at Rockbridge County High School on on Oct. 19, where I’ll share what I’ve learned about audiobook production. Do ya think Empire of the Goddess has a similar destiny?
— Brazilian Jiujitsu continues to teach me virtue in addition to the ability to choke someone unconscious. Recently, gratitude and humility have been on my mind. For instance, when someone beats you at something, it’s okay to congratulate your opponent on their success and ask them to teach you. “Ow, ow–tap! That was awesome! How did you do that?” All in the same breath, even. (Maybe without the “ow, ow” next time.) I offer this wisdom not only to fellow martial artists but to anyone in any context. Politicians, particularly.
And if you’ve ever had a good teacher, it’s okay to tell that person so. It’s okay to recognize they’ve enriched your life in some way. Teachers, on the other side of the table, can make that connection easier by not humiliating the person who has already humbled himself. The proper answer to, “Your support has meant so much to me,” or to any expression of friendship, is, “Thank you.” Nothing else.
J.L. Gribble’s new book releases today from Raw Dog Screaming Press, so I thought I’d amplify the signal. Here’s the info:
This week, book 4 of the Steel Empires urban fantasy/alternate series is released! In a world with vampires, warrior-mages, weredragons, and sarcastic violin players, time travel seems like the obvious next step. Read on for more information about Steel Time, by J.L. Gribble
You’re never too young or too old to experience a paradigm shift.
Toria Connor is 25 when tripping over an artifact in the ruins of Nacostina thrusts her a century into the past, before the city is destroyed during the Last War. Now, she finds herself alone. Adrift in a time where she must hide everything important to her, from her mercenary career to her true magical ability.
Victory is over eight centuries old when she follows her adopted daughter. She has seen empires rise and fall, but never anything like this. She must survive alone in a city inhospitable to vampires, dodging friends and foes from her past alike.
Both of them know the clock is ticking down to the moment when the city is wiped off the map. Now, they’re in a race against time. To find each other. To escape the past. And to save the future.
Currently available from:
ABOUT THE SERIES
It is possible to read Steel Time as a stand-alone book, but don’t miss out on Toria and Victory’s previous adventures!
By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.
Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.
She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats.
Find her online at:
It takes a certain amount of psychological robustness to prepare for one’s own demise.
If you give a crap about your family, it’s worth it to write your will and purchase life insurance. Bonus points if you also leave a document at home, “Things to Do If I Die,” with plain-English instructions on finding your computer passwords and buttoning up the mundane details of your life, complete with the contact information of your accountant and lawyer.
Because, let’s face it: no one wants to admit they’ll die one day. And then to spend money preparing for it, the fruits of which you won’t be able to enjoy? Are you kidding? No, unfortunately I’m not. It’s part of what we call “adulting.”
Which is why my hat is off especially for my friend Keith Minnion. Keith not only went the extra mile, he went back and ran it twice. He purchased his own graveyard plot at a local cemetery and then designed his own tombstone and had it installed. All that it awaits is a death date and an occupant.
No, Keith isn’t sick. Just retired.
He did this for the same reason he has a will: to save his family the trouble of worrying about it.
We all gathered Saturday at the newly installed plot for an informal dedication ceremony. As you know, the trend these days is to re-label somber funerals as “celebrations of life,” complete with Hawaiian shirts and the attempt at happy thoughts. Why not have one, celebrating that person, while he’s still alive? And why not have it graveside?
Without the pressure of an actual expected demise, it helps prepare family and friends for the fact all of us will be gone one day. I believe it helped Keith accept this fact most of all as he stood on the platform of where, one day, he would like his train to stop.
We had a good time. Elizabeth Massie presented a hilarious poem she wrote about the grave, “Ode to a Tombstone,” every bit as good as “The Worms Crawl In,” and worthy of the same fame. Other friends presented poetic and musical tributes, and David Simms and I performed “Dust in the Wind” by Kansas. Then we all went out to eat.
It was great. It was fun. It was macabre. It was touching and poignant. And when I’m retired and planning my third act, I hope I’ll have friends and family who love me enough to do the same for me.
Did the Pharaoh Khufu hold a celebration like this at the foot of his Great Pyramid? So I present to you this proposal for a new — but old — tradition. The Pharaoh Party. It’s something we should all do. Before it’s too late.