Category Archives: Books

The Troubadour Ipswich Set

Ipswich_Cover_4_SmallA couple of weeks back I headlined the Poetry Happy Hour event at the Troubadour Wine Bar in Minneapolis. I don’t write poetry – at least not good poetry – but as it was right around Halloween the organizers thought that my urban fantasy fiction would fit in just fine. So I read a set from Ipswich, the latest novel in my Guild series. It is currently available from Moonfire Publishing.

I’m one of those readers who likes to be prepared, so I wrote up the whole thing ahead of time. This allows me to edit the text for how I want to do my live reading, and it has the additional benefit of putting my presentation  in a format that can be shared on blogs and social media – so here you go!

Welcome to the Troubadour! My name is Scott Michael Stenwick, and this is my urban fantasy novel Ipswich.

In the alternate history of my Guild universe, the Winchester family didn’t die out in 1922. Instead, Sarah Pardee Winchester had a surviving son who carried on the family name and continued to run the Winchester Corporation. She did move to San Jose, California and did build the Winchester Mansion, which in our real history is currently the tourist attraction known as the Winchester Mystery House.

As in our real history, the Winchester Corporation ramped up manufacturing production during the First World War, and afterwards attempted to rebrand itself as a general producer of consumer goods. In the Guild universe this effort was successful. Following the Great Depression, “Winchester Stores” expanded rapidly throughout the country. As of Fall 2012, when Ipswich is set, Winchester is one of the largest retailers in the country in addition to a premier producer of firearms.

In the Fall of 2011, Anne Winchester died mysteriously in Ipswich, Massachusetts while attending a Halloween festival. Anne was the CEO and largest shareholder of the Winchester Corporation and one of the richest women in the world. Her friends and family had no idea why she would want to attend the Ipswich Halloween festival in the first place, which made her death all the more inexplicable.

One year later, our story begins there, in the office of the mayor of Ipswich.

***

“I think you know why I called you here,” said Mayor Alfred Gibson. “We need to talk.”

“Indeed we do,” replied Shaun Talbot. “I don’t think you’ve fully thought this through.” Talbot dropped into one of the seats before the fine walnut desk. He set a cloth-wrapped bundle on the other chair, with no more acknowledgement of it than an ironic smile.

The most accurate adjective for Talbot’s overall appearance was black. Black hair, black jacket, black vest, black shirt, black pants. The cut of his suit was nearly a century out of date, as if he had stepped out of a silent film.

“Believe me, Shaun, I have.”

“The tourism dollars alone can’t be replaced. I’ve been putting on my séance here in town for ten years. You must approve my permit now.”

The mayor sighed. “I’m aware of the economic ramifications. But last year was a disaster. Another news story like that could ruin us all, and I won’t have it.”

“We already had this discussion nine months ago. Anne Winchester’s death had nothing to do with the séance. It was just a tragic coincidence.”

“Look, I’m not insinuating anything. But you have to admit it’s rather strange. One of the richest women in the world attends your annual séance and an hour later she’s dead. The papers were all over it, the national news networks too. If somebody else happens to die this year, even if it’s an accident, even if it’s days after the show, even if they came to town terminally ill, it won’t matter. The story will be that Ipswich is cursed, or worse.”

“You’re going to sign the permit, Alfred. And you’re going to do it tonight. Otherwise you and I will have a problem.”

“It’s done. There will be no show this year.”

“Then we do have a problem. But that’s okay. I brought the solution.” With a swift, fluid motion he picked up his bundle and unwrapped it with a showman’s flourish. The fabric pulled away to reveal a human skull, darkened with age and covered over with a scrimshaw of twisted runes and characters. As Talbot took the skull between his hands and pointed its perpetual grin in the mayor’s direction, a soft, low vibration began to fill the room. “Take him. NOW.”

Gibson jumped to his feet, his eyes wide. “Please. Don’t!” The air in the room thickened into an unnatural mist. “We can talk about this. I’m sure we can reach some sort of understanding!”

Talbot smiled maliciously. “Too late.” He clutched the skull tighter, and as he did so the vibration in the room intensified.

Gibson sprinted for the door as the fog thickened and pulsated like a living, breathing thing. As he tried to cross the room, the vapor gathered into a roughly human-sized clump. He froze for a moment as the mist soaked into his body, then turned robotically and walked back to his place behind the desk. His eyes stared blankly forward.

“That’s better,” said Talbot.

“What is your command?” asked Gibson, his vocal inflection now completely different than it had been moments before, heavier and tinged with sadness. The voice of the damned.

***

Upon Anne Winchester’s death, approximately twenty percent of the Winchester Corporation worth billions passed to her only daughter, Sara, who was both devastated and entirely unprepared to take on her new responsibilities.

Sara Winchester was already famous in her own right, and not in a good way. Her drinking and partying amongst the “celebutante” crowd in San Jose provided the tabloids with ample fodder. She was portrayed as rich, spoiled, entitled, and vacuous. She was also blond and pretty, which played right into the stereotype. Nobody ever mentioned that she had graduated from Stanford’s MBA program at the top of her class.

Now in the Guild universe the Winchester family had a secret. The secret was that Sarah Pardee Winchester was a member of a mysterious magical order known as the Guild. The Winchester Mansion was constructed as a magical fortress designed to endure a battle between the Guild and a rival order of black magicians. It had served its purpose while its builder lived, and afterwards went dormant.

As a magical device it needed a magician to activate its powers. The surviving son who took over the Winchester Corporation in 1922 lacked the necessary magical aptitude and the family’s gift was believed by members of the Guild to have died out. Anne wasn’t born with it and neither was Sara.

But then one night, at a party with her friend Daniel Prescott, Sara tries an experimental drug and everything changes. She wakes up in jail the next morning and has a rather unsettling drive home.

***

Sara followed Interstate 880 to the cloverleaf, took the exit for West Stevens Creek Boulevard, and then turned left on Winchester Boulevard a few moments later. The road led straight to the Winchester Mansion, her home and a San Jose landmark for nearly a hundred years. She looked forward to getting some rest, but as the sprawling house came into view her eyes widened and she quickly pulled over to the side of the road.

The entire mansion was on fire.

She brought her hand reflexively to her ear, realized she was not wearing her Bluetooth earpiece, and then dug frantically through her handbag for her smartphone. She pulled the device out, and then looked back at the house.

The flames were gone.

Sara carefully stared at the outline of the mansion in front of her. She found that by shifting her attention one way the burning walls came back into view – but they were not actually burning. What radiated from them glowed like liquid light, and the hue was all wrong for natural fire, even though whatever it was played along the structure in a similar manner.

She then stared at the building directly and the strange luminance disappeared.

Another damn hallucination. When I’m done having this stroke, I’m totally going to kill Daniel. She pulled the car back onto the street, drove the last few hundred yards, and turned into the mansion’s long driveway.

***

Following Sara’s arrest her friend Tom Remington, a San Jose police officer, is contacted out of the blue by a woman named Samantha Davis. Sara agrees to meet with her the following morning.

***

It felt way too early when the annunciator terminal on Sara’s night table rang. She sleepily reached over and dropped her hand onto the button. “What is it?”

“Ms. Samantha Davis to see you, Ms. Winchester. She says it’s important, but shall I tell her to stop back later?”

She’s early, thought Sara, but as her eyes wandered over to the clock she realized that it was already 9 AM. She had overslept and her visitor was right on time. “No, I’ll see her. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“Very well. I’ll show her into the front living room, then.”

Samantha Davis proved to be an intellectual-looking woman in her thirties, with long brown hair past her shoulders and wire-rimmed glasses.

And like the house the night before, she was on fire.

“Ms. Davis?” said Sara with the best smile she could muster. “I’m Sara Winchester. It’s nice to meet you.” She shook the woman’s hand. Davis’ skin did not burn, precisely, but seemed to impart a mild electric sensation.

“Samantha Davis,” said the visitor with a polite nod. “It’s nice to meet you as well. How are you feeling this morning?” She regarded Sara with a puzzled expression.

“Mostly tired. Still a little off, I suppose.”

“That’s understandable.”

Sara noticed her stare. “Is something wrong?”

“Just surprising. I’m curious, Ms. Winchester. What did you see when you walked into the room? Your reaction was unmistakable. You practically jumped when you laid eyes on me.”

“It’s nothing,” said Sara, rubbing her eyes. “I just woke up, that’s all.”

“Please, indulge me.”

Sara seated herself in the overstuffed leather chair next to the sofa. “It’s just that the other night I took this stuff, some kind of drug. The guy who gave it to me called it a ‘cognitive enhancer.’ Ever since I woke up the morning after, I’ve been seeing things – auras, lights, halos, call them whatever.”

“I see. Can you describe these visual effects further?”

“First of all, I should ask why you contacted Tom in the first place, and how you did it so quickly. I don’t know who you are, or what your connection is to all this. Do you know Daniel Prescott? Or anyone else I know?”

She shook her head. “Probably not. Let’s just say that the police report drew my interest. There are certain families in which my organization takes a profound interest; yours is one of them. Anything entered into the legal system related to them gets routed to me or one of my colleagues.”

“Rich families?”

“It’s nothing like that.”

“Then what?”

“I’ll explain shortly – that’s why I’m here. I just need to know a little more about you before I go any further. Now tell me, what do these ‘auras’ of yours look like?”

Intellectually Sara knew that answering this woman’s questions should be a mistake. If word got out that she was having some sort of mental breakdown all hell could break loose with the Board of Directors. Still, somehow she knew that Samantha Davis could be trusted. “When I was driving home from the station and first saw the house, it looked like it was on fire.”

The woman’s eyes widened just a touch. “That’s because it does, of course.”

“What do you mean? The house is fine. I saw the same sort of thing when I came into the room a couple of minutes ago – it looked like you were surrounded by flames too, but only for a second. Then it was gone. Are you saying that you see the same hallucinations as I do?”

Samantha paused thoughtfully for a moment, and then slipped a dozen small pieces of paper bearing line drawings from her folio. She carefully laid them out on the coffee table. “According to your ‘hallucinations,’ which of these diagrams appear to glow?”

“That one,” said Sara immediately, indicating one of the figures. “None of the others.”

“Very good.” She then fished in her pocket and took out a collection of wires that she quickly folded into a pyramid with a tiny hook just below the top point. From the hook she hung a small pendulum, an amethyst on a silver chain.

“What’s this?”

“Call it a final test. Make it move,” Samantha said. “With your mind, not your hand,” she added as Sara reached for the frame.

“That’s crazy.”

Her guest smiled and shrugged. “Maybe. Try it and see.”

Sara stared at the crystal, and then shifted her perception as best she could to the place where she could see the flames. The stone was indeed surrounded by a blaze of light and energy that nearly caused her mind to pull back from its blinding radiance. But she endured, fixing her attention deftly upon it.

And then the pendulum started swinging from side to side. A feeling akin to satisfaction washed through her mind, and her concentration drifted back to normal. She rubbed her eyes, looked back at the pendulum, and saw that it was still moving.

A smile played across Samantha’s face. “You see? You did it.”

***

As in our history, the Winchester Mansion was built with a séance room that was used for magical ceremonies while Sarah Pardee Winchester was alive. It sits at the very heart of the sprawling mansion in order to concentrate and amplify spiritual and magical energy. With the house now occupied by a magician and therefore waking up, this process begins to work later on that night – with some unexpected results.

***

The chime rang at midnight.

Sara’s eyes opened instantly as the deep sound of the old bell reverberated throughout the house. She knew what it was, but she had no idea why she was hearing it now. She climbed out of bed, stepped into the hallway, and followed the corridor to the winding switchback staircase that led down to the level below. Past the bottom of the stairs she came to the secret panel that opened into the séance room.

As she opened the panel light streamed out into the hallway. It was not physical light, but rather the same strange luminance that she had seen around both the house and Samantha Davis. The sense of power around her was overwhelming, running through the beams and timbers of the entire mansion. In the center of the space the light formed itself into a whirlwind of colors.

And in the vortex stood her mother, Anne Winchester, dead for almost a year.

Sara’s heart skipped a beat. If this isn’t real, it’s the cruelest hallucination yet. “Mom?”

“It’s me, my darling.” Sara could hear the voice clearly, but it nonetheless sounded as if it were coming from far off. “Help me.”

“How can I help you? Is this even real?”

“It’s far too real, my dear. I’m in Ipswich. I can’t get out. I’m trapped. All of us are.”

“Ipswich? But you’re buried in New Haven with the rest of the family. I made the arrangements. I spoke at the funeral. How could you be anywhere else?”

The figure’s head shook. “When you die in Ipswich you stay in Ipswich. Help me.”

“I… I don’t understand. What happened to you?”

“The letter. Read the letter.” The figure pointed to the séance table, on which an opened envelope sat cocked at an odd angle.

Sara saw that it was addressed to her mother and sent by someone named Shaun Talbot from Ipswich, Massachusetts. She removed it and began to read the neat script, hand-written in a florid style decades out of date despite a postmark from only a year ago.

Dear Mrs. Winchester,

My name is Shaun Talbot. I am a spiritualist, medium, and witch located in Ipswich, Massachusetts. I am the current High Priest of the Talbot Coven, which has been operating here for more than three hundred years. I am proud of my lineage and the esoteric power that it allows me to access.

I am writing you because over the course of the last year I have been in contact with an entity that claims to be your late husband, Jeffrey. He has told me of numerous instances from your past such as the story of your lost diamond necklace that somehow found its way into the grandfather clock, how he proposed to you at an auto show, and how you had a premonition about the aircraft accident that claimed his life the night before it happened and asked him three times to cancel his trip.

Every year for Halloween I put on a large séance with an audience of several hundred people here in Ipswich and I would like you to attend. I believe that I will be able to produce a manifestation of your husband’s spirit at that time, and if not I can arrange for a private session after the show.

Sincerely,

Shaun Talbot

Ipswich, Massachusetts

“So that’s why you went to Ipswich last Halloween? I couldn’t believe that you were willing to fly in order to go to some ghost show all the way across the country. But it was to talk to Dad?”

“Yes.”

“Did you?”

The aura around her mother’s figure darkened. “No. And I do not believe your father is here. Talbot was unable to conjure him at the séance. He came to my room after the show and tried again. It seemed like it was starting to work, and then I just died. I don’t know how or why.”

“It was an aneurysm. That’s what the medical examiner said.”

“But you know that’s ridiculous, don’t you.”

“I thought so. I couldn’t believe it. You were healthy.”

The figure nodded. “I’m convinced it had something to do with the spirit that Talbot was in the process of summoning.”

“So a spirit killed you?” questioned Sara. Is that even possible?

***

After her conversation with her mother, Sara decides to travel to Ipswich and confront Talbot. Tom agrees to join her. The two of them decide to get a bite to eat in town, and encounter Talbot at the restaurant. Sara decides to play ditzy and size him up.

***

Tom and Sara had just opened their menus when Shaun Talbot walked into the restaurant, accompanied by a young, slim, dark-haired woman dressed all in black. Talbot wore his vintage black suit with a white shirt, giving the couple the appearance of having arrived from another era.

“That’s him,” whispered Sara. “By the door. Talbot!”

Tom slowly turned his head just far enough to see the medium and his companion. “What should we do?”

“Let me lead, and trust me. I think it’s time he met the debutante I’m supposed to be.” She concentrated on Talbot as the hostess led him into the restaurant.

The medium turned his head and noticed her immediately. “I don’t believe it. Aren’t you…”

Sara looked at him blankly, trying for vacuous. “Do I know you?”

“Well, no, but I’ve seen your picture before. Aren’t you Sara Winchester?”

She smiled broadly. “Why, yes I am!”

“I’m Shaun Talbot,” he said with a curt bow. “Ipswich’s resident medium. Did you come here for the séance, by any chance?”

“Yes I did, as a matter of fact!” she exclaimed. “That’s where I’ve seen your picture. I knew you looked familiar! This is my friend Tom. Would you care to join us, Mr. Talbot? You and…”

“This is Jenna,” he said. “And we’d love to. But are you sure? It looks like you two are having a romantic night out. I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“Nonsense. Half the fun of traveling is meeting new people. Especially since you’re the famous Mr. Talbot.”

He shrugged, feigning modesty. “I suppose I am. Please, call me Shaun.” He pulled out a chair for his date and then moved to sit down at the table himself.

“And you can call me Sara. Now go ahead – have a seat. I’ll treat both of you to dinner. This’ll be fun!”

“I couldn’t possibly…” began the medium.

“Don’t be silly. I own a dozen manufacturing plants, hundreds of retail establishments, an airplane, and a whole lot more. Besides, you know what they say – you should never argue with anybody in the gun business!”

“Wait,” spoke up Jenna, “Winchester. Like the guns and the department stores?”

“The very same,” beamed Sara. “Now what would everyone like? I think some good wine would be in order. How does that sound?”

“Fine,” replied Shaun flatly.

Tom simply looked befuddled. She shot him a quick wink and squeezed his hand, then picked up the wine list and started paging through it. “Let’s see now. How about this one?” She pointed to the most expensive bottle on the menu.

“Maybe something a little less pricey,” suggested the medium.

“Oh, don’t be silly!” Sara exclaimed. “If you’re spending under two hundred a bottle you’re wasting your money. Let’s see – will two bottles do? I might drink one all by myself!”

Over the course of dinner Sara proved insufferable. She downed one expensive glass of wine after the other, ordered multiple rounds for all the patrons at the bar, and gushed about fashion, shoes, and the paranormal. The questions she asked Shaun were maddeningly stupid, like whether dead people could still use the toilet. Every time he and Jenna explained that they should be going, she managed to draw the medium back into another round of senseless questioning. By the time he finally was able to excuse himself and his date from the table, Jenna looked positively pissed. She flounced out the door as he followed behind her, muttering what sounded like awkward excuses.

Once they were safely gone, Sara opened the check with some trepidation. “Yikes.” She looked up at Tom with a smirk. “Now aren’t you glad the tabloids have it all wrong?”

***

A few days later, Sara and Tom attend Talbot’s séance. They have no idea what to expect, but she knows that the séance must have had something to do with her mother’s death.

***

The lights began to dim and thick vapor rose around the stage. Music rose, the smoke thickened, and then suddenly it all dispersed as though cast away by an unseen wind.

“Good evening, everyone. I’m Shaun Talbot.” On the table in the center of the stage now sat the skull, glaring at the audience from its empty eye sockets.

“It’s vile,” whispered Sara to Tom.

“What is?”

“The skull. The magick on it is… well, dark and creepy, but it goes way beyond that. It’s repellent.”

“So it’s like…”

“A magical device. That must be how Talbot can cast spells. The power of the thing is practically blinding.”

“I’m here tonight to tell you a story before we begin our journey into the unknown,” said the medium. “It starts in the year 1703 right here in our beautiful little town of Ipswich, Massachusetts. The Salem witch trials from 1692 get a lot of media attention, but there was also a witchcraft trial right here in town eleven years later. Unlike the poor victims in Salem, the accused was a real witch – my ancestor Arthur Talbot. He fled from England to the New World in search of religious freedom, but did not find it.

“After a series of crop failures, the townspeople began looking for someone to blame for their troubles. Suspicion fell upon Arthur. Witnesses came forth who claimed they had seen him performing ‘black magic’ rituals, and that was enough to seal his fate. He was convicted of witchcraft and hung right here on Castle Hill where this mansion now stands.

“After this great injustice the other members of the Talbot coven vowed to take revenge. Arthur’s son Jonathan Talbot set in motion a plan to punish both the judge and all the townspeople who had done nothing to stop the execution. A few weeks after the execution, the remaining witches came upon Nathaniel Maitland, the judge who had sentenced Arthur to hang. Maitland was alone, and the witches overpowered and killed him for his crime. Jonathan Talbot disposed of Maitlands’s body and bound the spirit of the judge into his skull using a mighty amalgam of eldritch rituals.

“Maitland’s soul would thus serve the Talbots for all eternity. As for the townspeople, Jonathan worked into his incantations an even more powerful spell. At the moment of their deaths, all who had supported the execution of Arthur Talbot would likewise be bound to the skull and unable to move on. And so it is up to the present day. This skull you see before you is the skull of Nathaniel Maitland.

“Justice was harsh, my friends, but it was served. And it grants us a unique opportunity to communicate with the spirits of the dead who were originally bound by Jonathan’s spells. That’s why we’re here tonight, for the eleventh annual Talbot séance!”

Applause filled the room.

Shaun lifted the skull and held it in both hands, its empty eye sockets facing the audience. As he closed his eyes and began to concentrate, more vapor formed around it. She could also feel a low vibration starting to permeate the room, rising along with the mist that was condensing around the skull.

The figure of a man stepped out of the smoke.

***

Sean is unable to summon Anne Winchester at the séance. But he offers to perform a private séance for Sara and Tom, and claims that he and his assistant Laurel will be able to contact Sara’s mother. Sara agrees, even though she also knows that this is exactly how her mother died. She has to know.

***

Shaun stepped through the door, followed by Laurel. “Ms. Winchester,” he said with a wide smile. “How are you this evening?”

Sara shot back a vapid grin. “I’m doing just fine, thank you. Now Laurel says you’re going to contact my mother. That’s wonderful of you! I really appreciate the extra effort.”

“Trust me,” said the medium as he sat down at the table, “it’s no trouble at all. It’s a calling, if you will, a passion. And I’m happy to share it with anyone who appreciates its mysteries. Now, do you mind if Laurel joins us? Four is a better number than three for a séance, and there’s room at the table.”

“Oh, of course not! She’s been fantastic.” Sara turned to Talbot’s assistant. “Please, have a seat.”

Laurel nodded and sat down in the remaining empty chair. Shaun took the skull from its wrappings and set it in the center of the table facing Sara.

“Is that old skull really necessary?” She tried to sound apprehensive. “I mean, look at those eyes, and the scribbles all over it – they’re creepy. And that story you told at the presentation just makes it sound that much worse.”

“It’s all true, I’m afraid,” said Shaun. “The reason that I can control the spirits with such precision is because I have the skull to help me. Without it I could still try to contact your mother, but my odds of success would be greatly reduced.”

“I don’t have to touch it, do I?”

The medium chuckled. “No, just me. Now I want you all to join hands.”

Sara took Tom’s hand on her right and Laurel’s on her left. Shaun held out his left hand, and with it took both Tom’s right and Laurel’s left. He then rested his free right hand on the skull and began to concentrate.

The same odd vibration Sara had noticed at the presentation filled the room. Just like at the séance, vapor began to form and swirl around the skull. Shaun held his concentration longer than he had at the performance, and as he kept his attention fixed on the manifestation it became more and more dense.

His voice, when he at last spoke, cut through the atmosphere like a knife. “Now!” he commanded. “Take them!”

***

…and you’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next. Thank you very much!

For the Chance of Union

Notocon_XI_Proceedings_200For the Chance of Union: Proceedings of the Eleventh Biennial National Ordo Templi Orientis Conference is now available.

This volume contains a selection of presentations from NOTOCON 2017 in Orlando, Florida, and includes my presentation on Heptarchial Evocation based on material from Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy.

The other presentations and rituals are pretty cool as well, and will give you some idea of the sorts of things that go on at national Ordo Templi Orientis conventions here in the United States. Check it out!

What Haunts Us

whu_pic_smallerFor the last couple of weeks my publishing company, Moonfire Publishing, has been finishing up the rollout for our latest title, What Haunts Us by Loren Niemi. Loren is a storyteller who performs all over the country, and What Haunts Us is his first-ever published story collection.

This book was challenging to produce, but if I don’t say so myself the result is pretty outstanding. From a literary standpoint the narrative style comes from performance storytelling, which gives it a fundamentally different feel than your standard anthology of short stories. Some are adapted from existing folklore and others are entirely original compositions. This is a work that has been long in the making, as Loren has been performing for more than forty years. You can check out his website here for more information about him and his background.

One of things we learned in the course of producing this book is that publishing a title directly through Ingram is not nearly as difficult as some authors make it out to be. You do want to have the latest Adobe stuff like Creative Cloud, but if you do the process can be streamlined quite efficiently. I was pretty solid at putting books together for CreateSpace and the new KDP paperback production works pretty similarly, but the advantage with going directly through Ingram is that bookstores are actually willing to order copies through them. Even with Amazon’s “expanded distribution” that’s not really an option.

Loren will be performing tomorrow evening, Wednesday February 27th, at Tillie’s Farmhouse in Saint Paul, Minnesota. If you are local to the area, come by and check it out. It promises to be a good time with opening music starting at 6 PM and Loren’s storytelling starting at 7 PM. He also travels around the country, with his upcoming events posted on his website. If you get a chance to see him, you should – there aren’t a lot of storytellers around any more, and Loren is an excellent one.

Don’t Toss the Books!

kondo_booksUntil this week I had never heard of Marie Kondo. Apparently, though, she has written a bestselling book on tidying up your house and has a Netflix reality TV show where she goes around doing just that. She calls her method “Konmari” which is just the syllables of her first and last name flipped front to back. While it amazes me that someone can build an incredibly lucrative career around just telling people to throw stuff out, I came across this article in The Guardian that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Maybe, for certain kinds of items, throwing away anything that doesn’t “spark joy” can be a useful technique. But nobody in the world is ever going to get me to do that with my books. You should keep yours too.

The latest TV series by charming, tidy-up guru Marie Kondo has landed on Netflix and while we are all in love with the vibrant folk featured in her show, last week I accidentally entered the damning territory of disagreeing with Kondo’s philosophy – in a tweet that went viral. For while I’d heed Kondo’s “Konmari method” for habits such as folding T-shirts, she is woefully misguided when she says we should get rid of books that don’t give us “joy”.

Present tally among the 25,000-plus tweets replying to mine: 65% agree with me, 20% disagree, 3% think we are fighting over a football team and 5% insist Kondo’s position is way more nuanced than I give credit for. The rest insist I am a joyless frump. But be assured that this joyless frump will not be following Kondo’s advice, to essentially hold my books against my teats and left ventricle to see if they spark joy. If my own novels are anything to go by, I should be slightly concerned if the most recent, Martin John, sparked joy in anyone other than a convicted sex offender or a forensic psychiatrist.

In one video, Kondo helps a woman declutter her books by “waking them up”. Surely the way to wake up any book is to open it up and read it aloud, not tap it with fairy finger motions – but this is the woo-woo, nonsense territory we are in. Once the books are split into keep and get-gone piles, Marie and the woman thank the books for serving their purpose.

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

Also, what the Konmari folks don’t seem to understand at all is that an aggregate of books can spark joy. Ask any book collector. Put enough of them together and they sing to you – you know, metaphorically. Books are also ridiculously easy to store – they’re designed that way, after all. Standing in a library lined with full shelves is a beautiful, rewarding experience and I simply don’t get the mentality of anyone who says otherwise. The same room with all the shelves empty, or for that matter only thirty books, is just sad.

So here’s my method. I’ll call it “StenScott.” You can tidy up all you want, but keep the books. Or at least keep all of your up-to-date books on subjects that you are interested in and anything you think you might read for pleasure at some point in the future. Now I probably am not dishonest enough to turn those two sentences into a bestselling book that consists of repeating it over and over again using different words. And also, according to one study, something like 80% of adults don’t read for pleasure. If you’re in that group, go away. StenScott is not for you, which means my method has a much smaller audience than Kondo’s does.

I don’t necessarily keep every book I buy. I work in the computer industry, so I do get rid of books on, say, old versions of programming languages and the like. But I keep a lot – and none of the books in my library are by Marie Kondo.

UPDATE: Today there are a lot of folks on the Internet accusing everybody posting articles critical of Kondo of characterizing her as a fraud or a bad person or whatever. I just think she’s wrong about getting rid of books, and I also think that approaching books as individual objects glosses over their potential aggregate effects on your overall happiness. That doesn’t mean I think the rest of her methods are bad or pointless or anything, really. As I said above, tidy up as much as you want, but keep the books. That is all.

Books for the Holidays!

Christmas-Gifting-Books-jpgWith the holiday season upon us, it’s good to keep in mind that the gift of books never goes out of style. Of course, I’m talking about my books. My first novel was published in 2009 and since then I’ve put out additional fiction and non-fiction titles. Naturally, if I do say so myself, they make great gifts.

The Mastering Enochian Magick Series

Mastering the Mystical Heptarchy

Volume I of the Mastering Enochian Magick Series is still the only book I know of dedicated to exploring the Heptarchia Mystica, an early portion of John Dee and Edward Kelley’s work that precedes the better-known Great Table and Aires or Aethyrs. The Heptarchial system works with sixteen spirits total, a King and Prince for each day of the week plus a King and Prince who rule over the entire system. This book makes a great introduction to Enochian magick that can get the reader started right away without a lot of the complexity normally associated with the Enochian system, and produce impressive practical results.

Click here to find out more and order your copy today!

Mastering the Great Table

Volume II of the Mastering Enochian Magick Series is my own exposition of the attributions of the Great Table or Watchtowers. It is more controversial than Volume I simply because the attributions I use are based on my interpretation of the Dee diaries and they line up with the attributions used by the Golden Dawn, the Aurum Solis, or Aleister Crowley. Even other “Dee Purists” don’t necessarily agree with my reading of the original texts, so this book is not going to be a re-hash of other Watchtower systems that you will find elsewhere. It is, however, rooted in decades of practical work and experience, and the rituals and structures contained therein have been proved highly effective.

Click here to find out more and order your copy today!

Mastering the Thirty Aires – Coming Soon!

Volume III of the Mastering Enochian Magick Series is my exposition of the Aires or Aethyrs based on my work with the Dee diaries rather than the modern attributions derived from the various Golden Dawn-based systems. Mastering the Thirty Aires has been submitted to my publisher but is not available at this time. Watch this space for an announcement once it is ready to order!

Enochian Master Classes


This is not a book but it makes a great gift anyway. I recently participated in a set of Enochian Master Classes along with Jason Augustus Newcomb and Aaron Leitch. These classes are a great opportunity to hear me lecture on my system of Enochian magick and at the same time hear the perspectives of two other longtime practitioners. You can sign up for the course here, and the coupon code STENW-ENOCH7-50 will give you 50% off the registration price.

Click here to sign up today!

Anthology Titles


Holy Guardian Angel

My contribution to this anthology on the concept of the Holy Guardian Angel in modern and traditional Western esoteric systems is titled “The Descended Angel” and is based on my own work in the Thelemic tradition. The limited edition of the anthology sold out long ago, but a paperback version is available.

Click here to order your copy today!

Liber Spirituum

My contribution to this anthology on working with various entities of the Western esoteric tradition is entitled “Evoking Zodiacal Angels.” It covers the lesser-known methods for working with the angels of the zodiac signs based on rituals and techniques developed by my magical working group over the years. The limited edition hardcover has sold out, but a paperback version is available. Click here to order your copy today!

The Guild Series


Arcana

Volume I of the Guild Series is my debut novel that was published in 2009. It introduces the modern-day magical order known simply as The Guild and tells the story of the order’s battle with a powerful demon. This could be the perfect book for fans of urban fantasy who want to read about a system of magick rooted in real practices and devised by a real magical practitioner.

Click here to find out more and order your copy today!

Ipswich

Volume II of the Guild Series is the long-awaited sequel to Arcana. It tells the story of Sara Winchester, a wealthy heiress and newly-empowered magician, as she works with members of The Guild to solve the mystery of her mother’s death. Her search leads her to Ipswich, Massachusetts where she must face a killer who can control the spirits of the dead and the remnants of a rival magical order seeking The Guild’s destruction.

Click here to find out more and order your copy today!

Other Titles


Trump Card: A Terrific Novel

Back in the early days of the Donald Trump administration I was inspired to write this crossover between the Young Adult Dystopia genre and political satire. It tells the story of a plucky, sixteen-year-old heroine who competes on an Apprentice-like reality television series to oppose the Trump agenda. Folks who are plugged in to the magical community will appreciate my satirical treatment of not only Trump but also certain factions and individual occultists who support him.

Click here to find out more and order your copy today!

The Pathless Void

This stand-alone novella is my take on old school hard science fiction. It deals with the development of the first functional warp drive, a trip to the Alpha Centauri system, and the discovery of a mysterious alien spacecraft.

Click here to find out more and order your copy today!

Cthulhu Unbound

This short story is a satirical take on the tales of H. P. Lovecraft. A bullied high school boy gets his hands on the dreaded Necronomicon and resolves to conjure the mighty Cthulhu to destroy his enemies. But when he completes the summoning spell, what he gets is not quite what he expects. Currently available only in ebook format.

Click here to find out more and order your copy today!

Well Played!

In the wake of this whole “cockygate” nonsense, it may be that one of Faleena Hopkins’ targets will have the last laugh. Hopkins sent a cease-and-desist notification to Jamila Jasper, another romance novelist who dared to “infringe” on Hopkins’ “cocky” trademark with a romance novel called Cocky Cowboy. Jasper was quoted in the original article about Hopkins, stating that while she thought this was bogus – like every other reasonable person does – she was not in a position to engage in any legal action of her own and would have to comply and change the title of her book.

Well, she did, and it’s hilarious. Cocky Cowboy is now retitled The Cockiest Cowboy To Have Ever Cocked. Note that the new title doesn’t contain “cocky” and the trademark only applies to that exact word. Also, the new title takes on a kind of Chuck Tingle-esque over-the-top quality that is legitimately funny, especially in light of this whole stupid “scandal” or whatever the heck it is. Jasper is getting a big sales boost over this, and according to her reviews she’s apparently a pretty good writer in addition to being delightfully snarky.

If you want to take a look at the new title and show your support for standing up to the writing equivalent of patent trolling, you can check out The Cockiest Cowboy to Ever Have Cocked right here.

“Cocky” Sounds About Right

faleena_hopkinsWe authors are going to need more than clown sex stabbings to sell books if we keep trying to eat our own. I understand that book sales are disappointing, marketing is hard, and making a living publishing books is basically impossible at this point, but trying to drag each other down fighting over the crumbs of an ever-decreasing pie is seriously not the way to go.

According to this article from The Guardian, romance novelist Faleena Hopkins filed a trademark on the word “cocky” back in April. She is the author of a series of books that use the word in the their titles. Since then, she has claimed to own the word and has threatened legal action against any other author who uses it in a book title.

Faleena Hopkins is the self-published author of a series of books about the “Cocker Brothers” (“Six bad boy brothers you’ll want to marry or hide under you [sic] bed”), each of which features the word “cocky” in the title: Cocky Romantic, Cocky Biker, Cocky Cowboy.

On Saturday, author Bianca Sommerland posted a YouTube video sharing allegations that Hopkins had written to authors whose books also had titles including the word “cocky”, informing them that she had been granted the official registered trademark of the adjective in relation to romance books, and asking them to rename their novels or face legal action. Records at the US patent and trademark office show that the registered trademark for use of the word “cocky” in relation to romance ebooks was issued in April 2018.

Self-published writer Jamila Jasper, who claims she was asked by Hopkins to change the title of her novel Cocky Cowboy, said she removed her novel from sale after she was contacted by Hopkins. “I have to admit I am intimidated because I don’t have many resources to fight this legally if she does pursue,” she wrote on Twitter. Pajiba reported on Monday that the author Nana Malone had been asked to change the title of her novel Mr Cocky, while TL Smith and Melissa Jane’s Cocky Fiancé has been renamed Arrogant Fiancé. Other writers claimed that Hopkins had reported them to Amazon, resulting in their books being taken down from the site.

Hopkins tweeted that the word was “a brand”, and that the writers she was contacting could “keep their books, rankings, reviews and their money by retitling which takes one day”. On Facebook, she said she was a victim of “cyber-bullying”, writing that she “applied for the trademark to protect the future of my series because it helps people. It’s filled with love, hope, and respect to all human beings.”
She added: “I receive letters from readers who lost money thinking they bought my series. I’m protecting them and that’s what trademarks are meant for.”

Others are not so sure. Chocolat author Joanne Harris punned that “such behaviour is considered a dick move” on her blog, adding more seriously that “if it were really possible to legally forbid authors from using a certain common word in their book titles, then the whole publishing industry would be down the drain in a matter of days”.

Seeing as this is totally not how trademarks work, and that it basically fits the definition of “utterly deplorable,” I’m left to wonder if this might be an attempt by Hopkins to employ the “being awful” side of the clown sex stabbing promotion method. If it is, I’ll admit it’s a clever variation on the theme that I have never thought of. It’s got to be getting pretty close to peak awfulness, and it remains to be seen if it boosts her sales like a clown sex stabbing would.

Surely I could trademark the word “Arcana” – the title of my first novel – and then file suit against all makers of Tarot cards! After all, they include a set of cards called the “Major Arcana.” There also are a series of music albums that use the title, and a couple of other things that use it as well. Or I could trademark “Guild” – after the Guild Series – and then threaten to sue every single author who has a guild of anything in their books. That’s even more awful, right?

Seriously, though, if you think this is as outrageous as I do, there’s a petition you can sign asking the patent and trademark office to strike down Hopkins’ trademark. It probably won’t work, because she’s allowed to trademark whatever she wants. She’s just not allowed to beat every other author out there over the head with it, and the courts should eventually make it clear that this behavior is totally not okay.

Awful But Effective

Zoe AdamsI keep reading accounts of authors trying to market books using all sorts of different promotional services, and the results are almost always described as “disappointing.” Marketing is tough, and as I’ve noted previously, it’s a lot easier to make money off authors than it is to make money by being an author. Promotions of whatever sort generally lose money and don’t even generate that much exposure.

Looking through the news lately, though, I came across something that appears to have worked. The trouble is that it’s not the kind of promotion that most of us want to go through. Kieran Bewick is a 17-year-old fantasy novelist with one ebook currently published. He made the news when, in a truly bizarre story that hit all the tabloids, he was stabbed during sex by his girlfriend Zoe Adams, who was dressed as a clown at the time (!). Adams was recently sentenced to eleven years in prison for the attack.

Adams shrugged off this evidence as a joke and claimed that she had no recollection of the stabbing. However, Judge James Adkin, dismissed her defense and said her “cruel and sadistic” actions were those of someone who deliberatly intended to cause harm, reported The Telegraph.

Adkin added that the attack was premeditated, citing the duct tape and knife that had been taken into her bedroom prior to the attack. “You had decided to cause serious harm to Mr Bewick during sex,” Adkin said. “I am sure that by that time you had already become disinhibited by drink and drugs and the more sadistic side of your personality had come to dominate.”

Bewick, an aspiring fantasy novelist, survived the attack but was left was life-threatening injuries, including a collapsed lung. In his victim impact statement, Bewick said he is going to be emotionally scarred for life and that the attack will further exacerbate his fear of clowns.

“I struggle with the knowledge that someone I genuinely cared about would do this to me. Just after I got out of hospital, this thought played on my mind a lot,” he said. “But having had time to think about it, I am convinced that she planned it. It wasn’t personal. She was going to do it to someone and it just happened to be me. Strangely, that makes it easier to deal with.

Checking the sales rank on Bewick’s book, I can confirm that with only one review and a two-star rating, it currently is outselling every single thing that I have ever published. Bewick lives in the UK, too, so he doesn’t have to offset his earnings against hospital bills. That alone would make the clown sex stabbing  approach less viable in the states, even though in terms of sales it seems to be working better than any commercial promotional service I’ve seen.

And I joke – sort of. To be clear, I’m not making fun of Bewick or his book, or this awful ordeal that he’s been through. My point is that this is one more piece of evidence that “going viral” is not a thing that happens due to simple word of mouth or individual people sharing posts. As I’ve mentioned here previously, according to a huge data set amassed by analysts at Yahoo!, the “viralness” of anything is directly proportional to the circulation of the largest media outlet that covers it. That’s the only metric that matters.

The upshot of this is that aside from massive publicity outlays that may finally produce a return on investment, but which no independent artist or writer can afford, outrage and incredulity are what make most popular artists popular. It has almost nothing to do with technical skill or quality of work. People telling you that you can become a bestselling author by focusing all your efforts on writing the best book you can? Flat-out wrong. Getting attention for your work is exponentially harder than doing the work in the first place, so if you really want to make even a meager living at writing that’s where you have to focus.

Because of the outrage and incredulity factors, the only shortcut is to be an awful person (to generate outrage) or, like Bewick, have something awful happen to you (to generate incredulity). And to be clear, the awfulness you need to cultivate is not just any awfulness. It has to be kind of mystifying and bizarre to anyone who reads it, a “man bites dog” kind of story, because that’s what will make major media outlets pick it up.

Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend? Boring. Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend during sex? A little less boring. Guy gets stabbed by his girlfriend during sex while she’s wearing full clown attire? We have a winner, folks! It’s whole clown thing that really pushes the story over the top and makes larger outlets want to report on the story. And the resulting media coverage sells books. But the problem is that this is a pretty difficult thing to do on purpose.

I’m a practicing magician, so I probably could come up with some occult-related stunt that at least fundamentalists would find awful. At the same time, so few people care about the occult that I doubt I could push anything like that into clown makeup stabbing territory. I don’t really want to commit a crime or wind up in a hospital, so that limits my options. And I think if anybody is outraged by what I say on my magick blog, Augoeides, I would know about it by now.

So at the moment I’m still standing here at the drawing board, trying to brainstorm an approach that fits all my criteria and is as sensational and weird as a clown sex stabbing. I think I’m going to need a lot of luck to pull that off. Truth be told, I’m probably nowhere near masochistic enough or messed up enough or surrounded by messed up enough people to do it. That’s by design and it’s the life I want to be living, but clearly the drawback is that it limits my potential marketing appeal.

To wrap up, this all makes me weep for the future of our art, and if there’s a hill I’m willing to die on, this is it: writers should not have to subject themselves to clown sex stabbings – or their equivalent – in order to sell books. A world where that’s the norm is a dystopian nightmare, and we’re already closer to it than I think any of us would like.

How did we ever get here?

 

Mastering the Thirty Aires Submitted!

30_aires_color_500
It took a lot longer than I ever expected, but my draft manuscript for Mastering the Thirty Aires has finally been submitted to my publisher. Editing and book production usually run around six months or so, which means that the book should be available sometime next fall.

Mastering the Thirty Aires completes my trilogy of books on the mostly-Dee-purist-with-some-additions system of Enochian magick that I have worked out over the last twenty-five years. It focuses on practical results, and uses what I consider the best interpretation of the material in the Dee diaries for attributions and powers of the all the spirits and other components of the system. It deals with how to use the Aires and Parts of the Earth to effect political change, and also includes some valuable and practical material on zodiacal magick.

I’m looking forward to making this final piece of my base Enochian system available to the public, and will keep you all posted when I have a release date. Thanks for your patience, and I think you will like the final result very much.

…And It’s Gone

BooksI took a look on Amazon today, and was surprised to see that the $713.52 copy of Arcana that I mentioned a little over a week ago is no longer posted. Was somebody really dumb enough to pay over seven hundred dollars for a copy when I normally sell them for under twenty bucks?

My guess is probably not. More likely, the seller came across my blog post and realized I was on to them. Like I said in the previous post, odds are they never had the book in the first place and were planning on ordering a copy at the under-twenty-dollar list price to ship to anybody willing to bite. Then, they could keeping the difference for themselves. I do know that Amazon is trying to crack down on that sort of “selling,” so if that’s what they were doing it would explain why they didn’t want the attention.

But it also occurs to me, on the chance the book actually sold, that maybe I should put up a listing to sell my own used copies for hundreds of dollars. It’s not like I don’t own a stack of them, and I could honestly pitch them as “signed first editions.” You know, because there’s only one edition and I’d just sign the book before shipping it out.