Tuesday, October 7, 2014

WiP Nick and Ariella: Second Wave Concept Art

Richard Price () has been hard at work. Here are some of the finished pieces he sent me of Ariella and Nick. Enjoy!

Art Copyright: Richard Price 2014

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Magister's Notebook: Vampires

One of the Fallen
While vampires and the were kin clans are two very different subsets of humanity, they share something of a common origin theme with their Abrahamic religious counterparts: temptation.

Who and were these events happened are lost to prehistory, but the basic story remains the same. A being of some power appears to an individual and offers what amounts to a "devil's bargain". While this being has never been identified as the Christian Devil, the name has stuck and those who took the bargain became known collectively as the Fallen.

There are differences between the bargains the Fallen made and those in the morality tales of the Devil. There was never any talk of selling one's soul, no obligation of any kind, just the offer of power of one sort or another. While this could have a multitude of variations the two surviving variations of the Fallen make up the were kin and vampires of the modern age.


One of gift offered the Fallen was that of true immorality. They would never age, heal any wound as long as life existed in the world. As long as there was a blade of grass or even a microbe, they would survive. In a world of seven billion humans and countless other species of plants and animals, the immortality of these beings is assured. At some point in the distant past, however, it was discovered that a corrupted version of this gift could be passed on to others through the transmission of blood. In living humans it could heal anything short of mortal wounds. Those beyond help become vampires.

The process converting the body into the vampire state takes seven days. During this time, both body and brain are repurposed in order to function in a vampiric state. Muscles strengthened, reaction time heightened,  but the most signification change is the rewiring of the brain. The need for blood takes the place of several base functions; most significantly hunger and mating. For a vampire drinking human blood is akin to the best sexual encounter one could ever have, a sumptuous banquet of all one's favorite foods, one's favorite piece of music played by the most talented musicians, all wrapped into one package. There are vampires who drink blood from animals such as cows, goats, or pigs, but this practice is looked upon as strange, though very few vampires will state that openly for there are powerful members of the Arcana who follow the practice.

It is safe to say that vampires, like their human and were kin counterparts, vary in their abilities. All vampires possess superior speed, agility, strength and durability, along with near instantaneous healing. Only four methods will permanently destroy a vampire: full destruction of the heart of head (the latter does include decapitation), fire, or direct sunlight.

Vampiric skin is tear resistant and reacts similar to Kevlar when dealing with normal projectiles at medium and long ranges, though vampires are not immune to soft tissue damage caused by hydro static shock. Such damage would heal quickly, unless massive in scope, which could theoretically tax the healing ability, debilitating a vampire for a few moments.

Wounds that would either penetrate skin or bruise heal withing moments. The traditional method of severing a vampire's head requires a great deal of strength, speed and skill to overcome the healing factor, though many apply an additional application of trauma such as fire. In the age of technology high powered rifles with large caliber bullets, tracer rounds, or hollow point rounds specifically prepared with chemical compounds that burn on contact with oxygen are favored by those who are brave enough (or stupid enough) to hunt vampires.

Bone breakage does not heal instantaneously, due to the more complex structure of bone tissue. Small fractures may take minutes. Major breaks may take hours or even days depending on the severity of the break. Shattered bones may take weeks to heal, without other complications.

While vampires shrug off various physical trauma with apparent ease, fire and direct sunlight can be fatal.For unknown reasons the light must be natural, not man made UV light. UV lamps will be uncomfortable for a vampire but will do damage, much like indirect sunlight.

Vampires burn more quickly than humans, what would be a first degree burn on a human being might be a second or even third degree on a vampire. Burns, either by fire or sunlight, heal even more slowly than they do on humans as well. Depending on severity and size of the burn it could take weeks to months to heal. And burns tax a vampire's healing factor more than any other wound, so a vampire suffering from burn damage will have to increase the intake of blood to compensate for the energy spent on healing.

Certain objects of faith, depending on their creation may damage or drive back vampires. True consecrated ground will discomfort or even injure vampires with they stay too long, thought there are rumors of a few who have some resistance of even immunity to such things. However, the average holy symbol bought at a religious boutique or a jewelry store will have no effect on a vampire, unless the person wearing it has absolute faith in what the symbol represents. Such faith is uncommon in the technological age, but vampires can sense it, even when the person who has it, isn't exerting it overtly.

Ariella's shape-shift to raven form
Shape-shifting is a another power found commonly among vampires, and like the were-kin, most shapes follow the physical law that states mass cannot be created or destroyed. So they take on larger variations of the predator forms they mimic. There are three strange exceptions to this. Vampires who can turn into bats, ravens or crows conform to the normal size of those animals. When asked about this, one of younger vampire responded, "You know where you leave your keys, go searching around for them and then find 'em in the same place? That's where the mass goes." That vampire hasn't been seen since.

Extra sensory abilities and the more mystical powers associate with vampires: control over animals, second sight, changing to mist et al have been see on a case by case basis, but usually in more ancient vampires

However, power does not completely depend on age. A young vampire who is closer to the Fallen of that bloodline may be stronger than an elder who is not. It is generally taken that elders are more powerful, but there have been cases of young vampires taking on powerful elders and surviving or even winning partially because the power of blood was of a purer strain.

Notable Vampires of Magister as of the String:
Dame Inspector Ariella Goldstein, Order of the Gargoyles First Class
Lord Devon Cahill, Duke of Chicago

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WiP: Nick Whitehall Art

Yesterday Richard teased me a little about a crush (Yes, it's teenager I know, but it keeps me young) on a certain actor. I moaned and lamented he was torturing me, especially since said actor is the physical reference for Nick Whitehall. I'm not sure if this inspired what came next, but he did these that night. They are WiP so... Art Copyright Richard Price 2014

Friday, May 30, 2014

Writing Jewish in Urban Fantasy

I'm Jewish. For those of you who know me, or who have been following me for a bit, this isn't a big revelation. For those of you who just tuned in, it's kind of important. I will say here before I start in, this is my experience only. I have no intention of speaking for other Jewish authors in or out of the genre, male or female. What I want to do is relate my personal experience writing a story that does not assume the default social norm, which in this case is Christianity.

It started when in one urban fantasy novel it was pointed out that a person couldn't use a Jewish Star against vampires because it's a racial symbol not a religious one. The author had people using tiny versions of the Hebrew Bible. Now any Jew who knows anything about our faith will tell you that's a no no. You don't thump the Torah, it's disrespectful. And that's not really as funny as it sounds. To Jews, the Torah is the Word of God. The idea that anyone of Jewish faith would use it in such a manner is just wrong. And to make it worse, the author didn't even state if the characters who were using the books as a ward were Jewish.

Now, by the time I'd read this book, I'd gotten a good idea of what it is to be a minority religion. It was something I hadn't experienced until college since I grew up in an area that had a Jewish majority. It meant we got the Days of Awe off, and nobody looked at the more devout of us funny when their kids took the first day of Passover off either. Then I got to college and it all changed. I got weird looks for asking for that time off from work or school (from people who should have known better), and had certain organizations that claimed they were open to all faiths not bother to check the calender while scheduling mandatory events. This last bothered me even more because the events were open to non-members as well, but would exclude Jewish individuals who were thinking of joining from attendance. This seemed to be part of Jewish in America, and since I wasn't of any inclination to convert, I accepted I'd have to open my mouth every so often and say, 'Hey, I'm here too!'

There were other things that annoyed me, sometime more, sometimes less. Willow Rosenberg having to use a cross comes to mind. And yes, I realize that the show was playing with the standard horror tropes, but it still was annoying. I mean, how did people ward vampires off before the Crucifixion? Think about that if you will. Honestly though, if I listed them all we'd be here all year.

But it did get to a point where I had to say enough. Up until this time, I'd been toying with some urban fantasy ideas (I go into that elsewhere in this blog) but in a way, all of this underscored something I needed to do. I need to be Jewish when I write, and in Magister, I do just that.

One of my two main characters is Jewish. In fact, not only is she Jewish, she's a Holocaust survivor. Oh, and she's a vampire as well. Being undead hasn't diminished her faith, and it plays an important part in how she sees the world. And because of her faith, she able to do some rather unique things for a vampire. But this is just the beginning. Christianity is not the default state of the supernatural world in Magister. The story doesn't assume that society's ingrain perceptions about religion are right. In fact, Magister takes some of those perceptions and turns them on their head. It may make people uncomfortable, but uncomfortable is good sometimes. Uncomfortable can make a person think and be more aware. And, in part, that's what I hope to do.

I'm out here, I have stories to tell, but never assume they're going to be the default setting.

Copyright Penny Horwitz 2014

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Detective of Rosewall... a partial prologue


            The young man stood in the office of his superior, his posture containing the appropriate amount of deference without sliding into sycophancy. Gwendolyn Askew, Chairwoman of the Physicians and Healers College at Rosewall Academy, studied him as she sat down behind her desk. Benson Miles, Physician of Mental Health and Healer Prime Certificate, had been one of her best students and was still one of the best operatives the Rosewall Parliament had dealt with mental health issues of both refugees from the Plague Wars and citizens. His current assignment, however, was neither and seemed to vex him to no end.
            Four years ago there had been a rash of odd thefts in the city among the merchant nobles and the mages. Someone had deftly circumvented security measures, both arcane and mundane, to steal oddities that were then returned a few nights later. Even magic could not identify the thief other than to say someone was there. But that someone never registered as an intruder to the matrices of Weave that formed the mystical security in many of the afflicted homes. It wasn't until Mistress the Honorable Charity Jones walked into the Garden Street Guard Precinct, at the end of the second year of the thefts, and began detailing several of her exploits. Unfortunately, the thief was the sister of Earl Cygnus, Mathias Jones, which made the matter even more sensitive. Rather than prosecute her directly, Charity was turned over to the city's Board of Mental Health for evaluation, and the conclusions had been startling.
            Charity's mental state was stable but her intelligence levels rose well beyond even the brightest students at the Academy. She admitted that the thefts had been a way to keep herself sharp as the only employment a woman of her estate was expected to pursue (at least in her brother’s mind) was that of marriage. This was especially true since Charity not only no ability to manipulate the weave, thus could not succeed to her brother's dignities, but she moved through the Weave without disturbance, thus the traps’ magic never “saw” her, easily allowing her access to the secrets of the powerful. But while she was both mentally and physically agile, Charity displayed little ability with people to the point of needing something of a translator who could keep up with her intelligence. So instead of sending her to prison, the Mistress Jones was employed as an investigator for the city and one Doctor Benson Miles had been assigned as her handler. That had been six month ago, and in that time, Mistress Jones had solved some of the most serious crimes in Rosewall. However, her inability to function within normal human spheres remained, and so had Dr. Miles, much to his own frustration.
            “Please, Ben, be seated,” Askew waved to the chair on the other side of the desk. The doctor shifted his stance and sat with an economy of movement. It was easy to forget before Miles received his original training as a medic with the Steel Gauntlet, the mercenary company which held the contract for protecting Rosewall for over a century.
            “My apologies, Doctor Askew, but Mrs. Tate and Mistress Jones had a small tiff before I left.”
            “A tiff?”
            “Mrs. Tate has always been aware of Mistress Jones presumed social status, and as such believes that a well-born young woman should not leave the house in trousers, especially when she has a wardrobe full of gowns acquired for her by her brother. I swear Earl Cygnus' 'generosity' might be as bad as Charity's pigheadedness, or even the cause of it.”
            Gwen swallowed a laugh as she spoke, “Oh my,” she took a breath and managed, “Mistress Jones and my daughter would agree on that, I think.”
            Ben nodded, “Sigrun began her Journey year with the Wayfarers, hasn't she?”
            “Yes, and I don't expect I will hear from her until she's passed through White Ridge Cross. She's never traveled that far from the city before, and in winter no less, so by the time she reaches the Cross, the excitement of being on her own will most likely have worn off,” Gwen cleared her throat, “but we're not here to discuss Sigrun, Ben.”
            “Of course, ma'am, I'll begin with saying...” the frantic knock at the office door stopped Miles dead, as Gwen's face hardened.
            “Come in.”
            A guardsman diffidently made his way inside and bowed to the Chairwoman. “Apologies, Ma'am, but there's been a body found on the Academy grounds, and the Guard Captain would like one of your people to take a look.”
            Before Gwen could say a word, Miles offered, “I will fetch Mistress Jones,” slipped by the unnerved guardsman on his way out the door.
            The steam carriage pulled up in front of the Seven Sails tavern, a surprisingly well kept place for the Harbor Crescent of Rosewall. Miles requested the carriage driver wait, handing him a half dozen silver coins in exchange for his patience, and went inside. The owner's wife waved to him from behind the bar as he made his way down the stairs to find the tail end of a boxing match in play.
            Standing over a much larger man was a wiry young woman, whose strawberry blond hair was tired in a serviceable knot at the nape of her neck. She turned to the stairway allowing Miles to observe the rest of her condition with dismay. Her shirt was a man's cut, white, with the sleeves rolled up, and a button undone- something that must have driven Mrs. Tate to apoplexy. Her knickers were tweed, but allowed for freedom of movement, but the most distressing part of her attire was the recently acquired black bruise that ringed her right brown eye. And adding to Miles' distress was the bleeding cut above the left matching eye.

            “Ah, the good Doctor Miles has come to minister to the wounded victor in her hour of need,” she called out as she took her winnings from the owner. Counting the coins out quickly, she handed several back to him with a smile. “There's your cut, old man, but I think I must bow out of the next match as Doctor Miles looks about to have some sort of fit, which means something is afoot that needs my undivided attention.”

Monday, May 5, 2014

Project Renaissance

I've been focusing thus far on the first book of Magister, but I have several other projects underway as well, in various stages. Project Renaissance came to me, in of all things, a dream. Cliche, I know, but true. And not only did I dive for my laptop when I woke up, I called my husband to tell him since he has such a good memory, so I wouldn't forget anything.

This time around I started with notes on the story rather than diving into the story itself and then writing the world down as it developed in the manuscript. Some of those notes do take story form, however, and I want to share some "confidential memos" that passed back and forth before the start of the genetic engineering project called Renaissance.

Project Renaissance
To: Mister Mateo Velasquez, President, En Gene Limited
From: Doctor Saito Hatsuto, PhD, senior researcher, Genetics Division

Abstract: Project Renaissance follows the development of twenty six children of different genetic background and ethnic types, enhancing genetic traits such as intelligence, strength, dexterity from implantation to age eighteen. Embryos will be acquired by soliciting couples who have used in vitro fertilization services, and no longer need the excess embryos created. All acquisitions will follow strict National Genetic Ethics Board guidelines, and the project will be monitored by NGEB for the duration of the project. Both sexes will be required for the experimental group.

Intention is to discover how we can not only gene engineer with the new artificial womb technology, be develop better methods of repair and modification within the womb itself now that the Food and Drug Administration has approved nanotech usage in medical situations. Genetic modification will also be done in a mild form during adolescence, and monitor will be constant during that period.
Due to the nature of the project, the Ethics Board will wish to insure that the children raised in the project will be treated humanely, and I concur.

Project Renaissance Approval
To: Doctor Saito Hatsuto
From: Mateo Velasquez
Doctor Saito,

Provisional approval is contingent on agreement on join funding between En Gene, and the Department of Defense, who’ve shown an interest in gene engineering for soldiers in order to improve performance and survivability. I’ve informed the DoD that we intend to follow strict NGEB guidelines and that these children will not be turned into weapons. The Secretary of Defense has agreed to those terms, as national interest in the project is not in developing new biological weapon systems, but seeing the applications of those enhancements. The caveat is that the last three years of the program the children receive training in military specializations suitable to them. With this contingent the federal government will reserve placement at any military academy, or will give financial assistance to any child who wishes to enter the private sector and receive higher education from public universities. To that end, En Gene will also subsidize the education of any Project child who wished to go to a public university rather than enter the military academies.

RE: Project Renaissance Approval
To: Mister Mateo Velasquez
From: Doctor Saito Hatsuto

Mister Velasquez,
The Secretary’s terms are acceptable, but the caveat that the NGEB guidelines and monitoring of the project must be followed to the letter. We cannot afford to treat these children as anything but human beings. I sincerely believe that there is an inherent danger in doing otherwise.

I admit many might find this project in the vein of Mary Shelley’s tale, but I refuse to follow that path, thus my insistence on the treatment of the children. If the Department of Defense can truly accept that, with no hidden agenda, we can begin preliminary screenings as soon as three weeks from this date. 

Copyright Penny Horwitz 2014

Saturday, April 26, 2014

From the Magister's Notebook: Under the Hood of a Novel Part Two

I was going to write about what happens when your characters start talking when you least expect them to, and I may get to that. But for the moment, I want to talk about something I touched on in the last edition of Under the Hood: inspiration. But this time, I'm talking about the inspiration of finding your own voice in a world that doesn't seem to believe it is possible to be original anymore.

I tend to believe that in all of us, there's a small voice that says "I want to be the next Tolkien or Asimov or Patterson or King..." and so we read what they're writing and learn from them. In fact, according to Stephen King in his memoir, On Writing, "One learns most clearly what not to do by reading bad prose- one novel like Asteroid Miner... is worth a semester at a good writing school, even with superstar guest lecturers thrown in" (p 104). He also points out that reading good writing also teaches, so you should read both.

I've seen other authors say, over and over again, half of the craft of writing, is reading. And that means reading stories in the genre one intends to work in. At the same time, as you read you worry that you're never going to sound like the good stuff, and you're always going to sound like the bad. 

Well that's half right. You're never going to be Stephen King, or J.R.R. Tolkien, or Isaac Asimov. You are going to be you, with your own experience and your own voice. You will tell the stories you are passionate about. Some of them will be average, some of them will suck (I know it's both hard and easy to believe), and then there will be those that will be great. Accepting all those possibilities, including the one that it may be GOOD, is hard. But it will happen, and it will happen more and more as you keep writing, which is important. 

All of this: reading, writing, making mistakes, learning, and making more mistakes is how a writer, any writer, finds her voice. And no matter what the media personal relations people will want you to believe, there will never be another (fill in great author's name here). But there will be you, and if you write with passion, truth, faith in your material, and an understanding that perfection is impossible, but reaching for it anyway will bring out the best; you'll do fine. 

I close out on something another favorite never-be-another writer one put in the mouth of a character named Delenn- "Faith manages." And in our world, it truly does.

Works Cited

1) Stephen, King. "On Writing." On Writing: a memoir of the craft.New York City: Scribner, 2000. 104. Ebook.

Copyright Penny Horwitz, 2014