The Bone Flower Throne takes place in the mythical-historical world of 10th century Mexico, at the beginning of the Toltec Period. In the south, the mighty Maya Empire was in sharp decline, and the major civic and religious center in the Valley of Mexico–Teotihuacan–had been abandoned for at least a hundred years, leaving a handful of small city-states around the valley to vying for supremacy. Eventually, the city of Tollan (Tula) would emerge as the powerhouse, lead by her priest-king ruler named Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl; a man shrouded in mystery and controversy.

Who was Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl?

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl

Legendary Priest-King Ce Acatl Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl

England had King Arthur, Mesoamerica had Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl. He was a legendary ruler who united all the city-states under his rule in Tollan and infuriated the gods when he outlawed human sacrifice. There are numerous stories about his life, where he came from, and how he died (or in some cases became the Feathered Serpent god Quetzalcoatl), each one as different as the next, but his importance as a cultural hero is irrefutable; the Mexica emperors of Tenochtitlan claimed to be his blood descendents, holding his throne in anticipation of his promised return, and some sources even claim (erroneously) that the Emperor Moctezuma thought Cortes and his men were Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and his followers returning from exile.

Not much is known–historically-speaking–about the Toltecs and their famous king, for much of what we know was passed down orally by the Mexica, and like many before them, they likely twisted and changed the tellings to benefit their own interests. Tollan is an actual place though, with magnificient ruins that include Atlantean  warrior statues and numerous temples decorated with reliefs of eagles and coyotes. The word “Toltec” means “artisan” in Nahuatl, and all the archeological evidence found in pottery and sculpture supports that attribute. It’s unknown if Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl was ever a real, historical figure but the Mexica and many other tribes treated him as such.

My favorite source for the myths of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl is the book Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl: The Once and Future Lord of the Toltecs by H. B. Nicholson. It is the single most comprehensive collection of the stories about the legendary priest-king, drawn straight from the original Nahuatl sources. If you have an interest in Topiltzin, I highly recommend it, to get you started. Below are some of the myths that informed my own vision of the world portrayed in The Bone Flower Throne.

Juan Caños Relaciones

This source is a mixture of two known sources which were thought to derive from a third unknown source of some antiquity. It takes its name for Juan Cano, who petitioned a Franciscan monk to prepare the account, in an attempt to trace the true lineage of Doña Isabel, or Lady Tecuichpo, daughter of Emperor Moctezuma. Below are the parts that relate to Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl.

After the gods created mankind at Teotihuacan, the Chichimeca group moved to a town called Teocolhuacan and elected their first ever leader, Lord Totepeuh, who has a son he named Topiltzin. Totepeuh though is soon after assassinated by his brother-in-law, who steals Teocolhuacan’s throne for himself.

To properly honor his departed father, Topiltzin buries his father’s bones and builds a temple atop them. This move angers his uncle, but when the man comes to kill him, Topiltzin shoves him down the temple steps, killing him. With his father avenged, Topiltzin takes back the throne of Teocolhuacan and rules there for a number of years.

Inspired by the gods, eventually Topiltzin gathers his followers and takes them on a fourteen year journey that ends when they finally reach Tollan, which is only then a small Chichimec settlement. Topiltzin and his men build it into a grand city, and he rules prosperously for twelve years.

But trouble is brewing; during those twelve years, he’s forbidden anyone to perform human sacrifices in Tollan, and the gods Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca have taken note of this blasphemy. They demand he start offering human sacrifices again, or get out. Mysteriously, instead of dealing with them as he did with his uncle, he decides to abandon Tollan without any kind of fight. He goes to Tlapala and within two years, he’s dead and everyone mourns for him. Except Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca, who are still angry and so don’t allow anyone to rule Tollan for almost a hundred years. Eventually, they permit a blood relative of Topiltzin, a man named Huemac, to take the throne, but his reign ends in disaster when a monster attacks and drives most people from the city.

Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl

The Feathered Serpent god Quetzalcoatl

Histoyre du Mechique

This is a french copy of a famous lost manuscript once written by Fray Andrés de Olmos.

Topiltzin is born under the name Quetzalcoatl, to the god Camaxtli and the goddess Chimalma, but as the gods are prone to do, Chimalma dies giving birth and so Quetzalcoatl is raised by his grandparents. When he’s reunited with his father and brothers, the latter–in a fit of jealousy–plot to kill him, first by trying to set him on fire, then shooting arrows at him.

He escapes both murder attempts but refuses to burden his father with the knowledge that his own brothers are trying to kill him. However, when their father confronts the brothers about it, they kill him, and this time, Quetzalcoatl gathers his friends and together they kill his treacherous brothers. To celebrate their victory, they get intoxicated drinking liquor from cups made from his brothers’ skulls.

Once they recover from their revelry, they head for Tollan. Once there, Quetzalcoatl becomes a celibate priest and instructs them in the proper methods of ritual sacrifice, and, in turn, they worship him as a god for the next 160 years.

But then the god Tezcatlipoca arrives to liven things up. He can’t stand Quetzalcoatl (whom he’s adamant isn’t a god at all), so he steals Quetzalcoatl’s rain-making mirror and vandalizes the temple. He then torments the people by transforming into various monsters, showing off how much more powerful he is than Quetzalcoatl. But after he beats up the temple attendants, Quetzalcoatl flees Tollan.Tezcatlipoca follows him though, taunting and attacking him everywhere he tries to settle.

Eventually, Quetzalcoatl can’t take it anymore. He flees into the desert and commits suicide by shooting himself with an arrow. Beside themselves with grief, his followers cremate him, and the smoke gathers in the sky to create the planet Venus.


Atlantean warriors in Tollan.

Anales de Cuauhtitlan

This is a complication of various stories from different sources within the Basin of Mexico and Pueblo, with the details often conflicting with each other. Below are the aspects of these tellings that influenced the story in The Bone Flower throne.

The woman Chimalman becomes pregnant with Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl after swallowing a turquoise or jade stone. His uncle Ihuitimal rules Tollan while Topiltzin is young, but once he dies, Topiltzin takes the throne. He grew up a very religious young man and carries this over into his rule, building all kinds of temples and penance houses, and offering only sacrifices of butterflies, snakes, and birds. He keeps himself out of the public eye during his reign, remaining sequestered away to live the proper life of a celibate priest.

Angry about the lack of human sacrifices going on, Tezcatlipoca, Ihuimecatl and Toltecatl plot to drive him from Tollan. Tezcatlipoca sneaks past the guards into Topiltzin’s private sanctuary and shows him his own reflection in an obsidian mirror. Topiltzin is shocked to see how old and ugly he’s become with the years. Claiming to help him feel better about himself, the gods dress him in feathers, to make him beautiful again, and they prepare a magnificent feast. After much effort, they convince him to sample the octli (pulque) and he finds it so delicious that he puts away four cups and insists all his attendants try it as well. With everyone drunk and having a good time, Topiltzin calls for his “sister”, the priestess Quetzalpetatl, and takes her away from her ritual fasting so she too can try the octli. They spend the night neglecting their religious duties, drinking and making merry (and possibly doing other things he’d sworn off as a celibate priest….).

Once dawn comes though, Topiltzin is beside himself with guilt and, having failed at his religious duties, he decides he can’t be ruler of Tollan anymore. Taking his attendants with him, he leaves, but he fails to find anywhere that gives him the joy and love he felt in Tollan. Grieving all he’s lost, he dresses himself in his finest clothes and jewelry, then he sets himself on fire. His burnt heart rises into the heavens as the Morning Star.

Stay tuned in the weeks to come for more of the myths of Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl and the various gods.

Want to win a digital ARC of The Bone Flower Throne? Click here for details. Contest ends Tuesday September 3rd.

Starting new novel projects can be the hardest thing to do. I’m the kind of writer that needs downtime between projects to recharge the batteries, and to find the time and energy to read for pleasure (though I’m going to try to do some of that every night if I can from now on, because my to-be-read pile is really starting to grow out of control.). I usually spend that time doing things like playing video games, or, as already mentioned, reading, or watching Buffy or SVU on DVD. I also spend a lot of time staring at Facebook and Twitter, perhaps hoping something interesting will pop up, or I take lots of naps. Often during this time, I’m working out things in my head and psyching myself up for the work ahead, so in a way I’m still writing, just in my head. But eventually, one must stop the procrastination and start doing some actual work of putting down words to paper…or in most cases these days, to the computer screen. For me, that time is quickly approaching again.

Starting new novel projects

Very soon, I’ll start up work on The Bone Flower Queen, book 2 of the Bone Flower Trilogy. Probably seems pretty late, huh? Well, I have no contract holding me to a deadline under penalty of quartering and “you’ll never work in this town again!”; one of the advantages of working with a small, newer press. But again I’ve already written about half of the book, so the urgency isn’t quite so bad as it would be if I had nothing done. I originally wrote one huge book, and I took the first half and that became The Bone Flower Throne. So what about the second half? Why isn’t it just two books?

Well, there are several big chunks of story missing out of it–important chunks that I skipped over in my newbie eagerness to “get to the good stuff” I’d been building towards the whole time. Further plotting and outlining revealed that I had in fact committed trilogy, despite my efforts to keep it to two books; there’s just too much to fit into a duology.  So there it is. I have two middle sections that need to be written before I can call draft one of book 2 finished, so really, not too bad, but not really like starting a completely new project.

So how do I go about starting new novel projects?

Starting New Novel Projects

The White Page of Doom!

At one time, I was a pantser; I just started writing and let the story take me where it wanted; that’s still how I write short fiction, when I write it. It’s quite easy to keep the full plot arc focused and clear in my head at such short lengths. But when it came to novels, I found myself constantly writing myself into corners, or in some cases off of cliffs. It’s not much hassle to have to back up 500 to 1k words if you make a misstep in a short story, but making that same mistake in a novel could mean having to cut 50k and have to restart where you went wrong. I had to face the fact that when starting new novel projects, planning ahead was the most efficient way to go about it for me. Not that I don’t ever make a wrong turn when plotting out before hand; sometimes I take the easy choice rather then the best one and end up having to go back and rework, but at the early stage I don’t worry about that.

What should you worry about?

Everyone’s got their own way, and I’m not a prescriptivist, so I can only relay my own experience. Typically, I’ll have some specific scenes in mind, and of course characters–I’m not starting anything at all unless I have some characters at least somewhat fleshed out in my mind. But mostly I need an ending before I can start; a theme, characters, a setting, none of that is any good to me without an ending. I have novels that I’d like to write that have nifty ideas and the inklings of characters, but unless I know what I’m aiming for, I won’t even contemplate starting. I have to have something to work towards. Some people can write without a goal in mind; I’ve even heard some say that knowing what happens ahead of time makes them lose interest, but when I hear that, I suspect they’ve never gotten beyond the first draft stage of writing a novel, for how do they maintain interest in the work long enough to do the necessary rewriting and the numerous edits an editor will ask for if they “already know what’s going to happen”?

Once I have an ending in mind, I take the parts I’ve put together and write a rough outline. My friend Janice Hardy recommends writing your query letter at this stage, and having done this with the alternate history romance novel, I think it’s a good idea. It’s much easier to write without a ton of story and side-plots getting in the way of what’s important: the core of the story. The query I wrote during the outlining stage is pretty close to the one I decided to use once I started querying agents, with just some slight rewording. The query also serves to keep me focused on my theme and making sure that everything within the story serves it in some way.

I like a road map, but I don’t need–nor want–turn by turn directions to my ending. There are some things I like to discover along the way, things I like to be surprised about, but I feel most comfortable when I have some intermediate goals to aim for, little inns along the road where I can rest and reassess the road ahead if necessary. I leave the scene by scene for the actual writing stage.

Setting off on the journey.

For me, the hardest part of starting is…well, actually starting to write. Every time I sit down to write the first sentence of a new project, the anxiety mounts and the desire to procrastinate sets in; the doubts creep in, telling me that I suck and I can’t possibly do this, there’s so much work ahead, but the only thing that will quiet this is to actually just start writing. Once I’ve got that first sentence down, no matter how terrible it is, the rest comes easily. Like the old saying goes, it’s like riding a bicycle and next thing I know, I’m 3k deep into the new novel and the juices are flowing and I’m riding the wave of joy that writing gives me.

So how do you get started? Are you a pantser, or maybe you outline that sucker until all you got to do is fill in a few details and you’ve got a first draft? Or maybe you have some alien technology that strips the words directly from your brain while you sleep and transcribes it for you into Word (in which case, why haven’t you patented this tech yet? You could make lots of money selling it to writers like me.). Share what works–and doesn’t work–for you in comments.

Want to win a digital ARC of my forthcoming novel The Bone Flower Throne? Click here for details. Contest ends September 3rd.

deviantART mascot Fella

I spend a bit of time each day on deviantART, searching for artwork to add to my slide-show desktop, and let me tell you, there’s a ton of really good art out there. I’d like to share the best stuff I’ve found, along with new stuff as I find it. I like art a lot; I used to do some drawing and painting when I was younger, and once had starry-eyed dreams of being a Disney animator. I still dabble a bit (and you can see some examples of my recent art here), but I’m in awe of the sheer talent to be found on websites like deviantART. Mostly I look for Aztec or Mayan-inspired work, but sometimes I come across some really stellar fantasy and science fiction work. And who knows, maybe the cover artist for your next self-published title is over there waiting for you to find them. I’ll post three new artists every Friday, to start the weekend off. I want to respect owners’ copyrights and so will only post art that the artist has allowed deviantART to offer embedding code for. If there is no code available, I’ll still talk about the artist but will instead include links to their work on deviantART. Be sure to click on the pics to see their full galleries and prepare to be blown away.

So, onto the art!

Mauricio Herrera

Quetzalcoatl 2.0 by *el-grimlock on deviantART

Mauricio Herrera does a lot of really cool fantasy and science fiction art, and he’s quite prolific. I’ve been following his account on deviantART for a couple years now and he posts new work every few weeks or so. He also has some speed-painting videos available on YouTube, where you can see him work on a digital painting from start to finish; it’s quite remarkable to see, even with the increased video speed to fit it into a watchable video. Herrera has done a number of Aztec mythology paintings, including these ones of the Tzitzimime and Tezcatlipoca. I hope he does more in the future; would really love to see his take on Huitzilopochtli or an ahuitzotl. He’s a native of Chile and has done work on prominant video games like God of War.

Carolina Eades

Tepeyolotl by *Carolina-Eade on deviantART

Carolina Eades is another fantasy illustrator from Chile. I really enjoy the darkly whimsical quality of her work, and I imagine she could create really cool covers for weird western books, particularly my series starring Mextli, when I get around to writing those novels–or at least fixing the one I’ve already written. Maybe someday…. She does a lot of art for card games and RPGs, and her work is just fantastic. I think if Realms of Fantasy were still around, her artwork would have been right at home in there.

David Gaillet

With the moon as witness by ~DavidGaillet on deviantART

When I saw this one, I was just…wow! Seeing more of his work produces more of the same reaction. David Gaillet is a french illustrator from Toulouse, France, but beyond that, I don’t know much about him, other than that he’s wildly talented. Even the stuff that treads on familiar territory has its own provocativeness that makes you want to stare at the fine detail for a very long time. He has a facebook page where he occasionally posts work.

Have a good weekend, everyone, and next Friday I’ll showcase three more artists.

Win a free digital ARC!

Win a free digital ARC!

The website had undergone a top to bottom renovation and I’m really very thrilled with the fantastic work Jeremiah Tolbert of Clockpunk Studios did with it. A new book deserves a new site filled with all sorts of goodies, right? I hope you find the site more reader-friendly now, with separate book pages for all my novels/collections/anthologies, with easy to click buy links, and I’m in the process of building up some extras on each book page, to make them more interesting to visit. And I’m over the moon with how Jeremiah integrated Kurt and Zelda’s fabulous web art into the new design; I love the watermark affect of the sketch on the bottom of each page and the peppering of the colored banners throughout the pages. Have a click around to see the full extent of the customizations he did. I highly recommend Clockpunk Studios to anyone looking to have some website work done.

Let’s celebrate! Win a free digital ARC!

Such big changes call for a contest. I’m giving away Fifteen digital ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies) of The Bone Flower Throne. It’s available in both Mobi (Kindle) and epub (Nook) formats, and while I’d love the winners to review the book at Goodreads/Amazon/B&N/blog when they’re done, it’s not a requirement. To enter, simply leave a comment below (only on the WordPress blog; not LiveJournal); be sure to use an active email address* when filling out the comment form, for winners’ files will be sent to those addresses. I’d really love to give away the full fifteen, so please let your friends know about the contest (and if the turnout is more than anticipated, I might up the number of ARC prizes…). I’ll hold the drawing Tuesday September 3rd and email out files to the winners the following day.

*I promise not to use your email address for anything outside the purposes of this contest and will only be used/looked at in the event you win a prize. I will not be collecting email addresses to spam you with unwanted mail, nor will I sell your email address to third parties. I figure if you want me emailing you with publishing news, you will sign up for the mailing list.

So, last week my website broke and after consultation with my host, we figured out that my beautiful customized theme was the culprit. Very sad, since it was so lovely with its custom artwork, but the parent theme is no longer being supported by its maker and with a book launch coming up in October and trying to secure a new agent and get working on the sequel to The Bone Flower Throne (not to mention a vacation coming up), I just don’t have the time to relearn php and css to fix the theme myself (and who knows what dumb stuff I did when I modified the original theme anyway). I’m officially declaring the death of my lovely theme. Sniff!

But, I have hired the good folks at Clockpunk Studios to build me a new website with better functionality than the old one, and I’m excited to see what they make for me. In the meantime, the website shall languish with the ultra bland Twenty Twelve theme, but at least all the pages are working again.