Monday, July 25, 2016


In At Yomi’s Gate, both Takashi and Sakura carry small carvings called netsuke to remind them of their loved ones. Takashi carries the image of Kannon- the Buddhisatva of compassion and mercy- that Yoko’s father was carving just before he was murdered by her uncle, while Sakura possesses an image of Ikuko fighting the Fire God that has been tormenting them both.

Today I thought I’d give a little more explanation as to just what netsuke are. Traditional Japanese kimono did not have pockets, so money, medicine, ink stones and other personal items were carried in small wooden or metal containers, collectively called sagemono (hanging object) or sometimes inro, that were hung from a cord tucked under the obi sash.

To keep these cords from simply sliding out of the obi, a toggle called a netsuke (pronounced net-skay since the “u” sound is often dropped in spoken Japanese) was attached to the other end. Early netsuke were simple objects like seashells or lengths of wood, but over time carvers turned these items into beautiful works of art.

According to netsuke collector Joseph Kurstin, sumptuary laws in medieval Japan prevented people from displaying overt expressions of wealth on their bodies. However, since netsuke were technically considered utilitarian, they allowed individuals a loophole to show off their wealth,.

Netsuke carvers, called netsuke-shi, would often infuse their works with humor and liveliness. many netsuke referenced well-known legends and folk tales, often depicting an iconic scene from the story.\

To see a good sample of the variety and intricacy of netsuke, check out this short gallery from the Fitzwilliam Museum at the University of Cambridge in England.


Netsuke: Story Carvings of Old Japan by Joseph Kurstin

The Anime Companion Gilles Poitras

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

At Yomi's Gate

For those who are just hearing of me for the first time, here's the first book I've written.

Storyteller and scroll-painter Fumito has been forced by his paranoid and homicidal uncle, daimyo Kotoheisei, to track down a young woman named Sakura who bears the destructive god of fire imprisoned in a tattoo on her back. At stake is Fumito's family, who will be tortured and executed if he cannot capture her.

Yet when he finally finds Sakura and her rescuer- the imposing but shy priestess Ikuko- he helps them escape rather than turn them over to his uncle, who will use the fire god's power for terror and slaughter. The fate of Fumito's family is sealed, but that is a price he desperately hopes he can live with.

When an ancient artifact merges Sakura with the god, granting her control over fire and magma, she resolves to save Fumito's family and slay his uncle. But Sakura does not realize the extent of her power, and her rescue mission will end up harming more people than it saves. And in time her actions will bring her and her companions into a confrontation with the creatures of the underworld whose dark magic is responsible for her transformation.

Features a cover by professional artist Matthew Meyer.

Get a print copy here

Also available for Kindle here.

And for Nook here.

Introduction. Also, what the heck is a Dilophosaurus Bard anyway?

Never been very good at these first post thingies. I always feel like I'm supposed to open with some big fanfare. Instead I tend to come out like I'm giving a fifth grade report on a diorama I made of a scene from a Goosebumps book.

 "So, uh.. yeah... here's this thing I made. It's, uh.. it looked cooler than this in my head but.. er, see, I put little eyestalks on this dude... and this tissue paper is supposed to be a ghost, but..."

Anyway, like the description says, this is going to be a place for me to share my thoughts on writing. Being a former museum docent, I have a tendency to unconsciously launch into mini-lectures on whatever is currently rolling around in my head. So, you're going to see a lot of posts about some of the background details in my books.
Those little explanatory signs at museums? Absolute magic. My big dream is pretty much to write those things professionally.  This one here is from the Joe Webb Peoples Museum and Collection at Wesleyan College in Middletown, CT.
 I'll also be sharing my thoughts on the process of writing. How I work. How I critique and edit. What I think about all this hate for lengthy descriptions and info dumps. And so on.

I'll also be doing the occasional book review. Partially because I enjoy the process of analyzing a book, partially to give you a taste of what I'm reading, and partially to encourage me to actually find time to read. It isn't always easy to squeeze in a little reading time, you know?

So, what the heck is a Dilophosaurus Bard?

The name actually came from an old Dungeons & Dragons character I used to play, a lizardfolk bard named Hrithisk (for those who aren't big D&D nerds, a bard is a traveling storyteller and entertainer, with some thieving abilities welded on for gameplay. I'll let you guess what a lizardfolk is). He was obsessed with entertainment in all forms- music, dancing, singing puppetry, etc- and had a habit of taking the adventure on little detours to ask the band of goblins our characters were supposed to fight if they could maybe sing him one of their traditional drinking songs first. He eventually grew to have a pretty eclectic repertoire for his performances, incorporating bits from kobold plays, ettin shadow-puppet shows, werewolf hunting songs, etc, etc. Here he is playing a Chinese erhu.   

After that campaign ended, I kept Hrithisk as a non-player character in my own home-brewed campaign which was itself a big hodge-podge of bits of history, geology, culture and other things that I picked up in various places. Mostly from old National Geographics, the Amusing Planet website, or the couple hundred books scattered around my house. That habit of taking bits and pieces from all over and wielding them together into a cohesive world is also how I approach my writing. So I figured Hrithisk, with his habit of picking up details for his stories from all over, would be the perfect mascot for my writer's blog.
Original Hrithisk. Nice hat there, guy.

Why a dilophosaurus? Mainly because I'm a huge nerd for that particular dinosaur. In the original game he was just a regular ol' lizard-person, but I figured why not make him a more intelligent, humanoid version of my favorite terrible lizard.

The majestic Dilophosaurus wetherilli. This model comes from Dinosaur State Park in Rocky Hill, CT. His name is Dilly. I know because I work there.

So check back every now and then to see whatever thing has been floating around in my head that particular day.