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Thursday, April 28, 2016

"The Art of Death": Monsters

The Art of Death is available now and its big attraction, I think, is the preponderance of monsters.  Lots of monsters.  Maybe too many.

This is going to get spoilery, but I'm going to list all of the monsters and give (in brief) some of their powers and attributes.

Personally, I'd rather you just read the book yourself and discover them all in turn.  But we're an impatient society, I guess.

Find the monsters after the JUMP.

In no particular order ...

Chinchorro mummies

Created some nine-to-five thousand years ago, these mummies are found in Chile and Peru.  Read all about them here.

There were multiple mummification techniques, all of which involved a thorough disassembly of the body and then reassembly, often with the body cavity stuffed with hay or something else, plus the covering of the skin (after having been reattached) with clay and pigments.

Thanks to microbes in our air, the remaining organic components of the mummies are decomposing in a smelly, messy black gel.

Read more here.


Indian mythology has a LOT of spirits, many of which seem to be pretty similar.  Churels are ghosts of pregnant women (usually) that seek to cause harm.  Vetaal are another harmful sort of spirit.  Bhoots are particularly harmful.  Bhutas, though, can sometimes be more well-intentioned.

Regardless, a common feature of most of these kinds of ghosts are that the hands and feet are turned backwards and that they speak with an almost painfully nasally voice.

Some are purely noncorporeal; some are able to inhabit people's bodies or their own corpses.  Really, it depends on what you read as I found a multitude of sources on the subject.

Read more here.


A vampiric being of African folklore, specifically the Ewe tribe.  Typically taking the form of a firefly, the adze prefers to feed on the blood of children, sometimes even possessing them.  The firefly can shapeshift into the form of an old woman.  According to some traditions, but not all, this is when the adze is vulnerable.

Read more here.


Not a monster.  At all.  This is a real thing.

At various points in Japanese history, humans were sacrificed and placed within supporting pillars of major construction projects.

The practice was said to have been abandoned in the sixteenth century.

(The surrounding story of the hitobashira in The Art of Death regarding Hideyoshi, the evil daimyo, etc., is all real.  There was no sorcerer sacrificed, but everything else is legit.)

Read more here.


Sometimes called "pishtaco" (I avoided that because of the potentially humorous homonym), the kharisiri is an Andean legend connected to Spanish conquistadors and missionaries of the 15th-17th centuries.  Basically, the natives feared that these invaders were kidnapping their brethren in order to strip them of their body fat for use in the oiling of church bells, lantern fuel, etc.

Typically, the kharisiri appears as a Catholic priest but reveals itself later as the monster it really is.

Read more here.


Not a specific monster, per se, the Arachne curse placed upon a death mask (inspired by the Mask of Agamemnon) was based on a real prayer to Hecate and inspired by the Greek myth of Arachne.

In some versions of the story, Arachne was a weaver who entered a contest with Athena.  Arachne's weaving was more beautiful than Athena's, and it also depicted the many ways that the gods had tricked humanity.  For her insolence, Arachne and her descendants were turned into spiders.

Oh, and there really are Mediterranean Black Widows, but they're not as big as they are in the book.


One of the big baddies in the book, my upyr is based on a few different versions of Eastern European and Russian vampires.

Blue skin, iron fangs, hypnotic powers, immunity to sunlight, devourer of hearts every bit as much as blood ... no one tale includes all of these elements in the same way, so I made a conglomerate.

In my head, she looked like a combination of Star Wars' Asaaj Ventress and Salem's Lot's Kurt Barlow.

You might be surprised how frequently the Dracula-type characteristics of vampires change depending on where the legend originates.

Read more here.


One of a couple "female revenge" creatures at work in the RMFA, the pontianak is a Malaysian and Indonesian myth.  Typically, the spirit appears to be pregnant and its approach is marked by the sound of a crying baby.  Also, a strong floral scent is present.  The pontianak has various modus operandi, including ripping men's genitals off, eviscerating men, sucking eyeballs out, etc.

In The Art of Death, I wanted to distinguish this one from the next monster on the list, so I added a bit of a hypnotic element to her.  The means of dispatching her is true to the myth, by the way.

Read more here.


The other "female revenge" creature, this one hails from South America.  As the name suggests, she has one foot (one leg, more accurately).  She is a protector of the forests and has been known to seek revenge on philandering loggers by disguising herself as a lovely woman to draw them closer.

Read more here.


A Viking and Scandinavian creature, the draugr is an animated corpse that seeks to protect their burial mound and/or the treasures that were buried with it.

Described as decaying flesh, sometimes colored like a giant bruise, draugrs smell like rotting flesh, too.  They have the power to envelop the world around them in blackness, to pass through solid rock, and to alter the size and weight of their bodies.  They were believed to put people around them in a daze or simply drive them insane.

They were also known to be very angry creatures.  Angry at their existence because they are so detached from the world of the living.

Read more here.


Roman spirits of the malicious dead, lemures were shades; black clouds that drove people insane if the spirit believed the victims were not respectful of their death and funerary customs.

Read more here.


Abhartach was a dwarf warlord of Ireland in the fifth century.  According to legend, he was slain and buried, but he escaped his grave and feasted on the blood of his enemies.  He was slain again and buried, but he escaped and drank more.  Finally, he was killed, buried upside down, and had a heavy stone placed on top of the casket.  As the legend was told and re-told, Christian elements were added, including that the apparent sorcerer had to be staked with a sword made of yew wood and that the grave (or his body) was wrapped in thorny vines.

For The Art of Death, I embraced the sorcerer aspect and, since he was an intelligent chieftain, kept him well-spoken for the story.  As for his appearance, it's difficult to think of an Irish dwarf and not think of something akin to a leprechaun.

And, did you know that the tale of Abhartach may have been more influential on Bram Stoker's Dracula than the story of Vlad the Impaler?

Read more here.


An Arabic myth, the ghul (origin of our word "ghoul," naturally) is a kind of jinn (spirit) that feasts on the flesh of the living.  They are able to shapeshift into hyenas and also into the form of their last victim.

For them, I pictured something very much like Gollum from The Lord of the Rings, but pointier.  Sharper.  Bones protruding from its elbows, shoulders, spines, ... beadier eyes, sharper teeth ...


A very common myth in China, the jiangshi is all about the balance of flesh-souls and breath-souls, at least in the ancient world.

The so-called "hopping corpse," the animated body wasn't able to bend its limbs properly and therefore hops around, sucking the life force out of people.  The means of creating and dispatching jiangshi are myriad, so I felt I had plenty of latitude to do what I wanted with it.  Also, some legends say the jiangshi's victims can become zombies, too ... but over a period of time.  Since my story takes place in one night, I had to speed that up.

Appearance wise, I straight-up imagined Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China, but, you know, deader.

Read more here.

The Beast of Gévaudan

This was a fun one.

In the 1760s, there was a rash of vicious animal attacks in France.  These were attributed to the Beast of Gévaudan.  In reality, they were caused by large wolves and, in fact, a few wolves were killed.  Unfortunately, the attacks didn't stop.  In 1767, the Marquis d'Apcher, Jean-Joseph Châteauneuf-Randon, sponsored a massive hunt which led to the killing of a massive wolf.  The attacks stopped and all seemed well.

All of the preceding paragraph is true.  When you read The Art of Death, you'll see the narrative that I constructed around the Beast and how it relates to the facts of the tale.  Like I said, fun.

I liked the idea of having a giant wolf running around, but I also wanted the Beast to be a more traditional werewolf, so it sometimes shifts into a bipedal mode, if you will.

Read more here.

The Mummy

A nice, traditional Egyptian mummy.

All of the prayers and such used in The Art of Death are paraphrased from actual Egyptian prayers and poems.  All of that business about the organs being in jars is true.  The myth about the weighing of the heart is true.  I made up the stuff about the bandages, scarabs, and scorpions.  That just seemed cool.

Read more here.


From the myths of Aboriginal Australians comes this story of a bizarre, red "frog-man."  It has a big head and likes to swallow people whole.  Then it spits them back up again.  The victim's skin is discolored to red, too.  Also, It has suckers on its limbs to drink blood as it grabs you.

Typically, it goes after standing or walking people; it won't attack if you're asleep.  If you've been swallowed and regurgitated more than once, there's a chance you could turn into a yara-ma-yha-who.

Read more here.

Yee naaldlooshii

The so-called Navajo "skinwalker," this is one of the more well-known Native American creatures.

There are differing versions on how one becomes a skinwalker, but an interesting one that I used involves a female Navajo accused of being a witch.  Once she killed a member of her family, she became the yee naaldlooshii.  They're able to assume just about any form, with a particular affinity for mammals like bears and wolves.  They're able to appear as people, too, but their eyes remain animal-like and not human.  They have the power to hypnotize and they also can use something called "corpse dust," which is a very nasty thing, indeed.

Read more here.


From the Mayan mythology, Camazotz was a bat god that often used bats to do its bidding and thwart the heroic deeds of protagonists.  In ancient days, though, Camazotz is said to have led an army of demon-bats against the gods and to have wiped all humans off the face of the Earth, causing the gods to start all over.

Read more here.

Yehwe Zogbanu

Not much is known about this African legend.  The myth comes from modern Benin or Dahomy in west Africa.  Basically, YZ is a giant humanoid, covered with thirty horns that hunts humans who invade the forests or its territory.  That's it.  That's as much as I was ever able to find.  You can see that I had plenty of wiggle room in The Art of Death to do whatever I wanted with him.

That's it for the monsters.  Now read the book so you'll have some context!

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