This week’s #AuthorNook question examined the darker side of our writing by examining the creatures and monsters we craft. The answers were varied from fantastical terrors to very real, equally terrifying human monsters.
Here are a few expanded responses from authors M.C. Burnell, Mark Ferguson, Izabela Rattila, and Alina Leonova.
I hope you enjoy! Join the conversation in the comments if you wish. Feel free to ask the authors any questions you may have, or discuss the darker side of magic in your story.
When I set out to build the world of The Spider’s Friend, I wanted a unique, startling ambience. I love fantasy classics, but this wasn’t going to be that story. And I needed for that to be true, not only of the cosmology and magic, but the creatures.
One decision I made early on was that this world’s ‘creatures’ would actually be peoples. Humans refer to them as ‘elementals,’ but this misnomer owes to the fact that most of these (mundane, fleshy, relatable) beings make their homes in environments inimical to humanity. The Gamu inhabit the air; the Safai live underwater. That they possess civilization isn’t in question, but where they raise their young and what legends they tell about the gods remain a mystery because humans cross paths with them infrequently. Only magicians transcend this separateness, forming an interspecies fellowship. Even then, though, it’s difficult to communicate because there aren’t shared languages.
My inspirations were eclectic; Dhashere, where the story is set, is a Mesopotamian mashup, names influenced by Assyria, architecture, Babylon, armor that savors of Akkad. I don’t like my stories to feel like alternate Earth history, though, and it’s part of the reason I go broad when hunting for ideas. The Guur are my indignant rebuttal of World of Warcraft’s Tauren. The Puridi are chubby naked mole-rats (I watch a lot of nature documentaries). Natives to a subterranean environment, Puridi don’t have eyes but rather photosensitive patches on their cheeks; they communicate with a language of rhythmic tapping.
Most mysterious of all is the Serpent Queen. She was inspired by Mesoamerican myths of plumed or feathered serpents, a form taken by both gods and heroes. In Dhashere, legend credits the Serpent Queen with inventing magic; what she actually did is even more incredible. Her enigma overshadows the action, but telling you how would spoil the fun.
The exception to every rule is the Supanai, a sentient race that look like plants, possessed of a completely different physiology. Naproides, a narrative character, has quit his people’s homeland for Dhashere. He gets most of his energy from the sun, drinks with his feet, and uses his mouth and lungs only for speech. His people alone don’t produce magicians. They have powers of their own, which they’ve kept secret. He’s come from afar with a warning for the humans, but figuring out whom to give his information to is daunting.
As he puts it, “How safe can a plant ever be in a world filled with animals?”
M.C. Burnell dwells in Chicago with a husband and two beings of ancient evil masquerading as elderly felines. Weapon proficiencies, a J.D.; magical abilities include humor and a keen interest in virtually everything.
The English word ‘monster’ comes from the Latin ‘monstrum’, a noun made from the verb ‘moneo’ which means ‘to warn’. The words ‘monitor’, ‘admonish’ and ‘premonition’ also come from ‘moneo’, and if one asks just who is monitoring and admonishing and foretelling doom, just look up (or down). The gods must be angry.
So it is in the Mundane.
A man kills his relative in a monetary feud and disposes of the body by feeding it to his farm animals. A king demands prima nocta and executes women found to not be virgins, dumping them in a moat. A city of decadent seers foresees a cataclysm but gives others no warning to suit their own ends. And so all shall pay.
The horses and pigs will turn inside out and devour the countryfolk to punish the inverted order as mortashynes. From the lecherous king’s moat will rise a hideous wyrm of rotting, reeking flesh and ribs made into centipede legs. And for the preventable famine that claims thousands, the Kesrysian Doom will thunder across the land, absorbing every man and weapon it touches, fated to kill the last citizen of the accursed city.
It gets worse.
For, always, man in his folly thinks that the warning itself is the greatest danger! He fights Godzilla, but not the Bomb. Ripley fights the Alien, but the true villain of her saga is Weyland-Yutani. The shark in Jaws is the monster, but the mayor who won’t close the beaches is the villain. And the ‘inhuman’ Grendel is a descendant of Cain, the first human ever born.
And so the final disaster came to the Mundane, after the warnings resisted a thousand times, when the people clamored for a messiah, a hero with a glowing weapon, to alone fight the monsters that they had made together. Seven candidates were selected as a pleasing number, and an artificer was sought to produce the great weapon for the hero. This inventor was Werther, who created the Laerdromme, the weapon to kill all monsters in the right hands - but to complete it he injected into this hubristic creation his own soul. And thus he became the Leer, the Mundane’s greatest monster, and his very heartbeat expels the lesser horrors and makes all dreams black.
The Seven have failed, the great weapon is lost, and people now long for the magic and monsters of old to return, begging into the Void as the Leer’s hideous pulse hammers their souls.
And if the unspeaking gods did answer, they might only say ‘do you miss us?’
Mark Ferguson is the author of Terra Incognita, a dystopian science fiction vision, casualty of a sunken publisher but destined to return with a sequel, Terra Nullius. He is also the author of the Canadian Vampire Universe trilogy, a free dark humor modern fantasy misadventure on Wattpad, where you can also find his short stories whenever he whips himself into writing one. He works in a clean room in a bunny suit.
Izabela Raittila (Iza)
The name Morkrai is derived from “mørk”, the Norwegian word for ‘dark’. They look like a ghastly cross between a grim reaper and a Nazgûl. Their purpose is to escort dead souls to the Halls of Makar for their final judgment, to guard its iron gates as well as any other services that Lord Makar and Lady Morae may require. They drag the spirits to the Halls of Makar through a series of tunnels and a horn is sounded at the gates to announce a soul’s arrival. Lord Makar used his magic to make them out of shadow shortly after creating his realm. Unlike the Enai, the immortal servants of his siblings, Makar’s creations have no will of their own and they will always do his bidding without question. Like him they are beings of darkness and thus they’re also susceptible to very bright lights, which may temporarily disorientate them, causing them to hide in a dark place.
I'm Izabela Raittila (Iza). I’ve been making up stories ever since I can remember but very few of them were ever written down. I’m a blogger and a fantasy enthusiast living in Finland. My current WIP is ‘The Stories They Told Their Children’, a collection of fantasy short stories based on the culture, traditions and beliefs of a fictional continent known as the Gragiyan Empire. Inspired by the works of J.R.R.Tolkien and various stories from mythology.
Creating outlandish landscapes, plants and animals is one of the great appeals of writing sci-fi for me, an exciting challenge that I really enjoy. Neither my published novel nor my WIP take place on Earth, so I get to have a lot of fun and set my imagination free while writing them. Naturally, there are a lot of strange creatures populating the world of my WIP.
The kassilar is my favorite one, both because it plays a crucial role in the story and because I like how it turned out and enjoy writing about it.
It’s a huge animal that makes music with its entire body. It has tubes on its wings, orifices on its head, hairs and pipes on its legs and strings in its tail the sole purpose of which is to create sounds. It’s purple, fluffy and has three eyes. Its tongue is yellow, and it loses a lot of its fur in the dry season when it gets hot, revealing purple skin with yellow spots. It uses the things in its surroundings, like the sand, grass, wind or water to make unusual sounds. It’s a beautiful and mesmerizing dance with its whole body moving when it makes music.
Kassilars choose their mates based on how well they can sound together. The animal flies into the desert where the sound carries and starts making music waiting for others to join in or just listens for the music made by others. When it hears something it likes, it flies closer to try to create a melody together, and if it works well, the two animals bond for life.
This peculiarity gives humans a chance to bond with kassilars as well. To do that, they have to go into the desert and start playing their instrument and / or singing. Kassilars are attracted to beautiful melodies and unexpected sounds, so one might appear and try to join in. It’s risky for humans because the animal can kill them if the music they make together doesn’t sound good. It’s a herbivore and generally a kind animal that likes playing with other creatures, but if it loses its temper, it becomes extremely dangerous.
There are legends about kassilars and the heroes of the past who managed to bond with them in Balika’s (one of my main characters) tribe. It is said that the bond changes a person in deep and unexpected ways. At a certain point, Balika leaves her tribe behind to find a kassilar. She loves singing and playing music (I haven’t figured out what her instrument is yet) for streams that give her water and trees that give her shade, for the birds and animals and the soft moss, so she decides to try her luck. She has nothing to lose at that point in her life—it’s a move of pain and desperation.
The depth of the bond she experiences is unknown to people. It is a spiritual experience that allows her to lose herself and feel one with the world and universe. She often has trouble distinguishing between herself and the kassilar when they sing together, and making music becomes a core experience in her life. The kassilar becomes her closest friend and companion. She travels the world flying on its back, and they go on many dangerous and exciting adventures in strange lands, discovering more unusual plants, animals, and tribes she’s never heard about.
My dystopian sci-fi thriller 'Entaglement' is available at Gumroad, Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, Barnes&Noble and other retailers. If you want to discover new sci-fi authors, check out my website or subscribe to my newsletter. Follow me on Goodreads or Twitter to talk about books.
I do hope you've enjoyed this week's Author Nook! Please remember to join the #AuthorNook discussion on Twitter every Tuesday and the blog post here every Sunday to read more from featured #WritingCommunity authors and artists. - Laken 🌹