Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Author's Notes: The Nine Worlds

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

Author's Notes: Magical Prohibitions

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

Author's Notes: LEMs and Lunar Ruins

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

On July 20, 1976, Viking 1 set down on the surface of Mars… and a lot of us were disappointed. We weren’t sad that the USofA had landed a probe on Mars, we were sad that there weren’t any aliens. For several years before this momentous occasion, we had been led to believe, by Richard Hoaglund and his “Enterprise Mission”, that not only was there a face on Mars, but several pyramids. When Viking 1 started sending back photos of nothing but a barren, desolate landscape, it was pretty disappointing.

Fast forward a few decades, and while reading about the ruins anew, trying to find a way to fit them into a Stone Soldiers story, I learned something shocking: it wasn’t just Mars that Mr. Hoaglund believed had ancient, possibly alien ruins on it—the Moon did too!

This was pretty shocking. I remembered watching some of the Moon landings—or at least programs about them, I was only 2 when Apollo 11 touched down. No one had ever said anything about towers and structures on the far side of the Moon back then. At least, not on TV.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and you can find all kinds of crazy ideas via Google, or Yahoo—stuff Jeeves never told us about.

Combined with the information I’d learned about the Moon god al-ilah, this was clearly a story in the making—a story about a Fallen Angel with Nephilim servants, striking at Earth from the safety of the ultimate high ground.

If you haven’t ever heard about the Moon ruins, fear not, Mr. Hoaglund’s Enterprise Mission has info, and blurry pics about them!

But back to our story. Sure, there could be ruins on the Moon no one’s ever seen—the far side of the Moon (erroneously called the “Dark Side”) is always facing away from Earth, the rotation of the Moon matched by the time it takes it to complete an orbit around us. The real question was to figure out how I would get my team of Stone Soldiers to the Moon.

As it turns out, the Apollo program was actually terminated before the last three missions could be launched. Apollo 18, 19, and 20 were scrubbed. Some conspiracy theorists claim it’s because the Apollo crews were warned not to come back, but I didn’t really care why. I was excited to learn that three Lunar Expedition Modules (landers) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canceled_Apollo_missions were still in existence! That’s right, there are still three vessels in the world capable of carrying men to the Moon (if all the guts and electronics were put back in them).

Author's Note: The Kabaa and the Magic Space Rock

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

For those Muslims who aren’t throwing homosexuals off rooftops, crashing planes into buildings, or tearing down ancient, pre-Islamic historical sites, there is a pretty important part of their daily regimen, demanded of their faith: praying to Mecca.

For years, I wondered what this was all about. What even is Mecca? I wondered. I turned to the Internet, and first found fairly mundane explanations for this Islamic holy site. But, Google never fails to include the more bizarre bits of information you’ve never heard of, and I learned so much more…

Pre-Islam, there was a Temple in Mecca, to the fortune-telling god of divination, Hubal. When Muhammed and his followers took over the city, they removed all signs of the false god and decided to turn the temple into a sign of their faith: the Kabaa. Every year, Muslims from around the world make a long pilgrimage to this site, just as the Bedouins before them had, hoping to touch the Kabaa. On the face of it, this doesn’t seem so unusual. Lots of cultures have replaced the meaning of former religious sites, incorporating them into the conqueror’s religious practices. But what makes the Kabaa so special isn’t the fact very few are allowed to be inside it, it’s the what’s on the Eastern corner of the special building: the Black Stone.

Believed to be meteorite, the Black Stone has its part in Islam—for one, it’s alleged to have had the power of speech, and actually spoke to Muhammed. Yes, it’s a magic stone. From space.

In 683, the stone’s powers of speech didn’t protect it from physical harm—it was broken apart by another stone, fired from a catapault by invaders attempting to seize the city. In the aftermath, the stone’s fragments were fused back together and set in silver.

Again, a relic inspiring the Holy isn’t that unusual. But there is more.

In 1901, archaeologist Hugo Winckler proposed that it wasn’t “Allah” the Muslims were praying to, but rather “al-ilah” a pre-Islamic Moon god. Today, there are many claims on he internet that the higher ups in Islam won’t deny that al-ilah and “Allah” are one and the same, or that they are the Moon God, looking own from on high. And recall that the flag of Islam always seems to bear a crescent moon and a star—perhaps the falling star of the Black Stone?

This is all a pretty fantastic bunch of conspiracy theories, but when I read them, I knew this was L Ron Hubbard-worthy fiction that I was going to embrace and combine with some other far-out Moon mythology on Stone Soldiers #11, One Dark Step.

Is any of this true? Or is it right up there with the faces of Mars? Maybe you should do some Googling, then read One Dark Step and decide for yourself…

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Author's Notes: Jumping into Danger

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

Jumping into Danger

It was only a few months ago that I watched the movie Aquaman for the first time. In one scene, Arthur Curry and Princess Mera leap from an airplane flying over the desert—without any parachute. As I watched this, I thought for sure they would pass through some magical barrier over a sea, making it resemble a desert. But, no, they just slammed into the ground boom, boom—and were unharmed.

I’m sure a lot of people watching this movie might have wondered about that, assuming, as so many people do, that the height of a fall is what makes it dangerous. That is not entirely true, as I learned several years ago when I wrote a very similar scene in Stone Soldiers #4, Shades of War. In this scene, Detachment 1039’s most-human character, Josie Winters, finds herself thrown into free fall without a parachute. Her grandfather, Colonel Kenslir, then dives out after her, intent to rescue the girl—but also without a parachute.

This scene was written after a lot of research about skydiving—not just the sport, but the military’s use of it as a way to deploy troops onto a battlefield.

Firstly, it might surprise you to learn that the concept of parachuting soldiers onto a battlefield was first envisioned by Benjamin Franklin in 1784. It wasn’t until 1927, in Italy, that this idea was finally, successfully executed. In the decades that followed, armed forces around the world embraced the idea of Airborne troops, and innovations and practices ave continued to be developed, such as HALO (High-Altitude, Low-Opening).

Amidst all the ever-advancing technology though, there remains a very valid question: do you really need a parachute? Generally, the answer is “yes”, but there have been several incidents of skydivers surviving a jump without a working parachute (although there are far less of these survivors than people who have died when their parachute failed to open).

As it turns out, anything falling in the earth’s atmosphere reaches what is called terminal velocity. This means that once the object (a person, pallet, or vehicle) reaches a certain speed, it will not fall any faster—no matter how high it is dropped from. This is in part due to wind resistance and the non-changing gravitational pull of the Earth. For humans, terminal velocity is, in freefall position (spread-eagled, with arms and legs extended), 120 miles per hour.

That may sound pretty fast, and in far too many cases it is. But, as I stated above, sometimes, even at this speed, people have survived. In many of the cases, survivors had their parachutes partially open, thereby slowing their descent to less deadly speeds like 50 mph. It’s also important to realize that different surfaces such a falling person strikes might play an important part in surviving. At high speeds, even water will feel like a solid. In the case of Luke Aikins, who, in 2016, plummeted 20,000 feet to a special safety net, and survived, uninjured.  

In Aquaman, Arthur Curry and friend plummet onto sand. It doesn’t seem to have the shock-absorbing properties of a suspended net, but maybe the half-Atlantean didn’t need them, given that earlier in the film, we see he’s bulletproof.

Think about cats. A study done on the subject of falling cats determined a freefalling feline could survive a fall even after reaching a velocity of 60 mph. Cats aren’t bulletproof. They aren’t even BB gun-proof. But they can withstand falls significantly better than people can. This is clearly due to their body mass v. density ratio—made of the same flesh and bones as people, but weighing significantly less.

In Shades of War I reached the same conclusion, and determined that Mark Kenslir, being a superhuman (albeit not bulletproof), could withstand a fall that would kill a human. The writers of Aquaman clearly reached a similarly conclusion, deciding that Arthur Curry would have a similar terminal velocity to a human, given he is the same weight and volume as a normal man, but being made of tougher stuff.

Of course, this is all just conjecture, until a superhuman comes along in real life that is willing to jump out of an airplane without a parachute.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Author's Notes: Ica Stones and Extant Dinosaurs

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

Ica Stones and Extant Dinosaurs

Mkele Mbembe, the Ropen, the Kasai Rex, Nessie… these are all cryptids believed to exist, and believed to be dinosaurs that have survived into the modern era. Like Nessie, we know of many dino-cryptids because of eyewitness reports.

In Stone Soldiers #5, BlackKnight Down, the Shadow Detachment finds themselves fighting ancient, antediluvian beings who are able to create simulcrums of the ancient beasts that walked the Earth when they did. Deciding exactly what beasts they would choose was a challenge. The antediluvian Titans had been in suspended animation for millennia, missing the 29th Century, which is when most dinosaur species’ fossils were discovered. They wouldn’t know about T-Rex Triceratops, or the Apatosaurus… or would they?

In addition to eyewitness sightings of extant dinos, there are a number of ancient carvings around the world that depict animals thought to have died out long ago. These carvings are alleged to be centuries old, putting them long after the dino extinction, but also quite a while before paleontology became a thing. How then did the people who made these carvings know what to carve?

The most intriguing of the dino carvings are the Ica Stones—thousands of smooth, round stones etched with dinosaurs and people, and found in the Ica region of Peru. The stones were first discovered (in modern times) in the 1960s by a farmer named Basilio Uschuya. Collected by Javier Cabrera Darquea the stones were revealed to the world and now reside in museum.

In the 1970s, Uschuya admitted in an interview he had made many of the stones himself—but his claim is questionable for the simple fact he couldn’t have made the thousands of stones collected by Mr. Cabrera. And for the fact he soon after began selling stones to tourists that he did indeed make.

If the Ica stones are really remnants from ages past, they support a Creationist view of the Earth, where, pre-Flood, man and dinosaur lived side-by-side.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Author's Notes: Haint Blue and other Colorful Superstitions

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 


If you’ve ever been to the American South—particularly, the Carolinas—you might have noticed a lot of white houses with a kind of sky-blue door or porch. I never paid this much mind, assuming the light blue just went well with the other bright colors. But recently, while researching alternative names for ghosts & spirits, I stumbled across Haint Blue.

Haint blue is a color—that light, sky-blue (as I call it) color I just mentioned. It is an official color, which is even carried by Sherwin Williams on their website.

Sherwin Williams even explains the origins of the color: how Southern superstition holds that ghsts, or haints as they are sometimes called in the region, are repelled by the color, mistaking it for water, which ghosts are believed to not be able to cross.

I was rather shocked to learn this. I’d never heard about a color repelling spirits. I’d heard how many believe sage does the same thing. And then there’s the Old Testament story of Passover, where the Jews in Egypt marked their doorways with lamb’s blood, protecting them from God’s wrath when a Heavenly Host descended and unleashed some vengeance on the land. But a bucket of latex keeping ghosts at bay? Can ghosts even see colors? Do they even “see” in the conventional sense—they don’t have eyeballs. How do we know they don’t use some kind of sixth sense to navigate the world?

I set out to find any other colorful superstitions. There are lots of meanings and symbolism behind colors, but repelling anything? A few websites mention an old belief that the color red could repel witches: drawing a red line around a barn to keep a witch out (the Pennsylvania Dutch), tying a charm in a red cloth hung from the neck protects from bewitchment (Bohemia), braided red ropes of cords hung in barns compel a witch to stop and count the threads before harming any animals… there are a variety of uses of the color red.

Okay, so if blue is the only color that repels spirits, why? Is the color itself special? Maybe it is, if one believes that until modern times, humans couldn’t even see the color.

According to 1800s scholar William Gladstone, Homer never used the word “blue” to describe the ocean in the Odyssey, instead referring to it as "wine-dark" or other hues. Lazarus Geiger also propounded this belief, noting that the word for the color blue never appears in Icelandic, Hindu, Chinese, Arabic, and Hebrew texts. Etymologists claim that the first use of a word for blue came from the Egyptians, who also, coincidentally, were the only culture able to produce blue dyes.

It might seem a stretch to believe that blue hasn’t always been around. But, in 2006, Jules Davidoff, a psychologist from Goldsmiths University of London, published a study detailing work he did with the Himba tribe of Namibia. Davidoff learned that the Himba had no word for blue, and didn’t even distinguish between green and blue.

Maybe blue actually is special. It’s often the color used to signify royalty—probably because blue dye was so expensive. But what about the connection with ghosts?

As it turns out, there is another instance of blue having a correlation with spirits: Ghost Eyes. I’m not referring to a ghost’s eyes here, but rather, the pale blue eyes of certain breeds of dogs.

I learned about ghost eyes when my family got an Australian-Shepherd mix dog about ten years ago. Sunnie, our faithful canine companion, had strange, blue eyes, different from a Husky’s, and almost white. Not all Aussies have these blue eyes, and according to breeder websites, the term ghost eye comes from Native Americans who believed the dogs both sacred and to be avoided.

Coincidentally, blue eyes in people were once very unnerving to those not familiar with them, but now account for 8 percent of the population (green eyes are the rarest, coming in at 2 percent of the population). Geneticists believe that everyone with blue eyes has a common ancestor, who lived as much as 10,000 years ago.

Whether you paint your porch blue, or get a dog with blue eyes, one thing is for sure—it’s nothing to be blue about, unless you’re spirit.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Author's Notes: Golems

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

If you’ve read the whole Stone Soldiers series, you know there’s a former Nazi Hunter-turned-Stone Soldier on the team: Yadid Greenberg, code-name: Golem.

Yes, it’s a little hack to call the petrified Jewish guy on the team Golem, but this is a military series, and political correctness or empathy is often not part of the equation. What might seem like  denigrating nick name to outsiders is often bestowed within units as a way to find  little humor. And let’s face it, if you were in a military unit fighting unspeakable evil forces of darkness, you’d need a lot of humor.

But really, what is a Golem?

As a youth, my full extent of knowledge of the subject revolved around a single story of a Rabbi bestowing life on a man-shaped mass of clay, to fight Nazis. I couldn’t even tell you where I first heard this story, as it’s almost a trope now in fiction—even the show Supernatural had a story with a Nazi-fighting Golem (Episode 13, Season 8).

The genesis of the Stone Soldiers idea partly came from this modern bit of folklore—along with a dose of Marvel Comics' It: The Living Colossus and Benjamin J. Grimm. But rather than imbue my stone soldiers with life, I liked better the idea of turning soldiers to stone (thank you, Mr. Grimm).

Around the time I first decided to bestow the character of Yadid with his team name, I realized I didn’t really know what a Golem was. I set out to correct that and found some interesting lore.

First off, animating the unliving isn’t just the domain of Rabbis. Ghosts/Spirits are often attributed with this ability (apparently, it’s Child’s Play) as a kind of possession of the inanimate. What’s more, the Latin term for spirit, or breath of life, was Anima, or animusas in animated.

Putting aside tales of any homunculus (small, human like objects, e.g. Pinocchio), folklore is replete with all sorts of tales of physical objects being brought to life—kind of the opposite of Medusa’s ability to turn the living into inanimate objects.

Talos is a Greek tale of a giant automaton made of metal, who protected the Island of Europa—circling the island three times a day and driving off any hostile, would-be invaders. And when speaking about man-created life, one mustn’t leave out Frankenstein’s Monster, a more modern telling of the inanimate being brought to life.

But what about Golems?

Some might say Adam was a Golem, created by God in the Garden of Eden. Fashioned from clay, he was brought to life—a story mimicked in Pinocchio and the Wonder Woman movie of 2017.

While there are older Jewish legends of Golems, one of the earliest historical accounts I could find much detail on was that of Judah Loew ben Bezalel, a 16th century Rabbi of Prague credited with creating a Golem from clay from the river Vltava. In this story, the Golem was credited to defend the people of the Prague ghetto (but not from Nazis, as it pre-dates that).

Other legends abound of Rabbis and Golems, and there are countless uses of the story in fiction, but what does the word Golem really mean? What about the term ties it to Judaism? What makes a living creation a Golem, and not a Homunculus

The word appears once in the Bible (Psalm 139:16; golmi; my golem), and describes "my light form", referring to an unfinished human. Another origin has the word in the Mishnah, meaning an uncultivated person. A more modern etymological origin from Modern Hebrew, has the term meaning dumb or helpless.

Whatever it’s origins and meanings, the term golem has, thanks to fiction, come to mean an animated being of Jewish origin. It definitely sounds better than Frankenstein, as well.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Author's Notes: Faeries, Ferrous metals, and frangible bullets

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

Faeires, Ferrous Metals, and Frangible Bullets

What does it take to kill a fairy? They are a supernatural creature, after all. One might expect them to be immune to mortal weapons, and only vulnerable to specific substances, like the Werewolf and silver. 

Before you start to ponder this, you need to step back a moment and consider what a “fairy” is. Most people probably think of Disney’s Tinkerbell, a tiny, action-figure-sized sprite who looks like she would be easily taken out with a tennis racquet or a cricket bat. But, that version of the fairy is a fairly new one. Prior to the 1800s, the Fae folk were supernatural beings of a considerably different bent. They ranged in appearance, size and friendliness--and they didn’t like iron.

I learned this bit of folklore long before Google, thanks to Marvel Comic’s Thor comic books. Back in the early 1980s, Thor and the Avengers had to prevent a Dark Elf invasion of Earth. It was a lot better than the second Thor movie of recent years, but it clearly portrayed Elves as Fae and revealed their iron weakness. 

As it turns out, some mythology bears out the whole Iron-allergy thing when it comes to the Fae (some folklore doesn’t, by the way).

In writing Stone Soldiers #11, One Dark Step, where the supernatural soldiers of Detachment 1039 have to journey to the Moon to take on some Space Elves with a desire to end humanity, I had to do a lot of research into the Fae and their weaknesses. A lot of it didn’t make it into the book, but I always keep my research notes.

With the debut of the Spectral Ops sequel series to Stone Soldiers, I turned again to my notes on the supernatural and that little tidbit of folklore about iron and the Fae. As it happens, ghosts are also supposed to be allergic to iron. Some historians and folklorists will say this bit of mythology comes from the huge impact iron had on the world when mankind started to work it—that iron was a seemingly-magical metal. I suppose that works, but it’s so boring. I chose to have my series embrace iron and the Fae/Spirits the same as silver for other supernatural threats. Now, I just needed to weaponize it. 

We’ve all seen silver bullets in movies before, for werewolves and other magical creatures. But what about iron bullets, I wondered one day. Well, as it turns out, the U.S. Armed Forces use steel-core ammunition for their troops (green-tipped bullets are supposed to signify a steel-core armor penetrator inside the copper-jacketed, lead bullet). But, steel isn’t pure iron. It’s iron with carbon worked into it (that was the “secret of steel” James Earl Jones’ character kept babbling about in the Conan The Barbarian movie). Maybe steel wouldn’t affect ghosts and Fae folk the same? 

What about pure iron bullets?

In Episode 79 of Mythbusters, Jamie and Adam tested whether silver would make an effective metal for bullets (not just for werewolf hunting, but as the Lone Ranger’s calling cards). What they found was that silver was not a very effective metal for munitions. For one, it doesn’t deform on impact like lead, meaning it might punch through a flesh-and-blood target without losing that much of its shape or transferring all that kinetic energy into the target. A lead bullet deforms, or even breaks apart, creating a bigger wound channel in the target--it’s not only significantly cheaper, it does more damage.

Obviously, iron wouldn’t work as a solid bullet—it’s considerably tougher than silver. Even jacketed in a softer metal so it doesn’t destroy the rifling of your barrel (rifling actually scores soft metal bullets as they travel down the barrel), it will just be a low-grade armor-piercing round. Maybe great for the Fae, and maybe even an errant ghost, but what about the unintended targets that might be behind them? A standard 5.56mm NATO round, such as fired by the M-4 Carbine, will penetrate concrete blocks. A whole room full of Caspers isn't going to slow that down. Use in an area rich with civilians would no be wise. 

Additionally, silver, like many other metals, shrinks when it cools. Meaning if you poured molten silver into a .45 Long Colt bullet mold, you’d end up with a smaller-diameter bullet. The rifling of the weapon it was fired out of wouldn’t be able to impart the spin on the projectile that ensures accuracy. That means a silver bullet has to be cast larger, then machined or ground down to .45 caliber diameter. 

Myself and other authors have solved this problem in fiction by having silver-impregnated lead bullets—you just put slivers, flecks, or particles of silver into molten lead when you cast your ammo.  When the lead cools, it stays the right size and now has pre-made silver shrapnel inside it. When the bullet breaks up in the target, it spreads the silver around. 

I briefly considered iron-impregnated lead bullets for the Spectral Ops series, but to my great surprise, found there already are iron bullets available on the consumer market.  

Frangible (meaning brittle or fragile) bullets are projectiles made to disintegrate on impact. These are great if you’re shooting at steel targets. Steel targets last considerably longer than paper or cardboard ones, plus they make a satisfying sound when hit. The danger with a steel target is that even fragments of soft lead (and slightly-harder copper jackets) can ricochet off the steel, traveling back toward a target shooter. Frangible rounds are made of compressed metal powders (usually copper) that explode in a spray of specks when they hit a hard surface. 

This was perfect. Imagine the team is fighting a ghost army in a populated area. They fire a few shots, pushing what amounts to a plug of iron powder through the targets, disrupting them. The bullets continue on and hit a wall. Instead of puncturing the wall like a typical copper-jacketed lead round, the bullet would instead fragment apart. This would be even more effective against the Fae folk, as an iron frangible bullet would break into a lot of tiny shrapnel inside the wound. It’d be like pouring super-salt into a regular wound. 

If you’re wondering why anyone would make an iron powder bullet in the real world, you needn’t worry. It’s not about a war against Fairy folk. Iron is not just non-toxic (unlike lead) but it is considerably cheaper than copper. At least, that’s the official reason given…

Technical Note: Some reviewers of frangibles warn that the crumbly bullets don't feed properly in semi-automatic weapons and are better used in revolvers, breech-loaders, and the like. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

Author's Notes: El--Discovering Superman's divinity

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

You don’t have to watch the CW’s Supernatural to notice that a lot of angel names end in “el”. Even the word Angel has an el in it. I never gave this much thought, until I had to do research on fallen angel names for the main villain of Stone Soldiers #13, Shadow Raiders—a fallen angel ruling the alternate reality Earth of the book.

In the course of reading about angels and those named both in the Bible and in Judiasm and Kabbalah, I stumbled across something, really, really interesting: El.

To back up a moment, the first time I ever heard “el” was the car-truck hybrid of the 1970s: the el camino, which translates to “the road”. The Biblical “el” is considerably different.

Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael.. so many angels, all with “el”. The answer is really simple: “el”, in this context, means “of god”.

Now, not all angel names have “el” in them; Samyaza, Armaros, Mastema are examples of el-less names. And then, there’s Kal-el.

Whoa, wait… what?

That’s right, the last son of Krypton comes from the House of El, the same as his father, Jor-El.

Is this a coincidence? Well, if we look at Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, we learn that Mr. Siegel was the son of Jewish immigrants who had fled Lithuania. Mr. Shuster also came from a Jewish family.

I’ll note, at this point, that “El” means “God”. Meaning that the House of El, is the House of God, and that Superman, perhaps in the eyes of his creators, was a servant of God.

I’d say “Holy Moly!”, but that’s Shazam’s line.

You can read about the Fallen Angel Aurg-El and the alternate reality Asgard in Stone Soldiers #13, Shadow Raiders, available now on Kindle

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Author's Notes: The Djinn

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

This summer, Will Smith comes to the big screen as the jovial, magical blue being known simply as “Genie” in Disney’s live action version of the animated classic “Aladdin”. While it’ll most likely be a fun movie filled with humor and big budget special effects, it isn’t exactly accurate when it comes to Genie.

The term Genie actually comes from  much older name—Djinn (or Jinn)—referring to a supernatural being of the Middle East that can mean spirit or demon, depending on the source material.

I first began researching the topic of Djinn (a singular and plural term) several years ago when I was writing a prequel short story to the Stone Soldiers series, Catching Fire. The story centers around Daniel Smith, a resurrected U.S. soldier who returns to the Middle East a new, supernatural man, to investigate reports of living fire attacking American bases in Afghanistan.

For the story, I wanted to try and use some Arabic folklore concerning fire elementals—Catching Fire was to be one of four stories pitting the supernatural soldiers of Detachment 1039 against nature spirits. What I found when I was Googling the subject was a lot of information about the Djinn.

First off, Djinn aren’t blue-skinned, cheerful beings trapped in magic lamps, waiting to be set free and do the magical bidding of humans. One explanation for the origin of the word Djinn (Jinn) is that it comes from the Semitic root jnn (Arabic: جَنّ / جُنّ‎, jann), and means "to hide" or "to conceal". Some scholarly types have taken this to mean that the Djinn are, literally, "beings that are concealed from the senses".

Alternative theories are that this is a word derived from Persia—and the word "Jaini", which was a wicked (female) spirit.

In Pre-Islamic Persia, Djinn were apparently worshipped, but were not considered immortal, like the gods. The term was also used for a variety of supernatural entities, including demons.

In the course of reading about the Djinn, I learned that some folklore had there being good and bad Djinn. And that some Djinn were invisible, while others appeared as flame, and others as thick smoke. But the best thing I learned doing this research, was the story of Solomon’s seal.

Solomon, a Biblical King, is said to have received a special seal from God, which he branded a demon with, making it his slave. Solomon then ordered the demon to take the seal and go brand others of its kind, creating an army of supernatural being all bowing down to Solomon… who made them build a Temple to God.

Now, this story immediately resonated with me. My original concept was to have a fire elemental, or a Djinn, attacking U.S. forces. But why would it? Would sch a being even care which humans claimed to rule the sands of the Middle East? Probably not. But what if one of those humans, an insurgent, had the Seal of Solomon, and used it to bend a demon/djinn to his will? That would be a weapon that not even the U.S. Army could stand against… at least, not the conventional forces of the Army. Enter Detachment 1039, and their supernatural soldiers.

Once again, a simple supernatural concept for an action-packed story seemed to almost write itself.

You can find Stone Soldiers: Catching Fire on Kindle, or in a collection of short stories entitled Stone Soldiers: Elemental Warfare, available now on Kindle, and in Print

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Centauros, Father of all Centaurs?

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

Centauros, Father of the Centaurs

The idea was simple enough: instead of having Death ride a pale horse, have death be a pale horse. That was the genesis of Stone Soldiers #9, Pale Horseman, a story about a centaur serial killer set loose in the modern era.

Of course, before writing about anything, and in particular mythology, it’s always a good idea to do research and not just go by memory—which is often tainted by the fictional works of others. Thus, I set out on the internet, to research centaurs—their origins, their history, their folklore. I was very surprised at what I found.

Now, I remembered that the myth of centaurs was purported by scholars to be the result of the first sightings of men riding horses—the concept was so foreign, people invented stories of half-man, half-horse creatures.

However, it turns out that there is another explanation for centaurs—Greek Mythology that doesn’t just explain the race of the centaur, but that actually details the creation of the first man-horse.

As the story goes, Ixion, King of the Lapiths (a legendary tribe noted for their horsemanship), murdered his father-in-law after a deal gone wrong, and was driven mad with guilt. Taking pity on Ixion, Zeus brought him to Olympus. There, Ixion took a liking to Hera, Zeus’ wife. Angered, Zeus then made a cloud into the form of Hera (named Nephele), and tricked Ixion into mating with it. Their offspring was Centauros, a deformed man who eventually turned to horses for companionship  after being shunned by humanity, and sired the race of the centaur.

Now, this bit of Greek mythology is just as gross and disturbing as any other tale, but it got me thinking about the idea of a cursed Centaur. What if the centaur of Pale Horseman wasn’t the bloodthirsty, millennia-old serial killer of my story, but rather was a victim of a curse?

What the heck, it was worth a try, so I turned back to more Greek mythology for inspiration, and did some reading about Charon, the traditional walking, talking skeleton associated with our image of Death.

In mythology, Charon is the ferryman of the dead, an animated skeleton that takes the worthy across the river Styx. Alas, the spooky skeleton I always thought of when I heard this bit of lore isn’t the traditional form of Charon. Instead, the ferryman appears on some art as a humanish-looking brute. In other works, he is described as a gaunt old man or a winged. In other words, Charon’s appearance has changed considerably from one era o another, ending up as the water-crossing version of the Grim Reaper we are all so familiar with today. And that gave me an idea…

Why not make Charon a shapechanger? Or better yet, embrace the demon portrayals, and make him able to inhabit different hosts, reshaping their flesh to suit his needs? That actually worked quite well and gave me an explanation for how my centaur-villain could have survived for so long.

So, from the initial concept of Centaur Serial Killer, a little research online turned my nugget of an idea into something much more complicated. And that is what always happens when you start to look deeper into folklore and mythology.

Pale Horseman (Stone Soldiers #9)
Available now on Kindle, and in Paperback

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Bowling, KJ

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2019, Punch the Rabbit delves deep behind the scenes with a series of Author's Notes related to the Stone Soldiers, Spectral Ops, and Shadow Detachment series. 

One of the best things about Men’s Adventure novels (a genre the Stone Soldiers books attempt to copy, in style) is the healthy dose of satire smooshed between bouts of intense, over-the-top action.  
Sharp-eyed readers of the series may have noticed this particular bit of satire: the Mary Cobbler books-within-the-books. In short, the characters of the Stone Soldiers have made references to their world’s most popular magical young adult series, about a young witch who attends a school for witches and wizard, called Frogwarts.

Yes, this is a parody of that popular real-world series about a young boy who finds out he’s something far from ordinary. How could one not include a reference to the successful works of a certain British author, particularly in a series that revolves around the supernatural and magical?

What readers might be surprised to learn is that there’s far more to Mary Cobbler than an off-handed character remark here and there. In fact, for the Shadow Detachment prequel short story series, I had planned an entire tome dedicated to the saga of Mary Cobbler’s author, KJ Bowling, a British author who readers would have learned wasn’t just an imaginative writer, but a former student of a witch academy herself!

Entitled Magician of Interest, this puny story was to take place in the early 2000s, just before the Stone Soldiers program, and was to feature KJ Bowling on the run from the Romanian wizards she was exposing in her children’s books. Protected by Colonel Kenslir and his A.I. sidekick MAX, the almost-witch was going to become an asset for the U.S. Military, revealing a number of secrets about the world’s many covens and the mysterious organization readers know as The Circle.

Alas, like Red Magick, the story chronologically before this one, Magician of Interest got delayed and is nothing more today than an extensive series of notes and outlines. It’s a tale of someone hiding what they really are in a series of books. And that is actually based on something in our reality.

JK Rowling’s worldwide success drew a lot of criticism when the Harry Potter novels first started coming out, with some overly-fervant Christian sects proclaiming the author was intentionally promoting witchcraft. That got me thinking… what if she really was? What if JK is a witch?

Obviously, I don’t believe Ms. Rowling is anything so evil as a bride of Satan, I do have to look to the Men’s Adventure genre, and in particular Agent 007 and wonder… You see, Ian Fleming, the author of James Bond’s many adventures, was indeed a spy himself.

If you read the biography of Ian Fleming, you’ll see the author was, beginning in 1939, a member of the British Intelligence community, serving in the British Navy, like his character Bond, and even went on to help draft plans to form the OSS—which, post-World War II, would become the CIA.

In 1953, Casino Royale was published, and James Bond became a part of literary history.

There’s an old saying that authors should write what they know. Ian Fleming did, and was highly successful. So, why not build upon that idea and choose another popular author and delve into the possibility that a witch could become an author, about witches…? Maybe in 2020...

Monday, April 1, 2019

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Author's Notes and the Almas

It’s April, 2019, and it’s once again time for daily, letter-themed posts. Instead of trying to find people, places and things from the Stone Soldiers universe, I’m going to do something different this year. I’m going to take readers behind the scenes and share some of the cool stuff that didn’t make it into any of the books. Most of this stuff is actually from folklore—tidbits of this and that that I researched and studied to work into the novels. Unfortunately, not all that research ends up making the cut, and a lot of really interesting stuff gets left behind…

For today’s A-entry, I picked an easy one, the Almas. If you haven’t heard of the Almas, don’t feel bad, you’d know the creature from its more common, North American name: Bigfoot.

That’s right, ole Harry Henderson himself is known by avariety of names from around the world, including Alma or Almas, from the Mongolian/Russian region, which comes from some local dialect and means “wild man”.

How does the Almas fit into the Stone Soldiers universe? In 2016, I was working on a series of prequel short stories that showed the history of Detachment 1039 before the Stone Soldiers program—Shadow Detachment. One of the last stories I was working on was to be set in the 1981, and was to have Major Mark Kenslir going behind the Iron Curtain to steal the Head of Medusa from the Soviets. Yes, it's a supernatural version of the classic Clint Eastwood Cold War film, Firefox...

While the story, Red Magick, was to feature the infamous Rasputin (surviving into the modern era thanks to magic), I felt it needed something more. Looking into Soviet and Russian folklore, I stumbled across the Almas (Bigfoot in Russia), Stalin’s experiments to put human heads on gorilla bodies, and the Dog-faced men of Eastern Europe. It all seemed to go together and I set out to finish the story… 

...Which just kept getting delayed and delayed. Maybe one day, I’ll finish it, but for readers of the series who might have wondered where Bigfoot is in a supernatural series featuring so many modern myths, have no fear—Bigfoot is out there, in multiple places around the world.

And while you’re waiting for the next Stone Soldiers/Spectral Ops installment, maybe you might want to check out Rasputin, Dog-faced men, Stalin’s super soldiers experiments, and of course, the Almas.