Revising Light’s Blurb

A goddess of ancient times, under a volcanic sunAs many of you probably know, I consider myself blurb-challenged. Marketing copy simply does not come naturally to me – or unnaturally either. 😀

I believe I continue to improve – thank goodness! – but improvement comes slowly, and requires lots of help.

Last week I received wonderful help from someone who writes excellent blurbs. He read my blurb for Devouring Light and remarked that it was full of plot, more plot, and nothing but plot. This is bad! To quote Dean Wesley Smith, “Remember, readers want to read your nifty plot, not be told about it.” Exactly.

The really odd thing? Until the feedback on my blurb for Light, I honestly didn’t perceive that it was congested with plot. The instant I read the feedback, it was clear as day. I don’t know why I have such trouble staying out of the plot in my blurbs, or perceiving it when I stray into plot, but I do.

Anyway… once I saw the problem with Light’s blurb, I set to work fixing it.

And now I’m going to share what I did!

Light quote 1

This was the problem child:

Can one small good deed offset ultimate destruction?

Mercurio stands watch over the first planet, guiding it through the perils of the void. Part messenger, part prankster, he cocks an eye for danger, but not from afar. Close to home lurks the real risk that his festival for Sol’s 25th anniversary will be a bust.

Failed negotiations with constellations and his fellow guardians send him to the brink of complete frustration…when a beautiful celestial wanderer fetches up at his domicile, seeking refuge.

Her form beguiles. Her mystery intrigues. And Mercurio’s fascination with his visitor poses yet another threat to Sol’s celebration.

Will Mercurio recognize his role as cat’s paw soon enough? Or will a looming menace – more lethal than any of the guardians imagine – threaten the solar system’s very existence?

This is, indeed, much too much plot.

And while the way in which constellations and planetary guardians appear as characters is clear in the book, it won’t be to someone browsing a bookshelf or a web page. When a browsing reader is confused, he clicks away to another page or sets the book down to pick up another. Not what I want!

Light quote 2

So I tossed the whole thing and started afresh, writing out my thoughts in my journal.

Focus the Devouring Light blurb on the moment when Mercurio arrives home:

• all of his records indicate that something is wrong
• but Vigilem, his clockwork cat, won’t say what (even though he knows)

It’s been a bad day – Mercurio’s planning a circus show for Sol’s birthday, and none of his fellow planetary guardians (or anyone else) wants to help. It looks like he’s going to have to ask Haden, and Haden is no safe power to approach.

But now he’s got problems on the home front as well.

• bad day
• no one will help with the circus
• and now this: problems at home
• little does he know that both sets of problems will meet
  in a much larger one!

Light quote 3

Writing out my thoughts always moves me forward much more effectively than merely thinking them. Once I’d jotted down all of the above, I had an idea for the start of the blurb.

Mercurio guards the planet Mercury, his sacred charge. He loves his the oddball chunk of rock – with its retrograde out-of-sync spin orbit and spin, its apparent illusion of retrograde motion – almost as much as he loves playing pranks.

But when Earth’s guardian Gaia charges him to organize a gala celebration circus act for Sol’s birthday, the joke’s on him. Nobody wants to

After a day of “no, no, and no!” from Saturn’s clowns, flying lions winged bulls, and acrobats, he returns home to learn that something a speck of cosmic debris menaces his planet

• orbit transcript
• rotation transcript
• planetary magnetosphere
• coronal disturbances & solar flares
• Vigilem coy

…to see an anomaly on all the transcripts recording Mercury’s the events in Mercury’s sphere. Something is wrong with his planet. But what?

No obvious answer…

To quote those clowns of Saturn: “No, no, and no!”

I’m down in the plot again. The first paragraph was on the right track, but after that it all went south. Grrr! Try again!

Light quote 4

Mercurio – the guardian of Mercury – loves the oddball chunk of rock, his sacred charge, with its out-of-sync orbit and spin, its illusion of retrograde motion. Almost as much as he loves playing pranks.

But when Earth’s guardian Gaia charges him Mercurio to organize a circus act for Sol’s birthday, the joke’s on him!

After a journey filled with no, no, and no! Mercurio returns home to learn that his beloved planet…

something out of order with his beloved planet

• a meteor
• a comet
• a wanderer, a hobo, a vagabond

which means a one-of-a-kind celestial body, something Vigilem is not familiar with

Aagh! There I am down in the plot again. Okay. Start on a fresh page. One. More. Time.

Light quote 5

Mercurio guards the planet Mercury, his sacred charge. He loves the oddball chunk of rock, with its illusion of retrograde motion and its out-of-sync orbit and spin.

Almost as much as he loves playing pranks.

But when Earth’s guardian Gaia charges him Mercurio to organize a circus act for Sol’s birthday, the joke’s on him.

A joke with lethal consequences in this clockwork universe where the simple “no, no, and no!” of Mercurio’s friends and neighbors prospective circus performers

What kind of story is this? It starts with Mercurio designing a circus performance and ends with [spoiler removed]. It’s a story in which the stakes keep getting raised. It’s a save-the-world story. A save-the-solar-system story.

A joke with lethal consequences as the stakes rise ever higher.

Hmmm. The first three paragraphs of my blurb are good, but I need a good closer, like the closer for Caught in Amber.

Amber quote

A tale of multiple rising stakes

A tale of rising stakes told with all the subtlety and deception word play J.M. Ney-Grimm brings to science fantasy.

J.M. Ney-Grimm tells a tale of steeply rising stakes with the delightful subtlety, misdirection, and playful teasing wordplay inherent in displayed by typical of Mercurio himself.

As you can see, I started to descend into the plot again when I touched on those “lethal consequences.” This time I pulled myself up, realizing that I needed to go directly to the closer. I tinkered with various possibilities for that closer, but I could feel my brain getting soggy. I’d lost my sharpness. I was nibbling close to what I wanted, but I was just going to get farther away from it, if I continued without a break.

I set the blurb aside and got a good night’s sleep.

Light morning

(Yes, the photo above is the view from my back deck.)

The next morning, it felt like the whole thing needed to sit another day. In fact, I gave it two days, and awoke on the third knowing the right final paragraph was waiting in my back brain. All I needed to do was sit down and start writing. It would come.

Courier for the gods Divine and mMischievous Mercurio guards the planet Mercury – his sacred charge – with quirky devotion. He loves the oddball chunk of rock, with its illusion of retrograde motion and its out-of-sync orbit and spin.

Almost as much as he loves playing pranks.

But when Earth’s guardian Gaia bids Mercurio to organize a circus act for Sol’s birthday celebration, the joke’s on him.

The next paragraph or line needs to be something other than what happens next.

While Mercurio plots to wangle his way around the “No, no, and no!” from his would-be stilt-walkers and clowns, the guardian of Pluto plots a much darker spectacle a spectacle much darker than a circus.

In a clockwork solar system of the mythical celestial spheres, Devouring Light

Light quote 7a

Gah! I need some way of including “clockwork solar system” in this blurb. But it’s now really time to hit the closing paragraph!

While Mercurio wangles his way around the “No, no, and no!” delivered by his would-be stilt-walkers and clowns, the somber guardian of Pluto plots a much darker scheme.

A tale of steeply rising stakes in a clockwork solar system governed propelled ruled by the gods of ancient Greece and Rome told with the subtle delight, clever misdirection, and teasing wordplay that Mercurio himself enjoys.

stubborn, ornery, testy, exasperated, impatient, irritable, captious, irascible

With the subtle delight, clever misdirection, and teasing wordplay enjoyed by Mercurio himself, J.M. Ney-Grimm tells a tale of steeply rising stakes in a clockwork solar system ruled by the gods of ancient Rome.

Yeah! Nailed it! Time to get the computer out!

(Yes, I was writing longhand. It works better than typing for me when I’m really struggling.)

At this point, I knew I had the basic structure of the new blurb. It would need small adjustments, but the heart was there. And while longhand is better for when I’m laboring, the computer is much easier when I’m making adjustments.

Light quote 8

Here’s the blurb in its (current) final form:

Mischievous Mercurio guards the planet Mercury – his sacred charge – with quirky devotion. He loves the oddball chunk of rock, with its illusion of retrograde motion and its out-of-sync orbit and spin.

Almost as much as he loves playing pranks.

But when Earth’s guardian Gaia bids Mercurio to organize a circus act for Sol’s birthday celebration, the joke’s on him.

While Mercurio wangles his way around the captious refusals of his would-be stilt-walkers and clowns – “No, no, and no!” – the somber guardian of Pluto plots a darker scheme.

With the subtle delight, clever misdirection, and teasing wordplay that Mercurio himself enjoys, J.M. Ney-Grimm tells a tale of steeply rising stakes in a clockwork solar system ruled by the gods of ancient Rome.

For more about writing sales copy for fiction:
How I Wrote and RE-WROTE Cover Copy for Troll-magic
Cover Copy Primer
What Happens After the Manuscript is Complete?
Eyes Glaze Over? Never!

 

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The Simiae

bull, crab, sea goat, ram depicted as art nouveau line drawings

Modern western culture recognizes 88 constellations. I don’t have that list memorized.

But when I reached a particular point in writing Devouring Light, I grew certain that among those 88 patterns must be a great ape. How could there not be?

I could see Mercurio (my protagonist) conversing with a wise and ancient primate while perched on the massive bough of a rainforest tree in a starry jungle of the eighth sphere. I could hear them speaking.

And there’re tons of animals included in the constellations. The familiar ram, bull, and great bear (Aries, Taurus, and Ursa Major). Plus a boatload of more obscure ones, such as the hunting dogs, the goldfish, and the peacock.A goddess of ancient times under a volcanic sun

There must be an ape. Or, better yet, apes in the plural.

So I went looking. Eagle, swan, and wolf. No ape.

Centaur, pegasus, and unicorn. No ape.

Even microscope, table, and furnace! But no ape.

What about other cultures?

Traditional Chinese star groupings have the three enclosures – Purple Forbidden, Supreme Palace, and Heavenly Market – and the 28 mansions within them. Among those, the winnowing basket, the turtle beak, the ghost, and the chariot sound pretty cool. But no ape!

black and white photo of 2 Japanese women using winnowing baskets

Dash it! I’d been sure I’d find a reference to a wise great ape somewhere in oriental star lore. But I hadn’t. And I knew Mercurio met with the chieftain of “elder cousins” manifesting the form of apes.

Luckily…I’m a fiction writer! If I couldn’t find an existing mythology involving apes, I’d create one!

I felt drawn toward language for inspiration, so that’s where I looked next.

The Latin for monkey is simius (male), simia (female), and simiae (plural). My constellation would be the Simiae – the Apes.

What about the English word? What are the origins for the word monkey?

Obscure! It might derive from a character named Moneke in a German version of a fable entitled Reynard and the Fox, published around 1580. Hmm. No juice there. At least, not for me.

black brush strokes on white backgroundI eventually wound up on a Wikipedia page about the Chinese pictograph for monkey.

I went looking for that page as I wrote this blog post. And could not find it. I almost wonder if I imagined it – except I didn’t.

This time (while attempting to retrace my steps) I arrived at an article with the title “Monkeys in Chinese Culture,” which informs me that, “Monkeys, particularly macaques and gibbons, have played significant roles in Chinese culture for over two thousand years.”

And, further, that Chinese deities were said to appear at times in the guise of monkeys, while many Chinese mythological creatures resembled monkeys or apes.

Now that would have been very useful when I approached writing the monkey scene in Devouring Light.

However, the notes on the pictograph proved fertile ground. I read of the various pronunciations for the word in Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, and so on.

From them, I derived the names of my Simiae.

Old Jyutping, the chieftain, wise and earthy (despite his celestial nature) and indigo-furred.

Saru, who is nimble, beautiful, and clever – with fuschia fur.

Pinyin Hou enjoys riddles and sports a pelt of lime green.

Ko indulges in practical jokes, as well as the polar opposite: meditation. His fur is bright cyan.

All four are superb gymnasts and acrobats.

I wrote my scene. It remains one of my favorites! 😀

The Simiae

For more about Devouring Light:
Draco the Dragon
Mercury the Planet
Roman Dining

 

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The Oort Cloud

Draco is the personification of the dragon constellation in my story Devouring Light.

He’s old – ancient, really – jaded, and cynical. Inspired by a visit from Mercurio, the guardian of Sol’s first planet, Draco decides to make trouble merely to entertain himself.

In the course of his adventure, he leaves the solar system, flying through the Oort Cloud toward the closest star, Proxima Centauri.

Dragon

As I wrote of his flight, I had some ballpark time intervals in mind, based on his speed.

Draco is a “celestial,” and I’d posited two modes of travel for my celestials in Devouring Light.

The planetaries (such as Mercurio) and other beings associated with celestial bodies “translate” from sphere to sphere, a slow sort of teleport in which they evaporate while departing one location and congeal as they arrive at their destination.

The constellations and more metaphysical beings must “fly,” physically traversing space rather than wormholing through it.

However, both travel at roughly the same speed: one astronomical unit per hour.

A quick refresher note for anyone who’s forgotten what an astronomical unit is. It’s the distance from the sun to our Earth – 1 AU for short.

Thus when Mercurio visits Haden on Pluto, it takes him about 48 hours to get home to Mercury. (And he’s tired!)

Now the solar system’s a big place, and the Oort Cloud beyond it, even bigger.

I figured that since my celestials took many hours in their travels between planets, traversing the Oort would surely take weeks.

Boy, was I wrong!

Luckily, I decided to do a little research before I continued writing my story. I discovered my mistake before I tangled up my plot line!

Naturally, I want to share some of what I discovered. 😀

NASA's Oort Diagram

So, what is the Oort Cloud?

It’s a vast collection of ice chunks forming a sphere around our solar system.

I say chunks, but they’re big compared to an ice cube. And small compared to a planet. What size? Between 1 kilometer (.62 miles) and 20 kilometers (12 miles) in diameter.

And, I say ice, which does include water. But methane, ethane, carbon monoxide and other frozen substances also compose these icy clumps.

It is thought that the Oort Cloud was formed in the early days of our sun’s birth, when a bunch of young stars were popping into being in this neck of the galactic neighborhood. The tides between the stars played tug-of-war with the interstellar gases, creating ice balls, some of which stayed with our sun after things settled down.

Comet McNaughtThe stellar neighborhood is quieter now, but the outer Oort remains a fluid place. The sun’s gravity is weak that far away, and passing stars still nudge ice balls out of their orbits. Some get kicked away from the sun altogether. Others come streaming in as comets.

The inner Oort, named the Hill Cloud, is more dense than the outer and shaped like a massive donut. Most of our comets come from the Hill.

So what about Draco and his flight? If not weeks, how long did it take him?

Here are the numbers! And they amazed me. I knew the universe was big, but these boggled my mind.

The Hill Cloud’s inner edge is 2,000 AU from our sun. Which meant it took Draco 83 days to get there. Okay, 83 days equals roughly 12 weeks. So I guess you could say his flight was a matter of weeks.

But that’s just the beginning.

The outer edge of the Hill Cloud is 20,000 AU. By the time Draco exited the Hill, he’d been flying for two years and 3 months. Yikes!

And the outer edge of the outer Oort? At 50,000 AU, Draco passed through it after 5 years and 9 months. Quite a flight!

Good thing Draco is an immortal with vast reserves of strength. He needed it all!

But my story worked fine with these time frames, and I enjoyed exploring our solar neighborhood along with Draco. It’s a fascinating place!

For more of the science behind Devouring Light, see:
The Heliosphere

For some of the mythology behind Devouring Light, see:
The Graces

And for the book itself, see:
Devouring Light

 

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New Release! Devouring Light

I started this story with the idea it would go into an anthology of short stories – all with roots in a zoo theme.

In my mind, I labeled this story Star Circus, so it was a little off from the theme. But I was longing to tell it, so I figured: “Close enough!”

As I wrote, Star Circus veered further off course and got long, too long for the anthology.

Since I’d dreamed up another idea for my “zoo” story, which I was also aching to tell, I let this one, Devouring Light, have its way with me. All the way to its glorious conclusion.

And now it’s ready for you to enjoy! Devouring Light, in a bookseller near you! 😉

* * *

Can one small good deed offset ultimate destruction?

A goddess of ancient times under a volcanic sunMercurio stands watch over the first planet, guiding it through the perils of the void. Part messenger, part prankster, he cocks an eye for danger, but not from afar. Close to home lurks the real risk that his festival for Sol’s 25th anniversary will be a bust.

Failed negotiations with constellations and his fellow guardians send him to the brink of complete frustration…when a beautiful celestial wanderer fetches up at his domicile, seeking refuge.

Her form beguiles. Her mystery intrigues. And Mercurio’s fascination with his visitor poses yet another threat to Sol’s celebration.

Will Mercurio recognize his role as cat’s paw soon enough? Or will a looming menace – more lethal than any of the guardians imagine – threaten the solar system’s very existence?

Devouring Light is available as an ebook in electronic bookstores.
Amazon.com I Amazon UK I Amazon DE I Amazon ES
B&N I Diesel I iTunes I Kobo I Smashwords I Sony

 

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The Heliosphere

gout of plasma against black space

Devouring Light started from the idea of spectacle. Somebody – Mercurio – was creating a grand display involving the constellations. Draco, the dragon. Ursa Major, the great bear. And so on.

But what would this spectacle celebrate?

No mystery there. That was part of my initial inspiration as well: our sun’s birthday.

The next question was trickier. How would our sun – Sol – mark his birthday?

Possibly he did so in Earth years. Earth being the only planet in the solar system with humans on it lends these “Gaian” years a certain distinction.

But the universe of Devouring Light features many other beings: the spirits of stars, those of comets – all the celestial bodies of the cosmos, in fact.

And Sol is so very old when measured in Earth’s years. Using them as birth markers would be like humans using seconds.

My decision: Sol wouldn’t use the movements of anything within his own system to signify his anniversary. What about outside the solar system?

Posing that question yielded an immediate answer. Or, rather, another question which generates its own prompt answer.

What does the sun revolve around?

Our galaxy, of course.

There was Sol’s “year.” The time it takes for him to travel once around the Milky Way.

And how long is that? In Earth years? Being human myself, not celestial, I think in terms of Earth. And I had some research to do.

We know the age of our sun: 4.6 billion Earth years. An odd measure, when you consider that Earth herself was likely still a part of the dust cloud around Sol when he ignited. But that is how we measure long spans of time.

Our knowledge of the number of times that Sol has swung around the galaxy center is less precise. One circuit requires between 225 and 250 million Earth years. Sol has made the trip anywhere between 20 and 25 times.

Since I envisioned Sol as a fully grown “young man,” not a youth barely emerged from his teens, I chose the longer figure.

Sol was turning 25. Excellent!

photo by NASA Goddard Space Fight

With this important question answered 😀 , I could call this blog post complete. But you know I’m not going to do that! In the course of my solar research, I learned a bunch of cool things about our sun. And, while I’m perfectly capable of sharing them all with you, I won’t do that either.

Instead I’ll tell you the one cool thing that was utterly new to me and that proved to be important to my story.

The heliopause.

What, you may ask, is the heliopause.

I certainly didn’t know what it meant when I first encountered the term.

It has to do with the solar wind.

Now, I’d heard of the solar wind, and I thought I knew what it was. But I didn’t. Not really.

Because the solar wind is plasma.

What? Plasma? I thought plasma existed only in conditions of great heat and pressure. Like in the body of a star.

Well, that is a common place to find it. Although it also occurs in the instant of a lightning strike.

But what plasma is . . . is a mass of ions. That is, atoms stripped of their electrons, so that the electrons swirl through the plasma solo with their negative charge, while the nuclei – protons bound with neutrons – also swirl through the plasma with their positive charge.

And the solar wind is this plasma hurled off the surface of the sun and out into space.

Wow!

Obviously, the solar wind is very “thin,” with only a few particles within a lot of vacuum. Almost like a vapor or a gas. But it’s plasma, not a gas, because the particles have a charge. And it packs some punch. Think of the solar yachts posited in SF stories, with sails catching the solar wind.

Luckily, because the plasma particles have a charge, they get bounced by Earth’s magnetosphere. But that’s another topic! Maybe a future blog post? 😉

image from Nasa Blueshift

So . . . the heliopause.

The solar wind blows a long, long way. All the way past Pluto to nearly 100 astronomical units (100 AU).

To refresh your memory, one AU is the distance from the sun to Earth.

At 100 AU from our sun, the solar wind runs out of steam and ends, contained by the pressure of the interstellar medium and the stellar winds that roam the galaxy.

The bubble created by the solar wind is known as the heliosphere. It has a ripple in it, shaped like a pinwheel or a ballerina’s swirling skirt. It’s caused by our sun’s spinning magnetic field. And the heliosphere has turbulence at its edge, where the stellar winds press inward, while the solar wind presses out.Artist's Conception of the Heliospheric Current Sheet

That area of turbulence is known as the heliosheath. And the great curve where the turbulence ends, the solar wind ceasing completely, is the heliopause.

Why did I care?

Because my dragon constellation, Draco, does some “flying” at the heliopause. I needed to know what he’d encounter there!

Not being a scholar, Draco calls the entire end zone the heliopause, rather than using the precise terms: termination shock, slow-down region, stagnation region, and depletion region. But his wings feel the strain of the turbulence regardless!

For more about Devouring Light, see:
Celestial Spheres
Roman Dining
What Do Celestials Wear?
The Graces

For more about our sun, see:
Sol

 

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Roman Dining

When Mercurio throws a banquet in my upcoming novella, Devouring Light, his guests dine Roman style.

I’d always envisioned the ancient Romans as reclining while dining, propped up on couches with low tripod tables at their elbows. But when it was time for me to write the feast scene, I needed details. So I dove into research!

And discovered that my vision was somewhat mistaken!

The video below is what I’d imagined.

Certainly there are museums with replicas that look somewhat like that. One even features the individual tables I’d envisioned. While that may be accurate for meals with three people only, the scene looked rather different when more people were gathered.

Before we go further, let’s note two terms.

A klinē is a sort of slanting couch, with the foot ten degrees lower than its head.

A triclinium, the ancient Roman dining room, meant “three klinai” or “three couches.”

The houses of the ancient Romans usually had at least two triclinia. Elite households might feature four in a triclinium maius .

Triclinium, Museo de Zaragoza

But, here’s the thing that confused me.

The ancient Romans commonly invited between nine and twenty guests to their feasts.

How on earth would they squish three reclining diners on each of those narrow couches? They would have to sit, not recline. And I knew they didn’t. Or I thought they didn’t.

Once I’d located some more scholarly works, I discovered there was more variation among Roman dining styles than I’d supposed. Specifically, the ancient Romans were people with individual habits, just as you and I have our own idiosyncrasies.

Sure, the reclining habit was a mark of status. Undoubtedly, most eaters started off that way, just to show they could.

“Yes, I’m rich and privileged. See!”

But what about the child who couldn’t lie still? Or the lady with a bad back? Or the senator with a dyspeptic stomach?

Well, the likelihood that people shifted their position a fair bit while eating was only common sense.

But it still didn’t explain how they fit three reclining diners on those couches.

Finally I found another visual, and it all made sense.

Aha! The head of the couch pointed toward the table, and the foot of the couch pointed away. Those klinai for three people were much bigger than those for a solo diner.

I couldn’t find an image in the pubic domain that I am free to post here. But check this link, if you want to see the visual for yourself.

Mercurio gives each of his guests a unique klinē garnished with flowers, rather than grouping them on shared couches. The major “celestials” in Devouring Light happen to number eighteen, perfect to exactly fill two triclinia. How convenient!

This was Mercurio’s seating plan for them until . . . he realized he needed to accommodate an unexpected guest!

Mercurio's seating plan

For more about the background of Devouring Light see:
Celestial Spheres
What Do Celestials Wear?
Three Graces

 

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The Graces

The Three GracesMy newest work, Devouring Light, will release soon. I’m excited! Eager to make the story available for readers!

To tide myself over until the release – and because I can’t resist – I’m sharing some of the tidbits I’ve learned while doing research for the book.

This week, I’m talking about the Graces of ancient Greece.

And why am I presenting the Graces? Because they were the archetypes I drew on when dreaming up Lixy’s handmaidens.

“Who is Lixy?” you ask.

The beautiful celestial wanderer who fetches up at the domicile of Mercurio, my protagonist. Lixy is lovely, mysterious, and utterly lost – both in memory and in space. She doesn’t know who she is or where she came from. Quite the intriguing puzzle for Mercurio, who gives her shelter.

Lixy does remember her handmaidens, especially Eupheme, her nurse when Lixy was young.

So what about the Graces?

They were female spirits personifying the feminine attributes of grace. The most famous, the “Three Graces,” were Splendor (Aglaea), Mirth (Euphrosyne), and Good Cheer (Thalia).

But there were also “lesser” Graces. These were the ones who caught my attention. So who were they?

Philophrosyne personified welcome, friendliness, and kindness. Her name means “friendly-minded,” and I envision her as a spirit of hospitality. She became a cupbearer in Lixy’s home star system. Cupbearers in ancient times were particularly honored, since they ensured that the food and drink of a ruler was pure and unpoisoned. Hebe and Ganymede, cupbearers in Greek mythology, took that role in the solar system (ours) where Devouring Light takes place.

Eupheme personified words of good omen, praise, acclaim, shouts of triumph, and applause. Wow! She sure appealed to me! And I could see why Lixy remembered her. Who wouldn’t remember the person who steadfastly offered genuine and enthusiastic praise? Her name means “well-spoken,” and she was nursemaid to the Muses of Greek Mythology. It seemed appropriate that my Eupheme served as Lixy’s childhood nurse.

Euthenia personified prosperity, abundance, and plenty. Her name means “well-being.” Like her sisters, she was believed to be the daughter of Hephaestus and Aglaea. I envision the Euthenia of Devouring Light as possessing healing skills.

Eucleia personified glory and good repute. In Greek mythology, she served as Aphrodite’s handmaiden and was also associated with Artemis. She represented the loveliness of the bride approaching her wedding. I imagine the Eucleia of my story as modeling and encouraging integrity in Lixy. Her name means “renowned” or “celebrated.”

I’m almost tempted to write a story in which these four Graces get some “stage time,” rather than serving as a part of Lixy’s background!

If you’d like to read more about the inspiration behind Devouring Light, try What Do Celestials Wear? and Celestial Spheres.

 

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What Do Celestials Wear?

Planet EarthThe characters in my soon-to-release Devouring Light are celestial beings charged with the guardianship of heavenly bodies.

Some of them share a name with a Greek or a Roman god. Thus Ares protects the planet Mars. Artemis Diana cares for Earth’s moon. While Gaia watches over Earth itself.

Other celestials bear unique names. My protagonist, Mercurio Veloxus Ludificor, tends the planet Mercury.

All of the celestials wear the garb of the ancient Romans and the ancient Greeks.

Everyone knows what a toga is. (Or thinks he does! 😉 ) But what about the peplos? Or the strophium? I had to research the topic in order to describe Mercurio’s garments accurately. As well as those of Lixy, his unexpected visitor.

Of course, I’m going to share what I learned! Let’s take it garment by garment.

The Princess AlexandraThe Tunica

The tunica is your basic undergarment, often worn under another tunic or peplos. It usually hangs to the knees, but sometimes falls to mid-calf, or even the ankles. Children typically wear only a tunica at home, but don an outer garment in which to go out. Adults prefer more layers.

The tunica is a rectangular garment sewn into a tube. Pins (fibulae) or buttons secure the shoulders when it is worn solo. A sewn seam is more usual when it is worn beneath other clothing.

The Strophium

Another undergarment: the breast band. It’s a long, narrow strip of cloth bound tightly around the chest to support a woman’s bosom.

Obviously, Mercurio does not wear one of these. But Lixy does, as do Juno and Star and other female celestials.

Spoiler: As it turned out, I never did mention the strophium in Devouring Light. So often we writers do the research and only a tiny bit makes it onto the page. But we need to know.

The Subligaculum

This word was too long, with too many syllables, for me to use it in Devouring Light. Yes, I did need to refer to it in the course of my story! But I called it a “loin brief,” because that’s what it covers: the loins.

The subligacula of the ancient Romans took the form of either shorts or a cloth wrapped around the loins. It was a standard part of the dress for active folk like soldiers, gladiators, and athletes. Sometimes it was made of leather.

ArtemisThe Peplos

Reading about the peplos was an aha! moment for me. So that’s why those ancient Greek statues look the way they do! Ha!

So what’s the trick?

The peplos is essentially a long tunic, worn by women, that stretches from shoulder to ankle. Like a tunica, it’s sewn along the sides to make a tube. But it’s so long that the top third is folded over and drapes to the waist. That’s what makes that blousey over garment on all the statuary.

A sash or belt gathers the peplos at the waist.

Pins or buttons secure the fold at the top over the shoulders. And there you have it: the peplos.

The Tunica

This is where the garb of the ancients gets confusing. Because while the tunica is the basic undergarment, it can also serve as outer wear for children and for men.

Thus Mercurio might wear a short tunica next to his skin, with a longer tunica over it. Especially when he wants to be most formally dressed!

So is the tunica underwear? Or is it a formal robe? Only context makes this clear!

Statue of LibertyThe Stola

The stola is a woman’s version of the men’s toga, but it’s a lot more convenient!

It’s a long, pleated linen dress – generally sleeveless; sometimes sleeved – worn as an outer garment.

Clasps secure the shoulders. Two belts confine the garment to the torso: one immediately below the breasts, the other at the waist. The belts create many folds and layers. The more layers, the higher the woman’s status.

The Toga

The toga is the outer garment for males, worn both for warmth (in cool weather) and for propriety when leaving the home. Going without, in ancient Rome, would have been shocking. Not quite so shocking for my celestials.

Being a casual guy, Mercurio doffs his when he can get away with it, because the thing is so unweildy!

Togas are huge! And heavy! Made of a rectangular piece of wool, they measure 20 feet in length, and were wrapped around the body, under the right arm, and over the left shoulder.

Pure white togas dignify ceremonial occasions, but my celestials wear them in all hues.

For another post about Devouring Light, see The Celestial Spheres of Sol’s Demesne or The Graces.

 

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Celestial Spheres

HermesMercurio, the protagonist of my current work in progress, Devouring Light, serves as guardian to the planet Mercury, as well as running messages between his fellow immortals. Like his prototypes, the ancient Greek Hermes and the ancient Roman Mercury, Mercurio’s a bit of a Peter Pan, possessing a liking for pranks and an aversion to responsibility. The one responsibility he does not shirk is his care for his planet, the closest to his primary Sol, and the coolest celestial body in Sol’s demesne (as far as Mercurio is concerned). But events are about to demand more from the young planetary than heretofore.

Haden plots to retrieve his absconding wife Proserpina. The constellation Draco sates his jaded appetite with mischief more lethal than any Mercurio ever dreamed up. And the dark forces outside Sol’s heliopause follow whim and caprice to bring destruction in their wake. Will Mercurio succomb to the role of cat’s paw designated for him? Or will he save the solar system?

MercuryDevouring Light blends astronomy with Greco-Roman mythology and Dante’s Paradisio to create looming disaster on a cosmic scale. I hope you’ll enjoy the story when it releases sometime this winter. In the meantime, I’ve been doing some fun background research for the work, and I’d like to share bits and pieces of it with you.

First stop: where does this story take place?

Well, our solar system, but not purely our solar system. Permeating the physical reality is the essential inner reality, rather like the “real” forms generating the shadows in Plato’s allegorical cave. For Mercurio and his fellow planetaries, the physical reality and the “essential” reality are equally real. They speak of each planet’s orbit and its “sphere” almost interchangeably. Devouring Light’s celestial spheres owe their inspiration to those of Dante’s Paradisio, but I adjusted their numbering and content to suit my own more modern notions and my story.

Just to be clear, Devouring Light is fantasy, not science fiction, despite its outer space setting. As I say in a comment below (this paragraph is an update – the comment came first – thanks, Mira, for the excellent question), the astronomy is inspiration, not prescription. I’ve attempted to adhere to the facts as they are currently known, layering the fantasy atop. And, yes, I know that Pluto is no longer a planet. At the beginning of my story, it is. At the end . . . well, you’ll have to read it! 😉

I’ll share more about Devouring Light in future posts, but here I give you…

Sun & planets

THE CELESTIAL SPHERES OF SOL’S DEMESNE

First Sphere
The Sun tended by Sol

Second Sphere
Mercury tended by Mercurio

Third Sphere
Venus tended by Star

Fourth Sphere
MAIN ELLIPSE
Earth tended by Gaia

DEPENDENT ELLIPSE
The Moon tended by Artemis Diana

Fifth Sphere
INNER ELLIPSE
Mars tended by Ares

OUTER ELLIPSE
The Asteroids tended by Plurima
Ceres tended by Ceres

Sixth Sphere
Jupiter tended by Basileus

Seventh Sphere
INNER ELLIPSE
Saturn tended by Saturnus

MIDDLE ELLIPSE
Uranus tended by Ouranos

OUTER ELLIPSE
Neptune tended by Neptunus Equester

Eighth Sphere
The Zodiac Perspective inhabited by the Constellations

Ninth Sphere
Pluto tended by Haden

For more about Devouring Light, try What Do Celestials Wear? or The Graces.

 

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