BLOG: 6's & 7'S
From Ciara Ballintyne, author of The Seven Circles of Hell
Meet Alloran – the fantasy equivalent of a mad scientist, whose stock in trade is magic, not science.
I conceived of Alloran after reading The Accidental Sorcerer by K.E. Mills. The main character in that book has a friend, Monk Markham, who is a brilliant wizard constantly dabbling in things he shouldn’t—and getting away with it.
And I thought--but what if he didn’t? What if his hubris had consequences?
Poor Alloran has been plagued with mishaps, and in The Seven Circles of Hell he stumbles from disaster to disaster, in each book trying to put right what he made wrong in the last. Maybe he should just stop. Maybe it’s time to call it quits.
But he has itchy fingers, and he can’t put a puzzle down once he’s picked it up—and what’s a poor wizard to do when his best friend is on the loose, trying to destroy him, and, incidentally, the world?
Events all started a long time ago in a galaxy… I mean, just a long time ago. Alloran is more than a hundred years old, and when we meet him in Confronting the Demon, he’s abandoned his research and has committed himself to a life of carousing. Because if you don’t behave seriously, people can’t expect you solve serious problems, right?
It seems like a sensible decision—if you are addicted to something bad, the general wisdom is to give it up. But Alloran gets sucked back in when he’s framed for summoning demons, and winds up on the run while someone is murdering his friends.
So that’s how he got back into magic. But why did he quit in the first place?
Alloran was the man who discovered how to open gates into hell—which is why everyone thinks he summoned the one in Confronting the Demon. His research was burned and demon summoning banned, so who else could it be?
That first ill-fated foray into the hells, what was to be Alloran’s crowning glory, turned into a disaster that made him the man we meet in Confronting the Demon.
When I was asked to write a Christmas story for Tangled Lights and Silent Nights, my first thought was ‘how do you write a Christmas story in the epic fantasy genre?’ Then when I gave it some more thought, I realised I had a story that needed telling, that some readers had been asking for—the story of that first imp he summoned from hell, that started events in motion.
Another Bloody Festival is that story—how it all went terribly wrong for Alloran—set against the backdrop of the winter solstice—because is there a better time of year for a demon to be loose in the halls?
PURCHASE Tangled Lights and Silent Nights
You know that one toy that every kid just has to have? The one that the sadistic toymakers only produce in limited supply? Yes, that one. Of course, it’s different every year, and when my kids were little, I was just like the rest of the monsters, I mean, mothers, out trying to score that one thing, that one toy that would make them dance around the tree and scream “Thank you, Santa Claus!” Right. The only fat man involved was the one I kidney punched because he tried to grab my Cabbage Patch doll.
It was the year of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and the only thing my sons wanted was a red power ranger action figure. Of course, every child between the ages of four and fifty wanted the same thing and I had exhausted the search in my small town and surrounding areas. Two weeks before Christmas, and I tried to explain to them that I couldn’t find it. I might as well have been talking Furbish. They knew that what Mom couldn’t find, Santa would take care of. Damn the fat man.
I had one more shot. My aunt and I had planned to meet in Manhattan for a weekend of shows and Christmas fun. Of all the toy stores in the world, surely, FAO Schwartz would have the prize, right? Well, kind of. Amidst a mob of mothers I listened while the store manager explained:
“Our last shipment of power ranger figures will arrive in the morning at 5am.” Then he added. “By truck. In the alley.”
I wasn’t opposed to grappling in a dark, New York City alley at 5am for a power ranger, and I was pretty sure I could hold my own. But these other miscreants, I mean, mothers, were pretty excited about it, and that scared me. I shrugged, and thought, oh well, in the spirit of Christmas, I’ll round up some brass knuckles and a cat o nines and take my chances. What the hell.
I got there at 4 a.m., thinking I would be ahead of the crowd. The others were obviously more experienced at alley jacking trucks, and there were easily two hundred women already there. Yes, two hundred Zhu Zhu warriors, ready to crack you over the head with an Easy Bake Oven, if necessary.
Seeing that my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle moves were not intimidating anyone, I knew my chance of actually getting through these angry birds was pretty slim. They would be arm-loading, and if I got to the truck at all, the only thing that would be left would be, heaven forbid, a blue ranger. And from the looks of the crowd, I’d probably have to take a knife just to get that.
I was ready to accept defeat. I wavered between telling the boys that Santa is a jerk or to just blame their father. I started walking away, glancing back to the alley and trying to avoid the Christmas cheer that the twinkling lights and expensive decorations were there to encourage. Then I stopped and looked more closely at the decorations that were strung through the streets. “Well, Tickle Me, Elmo,” I said. I turned around and walked one block, turned and walked one more. Then I waited.
At 4:45, an unmarked 28 foot box truck crept down the street. At 4:46, I walked in front of it and forced it to stop.
“Lady, are you crazy!” Probably not certifiable, but that wasn’t the point.
“You hit me!” I yelled as I limped toward him and climbed on the step side.
“You are crazy. Lady, you need to get off my truck.”
I nodded. “Sure thing. I’ll just call your dispatcher and say you hit me and kept on going. Or, I could call him and tell him how professionally you handled Christmas Hell in that alley ahead. Either one will go in your file, right?”
“How do you know what alley I’m going to?”
I shrugged. “I work for a truck line. Last week one of our drivers took out Santa and all eight reindeer that were hanging too low across the street. Look around, this is the only route there is to that alley, and you have a 5 a.m. appointment.”
He laughed. “I guess you want me to open up my truck and get you one of those damn dolls. That ain’t gonna happen.”
He knew he was packing the goods. But I was smarter than the average beanie baby. “No! Of course not. I’m going to ask you to give me one of the ones you’ve got in the cab of this truck. Twenty bucks for a $7 toy, and a glowing compliment from one of the mothers at FAO Schwartz. Whatdya say?”
He thought for a moment. “What makes you think I have some in the cab?”
I gave him my best smirk and rolled my eyes. I do love truck drivers.
He thought for a moment and then sighed. “You got forty bucks?”
“Forty bucks! Highway robbery!” I said as dug in my pocket and grabbed two twenties. Then I realized, it actually was highway robbery and I was a maskless Zorro. “It has to be red,” I said as he leaned over and reached behind the passenger seat. I heard him mumble, “Well, hell, like I don’t know that.”
He handed me two boxes. I shook my head. “No, I only need one."
“One’s red and the other is green. They just came out with the green ones. You’ll be walkin’ in front of trucks for that one next week. I’m trying to save us both the headache.”
I walked back through the streets of Manhattan with more attitude than Holiday Barbie. I stood across the street from Hell Alley and watched as the biting, fighting, screaming and general chaos began. I couldn’t resist yelling “Merry Christmas, losers!” as I turned to leave. I smiled as I patted my coat, now bulging with two boxes—-a red ranger AND a green ranger. I had scored. And I’d be damned if Santa was going to get the credit for it.
By Stacey Roberts
My mother was in a state of high dudgeon.
“SSSSo,” she hissed. (I learned early in life that she was deadly serious when her sibilants extended). “You’re a TOKEN.”
“A token! You wrote a story for a Christmas whatchamacallit—anthology. What kind of word IS that? Sounds Yiddish. Anyway, nineteen Christmas stories from the goyim and one Hanukkah story from you. You’re a token!”
“Come on, Ma. That isn’t even remotely true.”
“Really, smarty pants? All these other authors in this collection – they’ve written great books! That Kristy Gamble – she’s on the USA Today Bestseller List!”
“Kelly, Ma. Kelly Gamble.” (My mother is no good with names).
“That’s what I said. Bestseller!”
“You would love her books. Her heroine whapped her husband in the head with a shovel.”
“If we’d had a shovel I would have whapped the crap out of your father, that son of a bitch.”
“I know you would, Ma.”
“There’s another writer in this book, this Justin Bog character. What kind of name is Bog? Is he from Scotland or something?”
“Actually, I think Bog is short for something unpronounceable. Possibly Eastern European.”
“He can’t be Jewish. He wrote a book of Christmas stories. Very well-received by the critics. Not like YOUR chazerai.” (‘Chazerai’ is the Yiddish word for ‘bullshit’. I didn’t even have to look it up. It was in the Amazon review my mom left about my first book).
“And I checked him out on the Tweeter—”
“That’s what I said. There’s no way he’s Jewish. He’s got German shepherds!”
“Ma, that’s ridiculous. Dog-ownership isn’t relevant to—“
“My point is that these are accomplished writers. That Kate Birdsall. I got one of her books. They’re so good. Mysteries. That’s what you should write. Or even that Claude Bouchard. Also a bestseller. Lotta violence, but ok. And Diane Byington? She’s won AWARDS, Stace. Awardssssss. What kind of awards do YOU have?”
“I got an honorable mention by the Recreational Vehicle Enthusiasts Society of Missoula, Montana.”
“Big deal. Nicole Evelina won three Book of the Year designations. Maybe she could give you some writing tips, since you’re so interested in concocting Christian stories all of a sudden.”
“Ciara Ballintyne wrote a non-denominational story about a winter festival. It’s got wizards and demons in it. Nothing Christian about THAT.”
“SSSSStace. ‘Winter festival’ is just another way to say Christmas. And goyim are all about demons. They’re everywhere in their heathen Bible. Piles and piles of demons.”
“Anyway, my reason for calling is to let you know that the book is available for pre-order—“
“Just send me a copy.”
“You should buy one. The proceeds go to benefit a great charity. It’s a really good cause—“
“These goyim. They should have asked your brother to write a story. He’s got a real way with words.”
“I’m sure he does. The charity is The LifeAfter—Visions of Hope Project. They spread awareness about suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence.”
“There would have been a lot more domestic violence in our house if I’d had me a shovel.”
“I’ll buy you one for Christmas.”
“We do NOT celebrate Christmassssssss!”
“Hanukkah then. But really, any occasion is good for a shovel.”
“Yeah, like now. You’re a lot like your father, you know.”
“So you keep telling me. Will you pre-order the book?”
“You should send me a copy. And get that Barbara Vicars to sign it.”
“That’s what I said. You could at least get it autographed by some real authors, couldn’t you? Even though you’re just their mascot or whatever you are.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
“You should, Buster. I’m your mother.”
The good news is that none of you will have to go to all this trouble to get your own copy of Tangled Lights and Silent Nights: A Holiday Anthology. Some of the best writers in the business contributed holiday-themed stories based on the characters from their books. The proceeds from all sales will benefit a great cause. This will make a perfect gift to put under your own Christmas tree, if you’re into that sort of thing.
And, my mom wants you to know there’s a Hanukkah story in it.
ORDER Tangled Lights and Silent Nights
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