The Evil Eye – Alaia Baque

evil eyeMost of us have heard of the evil eye. This superstition holds that one person can cause misfortune or even bodily injury to another person by glaring at them malevolently. The oldest documentation of this superstition is from ancient Greece, but it has occurred frequently over the years in many cultures. Stories of the evil eye occur in the old testament, across Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Spain and Mexico, among others.

It would be easy to dismiss this as nonsense from a bygone era, but belief in the evil eye is still strong even today, all over the world. There’s even an online store that sells almost exclusively evil eye related goods.

All this is fine and dandy of course. Wearing evil eye jewelry is harmless, it’s just a matter of personal taste, right? Yes. Until it isn’t. A belief in superstition and folklore unmitigated by reason and science often leads to dark places and even darker acts.

In August of 2016, in Queens NY, a five month old girl by the name of Alaia Baque, died as a result of fatal injuries that included eight separate skull fractures as well as a hemorrhage in one eye suggesting she’d been violently shaken.

As the story emerged it was revealed that Alaia was a fussy baby, frequently crying. Her father, Jorge, felt Alaia was rejecting him, that she cried most frequently when he was around.

Rather than take the child to a doctor or reaching out to others for help, the parents reported that they rolled a raw egg — in its shell — on the baby’s skin to attempt to discover what the problem might be. Afterward, they cracked it open. They decided the yolk ‘looked bad’ and determined to take the child to a priestess for help.

They took the child to a  priestess (some reports say she was a voodoo priestess, but this does not seem to be corroborated) who purportedly swaddled the child and rolled her about on the ground in an effort to cure her of the evil eye.

The parents accused the priestess of killing the child, but investigators were not convinced. The injuries were consistent with being stomped or hit with a blunt object. The father has been charged and is awaiting trial.


10 Amazing Fantasy Authors Who Are Women of Color

women of colorLike most of you, I grew up on Fantasy. I’d have to verify this with my mom, but I’m pretty certain I came out of the womb with a fantasy novel in hand (much to her dismay). Also like most of you, for many years, the books I read took place in a European middle ages sort of setting, had male protagonists (always assumed white) and were written by white men.

This left an impression on me. When I first began writing, all of my stories took place in a middle ages European type of setting, they all had male protagonists (always assumed white), with as few women in them as I could get away with. None of those stories have even made it past my elementary school writing teachers. But they are back there.

In some ways, my winding path through fantasy over the years of my life has been about finding and discovering myself in the books I read. It has been an inspiring journey truth be told. There are some amazing women out there writing truly amazing fantasy. More recently, though, this search for women in fantasy has evolved into a search for something that seemed even more rare. Fantasy written by women of color.

For most Americans, we hear so infrequently about women of color writing fantasy that it would be easy to think they simply aren’t writing any of it. But you would be wrong.

Below is a list of ten authors, all women of color, you should definitely read this year if you’ve not read them already. And don’t forget, drop a review on Amazon and/or GoodReads after you’ve had a chance to read them. Reviews are gold for authors.

Sabaa Tahir

Sabaa  Tahir’s debut book, a young adult fantasy novel called An Ember in the Ashes, ended up on the New York Times Best Seller List and won several other awards in 2015. The second book of the series, A Torch Against the Night, is also available, and has also ended up on several best seller lists. These books are amazing. Don’t let the YA tag put you off, these books are gritty.

Octavia Butler

Truth be told, Octavia Butler is more of a sci fi writer than a fantasy writer, but many of her books blur the boundaries of these two, and I simply could not leave her off of this list. Regardless of which book you choose to start with, be prepared to head out on a deep and meaningful journey.

NK Jemisin

NK Jemisin burst onto the fantasy scene with The Hundred Thousand Kingdom’s trilogy and she’s not been out of the spotlight since. And rightly so. Her newest series, The Broken Earth, kicked into gear with The Fifth Season and won a Hugo for best novel in 2016. I’ve read her Dream Blood books and adored them. I’ll soon be sinking my teeth into The Fifth Season, I can’t wait!

Nalo Hopkinson

Nalo Hopkinson is a new name for me and I’ve not read any of her books. When I posted a query to a Facebook group I’m a member of, however, her name kept popping up as recommended reading. I’ll be starting my exploration of her novels with The Salt Road, a Nebula finalist. If The Salt Road doesn’t grab you keep scrolling, she’s got a number of books out.

Nnedi Okorafor

I recently read Who Fears Death, a World Fantasy Award finalist, and I instantly fell in love with its blend of folklore, tradition, and fantasy. It was a wonderful story, in a setting quite far from the usual rolling green hills of England.

Helen Oyeyemi

Helen is another new author for me. But again, her name popped up frequently when asking for book recommendations. White is for Witching is at the top of my list. It is set in England (Oyeyemi is a British author), but it’s explorations of race, nationality, and family legacies makes it a compelling read.

Alaya Johnson

Set in the tropics of Brazil, The Summer Prince is the book that comes up most often when I talk with people about Alaya Johnson. It’s described on Amazon as “A heart-stopping story of love, death, technology, and art set amid the tropics of a futuristic Brazil.” The setting alone is enough to draw me in, but the focus on art definitely sealed the deal.

Jewelle Gomez

I stumbled on Jewelle Gomez’s The Gilda Stories earlier this year while seeking out books to read on my vacation. I do like vampires, but I’m pretty picky about them. (They can’t shimmer in the daylight, as an example.) While The Gilda Stories didn’t have the same erotic overtones as other vampire novels, I believe that is exactly the point. I greatly enjoyed this book. It was sort of a Dickens meets Interview with a Vampire, and was quite wonderful.

Larissa Lai

When Fox is a Thousand hit my reading list in February. I’ve not had a chance to dig my teeth into it yet. I’m really looking forward to a lazy Saturday afternoon with this book open on my lap. Magical, poetic, rich with folklore and fairy tale are how others describe this book. I love the blending of folklore into fantasy, so this book is right in my wheelhouse.

Marie Lu

My first run in with Marie Lu was at a writers conference in Colorado a number of years back. She was delightful, and after hearing her speak and chatting with her I decided to pick up her young adult novel Legend. I was instantly hooked. She’s completed the Legend series, and has a second series out as well called The Young Elites that I’ve not had the opportunity to read as of yet.


I’m a book worm. I’d love to spend more time reading, but like most of us, I squeeze my reading time between my day job, my writing time, and trips to the gym. There are always more books being added to the leaning pile of books than I take off. This, however, is a wonderful problem to have! What are some of your favorite fantasy novels written by women of color?


Six Amazing Fantasy Pinterest Boards

fantasy pinterest boardsI love Pinterest. Yes, I do use it to house an ever growing list of recipes. And, yes, I do use it to get ideas for party themes and decor (I’m a huge Halloween fan, and throw a massive party every year). But I ALSO use it to feed my geeky fantasy loving soul. Here are some great fantasy pinterest boards to help you get your geek on!


Oh lord Cthulu is there some awesome stuff on this board. Look, I don’t play with Lego. I also don’t have kids. But this site is filled to bursting with the sort of creative geeks that make us all swoon. Star Wars? Check. Terminator? Check. Dwarves? Check. Chickens with uzis? Yep. This board as 2,300 pins to keep you entertained, and 1.4 million (MILLION) followers. It’s well worth a visit.

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28 Best First Lines in Fantasy

best first lines in fantasyThere is nothing like opening (or tabbing) to the first page of a fantasy novel you’ve just picked up and reading a first line that jolts you like a stab of lightening. It’s like the author reaches out of the page and wraps their hand right around your throat, yanking you right into the book. Or squirts gorilla glue into your eyeballs, pinning them open and focused on the book in front of you.

I’ve pulled together 28 of the all time best first lines in fantasy below, and at the bottom, what has to be my favorite all time opener. Sharpen you pencils! (Er, um… ready your keyboard.) Your to-read list is about to get a boost.

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Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears DeathThere’s nothing new about novels of the post apocalypse. But if you get most of your fantasy to-read list off American or European book lists, books that take place in post apocalyptic Africa may be new indeed. Who Fears Death, by author Nnedi Okorafor, is an award winning novel about a remarkable woman surviving  the bleak landscape of a war torn post apocalyptic Africa.

Who Fears Death is more magical realism than full blown fantasy, but regardless, is well worth a read. I loved the folklore the author wove beautifully through the fabric of this story. Creatures and myth’s that are new and unusual to most American readers, and fascinating for it.

This book tackles some seriously weighty topics. Rape, genital mutilation, war, violence, feminism… all woven expertly through the pages of this book. It’s serious stuff, but don’t let that sway you away from this gem. Who Fears Death is well worth the read.

My only negative is I feel the middle does bog down a bit. There is a section of the book that comes late in the middle portion of the story that feels a little out of sorts, as if it were tacked on almost as an after thought, and didn’t really form organically out of the rest of the story. That said, it’s relatively short, and the rest of the book more than makes up for this little imperfection. Or, at least, what feels to me as an imperfection.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. The world, the magical systems, the folklore are all fascinating from the first page to the last. And I loved how the author wove real life struggles into the story. Definitely give Who Fears Death a solid thumbs up.


The Dark History of Magic: Malleus Malleficarum

malleus malefic arumWitches are an integrated part of our lore, our culture and our stories. We’ve all studied the Salem Witch Trials in school, and who hasn’t heard of Hermione Granger? Shows such as Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch are ever popular, and few women have not dressed as a witch on halloween at least once in their lives –  pointy hat, broomstick and warty nose in all. But these fun fictions aside, magic has a way of bleeding into the real world in violent and unpredictable ways. For witches, this dark history is tightly tied to the Malleus Maleficarum.

Latin for “The Hammer of Witches” (or “Hexenhammer” in German) the Malleus Maleficarum is one of the most infamous and bloody medieval writings on witches, giving us some insight into how women were seen in the fifteenth century, when witchcraft was deeply feared. This book would have made Sabrina the Teenage Witch cower in a corner, as it described the rules and guidelines for identifying, interrogating, prosecuting, convicting, and killing suspected witches.

The History of the Malleus Maleficarum 

The Malleus Maleficarum was written – unsurprisingly – by two religious men. Jacob Sprenger and Heinrich Kramer, two Inquisitors for the Catholic Church, penned this guide in 1486. It was first read by the masses in Germany in 1487.

Jacob Sprenger was prior and regent of studies of the Cologne Convent. He later became Dean of Cologne University and in 1488, was named provincial of the Province of Germany. Heinrich Kramer was prior of the Dominican House in Schlettstadt in Lower Alsace. In 1474, he became inquisitor for several German provinces. In addition to adding fuel to the witch hunt fire, the Malleus Maleficarum was successful in large part to the reputations of its authors.

In 1484, Kramer and Sprenger were granted the power to prosecute those they deemed to be witches via a papal bull from Pope Innocent VII. The point of the bull was to squash protestant objection to the inquisition. Following the bull, the Malleus Maleficarum was widely adopted as a witch hunting manual by catholics and protestants in Germany, France, and Italy.

It may surprise you to learn that this witch hunting manual was banned in 1490 by the catholic church. There were people in the christian community (mainly scholars and theologians because educated people are always the ones with the most sense) who doubted the existence of witches at all. But the authors of the Malleus Maleficarum so passionately believed they were able to convince the majority of it’s necessity, saying “Whether the belief that there are such beings as witches is so essential a part of the catholic faith that obstinacy to maintain the opposite opinion manifestly savors of heresy.”

The book remained in use for 300 years across the world, especially during witch trials in England and scatterings of Europe. Thanks to his book, the misconceptions and fears about women who acted outside the norm – considered witches – were reinforced and given teeth. These misconceptions became irrefutable truth and gave accusers a tool to act on their fears.

The Malleus Maleficarum was the de facto guide for detecting and persecuting witches, including the rules and procedures by which their torture and death must be carried out. It is difficult to know precisely how many people lost their lives do to this inquisition. Estimates run from 600,000 to as high as 9 million. Whatever the real number is, it can be argued that this is likely one of the most harmful books ever written.

The Malleus Maleficarum cited reasons for accusing and punishing women for witchcraft as varied as:

  • Being old
  • Being a midwife
  • Being Jewish
  • Being a Gypsy
  • Having a weird birthmark or skin deformity
  • Living alone
  • Being mentally ill
  • Owning medicinal herbs

From our modern perspective such a list is nonsense. Most women, including myself, would fall under suspicion with standards such as these. But the fear that is birthed out of ignorance is never all that far away. Consider christian protestors today who believe that feminists are representatives of the devil as an example. Such views are most certainly on the edges of our modern world, science and reason have rightly pushed them there. But such things always lurks there at the shadowy edges.

Use in the USA 

Fear of witches spread all over the world, and was notable especially in the english settlements in America. We all know about the Salem Witch Trials in Salem, Massachusetts. We learn about it in school and watch films (The Crucible is one of the best of these in my opinion) and plays based on the horrors that took place there. The Malleus Maleficarum gave these ideas the strength to travel across the sea and take hold of communities in the new world.

It is impossible to tell the exact effect the Malleus Maleficarum had on witch hunting in America. There is little to no documentation now how exactly the manual was used in trials. But it’s not hard to see that it added fuel to the fire. For example, witches were often tortured into confessing or naming other women to be witches. The number of confessed or accused witches grew and grew, which satiated people’s suspicions and quelled doubts. These confessions provided “frightful proofs that the Devil is still alive,” as it was later put in America in the Salem witch trials.

The Book Itself 

This awful piece of literary history is split into 3 sections. Part 1 discusses and defines witchcraft. It claims that women who are witches renounce god and catholicism, have “carnal relations” with the devil, and routinely sacrifice kids to the devil. It also adds in a clever little loophole to combat anyone who disagrees. There’s a bit that basically says that since the bible expressedly states that there are witches, not believing in witchcraft makes you a heretic.

Part 2 talks about all the awful things witches do and how they can be stopped. It targets all the things god-fearing men of the 1400s worried about. It claimed that witches frolic with satan, can ruin crops and kill cattle, and can cast spells against which they had no protection. The authors even made up some examples!

Part 3 is where things get legal. It thoughtfully outlines how to take testimony, how to question a suspect… and then how to torture the hell out of them. It gives rules and guidelines, like how the person being tortured has no right to know who actually accused them to begin with and how judges can lie in order to get the answers they want.

So next time you’re sitting down to watch Charmed, consider the lengths people used to go to to condemn a woman for doing anything they considered outside of the norm for the day. No matter what shenanigans Sabrina gets up to, she should consider herself damn lucky.



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I Love My Pop! Funko Doll

Groot Pop! DollFor the first time in my life, nerd culture has become mainstream. In many ways that is so awesome! It’s never been easier to be a fan girl. With that mainstream popularity comes merchandizing like we’ve never seen before. There are entire stores these days that sell nothing but fandom merch. Even big box stores like Target are filled with it! I’m not much of a chotchky sort of person. I hate clutter. But if I’m going to make an exception, it will be for a Pop! Funko Vinyl.

They are just about everywhere and I love them. That simple squarish face with those big eyes… it’s impossible to pass them up! My absolute favorite? Groot. I’ve got a total  crush on Groot, not gonna lie, and I’ve got two of these awesome goodies.

The Company and How it Got Started

Funko, creator of those adorable, huge-headed figures, was founded by Mike Becker in 1998. He originally wanted the it to be a small project with the goal of bringing back nostalgic, low-tech toys to help combat a world obsessed with high-tech doobobs. The very first Funko bobblehead toy was the Big Boy bobblehead because Becker was in the market for a vintage coin bank depicting the mascot, but couldn’t find one for a reasonable price. He decided to produce his own replica by outsourcing the construction to China. The company, creating bobbleheads, banks, and hand puppets, began from this one little figure. (Side note: Remember Big Boy? It turns out, they’re still around. I had no idea!)

Becker sold the company in 2005 to Brian Mariotti. Mariotti has more or less kept the dream alive, but they’ve increased the scope of the products ten-fold. Funko LLC has around 180 unique licenses from movies, TV, comics, video games, sports, and other cultural icons. They have licensing deals with all the biggest players:

Marvel     DC Comics     Lucas Film     Sony Pictures     Paramount     DreamWorks     Hasbro


Warner Bros     Disney     HBO     Peanuts     Ubisoft     2K Games     Bethesda Games     and more

Mariotti says it used to be hard getting companies to agree to sign on with them. But now, brands are banging down their doors to get their characters as a Pop!  The vinyl dolls are still their biggest seller,  the company made about $40 million in 2013. In 2016 that number was $425 million. Pretty impressive if I do say so myself.

The Products

The vinyl bobblehead dolls we’ve all come to love and recognize haven’t changed much over the years. The first few characters included Betty Boop, Cap’n Crunch, and The Cat in the Hat. Over the years, the dolls took on human characters, exaggerating the heads and eyes. They are 3.75 inches tall with a square head and rounded edges.

Now, you can find a Pop! Vinyl Doll of almost any character you can imagine, even minor characters. The dolls aren’t limited to fictional characters either. You can find Pop! Vinyl culture figures like Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols and Tupac Pop-ified, too!

The vinyl dolls have branched out to include Mystery Minis, Hiraki, Legacy Collection, Mopeez, and Home & Accessories. The Home & Accessories collection specializes in ceramic mugs, which are basically just glass copies of the heads of popular figures, hollowed out with a handle on one side. Vinyl Sugar was announced at Toy Fair 2015, with offshoot lines including Dorbz, Vinyl Idolz, Vinyl Vixens, and Super Deluxe Vinyls.

From their first introduction at Comic Con in 2010, Pop! Funko Vinyl Dolls have blown up to include almost 3,000 unique pieces and 40 million units. They all have the recognizable Pop! Funko Vinyl style while boasting individual characteristics that make the character recognizable. They’re intensely collectable. Selling at only $10, you can build a huge collection quickly. There are also extremely rare, limited edition Pop! Vinyl Dolls. Funko created a Pop! Of JJ Abrams just for Kathleen Kennedy.

“You have to have the huge Walking Dead or Game of Thrones items that everyone wants, but you also need to do Firefly or Dodgeball. There are fans looking specifically for that and we might be the only company offering something to have on their desk,” says vice president of creative Ben Butcher. “It’s very important that we’re not just going for the big home runs.” Adds Mariotti: “If it doesn’t sell out, that’s okay. If everything was bottom line-generated, our line would be boring and probably wouldn’t be half as successful.” (I had to bold that out. It’s rare to find a company of this size that is willing to step out and take on a niche in this day and age.)

Next time you walk into a store that has Pop! Funko Vinyl dolls on display, take a closer look. It’s hard to come across a rare one and new reboots, new shows, and new movies mean Funko will never run out of source material. But know that each doll came from the singular idea to create something simple, fun, and cute for the fans.



Additional Info:

Ever Hear of Funko?
Funko on Wikipedia
The Incredible Rise of Funko Pop!

Writing Life Comic #11: A Mind of One’s Own

The truth is, some days writing a book is a bit like open warfare. You, the author, often have very particular ideas about what you want your characters to do, how you want them to do it, when and so on. You’d think, since you’re the writer, that you were in control. You’d be wrong.

Once characters emerge fully fleshed in the story they often develop a mind of their own. The story will sometimes teeter out of your control as your muse gives it a goddess-like shove in a direction you never intended. And your characters, well, they might have ideas of their own about how to act in a given situation.

Characters have a mind of their own

Meandering Through Cambodia

wandering through angkor wasGreetings readers! I’m off wandering through Cambodia right now. I’m looking for the Naga, the dragons of the Kmer people, and spending a surprisingly large chunk of time wondering if I can possibly bring myself to eat a tarantula. I might also be feasting on crab and seasoned with the best pepper in the world, napping or reading on a beach. Regardless, I’m not here right now, though you’ll see me feverishly posting pictures over on Facebook and Twitter during the small windows of time I have wifi.

I’ll be back with more blog posts mid-February. Until then, read on book worms. Read on.