Monday, August 31, 2015

Page 14: The band Behemoth

The band Behemoth is mentioned in The Billionth Monkey as a triple entendre:
  1. Behemoth is an extreme metal band from Gdańsk, Poland…or, as my parents would have called it, the Old Country. My dear friend Krzysztof Azarewicz assists with their occult/Thelemic lyrics. So it's a shout-out to Krzysztof and the band.

  2. Behemoth’s recent promotional video The Satanist: Prologue III  shows lead singer Nergal contemplating “The Devil” from the Thoth Tarot (see also my Thoth Sightings webpage). So it’s a subtle foreshadowing of the soon-to-come Tarot reading in this first chapter.
    Drummer Inferno contemplates "The Devil" from the Thoth Tarot in these screen captures
    from Behemoth's promotional film The Satanist: Prologue III.
  3. Between the band name Behemoth (from Job 40:15-24), their 2014 album The Satanist, the drummer's name Inferno (which itself recalls Dante), and his contemplation of “The Devil,” we have all kinds of #DevilReferences, which appear throughout the book (along with #MonkeyReferences, as we'll see in other blog posts).
    "One was a young man in sunglasses and a top hat, which formed a stark contrast
    with the rest of his wardrobe: a vintage t-shirt for the death metal band Behemoth
    (the name printed in Fraktur above an ominous double-headed eagle)..."
    (The Billionth Monkey, p. 14).
    The image above is from Behemoth's web store.
The band's vocalist, Nergal, recently released his autobiography, Confessions of a Heretic. Check it out!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Page 11: Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau

Niels Belanger’s mental narrative about Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau (ca. 1794–1881) is an accurate if succinct summary of the woman and her legend, so there’s no need to repeat it here. For all the gory, scholarly details, see:
  • Carolyn Morrow Long, A New Orleans Voudou Priestess: The Legend and Reality of Marie Laveau (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2006).
  • Martha Ward, Voodoo Queen: The Spirited Lives of Marie Laveau (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2004). 
For instant gratification, there's always Wikipedia.
The author at Marie Laveau's tomb in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in April 2014.
 For damage done to her tomb by the "triple-X" contemporary legend, and attempts to discourage this practice and preserve the tomb, see this article. Owing to vandalism, access to her resting place at St. Louis No. 1 was this year sadly restricted to those with an official escort.

For the ghost of Marie Laveau slapping a pharmacy store customer, see Robert Tallant, Voodoo in New Orleans (New York: Macmillan, 1946; rpt. Gretna, LA: Pelican, 1990), 130–1, or the paraphrase online at Secrets of the Voodoo Tomb (scroll down to “A Haunting Tale”).

Because records from her era are sketchy, there is some debate about the location of Laveau’s tomb, and which Laveau (her or her daughter Marie II, 1827–ca. 1895) is buried where. However, the tomb in St. Louis No. 1 is most commonly accepted as he resting place, and has an official plaque to mark it.

For those of you unfamiliar with St. Louis No. 1 cemetery, here are photos of the approach to the cemetery taken during a research visit there:

“Across a nondescript stretch of Basin Street on the north edge of the French Quarter, a high brick wall,
white and cracked, ran the length of an entire city block.” (Kaczynski, The Billionth Monkey, p. 11)
“Black iron gates at its midpoint provided the only entryway to New Orleans’ oldest and
best-known cemetery, Saint Louis No. 1.” (Kaczynski, The Billionth Monkey, p. 11)

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Page 10: The "Well to Hell" Legend

Welcome to the first urban legend in The Billionth Monkey! Purportedly originating from Finland in the 1980s, this urban legend has it that a ridiculously deep drilling operation in a remote part of the world (Siberia's Kola Peninsula being the prototype) broke through to a hollow underground area that was over 2,000° F. From this well escaped—depending on which version you read—
  • luminous gas, 
  • mournful howls of the damned, and 
  • a deadly creature with bat-like wings. 
Apparently, they had drilled into Hell itself!

In 1989, this story was picked up and reported by the California-based Christian television network, Trinity Broadcasting Network, both on its TV programming and in its newsletter. It was repeated in 1990 in Christian newsletters like Praise the Lord, Midnight Cry and Christianity Today, and even crossed into mainstream media in 1992 when picked up by the Weekly World News (this time set in Alaska).  It has been repeated and retold many times since.

This fanciful image accompanied one version of the Weekly World News story on the Well to Hell.
WWN's reporting--and the source of the above image--can be found here.
My adaptation of this urban legend places the hapless well under a deep water oil rig. Not only are these some of the deepest wells in the world, but this setting also allowed for over-the-top drama upon finally reaching the underworld: a potent and chilling mix of contemporary legend with one of the biggest current events stories of the decade.

For more information:
Rich Buhler, "Scientists Discover Hell In Siberia," Christianity Today, July 16, 1990, 34(10): 28–29.
Jan Harrold Brunvand, The Baby Train and Other Lusty Urban Legends (New York: Norton, 1993), 105–8.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Page 5: The Great Harlot

My most memorable encounter with a doorbell-ringer happened while I was still a teenager. I was the only one home at the time and gave them the usual brush-off…until I noticed that the current issue of The Watchtower had an awesome painting of the Whore of Babylon on the cover. I’d always been fascinated by Revelation, and had by that time already taught myself Greek in order to study the text in the original Koine. As the proselytizers turned to leave, I had no choice but to stop them and plead, “Wait! How much do I have to give you for a copy of that?” I've saved the issue to this very day.

The best thing I ever got from door-to-door proselytizers.

 That image of Hitler smiling approvingly from the wings just puts this image over the top.

On a related note, also on page 5 of The Billionth Monkey: In the writing and lecturing that I do as part of my metaphysical life, I was a speaker at the first annual Babalon Rising festival in 2006, which at that time took place in French Lick, Indiana. The city name always stuck in my head, so I couldn’t resist making it the location of Arouse! magazine's story about the garage sale Grail.

Although the story of Seal Team Six is just as fictional as my sale-Grail tale, I can see in my mind's eye the illustration of Jesus directing soldiers upstairs to Bin Laden. It's a two-page spread, with a headline across both pages and a half-width column of text superimposed on the right side. I’d love to see it done for real. On black velvet.

Another image from The Watchtower.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Page 3: Missionary Man

One challenge in the prologue was how to spread my urban legend to the Deep Water Lemuria. I had originally envisioned one of the crew receiving some tracts at mail call, but that wasn't very exciting. Plus, I don’t know whether drilling platforms even have such a thing as mail call.

The solution: Missionaries.

Having missionaries show up unannounced at the rig…now that's funny! I don't identify their faith, because that detail is really irrelevant. The humor is in the absurd circumstance, and how people react to door-to-door proselytizers of whatever persuasion. Whence the popular "Excuse me" meme:

An example of the "Excuse me" meme, source image here.

So I dished up a vague mix of elements from groups known for doorbell-ringing—a common Mormon name here, a Jehova's Witness magazine reference there (Arouse! rather than Awake!)—without singling anyone out. The result is something that I think people on both sides of the door can laugh at.

"Hello" from The Book of Mormon.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Page 2: The Crew of the Deep Water Lemuria


Given the urban legend introduced at the end of the prologue, I knew this part of the book was going to be set on a deep water oil rig. In terms of media coverage, public interest, and horrible imagery, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is etched in a place in our cultural memory reserved for tragedies like 9/11. By referencing such a terrible event in the context of a rather silly story, I wanted to carefully avoid appearing to trivialize or mock in any way what happened on that awful day. I made a conscious decision to say something about the people on my fictional oil rig, to subtly remind readers that there was a human toll in the real-world events on which this scene was based. It was my way of acknowledging and honoring the lives lost on the Deepwater Horizon.

The Deepwater Horizon mobile offshore drilling unit.

As I researched the incident, I was frustrated to find many accounts of the explosion itself, of the massive oil leak, its effect on the ecosystem, the legal cases, and the financial settlements...but no information on the lives lost on the Deepwater Horizon. This fact made me redouble my efforts to learn about them. I was finally able to assemble this missing picture by searching local newspapers and obituaries. While I didn't model my fictional characters on the Deep Water Lemuria on anyone in particular, the panoply of personal details in the lives and circumstances of these real-world crew members provided insight into how to make my fictional characters more authentic—or archetypal, if you willrepresentations of those lost in this tragedy.

Lots of media coverage on the explosion and spill, but not much about the people who lost their lives.

It’s a tricky balancing act to reference a startling incident of such tremendous significance in our popular culture, yet to be respectful to the real human tragedy that occurred. I tried very hard. I hope I succeeded.

Understanding the lives lost on the Deepwater Horizon was part of my process for
comprehending the incident and treating it respectfully in my fictionalized oil rig scene.

PS—I note that IMDB lists a film in production for 2016 called Deepwater Horizon. Hopefully it will tell the world more about the human side of this incident.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Page 1. Lemuria

I originally wanted to call my fictitious oil rig the Deep Water Atlantis for what I think are obvious reasons. However someone who shares my sense of irony had, amazingly enough, bestowed this fate-tempting name upon an actual deep water drilling platform. Since Atlantis was taken, I turned to Lemuria, the darling of nineteenth-cenury sunken continent hypotheses. Although later refuted through a better understanding of plate tectonics, it was a popular theory at the time that spurred occultists like H. P. Blavatsky to identify it as an ancestral land of the perennial tradition. In the early twentieth century it appeared in fantastic fiction, including Robert E. Howard’s Kull and H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos; and turned up as recently as Thomas Pynchon’s novel Inherent Vice (2009).
Map of the Thurian Continent for Robert E. Howard's King Kull stories (original image here).

An example of the Theosophical literature on Lemuria:
William Scott Elliot, The Lost Lemuria: With Two Maps Showing Distribution of Land-Areas at Different Periods. (London: Theosophical Pub. Society, 1904). 

For more on Lemuria, see here and here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

0. The Story Behind the Cover

This post inaugurates the promised walk-through of The Billionth Monkey, in which I’ll talk about jokes, references, inspirations, and other trivia about the novel. And what better place to start than the front cover?

This was hands-down the hardest part about putting together The Billionth Monkey, and I’m thrilled with how it turned out. All the credit for that goes to Aaron Tatum of Digital Pear. I had worked with him previously on Perdurabo Outtakes, Panic in Detroit, and Forgotten Templars, so when I needed a book cover he was naturally the first person I thought of. What he came up with was nothing short of a miracle considering what little I gave him to work with.

Above: Aaron's cover designs for some of my previous books.

A book cover has to do many things well at the same time. It must be eye-catching. It needs to convey something of what the book is about, in action or mood, without major spoilers. It can't be too busy (many a beginner's fatal error). And it has to look good small, when seen across the bookstore or as a website thumbnail. After months and months of agonizing over this, I couldn’t think of anything that excited me.

My one lukewarm idea requires a detour into British neo-prog rock band Marillion, particularly their early album covers. I always loved how Mark Wilkinson’s gatefold artwork for the band created eye-catching images, but when you looked closer you noticed references to the individual song lyrics. Much like the musical genre it accompanied, repeated exposure was rewarded by more nuances revealing themselves. Take, for example, his cover for Marillion’s first album, Script for a Jester’s Tear (1983):

The artwork for Marillion's Script for a Jester's Tear (1983), 
© Mark Wilkinson, used by permission. 
The original image is from Mark's website,

Not only do we see the titular jester, but on closer inspection we also spot: the tv screen referencing the lyrics to "Punch and Judy”; Ophelia's portrait over the fireplace recalling “Chelsea Monday”; and the chameleon alluding to “She Chameleon” (a cut saved for the second album). For Mark’s account of creating this cover, see

Given all the pop culture references in The Billionth Monkey, I thought a lighthearted take on Mark's approach would be fun. It could allude to scenes in the book without spoilers, and be something to which readers could return after they finished the book and go, “Oh, I get it!” Easter eggs on the cover also tied into the various Internet Easter eggs that go with the book (if you’ve discovered those yet).

So back to my lousy cover idea, which was to show the “filmstrip” view screen of a smartphone (a device that appears throughout the story). The phone would be in a monkey’s hand, with its other free index finger about to tap one of the thumbnails/icons, all of which reference events in the book. However, my rudimentary mock-up looked more like a cell phone advert than a book cover. I could imagine the caption: Simple enough that even a monkey can use it! So I trashed that concept.

When I invited Aaron to let me know if he had any suggestions—because I had nothing—he sent a first draft cover which was basically what we used in the end. He remarked, “I don’t know where the Mind-Master came from. Did I get that from you?” I told him it did not come from be, but it was freaking brilliant. And that’s why I love working with Aaron: his first instincts are so inspired. The Mind-Master concept allowed me to have a lighthearted and eye-catching image, but it included a view disc on which I could stash my Easter eggs. Also—while I don’t think this was intentional on Aaron’s part—the the monkey sticking its tongue out reminded me of the “Don’t Panic” symbol from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide, a nice accidental homage.

Which brings us to the view disc itself. I’ll do this without spoilers but what we have are:
  • An adorable kitten (chapter 2, page 33). Those who know me or follow my social media posts will recognize this as a baby picture of my ridiculous kitten, Foamy.
  • The Fool” from the Thoth Tarot (chapter 1, pages 24–25).
  • The disaster on the Deepwater Horizon (prologue, pages 7–9).
  • An ugly glazed doughnut (chapter 19, page 138).
  • A pair of skis (chapter 14 , page 109–112).
  • William Shakespeare (recurring character, beginning with chapter 11, page 89).
  • The cover for Hamlet Special Edition (chapter 18, page 128; also mini-comic in back of book).
  • An albino alligator (chapter 3, page 41).

One image that I wanted to use, but for which I couldn’t get permission, was the cover to Marvel Comics #1 (October 1939). It figures into The Billionth Monkey in both chapter 22 and (by allusion, back to) the prologue. As a collector and unabashed Marvel fan-boy since age four, this comic was always the Holy Grail to me. You can read all about the issue, and check out the cover, here. When I asked about using the image, Marvel explained very kindly and promptly that they only allow their covers to be reproduced on the covers of books published by them. Had I wanted to use it inside the book, we could have worked something out; but putting it on the cover was a no-go. Fair enough, and it’s a position that I completely understand.

Even without that image rounding out my fan-boy wish-list, the cover turned out being everything and more than I could have hoped for.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Kept this die hard reader on the edge of his seat!"

Another great five-star review of The Billionth Monkey has just been posted on Amazon:

Kept this die hard reader on the edge of his seat!
"I could not put this book down. Just when I thought I had the plot figured out. Boom! Richard took me to places and situations, that totally shocked my mind! Everything you need is in this book. It totally hit a major chord with me. The urban legend is still alive and well. Thank you Richard for your hard work."

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The BIllionth Monkey book signing at NOTOCON X

I just finished doing a fantastic book signing at NOTOCON X. The best part of events like this is getting to say hello to so many friends, both old and new. We sold out of all copies on hand of The Billionth Monkey, Forgotten Templars, Perdurabo, and The Weiser Concise Guide. Wow! Fortunately, copies remain available online and through your favorite bookseller.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Amazon reviewer calls The BIllionth Monkey "Douglas Adams meets Éliphas Lévi"

A fantastic new 5-star review on Amazon describes The Billionth Monkey as "Douglas Adams meets Éliphas Lévi!" Wow, now that's a book I want to read!

Here's the full review; the last sentence is enough to fill any writer's heart with joy:
Even better than the errata card!

"My only real complaint about this book is its brevity. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic read; fast-paced and intelligent. Everyone is saying Douglas Adams meets Pratchett or [insert fantasy writer here]; and that is certainly true. (I would say Adams meets Eliphas Levi). The beauty of this tome is in its uniqueness, though. As a life-long voracious reader, I have never read another book quite like this one.