Tag Archives: aztec midnight

The Name of the Whatever

Philosopher Stone

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Selecting a character’s name is the first step in making that character come alive. Of course, no one has done a better job than Charles Dickens, who gave the world Uriah Heep, Polly Toodle, Wilkins Micawber, and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge.

This article on iconicity, the harmony of a symbol (word) and its meaning, suggests that evocative naming is the key to understanding the world around us:

The oldest documented discussion about iconicity and its role in constructing words is the Cratylus dialogue of Plato 1997. In the dialogue, Socrates is asked whether names belong to their objects “naturally” or “conventionally.” Though Socrates admits that convention and usage play a role in the creation of names, he confesses that he prefers the view “that names should be as much like things as possible” (pp. 433–435).

So of course the character’s name is essential to understanding that character. That’s one of the key elements I focus on when outlining a new story. I felt good about the name Jon Barrett in Aztec Midnight, and with Cam Taylor in Cameron Obscura.

I’ve always been fascinated with word play, especially with people’s names. In college, the Resident Assistant of our dorm hall was Curtis T—–. His job was to monitor our behavior, which included making sure no young ladies were still in our rooms after 1:00 AM, a job he seemed to enjoy a little too much. I gave him a name that stuck until he graduated, even though he quit being an RA his sophomore year: Curtis Interruptus, a nickname we pronounced with a Bronx accent.

Terrorism, Hope, and Ebenezer Scrooge

Scrooge

I can’t help but think of what Christmas will be like for the 14 families who lost loved ones in the San Bernardino massacre last week, or for the families of the three who were gunned down at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facilities last month.

Even for those of us who were not immediately affected, there is still that haunting reminder of the needless suffering we, as humans, inflict on each other.

And yet — and yet — we should not let ourselves give in to despair. Tempted as we may be to concede that evil appears entrenched in the human heart, we cannot surrender our hope that there is a spark of good in everyone, a spark worth noticing and perhaps even cultivating as best we can. As hard as it is to imagine, I believe the shooters in both tragedies thought they acted for worthy reasons.

Robert Dear, Jr., the Colorado Springs killer, ranted in court, “I’m guilty. There’s no trial. I’m a warrior for the babies.” Twisted? Yes. Egomaniacal? No doubt. But even this murderer believed he was protecting the innocent and helpless.

As for Farook and Malik, we can only speculate that they considered themselves warriors for their faith. Nevertheless, whatever was churning through their minds when they abandoned their six-month-old baby and drove to the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health with two .223-caliber semi-automatic rifles and pipe bombs, their actions certainly warranted the swift and decisive response the SWAT team meted out.

That said, we cannot ignore the powerful forces that work on terrorists such as Dear, Malik, and Farook. Modern alienation devastates the isolated individual, and many dedicate themselves to what appears as a last, desperate effort to accomplish something significant and worthwhile. In his article, The Psychological Sources of Islamic Terrorism, Dr. Michael J. Mazarr of Georgetown University writes:

Mass technological life tranquilizes people, drains us of our authenticity, of our will and strength to live a fully realized life. The result of this process is alienation, frustration, and anger. A few themes stand out from this broad concept.

One has to do with the burdens of freedom and choice. By breaking the chains of tradition and conformity, modern life offers a bewildering, paralyzing degree of choice about everything from career paths to marriage partners to fashion. When you can potentially be anything, the existentialists worry, you may in fact be nothing — and have no identity at all.

Alienation from tradition and from others is not freedom, but a curse. In our frantic pursuit of material gain, we lose sight of life’s true purpose. No one has better enunciated the antidote than the protagonist of A Christmas Carol, that classic fantasy tale of Christmas. After the three spirits teach him what Christmas means, Ebenezer Scrooge makes his famous vow:

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” ― Charles Dickens, from his novella A Christmas Carol

Stubbornly seeking the spark of good that’s buried even in the heart of old Ebenezer Scrooge gives us hope, real hope, because very often we do indeed find that spark if we simply open our eyes to it. That insight into human nature makes for better fiction, too. The best literature can be a means to form and strengthen social ties because it helps us appreciate the hidden feelings of others. In my novella Aztec Midnight, the protagonist, Jon Barrett, must find and deliver an ancient Aztec relic to men who have kidnapped his wife. However, a local militia stands in his way — not because its members are evil, but because the relic will empower the drug cartels that terrorize them. Jon Barrett’s dilemma is one we can all appreciate.

Want to help make Christmas the season of hope it was meant to be? You can start by reading a good book. Or better yet – by giving one.

Messages on missiles: Here is a Sugar Plum for You!

Sling bulletsAncient Greek sling bullets with engravings. One side depicts a winged thunderbolt, and the other, the Greek inscription “take that” in high relief.

Ancient Origins has a great introductory article on slings.

I’ve long been fascinated by primitive weapons, and I think every fantasy author should know the basics of the ones he writes about. Not only does such knowledge add authenticity to the story, but helps the author get a feel for the artistry and discipline involved in mastering such a weapon. You don’t just pick up a sling and start hitting your target. The video below of a slinging competition will give you an idea of the deadliness of this elegant and simple weapon:

In my novella Aztec Midnight, the protagonist, Jon Barrett, learned how to use the sling from an elderly Mescalero Apache in Texas. Alone and defenseless in Cuernavaca, he must track down the drug cartel members who have kidnapped his wife. Barrett constructs a sling on the run, and approaches the cartel’s hideout. It’s night, and he can hear a guard treading back and forth on the dark front porch. How can Barrett take the guard down without alerting the others inside?

Precious minutes slipped by. Nothing stirred. In the distance, another train approached Cuernavaca station. Its whistle barely rose above the subdued rumble.

A ghostly silhouette appeared at the end of the porch. I realized the guard had moved in front of a shaded window. Its glow barely formed an outline. I had to take my chance. After placing the roundest rock in the pouch, I stepped forward and swung the sling. The release felt perfect.

The outlined figure did not react. Then the speeding rock tore into bushes and trees on the other side of the yard, and the guard jerked his head toward the sound.

This was my last chance. I took another step forward, slipped a rock into the pouch, swung as smoothly as I could, and released the string.

That passage still makes my blood pump.

Okay, I’ve worked at the computer long enough. Time to change, grab my sling kit, and jog down to the park for some target practice.

Cuernavaca: a tourist destination in hell?

Aztec Midnight Church

I’ve long been fascinated with American Indian culture, and have quite a collection of artifacts. My interest inspired my short story Gooseberry (now free on the publisher’s web site) and Aztec Midnight. So it was especially gratifying to see this generous review on Amazon (and from a “Book Goddess” with a PhD!):

As a professor of American Indian Studies, I’m always wary about misrepresentation of of diverse Indian peoples and cultures. I have no qualms about Tuggle’s research for his novella, Aztec Midnight.It’s packed with action, starting ominously. We discover that Dr. Jon Barrett and his university librarian wife Susanna, are in Cuernavaca for two reasons; she to take a Spanish immersion class and he to find and identify a mysterious Aztec knife. An archaeologist, he specializes in the history of pre-Columbian weapons at the University of Texas in Austin. What Susanna does not know is that he is working for the US Department of State on a mission to help stop drug cartels.

Further plot description would be a spoiler, so it suffices to say that Susanna is kidnapped by a powerful drug cartel. It wants the knife, used far in the past for a sacred ritual in which the hearts are ripped out of those to be sacrificed. It has deadly magical powers, and the leader of the cartel wants to use it to destroy the Mexican government. Jon must choose between rescuing his wife or losing her if he does not deliver. His narrative speeds up as he has only five hours to find Susanna. He is chased, jailed, and then abducted by the cartel.I won’t reveal the astonishing ending.

Tuggle also excels in description. Although Cuernavaca sounds like a tourist destination in hell, his rendering of the population is sympathetic and colorful. The author may not realize he has created a power couple worthy of more adventures. The seemingly nerdy professor and his wife are courageous and smart; they deserve a series of their own. I’m looking forward to a sequel!

Cristian Mihai Reviews Aztec Midnight

AztecSmall

From Cristian Mihai: “This novella is one hell of a roller coaster ride. It’s got just the right amount of suspense, well delivered, to make me want to get to the end as soon as possible. The dialogue is excellent, the plot flows in a natural manner. The story works. It just does.”

Read the rest of Aztec Midnight: a novella by M.C. Tuggle at Cristian Mihai’s blog.

An Aztec Midnight Reader in Mexico

I received the following email and pics from a reader of Aztec Midnight currently vacationing in Mexico. I thought I’d share them:

Finished reading your book while down here in Mexico, Mike. You did your homework. Great story! And the street scenes are right out of your book.

Mexican Street Scene

In Puerto Vallarta for three weeks. Be back in Iceland, I mean Ohio next week. Going out on my friend’s boat Friday for a two day fishing trip.

PuertaVallartaBoat

Since you mentioned pulque in the book I thought you might like to know we’ve been drinking our own private stock we got up in Guadalajara.

Pulque

Keep up the good work! John

Thanks, John! I appreciate your comments. Enjoy your trip! (And careful with the pulque.)