Saturday, September 13, 2014

Spooky Doings in Middle School: an interview with Iva Valentino

I never had any weird teachers at East Arvada Junior High.  The closest to 'interesting' I got was the one guy with a giant poster for the movie 'Rollerball' over his desk.  I had to wait until high school to meet anyoen seriously strange - starting with the science teacher who wandered the halls with chips of dry ice in his mouth, blowing smoke rings at people.  Iva Valentina's Middleton Middle School sounds like it would be a fun place to go.  I wonder if we could get Mrs Pruitt to sponsor a D&D club...

Welcome, Iva!  Please
tell us about yourself. What do you do for a living? How long have you been writing?

I’ve always had a big love of science. When I started my Biology degree at the University of Arizona, I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with it. Five years later, after participating in a few marine biology workshops with kids, I knew I found my calling in education. I soon obtained a Master’s degree in teaching, and began my eight-year adventure teaching middle school. 

Even though I really enjoy working with kids, something I love just about equally is books. So, I decided to combine the best of both worlds. Now, I work as a science editor at an educational publishing house. I help create beautiful nonfiction books for kids, and I write some as well. When I’m not working this amazing day job, I write humorous tween chapter books.

In my spare time, I enjoy yoga, photography, and cooking. I live in Tucson, Arizona, with my husband and our dog, Lupo. My week is not complete unless I’ve taken at least one Zumba dance class!

How did you start writing? Was there any specific event that sparked your interest?

I’ve been writing fiction since I was a kid. At first, it was short stories. I loved creating fun characters and then sending them on silly adventures. I never imagined myself having a career as a writer. I took a long break from writing during college due to my hectic schedule. Once I started working as a teacher, my love of writing came back full force. Being around kids and talking with them about the books they were reading really made me realize how much I missed the writing process. This is when I started pursuing writing fiction books.

Do you have a schedule when you write or do you write whenever there’s some peace and quiet? If you have a set schedule, share it with us.

I work best when I make a schedule for myself ahead of time. I set aside blocks of time in which I make an appointment with myself to write. This means NO internet surfing or email!  The schedule will vary a bit from week to week, depending on what I have going on. For the most part I am able to carve out several hours a day. The time when I’m most productive is in the morning, so I always set time to write first thing before I do any other kind of work.

Any odd rituals that get you in the mood to write?

I recently started a daily meditation practice. I meditate right after I get up in the morning, before I write. I feel that it’s really improved so many aspects of my life!

What’s on your desk?

Usually my desk is pretty organized. I’m one of those people that normally can’t function with clutter of any sort. I just have my laptop, desk calendar, inbox (where I admit, I do sometimes toss in stuff I don’t know what to do with), and some pens/highlighters/whatnot. I also have a little figurine of a dragon that my husband recently gave me for inspiration! Oh, yes, and I can’t forget to mention all the little sticky notes I post all over my desk as I’m working and need to remind myself of other things I need to do later. I love sticky notes.

How have your family and friends reacted to your writing?

My husband thinks it’s great that I write. My dog, Lupo, spends his time sleeping under my desk while I work. All around support from friends and family!

Tell us about your new book.

Black Cats and Ballet Slippers is a humorous tween chapter book. Gemma Mayfield, the main character, is a ballerina and middle school student. She is convinced her teacher is a witch. After her crush, Trevor, has a spell cast upon him, Gemma embarks on a mission to save Middleton Middle School from witchcraft!

Where did the idea for this book come from?

The idea for Black Cats came about during my last year of teaching middle school. In the book, Gemma’s science teacher, Ms. Pruett, has a really creepy classroom. The classroom has a preproom with lots of “witchy” things, such as powdered unicorn horn and other ingredients for spells. In my classroom, I also had a big preproom. My classroom was actually very nice and not creepy at all, but over time my imagination took over. I started to envision this preproom as being Ms. Pruett’s. From there on, the rest of the storyline for Black Cats started to brew!

How hard is it to step away from characters you’ve spent time with and finally pen THE END? Do you have an impulse to continue their story?

I definitely have a hard time stepping away from my characters in Black Cats and Ballet Slippers! I’ve always envisioned this book as being the first in a series. Gemma, Izzie, and the rest of the Middleton Middle School gang will be back with more adventures!

If you were making a movie, who would you cast to play your characters?

Most of the characters in this book are middle school age. I am imagining some spunky, smart, funny young actors and actresses!

What advice would you offer to new writers?

Keep writing every day! Even if you don’t feel like it.

What’s in the workings for your next novel?
I’m currently working on a sequel for Black Cats. This next book doesn’t involve a mystery, but the entire gang will be back for some more fun at Middleton Middle School. I’m looking forward to introducing some new characters!

Where can we buy a copy of your book?

Please include links to your author page, blog, etc.


Okay, so something REALLY strange is going on. Boys are from a different planet, but right now a few of them at Middleton are acting like they’re from a different universe. (Wait. Does this make sense? Is there more than one universe? Ugh. Maybe I should have paid more attention last year in Astronomy.)
So, by the time I got to Ms. Pruett’s class, I had already worked myself into a super version of “I Don’t Wanna Go To Class Because I’m Creeped Out!” mode. I walked into the Science Laboratory, and I swear I felt the cold of Building 400 smack me right in the face. I’m not kidding.
Of course Ms. Pruett was at the door, acting like her sweet old lady self (ha ha, I know better), and was welcoming all the kids into the classroom. I just kept my head down and muttered a hello as I passed. Staying below the radar was the goal. Then I sat down at my lab table and shivered a bit.
Joey sat down at the table just a second later. Normally he is really loud and obnoxious, cracking jokes, and calling to the other Soccer Jocks across the room. Today he was quiet.
“Hey,” I said, trying to be friendly. I thought maybe we could commiserate on us both having spells cast on us. Joey responded with a “hey” but didn’t say much else. Hello? Was this the Joey I knew?
“So, Joey, are you feeling okay?” I asked. “You know, after yesterday…”
Joey didn’t say anything, but began writing on a piece of paper. He folded up the piece of paper and passed it to me. I gave him a questioning look. He gave me a weird look back that I couldn’t decipher. The note was as follows:
     Hey Gemma,
     Sorry I gave you a hard time yesterday about the “Cute Boy” list. It was kind of rude of me.
That’s when it hit me that Joey hadn’t recovered from Ms. Pruett’s spell. For me it was just temporary, like a few minutes. But Joey was acting weird. It had to be the spell.
“Um, thanks,” I said. “Don’t worry about it.” I then started taking out all my school stuff so that I could look busy and not have any more awkward moments with Joey until he felt better. He was taking longer to recuperate.
After class I headed straight down toward the lunchroom. On the way there, I saw Trevor going in the opposite direction past me. Our conversation went like this:
            Me: “Hi Trevor!” (with a big smile and enthusiasm)
            Trevor: “Oh, hi Gemma.” (with zombie-like attitude)
            Me: “Okay, have a good lunch!”
            Trevor: “Okay, thanks. Bye.”
            I wondered where he was going, in the opposite direction from the lunch room when it was lunchtime. It took me another couple of moments to realize that the ONLY classroom in that part of campus was Ms. Pruett’s room. He was headed back toward Building 400!
            Yikes! I turned myself around in mid-stride and turned back the way I came. I knew there was no way possible that Trevor would be going to Ms. Pruett’s. Why would anyone in their right mind be going there by themselves?
            I didn’t want Trevor to think I was stalking him, because of course I would never do that. But just in case that’s what it appeared to be, I used as much stealth as possible. I walked in the shadows and stopped to peek out behind bushes and building walls. I saw him up ahead…just before he ENTERED MS. PRUETT’S CLASSROOM.
            My mouth fell open, and I just sort of stared at the door for a while.
            Weird things are going on here at Middleton. And I think Ms. Pruett’s behind it all!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Doing a Guest Post Today

I'm doing a guest post on Heather Greenis's blog today, interviewing David Fraser. David is the main character in 'Life With a Fire-Breathing Girlfriend' and 'The Land Beyond all Dreams'.

I wanted to talk about life as a Hero, but David had other issues to discuss. Warning, minor use of offensive language.

Stop in and enter for a chance to win a free copy of 'The Land Beyond all Dreams' and a hand-made bookmark (courtesy of Noelle Meade).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A few words from David Gerrold

(David Gerrold originally posted this on Facebook.  He kindly gave his permission for his words to be reposted and reblogged if desired.)   

I haven't said much about Ferguson because I haven't taken the time to read all the news accounts. What I have read makes me recoil in horror. It is as if someone has pulled the blanket off the bed and revealed a horrifying mass of skittering cockroaches -- Missouri's institutionalized racism and bigotry are now on display for the entire world to see.

Elsewhere, the news is reporting other shooting deaths of young black men, other unfair incarcerations, other miscarriages of justice -- I have to wonder if some of this isn't a backlash against the first African-American president, but more than that, I have to wonder about the great wealth of skills and abilities and talent that are being wasted, that are being denied to us.

How many George Washington Carvers, Booker T. Washingtons, Harriet Tubmans, Maya Angelous, Neil deGrasse Tysons, Duke Ellingtons, and Martin Luther Kings are we jailing, suppressing, and killing?

How many opportunities for a cure for some pernicious disease? How many great works of art or literature? How many brilliant performances? How many great scientists? How many incredible educators?

What we are doing to ourselves and our nation is attacking ourselves and a vital part of our own culture. We are punishing our own ability to succeed and thrive. And why? Because we're still fighting a war that both sides lost over a hundred and fifty years ago. The south lost the war, the north lost the victory, and America is impoverished because we have not yet begun to heal the wounds, instead we just inflict deeper wounds upon ourselves.

Regardless of the circumstances of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson (and right now, I do not trust anything the police are saying), but regardless of the circumstances, what has been revealed is much deeper than one incident or even a pattern of incidents. What has been revealed is the portrait in our attic, the one that reveals the rot and corruption we have allowed to fester.

There is only one sure and certain way to change any of this. Register and vote.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to click the remote control.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Guest post: Natasha from the 'Natasha Saga' interviews author Heather Greenis

Today, Natasha, the main character in the four books of the Natasha Saga, interviews her author, Heather Greenis.   

Natasha - Ah, Heather, you are prompt.  How delightful.

HG - I knew you’d be early. Reading, I see.  Are you enjoying your book? 

Natasha - It’s a book of poetry. I’m able to hear Stewart’s voice as he reads to me. I’m glad you gave me time to think about questions.  I’ve given this a great deal of thought.

HG - Uh oh. 

Natasha - No. I won’t be cruel. To start, who is your favourite character in Natasha’s


HG - Stewart isn’t close by, is he? I don’t want to upset him. I like Stewart, but I must admit you were my favourite in Natasha’s Dream. With this book told primarily in your point of view, you were developed so the readers would cheer you on, feel sorry for you and I want to reach into the book, grab you by the shoulders and lecture you. 

Natasha. - Goodness. I’m thankful they can't. I'm not comfortable having strangers touch me.

HG - In the second book, Natasha’s Diary, Stewart has a stronger voice. Readers get a better grasp of his character.

Natasha - I’ve read the story came to you through a dream. Much like Keeghan is dreaming. Your dream gave you the idea for the end of Natasha’s Dream and your imagination built the story that lead to the ending.  Did you have another dream to inspire the remainder of the saga? The other 3 books?

HG - No. Natasha’s Diary, Hope and Legacy were completely my imagination. My husband read Natasha’s Dream and said ‘And??? You can’t end it there. Keep writing. The story needs developed.’

Natasha - I didn’t expect to chuckle while interviewing you. You are as witty as Stewart.

Stewart - I heard my name.  

Natasha - Love. Allow me to introduce you to the woman that gave you life. Hum. Perhaps that’s the wrong term. This is not your momma, but Heather. We are discussing our lives. My life. My character is rather bright, Heather. Surprisingly so.

HG - You spent a lot of time in solitude as a child. Reading, and discussing novels with Nanny, you would be intelligent. The plot required siblings, education and values.  
Stewart was written as a sweetheart. Gorgeous, smart, a real catch. The kind of guy any girl would give her right arm to date.  

Stewart - You’re making me blush. 

HG - It's not the first time, is it, Stewart?  Natasha, you had to be special to capture his attention.

Natasha - I must mention Goldie. That lovely dog. Was Goldie part of your original dream?

HG - No, but it made sense to include her. Animals give the opportunity to add humour to a scene. To lighten the mood. Growing up with a dog, I was inspired. Critters are smart and with that sixth sense. I enjoyed writing scenes with the dog. If only Goldie could talk. Oh, I take that back. It’s a good thing dogs can’t talk.  Goldie would have ruined the story. Perhaps that will be another novel...

Natasha - We had a delightful visit with William and Keeghan yesterday. The computer challenged me. This small, um, thing, but I was enchanted when William showed me the picture of you and information about you. In particular we looked at books you have read. Keeghan has read a number of the books you have read and we concluded most have a moral. I am curious. It there a moral to the Natasha Saga?

HG - Yes, every story needs a moral and for the Natasha Saga it’s greed. Drives me crazy. People are greedy for personal reasons, people running institutions are greedy.  How the world would be a better place if greed didn’t exist.

Natasha - Greed and power. Indeed.
The first book is called Natasha’s Dream. How did you come up with the name? Stewart and I have discussed this, but we’d like to hear the thought process behind it.

HG - My husband came up with it. We discussed a lot of names. One being Crown of Denial, but when the story turned into a saga, I wanted a name that could carry throughout the saga. Crown had it’s limitations. Natasha’s Dream had a double meaning. Natasha Dreams of a different life. Keeghan is having a dream. The name connects the two stories.

Natasha - Given the fact I wrote a diary, the name of the next book makes sense. Natasha’s Diary - Any tidbits about the second book?

HG - Well, my editor Teale loves it. I quote “Heather, it was so good. The first book was good, but I'd say this one is even better. It's just a real pleasure to read.”
Like the first book it may make you chuckle and could bring a tear to your eye.

Natasha - That is pleasing to hear. What about Natasha’s Hope?  Once again I’m certain I know the answer.

HG - Natasha’s hope. Natasha’s Hope. Either works. A verb or a noun.

Natasha - I love double meanings. And the saga will end with Natasha’s Legacy.

HG - Yes. And I promise, questions are answered. One friend read all four books.She wrote;
“I just finished reading your last book. I couldn’t put it down all week and this morning stayed in bed until finished.This isn’t just a family/love story, you have managed to weave some great messages on family, on love, on giving.  Many writers I read I don’t get the same from.”
Author Heather Greenis
I respect this woman so couldn’t be more pleased.

Natasha’s Dream
Natasha’s Diary
Natasha’s Hope
Natasha’s Legacy

For purchase links, click here

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Please, God, Someone show those idiots to the airlock.

Pure ControlPure Control by C. Lloyd Brill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pure Control was a love/hate read for me. It had the setup and feel of an episode of "The Twilight Zone", which I very much enjoyed. Sadly, it had the casting director from "Big Brother". I enjoy a good unlikable baddie, but not stupid ones, and these bad guys didn't have the brains of a day-old roadkill.

Too much of the tension and conflict comes from the incessant arguing and not enough from the environment. Quinn and Kevin never become interesting or likable, or anything at all beyond designated crap-stirrers.

The premise and the actual story were enough to keep me reading despite getting irritated every time Quinn wasn't shoved out the nearest airlock--and for that, kudos to the author.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 20, 2014

Review of Attack the Geek by Michael R. Underwood

Attack the Geek (Ree Reyes, #2.5)Attack the Geek by Michael R. Underwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Attack the Geek’ is a very long short story set after ‘Geekomancy’ and ‘Celebromancy’, and is mostly independent of those two books. You don’t need to have read them, but it helps a lot.
The story centers on a nasty, prolonged siege directed at Grognard’s the sewer-accessed bar/gaming store/geek hangout where Ree Reyes works. She and a number of patrons have a bare-knuckles, no-holds-barred fight against a legion of Uglys, which takes up most of the book.

The battle is excellent. Fast, relentless, and wearing on the characters. You feel the physical, mental, and financial toll each encounter takes. The dialog has a nice flow and a realistic sound, changing to match the conditions of the characters as they get hurt or run down.

My biggest issue is that the story feels rushed at the end. The resolution makes sense, and is the civilized thing to do, but it fails to satisfy. After the world of crap the characters go through, I wanted something more.

As long as the book is, I think it could have gone a bit further and allowed the characters to fully settle matters with the villain. The ending provided does make sense, in a Lawful Good sort of way, but I really wanted to see the villain get held at knife-point out over the edge of a volcano and asked, “Are you familiar with the works of Shan Yu?”

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What do you do after killing a demon in Las Vegas? Get married!

Another WIP excerpt...


The line for marriage licenses was mercifully short. Four mounted police hovered around the area, keeping order and sorting those who were too drunk to make good decisions into taxis back to their hotels.

The people in line were almost outnumbered by the chapel rats hawking the glories of the various wedding mills in the area. Nadia waved several over and asked, “Who’s got the best Elvis working tonight?” Three rats started heaping the praises on their guys; the fourth rat pulled out his phone and played Nadia a video of his guy singing Love Me Tender and Can’t Help Falling in Love.
Just like that, we had a winner.

Nadia called the place to make sure they had a slot open and the right Elvis on duty. They did and he was, so Nadia signed her order form and waved down the next taxi. Nadia waited until we were halfway to the chapel to call Aerin with the details, but the entire family still beat us there. Even a Vegas taxi driver can’t outrun a teleport spell.

Nadia’s twin sister Natasha scooped her out of the taxi and into a changing room loaded with dresses, some of which she’d bought that morning in Monaco. Geneva slipped in to referee and pulled the door shut behind her.

Angus handed Eric a designer tuxedo and said, “Bathroom is over here. Make it fit.” He and Nadia’s brothers blocked access to the door to give Eric a few moments of privacy. Alexander appeared to be a few years older than Matthew, with a dark, Mediterranean look normally found on romance novel covers. He had two girls from Gilead with him, one on either arm. They looked amazed and a little scared; I got the feeling they had never been outside of Gilead in their lives.

Angus had to give Eric a hand with the suit, since Eric had never seen one before. The sizing was dead on and Eric looked quite striking when he emerged. Then Nadia came out of her dressing room, and everyone forgot about Eric.

Her dress was a one-off original Gothic gown by a major-name designer. Natasha had snagged it off the runway during Fashion Week in Milan. It looked like black velvet, but when the light hit just right, sheens of amethyst and midnight blue cascaded through the fabric. The underdress and sleeve lining were scarlet silk, with gold roses blooming on a Celtic knotwork of gold vines. Her shamrock-green mane was tamed and recolored to a golden rose, held in place by a gold and ruby headdress. As eager as Nadia had been for this, she looked about to faint. Angus patted her hand and kept her steady.

The chapel’s sound guy started an orchestral version of Beethoven’s 9th, the Ode to Joy, as the wedding march. Natasha slipped in front of our Elvis and launched into the choral with a gorgeous opera-trained soprano. She had the same waifish build Nadia did, leaving me wondering where she was pulling that monster of a voice from.

As Nadia passed us, I saw her fighting back tears and losing. I guess she didn’t know her sister as well as she thought she did.

With everyone in place, Reverend Elvis took the stage with a “Y’all be seated now.” He nodded to Natasha and added, “I dunno where you hid those pipes, miss, but that was sum’em else. Thank you, miss, thank you verra much. Ladies and genamen, it’s so good to see all of you here for this joyous occasion, especially on such short notice. Eric and Nadia met yesterday, folks. Yesterday, and that time was enough to tell them they were meant to be together. People often say they and their beloved are from two different worlds, but for Eric and Nadia, it’s just the simple truth. Sometimes two people are just meant to be together, despite what…wise men say….”

And off he went into Can’t Help Falling in Love With You. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time he finished.

Just as Nadia had asked, the ceremony was pure, undiluted, hunka-hunka burning Vegas cheese. They promised to set their blue suede shoes by the door, to rockin’ all the time without being a hound dog, to love each other tender and so all their dreams fulfill.

In the end, they kissed, waved to the crowd, and Eric carried Nadia down a red carpet while Reverend Elvis sang Viva Las Vegas. Out in the parking lot, Rose and everyone with a trace of magical talent started throwing fireworks spells into the air. Young Elvis was waiting behind the wheel of an early ‘50s Chevy convertible with the top down. The lovebirds waved to us as Young Elvis swept them out of the parking lot and into the Vegas night.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Secret History of the Flying Carpet

I can't take credit for this work; I found it years ago on an Iranian web page that doesn't exist any more.  It's a great resource for fantasy writers and game masters alike, so I decided to repost it here.  My thanks to the author, whoever you are.  If anyone has information on the original author, please post in the comments.  Thanks!


LONG before the broomstick became popular with witches in medieval Europe, the flying carpet was being used by thieves and madmen in the Orient. Factual evidence for what was a long-standing myth has now been found by a French explorer, Henri Baq, in Iran. Baq has discovered scrolls of well-preserved manuscripts in underground cellars of an old Assassin castle at Alamut, near the Caspian Sea. Written in the early thirteenth century by a Jewish scholar named Isaac Ben Sherira,' these manuscripts shed new light on the real story behind the flying carpet of the Arabian Nights.

The discovery of these artifacts has thrown the scientific world into the most outrageous strife. Following their translation from Persian into English by Professor G.D. Septimus, the renowned linguist, a hastily organized conference of eminent scholars from all over the world was called at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. Baq's discovery came under flak from many historians who insisted that the manuscripts were forgeries. M. Baq, who could not attend the conference because of the birth of his child, was defended by Professor Septimus, who argued that the new findings should be properly investigated. The manuscripts are now being carbon dated at the Istituto Leonardo da Vinci, Trieste.

According to Ben Sherira, Muslim rulers used to consider flying carpets as devil-inspired contraptions. Their existence was denied, their science suppressed, their manufacturers persecuted and any evidence about incidents involving them systematically erased. Although flying carpets were woven and sold till the late thirteenth century, the clientele for them was chiefly at the fringe of respectable society. Ben Sherira writes that flying carpets received a favorable nod from the establishment around AD 1213, when a Toranian prince demonstrated their use in attacking an enemy castle by positioning a squadron of archers on them, so as to form a kind of airborne cavalry; the art otherwise floundered, and eventually perished in the onslaught of the Mongols.

The earliest mention of the flying carpet, according to Ben Sherira's chronicle, was made in two ancient texts. The first of these is a book of proverbs collected by Shamsha-Ad, a minister of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, and the other is a book of ancient dialogues compiled by one Josephus. None of these works survives today; however, with their aid, Ben Sherira compiled a story relating to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon that is not found elsewhere. Located at the southern tip of Arabia, the land of Sheba occupied the area of present-day Yemen, although some geographers claim that Ethiopia or ancient Abyssinia was also part of its territory. This country was ruled by a beautiful and powerful queen who is remembered in history as the Sheba of the Bible, the Saba or Makeda of the Ethiopian epic Kebra Negast, and the Bilqis of Islam.

At the inauguration of the queen in 977 BC, her alchemist-royal demonstrated small brown rugs that could hover a few feet above the ground. Many years later she sent a magnificent flying carpet to King Solomon. A token of love, it was of green sendal embroidered with gold and silver and studded with precious stones, and its length and breadth were such that all the king's host could stand upon it. The king, who was preoccupied with building his temple in Jerusalem, could not receive the gift and gave it to his courtiers. When news of this cool reception reached the queen, she was heartbroken. She dismissed her artisans and never had anything to do with flying carpets again. The king and the queen eventually reconciled, but e wandering artisans found no abode for many years, and eventually had to settle near the town of Baghdad in Mesopotamia in c. 934 BC.

In the Ben Sherira chronicle, certain passages describe the workings of a flying carpet. Unfortunately, much of the vocabulary used in these parts is indecipherable, so little has been understood about their method of propulsion. What is understood is that a flying carpet was spun on a loom like an ordinary carpet; the difference lay in the dyeing process. Here, the artisans had discovered a certain clay, 'procured from mountain springs and untouched by human hand', which, when superheated at 'temperatures that exceeded those of the seventh ring of hell' in a cauldron of boiling Grecian oil, acquired anti-magnetic properties.

Now the Earth itself is a magnet, and has trillions of magnetic lines crossing it from the North to the South Pole. The scientists prepared this clay and dyed the wool in it before weaving it on a loom. So, when the carpet was finally ready, it pulled itself away from the Earth and, depending on the concentration of clay used, hovered a few feet or several hundred feet above the ground. Propulsion went along the magnetic lines, which acted like aerial rails. Although they were known to the Druids in England and the Incas in South America, only recently are physicists beginning to rediscover the special properties of these so-called 'fey-lines'.

Ben Sherira writes that the great library of Alexandria, founded by Ptolemy I, kept a large stock of flying carpets for its readers. They could borrow these carpets in exchange for their slippers, to glide back and forth, up and down, among the shelves of papyrus manuscripts. The library was housed in a ziggurat that contained forty thousand scrolls of such antiquity that they had been transcribed by three hundred generations of scribes, many of whom did not understand the dead alphabet that they bore. The ceiling of this building was so high that readers often preferred to read while hovering in the air. The manuscripts were so numerous that it was said that not even a thousand men reading them day and night for fifty years could read them all.

Although the library had been damaged in the civil war under the Roman emperor Aurelian, its final destruction is attributed to a Muslim general. He burnt the papyrus to heat the six hundred baths of Alexandria, and the carpets, which frightened the wits out of his Bedouin Arabs, were thrown into the sea. Ben Sherira comments bitterly that the knowledge of Alexandria went down the drainpipe in 'washing the dirt of philistines'.

Flying carpets were discouraged in the Islamic lands for two reasons. The official line was that man was never intended to fly, and the flying carpet was a sacrilege to the order of things, an argument that was spread enthusiastically by a zealous clergy. The second reason was economic. For the establishment, it was necessary to keep the horse and the camel as the standard means of transport. 

The reason was that certain Arab families, who had access to the inner chambers of successive rulers, had become rich because of their vast stud farms, where they bred hundreds of thousands of horses each year for the army, merchants and the proletariat. It was the same with camels. Certain Egyptian king-makers (listed by Ben Sherira as the Hatimis, the Zahidis and the progeny of Abu Hanifa II) owned camel farms, and enjoyed a total monopoly on the supply of camels in the whole of the Islamic empire. None of these old families wanted their privileges usurped by a small group of poor artisans who could potentially wreck their markets by making flying carpets popular. Thus they were undermined.

Thanks to the mullahs' propaganda, the Muslim middle class was beginning to shun flying carpets by the mid-eighth century. The market for Arabian horses flourished instead. Camels were also fetching high prices. Ben Sherira notes that a curious incident, which happened around this time, damaged the reputation of the flying carpet beyond salvation: On a bright Friday afternoon in Baghdad, when the white disc of the sun blazed in the third quarter of middle heaven, and the bazaar bustled with people buying fruits and cloth and watching an auction of fair-skinned slaves, there appeared across the sun the shimmering wraith of a turbaned man gliding towards the highest minaret of the Royal Palace.

The devil was no other than a poor soldier who had once served in the palace. He had been caught holding the youngest princess's hand, and was thrown out by the eunuchs, disgraced and defeated. When news about this affair reached the caliph, he was furious. He had the princess locked up in a tower, and to humiliate her, decided to marry her off to his royal executioner, a towering black slave from Zanzibar. The soldier, a Kurdish youth by the name of Mustafa, now returned. He glided up to the minaret and helped a girl climb out of the window. Then in full view of the public below, he glided away. The bazaaris cheered. As the young lovers eloped on their carpet, a battery of the elite guard, mounted on black Arabian stallions, charged out of the palace and gave chase. But the flying carpet disappeared in the clouds above.

The establishment retaliated by hunting down everyone even remotely involved with the business of flying carpets. Thirty artisans were rounded up with their families in a public square. A paid audience was assembled. The men were accused of being libertines, and their heads rolled in the dust, all chopped off by the black executioner from Zanzibar. Next, the caliph sent his spies to every corner of his empire ordering them to bring back every remaining flying carpet and artisan to Baghdad. The small community of artisans, who had lived near the Tigris for several centuries, packed their possessions and, with only three male survivors, fled. After wandering for many months through the moon-like wastes of Iranian marshlands, they reached, ragged and near death, the shining city of Bukhara, where the emir, who did not take orders from Baghdad, gave them refuge.

This exodus, Isaac notes, happened in AD 776, a decade before the celebrated reign of Harun ur Rashid, when The Thousand and One Nights was written. Isaac believes that the inspiration for at least one of the tales in the Arabian Nights comes from the incident of the eloping lovers on that bright Friday afternoon in Baghdad. Ben Sherira describes the genealogy of the artisans in great detail. Some of these families later migrated to Afghanistan and established themselves in the Kingdom of Ghor. The most renowned family of carpet weavers, the Halevis, settled in the town of Merv, where they began to introduce patterns into their carpets. The mandala in the centre was a trademark of the master, Jacob Yahud Halevi ? the same Jacob who appears in history as the teacher of Avicenna.

Artisans also wandered (or flew) into Europe, where their recipes were subsequently employed by a feminist secret society, that of the witches. Their persecution, meted out by the church, was equally swift. Ben Sherira claims that the witches' trademark, the broomstick, with its phallic symbolism, was developed because of their lack of male company. In Transoxiana, the flying carpet enjoyed a brief renaissance before being erased forever by the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan.

Two incidents are worthy of mention here. In 1213, Prince Behroz of the state of Khorasan in eastern Persia, took to heart a young Jewess, Ashirah. Her father was an accomplished carpet-maker. Behroz married Ashirah against the wishes of his family, and requested his father-in-law to weave two dozen flying carpets using the best wool and the best clay, specially wound on a bamboo frame to make them more robust. Next he had forty-eight of his handpicked archers trained by a Japanese master by the name of Ryu Taro Koike (1153-1240?).

When the archers were ready and the carpets delivered, he assembled his men and gave each man his weapons: twenty steel-pointed arrows tipped with rattlesnake venom, longbows made of layers of deodar and catgut, and Armenian daggers. Two men were assigned to each carpet: one fore, one aft. Some carried fireballs. Behroz thus conceived four squadrons of the first airborne cavalry of the world, which went into action when his father waged a war against the neighboring Khwarzem Shah.
The archers led the assault: they attacked the castle, dived in and flew out, felled the defenders and threw fireballs inside its compound, setting it ablaze. The Toranian military brass were awed. They sensed that the prince could become a threat to their oligarchy, and with his father's consent, blinded him. The prince's wife, heavy with child, and her ailing father were banished from the kingdom.

Around this time, the Abbasids no longer wielded the same power as in the days of Harun ur Rashid. Many local kings and emirs were taking matters into their own hands. As the grip of the empire on its states weakened, a cult of the flying carpet flourished. Young dissidents, political refugees, hermits and agnostics went airborne for their escapades. Merchants also began to see the advantages of the flying carpet. The flying carpet was not only a much speedier form of transport than the camel but also a safer one since bandits would not waylay a flying trade caravan ? unless they themselves were on a fleet of flying carpets.

Artisans began to weave bigger carpets, but with more people on board these became sluggish and lost height. But there is one episode, witnessed by many people on the ground, where a party of turbaned men flew from Samarkand to Isfahan at whirlwind speed. This incident is corroborated in the facsimile of another rare text, produced in the seventeenth century, in which one witness is quoted as saying 'We saw a strange whirling disc in the sky, which flew over our village [Nishapur], trailing fire and sulphur', and another: 'A band of djinn appeared over our caravan, heading towards the Straits of Ormuz.'[sup5] (The thirteenth-century original of this text is impossible to find.)

The next incident, before the terrible invasion from the steppes, was the last straw in the ill-fated history of the flying carpet. In 1223, a dragoman of Georgia arrived in Bukhara with his harem to shop for Chinese silk. Ben Sherira's source, the guardian of Minareh Kalyan, describes what eventuated: On a pleasant evening, when the suk was bustling with people, and the veiled ladies from Georgia had just disembarked from their litters and were being escorted to the silk merchant, a madman appeared from behind a dome and swooped down at them. The flier was a giant of a man with a magnificent black beard and long hair trailing in the wind behind him. He was wearing a loincloth, his eyes were a luminous green, an eagle was flying by his side, and he was laughing madly.

The women saw this apparition heading towards them and froze with terror as he tore away his loincloth and started urinating in their upturned faces. This man was the mathematician-royal of Samarkand, Karim Beg Isfahani. Betrayed by his Georgian mistress, he had drunk a goblet of fermented grapes and gone insane. The incident caused pandemonium. A spear was launched that caught him in the chest, and he fell, dead, into a palm tree. But the outrage caused in Bukhara was understandable.

Fearing another massacre, the artisans burnt their laboratories, left their possessions, and fled in all directions. Ben Sherira writes that on that fateful day they swore never again to weave together a flying carpet. The story almost ends here.

In 1226 Genghis Khan laid waste most of the cities in Central Asia. Their inhabitants were massacred; their treasures plundered. The towers of skulls outside Herat, Balkh and Bukhara ? so vast that the whole countryside reeked with their stench ? included the skulls of the artisans. In their loot, the Mongols found flying carpets. When a prisoner told them that these contraptions were more agile than the steppes pony (a blasphemy to Mongol ears, if ever there was one), the great Khan beheaded him and had his skull made into a drinking mug. He ordered all flying carpets in his vast empire confiscated.