Archive for October, 2012

Happy All Hallow’s Eve, everyone!

Or actually, it isn’t really Halloween while I’m writing this. In actuality, I am writing this at 7:43 PM on October 30, a time that many of you may know as THE PAST. But, through the magic of WordPress’s “Schedule” option, I’m making this entry post automatically when it reaches noon on October thirty-first!


(that was a ghost sound, not a party sound, by the way)

For this edition of CWW, we have yet another poem. This isn’t any ordinary poem, though. A couple weeks ago, I was thinking about a special poem to post on Axolotl Ceviche on Halloween, and I started thinking about what the creepiest form of poetry is. And once I considered the answer, it was obvious:

Children’s skipping rhymes.

Seriously. Picture it. You’re all alone in a creaky old house. Night has fallen, and a chill mist blows in from the moors. The house is dark, and as you head up to bed, you hear it: the tinkling sound of a girl’s laughter. Unsettled, you tell yourself it was just a trick of the wind, and then you see her: a little girl, dressed in a pretty blue pinafore, her face shrouded in shadow. In a voice like the tinkle of windchimes, she recites:


Pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall DOWN!

As she says the last word, a flash of lightning illuminates her face, and you can see that she has no eyes…

If that didn’t wig you, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, I wrote a creepy children’s skipping rhyme. And then, because the rhyme itself suggested a whole rich history, I decided that I’d write some of that history up, creating a fictional explanation for the fictional rhyme.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Wherever you are, may your night be filled with tricks and candy, and may shadows always cross your path.

~ Ian


Ten little girls walked out of town, 

One little girl went tumbling down. 


Nine little girls went out at night, 

One little girl didn’t feel quite right.


Eight little girls went looking for eggs, 

One little girl had broke her leg. 


Seven little girls stood on their heads, 

One little girl just woke up dead. 


Six little girls squished through the mud, 

One little girl got covered in blood. 


Five little girls would dance and shout, 

One little girl couldn’t find the way out. 


Four little girls cried out for their mum, 

One little girl was just struck dumb. 


Three little girls played silly games, 

One little girl got caught in the flames. 


Two little girls flew through the sky, 

One little girl caught the Devil’s eye. 


One little girl went and cried for help, 

One little girl was burned in Hell. 


No little girls came back that day, 

Wonder what their mother will say?


Ten little girls walked out of town,

and ten little girls went tumbling down. 


The preceding children’s rhyme is dated as having originated around the year 1705, possibly in Philadelphia (it was certainly common by 1790, when British folklorists Wycombe and Tully, in their first trip to the new United States, recorded it being sung by children in Newton, Massachusetts, and a Georgia lawyer and slaveowner Geoffrey MacAnder noted in his diary a variation of the rhyme “which a Negro girl learned me as a boy”. It spread to England in the 19th century, and has been a popular skipping rhyme for generations, common up until the 1940s.

Like many children’s rhymes, it is claimed that the rhyme is based on historical events (such as the oft-cited and possibly spurious claim that “Ring Around the Rosie” dates back to the Black Death). However, as far as I can tell, the rhyme is based on a very old story: that of the Maids of Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury, New York, was a village of about five hundred inhabitants located on the Hudson river, near the location of Poughkeepsie. In the year 1684, eight full years before the Salem Witch Trials, the people of neighboring villages reported that several young women between the ages of twelve and seventeen (the accounts differ as to the number, although it is usually given between five and fourteen) were running naked through the woods, cavorting with Indians and making noises like animals. The men of Shrewsbury, fearing witchcraft, allegedly locked the girls up in a cellar. However, shortly after midnight on the night of Saturday, August 16, 1684, neighboring villages saw a number of “huge winged beasts” rising from above Shrewsbury, which “screamed like women”. These beasts took off in all directions. Shortly after this, at around 3 0‘clock in the morning, there were a number of bright flashes from above Shrewsbury, visible for twenty leagues around, which looked like “colored lightning”, in the words of the contemporary minister from Kingston. The next morning, when a number of locals visited Shrewsbury, found that the village had disappeared– not burned to the ground or destroyed, but simply vanished, as if it had never been there. The visitors found a number of burned, dismembered female bodies in the nearby woods. For years to come, it was believed that the area where Shrewsbury had disappeared was haunted. Reportedly, the same phenomenon of “colored lightning” has occurred on the night of August 16 several times in the same part of New York, the most recent in 1891.

Whether the story of the Maids of Shrewsbury is true or not is not for a historian such as myself to decide. However, it is known that the vanishing of Shrewsbury was a key influence on the town fathers of Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch trials, and perhaps began the witch-burning craze in America during the late 17th century.

(from Marcus Amesbury’s Life in the Colonial Hudson Valley, 1967)


Image Credit: SF Chronicle

So, the San Francisco Giants won the World Series last night.

Which makes this their second win in three years.

After spending nearly half a century without a World Series win.

I’m pretty damn happy about this.

But I don’t want to share with you guys how incredible the Giants played this postseason, or all year, for that matter. This isn’t a sportsball blog.

Instead, I want to talk about some of my memories of baseball, and of the Giants.


If someone were to say that I bleed orange and black, they wouldn’t be entirely wrong, even though that sounds like a horrible blood disease that I have to get checked out immediately.

My first Giants game was probably around 1993 or 1994, when the Giants were still playing in Candlestick Park. I was a wee little nipper of a thing then. In fact, somewhere in my parents’ photo archives is a picture of me sitting at Candlestick Park, looking as innocent and cute as a little bunny rabbit. It’s a sweet picture, especially when you take into account that I may be many things today, but “innocent” and “cute” are neither one of them.


Number of Pictures on Axolotl Ceviche With Ian Photographing Himself While Wearing Hats: 3

When I was a nine-year-old kid, before I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to play third base for the San Francisco Giants. I only played two years of Little League, and my teams both times were always the best at sucking. And I wasn’t the best player, either. I wasn’t bad, mind you. I could hit and run and field and throw pretty okay. But I wasn’t one of the stars of the team. I was more of the “team oddball”. You know the type, if you ever played in a peewee sports league: the kid with so many mental health issues that he can barely hold a conversation without either imploding into anxious tears or punching you in the face, but who you still feel a sort of odd affection towards, because he’s your kind of weird. Even so, it was my dream to play professional baseball one day, even if my chances at ever doing that were about as low as you can get while still keeping your chances a positive number.

When the Giants got to the World Series in 2002, it was a cause for celebration around my cohousing. We all piled into our common house living room and watched the Giants rise up to the precipice of victory, and then have that all shattered by the Anaheim Angels (WHICH IS CORRECT NAME FOR THAT TEAM, I DON’T CARE IF THEIR OWNER WANTS TO CALL THE TEAM THE “LOS ANGELES ANGELS OF ANAHEIM”, THAT IS RIDICULOUS ANAHEIM IS NOWHERE NEAR LOS ANGELES WHAAAAARGARBLE) in the last three games. Then came the long slump of the mid-oughties under Felipe Alou, when the Giants sunk towards the crappier end of the NL West, when the team was mired by scandal (mostly because of that egotistical fucker Barry Bonds… but that’s a completely different story).

In high school, I decided baseball was no longer “cool”. Sports were for dumb jocks. I was too busy going off and memorizing Pink Floyd lyrics and reading Discworld novels to be bothered by jockish nonsense. It was only when I got into college that I rediscovered my love of the game. And it was the perfect time for it, too: that year, 2010, was the year the Giants finally took home the Commissioner’s Trophy, when a gang of freaks and misfits thumbed their noses at the odds and stole it all away. I fell in love with the 2010 Giants, with the fact that none of the players were great as individuals, but were incredible as a unit. In fact, there was no good reason that they should have worked as a unit. The SF Giants in 2010 were like a V12 engine made from rubber bands and spit. And somehow they won.

In 2012, I was there all throughout the season. I watched Matt Cain pitch his perfect game on June 13, 2012 (which might have been the best game ever played in Giants franchise history). I saw them come close to the breaking point when they were down 2-0 in the division series against the Reds, hang on by the skin of their teeth, go 6-0 in elimination games, and steamroll over the Tigers in four games to win it again. I wouldn’t have thought it possible, at times… but the Giants are all about the impossible, somehow. They take statistics and they beat them to death with shovels and they hide the remains in Brian Wilson’s beard. Most of all, they’re my team, and to them, I have only one thing to say:

Well played, sirs. Well played.

~ Ian

PS: I’ll try to find some pictures of me from the periods of Darkest History that I’ve described. You might get some amusement out of them.

I think this is all the evidence I need as for why the man is my fucking hero.








~ Ian

November is almost here, and that’s when I’m going to be doing the bulk of the work on The Lotus Imperiate, which currently stands at about forty percent of the way done with the first draft. (Note to self: I should get a little “loading bar” widget on Axolotl Ceviche that shows how far I have to go until I finish a project. You know. Like Brandon Sanderson has on his website.)

Since I listen to music while I’m writing, I usually have several songs that go well with what I’m working on. These are them. If you like, you can make a playlist out of them, and pretend you’re reading a book that nobody has ever lain eyes on but me.

Actually, no. That would be kind of stupid.


“A Change of Seasons”, Dream Theater

“Breaking Into Heaven”, The Stone Roses

“Cantara”, Dead Can Dance

“Echoes”, Pink Floyd

“Hong Kong”, Gorillaz

“I Am The One (Dark Fantasy Version)”, Inon Zur

“Kids With Guns (Schtung Chinese New Year Remix)”, Gorillaz

“Modern Meat”, Animals as Leaders

“Piece for Solo Flute (Live)”, Dead Can Dance

“She Bangs the Drums”, The Stone Roses

“Sorrow”, Pink Floyd

“Tarata Women’s Working Song”, Joe Hisaishi

“The Battle of Evermore”, Led Zeppelin

“The Legend of Ashitaka”, Joe Hisaishi

“The Human Game”, Lisa Gerrard

“The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove”, Dead Can Dance


Actually, you know what isn’t on this list? Traditional Asian music. I really should get some, since tLI is set in an Asian-themed fantasy universe. Or even some more modern music played on traditional East Asian instruments.

If any of my more musically-inclined readers know any good traditional Asian music for me to get, leave me a note in the comments. I’d love to get some suggestions.

~ Ian

It’s getting to be Halloween, that time of the year when identity goes out the window, when our darkest subconscious urges come to the fore and we are released from mundane life for a while, and for one night, we revel…

Halloween is my favorite holiday, as you may have guessed.

A few weeks ago, I sent a ghost story in to a contest that Patrick Rothfuss was judging. If I’d won the contest, I would have my story read on the public radio. In Wisconsin.

Don’t question the logic of my entering. It made sense at the time.

Sadly, my story didn’t win, but I still feel like sharing it. So, here it is: “Songs of the Lost”. My flash-fiction space-opera ghost story.

~ Ian

Songs of the Lost

Ian Johnson

When I was a child, my grampa and I would sit in the fields outside our cabin and watch the rockets take off from the launchpad down in the valley. I always liked watching them, thinking about where they were going: to Alpha C, or Niobe, or Terra, or Väinämöinen, or even the Outer Worlds. I wondered what wonders they’d see, what passengers they were carrying, if they would be lost in transition between the stars, like so many other ships had been in the past.

One day, when I was eleven, my grampa asked me an unusual question.

“Can you hear them?” he said. “The ghosts?”

“What are you talking about, grampa?”

He smiled, placing his broad leathery hand on my cheek. “No, I guess you wouldn’t.  You’re young. But me…” My grampa looked off into the distance, off towards the jagged mountains red with alien vegetation. “When I was a kid, and folks first came out here, this world was already occupied. Not by people, y’hear. But by strange creatures, tall and hairy: peaceable enough, if you were on their good side.”

He paused, took a long drag on his cigarette.

“But we weren’t on their good side, boy. They took a dislike to us when we first came here. Tore through our settlements somethin’ fierce, I tell you. They had four arms, and when they grabbed hold of you, they’d rip you to little bitty pieces…”

My grampa smiled his crooked, rakish grin. “But that’s not for young ears to hear,” he said. “To make a long story short, I joined the Earthling Defense Unit. And we made sure that they wasn’t going to bother us no more. Not a single one of them still walks on this world. Not anymore.”

My grampa gestured, cigarette in hand, its burning orange tip cutting a wide arc through the air. “But even though they’re all gone, the old folks like me who remember them… when the wind is right, I can hear them, still echoing through the hills. That’s how they talked to each other, boy. They would make the most beautiful, howling music that would freeze you where you stood with fear and awe. Like wolves, only lower, and sadder.

“I know there ain’t any of them left to walk this world. But I still hear ‘em. In my gut, I can hear the music they make. When the suns go down in the east, that’s when I hear the ghosts. Calling to each other. Mourning the loss of their world.”

My grampa had a stroke and died three months later. I’d always thought that there’d been something wrong in his brain, that the songs had been his breaking-down brain imagining sounds that nobody had heard in decades.

But I’m an old man now, and the red-forested mountains have been strip-mined away to nothing. Even so, when the wind is right, just after the suns have set, I can hear them far away, howling, mourning.

And when I see a rocket lift off, a red-orange flower of fire as it flies into the black, I think of my grampa, and the times we had, in the fields outside our old cabin.

My judge’s wig has arrived.

It’s only a matter of time now.



That is all.

~ Ian

Yes, yes. I’m aware that I haven’t been doing any substantial blogging for a while. This is not news to me.

I hate to use the “I’m really busy and I don’t have time to blog” excuse, but hey, I’ll use it anyway: I’m really busy and I don’t have time to blog. I can only imagine how busy I’m going to be by November, because after all, I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Plus, you know, going to school and hopefully maintaining a social life– crap like that. I’m probably going to be too busy to do much blogging.

But hey, this post is turning into a long list of excuses. So, because Axolotl Ceviche is and always will be a place for me to put whatever dumb bullshit that pops into my head, here is a limerick that I wrote for reasons that I cannot remember:


There once was a horny old hag

Had breast implants which would not sag

They queefed and they farted

(But never quite sharted)

And that’s why she put them in bags.


If you don’t understand that, don’t worry. It’s not for you. (not really, I don’t get it either)

~ Ian

This poem had its origin in the fact that I wanted to write a poem in a verse form that I’d never used before, the Rondel (a kind of repeating verse, like the pantoum or the sestina, but different in its own unique way).

It’s not bad, by which I mean I don’t loathe it. I wish I could have rhymed the word strange properly, but there you go. I happened to get the first line of the poem stuck in my head at one point, so I wrote down the rest of the poem. And I will say this: I love faeries, and I don’t care if society considers them girly. The old-school faeries are completely dark and badass in a way that Tolkien’s elves never even came close to, and they tend to be my preferred type of faerie. Even so, I still kind of have a softness for the annoying buglike little bastards that faeries have become in our modern day. Say what you will about them, I’m sure that if you pissed them off enough, they’d go right for your eyeballs.

Not much else to say, I guess. Ah, well. Enjoy.

~ Ian

I’m Going Into Faerie Where The Stars Are Strange

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

The autumn leaves are falling underneath an evening sky,

I go now to the place where my bones shall ever lie,

There forever lying, nothing save dust shall remain.

And should I walk forever down beneath this falling rain,

I’d never lay my burden down, never slumber, never die;

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

The autumn leaves are falling underneath an evening sky.

I’m passing now forever far beyond you mortals’ pain,

beyond suffering and madness. Now my child, don’t you cry:

I’ll never be returning, and before you ask me, “Why?”

Know that my body weakens, like the summer-drying grain.

I’m going into Faerie where the stars are strange.

…there’s a new season of The Guild happening. And it’s awesome.

You should go check it out.

I’ll be here if you need me.

~ Ian