So where do I begin? How do I tell you all about my book, Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser?
Well, I guess the best way is to just go ahead and tell you about my world of Tanyime, the kingdom of Rojahndria, the city of Valdar, and my main character, Dorgo the Dowser. And then I’ll tell you a little bit about how it all came to be. So here goes.
Mad Shadows is a picaresque novel—six interconnected, sword and sorcery tales featuring Dorgo the Dowser, a sort of private eye living in the 14th century of my alternate world. The reason he’s called the Dowser is because he uses a dowsing rod in his line of work. There are all sorts of dowsing tools, and they all have various uses. I even think that dowsing rods were the progenitors, the ancestors of what we now call “magic wands.” But Dorgo’s dowsing rod is not used as a magic wand, nor can it be used as an offensive weapon. It doesn’t “shoot” fire and light or colorful flares like the wands in Harry Potter. What the Dowser’s Y-shaped rod allows him to do is investigate crimes where the use of magic has been involved. With it, he can detect the ectoplasmic residue of any supernatural presence or demonic entity and sense the vestiges of sorcerous power used in the commission of a crime. Oh, yeah . . . and he holds it by the bottom stem of its Y-shape—not like you would hold it when dowsing for water. Dorgo is dowsing for traces of magic or anything of a demonic or supernatural origin, after all.
This was the hook, the gimmick I had hoped might set Dorgo and his tales apart from other sword and sorcery stories when I first created his character way back in the 20th century . . . 1976, to be exact. There was even a 12-page and very different version of the title story, Mad Shadows, that I sold to what was then called a fanzine—an amateur publication. This fanzine was named Weird Adventures, and while I wrote a book review or two for the publisher/editor, the publication went belly-up before Mad Shadows could reach the public and payment could reach me. Another fanzine, Orion’s Child, which had published two other short stories of mine, bought a second version of Mad Shadows, but they also folded after their second issue, and Dorgo remained relatively unknown over the course of the intervening years.
In 2008, when I decided to polish my Dorgo tales and collect them in one volume, I decided not to mold them into a novel by tying them together with a common plot thread. But I did link them together with recurring characters, common elements and themes, the same locale. Thus, each of the six tales in Mad Shadows can stand on their own.
The title and opening story is about gold-eating demons and the criminals who have devised a way to use them to rob the citizens of Valdar. The main themes are loss and betrayal, greed and revenge. This is the story that introduces Dorgo and his world. In this one I also introduce some of the recurring characters, like Praxus the Beggar, a former champion pugilist and hoof-boxer, and the sometimes meddling but always helpful Cham Mazo, a black war veteran and Captain of the Royal Constables in Valdar. There’s also a dark-skinned woman named Yaggy who almost walks off with Dorgo’s heart, and a gang of slavers who almost walk off with his head.
The second story, The Secret of Andaro’s Daughter, is my homage to The Maltese Falcon. It’s about a dead necromancer’s coffer and the various characters that will stop at nothing to get their hands on what they believe it contains. You’ll meet Urzool Lairo, a nine-foot cyclops with a sense of humor and a heart of gold, a troll named Glack Darano who knows a magic trick or two, a deadly and merciless faun assassin called a Vulkina, some hell-spawned devils, and three women who have Dorgo’s head and heart spinning in all directions. But no one and nothing in this tale is what they first appear to be.
The third story, The Moonstones of Sor Lunarum, is about the theft of some very unique, other-worldly jewels, two inept but no less dangerous smugglers named Urlak and Ollo Blunker, a murdered witch, a series of vicious killings, a kidnapping, a hoax, and two very appealing women. Here you’ll also meet Heegy Wezzle, aka the Big Dwarf, a friend of Dorgo’s who manages a minotaur named Torok the Terrible, a popular profession wrestler. Dorgo also receives a very prophetic message from Jeke Teuqaj, a tough-talking unicorn gladiator with a nasty temper and an attitude straight out of a Warner Brothers gangster film.
These three tales are what I call the “Valdar Stories,” because they are set entirely in the city of Valdar, where Dorgo lives and practices his trade. Each has a rather light-hearted tone, in spite of all the mayhem, murder, and magic. But for the next three stories, I decided to “open things up” a bit and explore my world.
The Man Who Loved Puppets takes place in a nearby village, where Dorgo and Praxus are visiting their friend, a tough redhead named Cerisa Yonsa and her young daughter, Tareena. Cerisa just so happens to be one of Dorgo’s many former lovers. During the course of the story we meet two other minotaurs: a retired wrestler named Oronis and his son, the playwright Akramius. But it’s a witch who will do anything for her dead sister, a disgraced aristocrat named Yarlo Filp, an insane puppet master, a host of malefic marionettes, and a number of small children whose souls have been stolen that begin a cycle of darker, more dramatic stories.
In the Vale of the Black Diamond is an old-fashioned adventure that takes place in a lost world at the bottom of a haunted canyon where Dorgo and his childhood friend, Yozinda Andovo, are on a quest to find a magical jewel reported to have healing powers. But they get more than they bargained for when they encounter a multitude of strange, prehistoric animals, witness the horrible deaths of their companions, and encounter Shemzu Oladar, an eccentric necromancer who is the sole survivor of a lost race from another dimension. And then there’s a curious little fellow named Ghula Drin—one of the clones magically bred by the necromancer to care for the bodies of his long-dead race.
The sixth and final story, Blood on the Moon, is a sequel to Black Diamond. It’s a rather grim tale of horror and family tragedy wherein Dorgo and Yozinda return to her father’s village. Here you’ll meet Yozinda’s crippled father, old Baron Jenko, her ailing brother Brid, Jinogi the big-hearted blacksmith, the gentle Doctor Kandar, and the lovely, exotic Nurse Rolka, a mysterious woman who never laughs or smiles. But the homecoming is not a happy one as Dorgo and Yozinda encounter sickness, revenge, and murder, and must confront a monster that has been preying on the innocent, helpless villagers.
While the tales of Dorgo the Dowser are definitely grounded in sword and sorcery, I like to call them gothic noir. They’re filled with dark, macabre humor—gallows humor. All my various influences are in these stories: Fritz Leiber, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Willis O’Brien, and Ray Harryhausen. There’s even a touch of H.P. Lovecraft in my creation of the demons that inhabit the Otherworlds of the Echoverse—the term I devised to describe my multi-dimensional universe.
I was first inspired by Howard and Leiber, and later Thieves World, especially the tales of Tempus and Niko, written by Janet Morris. Each wrote a style of sword and sorcery that has much in common with film noir. They wrote stories where heroes often walked in the shadows, where villains boldly operated in the harsh light of day, as well as in the darkness of night, and women were “more dangerous than crossbows,” to quote a line from one of my stories. There was a hard-boiled sensibility to their sword and sorcery that appealed to the dark side of my nature. Conan, Tempus, Niko . . . heroes in a more classic, Homeric tradition; Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, almost anti-heroes. I was even influenced by the films such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Night and the City, and Kiss Me Deadly, and westerns like 7 Men from Now, The Tall T, and Ride Lonesome, to name a few.
Greek mythology, elements of the Roman Empire, and the Universal horror films also play their part. The classic gangster films of the 1930s, (which was also the heyday of pulp fiction magazines), films such as Little Caesar, The Roaring Twenties, Dead End, Public Enemy, Angels with Dirty Faces . . . each had a hand in sculpting the tales of Dorgo the Dowser.
Oddly enough, it was Alfred Hitchcock who seemed to exert the strongest influence on me. In his films, the “McGuffin” was never what the story was about. It didn’t matter if it was wine bottles filled with uranium, or a trinket containing microfilm—the story always revolved around the characters and to what lengths they would go to get their hands on the “McGuffin.”
It may seem strange to some of you that I combined so many cinematic elements with my literary influences and then placed them all in a sword and sorcery setting. But by doing so I hoped to create something that would truly be mine, unique in its own way, told with my voice and coming from the world I know and grew up in. It’s no different than using folklore, the Icelandic sagas, or history as sources of influence and inspiration. My main goal has always been to entertain, and if I’ve succeeded in that, then I’m well rewarded.
Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser can be purchased in both hardcover and trade paperback online from www.iuniverse.com, www.amazon.com, and www.barnesnoble.com, as well as other fine, online retailers. It’s also available as eBook downloads for Kindle and Nook.