Goats in the trees

Tags: my stories

When I visited Morocco I was struck by the constant juxtaposition of old and new; men in djellabas talking on cell phones, satellite dishes atop centuries-old buildings, loudspeakers in the minarets of historic mosques. I wanted to get that contrast into a story, and wrote "The Seal of Sulaymaan", which sold to Fantasy Magazine.

Mosques, halaal McDonalds, and satellite dishes as far as the eye can see
The main character in "Seal" is herself (himself? itself?) a remnant of an older world, a genie (ifriit or djinni in Arabic1) pursuing a monster across modern Morocco. They're fantastic creatures in a real landscape. Turn the right or the wrong corner, and you could run right into them, though you might not return to tell the tale.
Women made carpets for the collective, and men sold them

The ifriit was traveling through places I'd seen, but that didn't mean I knew them well enough for the story I wanted to tell. Time for a stack of books and a .docx file full of URLs! Which styles of carpets come from which parts of Morocco? In the folktales, King Solomon (Sulaymaan in Arabic) trapped djinn in bottles – but what kind of bottles did they have in the historical Solomon's time? (Turns out glass bottles weren't around yet.)

And as you search for answers, you also learn about things it didn't occur to you to look for — like the story of the Queen of Sheba and the first bathhouse (hammam), or that bathhouses are traditional haunts for the djinn.

Berber shepherds and their children

Which isn't to say everything in the story can be traced back to a photo or a reference book. Like the story about the djinni who tried to teach a sheep the alphabet — which, if my mail is indication, readers especially enjoyed — and which I just plain made up. Urban fantasy isn't ultimately about research; it's about hiding the seams between two worlds: the readers' real one and the author's magical one.

This song was everywhere in Morocco that summer.
Who directed you to my heart, and said you were my lover? Who directed you to my heart, and said you were my destiny?

You can read "The Seal of Sulaymaan" online at Fantasy Magazine.

Traditional slippers and the foul-smelling tanneries where the leather is processed
Camels as transportation and as dinner
The ever-present Hand of Fatima, and more goats in more trees
Female impersonators and restaurant stalls side by side in Jemaa al Fnaa, Marrakesh's main plaza
Mosaics on a staircase; spices in a shop
Roman ruins and an affable Barbary ape

1. In Arabic, djinni is the singular; djinn is the plural. (back to article)

Written on March 8, 2016