Friday, April 8, 2011

A thriller novel driven by shamanism

Recently readers met Claire Milton, the heroine of Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box as part of this blog's character profiles series. Today, the author Ann Simon is back to explain the shamanism that is part of her novel and how she used it to develop the plot and action of her thriller.

Shamanic overlay in my novel Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box
by Ann Simon

I had a good idea. I had time. It was all simple and straightforward: all I had to do was sit down and write the novel.

Okay, when you pick yourself up off the floor and stop laughing, you can continue reading.

The plot revolved around a puzzle with a souvenir Russian lacquer box leading to a tactical nuclear weapons smuggling ring. Tactical nukes are small nuclear weapons that don’t need a highly technical delivery system. You could, say, deliver them with a tank.

I ran into a problem though because most of the action took place when my heroine Claire was alone. The absence of husband and friends reduced both dialog and obstacle extraction opportunities. I needed some way for Claire to get new ideas, have some dialog and change the course of the plot while she was by herself. When I meet an obstacle like this, I access the creative side of my brain through the practice of Shamanism.

Shamanism is the earliest of human spiritual practices. It involves going into a meditative state known as a journey where, on a spiritual level, one visits other worlds, and gets information and guidance from spirits. The spirits can take the form of supportive animals. Each power or spirit animal has attributes that help its human partner. Everyone has a spirit animal in the same way people believe everyone has a guardian angel.

I’d practiced Shamanism for 15 years. While I was off romping in a Shamanic jungle, it struck me: why wouldn’t Shamanism work for Claire? It would be cool if her spirit jaguar, a source of emotional support, became a source of physical support as well.

Shamanic journeys and spirit animals aren’t real, not in the sense of being in the here and now, being solid, being within the space/time continuum. Okay, I’m not sure what other way you might define “real,” so let’s just agree that Jaguar didn’t exist, so how could a journey, no matter how inspiring, be a physical force against very real, dangerous men?

I developed an internal logic for the story that allowed Jaguar to slowly develop a corporeal presence in our world and therefore be able to provide more and more help to Claire as she discovered and then struggled against the smugglers. Claire is unsure of which characters in the novel she can trust including Jaguar. Is she depending on a spiritual manifestation, a mental construct of her own intuition, or a hallucination? This uncertainty heightens the tension of Claire’s predicament.

Then I found myself in another quandary. If Jaguar crossed over to our world, wouldn’t that open a portal that allowed other spirit animals in as well? Now the fun began! I imagined what each of the bad guys’ spirit animal might be, keeping in mind that the spirits themselves were not evil but were protective of their humans just as Jaguar was protective of Claire. I was cooking; all I had to do was follow the progression of spirit animal and human interaction as it paralleled the smuggling operation, following both to the exciting, event-packed conclusion.

Jaguar Sees: The Lacquer Box by Ann Simon is available at the Amazon Kindle store, Windows 7 phones, i-pads and other i-products. The Kindle app is currently free.

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