Friday, July 29, 2011

Can Good Fantasy Be Good Literature?

On blog tour promoting the August 1st release of The Pride of Blood & Empire, the third book in The Ossian Chronicles, fantasy author W. Brondt Kamffer graces Her Ladyship's Quest with his presence.
Can Good Fantasy Be Good Literature?

by guest blogger W. Brondt Kamffer

An Experiment in the Classroom

Two years ago, in an introductory literature course, I offered my students a choice of seven books from which to pick one to read and write a report. The seven books were: Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Othello, Animal Farm, The Old Man and the Sea, Death of a Salesman, and The Children of Hurin.

Now, it may or may not surprise you that at the stipulation of no more than five students per book not one student chose to read Tolkien's novel. Rather, students flocked to Sir Gawain and Othello, arguably the two most difficult of the above seven. What is the point of this little story? Well, it demonstrates, for one, the state of the fantasy genre in academia. Now, these were mostly freshmen and sophomores, but they were clearly being governed by a thought process that said to them, "The Children of Hurin? You can't be serious." Yet I know for a fact that many in the class regularly read some form of fantasy in their free time.

If you take a look at that list of seven books, you may think that Tolkien's novel stands out, but I would argue that not one of those is entirely unrelated to the others. Clearly, anyone who has read all of them will be able to see that they are very similar. Can it be denied that Beowulf, Sir Gawain, and Animal Farm are as fantastical as The Children of Hurin? Othello and Death of a Salesmen are tragedies, as is The Children of Hurin. The Old Man and the Sea is very like Beowulf in its way, and not dissimilar to The Children of Hurin in its depiction of a man struggling against himself.

Against the Ivory Tower

So, what is the point, I ask again? It has long been observed that genre fiction is often scorned in academia, yet clearly fantasy can be written that is no different to the so-called high literature prized by academics and critics. This is not news to anyone, I should think, but it does demonstrate a divide in ways of thinking, and how that divide affects us all. These students were, as I said, your average first- or second-year American university students. I doubt that one of them will go on to study English at the graduate level. Their aspirations lie elsewhere.

No, my students illustrate a simple point: That which we deem worthwhile in our everyday lives is not what we are told is worthwhile by the men and women staffing the Ivory Tower. I have no doubt that more people are inspired daily by reading genre fiction than are by reading high literature. As a realist in all things (and a former Barnes and Noble employee), I can honestly say I've never seen anyone purchase a copy of Shakespeare or Steinbeck who did not do so purely because it was required reading for a class. Yet many of these people made weekly purchases of fantasy, science-fiction, romance, mystery, thriller, etc. There are those who enjoy high literature outside of study (as I do), but they are rare.

Escapism and Capitalism

Part of this is, no doubt, down to our opinons of escapism in the West. Tolkien spoke very highly of escapism, something that contrasts rather starkly with the attitude of most academics to the same. He used the analogy of a man in a prison, saying that we would forgive that man for dreaming of open fields as opposed to high walls and wire fences.

And to the average human being, life is a series of prisons. We need not see that entirely as a bad thing--in which case it may be better to say that life is a series of walls. We are bound by responsibility, by family and jobs and culture and so forth, and about the only way most of us can get away from those regularly is to escape into imagination. But as a culture, a culture inherited from the Puritanical pilgrims, we view such escape as a guilty pleasure at best, though more commonly as a waste of time. It runs counter to our capitalistic foundation, that something only has value if you can sell it, if it is practical, or if it reinforces our cultural morals and ethics.

Fantasy--or escape, as we are including all genre fiction here--does not necessarily do this. It has no value except in the fact that a book is a commodity to sell. It is not practical except in the fact that humans have to rest to recharge for more work. It has no moral or ethical value unless a clumsy author has made his fable into a parable intended to teach some lesson--in which case he defies the laws of the culture, for such things are the purview of accepted institutions (government, university, church) and not of our artists.

These are all preconceptions tied to our culture, and academia has a vested interest in perpetuating these. The books that are accepted into the canon are all the same. (And despite all the bleating that there is no such thing as a canon any more, my earlier illustration of the seven books clearly demonstrates students are being taught otherwise.) They all reaffirm the world that is. They show us ourselves as we are, not as we could be. They suffocate hope and remind us of our failures rather than inspiring us and showing us our good qualities.

Gritty Realism Will Prevail

It used to be that most really popular fantasy literature was inspirational. I am not going to argue one way or another here. Personally, I like less the gritty realism of Martin and Abercrombie and prefer the inspirational heroism of Sanderson and Goodkind. And yet neither of these latter authors is unrealistic. They show us something of what the world is like, its cruelty, ugliness, wickedness, what have you, but they also suggest that such things can be overcome. And that is encouraging, even if it is somewhat delusional.

It is for this reason that I predict Martin's books will be canonized and studied seriously far quicker than Tolkien's have been (if indeed we can say his works have even reached that point). Martin reaffirms a 21st-century, post-modern nihilism and evolutionary brutality. Tolkien dares to dream of a world in which men are better, able to rise above our dark natures.

And if that is not worth valuing in the modern world, then I might as well pack it in right now and go home.

Thank you Brondt for contributing to Her Ladyship's Quest. I encourage my readers to subscribe to Brondt's Gods and Men podcast and learn more about his novels at the following websites.

Gods and Men

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Smashwords

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Enter drawing to win The Rys Chronicles fantasy ebooks

Through July 31st, people who join my readers' list will be entered in a drawing for my complete fantasy series The Rys Chronicles. The prize winner can choose from epub, Kindle, or pdf format. If you like fantasy, this is a great chance to win four full-length novels.

To enter, just leave a comment here or you can visit www.braveluck.com and use the form on the right side of the page.

Reminder: Tomorrow I will be publishing a guest post by W. Brondt Kamffer, author of The Ossian Chronicles. He'll be exploring the concept of fantasy books as good literature. Follow or subscribe to Her Ladyship's Quest so you won't miss his interesting essay.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Coming soon: New novel, podcasting, and a guest blogger

I'm expecting to receive the final cover art this weekend for my new fantasy novel Rys Rising: Book I. The art will be the final piece I need to go forward with publication. I can tentatively say that I will release Rys Rising: Book I as an ebook at http://www.braveluck.com/ in the first week of August. Rys Rising will be available for download in Epub, Kindle-compatible PRC, and good old Adobe PDF.

As a promotional experiment I will also be presenting Rys Rising: Book I as a serialized web novel with new chapters being added two or three times a week. I'm considering also serializing it at http://www.wattpad.com/.

After I get all of that rolling, I'll distribute Rys Rising: Book I into the Kindle store and all the retail channels served by my distributor Smashwords.com. Then I will design the print version and make it available in paperback and maybe hardcover too. I still have some details to ponder about the print version.

Podcasting and audio book update for Union of Renegades: The Rys Chronicles Book I

Progress is being made on the audio book version of Union of Renegades, the first novel of my complete series The Rys Chronicles. I've personally reviewed 17 chapters of the novel as recorded by Chris Snelgrove of DarkFire Productions. He's doing a marvelous job of interpreting the novel. He has recorded the audio for the rest of the chapters, and I'll be reviewing them soon.

Once everything is done to my satisfaction and I pay my bill to DarkFire, I will be the proud owner of my first audio book. In addition to selling the audio book, I'll be making a chapter-by-chapter podcast of the novel. This audio production is a big experiment on my part. I'm hoping the free serialized podcast of the novel and the audio book will help raise the visibility of my fiction. I know many people like to listen to books, and I'm excited to start putting my toe into the waters of this market. If I see benefits from this experiment (as in money), I'll work toward producing the next novel in the series for the audio market. I'll just have to see how this develops for me, but I am optimistic about delivering my content in yet another format. 

Upcoming guest blogger: W. Brondt Kamffer

Currently on a blog tour to promote the August 1st release of The Pride of Blood and Empire, the third book of The Ossian Chronicles, W. Brondt Kamffer will be featured at Her Ladyship's Quest this Friday the 29th. Kamffer asks: Can good fantasy be good literature? Of course, to that question, I say "duh!" but he'll explore the answer in much more intelligent detail. Please follow or subscribe to this blog now so you won't miss his insightful essay about the literary value of fantasy.

To sample the fiction of this lover of the fantasy genre, download his novella The Call of Sage and Kindred for free at Smashwords.

He is also the author of The Wars of Gods and Men and The Wrath of Kings and Princes.

Access of his novels of The Ossian Chronicles at this page.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Movie review: The Social Network


For a change of pace I recently watched The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg and the rise of Facebook. Because I find entrepreneurship interesting I indulged my curiosity about such a fantastically successful startup company.

The movie opens with Zuckerberg while he is a Harvard student. He is dumped by his girlfriend and in a fit of rage blogs horrible insults about her. Additionally, he uses a friend's algorithm and flings together a website with photos of female students that he hacks out of various local college databases and presents on some kind of compare chics site. Fueled by text messenging, the new site flashes through the college communities and becomes so instantly busy that the Harvard servers running the site crash. Zuckerberg's crass subject matter delights the male students and outrages most campus females for perpetuity. Zuckerberg realizes that he gained so much web traffic so fast because his site let people see pictures of people they knew.

His sudden notoriety attracts the attention of the Winklevoss twins who want to start a Harvard dating website. Zuckerberg agrees to build the site but then strings them along while actually building Facebook for himself. The Winklevoss twins are so stupendously good looking and rich that it was funny watching someone screw them over.

We're all aware of the astounding rise of Facebook and Zuckerberg's success and attendant legal battles with the Winklevoss twins and his friend Eduardo Saverin who was a co-founder of Facebook but was pushed out when Zuckerberg found more substantial investors.

The Social Network is a superbly composed stimulating movie. Every scene is well acted, nuanced, coherent, and pulsing with the frenetic energy of a mobile internet culture. The story is full of youthful energy and daring, and it is exciting to watch. Interestingly Mark Zuckerberg is not a very appealing human being, but this movie remained riveting all the same. His ambition and intellect were admirable, but his impatience with the rest of humanity, which he finds rather tedious, ironically portrayed him as socially inept.

The movie ends by mentioning that Mark Zuckerberg is currently the youngest billionaire. Despite that impressive credential, The Social Network presented him as, to use technical female jargon, undatable.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Mythology of a Name by Pavarti K Tyler

Her Ladyship's Quest welcomes guest blogger Pavarti K. Tyler author of The SandStorm Chronicles that will be released in November 2011. She explains the mythological inspirations for her pen name and her creative life.
I'm about to tell you something shocking. Something you could never have guessed if left to your own devices. It's a secret that has hoodwinked the internet since 1998. Are you ready?

My name is not Pavarti.

Pavarti is a name I chose for myself. In the history of some cultures children are not named by their parents, but are thought to choose their own name. An elder or parent will wait until after the child's birth for the name to be revealed. If I had lived in that world my name would have been Pavarti.

Tragically that was not the case. In fact, I'm not even born from a culture which would consider naming a child Pavarti! Instead I have a nice Middle American name. But when sharing so much of myself with my readers, when giving away the piece of my soul which resides within each of my stories, it seems only right to do it as Pavarti.

Why does this name resonate so deeply with me? Pavarti is a respectful invocation of the goddess Parvati. I aim to honor and channel her without the arrogance of assuming her name.

Parvati is the wife of Shiva and mother of Ganesha in the Hindu religion. Myth or truth, I don't claim to know, but my attraction to Parvati has nothing to do with my own spiritual beliefs. Instead it's the archetype she represents which speaks to me so deeply.

Parvati loved Shiva. However, he mourned the death of his first love and turned his back on the world. Pavarti was determined to win his heart. She became an ascetic. Soon she was able to create incredible energy in her yoga meditations—enough energy to attract the attention of Brahma, the supreme deity of the Hindu pantheon.

Brahma took pity on Parvati and split her spirit in two, creating Kali the goddess of creation and death and Parvati, the goddess of creativity and love. The two goddesses are parts of the same whole and can't exist without each other.

Once she won the love of Shiva, Parvati wanted a child. But Shiva didn't want to be bothered with offspring. Parvati cried and her tears dropped on to a cloth which grew into the form of Ganesha. Shiva came to regret his cruelty and came to find Parvati to apologize. Ganesha didn’t recognize him and blocked his way. Shiva flew into a rage and beheaded him.

Parvati’s grief was so intense Shiva promised to find Ganesha another head. Shiva could only find an elephant's head. Thus Ganesha was reborn as half human, half elephant. He became the Keeper of the Threshold and the God of Good Fortune, an obstacle to all that is undesirable.

His love for Parvati inspired Shiva to once again become concerned for the world. The learning that he had gathered in his meditations ensured that his spiritual energy was channeled for the good of all mankind.

The goddess Parvati represents the part of ourselves that creatively brings forth nourishment even in the midst of what seems to be rejection and disapproval. She is a wonderful affirmation that there are no limits to what a woman can do when she uses her spiritual energy in the pursuit of any goal she chooses.

When we embrace love, the goddess Parvati is there to bless us.

The goddess of love and devotion, an embodiment of the ability of human kind to become more than we are. Parvati willed a child into being from the strength of her love and won the heart of Shiva by the depth of her devotion. When I write this is the spirit I call on. The sister of Kali the destroyer, the fount of creation, Parvati is strong and pure and the power she wields is immense.

So in 1998 when the time came to choose my first email address at excite.com I called upon a tradition that isn't my own but which speaks to me deeply and birthed Pavarti.

We all have a part of the ancient gods within us, we all have power and magic residing deep inside somewhere. For those of us who write, we call it the muse. Others dub it inspiration or the voice of God. Personally, I don't know what it is and I don't care. All that matters to me is that I honor it.

And so, call me Pavarti, I wear the name with pride.

Bio: Pavarti K Tyler is an artist, wife, mother and number-cruncher and has been committed to causing trouble since her first moment on this Earth. Her eclectic career has flirted with Broadway, Teaching, Law Firms and the IRS. Currently she is hard at work establishing her Indie Publishing Company Fighting Monkey Press and enthusiastically working with her Author’s Co-op Escapist Press.

Pavarti K Tyler's debut novel Shadow on the Wall is scheduled for release in November 2011. Shadow on the Wall is Book One of The SandStorm Chronicles, the saga of Recai Osman — businessman, philosopher, Muslim and . . . superhero.

You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter or her website

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Laughing at evil - meet fantasy author Daniel M. Bensen

The Kingdoms of Evil by Daniel M. Bensen
I was recently contacted by Daniel M. Bensen author of The Kingdoms of Evil, an epic fantasy humor novel. Interested by his work, I invited him to do an interview for Her Ladyship's Quest.

Because Bensen describes his fantasy as a humor novel for those who like to root for the bad guy, I thought he would be a good person to ask about why some people crave awesome bad guys more than heroes. I found his comments to be very insightful and help me to understand this increasingly prevalent character in fiction.

Why do you think some people enjoy rooting for the bad guy?

For one thing, the standards that define a hero are very narrow, while a villain gets a lot more leeway. So it's easier to create interesting bad guys. Also, since they don't have to respect the same rules that we do, villains can be larger than life, with hooks for hands and ominous cybernetic respirators. So they have always attracted a lot of attention.

But I think the reason for villainy's growing appeal is the dissonance I mentioned between the morality of the main characters in a classic fantasy and the morality of the modern readers. Fantasy heroes are based (with more or less accuracy) on the standards of behavior that govern legends and fairy-tales, those codes of conduct have become so different from the ones that govern our society, we just can't understand these people any more. Evil characters, who manipulate those around them, base their decisions on personal gain, and actively seek pleasure, are much more compatible with the way we live our lives. We've stopped feeling bad about the principles of enlightened self-interest that govern our society, and so we are becoming less tolerant of the my-heart-is-pure-I-kill-trolls kind of hero.

In my book, the Ultimate Fiend of the Kingdoms of evil is the sympathetic character, because he rejects the good/evil trap entirely, and focuses instead on what is smart and what is stupid. The person who believes in moral absolutes is far more dangerous.

Writing humor is arguably risky because it is so difficult to appeal to people's sense of humor, especially in written form. What made you venture into this dangerous arena?

The basic idea of was to highlight the clashes between the morality of classic epic fantasy and the morality of our society. And the best way to deal with such a profound clash of expectations is humor. I'm sorry, you thought it was a good thing to forge a sword specifically to kill people who look different from you?

Writing your novel took five years. What was your writing process like? Were there long stretches when you did not have a chance to work on it?

Not really, actually. I made a regimen for myself where I wrote for at least 30 minutes every day (it later became 60). I just wasn't very good at writing. I would spend all that time typing and deleting and retyping the same couple of sentences. To go back to the first question, at that stage, writing humor didn't seem particularly difficult compared to the gargantuan task of writing anything, at all. Things did get easier. Practicing every day really did help. So although the first couple of chapters took me a year, the last two
took less than a month. Now I'm on my second book (details here: http://bensen-daniel.deviantart.com/gallery/27912685) and I'm producing a chapter every three weeks or so. So take heart!

You currently work as an English teacher in Bulgaria. What is your native country and what is Bulgaria like?

I'm from the US, but I moved to Bulgaria in 2008 with my wife, Pavlina. It was hard to adjust to life here, at first, and of course it's difficult and time-consuming to learn a new language, but in general my experience has been positive. Bulgarian people are very interested in foreigners, and they are good at having fun. Living outside the US has also given me a sense of perspective I didn't have before, allowing me to see American culture from the outside. Some things we are actually doing really well with, others not so much.

My experiences abroad certainly impacted the Kingdoms of Evil. I mean, I wrote about a world where the laws of physics change when you pass over a border, so multinationalism is a huge theme. Also, readers in the know will find some sly references to Bulgaria (and to my other host country, Japan) in the novel.

Who is your favorite character in your novel and why?

Well, of course I like the main character, Freetrick. I wrote most of the novel from his perspective, after all. I like his sense of humor, and his backbone, which I did not mean to give him. My favorite supporting character, though, is DeMacabre, the obligatory evil adviser, and the father of the love interest. His were my
favorite lines to write ("How absolutely phantasmagorical to finally make your acquaintance") and the character turned out to be a lot deeper than I originally thought he would be. No spoilers, but he really is, if not a good person, at least an understandable one.

What have you been doing to promote your novel?

I made a website (http://www.thekingdomsofevil.com/) and I am releasing the novel page by page (with illustrations) to give people something to look at before they buy the book. I have also talked up the book on forums and review pages like this one. Finally, I found out that the TV tropes forums are good places to get advice and do some promotion.

6. Any additional comments?

Well, I could give some advice. Focus all your energy on writing the story. Not the world-building, not the back-story of the characters. You only know what will be useful once you know what the story is about, and you only know what your story is about after you finish it.

THEN you can go back and add more details. Nothing is more important than the story.

Where to get The Kingdoms of Evil

Online serial presentation http://www.thekingdomsofevil.com/

Smashwords http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/66649

Amazon U.S. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B004W3VWSK/

Amazon U.K. http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B004W3VWSK

Thank you for the great interview.

Readers please comment with your thoughts about villains.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Bad guys have never had it so good

For many long ages, stories overwhelmingly had clear cut good guys and bad guys. In the early cinema this was famously designated by white hats and black hats. The good guy always did everything right and was never tempted to do anything wrong. The bad guy was always reprehensible and his demise was applauded.

But things aren't so simple in stories any more. The change was slow at first. Anti heroes and compelling villains began to pop up in literature in the modern era. Frankenstein, Bram Stoker's Dracula, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, and The Grapes of Wrath are notable and well known examples. The trend to admire the bad guy has accelerated in recent decades. Readers and viewers are enjoying villains in a new way. The villain is not just meant to give the hero someone to fight. Sometimes there is no hero and the story is all about the bad guy.

My fascination with the bad guy started when I was five years old and saw Star Wars at the theater. Darth Vader scared me but wow was he the most awesome thing I had ever seen. This was not Saturday morning cartoons. This was serious stuff. He could choke you without touching you, and I definitely needed to pay attention.

At the end of Star Wars I realized how much I truly loved Darth Vader when he survived. Joy of joys, the bad guy survived! I was so happy. For once a story had a truly happy ending. The bad guy got away. Don't we all want to get away with something?

Of course we all learn later that "there is good in him" and that's nice that Darth Vader is redeemed. Stories of redemption have perennial appeal because we all have a psychological need to be forgiven our lapses.

But I loved Darth Vader because he was powerful and ostensibly evil. At the end of the Empire Strikes Back when he tells Luke he is his father, I was shocked but then delighted. How cool is that? Darth Vader is his father. I wholeheartedly wanted to take that outstretched black-clad hand and end this destructive conflict and rule with my father. Come on! Vader made a good offer.

Another great example of the bad guy oriented story is the movie The Chronicles of Riddick. No one can argue that Riddick has a soft heart about anything or is the slightest bit interested in redemption. He is a remorseless killer. His one fault might be pride because he is rather proud of being really really awesome at killing people. It's a story of bad guys fighting bad guys. Good and decent people are just in the background suffering and dying. Talk about fantasy projecting reality.

Although bad guys or at least heroes with flaws are increasingly in vogue, there are some excellent examples from older literary works in which bad guys define the story. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas by Jules Verne would be hopelessly boring without the captivating presence of Captain Nemo. Nemo both makes sense and is utterly terrifying because there is no convincing him to let you go. He makes sense because his criticisms of land-based civilization are sound. Most readers I suspect can identify with his hatred of our flawed terrestrial existence and long for escape. Nemo is a pure idealist. He has latched onto the superiority of living in the oceans and will never go back to the land. He also can never let the world know about his Nautilus and therefore will never release the hapless heroes who are trapped in Nemo's world. Nemo's unrelenting yet warped ideals are terrifying because we recognize that someone who clings absolutely to a belief can be dangerous. Nemo is not really good or evil. He's so far out there that he really does not have a category. Although he kills people and robs others of their freedom, he is above caring about such petty cruelties. Essentially Captain Nemo is utterly fascinating, and when I read the novel I would swing between extremes of thinking he made sense and being totally afraid of him. He was the best kind of villain. You want to escape him but you do not really want to destroy him because he is so awesomely superior.

Another character from literature that I admire is Tom Joad from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. Tom I think would be properly categorized as an anti-hero. He is not villainous. He has been to prison for killing someone but it was not first degree murder. When he gets out of prison he travels with his family from Oklahoma to California as they seek work after being kicked off their farm. Now a migrant laborer, Tom endures many hardships with his family as a harsh and exploitative society treats them worse than animals. Suffering so much ceaseless persecution eventually forces him to commit another violent crime. His badness is understandable. Tom's crimes are presented alongside the greater crimes of society, and he seems almost innocent by comparison. Although he is a killer, Tom's criticisms of the world are justifiable and he is a very sympathetic character.

I've been thinking about bad guys a lot lately because my soon-to-be-published novel Rys Rising: Book I is dominated by its bad guy, Amar. I created Amar to be a bad guy for readers to love, but now I've begun to realize that the whole novel and the series are primarily about him. Does this make him the hero? After reading my new novel, my husband emphatically disagreed that Amar even was a bad guy. That's debatable, but he's hardly anyone you'd want your daughter to bring home for dinner.

I don't even think that Amar is particularly sympathetic, but he is interesting and exciting. He gets to throw off the constraints of goodness and pursue epic ambitions. His enemies will be vanquished. The conquered will cringe at the speaking of his name. He is the chosen of the powerful rys Onja.

I am a little apprehensive about how he will be received. I like to think that he is more bad ass than bad. I am hopefully confident that some readers will enjoy him if they are like me and relish a complex and successful bad guy. I am heartened to know that there does exist an audience interested in this type of character. I recently interviewed Daniel M. Bensen, author of the epic fantasy humor novel The Kingdoms of Evil. He offers a bad guy for people who like to root for the bad guy, and Bensen provided the best explanation for the rising popularity of bad guys that I have yet to read. Be sure to follow or subscribe to this blog so you won't miss his insightful comments. His interview will appear tomorrow.

Please comment with your opinions about bad guys and good guys and the qualities you enjoy most in either type of character.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Elizabeth Simpson and the impact of characters on those who create them

George Straatman returns to Her Ladyship's Quest after doing some introspection about writing his horror trilogy The Converging. His attachment to his character Elizabeth Simpson and the journey he took as a creative writer while creating her are the subjects of his guest post today.

There are many aspects of creative writing that are truly mystifying even to those who have devoted their lives to the art. Writing the Converging Trilogy was a twenty year undertaking and as I look back over those two decades and the process of evolution I’ve undergone, both as a writer and an individual in the world beyond…I realize that this series of novels and the characters I created to populate the Converging’s landscape, have left a lasting impression upon me in ways I could never have anticipated. I’ve often been asked about my creative process or more specifically, “Where I learned to write like that?” I suspect that those who pose the question find my response rather odd because my writing style is highly intuitive and is simply the way I naturally write…In that time, I’ve received some fairly effusive praise for the series and I’m still rather uncomfortable with the compliments because I’ve always felt that the stories wrote themselves and I was simply medium through which they were recorded.

With this notion in mind and as the Converging’s final word was committed to paper, my thoughts turned to the character of Elizabeth Simpson…and through her, I finally came to some epiphany of what it really means to be an author...to weave tapestries with words and emotions…to create characters whose lives and struggles can reach out beyond the printed page and leave an indelible mark on those who have shared their journeys.

I spend a portion of each day trying to learn more about the specifics of marketing in the new age of social media. In this process, I have heard the sage advice to ‘write to an audience’ and to ‘tailor your writing to their specific needs.’ While I have no doubt this works for those who have advocated the concept, I could no more write this way than I could draw down the moon. It’s simply not how my creative engine operates.

When I first took up the pen and began writing the first volume of the Converging the character of Cynara Saravic…the novel’s truly vile antagonist…was set firmly in my creative eye. Elizabeth Simpson, who would fall victim to Cynara’s demonic allure through the course of the novel, was to be a main character to be sure, but she was a nebulous creature whose character would be defined by the flow of the story. I mentioned that my writing is mostly intuitive and this was never more than case than it was with Elizabeth. As the story began to gain tangible shape, she spoke to me…quietly and with whispered grace and dignity and through the course of the 1,800 pages plus journey, Elizabeth’s tribulation-filled journey became the primary focus of the tale. Elizabeth came to define herself and endured the depths of despair and the heartache of ineffable loss that I contrived to heap upon her throughout the story with a stoic dignity. She suffered all of these things and through her grace, taught me the nature of perseverance, dignity and compassion even in the shadow of her own grief. Though provided with every opportunity to do so, Elizabeth fiercely refused to surrender her grip on the fundamental virtue of her nature and found the wherewithal to stay true to whom and what she was. When I first decided to write this horror trilogy, it was my aspiration to craft a horror story that would pay homage to all that I loved about the genre, but to also weave a tale that could transcend its limits and resonate with everyone who might embark upon reading it. If I have achieved this at all, it is to Elizabeth Simpson that all the credit must go.

I recall the night I finished the epilogue of Closures in Blood (the final novel of the Trilogy) in the summer of 1995. As I was inclined to do, I reread these final page and came to the stunning realization (one that I was unaware of during the actual writing) that I had just crafted one of the most poignant and heart-wrenching pieces of story-telling I had ever written…I had taken everything from Elizabeth that an omnipotent creator could take and in the end, had given back only the slim prospect of hope that was nebulous at best. Elizabeth endured even this with her customary grace. I recall how, through those twenty years, she taught me who she was and how best to recount her tale…and I know that I see her as a daughter…a friend and an example that I can look to when faced with my own trials to overcome.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received as a writer came when a fan of my series approached me (an avid reader who had never read a horror offering prior to mine) and told me that the conclusion of the final novel had left her crying unabashedly…not an easy emotion to arouse with a horror story. I was pleased because I knew that I was not alone in feeling the emotions that this ending evoked and also because I could take comfort in knowing that I had succeeded in telling Elizabeth’s story precisely as she would have wanted me to.

I’m not sure where a novel’s characters go once their tale has been told, but where ever Elizabeth Simpson might be, I hope she has found comfort and happiness there in exchange for all she has taught me about writing…and about life.

George Straatman

http://www.georgestraatman.com/home.html

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