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Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

How do you write historical fiction about an era for which historical documents are brief and fragmentary?

This was one of the problems I faced when I decided to write a series of Biblical fiction novels set in the ancient world before the global flood described in the book of Genesis. Most of what the Bible writers say about the world of that time is contained in chapters one through eight of Genesis. The writer of Genesis includes some information about what the world of that time was like – for example, increasing violence and the influence of a population of beings called “Nephilim,” who possibly were giants (see “Nephilim: Good Guys, Bad Guys? Humans, Something Else?“). But for a writer trying to tell a story about people living during that time, I didn’t have much to go on.

The solution: I made stuff up.

A lot of stuff. To really build an engaging story, I decided, this series would have to receive the same kind of world-building treatment as a work of fantasy or science fiction. It’s worth mentioning that, to many people, the book of Genesis is nothing but a collection of ancient myths anyway – that is, it’s already fantasy. For my purposes in this writing project, it doesn’t much matter whether the Bible is true or not. This is fiction. I’m trying to tell a story. That’s my main objective. Either way, the job is pretty much the same.

I’m by no means the first writer to set a work of fiction in the pre-Flood world. I’ve started referring to this kind of fiction as “Deluge fiction,” a sub-category of Biblical fiction. One of the best-known writers to contribute to this category was Madeleine L’Engle, with her 1986 novel Many Waters. It’s notable that L’Engle was a fantasy writer and thus applied her professional world-building skills to spin out an intriguing pre-Flood earth and human society, along with some of the fantastical creatures you might expect in a work of fantasy.

Some lesser-known writers have created Deluge fiction as well, such as Vaughn Heppner (People of the Ark), Rachel S. Neal (Generations of Noah), William Guy (The Last Nephilim), Brian Godawa (Noah Primeval), and Shlomo DuNour (Adiel). Also notable is the graphic novel Noah, by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel, later made into a movie starring Russell Crowe.

Some of these stories I liked and some I didn’t, but I used all of them as inspiration to a greater or lesser degree in developing the series I’m calling The Cursed Ground. I decided that The Cursed Ground would be a multi-novel series, at least a trilogy, based around this concept:

In the doomed world before the Biblical Deluge, heroes struggle against the mushrooming violence around them.

Book cover for Children of the KeepterEach novel would require its own premise, but this concept was my starting point. In one essential characteristic, I wanted this Deluge fiction series to be different from all the others I read: The main characters would be wholly fictional. In the other novels, the writer fictionalizes the lives of Noah and his family. In The Cursed Ground, Noah and other people named in the Bible do appear, but they are minor characters. What I’m interested in is the portrayal of more-or-less “normal” people who are compelled to take on extraordinary tasks due to the increasingly horrific conditions around them.

ARK — 2 February 2018

 

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Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington

Portrait of E. M. Forster by Dora Carrington. via Wikimedia

[Note: This post originally appeared as my Goodreads review of “Aspects of the Novel.”]

I recently read E.M. Forster’s 1924 classic, “A Passage to India,” so I was interested to learn that he had written a book about fiction writing. “Aspects of the Novel” is based on a series of lectures Forster gave in 1927 at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Copy on the back cover describes “Aspects of the Novel” as “Forster’s renowned guide to writing.” However, to me it reads more like literary criticism than guidance. I found it interesting and enlightening but not highly practical for me as a novelist. Forster organizes his treatment around seven themes, or aspects:

  1. Story
  2. People
  3. The Plot
  4. Fantasy
  5. Prophecy
  6. Pattern
  7. Rhythm

Out of these aspects, I found his chapter on people, or characters, most useful, particularly his comments on page 75 about the distinction between “round” and “flat” characters, using Jane Austen as an example of round characterization:

Why do the characters in Jane Austen give us a slightly new pleasure each time they come in, as opposed to the merely repetitive pleasure that is caused by a character in Dickens? … [T]he best reply is that her characters though smaller than his are more highly organized. They function all round, and even if her plot made greater demands on them than it does, they would still be adequate. … All the Jane Austen characters are ready for an extended life, for a life which the scheme of her books seldom requires them to lead, and that is why they lead their lives so satisfactorily.

In reader reviews, I often see critical comments to the effect that a novel’s characters are “flat,” and I usually scratch my head over that criticism, especially when it appears in a review of a book that I have read and enjoyed. Maybe some reviewers are just looking for something to gripe about, and “the characters are flat” is a useful trope to fall back on. Or maybe my standards just aren’t that high.

But in any case, here in Forster is an explanation of flat-versus-round that makes sense to me as a writer and that provides some real guidance for developing good characters.

ARK — 4 September 2015

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The Scream by Edvard Munch

Detail from The Scream, Edvard Munch

This morning I thought about this trope, which I often run into as a reader. But as a fiction writer who sometimes portrays screaming people, I wonder whether it ever really happens. Could I really be so horrified that I might start screaming or crying or otherwise expressing my distress — and then hear the sound of it without realizing it’s coming from my own throat?

I’ve seen this device used in many works of fiction to help the reader sense how appalling the character’s experience is. What he or she sees or hears or experiences is so distressing that he screams or cries without even being aware of it. I can go along with that, but what’s hard for me to believe is that you could hear the screaming or crying and not realize that is your own voice.

This question occurred to me this morning when I was listening to Sinners and the Sea, a work of deluge fiction by Rebecca Kanner (I’ve coined the term “deluge fiction” to describe a kind of sub-sub genre of Biblical historical fiction that includes my Cursed Ground series. I say I was listening to it, because audio books are one of my main methods for consuming content.) At one point in Sinners and the Sea, the following passage appears:

Just after the sun’s rays hit the eastern side of the tent, I heard footsteps. Someone raised the door flap, and there was screaming.

“It is only me, child,” my father said, and I realized that the screaming was my own.

I know I’ve run across this trope before many times. I haven’t kept a record, so I can’t tell you the specific novels where it shows up. However, I did a Google search on similar language and found its usage in a couple of works:

Then I heard someone crying out loudly and realized it was me. (The First Game With My Father, by Michael Tierney)

Then it became so quiet, the only noise was someone crying. It was me. (Faith and Drama: Plays and Readings From a Biblical Perspective, by Montana Lattin)

Suddenly I heard someone scream, “I give up. I’m not going to fight you any more. Do whatever you wish, I give up.” Then suddenly I realized it was me screaming. (My World Passes, by Donovan Harrison)

Yes, that last one beggars belief, doesn’t it?

I even found such a passage in a BBC News article about a man who left his baby for three hours in the car, where she died:

“I heard someone screaming,” he says. “Then I realised the screaming was coming from me. The rest is just a total blur.”

Even though that comes from a supposedly true story, I find it hard to credit. It sounds like a tragic, disingenuous, defensive fabrication.

Because this idea of hearing-your-own-voice-screaming-and-not-realizing-who-it-is has become such a cliché, I don’t plan to use it in my own stories. But my question for readers is whether this is a known psychological phenomenon or just a meme created by some fiction writer years ago and picked up by future generations. Anybody know?

ARK — 31 July 2015

 

 

 

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Statuette of a proto-Elamite horned hero or deity

Proto-Elamite statuette of a “horned deity.” Credit: Camocon, via Wikimedia Commons.

How did today’s culture develop its images of the Nephilim (called “Sunder” in my fiction series The Cursed Ground), that is, the race of super-human “mighty ones” referred to in the Bible account at Genesis 6:4? Some Bible accounts, such as the King James Version, call these creatures “giants.” In my stories, they appear as giants, but only in the sense of larger-than-normal hybrid offspring of angelic “sages” with human women.

Echoes of these characters appear in human stories and legends, particularly in Greek myths, which often feature giant half-gods with violent natures. I’m interested in these mythological images, especially as they relate to the historical-fiction tales I’m writing.

One such image came to my attention during a recent tour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The tour guide for Oasis Group Tours stopped briefly at a small statuette in the Met’s “Gallery 402 – The Rise of Civilization: The Ancient Near East ca. 8000–3000 B.C.” The statuette he showed us is similar to the one pictured here, but I’m not sure whether it is actually the same figurine.

The Met’s profile of this exhibit calls it a “Striding figure with ibex horns, a raptor skin draped around the shoulders, and upturned boots.” The Met identifies the figurine as Proto-Elamite, and the detail that our tour guide pointed out is that the copper-alloy sculpture is dated to about 3000 BCE. If the museum’s dating of this object is correct, he said, that would place it before the time of the great deluge of Noah’s day, which occurred in 2370 BCE, according to the Bible’s internal chronology.

That makes the connection to the Nephilim, because the Met’s description identifies the figure as a deity or hero:

This solid-cast sculpture is one of a pair of nearly identical images of a hero or a demon wearing the upturned boots associated with highland regions, his power enhanced by the mighty horns of the ibex on his head and the body and wings of a bird of prey draped around his shoulders.

If the sculpture was created before the Flood, then it was fashioned by an artist who could have known first-hand what the Nephilim and their materialized-angel fathers looked like. That would fit with the enhanced musculature of this figure and other characteristics mentioned in the description:

… the triple belt and beard that define divine beings and royalty … [the] blending of human and animal forms to visualize the supernatural world and perhaps to express shamanistic beliefs …

The Elamites are identified as Semitic in the Bible account at Genesis 10:22, but they could have become mixed in with descendants of Japheth, who were known for their mythological depictions of “mighty ones.”

I intend to post more articles about legends, historical accounts, and other depictions that could related to the pre-flood world, but I thought this image was particularly striking and noteworthy. Some related articles I’ve written include:

ARK — 22 May 2015

 

 

 

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I’m proud to let readers know that the first two books in my historical series The Cursed Ground have been approved by Awesome Indies and listed on their site. Awesome Indies is a volunteer organization dedicated to reviewing and evaluating the works of independent authors. Awesome Indies Approved (AIA) books are “independently published books that meet, or improve on, the standard of books published by major mainstream publishers and their imprints,” according to the organization.

Cover for The Child-Stealers

Book cover for Children of the KeepterThe first two books of The Cursed Ground, The Child-Stealers and Children of the Keeper are now both available on Kindle eBooks. I’m currently working on Book 3 of the series, The Safeguard, which I expect to release in September 2015.

ARK — 12 May 2015

 

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Book cover for Children of the KeepterI’m very happy to let readers know that Children of the Keeper, Book 2 of my historical fiction saga, The Cursed Ground, was released today on Amazon Kindle eBooks. This new book follows Book 1 in the series, The Child-Stealers. I’ve written Children of the Keeper as a standalone story, and I’m told that it reads quite well that way.

I’ve been categorizing The Cursed Ground series as historical fiction, but in truth the story is a crossover from historical into Biblical fiction and even contains elements of what you might call historical fantasy. As far as age category, the story appeals to both adult and young-adult readers. The story is set in the ancient world before the Biblical great deluge. Recently I wrote a blog entry here explaining my approach to world-building for this series: “The Ancient World of ‘The Cursed Ground.’”

I hope you’ll consider reading both of the books I’ve written so far in this series. Here’s the Amazon description of Children of the Keeper, to give you an idea of the story:

Temper and her brother, Victor, serve as captains on the Keeper’s Guard, the rough-and-tumble security squad that patrols the city ruled by her grandfather, the Keeper of Wit.

Today just isn’t her day.

As soon as she comes on duty, Temper chases a thief through the filthy alleys of the city, only to fall on her face in the mud as the criminal escapes. Then somebody pelts her with sheep’s dung at the marketplace. And on top of that, she has to confront a band of hecklers harassing a harmless troupe of entertainers in the city center. Maybe such struggles are to be expected among the unruly Borne, a rebellious race long ostracized from the rest of the human family.

But darker conflicts are stirring in the city of Wit. Power-hungry conspirators are plotting to wrest the city away from the family of the Keeper, goaded on by his ancient enemy, the Plainspeaker.

As if that weren’t enough, Temper and her fellow patrollers discover that outsiders from the enemy race of the Put have entered the city and are promoting their religion: The ancient fellowship known as Friends of the Becomer. And, surprisingly, some of the Borne are listening to these foreign fanatics.

Temper is an expert at chasing criminals, at stick-fighting, and at breaking heads, but place too many conflicts in front of a hothead like her, and trouble is bound to erupt.

“The Cursed Ground” historical-fantasy saga brings to life a long-gone era when humans lived for hundreds of years and all spoke the same language. This series tells the story of a group of defenders who struggle to protect their communities from the growing violence in the world around them. Meanwhile, a small brotherhood is charged with carrying an unpopular message to humankind: The Creator has declared that this violent world will soon come to an end.

Children of the Keeper is available for $1.99 on Amazon’s Kindle eBook store.

ARK — 5 May 2015

 

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Cover for The Child-StealersI just had a note today from The Choosy Bookworm that they’re featuring The Child-Stealers today on their site. The Child-Stealers is Book 1 of my historical-fantasy saga The Cursed Ground. Book 2, Children of the Keeper, is scheduled for release on May 5.

Here’s where to see Choosy’s page for The Child-Stealershttp://choosybookworm.com/product/the-child-stealers/

ARK — 29 April 2015

 

 

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