Zombie Bible Quote #99

“Something is happening, Cephas. And whatever is happening, it will be like sword and like fire and like bread in the mouths of a thousand, thousand children, and nothing will ever, ever be the same way again.”

- No Lasting Burial

I’m launching a countdown of 101 quotes from The Zombie Bible. Here is Quote #99. You can read more about No Lasting Burial, a riveting and visceral reinterpretation (disinterment) of the New Testament, here, in my post “An Old Story Made Dangerous Again.”

NLBAt the end of the countdown will be the release of I Will Hold My Death Closea Zombie Bible novella.

Join the countdown! Like this post and comment if you like the quote, if you remember it, or if it moves you to respond.

Or share this post with others if you would recommend the book!

Stant Litore

Zombie Bible Quote #100

Both of them had been, by that act, torn away from their old lives. Now they stood in the empty place, the place of waiting, where the waves eat the world and yet the world remains. She didn’t know what was going to happen.

- No Lasting Burial

I’m launching a countdown of 101 quotes from The Zombie Bible. Here is Quote #100.

NLBAt the end of the countdown will be the release of I Will Hold My Death Close, a Zombie Bible novella (exclusively on the kindle).

Join the countdown! Like this post and comment if you like the quote, if you remember it, or if it moves you to respond.

Or share this post with others if you would recommend the book!

Stant Litore

Yes. So much Yes. (Homeless Jesus)

Here you can read about the appearance of a Jesus the Homeless statue and how that appearance is upsetting some well-to-do believers.

Rev. David Buck sits next to the Jesus the Homeless statue that was installed in front of his church, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidscon, N.C.

For my own part, I welcome the statue. Even as I was penning No Lasting Burial — in which the appearance of a homeless Yeshua rocks a small Galilee fishing town to its core — this sculptor was working on an even more direct, blunt, and moving portrayal of the man who walked the length and breadth of a bitterly divided land to remind its people that it is in caring “for the least of these” that we care for God, and that what keeps us from the peace we long for is our “hardness of heart.”

I am moved.

Stant Litore

Zombie Bible Quote #101

The crisis created by an outbreak of the walking dead offers a telling diagnostic of those flaws in the human condition that resurface, century upon century: our tendency to let problems fester untended until they become crises, our frequent inability to work together for a common good, our quickness to forget the lessons our grandparents learned at the cost of much sweat and blood, and the extent to which our privileged classes ignore and deny responsibility for the plight of the impoverished and the disinherited. Our ancestors often described the attacks of the hungry dead as acts of either divine retribution or divine abandonment in utter grief at human evil, and in at least one respect they may have been correct: the rapid rise of an outbreak is nearly always a consequence of our own failings.

- Death Has Come Up into Our Windows

I’m launching a countdown of 101 quotes from The Zombie Bible. Here is Quote #101.

At the end of the countdown will be the kindle release of I Will Hold My Death Close, a Zombie Bible novella! There are a few more than 101 days to go to that end-of-August release, and I may not be able to post a quote every day. But when I hit Quote #1, the novella will be out!

Join the countdown! Like this post and comment if you like the quote, if you remember it, or if it moves you to respond.

Or share this post with others if you would recommend the book.

Stant Litore

Cover Reveal: Dante’s Heart by Stant Litore

Dear readers, I’m proud to share with you the cover for my upcoming independent release, the novella Dante’s Heart:

DantesHeart_Litore

DANTE’S HEARTNovella -  Coming Summer 2014 from Westmarch Publishing
When Dante falls asleep, strange creatures burst from him, intent on murder; waking, he pursues them across the world. Dante’s Heart is a story about violence and the marks it leaves on us. The story has elements of magical realism. Here is an excerpt:

It was unlike any bone country Dante and his companions had ever seen. For one thing, the graves were not in the earth but above it, a field of metal boxes perched on their ends, like standing stones, or like silent prisons, holding captive a thousand decaying monuments to the violence that is on the earth. Some might have held actual bodies, others only a symbolic remainder: an autobiography, a famous coat, a bloodstained axe, a boot. In each metal surface had been sculpted a screaming face. Beneath each face, a single name:

VLAD TEPES.
ADOLF HITLER.
LIZZIE BORDEN.
AN ANNAI.
CLONE 7719-B.

Some Dante recognized, some he didn’t. He and the others—the dwarf with the eyes like hard gems, the nymph whose hair today was the deep red of algae—stopped in silence at the border of this field of the dead. Then Dante walked silently on, alone at first, his feet carrying him quietly down the long rows. He stared, aghast, at the faces, and mouthed the names he read as he passed.

I am excited to bring you Dante’s Heart! Watch my website for upcoming announcements about the release date and where you can buy the ebook (I anticipate it being available on Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and iBooks).

The cover is by the remarkable Roberto Calas (his website is here).

Want to know more of what’s coming soon from the mind of Stant Litore?
Check out my Coming Soon page here.

(Note for the fans: The title Dante’s Heart is taken from an online literary journal that I ran, under a different name, from 2007-2009, and which issues one ebook each year. This story evolved out of the idea that was my original inspiration for Dante’s Heart.)

Maleficent: An Afterword

“A good book shouldn’t make you comfortable. It should make you edgy.” – Christine Emmert

The following charge through the thorns is an afterword I wrote for Christine Emmert’s The Nun’s Dragon. Emmert’s work is unusual and beautiful, and I have been helping her publish it and get it out to readers. I recommend stepping into her world for a while.  – Stant

The greatest monsters—and the most beautiful angels—are those within us. Christine Emmert understands this, and she reminds us of it with wonder and terror. —No, “reminds us” is such a calm, rational way of putting it. That is not what Emmert’s stories do. Her tales are neither calm nor rational. They fall upon us with a shock, the way her wyvern in The Nun’s Dragon tears a hole in the sky and drops from the stars to earth, or the way Lilith dives shrieking from the dark air, talons extended, to clutch up baby mice or baby people. Emmert doesn’t remind us of anything. She compels us not to forget, compels us to look around at our world and at each other with wide-opened eyes.

LilithThe narrator of Lilith tells us of her marriage to her husband: “Our own wedding vows baffled him when I asked to be shackled to his naked beating heart in the anger of winter.” To read a Christine Emmert story is to receive a communication that is a little bit like that vow. Her fiction is wind and dark wine; she draws us into scenes that are as finely and precisely crafted as gardens, scenes that seem as carefully static and controlled as gardens, or as medieval paintings. But then she stands behind us, whispering the incantation of her story in our ear as we look on, and suddenly thorns and briars tear their way through soil or canvas and rear up dark all around us, as though she is Maleficent. Then we move forward into the darker and more beautiful heart of the story—a story we’d thought for a moment was just a pretty garden!—and the thorns cut us as we go in, and we bleed.

Her prose is beautiful, but it is not for everyone. There is an archaism to it that can prove either seductive or off-putting—as though Emmert is standing at the very brink of language, with a chasm of howling dark behind her, and before her the plateau of our modern language and our modern thinking, with its convenient sentences and figures of speech and comfortable ways of saying and hearing comfortable and familiar things—as though these comforts are a stand of poplars shielding our plateau from reality’s wind. She comes against our poplars with blades fashioned from images and from fragments she has taken from ancient ways of speaking, ways that we can no longer use but whose edges still cut. Then, the poplars down, she lets in the wind. She lets in the cold.

With our hair and our garments streaming behind us, we look out at a landscape transformed by the storm, by the sudden onset: nothing is as it was. Nothing is as we expect. We stride through the remains of our poplars, our familiarities, and in doing this we meet our world again as if for the first time, raw and rough with all of its potential—all of its horror and all of its wonder—laid bare. No comfortable refuge to protect us, no walls mortared with the hard bricks of our expectations.

NunsDragon_Final_LilithWe might meet anyone in this wind, among these fallen trees: maiden or dragon or dark shadow. And they will not be who we expect, and we, the readers, will not be who we’ve thought we are. We might glance up and see stars again, stars bright and burning, stars we have forgotten. Or we might glance down and see blood we have spilled, blood we have forgotten. But in either case, we will not be permitted to just stroll quietly, blindly, in the shade of our poplars.

When you first step up to the medieval painting that a Christine Emmert story appears at first to be, you might think you are strolling in the shade of poplars. But you are not. Because the moment you are in, those poplars will be torn aside, and you will be in the thorn thicket. Emmert is Maleficent, not William Wordsworth. But, turning one page to the next, you must ask: what unsuspected beauty sleeps behind these thorns, waiting for you—you who are sleeping—to wake?

Stant Litore
January 13, 2014

Release Day: No Lasting Burial from Stant Litore

Share the word! Big day today! NO LASTING BURIAL is now officially out, worldwide, in paperback, audiobook, and kindle! Very proud of this novel — it was ambitious, it was extremely risky, and it worked.

Here’s a quick cheat sheet for where you can find it:

In Paperback:
- Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/no-lasting-burial-stant-litore/1118176823
- Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1477818057

On Audible:
http://www.audible.com/pd/Fiction/No-Lasting-Burial-Audiobook/B00J5SEULS

For your Kindle:
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQK16DO

What readers are saying about it:

NLB“This book reads like a runaway express train.” – Timothy Widman

“His characters are so real, so full of vitality that you KNOW them. Intimately.” – The Eclectic Bookworm

“It was inevitable that at some point in a series called ‘The Zombie Bible,’ which imagines zombies as a part of everyday life in Bible times, the subject would turn to Jesus, who both raised someone from the dead and was himself raised from the dead. It was bound to happen, but at the same time that’s no easy feat. How do you portray Jesus’s interaction with the living dead in a way that’s neither overly preachy nor some schlocky ‘Jesus versus zombies’ gimmick?

“Author Stant Litore took that risk in No Lasting Burial, the fourth novel in his Zombie Bible series, and in the process has delivered a truly unforgettable story. He basically gives us two overlapping events here – a small fishing town dealing with the aftermath of a zombie outbreak that devastated their lives in a profound way, and the story of how Jesus met his earliest disciples. Both stories are equally powerful, for very different reasons. Here is a town with a decimated population, literally starving to death, and with everyone carrying either (or both) physical or mental wounds, struggling with how to survive, how to treat outsiders, and how to treat each other. Then there’s a stranger who draws the dead to him like moths to a bonfire, and who possesses powers and visions from God. It’s fascinating, even to a jaded atheist such as myself, to see how these fragile beings all come together to start something that will change the world.” – Justin Gaines

The novel has been available in kindle for a little while, but now is available as a paperback and an audiobook, too. I hope you’ll help me spread the word about No Lasting Burial!

Strangers in the Land: 10% off

litore_sitlThe paperback edition of Strangers in the Land is 10% off at Amazon this month!

What the professional reviewers say:

“To say I loved this book would be an understatement. I could not put it down and felt my heart pounding against my ribcage as the characters raced across the land in an attempt to catch up with the hordes of unseeing and insatiable dead … I have no hesitation in giving Strangers in the Land five out of five stars and will certainly be reading the rest of the series in order to feed my insatiable hunger for more of Litore’s historical mashups.” —SeattlePI.com

“Saying Strangers in the Land is a zombie book is like saying that Pride and Prejudice is a romance novel instead of one of the most brilliant stories I’ve ever read. Is Strangers in the Land that good? YES … It’ll stay with me for a very, very long time.” —Guerilla Wordfare

“Beyond the rich historical background and the desperate fight for survival, Strangers in the Land is a story about otherness, what it means to be a ‘stranger’… Far from being ‘just another zombie book’, it is a remarkably clear look at what it means to impose a system of inequality among a culture.” —examiner.com

“One of those books I was clutching and just couldn’t stop turning the pages. It’s a dark, evil world the characters are stuck in – one of near unimaginable loss and suffering. At moments you feel like there is no hope for humanity, that this evil plague will be the end of the world as we know it. There is no safe place. You’ll find yourself thinking what if? What if this was to happen now? Imagine fighting the zombies without modern day weapons or transportation. Talk about a nightmare! (cringe!) This well written book will stay in your head for days.” —Confessions of a Psychotic Housewife

Get your copy here.

The Zombie Bible gets a mention over at NPR

Surprised by a mention over at NPR…

K. Tempest Bradford shared her five picks for John W. Campbell award nominees in an NPR article today, and to my surprise and delight, my recent release No Lasting Burial was one of them! You can read Bradford’s article here: http://www.npr.org/2014/03/31/297152249/we-read-the-years-best-new-sci-fi-so-you-dont-have-to

Bradford wrote that she was selecting “stories built from the elements of great SF: Prose that isn’t just competent, but engaging, surprising, and alive. Ideas that delve deep into the themes the authors are exploring. Characters that crawl right up off the page and yank you into their worlds.”

The chances of becoming a finalist and official nominee are slim, but today’s NPR mention — and learning that at least one prominent editor/writer had selected me as one of her picks in the first-round nominations — definitely made my week.

More generally, I’ve been really pleased with and surprised by the good reviews, the good mentions, and the growing fanship around my novels. I am not a “well-known” writer, but it has turned out that I am a well-loved one by those who know my stories. I am delighted at that.

Time to write some more stories!

Meanwhile, if you’d like to read No Lasting Burial, check here. It is out in kindle, and the audiobook and paperback editions will be released on April 8 and are available for preorder.

I also highly recommend the FREE Campbellian Anthology, which is only available to download for a few more weeks; the Campbellian Anthology offers a vast sampling of the newest science fiction and fantasy, with fiction from 111 writers who are eligible for the Campbell and a word count that would make George R.R. Martin blush. This is the anthology that the picks in the NPR article are drawn from, and you can find it here.

Stant Litore

The Beating Heart

When I explain that my novels are about opening up the body of the Bible, reaching in, and lifting out its raw, bleeding heart, and holding it out, dripping in my hands, to offer it, beating and pulsing and very alive and very real and so very red, to my readers … I get some strange looks.

I’m holding out this beautiful, bloody, beating heart. Here, take it…

Stant Litore

Read The Zombie Bible

This Winter’s 2 Must-Read Novels

And the results are in. My two favorite reads from this winter are:

arecommend_Morganfield THE BONE FLOWER THRONE by TL Morganfield.

Aztecs. And that title. And a strong, unique heroine. A completely different take on religion and magic. What’s not to like?

You can get the novel here.

And:

arecommend_VanderMeer ANNIHILATION by Jeff VanderMeer.

When is the last time you read a work of speculative fiction and, page after page, your internal response was “Wow… wow… wow…”

This book.

You can get it here.

Seriously, if you’re following my blog, I’ll consider you to be just lollygagging about and not paying any real attention if you don’t go read these two novels. They’re good. Really, really good.

Stant Litore

20 Fictional Characters I’d Have A Beer With

stantlitore:

Reading this list, I just have to say HECK YEAH.

I would add to my list:

  • Syrio Forel from A Game of Thrones. I would absolutely have a beer with him. And a swordfighting lesson or two, as well, from which I’d emerge, most likely, with stung knuckles and stung pride.
  • Father Polycarp from my own What Our Eyes Have Witnessed. Who would also probably invite in about ten people from the street to have chicken wings, on him. And then he’d tell us all a story, and motivate us to take the coats off our backs and go give them to someone shivering against a wall down the street. Then he’d have us searching for housing for them. And then…in fact, before we knew it, we’d be starting an entire mission. He was that kind of man.

Originally posted on 101 Books:

Ranking books is a fruitless exercise. It’s inherently subjective and people get pissed.

For example, I loathe Mrs. Dalloway. But when a Woolfite sees that I have Mrs. Dalloway ranked almost last in my rankings, I’m the equivalent of an abortion protestor screaming at the front door of a clinic. THESE DOCTORS MUST DIE!!!

I have an opinion. They have an opinion. We argue, everybody leaves angry, and nothing gets changed.

So, yeah, it’s kind of fruitless to rank books, but I do it anyway ‘cause it’s fun. But what about book characters? Can I rank them in some sort of sensible, somewhat objective way?

That’s doubtful too. But I’m going to try it today anyway.

And here’s how I’ll do it. I’ll ask myself the following question: Which fictional characters would I most (and maybe not so much) like to have a beer with? Then, I’ll rank accordingly.

You’ve…

View original 939 more words

We Need a World of Effective Readers

I’ve written elsewhere that I can engage passionately with biblical stories without treating the Bible as some kind of thriller-novel. It isn’t; it’s a set of records assembled over a thousand years across many genres, three languages, and three continents — records of how several cultures wrestled with God, ethics, religion, law, and how they kept asking questions that still are essential to our lives: questions like “Who is my neighbor?” or “Who should I approach with love?” or “What matters most in life?” or “When I see others suffering, what is my responsibility?” I just don’t see the point in reading it as a literal, realist thriller-novel. It wasn’t written as one. It’s supposed to be contradictory — that’s the whole point — because it records over a thousand years of wrestling with tough issues and with tough relationships (both with other people and with God). So you see passages where the dominant response is xenophobia, and you see passages where the dominant response is advocacy — because that’s what we’re wrestling with, whether as a reader or as a tribe or as a species.

The way we read something is often determined by the training we’ve received; it’s not a given. And, in fact, some ways of reading are ill-founded, inappropriate to the context, highly ideologically driven, and destructive. And if you don’t believe that bad reading can be destructive, then you’ve probably never heard of Adolf Hitler. He read Nietzsche very badly. Or Osama bin Laden, who read and interpreted passages from his Quran in a very reductive and literal-minded way.

An atheist friend recently shared with me that she was tangling with several theists over the question of how many animals Noah could have realistically fit in a boat.

My humble suggestion for both my theist and atheist friends is that arguing with people who believe that the Bible should be read like a literal, realist thriller by arguing points with them in literal, realist terms is a losing proposition. It empowers the kind of reading that they’re doing, which is a destructive and reductive kind of reading. By debating how many animals could fit on an Ark, you’re insisting that they read the text literally and evaluate it on those merits.

What we need to do instead, whether we are theist or atheist, is deconstruct that kind of reading.

What we need to do is point out that treating the Bible as a literal, realist thriller is a silly, destructive, reductive way to read it. Because that kind of reading and thinking is the core problem (and, I believe, one of the root causes of much suffering in our world). That is what leads people to suggest that the earth MUST be flat because look at this verse in a prophetic text that talks about the world’s four corners, or to insist that the world MUST have been created in six days, because look, it says so, or, for that matter, that witches MUST be burned, because look, this one verse in my translation of an ancient levitical saw says they must not be permitted to live. That’s the kind of reading that needs to be demolished. It’s a silly way to read an ancient text; it’s a way that comes out of a reading and interpretive tradition that did not exist at the time that the text was written.

You can’t contest literal-minded readers by playing their own game, because it’s the wrong game, and it is the game itself that is destructive to its players, to its text, and to our society.

For an example of what I mean, look at how literal-minded American readers read excerpts from the Quran. They read them the same way they read Bible passages – literally. So when they read a passage about ‘jihad,’ they take it literally and assume that it MUST mean what extremist Shiite jihadists believe it means, not realizing that over 80% of the Muslim world interpret passages on jihad (“struggle”) very differently because they don’t read their Quran the same way.

If you are an atheist, suppose that you succeeded in undermining someone’s religious opinions but you did so by arguing literally over how many animals could fit in Noah’s boat. You wouldn’t have solved the core problem, which is that they read sacred texts in that literal, ideologically-determined way. So, with that problem still in place, you might have a new atheist (if that was your goal), but one who would continue to read, or possibly dismiss, holy texts (Bible, Quran) in that same literalistic fashion. You’d have a reader who might continue to believe Muslims are jihadists and suicide bombers just waiting to happen, someone who might continue to treat the Sunni clerk down the street very badly. The actual problem would remain unresolved.

It’s more important to have a world of people who are literate and effective readers than it is to have a world populated by atheists or a world populated by theists (whichever you’d prefer). Reductive, literalistic reading and interpreting can turn any philosophical position, whether sacred or secular, into a nightmare. Torquemada turned his reading of a religious text into a program to burn Jews and witches. Christian pastors in West Africa turn one verse that they read a particular way into a reason for throwing acid into the faces of children. Hitler turned an atheist position that he misappropriated from Nietzsche into Nazi Germany; to make the point clearer, note that having dealt with Judaism, he then banned Christianity in 1944, replacing the Bible with Mein Kampf on the pulpit, at the very time that the ovens in Auschwitz were pouring ash over the countryside. Ditto, Stalinist Russia. The question isn’t whether we are atheist or theist; the question is how closed-mindedly we read and interpret. I do not want a world of Hitlers or a world of Torquemadas; I would be equally unhappy in either. I could live in a world where I was the only theist, though, or live in a world of all theists, either one, if the theists or atheists in question were open-minded, careful, self-training readers and interpreters. Because then I’d know that we could have a respectful conversation and explore the cosmos together. I would not have to fear either being burned at the stake for disagreeing with a literal-minded theist or thrown into a gas chamber for being an affront to a literal-minded atheist.

Stant Litore

Zombies in Pompeii and Crusaders in Sicily: A Visit from Scott James Magner

Magner

Wondrously, I’ve discovered another novelist who is working with zombies in Rome. So naturally I invited him over for a beer and a chat.

Readers, I’d like you to meet novelist Scott James Magner, another writer with 47North, the publisher of my series The Zombie Bible. Magner has released several installments in the Foreworld saga, a historical fantasy shared-world series reimagining the Middle Ages from a martial-arts perspective. I recently read his high-action debut, Hearts of Iron, and am about to sit down with his new release, Blood and Ashes, which is–yes–about zombies and Pompeii. You can see why I’m interested!

Here’s our recent conversation:

Scott,

7 questions for you! I was really struck by the way you moved back and forth so easily from action to nearly lyrical moments in Hearts of Iron. Chapter XI was quite beautiful.

Scott: Why thank you!

1. What drew you to stories of the age of Outremer, the Crusades, the age of Tancred?

Scott: The nature of the Foreworld Project is to document the hidden history of Western martial arts. For me, that has to include the Normans, specifically the Kingdom of Sicily. It’s such a brief moment in time that’s shaped so much of the centuries that followed. When Mark Teppo and I were looking for something to write that wasn’t already in the lexicon, I suggested Sicily, and we had a great meeting of dueling Wikipedia searches that eventually uncovered the twelve sons of Tancred. Since neither of us had ever heard of Tancred before, diving in to research him and his family was a real treat, and almost from the moment I heard the name “William Iron Arm” the plot for Hearts of Iron was born.

2. Scott, I was struck by this passage in Hearts of Iron: “I saw many things in that golden chamber, Humphrey. Wonders of the age scattered like sand to feed the appetites of a vain and stupid man.” If you could tell your readers one thing about history and its artifacts, what would that be?

Scott: Nothing is ever as it seems. It seems odd to be cagey about the plot of a book that’s been out almost a year, but Hearts of Iron is at it’s heart a “caper.” The tag-line I use when introducing people to it is “The Dirty Half-Dozen.”  They’re going in to steal retrieve an object of some value, but what William refers to in that line is that there was that when he saw the assembled treasure, he know that there was a lot more going on than he’d been told.

It stung his pride somewhat that the owner of the collection had such things hidden away from the world, and that distaste spurred him to action.  The previous paragraph had him outlining his plans for the future, and the next line is/was, “In time, I mean to share them with the world, and so much more.”

3. You have two novels out, and I know that preceding them, you have a long history of writing for role-playing games. How has that shaped you as a storyteller?

Scott: Technically they’re novellas, though at 37K words Blood and Ashes does push the edge of that envelope. Although the shameless self-promoter in me demands that I at least mention that my full-length novel Homefront will be out this fall from Resurrection House.

Whew. Now that that’s done, I’d like to say that writing roleplaying games, card games, and video games taught me to distill meanings down to the essential elements, and then build up from there. It’s certainly the approach I take while doing localization work (taking a product meant for one part of the world and preparing it for customers with different cultural referents), but what I’ve found in my fiction writing is that the one thing I usually don’t get to do in games is have really compelling characters interact with one another.

When you are writing games, you always want to keep the focus on the player and the player’s actions. You do a fair amount of world-building for both, but in straight fiction you get to control all aspects of the action, and it’s really important to make everything as believable as possible.

4. Which scene in Hearts of Iron did you find hardest to write?

Scott: Hands down, it was Humphrey’s “big” action scene, aka Chapter V. It has no spoken dialogue, and takes place mostly in the dark. My codename for that scene was “Bat-Man and batman,” and it was a challenge to keep it interesting when most of what was happening with just one person “on screen,” with limited perception. Almost a quarter of all the editorial comments I got on the book were in that chapter, and it’s the one I’m proudest of overall.

5. Your William of Hauteville is almost Sherlock-like (or William of Baskerville-like) in his observation of detail. He is constantly assessing, noting, observing, and acting. Quickly and efficiently. He lives life in a sort of combat stance. What drew you about this character?

Scott: William is the oldest brother of twelve, and the most like his father of all of them. At least, that’s how I’ve chosen to write him, since very little is recorded about either man. I cover this topic in depth in a previous article, but in essence William is driven to be the best at everything because his family depends on him

6. Hearts of Iron is a story set in the historical fantasy world of the Foreworld Saga – what is it like, writing and creating inside of worlds created by others?

Scott: It’s a lot easier than you might think. I used to write Dungeons & Dragons adventures, which have a lot more rules about what you can and can’t do. Hearts of Iron was fairly “siloed” in terms of shared world content, but I still was able to work in the “bad guys” while presenting a different look at the medieval era.

7. What can you tell us about your new release, Blood and Ashes?

Scott: Zombies vs. Gladiators. In Pompeii.

What more do you need to know? It’s an unapologetic action story, with a mustache twirling villain, a hero with a troubled past, ZOMBIES, a not-damsel who in no way needs rescuing, ZOMBIES, and an exploding mountain.

Did I mention ZOMBIES?

Lord, but I am going to enjoy zombies in Pompeii. You know that my own next novel is set in the same period, a sequel to my earlier Rome novel?

I’m buying Blood and Ashes today, and I can’t wait to read it! Readers and fans, I hope you’ll check out Scott James Magner’s new release here.

Scott, thank you for joining me on the blog today!

Stant Litore

The 9,000 Names of Planet Earth

SOL 3 is a curious, isolated planet with many names. Its own inhabitants variously call it “Earth,” which means Dirt; Terra, which means “Firm Land”; and The World, which means “The Affairs of Human Beings.” All of these appelations appear particularly odd to other galactic species, given that most of the planet is covered with water rather than with firm land, and the human beings are the world’s second largest-brained species, not its first, and are cited by the Endless Library of Zotan Argotrickle as the planet’s seventy-ninth most remarkable species.

Those galactics who have studied or visited the planet have named it diversely. The Rebel Librarians of Dorgan’s Ring name it Eeeeeeeeeeeeeg, which is Dorgani for “Dolphins,” after the planet’s first largest-brained species. The Queen Anthropologist of Centauri names the planet Ohconliohcon, or “Many Gods, So Many Gods,” referring to the peculiarity on this planet that it has nearly as many deities and religious positions as it has inhabitants.

Among the Zotags of Brinus III, Earth is known as “7 Billion People Scared to Death of Each Other.”

The Eleven Hundred and Ninety-Nine Watchers from the asteroid field formerly known as Planet one-nine-nine-seven know the planet as “They Walk Away from Explosions Without Looking Back.” And although the learned Sage D *click* E of the University of Pan Optima Two once spent eighty-four hours in uninterrupted lecture expounding on this name as a political and philosophical statement about the the planet’s human inhabitants’ inclinations toward violence and forgetfulness, the Star-Girl of Celta Nine recently rebutted with a curt observation that the Eleven Hundred and Ninety-Nine Watchers are addicted to the planet’s television and cinema and had simply been commenting on what they had learned about the planet from their immersion in its dominant art form.

The Irdak of Kenunga refer to the planet as ir’ir’irdakshi’nak, or “The Irdak Must Avoid It at All Costs.”

The Giatarri refer to it as 77363646243939478-947348364247243891394893247, Giatarri-code for “Infidel. Blow It Up.” However, the planet lies behind the Ormin’s anti-terrorist interceptive fleet, so it has not in fact been blown up.

The Atheists of the Pan-Galactic Observation Cruiser refer to the planet as Mii, which roughly translates as “Oh, dear.”

And finally, Mitanna the Wanderer calls the planet her “Uktakkama,” or “Haven for Very Good Surfing.”

Note that for our own citizens, the planet remains in quarantine due to its excessive slavery and intraspecies and interspecies violence.

- from A Siganna’s Guide to Inhabited Planets, 4,922nd Edition.

(also a kind of unintended tribute to Douglas Adams)

Burning in Hell

Why is it that discussions of religious belief have such a tendency to proceed as though two positions are the only possible outcomes of the discussion?

I am listening in on — and occasionally responding to — an interesting discussion. An atheist has asked how theists defend the idea of hell. And by this he appears to mean a literal, physical, pentitentiary hell within a Christian cosmos, of the kind that Westboro Baptist Church believes they can condemn all gays to burn in. A couple of theists have joined the conversation, fighting fire with fire (ha, see what I did there?) and appearing to react as though belief in a deity and belief in a literal brimstone hell are somehow dependent on each other.

But a moment’s thought should reveal that this is not the case:

  • It is possible to believe in an afterlife without believing in a deity. (Many people do.)
  • It is possible to believe in an afterlife and in a deity or deities, without believing that one caused or created the other (as in the case of Hinduism).
  • It is possible to believe in a deity without believing in an afterlife.
  • It is possible to believe in a deity without believing in a punative afterlife; in fact, the ancient Hebrews believed in a form of “hell” that was not a punishment but only a natural consequence of human aloneness — of our choices causing our separation from God and from each other. They imagined it as a cold, dead place of forgetting and solitude.

A quick glance at either a history of religion timeline or at a globe should remind us that there are many, many possible positions besides the position that there is a paternal God managing a punative hell.

Full disclosure: I am, presently, what Caputo calls a “weak theist.” That means that I find myself passionately moved by the Call that I hear/read when I turn to our holy texts; the still, small voice, the “weak” but insistent voice; the Call to justice, to agape love, and to relationship with other people and with God as a divine Other. I am swept away by that Call, I am overcome by it and overwhelmed and overturned by it. I pray for the realization of the kind of reality, the “kingdom of heaven,” that is being Called for. Whether a divine Caller actually exists in an objective, measurable sense, I can never be entirely sure, but the Call exists, regardless of its origin; it is on paper; it is something I can read or hear, something I can be profoundly moved by. Praying to the Caller, praying for what is being Called for, praying for thy kingdom come, is for me a matter of persistent hope, faith and trust, and love — not a matter for definite metaphysical knowledge. I cry out into the dark cloud of unknowing, trusting that I am heard. I am moved by a Call, so I act. That is weak theism: it starts with the demand for our response, rather than with our beliefs or opinions about Who or What is issuing the demand. It is relational, not rational. It requires that we love God and each other, not that we believe certain things about God or about each other. That does not mean that I believe nothing or that I feel what beliefs I hold are irrelevant, it simply means that my faith does not begin with or rest on my creed; it rests instead on the meeting of God in prayer and on the working out of my faith in fear and trembling in this present world.

Or to translate this into Sunday School terms, I love Jesus and yearn for the kingdom of heaven. The niceties of traditional theology, I leave to the metaphysicians as a colossal distraction from what matters. They can tangle themselves in it as they please.

Separately from that and for separate reasons, I do believe in an actual hell, but it is not a physical or metaphysical location and it is not definitively an afterlife: it is a condition in which it is probably possible to exist in whatever life (before, current, or after) in which you find yourself, and it is created by our choices, both individually and as a species. It consists of the isolating of ourselves from others (from God as the divine Other and from human others), and ultimately hardens into an inability to love or accept love. It is, to me at least, the very scariest kind of hell, and the most real. It is why in the New Testament Jesus kept juxtaposing agape love and “hardness of heart” — one is a matter of union with others and a banquet of delights and a river of living water, whereas the other is the walling off of oneself into a prison that is without jailers and from which one refuses to escape, until one is so desperately thirsty that you are begging for the merest drop of affection to wet your tongue. Jesus and others use poetic language to describe it, but it seems clear to me what kind of hell they are talking about.

“Hell is the inability to love,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky suggests. It is a prison we have created, are creating, and will likely continue to create, and as such, it is infinitely more terrifying than some kind of cosmically ordained penalty box or divinely managed penitentiary.

So I feel a little as though the thoughtful atheist who posted the original question — and I — are talking past each other, because the question was framed in such a way as to assume that if I am a theist to any degree, I must also believe in the same hell that Pat Robertson evidently believes in. Which isn’t the case. To say nothing of what my Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Shinto, and other brothers and sisters believe in, which might be even more different from what the one asking that question had in mind.

Is it possible to have a discussion between atheists and theists, or between different kinds of religious people, without the question being loaded from the start?

Or are we just all so extremely angry at / amused by / provoked by each other?

Stant Litore

Guilty Pleasures

“We’re on the edges of our seats. Can the good white men of Athens withstand the authoritarian forces of women and brown people from Persia? … You’ll relish his nuanced representation of the Persians, who are thoroughly humanized when they put on their bondage outfits and golden chains…” – io9

Yes. It’s pretty much exactly like that.

The 300 sequel is Zack Snyder's greatest intellectual masterpiece

This review of 300: Rise of an Empire on io9 is hilarious. Is it terrible of me to admit, though, that the neanderthal side of my brain wants to see this visually delicious, high-budget shlockfest, anyway? I want to throw popcorn at the screen while beating my chest. No joke.

Even though I know the history-scholar side of my brain will be curled into a screaming, fetal ball of horror in the back of my head throughout the film…

The 300 sequel is Zack Snyder's greatest intellectual masterpiece

I don’t know how much of it is nature and how much of it is nurture, but there is a part of me that is wired to love submarines, explosions, gratuitous sex scenes, shambling hordes of hungry zombies (with, or without, Nazi outfits), and high-testerone, high-special-effects epics that make absolutely no sense in terms of their script or their representation of our history. These are my guilty pleasures: modern sword-and-sandal epics…

That said, the historian in me would love, love, to see more films that capture the drama, panache, and heartbreak of a more multifaceted take on history. That’s what I try to do, on paper (or e-ink) in The Zombie Bible: bring out the stories that are untold, that linger beneath all the bravado of our proclaimed history like ghostly remainders, like dead that won’t quite rest, unburied dead demanding our attention. All those “women and brown people,” for instance. Like the aging prophetess who led an army in Strangers in the Land, who has as much “face-time” in the Bible as Samson or Gideon or Noah, but whose story we choose rarely to tell. Or like the enslaved Canaanites, struggling to survive in a world in which their land and their own bodies have been made strange to them, a world in which the living, no less than the dead, will want to devour them…

(But since the neanderthal part of my brain also needs to be satisfied, there are also many gory, chop-them-up zombie scenes in my novels, too. It’s just that I don’t want to stop there. I want my readers to throw popcorn at the screen at appropriate moments, but I also want to make them cry. And remember.)

The machismo of the sword-and-sandal epic, whether in the sixties or in its modern 3D, IMAX version, distract us from the archaeological act that reading history actually is — the act of uncovering the stories that we have nearly forgotten, stories that can enchant us, move us, disturb us, and demand that we reconsider the edifices, the beliefs, and the buildings we have built on top of the graveyards and tombs of the slaughtered, the despoiled, and the forgotten. In wrestling not just with our founding fathers, heroes, noble ancestors, but with the moaning, suffering remnants of the never-quite-buried, we learn anew how to wrestle with the living. We remember that every foe we face has a history in which we, too, are implicated. We learn that every battle we fight comes with real costs — besides just those that we can (or are willing to) see. We learn that the story of the world in which we move is a complicated one, one that needs to be excavated with care, interpreted and reinterpreted, read and reread. That’s an important lesson that we have been unlearning.

The 300 sequel is Zack Snyder's greatest intellectual masterpiece

Dear Hollywood, please do give us more over-the-top, high-budget, sword-fire-sex-explosion shlockfests, because the neanderthal side of my brain craves them. But please also give us more — many, many more — films doing serious historical storytelling. Because the other side of my brain is starved for them. It’s famished. It’s desperate. It’s churning out novels just to fill a big, gaping void. Give it something to eat!

Do not just leave us moviegoers as never-satisfied, moaning zombies, drawn to the rippling abs of your Spartan warriors and the wanton gasps of your warrior queens and the crack of Persian sails in the wind — as moths to a flame — only to be left afterward shambling about, dazed, unsure of who we or our ancestors actually are…

Stant Litore

Quiet Strength (This Made My Week)

This tweet made my week: “I loved how strong Rahel was.” I care deeply about all of my characters in No Lasting Burial, but particularly Rahel. Her story was heart-wrenching to write.

tweet

Thank you, Lu!

In a world devoured by zombies, certain kinds of quiet strength stand out. Rahel’s:

While he’d sat in his grief and his gloom, his mother, who’d once given birth in a tomb even as the shedim moaned on every side, had stood constant, had never stopped hoping and believing in her sons. The waters may wear away the stones, but no matter how the waves crash against the shore, some hearts can never be worn away, can never be crumbled, can never be pounded into sand.

- No Lasting Burial