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Why I Decided to Do a Kindle Serial

I’m fascinated to see if the serial novel is ready to make a big comeback. Think about it:

  • In the previous generation, bookworms sat down quite happily with 1000-page historical fiction sagas or epic fantasy novels. Now, most days, most of us readers are in a mad scramble to get our stories in 10-20 minutes, in between the distractions of an increasingly hectic lifestyle and social media. (I could argue that there’s still a lot of value in securing evening time to just sit with a book and get lost in it, but that’s a topic for another post.)
  • We’ve mostly lost faith in Hollywood — it’s all car-chase shlock, with an occasional moment of unexpected grandeur. The real storytelling … and the viewers … are shifting increasingly over to seasonal miniseries, ten-episode seasons of serial narratives such as Breaking Bad, A Game of Thrones, and The Walking Dead. For bookworms and non-bookworms alike, this is rapidly becoming the dominant form in which we absorb our stories.

These are conditions that are training us to look for and enjoy serialized narratives. Does this mean that we will see more serial novels? Maybe. Hugh Howey’s Wool, published initially in serial installments, suggests that serial novels might really succeed in both sales and reader enjoyment. Amazon has their line of Kindle Serials, and some of the more interesting horror and mystery fiction out right now is being published there. (For example, take a look at Roberto Calas’ The Scourge and its sequel Nostrum).

150 years ago, the serial novel was the dominant form. You’d read episodes consisting of several chapters each, delivered in a magazine format, and at the end, it would all be collected together in one book. Serialized stories captured the hearts and imaginations of millions of readers — even as George R. R. Martin’s screen adaptation of A Game of Thrones does today. Thousands anxious for the next installment of Charles Dickens’ latest novel used to throng to the docks in Boston, to shout at the mariners on the incoming ships, “Is little Nell dead? Tell us! Is she dead?”

Serialized storytelling has a particular excitement to it. You get to live with characters you care about in their dangerous world not just for the days it takes you to devour the novel, but for weeks. You hear a little of their story at a time, and you wait, anxious for the next week. You think about them and their plight, about the decisions they’ll have to make. They accompany you through your day. They become a part of your community for a while, a part of that season of your life. And then, when the next installment arrives on your e-reader, your heart starts to race. Adrenaline surges into your body. You have to know what’s going to happen. You’ve had entire weeks to care about these characters, and now you simply have to know.

That’s exciting. I hope the serial novel does make a big comeback. It’s a beautiful form, and one that has waited lurking beneath our publishing industry, all but forgotten, like a dormant, sleeping Leviathan, for so many decades. Maybe this is when it will wake and surge upward again, breaking the waters and disturbing in its mighty wake all of our expectations about what reading a novel might be like.

We will see.

Litore_NLB_smallWe will be watching the water.

And while we wait to see what happens, I hope you will join me for my own Kindle Serial, No Lasting Burial, which is also about something lurking beneath the water. Something hungry. Something that will not stay dormant or asleep. Something that wants to come get you. Right now.

Come take a look.

Edit: This Serial has now been collected into a completed novel.

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Why I Love Ebooks

Litore_Amazon

Readers, I’m delighted (and wowed) to say that my post on the impact of e-publishing on rural America has been featured on Amazon’s home page today. You can read it here:

http://amzn.to/I32PvN

That is what I would say to anyone who is still skeptical about ebooks. And I would also say this (though I didn’t write it): http://amzn.to/1bAYQ0E

Africa

That’s one episode in a larger story about mobile learning in Africa. (In many rural areas of the continent, there isn’t enough money to build and supply more schools and colleges…but there is funding to get cellphone networks in. That can mean access to elearning programs, online degree programs, and ebooks.)

Here’s to literacy and here’s to great fiction!

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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11 Things You May Not Know About Me

You might know that I’m the author of The Zombie Bible, a series of novels retelling biblical stories as episodes in humanity’s long struggle against hunger…and the hungry dead. But below, you’ll find 11 things about me that you might not know. I was challenged to write this list by a friend.

1. “Stant Litore” is a nom de plume. It comes from stant litore puppes, a line in Latin from the Aeneid. “They stand at the shore.” At the fall of Troy, while the city burns behind you, you’re fleeing for your life with the last of your kin, and those ahead of you call out, “The ships stand at the shore! The anchor is already drawn up. Hurry!” The ships are waiting to carry you over the sea, and this moment of loss and grief while the world burns is a moment of embarkation, too. Every moment is a moment of embarkation for a future across dark waves that you can’t yet see, and for me stant litore is a good reminder of that. What the fugitives don’t know is that on the other side of that sea, they’re going to found mighty Rome.

2. The goats’ midwife. My dearest childhood memory: leaving my window open a crack on cold February nights, listening for the bleating as the goats began to kid out in the pasture. On those nights I would jump into rubber boots and go running out across the frost. Dozens of coyotes yipping at the scent of fresh blood from the hill to the east, and the low, steady barking of our barrel-chested dogs. Attending the births in our herd by night is the thing I remember most clearly from my young years.

3. How I met my wife. I met my beautiful wife through online dating. Sometimes that really does work. At the time I was an impoverished college student who relied entirely on buses, and she drove an hour to meet me, a remarkable sign of interest. After our first date and our first kiss — what a kiss! — I walked home in a world that had more colors than I had known existed, and brighter ones. I sang quietly to myself the whole way. That was nine and a half years ago.

4. I teach. I have taught Shakespeare courses at a university, private workshops for aspiring novelists, and seminars at my local church focused on religious studies and world religions. My most memorable moment teaching: leading a troop of eight students on foot, with our props on our shoulders, to a local assisted living campus for seniors, where we performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream. One of the students wrote a solo into our script and sang it, and one of the seniors, who had sung for a living, wept during the performance; afterward, the young student and the lovely old woman wept together.

5. I have an unreasoning and irrational fear of jellyfish, though my wife finds them beautiful. I do have an enchanting memory of my wife looking over the balcony at the Adriatic on our honeymoon cruise, calling out with childlike joy, “Jellies! Jellies!”

6. My favorite novel of those I have written is What Our Eyes Have Witnessed. My favorite character is Regina. Please do not tell my other characters this, as they will get frightfully jealous, and at least a few of them are violent.

7. The first horror movie I ever saw was “Hellraiser” (or possibly one if its many sequels), at about age 5 or 6. I think it was on a TV in my father’s repair shop. All I can remember clearly is Pinhead and someone chained up. Actually, even earlier than that, I saw Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, which possibly explains my lifelong fascination with zombies.

8. My favorite song, and the one most packed with nostalgia for me, is Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” The song that makes me think of my wife: Lifehouse “You and Me,” our wedding recessional. The song that silences me in awe at the universe and at us within it: Hildegard von Bingen’s “O Quam Mirabilis Est.” When I was first learning Latin, I once wrote the lyrics to that medieval song in the dark before dawn in four-foot-tall letters in the snow between the chapel and the humanities building at the Jesuit school I attended at that time. My military roommates, returning from class to find me studying Wheelock’s Latin at the dining room table, promptly demanded to know if I was the one who’d written a giant hymn across the campus snow. Ancient languages are my wine and my violin and my dark drug.

9. I walked a way along the pilgrims’ road to Santiago de Compostela after backpacking through France, and though I did not complete the pilgrimage, I have never forgotten it, and I think I completed some other pilgrimage in my heart, up there in the misty Pyrenees and the Basque country, though now, twelve years later, I am still trying to figure out what pilgrimage that was. The journey and the people I met moved me.

10. I have never successfully bioengineered a velociraptor. Though not for lack of hoping for one. Prehistory fascinates me, and Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth is one of my favorite books. Also, my guilty pleasure is rereading Jurassic Park fifteen times, starting at age eleven. I like dinosaurs. I also like baluchithers and giant dragonflies and titanoboas.

11. The Ghost Girl. It is possible that I saw what may have been the ghost of a murdered girl once, after dark, in one of the darkest places on this earth. Some day I will tell you the story.

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And Some Nights, There Are Miracles

I spent this week in the hospital with my youngest, Inara, for a weeklong EMU (Epilepsy Monitoring Unit). Her seizures have been under control since January, at a very high dosage of anti-convulsants, but late this summer, her body began having sudden and distressing spasms.

Inara4
This is Inara Cahira, my youngest daughter.

As her neurologist and we thought they were likely seizures, we were worried, deeply, that we might have to risk lifting her dosages to dangerous levels (I wrote about that dread here). So began a series of tests, including an all-night vigil prior to an EEG that proved inconclusive. I spent that night rocking Inara, reading to her from The Silmarillion and The Zombie Bible (the less violent passages), and keeping us both awake.

Litore_by_Jessica_Fusch_10
Whether life is grim or happy, Inara always smiles when I read to her.

This week, we went to the hospital for a weeklong, 24/7 EEG. Here is the story of how that went and what we found.

Inara_Hospital_1
Caption: “Daddy, I’m going to the hospital AGAIN?”

Inara_Hospital_3
90 minutes of attaching electrodes to Inara’s head, to measure the electrical activity along her scalp.

Inara_Hospital_4
My caption to this photo: “Now I can control the world with my brain.”

The caption her mother supplied:
“Mommy, they’re going to steal my thoughts and the mysteries of the universe that I keep silently in my brain, and sell them to Stephen Hawking.”

Inara_Hospital_5
After all that, Inara was a little tired.

Inara_Hospital_6
But nothing keeps Inara down for long. She has a dragon’s heart.

Five days in, we have monitored four of her spasms, enough for the resident neurologist at this hospital to indicate that these spasms are almost certainly not epileptic — they are not seizures.

And that means that Inara’s high-dosage medicines have been keeping her seizures under control successfully.

And that means we don’t need to approach the extremely difficult and no-win decision of whether to increase her dosages into dangerous territory.

It is incredible and unexpected news. We didn’t expect to be told that these spasms weren’t seizures. We expected to capture enough information about them to be absolutely sure of what we were looking at and to make the best possible decisions we could about her medication. Her skilled doctors have instead handed us a best-case scenario we didn’t dare hope for.

Inara_Hospital_7
My little girl.

A vast community — my church, my readers, fellow writers, coworkers, friends — have been praying for little Inara, or keeping her in their thoughts, or sending good vibes. Some have even brought food for my family or have given hours of their time to help. A dear friend brought a check in a sealed envelope from our church’s benevolence fund. Inara’s three-year-old sister River has given her fullest support, too; when visiting the hospital, she climbed into Inara’s crib with her and kept her company.

2Sisters“Two sisters!” River cried happily. “Together!”

Many of you have followed Inara’s story and have cared for her, even at a distance. Thank you.

Of course, she is still having spasms that lock up parts of her body and cause her distress, and we still need to track down what these spasms actually are. But just knowing that we will not need to choose this winter between endangering her brain and nervous system and endangering her kidneys…for the first time in a few months, I feel real hope.

Tonight, I just held her for a while. Felt her tiny, fierce heartbeat. And wept.

Stant Litore

You can read more of the story of Inara in Lives of Unstoppable Hope.

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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In Memory of Pern: A Tribute to Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey passed away in November, two years ago. I have been thinking a lot about ‘Dragonflight’ lately, and I am reposting this tribute, which I originally posted on my old blog on November 22, 2011.

Things I learned as a teen from Anne McCaffrey:

  • Talent and beauty can be found anywhere, in even the poorest of fish-holds; in the meanest and most abusive of environments, something can still blossom. All that is needed is the courage to believe in one’s own worth. Menolly taught me that.
  • Compassion must always triumph over tradition. Lessa taught me that.
  • When you and your spouse are irritating each other, the proper answer is not to plead, argue, or ignore, but simply to draw her close and kiss her. F’lar taught me that.
  • Sometimes, there is no evil in being a follower rather than a leader, if the cause is one that touches your heart and the leader is one you believe in. F’nor taught me that.

When I was a young writer, McCaffrey was one of those novelists who taught me that genre is an artifice, and that the only thing that might keep musicians’ schools, flights of dragons, and derelict spacecraft from co-existing in the same pages is our own lack of imagination. Just as the only thing that might keep fishermen’s daughters and nobles from eating dinner together is our lack of imagination when it comes to people and our unwillingness to look into each other’s eyes.


Michael Whelan. Moreta.

I did not love every book Anne wrote, and I did not read further than the first nine or ten Pern books. But I can think of only a handful of writers who opened up my imagination as a young reader as deeply and poignantly and captivatingly as Anne McCaffrey did.

She is no longer here. She is now off the map — in the white spaces, the unknown, “where there be dragons.” But I would still wish her well and thank her for her fiction.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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My Daughters’ Library

For River and Inara

Bookworms of the world, I would like your help in making this gift for my disabled daughter and her sister. (It doesn’t cost a penny, and it will take only a few moments.)

As my family tumbles from one medical issue to the next and my youngest daughter’s situation remains serious, I oscillate between wanting to dig a hole and scream into it until my throat is hoarse like the railroad workers in Maxine Hong Kingston’s China Men … and wanting to book a long Pacific cruise, which would arguably be more productive though also prohibitively more expensive.

Instead, as I look for a way to channel and direct all of my anguish, fury, helplessness, and fierce need to protect in the face of my daughter’s ongoing illness, I think I’ll ask everyone to help me make this gift for my daughters.

I have said that no matter how bleak things may appear, one thing that we can celebrate with our whole hearts is our access to nearly unlimited stories, that in an often-dark century, that is our single greatest “Wow,” an advancement our ancestors could not have imagined.

I believe that.

For that reason, I want to collect a little Library introducing my daughters to so many books. Not just any books, but books that people care deeply about. These can be young adult novels, novels for older readers; they can be any genre, from the suspenseful to the gruesome to the romantic to the fantastical to noir. It doesn’t really matter. Because chances are, some day, my daughters will want to read something from any or all of those. And one day, they and I and their mother will read this page together. If our Inara is still mostly blind, we will read this page to her.

Growing the Library of Pages

ChildrenI would like to collect a few … no, dozens … no, hundreds … no, thousands … of quotations from novels for my daughters. I want to make a Library of Pages and a digital zoo that is jammed full of roaring, laughing, giggling, weeping, and whispering stories. It would be easy to find lots of random quotes online, but I want this Library to be a library of quotes that mean something to many readers who we know or who know my books or who know my daughters, or readers who know those readers. (If you are a novelist, I ask only that it not be a quote from your book, but from another book you treasure.)

I want it to be a gift rather than a Google search. That makes it personal, that makes it real.

So here is what I am asking you to do:

1. Read the story of my little Inara (if you’d like to), which you can do here and here — or watch the epilepsy awareness video about Inara that my wife made. You can also meet my older daughter, River, by scrolling down to the middle of this interview; River, who is nearly four, is fiercely protective of her sister.
2. Type a favorite quote from one of your favorite novels into the Comments below, and tell my daughters where the quote is from.
3. Share this page with other readers you know, so that this Library of Pages can grow more and more vast, until its trees with their page-shaped leaves tower over my girls as a mighty shelter and a wilderness of wonders they might explore.

And it will be special to them because they will know that all of you heard their story and grew this library forest for them, one quote at a time, that this forest was the touch of many caring hands and minds.

Thank you for being a part of this.

Yours in truth and fiction,

Stant Litore

UPDATE: A LEATHER-BOUND COPY OF THE LIBRARY:

I have been touched at the level of response to this Library, and I’ve begun copying the Library into an old leatherbound journal that I’ve had at hand waiting for the right purpose for its existence. If, when Inara is older, she remains mostly blind, I will create a Braille copy for her. I’m pretty good with a Braille writer.

River_Inara_Journal_1

River_Inara_Journal_2

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The High-Pitched, Panicked Shrieking of Commas

Doing a final once-over on this copy edit for No Lasting Burial. Having dreams in which commas and semicolons duke it out, chucking flaming ellipses at each other like anime superhero fireballs while they dance to keep their balance on paragraphs that are sliding into the chasms opened up by strategic and even brutal cuts in the text. Wake in the morning to the high-pitched, panicked shrieking of commas as the paragraph on which they reside tips, continent-like, and slides downward into the fault. And the deep hooting of the semicolons, slow and indignant as the realization dawns that their death-battle with the commas was all for nothing, they and all the words that stand about them like emptied houses sliding down together into the hissing, bubbling magma of the mind from which they came. Glancing up with wide and bewildered eyes, they glimpse the riotous foliage of verbs and nouns in the paragraphs that survive on the other side of that crack in the text, a jungle of lush and thriving sentences. Louder than the magma, the tread of the text’s characters, stately behemoths, the many-branched sentences slapping their thighs and legs as they lumber mountain-large across this grammar-thicketed landscape. The semicolons’ mouths fall open as they try to take in the understanding that their many small lives are being sacrificed so that those immense characters can grow even larger, thundering and chewing across the story, vast as gods, their bodies so massive compared to the tiny instances of punctuation, their bulk dark against the sky. Below, the death-shrieks of the commas as they slide into the magma first. Then the commas are gone. Hooting louder, waving their frond-like arms, the semicolons wonder if they will be remembered even by their creator, or if the text will simply close over the fissure once their paragraph has been burned away, if the wild forest of sentences and phrases and clauses will grow thicker and hotter and greener once they are gone.

A few quotation marks flap by far overhead in a flying V, migrating toward the surviving paragraphs. Their lonely flight is the last thing the deep-voiced semicolons see before the fire takes them.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Reacting to Wonderbook

My contributor’s copy of Wonderbook: An Illustrated Guide to Imaginative Fiction arrived today in the mail, and this is my review — or my blurb — or maybe it is my thank you letter to Jeff Vandermeer and Jeremy Zerfoss, the architects of this book. I am seriously amazed. It is a voluptuously beautiful book. It is available for preorder and arriving in mailboxes soon, and you can go look at a preview of the book here. Which you absolutely should. Because it’s beautiful. And instructive. And practical.

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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What’s Ahead for my Daughter

Inara2So, the update. Little Inara is seizing again. We are at the point where increasing her medicines carries some not insignificant risks (specifically, to her kidneys). Before making that judgment call, we and her doctors need to be certain what is happening with her body and brain and what’s needed. The standard EEG didn’t capture what we needed to know, so our next step is to schedule a hospital stay of up to five days; she’ll be wired up with electrodes and videotaped 24/7 to catch and confirm exactly what’s happening, if we can.

Then, better informed, we can look at our options. Increase Medicine A? Increase Medicine B? Look into medical marijuana? Some combination of the above? What’s frustrating is that we don’t know what’s causing her seizures, her blindness, or her developmental delay; all our tests (so far) for genetic disorders have come back negative.

All I know is that I am her father and it falls to me to protect her, and I don’t seem to be doing that. In my head, I know that I am doing all I can. But that isn’t good enough. This is my little girl. I want her safe. She is happy and also feisty and brave. I want her safe.

Stant Litore

You can read more of the story of Inara in Lives of Unstoppable Hope.

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Zombie Books I Recommend

Today is a historic day. On October 1, there was a massive government shutdown and nightlong terror as millions of citizens boarded themselves into their houses to await the horrors that might come, hoping beyond hope that the dawn light might yet bring the authorities rushing back to action and to their rescue. America trembled and nearly toppled to its knees.

Yes, today is that day. It is the anniversary of that terrifying night of the living dead–Oct 1, 1968–that still, in memory, makes us shudder.

NOLD

The Night of the Living Dead, bestial and hungry grandmother of the modern zombie movie, was first screened on October 1, 1968.

This is the type of zombie story that I love — dark, deathly serious, brooding, with a healthy wallop of social commentary. And it is still (for me) one of the two most terrifying and fascinating films I have ever seen. I plan on watching it again in honor of this historic occasion.

By the way, if you’re looking for some dark and serious (as opposed to campy) zombie fiction with a healthy wallop of social commentary included — Romero style — then, aside from my own work with The Zombie Bible, I recommend:

These are the seven on my top shelf, and I hope you’ll give them a read. What better way to commemorate the unforgettable and unholy menace of October 1 than to open one of these novels?

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Surviving the Winter Days

The last two years have been an endurance trial. Tonight I sit and weigh the situation.

The bad:

  • Over 70 days of hospitalization for my one-year-old daughter, fierce little Inara, who has seizures, blindness, and is developmentally delayed by well over a year. Her health has scared us and there were times when my wife and I feared for her, desperately. Pieces of her story can be found here and here. The past eleven months have been better, but recently her seizures are returning.
  • My wife, Jessica, heart of my heart, has suffered anxiety and chronic and excruciating pain since January, a severe worsening of earlier pain. She is as often in bed as she is out of it. I miss our romance, and it is painful to see her suffer.

The obstacles:

  • There are hardly any of Jessica’s family in the area, and one of our most beloved relatives took the last voyage, this summer. As for my own kin, I am estranged from them. They never accepted my wife.
  • Costs are stressful. I am the breadwinner–a role that I feel equipped for, so I do not resent it–but my ability to bring home our bread is put frequently to the test. I am strained by my family’s medical expenses and support needs, and by the additional student debts that have come home to roost much earlier than planned. We have had to place my wife’s educational goals on hold, due to her pain and baby Inara’s needs for special care.

The good:

  • The laughter of my children and the love of my wife. That above all.
  • My faith. That is a boat keeling through choppy waters. The boat requires a great deal of oarwork, but in this storm I am glad to be in it.
  • A secure career in the education industry, in pursuit of good and useful goals.
  • Supportive colleagues and an incredibly supportive boss.
  • Solid health insurance. That matters.
  • A competent and loving nanny. With me at work during the day and Jessica in acute pain, and with no family nearby, this is expensive but a necessity, and we are glad to have her.
  • A (relatively) peaceful and spacious place to live. We rent, we do not own–homeowning was another goal that the last two years cast by the wayside–but the place we have is a good place.
  • Both my publisher and my church community have really come alongside us. Friends from my church have given their time, and prayer, and even made a massive tactile quilt for my blind daughter. My publisher shipped entire boxes of children’s books for my little ones, to show their support.
  • The novels and “living the dream.” I have received good reviews and frequent and kind letters from readers. Those half hours that I slide in at lunch or after my girls are in bed, when I scribble and dig and churn through a desperate story, those are precious to me.

On the whole, the good outweighs the bad.

This is a good life, though one that demands all my resources and will. I have had to adopt a warrior/provider mentality and a certain ferocity, because there is no room for a relaxing of the guard, or laziness, or dwelling too much on needs of my own that are unmet while my wife is ill.

This is winter.

I think life is like this:

  • In the summer, the days are long and warm and full of life and lovemaking and laughter. The nights are present, but they are brief and hold little pain or fear.
  • In the winter, it is the nights that are long, and cold and fierce. The days are present, too, but they pass swiftly as a shadow over the grass.

Winter can last long, but that does not mean there will be no more summers. And I sowed many things in the summer that I have since reaped, and that give comfort and sustenance now: a marriage with a woman of astonishing beauty and a giving heart, good friendships, the foundation for a good and meaningful career, and some training in the patience that I now need desperately to endure long nights by my child’s bedside or long months while my wife lies ill.

I wish it were summer. But it is not.

I am weary, but I know I am strong enough to endure the winter. And that endurance will not be without enjoyment. It may be the cold season, but my house is warm, and it is full of good books—some of them my own—and with the love of my wife and the laughter of my children, and when they are unwell, the house still sounds with the echoes of earlier joy and rings with the expectation of more joy in the future.

Let the wind howl as it will. This is my home, and these are my own, and I will enjoy my life with them and keep them protected until the days are warm again.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Ezekiel 37: Breathing Life into Dry Bones

Today, I welcome fellow novelist J.D. Horn, author of Witching Savannah, to the blog. Here’s what J.D. has to say about storytelling, character, and the crafting of a novel.

In Memory of Daniel Trujillo

I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.  I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. (Ezekiel 37:5b-6a New International Version (NIV))

In Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, this invocation causes a great army to rise up from the skeletal remains of long dead warriors, not just in the (still ubercool) Ray Harryhausen way, but in a manner that literally fleshes them out and returns their humanity to them.

Breathing a semblance of life, imbuing humanity into one’s characters (even the undead ones) is pretty much every writer’s goal. I am not one of those writers, though, who create detailed character biographies and map out every plot twist before beginning  writing.  I admire those who do, and admire even more those who can stick to their outline and manage to make their characters tow the line.

Like the denizens of  Ezekiel’s valley, my characters begin their lives as mere skeletons, usually nothing more than a compilation of ticks, traits, and quirks held together by my own admonition to them to live. I put these inchoate creatures together and see what situations develop as they interact with each other.

I watch to see which of them want to come out to play, to breathe, to love, to sin. I work and rework.  I add to or rethink their back story so that I can better understand their motivations. I know I am on the right track when a character begins to tell me her own story. I really know I am on the right track when a character disobeys. (That’s why Eve is the most interesting personage in the whole Bible. Without her we’d be left with nothing but a coffee table edition of “Above Eden.”)

WitchingSome characters claw their way onto the page. Mother Jilo Wills, Witching Savannah’s resident Hoodoo root doctor, was intended to be nothing more a name mentioned on a single page (in connection to another character). But she began talking to me, telling me her story. Before I knew what was happening, Jilo became the glue that held the series’ first novel (The Line, coming from 47North in 2014) together. When it came time to begin The Source, second book in the Witching Savannah series, Jilo’s was the first voice I heard.

On the opposite end of the spectrum lies a character I had named Daniel Trujillo. I had intended Daniel to be The Line’s leading man. He was to be a sensitive, multicultural patriot who returned from his last deployment in Iraq with a souvenir he really needed help losing. His arrival in Savannah would be the inciting incident for all action that followed. He would be handsome, tough, loyal, brave. He would get even the girl. I fought hard for Daniel, but my skeleton warrior never drew a breath. In his last sad moments, he stopped being an individual and became nothing more than a plot device on legs.

HornAfter a couple sleepless nights, I realized that Daniel didn’t belong in the story of the Taylor Witches; the story that wanted to be told was very different from my original  inspiration. The only time I truly connected with Daniel was when I sensed his relief as I let him slide back into the limbo of characters who never fully develop. In another tale, Daniel might rise again, perhaps somewhat changed or maybe strikingly similar to the way I had originally envisioned him.  But for now he’ll lie sleeping in the sand-swept valley of dry bones.

J.D. Horn is the author of The Line (Witching Savannah), coming February 2014 from 47North. Yes, J.D. does carry on full conversations with his characters. Yes, they do often talk back. And yes, should the doctors ever calibrate his medications correctly, his career as a novelist will probably be over.

Stant Litore writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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The Night I Stayed Awake All Night Reading to My Daughter

The night before September 19, 2013, I had to keep my daughter up all night long for a stressful medical test in the morning. Little Inara suffers from epilepsy, blindness, and developmental delay, and she was scheduled for an EEG–a test designed to trigger a seizure in a controlled setting so that doctors can watch the electrical activity along her scalp and do their best to determine what on earth is going on.

As you can see, she wasn’t thrilled with the idea.

Inara2

So she and I talked it over, and we decided that rather than just endure, we were going to rock that night. With books.

Because when you have to stay up all night, nothing rocks harder than books. And coffee.

I had decided I would fly solo on this one. My wife suffers from chronic pain and I knew a night without sleep would wreck her pretty badly, especially as the following day would be a demanding one. Recognizing that all-nighters are not easy as they were in college, my wonderful wife cooked me a sinfully good dinner, shared a scented bath with me, and prepared a music mix for Inara and me to enjoy together. There is something to be said for having your loved one gird you for battle. I love her deeply.

Come 10 p.m., I sent Jessica to bed and sat down with baby Inara, a kindle, a stack of books, and a toy tyrannosaur, which Inara mauled.

Some of the time I spent reading scenes from my own novels to her, like What Our Eyes Have Witnessed. Just not the ultra-violent-mayhem parts, because as dads go, I’m old-fashioned that way. My daughter listened, fascinated and (thankfully) awake, as Father Polycarp walked out there among the ravenous dead, casual as a Sunday stroller, on a mission to give them rest:

We also read the first four or five chapters of The Silmarillion (see below). I think that might be Inara’s favorite book in the world. She is mostly blind, but she enjoys touching the pages and hearing my voice.

Inara6

Melkor’s attempted takeover of Middle-Earth gave her fits of giggles. Melkor may think he is mighty enough to own creation, but my one-year-old girl finds that absolutely hilarious. In all of her baby wisdom, she clearly knows something Melkor doesn’t. (By the way, if you have tried to read The Silmarillion but found it less riveting than my daughter and I do, you need to read this hilarious paraphrase entitled “The Jam Session That Created the Universe.”)

Inara4

Finally, in our pre-dawn desperation, we watched the “Father’s Day” episode of Doctor Who together. And let me tell you, “Father’s Day” is a tearjerker. Especially when you’re a father. Who has been up all night. With his baby daughter.

All night, as Inara and I fought off the well-meaning gods of sleep, I posted photos and videos to Facebook, and I have to admit, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of kind comments, well-wishing, and just the sheer good from my friends and community and from my fans. I always knew that writing novels was something I needed to do to survive. What I could never have anticipated is the way that I would meet such an amazing group of fans and fellow bookworms, who would rally not only around the books but around my family. I am profoundly grateful.

The royalties from the novels patch holes in my household budget (and I can vouch for the fact that medical bills will riddle your budget with holes like almost nothing else). But hearing from all of you … that patches something in my spirit. Inara and I thank you all.

Stant Litore

You can read more of the story of Inara in Lives of Unstoppable Hope.

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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It’s a Wee Bit Wet in Colorado Today

UPDATE: 50% OF ROYALTIES WILL GO TOWARD FLOOD RELIEF

I will contributing 50% of royalties received for Sept 1-Nov 30, 2013 sales of my Zombie Bible novels to flood relief via the Grey Havens Group’s flood relief fund. Currently, the GHG fund is being spent on linens and essential household items for two newly-homeless residents of Boulder County and on providing food for relief workers and volunteers.

Here are today’s photographs from my beloved state of Colorado, suffering flash floods:

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Flood2
That’s Mother Nature. Proud job creator since 125,000 BC.

Flood3
This is within a half mile of my home. We are staying just above the water, however, and our neighborhood is not being evacuated.

I know people who have lost their homes. Those of you not living in Colorado, please keep us in your thoughts. Whether in Colorado or outside it, scroll down to learn how you can help.

My wife and I — our residence is unaffected, although the roads flooded today all around us, confining us at home. This made a bit of an afternoon holiday for my oldest, though. Previously, little River had been mourning the loss of her pond nearby; it had become a mere pit of rocks, completely dried out. Last night, she stared at the sky as it rained and said happily, “Storm come out. Rain bring more water!”

Today, her pond covers the entire field around it, lapping at the edge of a nearby home on one side and the top of a dike barring it from the street on the other. It is ten feet deep and seventy feet across. “Ocean!” River cried as she and I splashed out into the rain to look at it together, during a lull in the downpour. “River swimming in the ocean!” I helped her take off her galoshes and held her hand tightly as she waded ankle-deep along the edge. Then we hurried back indoors as round two of the downpour began to gather overhead.

Elsewhere, it’s Bad
For River it was a wonderful holiday. But nearby, others have lost cars and homes, entire towns have been evacuated, and there have been a few fatalities. The weather service predicts that tonight, a “wall of water” will hit Boulder, CO, and Longmont, CO to our north has been “cut in two” by the floods.

Nearer home, numerous streets and intersections within a half mile of our home have been closed, and many homes east of ours have seen flood damage. At least at this point, we don’t expect the water to flood ours, but other places in our city and our state are less fortunate.

Want to Help?
I have been told that LifeBridge Church on Ute Highway in Longmont, CO — http://lbcc.org/ — is serving as an evacuation center for Lyons. They are in dire need of toiletries and blankets for local evacuees. If you are in the area or have the means to send them supplies, please consider it.

I am also helping to organize a small, financial relief effort.

GreyHavensFundI am a member of a wonderful Colorado nonprofit dedicated to celebrating the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and promoting literacy along the Front Range. We host reading days, symposiums, and events for children; partner with one of the region’s several most active independent bookstores; and hold a number of seasonal festivities, including a “Nerd Life Sing-a-long” event (Firefly, Star Trek, and other nerdy themes abound.) We are called the Grey Havens Group. Some of our members–friends of mine–have seen horrific damage to their homes in today’s flash floods. Also, a number of members had to evacuate their homes and we have not heard back from them yet.

The Grey Havens Group is going to be collecting funds for flood relief for members and people in our community. To help, you can contribute at http://greyhavensgroup.com/support/ and then send an email to Kelly Cowling at greyhavensgroup@gmail.com to specify that your contribution is to be used for the flood relief fund.

I can vouch for the fund — the more so as I was the one to propose the idea. You can learn more about GHG at our website greyhavensgroup.com, and I hope you’ll consider lending a hand. Thank you.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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In Memory of September 11

12 years ago.

It was my first day of teaching college English. I didn’t turn on the news. I was focused on getting ready for that morning class. First one ever. Breathless, I dashed to the humanities building, trailing papers and pencils in a blaze of enthusiasm and desperation. Reached the building, walked into the English Dept atrium, found everyone milling about with pale faces. Walked up to the secretary.

“Did I miss something?”

“Someone flew a plane into the tower.”

“Oh.” Staring at her. “Well. That’s…that’s something.” Shock setting in. “A plane?”

Nods.

I was trying to find out if she was serious.

“An airplane?”

Nods.

At which point I walked off numbly toward the TVs and those horrific images of fire and death. And I kept thinking: This is a science-fiction movie. This isn’t real. Who the hell did this?

I remember the horror, the anger, and also the incredible gratitude I felt when I watched images later that night of people holding vigil around the world — Christians in London and Rome and Berlin, Muslims in Lebanon and Pakistan and Iran, people on every continent grieving with us. I have never forgotten that.

I remember the horror and the promise of that moment, when for the briefest time, national, ethnic, political, and religious borders were forgotten (by all but an angry few) in the common need to comfort each other in that moment of human suffering and loss.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Why God is a Woman in “Death Has Come Up into Our Windows”

A Feminine God
Readers have responded, alternately, with fascination or horror when they’ve found that God in Death Has Come Up into Our Windows (The Zombie Bible) is female, and I’m often asked why I made this choice as a storyteller.

In this blog post, I’m going to talk about it:

  • How I made the choice
  • Why doing it was easy
  • Why doing it was important

Hang on. Here we go…

How I Made This Choice for the Story
Death Has Come Up into Our Windows retells the story of Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah), the “weeping prophet” in the Old Testament who witnesses the destruction of his city. The idea that in this novel Yirmiyahu conceives of God as female actually developed very late in the writing of the story. I had already written the story arc of Yirmiyahu’s marriage with Miriam, and the fierce desire to protect the woman and the People he loves were firmly established. I was looking for a way for readers to engage with the culture and the struggle of these characters to live as human beings when surrounded by atrocity. I knew the way the characters related to God would be key to this.

The Old Testament sources of the story emphasize both the wrath of God and the grief of God. Modern readers have a hard time tapping into the wrath-of-God passages; we’re desensitized to it. But we rarely ever talk about the profound grief of God.

Lamentations in the Bible tries to express the inutterable grief of both the prophet and his God for a city that’s dying. Those passages move me. In Jeremiah, we find God imagined as a spurned lover, watching the city destroy itself while it rejects the passionate, anguished advances of its deity.

In my novel, I did two things.

First, I flipped the gender. Yirmiyahu is male, and passionate (heroically but problematically so) about protecting the women in his life: wife, city, God.

Second, I began working with the Jewish concept of the shekinah –the feminine presence of God that comes over the Ark of the Covenant behind the veil in the Temple, and that plays such a role in the Old Testament. That gave me all the imagery I needed to really let us tap into an intimate and painful relationship between God, prophet, and city.

God’s feminine presence is weeping behind the veil in the Temple.

Why Doing This Was Easy
Though this may seem odd to some, imagining the female side of God wasn’t difficult at all. The God one encounters in biblical stories and the Psalms has both masculine and feminine attributes, though the masculine are more emphasized. It’s all there: the creating of new life. The nurturing. The fierce demand that any who would seek her or talk of love to her act first to provide for and feed her children. The Spirit brooding, dove-like, over the deeps in Genesis 1. God as a mother hen drawing chicks in beneath her wings in the Psalms. And so on.

The prophet Yirmiyahu believes men and women are created in God’s likeness. To write a feminine God, I just focused on the women in my life. If they are made in the likeness of God, what would I, knowing them, then assume God to be like?

Why Doing This Was Important
Why was this important? Because we can’t tap into the story fully if we are fixated on our own, idolatrous image of a white-bearded God visiting wrath on a disobedient city. We miss out on all the weeping that’s in the story, all the desperate hope and profound despair. We miss out on the poignancy of a story that is about a prophet and his God crying together as the prophet fights to save the city.

And most of all, in our indignation at the idea of an elderly male God punishing us, we’d miss out on the demands this story makes on our minds and hearts: what are our responsibilities to God and to each other?

The story of Jeremiah is not a story about crime and punishment; it never was. It’s a story about broken relationships.

Portraying the sorrow and vulnerability of God made this story possible.

Stant Litore

Stant Litore is a novelist. He writes about gladiators on tyrannosaurback, Old Testament prophets battling the hungry dead, geneticists growing biological starships, time-traveling hijabi bisexual defenders of humanity from the future. Explore his fiction here. And here is one of his toolkits for writers, and here’s another book where he nerds out about ancient languages and biblical (mis)translation. Enjoy!

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Stant Litore on the Bible: How and Why I Read It

Hello, friends. If this post interests you, please consider getting a copy of the book–Lives of Unforgetting (What We Lose In Translation When We Read the Bible, and a Way of Reading the Bible as a Call to Adventure). This puts food on my family’s table, and it makes me very happy to know the book is being read and used. Thank you for enjoying my posts!

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Now on to the post…

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Stories that Live in Our Blind Spot
I write because I love stories, because I can’t go a day without telling a story or listening to a story. And as a child I encountered the Bible as a wondrous collection of shocking, horrifying, empowering, and troubling stories (sometimes, all four at once). When I embarked on The Zombie Bible, I wanted to share these stories, I wanted to make them new again, I wanted people not to walk past them but to live the horror and the wonder that I found when I read them. At the risk of sounding like a bully, I wanted to make readers cry.

I suspect that the majority of people in the U.S. ignore biblical stories. Religious people ignore these stories because, most often, they read merely for examples to corroborate or elaborate on what they’ve been taught. Secular people ignore these stories because, as a rule, they are unwilling to separate these ancient stories from the political slogans and agendas that refer back to them. To me, this is a tragedy. We are talking about one of our oldest and most diverse treasure-houses of stories, and it is the one such treasure-house that everyone talks about and no one really experiences.

These are horror stories and wonder stories, but we’ve largely forgotten that. In many cases, these stories were written to amaze us, or shock us, or move us. A crucifixion is horrific. A child sacrifice is horrific. These stories try to shock us awake and then invite us to ask really tough questions, necessary questions. I wanted to bring these stories to readers in such a way that they would horrify and amaze us again, move us again.

These stories deserve our attention, and we deserve the opportunity to let them touch our hearts and bring us to tears or anger or joy. We deserve to experience these stories as more than just political slogans or ‘life application’ self-help messages. The shock and grief of zombie horror is a way of letting us do that. It’s a way of taking us back out into the heart of the storm on the lake, to that moment when the waves are high and the sky is crushing us down with its dark weight, God is asleep, and we are hanging on to the gunwale for dear life, learning who and what we are.

How Not to Read (Seriously)
Let me try to explain what I mean more clearly. If you’re reading this, skip any part that gets tedious.

I think that most people, whether religious or secular, assume that you should read the Bible as one coherent narrative, novel, or history book. This is true whether you’re ransacking this text for a consistent religious doctrine or whether you’re trying to dismiss it in entirety.

But it isn’t one narrative.

It’s a whole nest of different texts from different times in which different people struggle to understand both God and humanity. Whether you “believe” in God or not — whatever your relationship (or lack thereof) to religion may be — the Bible provides a polyvocal record (a record consisting of many voices) of man’s developing understanding of man, ethics, and God.

This record opens with two ethical statements in Genesis 1:

  • God looked on creation and pronounced it to be “good.”
  • Male and female, we were each created in the likeness of the divine.

The thousand-odd pages that follow consist of 66 books (slightly fewer, slightly more, depending on which Bible) that debate these two ethical propositions (and others), across three continents (Asia, Africa, and Europe), three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), and nearly a millennium of writing. You have a collection of legal texts, historical chronicles, poems, sermons, letters, testimonies, hagiographies, collections of proverbs, and dream-stories that wrestle with what these ethical statements mean, what these statements imply about God or about people, and whether/how/in what ways these statements might be lived and practiced in real life.

The Bible is an ongoing wrestling match, not a plotline.

Let me give you an example.

Strangers in the Land
You probably recognize Strangers in the Land as the title of my third novel, a nightmarish story of zombies and genocide in 1160 BC. It also refers to one of the core ethical statements in the Old Testament, one repeated again and again throughout the book of Exodus. Moses the Lawgiver instructs the Hebrews that, as they were strangers in the land of Egypt, they must treat the stranger in their own land well. There must be one law, both for the home-born and for the stranger. Strangers’ rights must be protected, vigorously — because the Hebrews, too, were once strangers in a strange land, and because the Hebrew and the stranger are both made in the likeness of the divine.

Now this ethical proposition flies in the face of some of our most basic instincts. We would rather fear the stranger, wall the stranger out, or possibly get rid of them; we want to protect our own. But Moses says no, you have to “shelter” the stranger.

One way to read significant passages in the Old Testament is to read them as dozens of different views of how the Hebrews struggled with two directions that often appeared contradictory: Shelter the stranger on the one hand; on the other, keep your own people safe and secure as well as separate and sacred as a “chosen people.” An ethical conflict that we get to watch in action:

  • Exodus is the story of the wrath of God falling upon a nation that fails to shelter the stranger.
  • In Joshua, tribes of Israel invade the promised land, displacing strangers
  • In Ruth, a stranger from a strange land immigrates to Israel and is, at first, treated horribly — shunned by the Israelite women, starving, in danger of rape in the fields. Yet she is the heroine of the tale (and an ancestor of Jesus). The man who marries her is a man who goes out of his way to shelter the stranger.
  • In the erotic poem, Song of Solomon, the Shulammite bride is a stranger in the land, and she is not liked. Other women in the city taunt her; the watchmen find her in the night and beat her. Yet her lover and husband finds her breathtaking. The poem is a breathtaking song of their union.
  • In Daniel and Esther, the tribes again try to survive as strangers in someone else’s land, facing genocide, slavery, and several attempts simply to annihilate their language, their names, and their way of life.
  • In Ezra, a priest demands that the people of Israel, who have newly returned to the land and have taken strange wives, cast their wives away as strangers, shunning them.

And so on, back and forth. In some accounts, the view that is privileged is “shelter the stranger.” In others, the view that is privileged is reject the stranger — violently, if need be. In the New Testament (in Galatians), Paul says that there is no Greek, no Hebrew, no male, no female, no master, no slave in God’s sight. In other words, race, gender, and class are seen as arbitrary and manmade distinctions. But then Paul has to wrestle with how to make this practical. What if a Christian woman has married a man who worships the old gods? What then? He wrestles with the issue, indicating what he thinks is right, and concludes with the direction that his readers must search their own hearts.

They must wrestle with it.

As readers, these stories, poems, and letters invite us into the wrestling match. Because make no mistake, we have to ask the very same questions that were asked thousands of years ago. Are we to shelter the stranger? How does this impact our views on immigration? How does it effect what we do when our child brings home someone of another race for dinner?

“Who is my neighbor?” one listener asks Jesus, and gets a very uncomfortable story in response. Who am I responsible for loving and sheltering?

You can take any number of ethical statements proposed in the Bible, and watch it get wrestled with, generation after generation, story after story, letter after letter. The Bible is not a consistent plotline or a manual; it’s a record of centuries of intense wrestling and it is an invitation for us to wrestle — openly, honestly — with these ideas. Ideas that have shaped and troubled our world. Ideas that are radical and important.

He Wrestles with God
In fact, the word “Israel” literally means “He wrestles with God.”

Think about that.

I mean, really think about that.

What if reading the Bible is not an act of taking in information (which you may then either adopt or reject), but an act of wrestling? How might that be a different reading activity (maybe an exciting one — regardless of whether you are religious or not)? What if the reading experience is supposed to be tense and contradictory and sometimes laden with horror, and what if that isn’t a bad thing?

What are we wrestling with, when we read the Bible?

Well, God, clearly — regardless of whether or not God exists.

We’re also wrestling with ourselves — with our own assumptions.

And we’re wrestling with the dead. With our past, which always (if we ignore it) rises up to devour us.

Wrestling with the Dead
There is a 1800-year-old Judaic tradition of reading the Old Testament which stands in stark opposition to the literalism of modern fundamentalist Christianity (and of much modern reading, in general). This tradition survives today in the conservative movement in Judaism and rabbinical scholarship (not to be confused with what “conservatism” means in America). This tradition celebrates the text without treating it as some type of novel or character profile, but as a treasure-house of cultural stories from the ancestors that need to be questioned and wrestled with — precisely because how we approach these stories has an impact on who we are and how we decide who we need to be.

A reader in this tradition is expected neither to accept tales of genocide in the Old Testament nor to reject them, because both are irrelevant to the goal of reading: which is to engage with one’s ancestors, what they felt and believed and hoped and feared, to wrestle with your dead for a while, learn from them, and talk with them, as part of a dialogue through which we create or attain wisdom for the present.

Our dead are different from us — even though they, like us, may have endured exile and privation and even though they, like us, may have experienced love and loss. By listening to our dead, we become better able to listen to the living — who are also different from us.

Relearning How to Read
Unfortunately, we’re taught to mine the Bible for information or models for behavior; it is treated as a static document, rather like instructions on how to assemble a bookcase. Maybe it is recognized to be more difficult to read and interpret than the typical bookcase assembly instructions, but in the end, we treat it as that kind of document — except that we are what is being assembled — and we either accept or reject the Bible depending on whether we like the shape we think these instructions will assemble us into.

In fact, we’re taught to read almost everything that way. Unless we have escaped this trap either by means of voracious reading on our part or some college instructor’s insistence, we tend to read even works of great literature in search of their “moral” or their one right, or best, interpretation. We go into stories looking for their end result, whether that end result is “True love conquers all” or “A good man is hard to find” or “Christ will save your soul.”

We aren’t taught that reading can be an act of wrestling.

If you look at a standard, American Christian study bible (let’s say the ESV Study Bible — beautiful translation, awful study aid), what you find is text at the top of the page, and annotations at the bottom of the page, in which one preacher or editor footnotes difficult passages and explains exactly what they mean.

I was shopping for a Bible once, in a religious bookstore, and the woman shopping next to me asked for my advice. “I want a study bible with clear notes,” she said, “so I’ll know what it means and I won’t have to think about it.”

We’re most often taught to read this way — as though every question in the book has an answer and only one answer and one of our fellow human beings will tell us exactly what that answer is. Infallibly.

Let’s compare this to a rabbinical study bible — the Etz Hayim, a Hebrew/English parallel text with annotations at the bottom. It is laid out just like a Christian study bible. But there’s a big difference. The annotations at the bottom might footnote a difficult passage and then run through five examples of how different people have read that passage in different centuries. Some of it is brilliant. Some of it is beautiful. Some of it is thought-provoking. It’s all meant to prompt you to wrestle with the text yourself, to ask smart questions and figure out what it means, not be told what it means.

That’s a beautiful, intelligent, exciting way to read.

How Do We Get There?
I think we start by making the stories real again. Whether we start (or end) as religious or atheist or agnostic readers, if we’re going to read at all, we need to encounter the stories — not as chapters in a novel, but as hundreds of stories that are all tackling related questions.

We need to read about Ruth in the fields gleaning scraps of food, as a single woman with a widowed and ailing mother-in-law, and we need to feel her fear and her desperate hope.

We need to read Jeremiah’s words as he howls in the street about the child sacrifices on the Hill of Tophet, and we need to feel his horror when he cries, “I see the blood of children on your skirts!”

And we need to watch Ezra banish the women and let ourselves feel very, very uncomfortable. Not just dismiss it or explain it away. Actually look at it, wrestle with it. And then ask ourselves some hard questions.

We need to read and feel — not just let these stories be some kind of commercial for a political program, nor source texts for a troubling religious dogma that some of us feel obligated to disinherit, nor even a religious instruction manual that is all about us. We need to go to these stories as we go to a date, a tense but hopeful encounter with people who are both like and unlike us, people who are other than us, and let ourselves be drawn into their lives for a while.

These stories have made me cry. And laugh. And shiver.

And they have challenged me to seek deeper relationships with my fellow human beings, with the dead who came before me, and with God. They have helped me work out my faith and my tradition with fear and trembling.

They have invited me to ask tough questions.

I think that’s partly what they’re for.

Stant Litore

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Want to read more? Get Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose When We Read the Bible in Translation, and Way to Read the Bible as a Call to Adventure.

Book Cover - Lives of Unforgetting: What We Lose in Translation When We Read the Bible by Stant Litore

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On Zombies, Pressed Ties, and Other Matters: An Interview

Editor Felicia Sullivan (who is known for specializing in editing works of indie zombie horror) asked me for an interview about writing and The Zombie Bible. I am not sure whether the results were humorous, profound, or some combination of the above, but it was a memorable interview, and I thought you might enjoy it:

1. Have you always wanted to be a writer, or did you just kind of fall into it?

Stant Litore. Always. Which means I did just kind of fall into it. I just fell into it when I was small and young and not nearly tall enough or strong enough to put on a suit and a tie and climb my way out of that deep pit of the Imagination and go find another, more respectable vocation. Something like law or accounting, something that would have led me to a lifetime of neatly pressed ties and abysmal misery. That didn’t happen. I didn’t make it out of the pit. So here I am. Writing. And answering interview questions. And then writing some more.

VenusflytrapPictured: The Venus fly-trap of the Imagination.

2. What’s your process? Do you have a set writing schedule, or do you wing it?

Stant Litore. I write nearly every day, and I aim for 1,000 words minimum. The when and the where is up for grabs, as long as it happens. I try to take a quick walk whenever I can, as that’s when the story actually gets created — the rush of ideas, scenes, moments of love and hope and morbid death. When I do sit down with pen and paper or with my laptop, I throw on headphones and listen to something moody and symphonic. And I write.

The music is the key. I trained myself for years, in a war against writer’s block. Now the moment the headphones go on, I am in fiction world. (Thank you, Pavlov.)

PavlovPictured: This is Pavlov.
This is not me.
I feel I should clarify that.

3. What is your favorite genre to read? To write?

Stant Litore. I will read anything that is a great story and that has something useful or beautiful or impressive to say. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, history, and science, and books about theology and what people think, why they think, and whether they think. I read a lot of books about love. And death. Definitely a lot of love and death.

holbein_danse_macabreGene Wolfe, my favorite novelist, noted that “literature” is often
assumed to be about love and death, while “mere popular fiction”
is alleged to be about sex and violence. He then takes that distinction apart:
“One reader’s sex, alas, is another’s love; and one’s violence, another’s death.”

I am writing horror right now, which really means that I am writing fantasies set in the distant past in which truly awful things happen and in which various people, some of them awful, and some of them very not-awful, try to survive that.

4. What was the first book you wrote, and how successful was it?

Stant Litore. That depends on whether you mean the first book I wrote or the first book I published. The first book I wrote was tremendously successful and well-reviewed by its single reader (me). And I still love it. It had castles in it. And battles. And a thrilling race to the death on horseback. And also a very large pumpkin pie, as I recall.

The first book I published was Death Has Come Up into Our Windows, in which an Old Testament prophet struggles to keep his wife, his city, and his faith safe against the overwhelming dead. This book sold 6,000 copies in December 2011, and I was (and am) quite proud of that. Readers either love it (enthusiastically) or loathe it (enthusiastically). It is that kind of book.

DHCWFirst novel. On the left, the cover of the 2011 edition.


5. How do you spend your time when you are not writing? Do you have any interesting hobbies?

Stant Litore. What is this “time” you speak of?

In all seriousness, most of my time that isn’t spent at work or writing is spent with my wife and two daughters, one of them disabled and requiring a lot of care. But also, they are all very bouncy and exciting people (including my wife, who will probably see this interview at some point and demand, “Bouncy???”), and I really enjoy spending time with them. Once my girls are in bed, I am probably writing. Or reading. Or taking a walk. Or maybe watching A Game of Thrones.

I did have hobbies at one time. I distinctly remember having hobbies. I now have children.

Toddler2Steampunk Toddler.

ChildrenAlso, there are now two. (Pictured: Inara and River.)

I like to play chess, or read up on my history, or teach a class at my local church. When the children are a little older, I look forward to traveling with them.

I am actually passionate about dead languages. So chances are, if I am indulging in free time, you will find me translating something with an almost-fever glow on my face. Because I love language. It is our oldest tool, and one that we improve upon and change very quickly, adapting it to different needs, and we don’t even know we’re doing it. It’s remarkable. I like to page through dictionaries of Greek or Hebrew or Latin with the same delighted awe with which a gardener traces his hand along the leaves of a fruitfully-growing, healthy plant. Language is beautiful.

ConjugationThinking…thinking…was that another ablative absolute?

6. Does your family support your writing dreams/career/goals?

Stant Litore. Enthusiastically, much to my surprise and delight. My wife has been incredibly supportive and is probably the #1 reason I have time and sanity to write. Also, there is so much of her in my novels. My children, too. My three-year-old likes to grab one of my novels off the shelf and page through it, intoning solemnly, “ZOM-bie book. ZOM-bie. ZOM-bie.”

No, I did not teach her that.

ToddlerMy daughter River. And zombies.

7. How many books have you written, and which one is your absolute favorite?

Stant Litore. The first three books in The Zombie Bible have been released, the fourth is with my editor, and a separate novella called The Dark Need will be coming out this September. There are also a lot of other unfinished manuscripts chained up and moaning like wakeful corpses in the basement, but we don’t talk about them.

I love (and have a healthy respect for) each of the novels I’ve written. I think my favorite is What Our Eyes Have Witnessed. A lot of what I personally believe or hope about our world is in that book, and there is a story of love and loss that moves my heart more than any other I’ve written. My favorite scene, however, is in Strangers in the Land, and it is the scene in which Devora chooses her husband.

My second favorite scene is also toward the end of that book, and is considerably bloodier.

8. Do you read reviews of your books? How do they affect you, whether positive or negative?

Stant Litore. I do. I do read every review. As a rule, I don’t respond, though I’ve seen some writers do that. I have two goals when I publish a book, and the first is to make readers cry. I mean that literally. I want to know that a story that really moved me or shocked me or overjoyed me or terrified me had that effect on others, too. I want to know that I got to share it — not the words on the page but that experience, the lives and the struggle and the courage and the love and the panache of those characters. I want to know that. So I read reviews, and am grateful to find that yes, people are moved. Or shocked. Or terrified, or grieving, or happy, whatever the story calls for. If you did not like the book and you write a review, I am not offended. I am not writing the books for everyone; only oxygen and water are equally of use and equally pleasing to all people. For everything else, there’s taste.

I did receive one review that did offend me. It has only happened once. The reader got most of the details of the plot incorrect, gave away a huge plot spoiler in the review (and I mean, a really huge spoiler), mistook my use of a Hebrew name as a “silly mispronouncement” of an English name, and you know, I think that is the only thing that has ever really offended me. I write about the horrors that come lurching out of our past. Not everyone in our past was born with names in good American English. Deal with it.

Other than that one time, I have really enjoyed reading reviews, even the “negative” ones. A review is an incredible gift. It’s a gift of a reader’s time and attention, in a world that is fast-paced, a world that limits your supply of time and attention. It is a blessing to receive that kind of gift from a stranger. Whether they liked the book or not, they read it, they spent time with my characters, they spent time with me, even if I didn’t know they were doing it until I read their review. There are no words for how cool that is.

9. You know the next question always is: Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Stant Litore. Your novel needs to tell the truth and take no prisoners. You’ll hear all the other advice from other writers, agents, and editors. Advice about discipline and perseverance. Advice about plotting and pacing and character. So I won’t repeat it here. What I will say is find out who your characters really are, let them show you, and find the truth your novel has to tell. Nothing matters more than that. Do not compromise or take shortcuts. Do not chicken out under pressure and write the easier path for your story. If that means you find out two thirds the way through that a near-complete rewrite would give you a story nine times as powerful, you do it. If you won’t have the courage to let your story dig deep into the heart, you’re wasting your time.

10. Tell us your plan for riding out the zombie apocalypse.

I am still forming my plan for the zombie apocalypse; surviving such a thing is unlikely. But I am definitely sharpening my hand-and-a-half bastard sword and eyeing canned goods. I think I will take my battered old pocket Bible and a yellow-paged old Herodotus, knowing that I won’t be able to carry much so I had better go with books that have been with me a long time and have a lot of stories in them. Besides fighting off my suddenly homicidal and reeking neighbors, my greatest worry will be medicine for my daughter. I suppose that in the event of a zombie apocalypse I will need to begin raiding pharmacies; I and half of the rest of the population. Still, I would not like to be the person who gets between me and my daughter’s medicine.

I’m not an optimist (nor a pessimist — I just set the goal and I get it done). I don’t think “the war will be over by Christmas.” People who believe that get eaten. I keep my eye on the prize and I don’t give up. And that is probably the only thing I will have going for me, if the dead do rise and begin dining on entrails. Wish me luck.

Click here to check out Stant Litore’s The Zombie Bible.

Learn more about Felicia Sullivan, the interviewer, here.

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The Dark Need

Dear readers, I have exciting news. I have just confirmed the cover for my upcoming novella The Dark Need (September 2013). The artist is Jeroen ten Berge.

I don’t know about you, but I find this cover chilling. I am excited to bring you this story. It takes place outside the Zombie Bible universe, and is an episode in Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin’s horror series The Dead Man. This series chronicles the adventures of a man who has been reanimated from the dead after three months beneath an avalanche, and who now sees evil (specifically, the intent to do violence) manifested physically. People who are preparing to kill, injure, or torture others appear to him as rotting corpses. He has set out to prevent as much of the evil that he can — and find out more about the connection between his resurrection and Mr. Dark, the enigmatic figure whose evil is touching the world. Part horror, part “men’s adventure story,” the series has a freshness to it. You don’t need to have read earlier books in the series to enjoy The Dark Need, though there are a number of them I’d recommend!

I think you will really like The Dark Need. It’s action-packed and darkly poetic.

Thank you for reading, enjoying, and talking about my books. You are my team, my people, and I am glad to have “met” you through these pages.

Stant Litore