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We Know the Name of the Wound

Inara_Hospital_1These past two years, my daughter’s story has been the story beneath everything else I think about, or feel, or write, or do. Today, we have a name for part of what she’s facing.

Results from baby Inara’s MRI are in. She has mesial temporal sclerosis: scar tissue in her brain. The cause: her repetitive cluster seizures in the winter and spring of early 2012. The impact: it’s probably the reason for most of her developmental delay, and for the period in 2012 when she lost skills she’d previously gained. (She’s now gaining again, but the months after her seizures were difficult.) We don’t know yet how bad (or not bad, relatively speaking) the sclerosis is; we have follow-up appointments with neurologists and epileptologists to debrief and discuss options.

I am taking the news with some degree of soldierly stand-at-one’s-postness. It could have been far worse–what we were actually checking for, in the MRI, were lesions. There are none. On the other hand, ever since those seventy-some days in the hospital with her, I have feared there would be lasting damage. That fear proved founded. Now we’ll wait to find out how severe the damage, and whether surgery will be needed to remove it.

I wrote this on the last pages of No Lasting Burial, about that winter that began 2012:

I sat in that hospital by her bedside, in the cold of winter. It was warm enough in that carefully sterile place, but I felt cold. I felt angry. I felt exhausted, and determined. The wind that rattled the windows one night seemed to hurl against the hospital glass all the moaning horror and shrieking of the shedim.

Now my daughter is improving, and we are on the other side of that time together. Yet those nights by her bed are recent in my heart, and they hurt. I don’t know what this past year has meant, only that the love I now hold for those I call my own is fiercer than anything I have ever felt. I have learned that hope, which I had thought small and delicate like a moth in the night, can be hard as steel, a blade with which you cut your way through a press of moaning and hungry foes.

Today, knowing the name (mesial temporal sclerosis) of something afflicting my daughter is both anxiety-inducing and comforting, strangely. Now we know there is a wound, and we know the name of that wound, and soon, we will know what to do about it. We have been given much cause for hope this past year, her mother and I. After the initial shock of the news, all this MRI really means is that we now know just a little more than we did yesterday, and we will be better able to help Inara than we were before. May she continue to improve and grow, my beautiful little girl.

Stant Litore

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The Roll of a Die (Guest Post by Steve Mchugh!)

Recently, fantasy novelist Steve Mchugh invited me to speak on his blog about the origins of my interest in fantasy and horror (I said, “I’m Pretty Sure it was the Balrog“), and today I’ve invited him to this blog to answer the same question: for the author of the acclaimed Hellequin Chronicles, what was it that provoked his early interest in this fantastical fiction?

Without further ado, here’s Steve Mchugh…

The Roll of a Die

SMcHugh-Apr13-edit3I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons. Not the real game with the Game Master, et al. A lot of fantasy writers have at some point at least dabbed their proverbial toe in those waters. However, I’ve loved RPG’s since an early age and that love has probably gone some way to ingrain itself into my own storytelling.

In the late 1980s, when I was 10 years old, Urban Fantasy wasn’t really a genre that existed, and if it had, I’m not really sure that I’d have paid attention. By the time I was 10, I was reading Sherlock Holmes, Treasure Island and The Jungle Book. I liked adventure books and mysteries.

I think I was 11 when I found a copy of a few a Fighting Fantasy books by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in a charity shop. They were maybe 10p (16c) each. Although I couldn’t tell you all of their names, I do remember one: The Forest of Doom. They were all good fun, but The Forest of Doom was the one I re-read the most. This is primarily because it was hard and I died a bunch of times, but win or lose, I had fun.

Except with Armies of Death. I remember that one very clearly, as I’m pretty certain it was impossible.

Over the next year or so, I managed to go through most of the series by finding them in libraries or using pocket money to buy them. They were my entry into the world of fantasy novels, but it was an English teacher, Mr Pearcey who got me to branch out.

In English class, we all had to keep a book diary of what we’d been reading. After several months of mine containing only Fighting Fantasy novels and comics, Mr Pearcey took me aside and told me to try something else.

I went to the school library and took out Terry Pratchett’s Men at Arms. Why did I pick that book? Well, I’d like to say that I was drawn to it, but in truth the cover looked like fun. No matter the reason, one read was all I needed. That was it, I was hooked. I read pretty much everything the school had on his books within a few months and from there branched out further to include Stephen King, Dean Koontz and David Gemmell in my regular reading (note, these weren’t in the school library. I’m pretty certain parents would have complained).

I read a huge amount stuff during my school years, and college years, and still do at 34 (although not as much as I’d like these days). I still go back to Men at Arms. It’s probably my favourite book of all time and one of the very few (along with It) that made me want to be a writer.

McHugh_Crimes_Against_Magic_cvr_FINAL (1)These days Urban Fantasy is a big genre, and one that I’m more than happy to be a part of with my Hellequin Chronicles series, but you can trace my current writing to the mix of genres I got through when I was at school. Mystery, action-adventure, horror and fantasy all play a big part in my writing. But I took something important from those Fighting Fantasy books. They had limited space in which to tell a story, so everything was always building toward something, always advancing the plot. There was very little in those stories that was waste, because they didn’t have the space to do it. I’ve tried to re-create that in my own writing, the need to ensure that everything matters, that there’s no dead time or waste. Be it character or story based, things should always be moving forward. And if I could figure out a way to include some dice rolling and map drawing for my readers to take part in, I’d probably have done that by now too.

McHugh_Born_of_Hatred_cvr_FINAL (1)About Steve Mchugh
Steve’s been writing from an early age, his first completed story was done in an English lesson. Unfortunately, after the teacher read it, he had to have a chat with the head of the year about the violent content and bad language. The follow up ‘One boy and his frog’ was less concerning to his teachers and got him an A.

It wasn’t for another decade that he would start work on a full length novel that was publishable, the results of which was the action-packed Urban Fantasy, Crimes Against Magic.

He was born in a small village called Mexbrough, South Yorkshire, but now lives with his wife and three young daughters in Southampton.

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Steve-McHugh/e/B007YYWVHA/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
Blog: http://stevejmchugh.wordpress.com/

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Print/Ebook Rivalry: It’s a Bit Silly

MemeOkay, I’ve seen this meme (pictured to the right) going around again, and I just have to respond to this.

1. Who cares about “impressive”? This might be difficult to grasp, but I actually read books for reasons other than being impressive.

2. If we *are* going to talk about “impressive,” my kindle holds over 10 times the number of books shown in that photograph. You know what’s “impressive”? Carrying an entire library in the palm of my hand is impressive. In the Middle Ages, I could have bought most of Europe with that quantity of books.

3. Also, why the rivalry? In all seriousness, most kindle owners I know also own printed books, albeit in varying quantities. I tend to read the Bible, books with a heavily visual component, a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, and any reference book in paper; I tend to read most everything else on my kindle, yet I do own many, many printed books. Why must we act as though it MUST be one or the other? When the printed book was first invented, there was a period of about 150 years in which the literate of the age owned both manuscripts and the newfangled printed books.

Frankly, it is also “more impressive” to own a wall in Babylon with the original Gilgamesh chiseled into hard stone than it is to own either of the two libraries shown here. It would also be “more impressive” to own two stone tablets that you could carry around in an elaborate ark of wood and gold.

It would even be “more impressive” to own a room with thousands of scrolls cubbied into the walls. Opening a mass market paperback just can’t compare with the experience of:

  • Hearing the crackle of papyrus as you unroll a scroll
  • Smelling the scent of papyrus, brought to you all the way from the flooded banks of the Nile
  • Seeing (and feeling with your fingertips) the inked-in Greek lettering of some scribe who devoted months to the effort of recording that book by hand
  • Taking the time to prepare a special place for reading that is secure from any moisture that could damage your scroll
  • Reveling in the intellectual sweat and sense of almost physical achievement that goes into picking out words from an endless stream of letters without punctuation or spacing.

How much less impressive is the experience of opening a recently purchased, machine-made, mass-produced paperback, when compared with the sublime activity of reading a scroll!

But you don’t see me making memes about that.

4. You know what else is impressive? Making books available in a medium that permits millions of rural readers in North America and Africa to access them, who did not previously have much access to books. That‘s what is truly impressive.

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 Sauron is A Villain for Our Time

I’ve seen many writers (from Michael Moorcock to the present) comment on Sauron as an embodiment of evil, lacking motivation. While I agree that he is hardly a psychologically-realized character in the modern sense, I don’t know that Sauron’s motivation is all that mysterious — at least in the books. He wants to be worshipped. In the Black Years and in the Akallabeth, he sets himself up as a god, holding out promises of immortality, promises the Ringwraiths foolishly accept. He wants a world of subjugated, worshipful slaves whose history he has rewritten for them. His Ring was crafted as a device for controlling other’s minds and perceptions, governing what they could and could not see, so as to make them easily bent to his will while remaining unaware of that bending of their minds; his seizure of the Seeing Stones achieves a similar purpose on a far smaller scale. He wants to see everything, survey everything, watch and monitor everything, while making himself and his rule the only thing that others see or are capable of seeing. He wants to be a god. And he expects to achieve that aim by acting as a prison warden watching the world from the top of his iron, panoptical tower, in which all the world are his prisoners (as opposed to the “Free Peoples” of Middle-Earth) and are, in the end, crushed and manuevered into feeling that it is but natural to be his prisoners. He is part Stalin, part NSA, part theocratic dictator.

In other words, now that The Lord of the Rings is over and Mordor crumbled into ruin, Sauron could probably get a backup job as either the next lord dictator of Uzbekistan or the chair of a national or global surveillance organization, positions for which he is eminently qualified both psychologically and professionally.

(Note: My argument here is indebted to the writings of Tolkien scholar Andrew Hallam, who is also a good friend. His writings on Sauron and the Ring have shaped my own thinking about The Lord of the Rings over the years.)

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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The Nun’s Dragon

Wyver made a wider arc in his flight than ever before. In this vast sea of darkness, he found the dead dragons of which he had heard.

Their wings were open and they passed him quickly as he swooped through the endless night. The wyverns here had no color to their scales and their eyes were empty sockets. Winds blew him along as though he were insufficient as a leaf from an earthly tree. Perhaps somewhere in this seeming emptiness was the place humans went when they died.

The Nun's Dragon by Christine EmmertThis is from a new novel by Christine Emmert, who I consider a kindred spirit, and you really, really must read it. The novel is The Nun’s Dragon, and the volume in which it appears also includes “Lilith,” which is one of the most evocative and deeply unsettling works of short fiction that I have read in the past few years.

Update: Ah, this just in! The Nun’s Dragon is making a splash in the “Folklore” category over on Amazon. Now, folklore is not a top-selling category, alas — not like serial killer thrillers, romance novels, or even humble horror novels — but even so, take a look at the screenshot below. Christine Emmert is there on the shelf alongside Italo Calvino and Sir Richard Burton. Seriously, how cool is that?

Emmert_folklore

Definitely go check this one out.

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Thoughts Before Dawn

What I believe: I keep getting asked this. So I am going to make a list, a list for 2014. It will be a list, not a creed, because I am a living man and not a statue, and what I believe, think, or feel may change. And I am going to give this list to you in the voices of my characters, because, well, they are way more articulate than I am.

This year, I believe:

…that of the things we seek after in life and of all the things we strive to find or build or create, that which is most to be desired is peace:

Peace was more than stillness. More than sleep. More than numbness, more than the absence of conflict.

Peace was consolation and wholeness. Peace was two men breaking bread together, forgiving an old quarrel. Peace was a mother holding her infant up to its father for the first time, or a mother opening her eyes to greet her child after long illness. Peace was two lovers in each other’s arms after a long, good night. Peace was an open door and a wall torn down. Peace was a cephas, a rock lashed by the waves yet unmoved. A rock people could stand on. – No Lasting Burial

…that peace is hard to find; the world is big and we are small:

Barak was shaking. “The land has become strange to me,” he whispered, gazing at that lifeless face frozen in its moment of famished need. “I wanted only evenings in my house and Hadassah in my bed, her breasts in my hands. I wanted only my vineyard, only the ripe grapes, the coolness of them beneath my feet, the taste of wine. The long battle with soil and worm is enough for any man of Naphtali. God, you give and you take away, and we are only ashes. We are only ashes.” – Strangers in the Land

…that there is no real explanation of or excuse for suffering; it is not part of a Plan, capital-P; the horrors we endure shake us and shake our world. I do not mean that suffering is pointless, only that it is not planned, it is not reducible to any proverb or formula; yet I do believe that suffering is only the dark chapter, not the end; though suffering cannot be excused or deleted, great beauty can come after it:

“Our father did not promise a life without pain,” Yeshua murmured. “Not without pain. Only that he would weep with us. Only that his heart would break. Only that he would take each moment of suffering, each death, each, and hold it in his hands, and . . . and bring from it something, something even more beautiful than what was lost. A forest of cedar grows from a field of ash, and each seed, every seed must fall to the earth, fall and fall and crack open and die before it can become a barley plant.” – No Lasting Burial

…that God, if you believe God exists, is neither planning the suffering of the world nor planning its ceasing without our involvement. Rather, God is grieving with us. What force God might have in the world is the force of a still, small voice, soft as weeping in the night, that might stir us from sleep and call on us to make the world more like one God would enjoy living in:

Once he came awake with a start, thinking he’d heard weeping. He bolted upright and gazed into the dark, but the sound faded from hearing as swiftly as any dream sound might. Miriam stirred beside him. “What is it, husband?” Her voice heavy with sleep.

Yirmiyahu was breathing hard, the sheets sweaty beneath him. He didn’t look at her; he kept gazing in the direction from which the sound had come, if there had actually been a sound. His ears strained to hear it. With a dryness in his throat, he realized he was staring in the direction of the Temple. – Death Has Come Up into Our Windows

…that what really matters is how we respond to that weeping, to the tears we see on another’s face:

“When you see another’s face—the face of a child, or another woman, or the face of the goddess, or the face of someone hungry or hurt—their eyes, they look back. They look at you. They ask your love, they ask you to hear their crying and know that you and they are both alive, and some day you may be hurt, you may be hungry. It may be your child carried dying in your arms.” Hurriya choked a moment, then went on. “When I look at you, you look back. Only the dead don’t look back.”

Devora thought about that as she bent to tighten Shomar’s girth straps.

“You think the Law is a pact with your God, a pact with others of your People. But it’s not just a pact.”

Devora just listened, thinking hard.

“It’s an answer,” Hurriya said intensely. “You have rules for everything. But it’s not the rules that matter. It’s that you want to make them. You want to answer the suffering you see in another woman’s face. You want to give her safety, or justice, or comfort. That’s what matters. That’s why you have your Law, why you love it. But when you sit in decision at your olive tree, or on this horse looking at the burning town, you have to find the right answer to the suffering you see. Your fathers in the desert found the Law, found that answer. So it guides you, like I guided you into these hills. But you still have to find the right answer to each face you see.” – Strangers in the Land

…that we are our best selves when we love:

After a while she whispered, “There is a windstorm in my heart.”

Lappidoth put his arm about her, held her tightly to him. With his other hand, he took a small stone and set it beside the bread. “This is my wife’s heart,” he rumbled. Then covered the stone with his cupped hand. “This is my love for my wife, covering her heart. That the winds may pass over without tearing through her.”

She smiled despite the tightness in her breast. “I love you,” she whispered. – Strangers in the Land

…that we are our worst selves when we judge:

“I will not see our town distracted by small gods!” Zebadyah’s voice rose, thick with contempt. “Gods you can hold in your hand, rather than a God who can’t be held, who will not come at our call, for we come at his. That!”—he threw his hand out toward the stranger and the wooden horse he held—“That is an evil, a distraction you shape with your hand. A crack in the wall, while the dead press against the stones. That is not safe, it is not useful!”

Yeshua turned on the priest, his eyes hot, the wooden horse clutched in his hand, his voice loud and quick. “The father who made you may not find you useful—or you—or you—” He took them all in with a sweep of his hand. “Of what use are any of you to the Holy One who shaped the earth and filled the seas? But I have been in the desert and I . . . I believe this: there has never been a day when the father has not found you beautiful.”

Yeshua turned the horse over a few times in his hand, peering down at it. His face was troubled. “I think it is possible,” he murmured, “to keep every letter of the written Law yet fail to live a lawful life. And maybe it is possible to yearn, even to yearn for the father’s heart and yet . . . yet miss him entirely.” – No Lasting Burial

…that love is about vulnerability, and it is our willingness to be vulnerable together that makes us beautiful:

They considered each other. Then she did something he did not expect. She let the blanket slip from her shoulders, let it settle to her feet, gently as feathers. For a moment, she held her arms across her breasts, then let them fall to her sides. She lifted her chin, though her face burned. She let him see her, all of her, her beauty and her bruises. This gift of herself. Her father might strip her or beat her, but he could not take this from her: her right to open her heart and her body to one whose heart called to hers. Koach held his breath. All his life, he would remember this moment. His first sight of her. The memory would be holy to him. As though her rooftop were the place where God touched the world and created beauty.

His loins stirred for her, yet his face was wet.

Whether he wept for her, for himself, or for them both, he couldn’t have said. His hand trembled as he lifted his fingers to the clasp of his own tunic. He kept himself fully clothed at most times, even in his mother’s house; he couldn’t bear the way others looked at him when his deformity was visible. But he could not hide it now, could not conceal it when this young woman had unclothed all of her bruises, risked everything to be seen by one other. He kept his movements slow, his heart loud with his fear. It took some work, with only his one hand and not his mother’s to aid him. But at last his clothes were in a heap beside him, and he stood naked on the roof, the air cool on his skin. – No Lasting Burial

…that there is more inside each person in our lives than we have ever imagined, entire rooms we have never seen:

Her eyes opened to him, and he gazed inside the rooms of her heart. He saw rooms that were locked and chained; he could almost hear the screams behind those shut doors. He saw other rooms that were vast and wide as oceans; in one, her love and faith in him, a faith so profound and unshakable that it shook him to see it. – What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

…that it is our task to make the world livable, and not only for ourselves but for all these beautiful, many-roomed lives that surround us; the burden of action is on us, on each of us; we are the machina in the deus ex machina:

To the Greeks and the Romans both, the world itself was a stage on which the theater of history was played out for the entertainment and delight of the gods. Men and women quarreled and fought and died on that stage, until the god descended in a machine to intervene at the end of the drama. But as a father of the gathering, Polycarp saw the stage differently. On this stage, men and women who knew God could play the active part of the device that would carry into the theater the deus ex machina, the god in the machine. Their role was that of God’s machine, God’s body. They were his hands and his feet, stepping in not just at the end but at the very moment in the drama in which they found themselves placed. Through the gathering, God might intervene early to transform the grisly sets of the Subura and the cold, remote sets of the Palatine into new places, and to change the players’ costumed garb to represent miraculous transformations within their characters. – What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

…that uncertainty does not excuse us from action:

“If God is silent,” she said, “I will act as though he is not. When God sends no visions, when we don’t know if he is with us or if we are left to die in the ash among the corpses, we must still act as though his hand does cover us. Our responsibilities are unchanged. Nothing else will suffice.” – Strangers in the Land

…that in our yearning for certainty, for security, for a stable and fixed world under our feet, we have fallen in love with false gods who promise the same but who will only use us:

Gazing at the smoke on the hill’s summit, Yirmiyahu almost thought he could hear, faint in the day’s heat, the calling of those hungry gods and goddesses whom his People had not brought with them out of the desert long ago but had found waiting for them in this land. Deities who spread their arms wide and moaned: Come to me, I will give you wealth or security or love, or what you desire, only feed me, feed me. I am so hungry; don’t you want to feed me?

Sometimes, as Yirmiyahu looked up at that smoke, the cries of those other gods, who had established no abiding Covenant with the People, rose from a faint moan on the hill to a shriek of urgent, demanding need; at those times he would look away from the summit, shivering even in the heat of day as the merchants at the gate chattered and argued around him. And all the while, Yirmiyahu’s God murmured from behind the veil in her Temple, I am here. If you want me, you must be faithful to me, and you must nourish my children. You must work hard to provide for them. Then I will let you take me in your arms and I will delight you and nourish you. A divine spouse rather than a divine lover. That is how the navi saw it. – Death Has Come Up into Our Windows

…and also that our restless dead are terrifying:

Ahead he saw the door to the weaver’s house, where the Roman mercenaries had herded all of the town’s small children. An oil lamp still burned within, and Shimon had a brief glimpse of adult shapes bent over small, still bodies, large hands pulling entrails and red organs from their bellies. One of the feasting corpses glanced up and its eyes shone like cat’s eyes in the light of the lamp. – No Lasting Burial

…and that there can be only one answer to zombies, to the devouring dead or to the living that devour us also, one answer to the injustice and terror in the world; that the ferocious words that we will hold defiantly against the wrongs we see and the absolute cold of entropy are We hope and We will act and We will never, ever give in:

We must live lives of unstoppable hope. – What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

Nothing is broken that cannot be remade, nothing is ill that cannot be healed, nothing captive that cannot be freed. – What Our Eyes Have Witnessed

Now my daughter is improving, and we are on the other side of that time together. Yet those nights by her bed are recent in my heart, and they hurt. I don’t know what this past year has meant, only that the love I now hold for those I call my own is fiercer than anything I have ever felt. I have learned that hope, which I had thought small and delicate like a moth in the night, can be hard as steel, a blade with which you cut your way through a press of moaning and hungry foes. – No Lasting Burial

Welcome, 2014. I hope the year is kind. If it isn’t, I hope we all rise to do battle to make it so. And dear readers, be gentle in your comments; this page is meant not as a creed but as a personal reminiscence that I share with you, and as an introduction to my work; if there is any missionary effort implied, it is only the hope that you will get to know me better, and know better the stories I love, by reading my novels. May they chill your blood with moments of dread, astonish you with moments of beauty, and move your heart with moments of human courage, love, and hope:

Other Personal Reflections:
Climbing the Gray Mountain
The Bible: How and Why I Read It

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 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!