The whole point of a blog is to have something interesting to say with some level of frequency, and unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do much of either this week. Still, here I am, and here you are.
The events of The Blessed Man and the Witch take place over the course of about a week and a half in early April of 2016. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet, so I had to do a bit of prognostication. Nevertheless, I’m reasonably certain that none of the major events I wrote about will ever come to pass, including a Heaven vs. Hell kind of Armageddon.
Predicting the future is a tricky thing; meteorologists do it all the time, and when we don’t get snow or rain when it’s forecast, it’s very easy to just throw up our collective hands and say, “Well, it’s not really an exact science.” The psychics (or “bleeders,” as Megan calls them) in the novel see visions of the future, but early on I show that it’s no more an exact science than forecasting the weather: the visions come true, but interpreting them can be difficult. Frank Herbert’s Dune series of novels does an extraordinary job of describing the pitfalls of prognostication (so to speak), so when you’re finished with The Blessed Man Etc, take a look at them if you haven’t already.
In addition to the fictional aspect of predicting the future through seers, I attempted to extrapolate from current events what might happen a few years hence. One of the ways I used to describe how the world, particularly the United States, was falling apart was by quoting fictional news articles at the beginning of some of the novel’s chapters. I’m a student of current events and politics (the two are now inextricably intertwined for reasons that go beyond the scope and purpose of this article), so I examined certain trends and posited worst-case scenarios to write news articles about. In some cases, I was completely wrong, which is fine: I’m quite happy that the terrible things I predicted aren’t coming to pass. One somewhat amusing example was when I quoted a transcript from a future Piers Morgan Live episode, only to learn a few weeks before I’d planned to publish the novel that the show had been canceled. Compared to skyrocketing gas prices and mass shootings, it’s pretty small beer, but there you have it. I also failed to predict Russia’s annexing of the Ukraine.
A question that’s always fascinated me is, “In a universe where there’s an omniscient God, do any of us have free will?” Put another way, if God always knows what you’re going to do before you do it, do you truly have volition? And that’s the trap of seeing the future: it shows you where you’re stuck. It shows you what you are going to do.
Or maybe it doesn’t. One character in the novel shows us how a clever, motivated person can cheat the visions, as long as he can act on them before they happen. In that case, is he really seeing the future?
TL;DR: Predicting the future is hard.
But not in the way you think.
A recent book review and an email conversation I had with a potential reviewer gave me some food for thought regarding the religious themes in The Blessed Man and the Witch. Obviously, a book about Armageddon with Heaven and Hell battling it out through proxies on Earth is going to touch on religion, and it’s entirely natural to consider my intent as an author. I even go so far as to mention Jesus Christ as the Savior, which can be considered a questionable, even dangerous path to go on: many readers are entirely turned off by even the smallest hint of proselytizing in their fiction. If it’s easy to slam the door on Jehovah’s Witnesses, it’s even easier to close a book. So am I trying to push religion on you?
Of course not. Not even a little bit.
But any portrayal of religious faith needs to get in there, if it wants to have any teeth. It has to go where you might be a little uncomfortable. It has to raise some questions, even if it doesn’t try to answer them (or doesn’t answer them to your individual satisfaction). I know that nice people don’t talk politics or religion at the dinner table, but we’re not at the dinner table. The Blessed Man and the Witch is about a Biblical apocalypse, and for it to be relevant and credible, it had to go to those uncomfortable places. And its sequel will, also.
Your religion, faith, or personal belief system is yours alone, and I respect it. I hope, however, that my going to places where we have to ask what Jesus might mean to the antediluvian Grigori doesn’t turn you off. We can talk about these things, you know. It’s okay. And just because Jesus is the Son of God in a novel, it doesn’t mean I think He is, or that I want you to think He is outside of the novel.
So if I’m trying to convert you, let’s just say I’m trying to get you to see that my intent with the series is to show Western religious traditions respectfully, realistically, and without personal bias.
TL;DR: I’m not trying to get you to read the Bible.
There’s a good bit of swearing in The Blessed Man and the Witch, mostly by certain characters. Some of them swear a great deal, some don’t as much, and others don’t at all. I included salty language for several reasons:
- I worked very closely with military veterans and law enforcement professionals for over a decade, and listened to how they talk. Most of them expanded my own blue vocabulary in ways that were both hilarious and appalling. It’s part of that culture, like it or not, so I wanted to capture that element in my book; some of the characters, after all, come from military backgrounds. If you want to write realistic dialogue, you have to listen how real people speak and model that.
- A properly placed four-letter word can shock the reader and set the stage for what’s to come next. For example, one character, with little provocation, screams four-letter words at another character early on in the book. It shows the reader that this person is unhinged without me having to say it. It was startling and horrible, and intended to be that way.
- When a character who typically doesn’t swear starts using profanity, it shows how that character is feeling stressed or otherwise beleaguered. Swearing can symbolize a loss of control. I work very hard to keep from cursing in front of my son, but sometimes an ill-advised word pops out in the heat of a frustrated moment. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who’s done this.
- There are some characters I want you to like, and some I don’t. How they speak and what they say can accomplish one or the other. I want them all to be interesting, yes, but some are just going to be more likable than others. It’s harder to like someone who’s potty-mouthed all the time, including his interior dialogue/thoughts.
I did an interview with Laurie’s Paranormal Thoughts and Reviews. Here’s an excerpt:
Plotter or Pantser? Why?
I’m definitely a plotter. I work from an outline and refine the story from there so that it makes sense. It makes for a tighter, more cohesive book. Lots of writers talk about how a certain character in their stories takes over, or does something unexpected; that’s not me. I’m in control of the story and everything in it. Working without a safety net leads, I’ve found, to potential plot holes and inconsistent characterization.
You can read the whole thing here.