As Hal wheeled his shopping cart past the beeping cash registers, he told himself that he wouldn’t meet the greeter’s friendly gaze when he went past the security posts. The greeter looked old, decades older than Hal’s own sixty-three, and the thought of being like him, having to make a living by standing in front of a goddamned Wal-Mart bellowing insincere bullshit at people all day long scared the hell out of him.
I was employed by what was called “the world’s most dangerous publisher” for twelve years. During that time, I worked very closely with firearms experts, martial artists, self-defense gurus, knife-fighting instructors, and other individuals with specialized skills relating to violence in almost all of its various forms. Part of my employment also included becoming intimately familiar with the publisher’s extensive library of books and videos, as well as trade magazines like Guns & Ammo, Black Belt, and Soldier of Fortune.
I learned all kinds of interesting things, like the difference between cover and concealment; how the physiological effects of imminent danger change your perception of time; and how to build a forge in the dirt with a plastic trash bag, PVC pipe, and a section of railroad. Over time, what I discovered wasn’t something explicitly taught, but absorbed over a period of years: everything I thought I knew about violence was wrong.
Like many of you, most of what I knew about violence was what I’d picked up through media representations of violence, not the real thing. As it does with so many things, entertainment media gets it completely wrong. The reason for this is, in part, because the writers, directors, and actors of your favorite TV shows and movies don’t know any more about how to handle a real firearm than anyone else.
Here’s an example: in the early 1940’s, Col. Rex Applegate developed what was called “The School for Spies and Assassins” for the OSS, the forerunner to today’s CIA. One of the things that Applegate found most difficult when teaching young spies how to point shoot (fire a handgun accurately at relatively close distances without using the sights) was getting them to stop jerking the gun like Tom Mix and Roy Rogers in the westerns. These young spies, you see, had seen the cowboys in the movies shooting like that, so they emulated them at Applegate’s firing range. If those men had already been so influenced by what they’d seen at the movies, how badly skewed do you think our own perceptions of violence must be today?
Real-world violence is short, brutal, messy, and unspeakably ugly. These things are extremely difficult to portray accurately in entertainment media, including books. What I attempted to do in The Blessed Man and the Witch was describe violence in more realistic terms so that the characters would behave as actual people do when facing the unspeakable. I don’t glorify it, but instead use it to build suspense and horror.
The massive disconnect between the pirouetting gunmen in a John Woo film and the awful savagery of a real-world ambush is the chief reason why I don’t watch overly violent movies or television shows anymore. I don’t begrudge anyone else his entertainments, nor do I sit on high and point a judgmental finger. My only intent here is to help you understand that what’s on screen (and, in many cases, on the pages) has nothing to do with what actually happens in a violent encounter. But you probably knew that already.
With that in mind, here’s a personal defense tip: being aware of your surroundings, avoiding dangerous people and/or areas, and being fit enough to run for a city block or so will get you out of most jams. A person interested in victimizing you doesn’t want a fight, he wants a victory. So who is he going to go after, someone visibly alert and ready, or someone with his face buried in a cellphone, not paying attention?
TL;DR: There’s a difference between violent movies and real life violence.
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.