Why My Beta Readers Saved My Life.

Symbolic of last night's epiphany.

Symbolic of last night’s epiphany.

I had a big hiccup yesterday. What was it?

I started reading the novel I just finished proofing, and I realized the whole first two pages were pointless expo and nothing the reader can sink his teeth into. I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Never fear! I did not. I drank some Starbucks coffee and watched Fringe for an episode, then after my thoughts were composed and amazing (AMAZING), I looked at the whole big picture.

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Book Cover Ideas

 

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So I’ve recently seen some other fantasy writers’ cover art (Aurian and Jin, among others) and it’s got me actively thinking about my own.

I’ve spend the past four years considering this book cover idea, and I’ve had several “THAT’S IT!” moments. To be perfectly frank, if this book were a baby, I’d’ve had two false labors and two botched C-Sections. Yeah. Nothing about this enjoyable piece is coming along smoothly. Actually, I’ve come to think of it more as a Pinocchio than a real boy. I redid that poor boy’s left forearm more times than anything else…

So the title was a really, really long process. The words themselves took half of Mr. King’s so-called million words, and the cover art is no better than anything else. I’m not sure if I have many followers, or watchers, or whatever, still interested in this webpage, but I want to run it by people, and if interested, you could leave your vote on your favorite book cover idea.

The tagline for the book is “Soren has run from his demons all his life, but when a priest begs him for help, he can’t help but take up arms against those in the Astral who would go to war against him. And this time? The demons are real.”

Three sentences. Yeah whatever. Given it’s book one in a series of seven (I like series of seven. I don’t know why.), It’s got a few themes. Titles, for instance. This novel is named “Of Salt and Wine,” because those are the symbols/tools most connected with the evil he fights. Book two is “Of Earth and Blood,” and so on. It’s taken from one of the lines he says in the book, 2/3rds of the way through: “Those of Salt and Wine, I come for you.” Kind of like a war cry, I guess. It was originally called “It Gave Me a Name,” because his darkness, yes, a character, gives him the name of a demon. I liked the rhythm, but it had too many words. People would get confused, I thought, so I strived to be more and more simple in my idea. It perhaps could even end up as “Salt and Wine,” although I absolutely love the “Of” at the beginning, as if it were part of a much larger thought. Which it is.

So the book cover should be as important. I began this project with the idea of a layout of symbols or tools, a la Game of Thrones or Guy Gavriel Kay’s novels. Book one would have a series of thirteen horizontal staves, or several pieces of jewelry, or better yet, a vintage 1800’s tattoo of skulls and vines and whatever the evil looks like. Several experts added their thoughts, stating the best way to sell a fantasy is to depict a scene from the book on the cover, with Magic: The Gathering-esque card art for the cover, similar to the Wheel of Time books. It would most likely have Soren standing in a septagram on the altar of a church while a big read, Diablo-inspired demon pours green liquid into a played priest’s throat. I like those ideas, but I’m thinking a little more traditional. Something I could lay out for all seven books in the series, with small but connective variations. In fact, I’ve already rough-draft finished book two. I’m that serious about this stuff.

So, I’ll run through a handful of ideas. If any single one presents more of a visceral response, please please please say something about it. I don’t mind if you’ve never been here before and are never coming back. I’d absolutely love the feedback.

1) Horizontal (or vertical) staves, all of different woods, straight, like prison bars

2) The “O” of “Of Salt and Wine” being Soren’s personal symbol, while the S of Salt is actual salt and the dot of the i in Wine is actually a goblet of wine

3) The wall of masks Soren has in his home, all looming down

4) A tattoo of Soren’s, laid over polished hardwood floor (he has twelve)

5) The Blackwood Shillelagh, his Modus Operandi for the book and most important item he uses, glowing at the bulb

6) Vintage 1800’s art in the form of a tattoo, possibly using a human or demon skull as the focal point, with dandelion leaves spread out (think this, only inked and not so 3D)

7) Closeup of a man in a suit, tightening his tie, with his sleeve cuff charred or burned or even aflame

8) Closeup of a man in a kurta, signing a mudra, the head of a snake tattoo stretching across his wrist

9) “Evolution” type silhouette, with the four demons, Jack, Olivia, and Soren, walking down the street one behind the other

10) Demon symbol for Ferrulous (circular and striking)

11) Soren at the top of the stairs, wailing at a door half-covered in tar

12) Soren in the septagram, hands up pleadingly, in the classical pose like daVinci and other Reformation artists, toward a demon

13) Soren’s childhood door, half-covered in tar, with Soren’s symbol scratched in chalk

14) A goblet of wine, ringed in salt like a Margarita

15) A man in a top-hat, face obscured, standing off-kilter to a backdrop of brick

16) A man playing chess alone in a park

 

That’s all I got. Any thoughts? 

 

Chris

My Brand of Fantasy Magic

…isn’t really fantasy at all. Magical realism, perhaps?

I recently re-watched Constantine (starring The Man of One Face: Keanu Reeves), where the protagonist spends his life fighting to keep the balance between heaven and hell via magical relics, know-how, and insight into traveling to hell and back. He’s dark, brooding, quippy, and so self-destructive he’s dying of lung cancer. It’s a delve into what I consider magical realism: people, many people, believe wholeheartedly that the ability exists (even if it’s only for one person) to… insert random miracle here. Be it travel through hell, talk to the dead, turn water to wine, transform into a totem-animal, talk to rocks, converse with ancestors long dead, see auras, dowse, possess another person/animal.

A lot of people don’t. And that’s cool. A lot of people pursue religion as a form of self-government, so instead of spending the time to understand themselves, they look to religion: “This is bad (according to the Book), so I won’t do it.” It also kills multiple birds by creating a community of similar-thinking people, which reinforces the feeling of “this is right.” Which is cool. That’s what certain governmental bodies do. And we’re governed by many circles, be it personal, family, friends, religion, spiritual (separate from religion), communal, work, local, federal, world. And that’s just what I pulled off the top. This is a digression and I’ll stop it now. I’m trying to show how this also holds its own forms of power: any single one of these bubbles could specify “this is bad” and a person follow it simply because, well, someone says to. Even the “personal” circle. Which in itself is a form of mind control.

I had a simple purpose when I began writing twelve years ago: have fun, connect with people, share my thoughts. It’s still the same purpose, albeit a little evolved. My thoughts developed into something a little stronger: magic is real. Some magic is real. Not all. Magic Missiles and two hundred foot orc giants with enchanted tree trunks for armor isn’t. Science keeps trying to say it has all the answers worth knowing (while people touting Science as the new religion also try to say, like a marijuana enthusiast, Science has ALL the answers), but it doesn’t. Neil deGrasse Tyson recently said, “That’s what’s so great about science. You don’t have to believe in it for it to be true. It exists without your permission.”

Mostly.

I know enough about Science to know the importance of “observable” and “human fallacy.” I’ve been reading about human beings having more than five senses. More like nine. Pressure, balance to name two. It really doesn’t matter how often Science revises what truths it accepts as fact. What matters is it’s always changing in its definition, always updating its databases.

Next, to define science into two subcategories: hard science (physics for one) and soft science (psychology for two). I know too many well-meaning Science worshippers who put it all together. Soft sciences, the stuff our thoughts are made of, the stuff of our dreaming, of our extra-sensories, of our deeper knowledge, of our abstract pattern recognitions, is very wide open and mostly unexplored, despite the 100 or so years we’ve had to study it. Why? Unobservable. Or, difficult to observe. Assumptions based on calculations and patterns of tests.

Magic is a soft science. In fact, eventually, all that “magic” will fall into some sub-sub category of either a sense or quirk of one or two chromosomes in some errant mutative family line (or, you know, something a person develops through meditation and a proven set of practices). Since our realities are subjected to the extent of our senses, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–to say I can’t dream another person’s dreams, for example. Or travel a place constructed wholly of peoples’ thoughts, over time, like a great big living world placed overtop our own. Or fight constructs of modern religion with sheer self-certainty alone.

We all give off energy. That’s a fact. We exist because of it. Byproducts of processes going in in our bodies. We can’t see it. We assume the effect of said energy release is negligible to our surroundings simply because, since we can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

I find a new awakening going on, in this culture. In this society. A long, long time ago, during the time of the birthing religions (200 BC to, say, 1000 AD), the understanding exploded of a second, third, and perhaps even fourth sublayer above the Real. This is the stuff of the new old religions. It is the backbone. Now that religion is failing so many people of this time of “Scientific Certainty,” they’re turning to Science and Atheism. Which is cool. They do their thing. As long as they aren’t killing in the name of Neil deGrasse Tyson, it’s all gravy.

The New Reformation, I guess, comes. Or a Second Enlightenment. I’m only sorry I don’t get to know it fully.

So the magic I use in my writing comes from a deep place, a sub-tonal to the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the Gitas, and the Books of the Dead, and whatever else. It comes from a constructed place–a governing place similar to those I listed–where the reality is multi-faceted, science is currently too short-sighted to involve itself, and energy talks with the voice of long-dead preachers. The magic I use is energy, plain and pure, built up on the shoulder-plates of imaginative thinkers and socio-pariahs like Einstein and Twain and Jung who, in another century (or life), would be heralded as prophets or even gods.

My brand of fantasy magic comes from the coupling of intelligent thought and passionate realization, of fever dreams and deep stillness. My brand of magic is the extent of the human condition, of spirituality that exists for itself, of ripe power sieved through governing filters. And that’s just in the reality.

In my writing, it collects the results of What Ifs and runs tests until the pattern is undeniable in its repetition.

Sorry. Magic is a lot of things. For me, it must stem from reality. It must stem from science and its branches are religion. Its fruits are you and I, the readers and writers, and it’s more than simply an axe-like tool. It’s a whole undiscovered place, like a continent with slightly different rules. It’s a way of breathing. It’s a way of bleeding. It’s a way of interaction.

It’s so. Fucking. Sexy.

Reality Spiked the Punch

I don’t think I could get any more vague with this title.

So I have an upcoming publication, which fulfills a lifelong dream of mine: to have my own work on my shelf, beside my other favorite writers, and not just in a 3 ring binder with stick figures on the cover. Although that might end up being the cover art, if one more artist falls through. Teach me to go to DA for commissions. (THE DESIGN IS SO SIMPLE! Designs. Plural. Possibilities.)

Anyway, I posted yesterday’s blog on my FB page and a friend of mine reminded me how long ago I started this project. Nearly six years. Now, I’ll be the first to say Real Life reared its ugly head and slowed the production of this work, let alone the nine other books I’m currently (not) writing on. I’ve rewritten the whole book (in entirety) no less than three times (see rule number one in previous post. Practice practice practice), and as a stroke of luck managed to move to St. Louis to beef up location/setting, changing some obvious small-town stupid I injected in the book.

The point of my story is this: time helped. Time changed things. Time developed things. I developed. I’m an extroverted introvert, and I love people. I love learning about them. Knowing them. Seeing what makes them tick. I developed myself (and my characters) from two dimensional stereotypes into complicated, damaged, imperfect people. Not all of them, mind you. Some are just fabulous. And they’ll remain fabulous come hell or high water. Or boiling hell-water. Sounds painful.

I’m simply excited. Several people have extended their surprise that I’m still working on the project, still writing, still proofing. I don’t think a lot of people understand that writing is an integral part of me. Some people’s passions are teaching, or architecture, or volleyball, where they find the most thorough fulfillment in doing what they love they can’t imagine doing anything else with their free time. I’m this way with writing. With the job I’m currently working, I was wholly unable to attend to my passion, my fulfilling grace, my writing, and it nearly destroyed me. It didn’t destroy the passion, mind you: I’d always have it. I’ll always daydream and dream and mentally explode in times of peace and calm. I simply won’t create anything out of it. It’ll fizzle and die, like little tadpoles in a mason jar full of water.

So in this current space, I’ve found the intoxication of St. Louis, my character, and the complicated idea of psychological warfare. I’ve rekindled my obsessive love for the word, and it feels really great. One step closer.

Chris

If you prefer a more personal discourse, you can find me at heissererwriter@gmail.com. I’d love to hear any opinions you have about writing, politics, religion, whatever. 🙂

“Of Salt and Wine,” an Overview

Urban fantasy conjures thoughts of oily streets and gritty dialogue, where the whole city seems to change shape at night, and sometimes (As Pollack’s City’s Son novel shows) even the buildings wake up to wage war. Born partially out of the Harry Potter womb of (what I’d call) Classical British Fantasy, partially out of a new generation of D&D/MTG/WoW players (and the crossbred explosion that is Butcher’s Dresden files), and partially out of a growing number of equally interested women partaking in said fantasy/games/writing, UF has cornered the fantasy shelves like Stephen King and Koontz cornered horror back in the ’80’s. UF could even be seen as Horror Lite (with all the aspartame your squirmy little brain needs to cloud out for a while). But it isn’t. There is no Metallica backing this genre, only alternative about being radioactive, or haunted and dead, or hipster emogoth. No biker gangs smoking huge cigars and reading by candlelight.

This is a new breed.

Yet, as I’ve read many Big Publishers say, UF is dying. We’ve written all we can on the subject. We’ve even exhausted sub genres of Steampunk and Cyberpunk and… Gaslight and everything else under the creaky, oily sun. What Is Left? The werewolves are overdone and diluted to 90% water, 10% adrenaline. The vampires are more spoiled kids and less immortal world changers. And the undead. Gosh, get rid of the rotting flesh and you have, well, a much more compelling story in war. Heck. Hunger Games is tapping into THAT niche. And Divergent. And all the spinoff Urban Scifi to come.

My Urban Fantasy novel is different. It breathes through the real world. It steps back, behind the curtain, to examine the stuff that comes from a deeper place. Think Poe. Think Lovecraft. Think the earth-thumping, soul-twisting stuff that made Christianity so terrifying back in the dark ages. Think dead poets like Peguey, forgotten pieces from Stoker, from the Gitas, from the Book of Judas, the ravings of Jung’s forbidden diary. Real-world experience, from a real-world shaman, tapping softly on drums so well you hear them in your dreams.

Demons. Doppelgängers. Shadows that know your name. Old gods. Mysticism exhaled with a tremble. All those things you know is real, but science hasn’t quite. Caught. Up. To explain. Sometimes, it’s downright quantum.

But that’s later.

This is the story of a broken man, and of the priest who tries to save him–no. This is the story of a desperate priest who seeks guidance from a world-weary shaman. No. Not quite. This is the story of a church. A church where all the dark things were allowed to grow strong and full, where one priest in a long line of corrupted men decides to fight his way back out. This is the story of the husk of a man who decides to help his fellows through a belief system only barely emerged from the religious soup that is Paganism, Judeo-Christianity, and Buddhism. Armed with a special form of understanding the world–or perhaps a world that only he sees–and a collection of artifacts he’s collected over his twenty-six years, Soren steps out of mourning and into a war only a very broken, or very brilliant, man could survive.

Those of Salt and Wine, he comes for you a-haunting.

~CHeisserer