The Avenging Angel Motif in Writing

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Yeah. Totally new topic. This hasn’t been discussed for, like, six thousand years already.

Revenge is a dish best served cold.
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
Revenge is sweet.
Living well is the best revenge.

None of these are always the case. And none of these directly deal with what I’m writing about.

There is a difference between Revenge and Avenge.

Avenge is a word broadly concerned with inflicting a punishment or penalty in the pursuit of justice.

Revenge is a word broadly concerned with inflicting harm or punishment for personal retaliation.

There is an overlap, but one is not always the other, and the other is not always one. Avenge is usually the elevated purpose–placing importance on an ideal or perspective–which is why “Angel” is attached to it for my blog purpose, while Revenge is considered far more animalistic–placing importance on the self, and selfish goals–and therefore considered base and self-destructive. Identifying this difference is very important. For example, Akira was vengeful. Not avenging. And he burned himself out.

I’m sure there’s a revenging demon motif. Not sure about other overlaps; revenging angel? Avenging demon? Who knows. I don’t know why I’m using so much Christian vocabulary.

We’re all in love with superheroes. The X-Men and Wonder Woman. Watchmen and Batman and Nicholas Cage in The Rock and Pacific Rim. They wake a little secret part of ourselves that have been around for a long time, perhaps part of a shared childhood ideal of swooping in and handling a situation with your own two hands.

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Mental Rambling

I usually create the title first, topic second. I have an idea in my head, but I don’t know how it’ll pan out. Thus, I write the title last. Apologies if I ramble.

This evening, I looked at myself in the mirror, and studied my facial features. It might sound strange, but I find sometimes when I look hard enough I find aspects of my characters within my face. Spend enough time on Deviantart and you’ll see your fill of eyes. As close-up as you can possibly get, natural or manufactured or mystic to the point where you’re lost in the idea of being that close to another person.

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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

Let’s Talk About Drugs!

Said the clown to the priest.

No. Writing a book based on any level of “realism” (or at the very least, depth) requires the writer to study the periphery. The periphery could involve any number of things. In fact, in fantasy (and dare I say, in reality) the possibilities are damn near endless. Writing an urban fantasy novel (UF from here on out) usually brings about images of sardine-packed apartment buildings, grungy streets, dark alleys, bricks and concrete and unnatural yellow streetlights. What good city doesn’t have those? Farther on the periphery, the main character (MC from here on out) hears dogs barking–which a friend of mine once wrote a very in-depth analysis of what part these barking dogs have in our subconscious; interesting little read–or perhaps people talking in the distance. The MC passes shadowy shapes in alleys, perhaps, or nobody at all. The MC is silhouetted against bar windows or restaurants or vacant buildings. The MC stops in front of graffiti. All important.

Yet. One major aspect of the Real Life Urban scene is drug use. I haven’t read much UF with drug use as a periphery. I don’t know why. Given I’ve never done illegal drugs, never inhaled mary jane, never rolled Ecstasy, perhaps most fantasy writers haven’t either. It’s something they know nothing about, therefore it is either overlooked or ignored in the story.

I understand it. I don’t like it. We write about dragons but not drugs? We write about hellfire but not drug-use? The only time I see much discussion of it is when it’s a pivotal point of the story, where some supernatural investigator seeks the truth in some drug-user’s death–usually, where the drug is the magical, I dunno, tool used to move the story forward. Which is cool. I love those stories. I just want more of it. Especially in UF.

And high fantasy (HF from here on out) included! What? Pirates didn’t use opiates? Your scoundrels exist in a drug-free world even though there’s an ecosystem as complex as anything that exists on Earth? Hell no. I refuse to believe it.

Now if you want a fairy tale with no drugs, that’s fine. Plain and pure and storytelling at its best? Sounds perfect. Go for it. It has its place. Drugs are a dark side to society most people want to escape from. It might not have a healthy place in your story.

But I want more of it. I want the guy that’s high as a kite, he just might, stop and check the MC out. I want the Trent Reznor-type in an intimidating-as-shit black duster roaring in the MC’s face as he’s hyped up on PCP. Why not? It’s scary. A kind of scary a lot of people don’t want to get involved with. Perhaps a little Too Real. But it’s UF. And, if you do it right, it’s a damn easy way to make an intimidating Antagonist downright terrifying.

Take The Professional, for instance. The movie made in ’91 (or was it ’94?). Gary Oldman stars as the bad guy, a crooked cop that’s actually head of the DEA. The guy’s a loose cannon. Not someone you want to play Russian Roulette with. Add his little pill he pops (literally pops) in his mouth, he transforms into something else. Every single aspect of what makes that man sane, and with boundaries, is gone. Whisked away with the intense high.

Here’s the thing. It can be just on the periphery. It can be a secondary character that simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It can be an average joe the reader trusts. And he can change in an instant. That stuff is powerful.

To extend the thought–magic. Oh crap, magic! You can have a magical drug that does nothing to most but changes a few. You can have a time-delay magical drug that simply gives all the peaceful effects of a steaming cup of tea, but have three successive loud noises, whoa Nelly! Run for the hills. It allows you to create monsters out of timid mice, sleeper agents who truly know nothing of their place, or just, heck, plain old frostbitten Josh Nobody looking to take the edge off his gangrenous foot. For as long as humanity has existed, drugs have coincided. Alcohol aside! I think there’s a huge market for any writer willing to get his fingers dirty, understanding drugs and, farther in, humanity’s need of them.

A professor once told me to use the rule of ten doors. Major decisions require ten outcomes. Write them down. Pick the best. Go to a smaller choice. Rule of ten. Write them down. Choose the best. And so on. It helps with writer’s block and everything. It also does a great job of painting the picture when it comes to drug use: drugs have different effects for different people, even the same dose. It makes for wonderful storytelling and, given the magic world the MC lives in, could possibly turn bad into worse or good into terrible.

I’ll do it now!

Dashing Tom Perfect just had a run-in with Josuha Random Reefer Toking while on his way to deliver a medallion!

1) He puts his head down and ignores him, creating foreshadowing for JRR Toking later in the story
2) He takes a moment to listen to JRR Toking and his far-out stories of Nevernever Earth and inadvertently adds humor to the otherwise stoic, dry story
3) He realizes Mr. Toking is smoking Magical Marijuana, and any contact high could relinquish DTP’s perfect mental control over himself, creating small conflict
4) He listens to JRR Toking, who is really an escaped torture victim for (Antagonist’s name here), and he can only survive this hellish life by smoking the reef and drifting through the world as a vagrant
5) JRR Toking is smoking to get up the courage to talk to Dashing Tom, because he has Vital Information!
6) DTP has had a negative experience with potheads, where his half-brother (half-elf) smoked too much pot and burned his life away to mediocrity, despite having a brilliant mind. DTP therefore puts Toking in a choke-hold and ties him up in the back of his pedivan.
7) DTP smells more than marijuana on JRR Toking’s breath, recognizing the effects of a much more damaging drug, the Soulfie, where JRR Toking slowly gives his soul away to a powerful douche-cerer.
8) JRR Toking is a conspiracy theorist who loves to think about the possibility of a universe whole-mind, where everyone can talk to each other psychically and nobody has to poop. That’s all. Oh and he’s a cunning thief in disguise and steals the medallion.
9) DTP recognizes the sociopolitical ramifications of JRR Toking walking the streets in such rags–but wait, isn’t that the insignia of a freedom fighting group he wears as a patch on his skinny jeans?
10) JRR Toking reminds DTP of a friend DTP once had, stops the man, talks to him a moment, and realizes the poor bastard is a war vet with A WHOLE LOT OF STORIES TO TELL. And firearms training.

Alrighty. That’s just one line of decisions, all rife with information. I’m not feeling particularly inspired at the moment (Really stressed) so I bypassed some of the deeper thoughts. Any one of those decisions could lead to another major decision. So on and so forth.

So. I advocate drug use. In fantasy novels.

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.

Update on the Novel

First off, I logged another rejection. She was nice, said she read query and 10 pages with “great interest” and had to turn it down. I don’t know if it’s a form letter or not. Regardless, it prompted another two hour long session rewriting my query. I have two other finished (rough draft) novels that have synopsis and query finished. First try, hit it just right, felt great. It Gave Me a Name is turning into a monster of its own. Nothing is right. Perhaps, then, I’m being needlessly complicated with either the book, the query, or both.

Which brings me to the book. I wrote it, initially, as some kind of supernatural Sherlock Holmes-esque mystery pulled taut between actual magic practices and a man who questions his reality daily. I had fun characters interact, but left no space for much of their voices because my MC demanded so much time. The sad part of all this is, unfortunately, I’ve never studied Doyle. In fact I’ve rarely studied any single writer in great detail except Poe and Lovecraft.

So the reactions for this book one (I have since finished book two of the series) were mixed, but on the low end. The MC was too preachy, insecure, selfish. The climax was ultimately a cop-out. The information was complicated, complex, and poorly executed. In short, it was an experiment gone horribly wrong.

I’ve learned this after three rewrites and three years’ time looking at work–my own and others. I’m constantly improving as a writer. Unfortunately right now I’m also constantly regressing to an older writing style that was incredibly perfect. A style I eschewed for the sake of writing what the audience wanted. Apparently, I imagined the audience wanted a poorly designed, poorly executed book.

This rewrite is the slowest of all of them. Unlike the previous two, where I put band-aids over the scenes that were hurting the worst, I’m amputating and fertilizing (talk about a mixed metaphor). I’ve cut whole scenes out, I’ve added whole scenes in. My secondary is now following my MC like a puppy (or, should I say, apprentice). My MC is less emo, much less preachy. The “Bad Guys” are much more available. The plot is thickening. The ending will be entirely rewritten.

And I’m removing all those thematic ideas I wanted in the first place. My MC practices magic. Only this magic was, originally, based wholly on the real world. I’m the kind of writer that likes to make my fantasy a twist on reality, where everything is the same as this world except one thing. The smaller the better. It used to be that my MC could clearly see the dead and demonic: everything people suppose in real life, MC knows (if anyone has read it, Koontz’s Odd Thomas is similar). Due to this knowing the MC is mentally damaged and easily confused. He questions himself because he doesn’t know whether he’s truly seeing his dead girlfriend, whether he’s thinking about her and his mind created her image, or he’s looking in the eyes of a demonic shapeshifter. His magic worked because he believed it did, and he practiced such stringent mental exercise he could handle the constant flux of information. I ran the line of reality pretty tight.

Now, I added a part two: his magic works because it’s magic, and despite whether he believes in it or not, if he does it properly, says it properly, his magic works regardless. It’s easing the burden of writing this, I think, though I feel, in a different way, I’m selling out. Don’t get me wrong–I love writing magic. I have seven (unfinished) high fantasy books. I wrote my reaction to Harry Potter series. But this is supposed to be not so much magical realism, but realist magic. If that makes sense.

People might find it ridiculous how much science goes into what I write. Or they won’t even notice.

Anyway, stream-of-consciousness over, I’m on page 134 of 202 and making some very strong progress. I might rename it Secret Demon Secrets. Blah. Can’t get a straightforward anything from this book.

~x

Tranceport

No. It isn’t a mistype.

I was mystified–and disinterested–by the term “Astral Travel” from around 8 years old when I first heard it until three years ago when my (then) girlfriend explained what it meant.

It means falling into a trance, for any reason, and going somewhere else. A daydream. A night-dream. A vision. LSD trips. Flashbacks. Narcolepsy.

Some people might disagree. I’m not referring to Out of Body Experiences (OBE) or any other psychic or psychological phenomenon. In some circles, this definition is too limited. I understand.

According to my fiancee, it is also a place where spirit energy goes. This makes sense to me. We, as a society, don’t understand the underground processes our mind goes though when we sleep: we don’t fully understand what goes on with our subconscious self, as Freud called the Id (a dark place that has no true reference to time: timeless and eternal), and perhaps we will never know.

The spirits might not even be Real (capitalized to denote spatial separation between the Real, a state of existence, and Reality, or a combination of several states). Spirits don’t have to be real. They usually aren’t, literally, Real. (Imaginary? No. Too simplified. Real vs Imagined is the Atheist’s dream. I’m no atheist. Boiling the world down to Us vs Them, Man vs Woman, Rich vs Poor only epitomizes the One Story strategy [see Ted Talks with Chimamanda Adichie]. Use it in hypothetical philosophical debate, and not in the real world.) They’re Astral. They’re energy buildup that your body interprets one way. Like a hologram. This is science. This isn’t, literally, where science is. But it will be.

Now. What does this have to do with writing? Very good question.

First, my books focus on the Astral quite a bit. It’s a “reality,” and I boil the strategy down to a very basic place. It shares borders with the Real and, consequently, a place my fiancee calls the Dreamscape, which is a place wholly of when the conscious parts of our minds inverts to unconscious.

Second, and more important, visiting the Astral plane isn’t mystic at all. I mean, it can be. For someone who cares little and focuses less on abstract thought, the Astral is just voodoo. Just like someone who doesn’t play golf cares two pents about strategy, dog-legging, and golf ball construction. It’s all Greek to whomever doesn’t put value in it.

Third, and most important, it’s where I get everything for writing. It’s where a lot of people’s creativity comes from, but they don’t look at it that way: trial and error is one way, mimicry is another, and the Astral is a third. No, I will not call it “Dreaming,” because it isn’t. It’s similar, like playing a violin is to playing a guitar, but it’s not the same.

Many of my friends, my two brothers, and writers I’ve read find inspiration here. They all label it differently, of course. My older younger brother (Let’s call him Brian, for discussion sake) dreams lucid dreams every time he dreams. He controls, separates, manipulates. Brian finds inspiration in his mapwork. My younger younger brother (let’s call him Lucas) went into explicit detail about how synapses, axioms, and relay paths work to explain to me how he’s coming to the same conclusion through separate research. Yes. You may dissect it as you will. He isn’t wrong. None of us is. As long as you find a place to put it, you aren’t wrong. That’s the beauty of a belief system: if you believe it, then it is.

Not always, but in this case…

So my fiancee said, yesterday, that my best writing comes out when I’m in a kind of trance. Three years ago I would have been skeptical, injecting all my own definitions for Trance and Inspiration and all that, but she’s right.

For me, writer’s block is a separation from this trance. When you’re “in the zone,” you’re somewhere else. I get angry at so few things in this world. One, extreme hunger within my caffeinated body. Two, when someone breaks my trance. Why? Because I have a tether to something, and it’s my lifeblood.

I know not everyone writes this way: some people are methodical, focused, dedicated to the trial-and-error, the mimicry, and the researched reality. I can’t. I’ll never be able to construct a believable story through studying history, manuscripts, biographies, newspapers alone. I’ll never be able to paint a picture by looking at another picture. Not well.

So I invite anyone to study the Astral from the lens of something not wholly separate from you, not something only the crystal-suckers from black hills Nevada can do. It’s connected to everyone. It connects everyone.

I’d love to hear from others who have similar thoughts. I’m learning as I go, and most of what I’ve learned comes from my fiancee.

I also consider this a quantum theory, but I’m not going to delve into that, since I have no background in physics.