How Do You Choose?

Random writing, today.

I’m working on the fantasy series I want to write.  Unfortunately, the series I have in my mind is…well…it’s at least two different series.  Two different ones, but both do I want to write.  Both have characters I like, and stories I believe in.

How do you choose?

The worst torture the Romans could ever dish out was simple: line up the entire the family, then ask the father which child lived and which died.  The father always gave the Romans whatever they wanted.

So, for me, which story lives, and which dies?  Into which story do I plunge the dagger?

Okay, so no story every really dies…but putting one off for a couple of years (at the minimum) feels a whole lot like killing it…

Like that father, how do you choose?

No, really, how do you choose?

The story not of the young kid who wields a magic sword to become king, but rather the story of the sword so dedicated that he seeks out the last survivor of “his” family…

Or the story of the bitter immortal — the “angel” exiled for his part in the lost war in heaven — who wants nothing more than the grey numbness of oblivion…

I love Connor and Oz.  Err…well…Connor is a great character, and a great narrator, but it is Oz who I actually love.  It is Oz who is my favorite character.  But their time is coming to a close.  Once their third story is written, that’s it.

Hell, if I’m honest, there never should have been more than one.  Somewhere Peaceful to Die was written to have no sequel…but I couldn’t let those characters go.  The Silence That Never Comes and The Flicker of Ghosts came (are coming) because I couldn’t let go of those two characters.  But the time has come to finally let go…

So what fills the blank?  The stories of devotion and innocence that drove my youth?  My take on the Belgariad and the Chronicles of Amber and the Lord of the Rings?  Or…

Or…

Or, a more deeply personal tale?  A tale built on experience and reality?  A tale of a weary life lived among those far younger?  A tale of bitterness and loss amidst the joys and innocence of youth…?

It would help, of course, if one had a character that stood out more for me than the other…but both call to me:

Finntan’s hope, the innocence of his life, and the dedication of the magic items that dedicate themselves to him…

Versus the world weary insouciance of Runae…versus the concept of the once-great wanting nothing more than the forgetfulness of death…

How do you pick which child lives and which dies?

How do you choose between the hope and love that you wish the world was, and the bitter pain that you know the world actually is?

I tried conflating them, I really did.

Yeah, it was worse than you think it was.

Those two cannot be combined.  Not in any way.  I tell either Finntan’s story, or I tell Runae’s.  I can’t combine the two…not any more than I can plan out to a third series!

*sigh*

This is why, of course, writers get paid the…ahem…small bucks.

If I had wanted to get rich, I would’ve been a plumber.

Musical Note — the song below is one I love. It is a song that has not specifically been a part of anything I’ve conceived or written, but rather has elements that touch on everything I’ve written (not to mention having the best song line ever: “If you’ve never stared off into the distance / Then your life Is a shame”)…

Faith, and the Loss Thereof

Okay, so I think I’m over my fit of temper from the last post.

Err…

Well…

I think I’m willing to work through it, anyway…and that’s almost as good, isn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong, I still think WordPress has achieved an entirely new level of moronicity* with their changes, but I’m going to try and struggle through.  And, yeah, some of that willingness to struggle is the ubercompetitive pride that I usually try to hide: I ain’t gonna let any other sonofabitchasswagon beat me! The less said about that side of my personality, the better.

*Why am I a sci-fi/fantasy writer?  Because I freaking LOVE to make up words!

Ahem.

So, where does that intro lead me?

Not into the following post, as a matter of a fact.

I, err…

Look, when the hell have I ever planned one of these posts?!  Yeah, yeah…I come in with an idea of what I want to talk about, but that original idea generally lasts about as long as a Twinkie at a table of 7th graders.  Once I start hitting the keys — once the words start to flow — that original plan is nothing more than a barely remembered aftertaste…

There’s been a conspiracy of late.  No, not THAT conspiracy!  No Satan-worshipping pedophile deep-state resistance for me, thank you very much.  No, this conspiracy is worse.  It’s a conspiracy of those I love, and those I read, and the world itself.  It is a conspiracy to remind of that which I no longer am; of that which I have left behind.

I just finished a new fantasy series that really put the capstone onto this “conspiracy.”  The first two books in the trilogy were good.  Good, but not Tolkien/Jordan/Martin good.  Just good.  They were also pretty basic, with not a lot of undercurrent and subtext to go with the plot and characters.  Then the third book…the third book went and pulled the rest of the clubs out of the bag.

Oh, the message wasn’t what you would call subtle…not even close, in fact.  This was CS Lewis-style allegorical fantasy, rather than Tolkien-style high fantasy.*

*If you don’t know the differing views and philosophies those two close friends brought to their respective works, you should probably go back and study more…

The backdrop for this is that I used to be a Christian.  I still consider something of a Christian, although I am far, far closer to a Deist than to any of the **intentionally skipping controversial comments here** flavors of “Christianity” that so dominate the US today.

So what got me to thinking about this?

That third book.  I copied out and emailed to myself several quotes from that book, but I’m only going to use here the first of those.  Mainly because it was the one that got me to thinking, but also because it is the one that I think has the most to say to modern US-style Christianity (note — I’m editing the quote here to be more general, but book details are at the end of this post):

“Because that’s not how it works. Faithful people suffer and evil people prosper all the time[…]you must know that is true. Besides, if our actions are driven only by reward or punishment—eternal or otherwise—then they are motivated by greed and selfishness, not faith or love. That is where so many people go wrong, even those who say they believe in [God]. They obey because they think it will make their lives better, rather than themselves. And that is very much the wrong reason.”

Why am I not a Christian?  Two reasons I’ll give you — and a third I will keep to myself, thank you very much.

The first, and primary, of those is that US-style Christianity is all about fear and punishment and force.  Do this or go to hell.  Live like this or go to hell.  Believe this or go to hell.

That there is some Kool-Aid-drinking, mind-control bullshit…especially when fed to children.  If a “god” loved me so much he would send me to Hell for even questioning, I’m quite happy to play for another team.

The second of the reasons is that Christians — mostly, but not exclusively, US-style — can’t leave well enough alone.  They can’t let anyone else get on with their life if that life conflicts with their own prejudices and intolerance.  And, yes, this second reason is basically a subset of the first…

But every so often my own prejudices and snap-judgments get challenged.  Every so often you talk to, or listen to, or read, that person who can iterate something different.  The best stories, by the way, can iterate something different.  Oh, it doesn’t have to be religion — arguable, shouldn’t be — but it has to be something meaningful.

Why do Joe Haldeman and Ursula LeGuin and Robert Heinlein and George Orwell still resonate as sci-fi writers?  Because they wrote far more than they wrote.  Their words were about more than plot and character, their words were about the freaking world…about life, and all the bullshit that goes with it.

I’m not going to hold James Islington up in that company — his books were good, but nothing near that good — but he gets all the credit in the world for making me think and question my usual knee-jerk dismissal of “message” writing.

My rule on this, by the way, is if the writer is someone with whom I would like to sit down and have a drink and talk through what they wrote. The list of such writers is pretty stinking small, but Islington (and his message) has made his way onto it.

Well done, sir.

**Note — The specific book in question is “The Light of All That Falls” from the Licanius Trilogy by James Islington.

The Book I Want to Read

brain1-e1312872869675-281x300I thought about a couple of topics for today. I even had a couple of posts worked up in my mind. Then my brain turned into old cheese, and…well…there ain’t much left in there at this point in time.

Erm…

Okay, so instead of trying to dredge up those sparkling, all-star, award-winning — and lost — ideas, I’ll just go with what I was thinking about as I drove to the coffee shop this morning: a book I wish had been written.

This whole train of thought came about after reading some interviews with Robert Jordan from a few years ago. Now, Jordan* is most famous for passing away with 3 books remaining in his 14-volume magnum opus, The Wheel of Time, but he was a man who most definitely was far more than “just” a massively successful fantasy writer. More on that later.

*A pen name, by the way, but I’ll stick with it as that is how he is best known. Yay for all us pen-name users!

WoT is a great series, by the way, even if it can be infuriating as hell, even frustrating at times. Jordan’s talent as a writer puts him solidly among the very few at the top of the mountain. It also happens to be a favorite of mine; I’ve read those 4+ million words several times, in fact…

But the story of the Dragon Reborn and the White Tower (and all the dozens of other subplots) is NOT the story Jordan set out originally to write. No, the original vision of the story was about an old soldier returning home from his final war. It was a story intended to be about his efforts to rebuild a life, and a spirit, all-but destroyed by war…only to be forced to take part in yet one more fight.

I want to read that story. I want to read about that old soldier.* I want to read Jordan’s insights and emotions on that topic. I want to read it not because of his undeniable talent as a writer, but because he lived it. Jordan’s take on the end of his time in Vietnam is chillingly honest and impactful, especially to those of us with friends and loved ones who have their own demons and memories of combat. Those words, and the wisdom behind them, get to the heart of who Jordan is as a man, and as a writer…and to the heart of the book I wish I could have read.

*Rand’s father, Tam, if you’re familiar at all with the Wheel of Time series.

Here is part of the passage about his time in Vietnam that I found so powerful:

I have, or used to have, a photo of a young man sitting on a log eating C-rations with a pair of chopsticks. There are three dead NVA laid out in a line just beside him. He didn’t kill them. He didn’t chose to sit there because of the bodies. It was just the most convenient place to sit. The bodies don’t bother him. He doesn’t care. They’re just part of the landscape. The young man is glancing at the camera, and you know in one look that you aren’t going to take this guy home to meet your parents. Back in the world, you wouldn’t want him in your neighborhood, because he is cold, cold, cold. I strangled that SOB, drove a stake through his heart, and buried him face down under a crossroad outside Saigon before coming home, because I knew that guy wasn’t made to survive in a civilian environment. I think he’s gone. All of him. I hope so.

I didn’t originally plan this post to be solely about Robert Jordan, and about Tam’s unwritten story, but the man has had a profound effect on me as both reader and writer…too great an effect, in fact, to shortchange. He is a major part of the reason — alongside Zelazny, Eddings, Cherryh, LeGuin, Feist, Tolkien and Heinlein — why I write sci-fi and fantasy. For that reason, among others, I owe him a debt I can never repay…

216D3D4C-DEC0-4D48-ACF1-622DAA638CCEPost Script:

This post, by the way, did touch off some thinking about a (necessary) follow-up. A follow-up that will take a great deal more thought, and more time, however, than I generally give to these posts. It’s going to be a post for which I will actually have to do research: the impact of (real) war on sci-fi and fantasy. Jordan wasn’t alone in having his battlefield experiences profoundly affect his writing: from Tolkien in the trenches in WWI, to Haldeman and Jordan (and a host of others) in Vietnam, the realities of combat have shaped some of the best works we have in the field…and that’s without touching on the all-time greats that I love, writers like Graves and Tolstoy and Wouk…

Updated: because I suck at editing.

Update #2: I didn’t think I had to explain — mostly because I buy into the writing theory that you explain only what you have to — but I’ve had a couple of private questions on the passage above, so here is the explanation I avoided before: the photo in question is of Jordan himself, and the “man” he killed is what he had become during the war…

The Revenge of Micro-Fiction Friday

No contest or challenge, this time…just “navigating small” and writing the words that come…

1) “Dreams of Smoke”

I tried so hard to hold it, the memory of the dream.

Even after everything, the dreams were still there…the dreams we had shared.

But so was work, and family, and all the trappings of life the way it was supposed to be. But supposed to be doesn’t include dreams. Supposed to be doesn’t leave room for could be.

I stood in that room, surrounded by white and green, surrounded by all the little lights and the beeping machines. Surrounded by fear, and by loss. I tried to hold on to her, tried to hold on to the dream.

A touch on my shoulder, and a gentle voice. One last squeeze of her hand, then. One last chance for the dream to come true…but the harder I held, the more the dream turned to smoke, drifted away.

I turned and left, broken. Like what could be, she was gone…and so was the dream.

 

2) “If Only You’d Known Me Then”

The endless summer of my younger days. Nights under the stars, sharing dollar-booze and thoughts that cost the world. Trysts under the overpass, tearing at each others’ clothes. Days under the sun, before the coming of autumn and winter. When I was invincible and immortal…when I was young.

“If only you’d known me then…” I whispered.

Before life took its toll. Before reality and consequences. Before regrets.

She reached a hand — her touch was light, barely there. I hesitated, stopped, trapped by what I was at that moment. Broken and frail, weak in ways my younger self would never understand. Could never understand.

I couldn’t help her, couldn’t help myself. If only she’d known me then…

There were no tears: I remembered enough of the strength I once possessed to be strong one last time. There were no tears…but no words, either.  I wasn’t that strong.

Her frail hand was shaking almost as much as mine. “I know you now,” she said gently, lovingly.

 

3) “The News”

“I have money — you don’t have to worry about that,” he stammered, his mind several steps behind reality.

Her hand on his arm, a smile that was no smile. “It’s not that, and you know it.”

Laughing screams from the nearby playground brought a flinch. A look over, a glimpse of those kids, and it all came crashing home.

“But…what can I do?”

A shake of her head, then. “I just wanted to give you the news myself, before you heard it from someone else. I’ve already been to the clinic.”

The news changed everything.

 

Behind-the-scenes notes:

1) “Dreams of Smoke” started as a very different story. What I had originally envisioned, however, just didn’t come together, so I put it aside. When I came back to it, a few days later, I had 125 words and a broken story. I put on an album and got working to “fix” it. The only part of the original I truly stuck with was the limit of 200 words, and the “vision” of dreams disappearing like smoke. I’m still not sure if it worked.

2) “If Only You’d Known Me Then” is a story about age…about getting old, and everything that goes with that. It is, to be honest, intended to be the opposite sentiment to Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, but drawn from the same well. Trying to do all of that in 150 words may have been over-ambitious…

3) “The News” is autobiography. The moment that changed the universe for me…and that’s all I’m going to say about it.