Archive for December, 2014

Religion Without God

December 29, 2014 Leave a comment

Ceremony does something for people independent of their theological views. Moreover, these rituals work, if by “work” we mean that they change people’s sense of their lives. It turns out that saying that you are grateful makes you feel grateful. Saying that you are thankful makes you feel thankful.

Categories: Religion

Updated Kickstarter Preview Page and Cover Art Sketch

December 16, 2014 Leave a comment

I have expanded and updated the Kickstarter Preview Page for Snow White – The Mirror’s Revenge. It now includes the backstory that makes this telling unique.”

Here is the pencil sketch of the album cover, by Jeslyn Cantrell. The full color painting will also be imprinted on black concert t-shirts.

Snow White - Final Sketch_Corrected

Please tell your friends about the Kickstarter project. The campaign runs December 31, 2014 thru January 30, 2015. I need your support to get the word out.

Categories: Writing

Wrestling with Angels, Demons, and Gods

December 8, 2014 Leave a comment


One way to tie the magic in your story to the characters is to have their religion drive the fantasy. This usually means introducing angels, demons, or gods into the plot. I like seeing this done right, and I have done it a lot myself. Here are a few pointers I have picked up along the way.

You first have to decide if your supernatural influences are impersonal and distant or personal and close at hand. In other words, is magic being driven by a disembodied god on high, or an angel standing in front of you? Either way can work, but there are right ways and wrong ways of doing either.

The wrong way to have a distant god is to have him be silent until the end of the story and then have him intervene and solve the conflict. This is known as Deus ex Machina, and it is cheating the reader. The protagonists have struggled throughout the story to learn and get to the end, and the reader has stuck with them through thick and thin, only to find their knowledge and efforts are not enough, and their distant god has to step in and help. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Steven Spielberg wanted to make a point about God versus the Nazis, so he played the Deus ex Machina card face up where everyone could see it. Everything Indy and Marian do, all they learn, the round-the-world adventure they have, leads to nothing. They haven’t stopped the Nazis from getting the ark, they haven’t stopped anything the bad guys have tried to do. In the end they are tied up and helpless. God steps in, kills the bad guys, story over. Mr. Spielberg was making a statement. This is actually bad storytelling. Do not imitate this tactic.

In my fantasy romance Mermaid Steel, the mermaid god of the ocean, Rorra, is a disembodied god, but she exerts subtle influences on daily life under the sea. The Merrow’s faith in Rorra is constantly reinforced by her presence in their lives. The Merrow attribute their intuition to Rorra speaking to them. They accept their lot as what Rorra has decided is enough for them. So when racial tension between the Merrow and their human neighbors boils over into armed conflict, and our heroes run out of options, Rorra sees a chance to guide events. She doesn’t solve the problem outright. Instead she gives the Merrow an opportunity to change things, in the form of a typhoon. Rorra’s intervention requires a lot of additional work to become a solution, so the protagonists are not left standing by useless. Rorra’s stepping in also makes sense in the context of how we have seen her act throughout the story.

The further you go back into history, the more personalized the supernatural beings seem to be. The angels and demons in the Vedas and the Old Testament are incarnate beings you can meet or run away from. This was driven by context. The world was seen as vast, and the typical audience had limited travel and knowledge. Even gods had to travel and could only be in one place at a time. The ancient Polynesians believed an erupting volcano wasn’t something Pele created, but rather it was the manifestation of the goddess herself. Similarly, the ancient Greeks believed you could trick a god or escape his finding you. Several of the gods of the ancient Egyptians started out as humans and remained physically finite even after they were granted immortality and powers. In the Old Testament, Jonah tries to hide from God after he has behaved badly, believing he can escape to a heathen country by sea. Of course God sends the Leviathan to eat him. Omnipresence and omniscience were reserved only for the top gods in the pantheons, if even for them.

In the Isis Rising Trilogy (The Chosen, Daughter Cell, and Isis Rising) I tackled the challenge of writing the Devil as a character. Actually, it was the Old Testament fallen archangel Sammael. On God’s orders, he was cast out of heaven by the archangel Michael. He tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden. In The Chosen, he hardens Ramses’ heart against Moses. In Daughter Cell, he tempts Young Nae Yoon into madness. And oh yes, he is back in Isis Rising. He is sometimes referred to in the Old Testament as Satan, but he was elevated to being the godlike source of all evil in the New Testament and the Koran. I prefer the older, more personal version. I can put a face on that one.

You can go so far in personalizing the Devil as to play him of laughs. The film “Bedazzled” (both the Dudley Moore and Brandon Fraser versions) plays the Devil as petty and quirky. The anime “The Devil is a Part Timer” has him stripped of his powers and working in a McDonalds.

To be convincing, deities and their supernatural minions must not only have powers, but they have to be convincingly comfortable with those powers. Having powers has to be integral to how they think and solve problems. This makes them think differently than humans. In the Isis Rising books, Joseph, Osiris, Sammael, and Erzulie do not think twice before using their terrifyingly disruptive powers to intervene in human affairs. When Desiree, who enters the series in Daughter Cell, is tempted by such power in Isis Rising, Sanantha, the psychiatrist detective of the series, warns her that when angels and humans interact, it is almost always bad for the humans.

In that series, I have angels and demons take on human forms. The bodies can be wounded but they can heal themselves with a thought. We first see this in The Chosen when Silas Alverado summons Joseph and gives him a body. Sammael assumes whatever shape he wants, usually a human, a raven, or a snake. By using this shell body concept, I get to limit the scope of their influence, give them some vulnerability, and make them interact with the other characters. Again, this allows me to put faces on them.

Rorra is a fairly distant, disembodied god, with unclear plans and huge powers. I could have made her more personal and tangible, but her being more situational fit the story better. You see, there is no Bad Guy in Mermaid Steel. There are bad people, to be sure. But the nemesis is the situation, the racism, suspicion, and hatred between the human and Merrow villages. So with my protagonists struggling against a pervasive, systemic problem, it made sense to have Rorra in the fabric of the world rather than up and walking around.

My advice is to carefully tailor your supernatural and religiously inspired entities to fit your story. (Or if you are working with deities from established religions, then tailor your story around them.) Be aware of your options, for they are many. You get to choose how their powers work, and whether they operate from some great beyond or if they walk the Earth. Whatever you choose, it has to fit the religion that supports them. And religions are shaped by the lives of the believers, with their geography, history, and how they live their lives. So you’ve got a lot to think about. You owe it to the story to think this through before you start writing. If you start writing without your cosmology figured out, the characters are going to take your story where they want it to go, and you will lose track of your cosmology. Readers will spot inconsistencies and places where you changed your mind midstream. They will not be amused.

Good luck, and keep on writing!

Categories: Writing

Final Official Trailer for The Mirror’s Revenge now up on YouTube

December 5, 2014 Leave a comment

The Kickstarter runs from December 31, 2014 thru January 30, 2015.

Categories: Writing
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