On Writing Hatred and Forgiveness

Far from love

I have somehow found myself at the beginning of writing a novel that, weirdly, is about forgiveness. Or rather, it’s about hatred. It’s more accurate to say that it’s about hatred. It’s easy enough to convince oneself that one knows what hatred means (forgiveness as well). We throw the word around easily. We hate this food, we hate that show or that character on that show, and we hate this guy at work or at the bus stop…or at home. We know hate.

My father caught me once, when I was young, with the word hate on my lips and said, “Hate is a strong word. You don’t hate it. You might dislike it. But you don’t hate it.” He was right. I disliked my spinach very much, but hate? Certainly not.

It’s funny that I mention my father. Funny to me. He and I are not on good terms right now. It’s his fault. It’s my fault. That’s another story, but it’s part of this one. I sometimes think I hate him. I dredge up memories of what I consider neglect or abuse (words that, again, are easy to use and not very true). In my clear-headed moments, though, I can’t describe my father that way. And I can’t say, not honestly, that I hate him.

But because I also can’t swallow the lump in my throat and forgive him, I consider that this might be the reason that hatred and forgiveness crept into my writing, especially on something as important as my first attempt at a novel.

Readers expect a lot from a novelist. They expect him, at the very least, to be convincing. Now, being convincing depends on the reader as well. It is easy to convince a gullible man. It is difficult to convince an expert in the field. And when a writer writes, he should write for the most intelligent person in his audience. That is not easy.

So when I look at my notes for my novel and see that hate is its subject and (dare I risk spoiling it) forgiveness is its climax, I have to honestly ask myself, “What on Earth do I know about hatred and forgiveness? What, really, do I know?” I was especially curious about this when I drafted the intended climax of the novel, where the protagonist and antagonist found condemnation and redemption in appropriate measure and the theme came into its clearest focus. And it struck me as just a little naïve.

I’ve been into TED Talks lately and decided to see what they had on forgiveness. The first video that popped up featured a man whose life…has been…terrible. He was treated, and treated others, horribly. He told a story that churned my gut and brought tears to my eyes. And as I watched, I thought to myself, “Where do I get the gall, thinking that I can write anything about hatred and forgiveness?”

I collected myself a bit and thought that perhaps I just needed to be braver about the novel. I need to bring in truly terrible stories that no reader, gullible or clever, could deny as justly evoking hatred and requiring the holiest of forgiveness (and I use that term even though I’m an atheist). But then I thought about what my novel might become: a horrid, terrible thing to read; a thing to trudge through for a climax not very worth it. I wouldn’t—couldn’t—read a book that constantly bummed me out (to put it lightly), let alone write one. I wouldn’t want to do that to my readers, if I got any.

I’m hovering above a possible solution, in which terrible stories are present but are kept at the margins, and the main conflict is a matter of resolving injustices, rather than focusing on them as the story itself.

But what I know for sure is that I don’t want to quit. I considered throwing aside the novel. It’s too much for me to handle. I don’t have what it takes. And men like this (on the TED Talk) might read it, shake their heads, and say, “How naïve.”

I can’t do that, though. I want to write this book. But again, what do I know about hatred and forgiveness? I have no one in my life that I hate. It’s too strong a word. And perhaps, I have no one in my life to forgive…for that is as equally strong a word. A word we use too lightly, that we use while riding a very high horse, that we use as the mortar for the bricks of our ego’s fortress. If we forgive, then we are the bigger man, we are the humbler servant, we are the more loving in the relationship, and we are the example to follow, and if the other person doesn’t forgive us or doesn’t care about our forgiveness, why, we can lift our chin up high and say, “I tried. I really did. But I can only do so much.” And from there, we can go on hating, quietly, triumphantly, and fully justified. Because our forgiveness is such a wonderful gift.

What has anyone ever done to us (to most of us) that really requires forgiveness? I mean forgiveness in the full sense of that concept, the sense that requires the noblest character and the highest sense of self-esteem. Probably no one, for most of us.

For those of us (and I am not one of them) who truly have reason to bestow forgiveness upon another person, to let go of true and justified hatred for their own sake, the best I can do is to not be a pretender to the crown.

But this lump in my throat is big, and this hurt in my heart is real. I don’t want to forgive. I want to be hurt and to be righteous. So, maybe I know enough to write my novel after all. And maybe I will learn.

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Why are fantasy worlds always old?

20160324 Why are fantasy worlds always oldIn nearly every fantasy novel or short story I’ve read, the magical denizens of the fantasy world live in societies that have not advanced much beyond the 1500s to 1700s Europe. Why is that? I have a few hypotheses.

While civilization may seem locked in the equivalent of Europe’s Middle Ages, it’s actually more advanced than it looks because, hey, magic is everywhere. Rather than focusing on science and technology, the people’s focus is on magic. Magic is the equivalent of science and technology to these denizens because it accomplishes the same thing: it makes life better. Of course, the writer then digs into themes similar to technology- and science-driven novels, such as, “Things get better, but at what cost?” and “To whom should the power belong?” and “Would we be better off without it?”

Of the second theme, I see it in Patricia A. McKillip’s 1970s Riddle-Master trilogy, in which everyone drank beer and wine (that they brewed or distilled themselves), and the question was whether the High One—a philosopher king—ought to have power of the magical instinct of land-rule, or whether the power belonged to the Earth Masters, who had destroyed each other in a power struggle eons ago. The novel’s world, while unique and wonderful, was still in that old world of taverns, dirt trails, and dark forests. Why is it no one has developed air conditioners or televisions yet?

Another reason to favor the old days is, well, that’s where most of our fantasy comes from, the Middle and Dark Ages of Europe. Think Beowulf, Celtic legends, and Shakespeare. Before A Midsummer Night’s Dream, fairies were all human-sized. He proposed that they can be itty-bitty, too, and bam, that concept has survived. That’s beside my point, though, which is that, in these dark old days when the Holy Roman Empire and the Christianity that followed it effectively squashed the reason and rationality that had been born in Greece, people’s minds were all bent out of shape. Superstition reigned, ugly and hallucinatory…and fascinating. As such, writers see it as almost natural to place their fantasy worlds in a similar environment: Dark- and Middle-Age Europe.

I have no problems with either of these reasons, if they’re true. They make sense. Still, I question ulterior motives and ugly themes. Does the theme bring brightness to the “backward” world it inhabits, or does it reinforce it? I haven’t read a damn bit of Game of Thrones, but it strikes me as the latter: the darkness and ugliness of the world and power is what makes it attractive to its audience, and it’s a never-ending struggle of war rather than a culmination of peace. Because treachery is sexy. And it sells.

I won’t knock that. Sell, baby!

But there are other options. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, for example (and I’ve not yet read it either, how dare I!), strikes me as of the former theme and brings brightness to its world. A long and ugly history culminates in triumph. Sure, struggles always lie ahead, but the goal is light, the attraction is light—not darkness.

This post went from hypotheses about why fantasy worlds are mostly set in 1500s Europe’s equivalent, to making value judgments about the use of those worlds for “dark” or “light” purposes. Well, it’s a blog, so permit me to amble like that occasionally. Also, think of this as one half of a conversation. I’ve put some things out there. Pick something and tell me your thoughts. That’s what I’m curious about. Why are fantasy worlds so often set in the equivalents of medieval Europe?

A Free Ebook for you…because I love ya!

01 UpholderFree ebook. You want it, you got it!

My novelette “Upholder” is the first in my fantasy series, Tradition: The Legend of Kayven.

I like to keep “Upholder” available for free. It’s a great way for readers to sample the series. This ebook is an elegant little edition with convenient content links and social media connections. Share it around the web at your leisure. And hey, let me know what you think by emailing me or leaving a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Enjoy!

Description: A FANTASY SERIES FOR A NEW GENERATION

Fifteen-year-old Kevin visits his grandparents every summer at their forest cabin. For years, it’s been a cozy retreat from school and city life, where Kevin can wander the forest and traverse the nearby river to his heart’s content. But this summer, Grandpa has a story to share with Kevin, now that he’s the right age… A tradition must be upheld by every hundredth generation of Kevin’s family. A tradition of sacrifice, if the human race is to go on living.

Now, Kevin’s cozy life turns upside-down as he enters the fantastic world of Limelight, where unknowable dangers and a crazed god await him, as he ventures forth to uphold a tradition more ancient than humankind itself.

[Novelette. About 10,500 words. Read for free now!]


02 Lantern of GogReady for more? Book 2 is available now! Three times the length of “Upholder,” the sequel “Lantern of Gog” dives deeper into the fantastic world of Limelight, where Kayven confronts a powerful enemy, and unravels a secret beyond his wildest imagination.

A rather impish story prompt

The other day, a fellow writer and I were looking through prompts to get the creative juices flowing. It reminded me of a 600-word story I wrote based on a prompt for a contest in Writer’s Digest MagazineThe story was to begin with the prompt, “If you can guess what’s in my pocket, you can have it.” I wanted to be particularly different with my approach to that prompt; I wanted people who read the resulting story to think, “Whoa…did not see that coming!” and be pleased with the result. The few readers that gave me first comments reacted that way.

The story didn’t place in the contest, unfortunately. But that happens, even when we submit something good. There are only so many spots, and the magazine has to cater to its readers to some extent, so the winning stories can’t be too bizarre, even if they’re good. (At least, that’s what I told myself when I found out my story wasn’t among the winners.)

Anyway, going through those prompts the other day inspired me to re-read that piece. I chuckled at it, seeing how my writing has improved since then, but also feeling pleased with it still. That’s what we want in anything we do, right? To be able to look back and see the progress we’ve made, but also be pleased with our product at the time. I think that’s a quality of a life well lived.

CoverHere’s that story, called “The Imp,” in case you’d like to read it. Only takes a minute or two, and I’d love to know what you think.

Do you have any old prompt-inspired pieces you’d like to share?

A new year

Copyright 2015 Chris Raiin. All rights reserved.
The tree just outside our studio apartment

Good morning on the last morning of 2015. I’m writing this year’s final blog entry from the second-story studio apartment my wife, Tritia, and I booked through Air B&B. We’re in Carmel, California. It’s almost 8 a.m. and the sun is filtering in through the windows along the top of the vaulted ceilings, casting lacey patterns of light and shadow through the twisting branches of the large, tangled tree outside, itself like a picture from a fantasy novel. It’s Tritia’s and my habit to get away like this every New Year. After Thanksgiving and Christmas, we like to get away from our daily lives and all the parties and get-togethers, and take some time for ourselves. Our New Year’s trips have taken us along the California coast, from Carlsbad in the south to Morro Bay, San Simeon, and now Carmel in the north. We wake in the cool mornings, sip coffee on a balcony, and talk about the year behind us and the year ahead.

The year behind me saw my own renaissance…a rebirth of my creative spirit. We all have a creative spirit, and sometimes it sits dormant for years or even decades. Early in 2015, I started writing again, though not as often as I should have. It wasn’t until after the middle point of summer that I realized I needed to shift my creative focus from literary fiction to science fiction and fantasy. I still write literary fiction, of course, but I was blocking an important part of myself by focusing on it so intensely. I was avoiding my scifi/fantasy creative instincts because I thought they were childish…because when I first started writing as a young teenager, it was scifi/fantasy stories, and surely I’ve grown up since then and I should be doing something “more important” now, right?

It took me a bit to see how stifling I was being to myself.

Our greatest passions tend to assert themselves when we’re in our early teens. This is when we have enough capability, intelligence, and (limited) experience to form opinions about the world, as well as when we develop strong preferences…for a particular type of art, sport, school subject, and so forth. We begin to express ourselves according to those preferences…

My original writing involved stories set in worlds familiar to me. I wrote stories featuring characters from the Super Nintendo games StarFox and F-Zero. My first piece of novel-length (40,000 words) was set in the universe of The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest…and of course, Johnny’s new best friend was a young man named Chris. (Note: Don’t worry, copyright owners…I never shared these stories and they’re long gone by now.)

After a short while, I started writing my own original work. Among many pieces, the one that has stood the test of time—at least in terms of its importance to me—is the story featuring young Kevin, who discovers that he is the next in a long line of family members whose destiny is to defend Humanity’s right to continue existing. I wrote the first “book” when I was 15, intending to produce a series from it. I didn’t continue that work until earlier this year. I edited 01 Upholder02 Lantern of Gogand rewrote Upholder as needed and self-published it a few months ago. Then, I did what my soul really needed… I continued the story, as my teenage self always intended, and wrote a completely new sequel. Time to unstopper my childish creativity, because childish creativity is the pure source of everything beautiful that’s ever been created. Sure, it’s often forged in the mastery that comes only with the maturity of our adult years, but the stuff we pour—the liquid silver that we then mold into beautiful art—is always born of childish creativity.

As 2015 closes, I’m glad that I gave myself permission to pursue that which I had convinced myself was a child’s unworthy fancy. Indeed, it was the most worthy pursuit I could have engaged in.

With 2016’s potential bursting forth in tomorrow’s sunrise, I have a few commitments I’d like to make, which I’ve already begun to certain extents.

• Continue to write a new blog post every Thursday.

• Write and publish the final three books in my Tradition series.

• Write a new short story every week in January and February.

• Submit stories for publication often. (I have a few in the queue; you might be reading my work in magazines soon!)

• Write my first novel intended for traditional publication. (Yep, I have an idea…)

Well, that’s enough of me. Thanks…as always…for taking the time to read what I’ve written. Tritia has been waiting patiently for me to write this blog entry, and now that it’s done, it’s time to take my wife out to breakfast.

If you have a minute, let me know what some of your goals are for the new year. I wish you the best in their pursuit and achievement. Happy New Year to you and yours!

Santa and the rules of magic

20151224 SantaSanta’s ability to visit all the children of the world in a single night is often said to be magic. If so, are there limits to Santa’s magic?

I enjoy magic that is limited. For example, in Patrick Rothfuss’ novel The Name of the Wind (which I’m currently reading and thoroughly enjoying), the rules of magic rely on the concept that “all the energy that ever was or will be is here now.” (Forgive me; I can’t remember who said that. I thought it was Einstein, but Google searches weren’t fruitful this morning.) If a sympathist (i.e., magician) uses a binding (i.e., casts a spell), then the energy required for it must have a source. For example, if he wants to light a candle, he must draw the energy needed for the flame from some other source of heat, like his own blood. There are consequences, though. Say he wants to start a bonfire and relies on the heat of his own blood to do it. He risks “binder’s chills,” a form of hypothermia much less pleasant than hypothermia. This simple premise requires a sympathist in Rothfuss’ novels to be clever in which sources he draws from for energy, and careful in terms of the consequences of drawing from that energy source. The rules of magic are defined.

Compare this to The Force in Star WarsIt appears that there is no real limit to its use. When Luke Skywalker claims he can’t lift the X-wing from Yoda’s swamp because “it’s too big” compared to the stone he was just lifting, Yoda says, “Size matters not.” Luke proceeds to raise the X-wing from the swamp using The Force, and this after him being exhausted from the day’s physical exercises. The Force, then, seems as though it has no limits except those of the user’s mind…in other words, his self-confidence and emotional balance. The only consequences to using The Force depend on whether you use it for good or evil. Otherwise, The Force doesn’t drain you in any way. I love Star Wars, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be even better if there were physical consequences to using The Force. (On that note, overusing the Dark Side of The Force messed up Palpatine pretty bad, so there are consequences, but they haven’t been properly defined.)

What about Santa then? In one night–one minute, actually, at 12:00 a.m. Christmas Day–Santa visits all the children of the world and delivers presents (or coal, for you pricks out there). If we’re to go by The Lion, the Witch, and the WardrobeSanta also visits other realms, like Narnia. From whence does St. Nick’s magic come? Is it unlimited, godlike? Most Christmas stories and movies like to expound upon Santa’s capabilities (consider the appearing and disappearing chimneys in chimney-less houses in the movie The Santa Clauseor Santa’s ability to be Santa, hobo, and train conductor simultaneously in the movie The Polar Express). Few of these stories, though, define the limits of Santa’s abilities. I guess we’re to assume there aren’t any.

Here’s one quick theory. (Why theorize about such a thing, you ask? Because that’s a fantasy writer’s job. Oh, and because it’s fun.) Santa is otherwise inactive the rest of the year. Each Christmas Day at 12 a.m., his ability to visit every child relies on the saving up of all his other minutes throughout the year, which he uses all at once to visit the children of the world. You might say, “But still, that’s not enough time all together.” It’s more than just the time in those minutes, though; it’s also the life and energy in those minutes, the power of choice each minute involves, such that one minute offers multiple sources of magical power: time, life, energy, choice. Combined, these make it possible for him to visit all the world’s children in a minute. Of course, such a theory would have to be more clearly defined (and it’s something I’d like to try one day), but for now, it’s a start.

So, all you good little boys and girls, how do you think Santa does it? Are there limits to his magic, or is he a limitless god in a red suit? Merry Christmas!


01 UpholderCheck out my fantasy novelette, Upholderfree to read now.

Click here for the free PDF or the Kindle Edition.

Thanks for reading.

 

Fantastic Stories and Where to Find Them

Lately, I’ve been paying closer attention to my dreams. They’ve inspired a few of my stories, but I find that I have to get at them in the right way if I want to make any use of them.

20151217 Village street on MarsI try to write a story a week. This week’s story, which I’m still working on, was inspired by a dream. The dream is months, maybe years old now. I was on a village street on Mars. Yeah, Mars. And I saw something intriguing at the end of the street. Of course, for the sake of that intrigue, I’m not going to reveal it here. Give me a chance to get it published!

Point is, dreams can have a powerful impact on a writer’s ability to create. But they’re slippery.

When I was a teenager, I tried writing my dreams down in a “dream journal.” I didn’t enjoy it much. It felt odd, like I was clinging too tightly to something better left behind. I could never recreate the full complexity of my dreams.

Most dreams are like that, I think. They make for poor source material as complete units because you can’t grasp them as complete units in the first place. For example, the dream surrounding that village street on Mars is nothing like the story I’ve made up for it. I don’t even remember the rest of that dream.

Dreams as such should not be relied upon to inspire stories. They’re too chaotic, disconnected, and ephemeral. (Of course, the writer might be going for that effect, but I am not interested in such a writer’s work. Alice in Wonderland and A Voyage to Arcturus were as far as I was willing to go into the bizarre depths of any one person’s mind.)

Instead, I think that snatches of dreams are where writers can find fantastic stories. These snatches or “bits” of dreams are the images that have stuck with us over time. The bits are what are important. Entire dreams don’t transfer well to paper. They’re slapped together from whatever’s floating around in our heads when we finally get to sleep. A writer doesn’t want the whole dream for his story. He only wants the part that really stuck with him, the images that he recalls without even trying. They just pop up, sometimes over years, because they attach to him very, very deeply. That’s the stuff worth transferring to paper.

The images that stick in your mind did so for a reason. Discovering that reason is not necessary, though. We should not psychoanalyze ourselves. Instead, I find it better to hone in on the emotions underlying the bit of the dream I remember. For example, I recall strong emotions of safety, mystery, and tranquility when I think of my “walk” down that village street on Mars. But the safety, I remember, would have ended if I went to the place at the end of the street. (In the dream, I never did go there. In my story, though, I did.) Safety, mystery, tranquility, danger. These strong emotions, attached to images, helped me shape the story I built around this bit of a dream.

After identifying the images that have stuck and the emotions attached them, it becomes the work of the writer’s conscious mind to build the story. Like I said, the “story” of the entire dream doesn’t transfer well, but when a writer takes a bit of a dream and consciously works to create a story around it, that’s when the magic happens. I’ll put it another way. The “bit of dream” is full of our own deep convictions, which our subconscious turned into unforgettable images and powerful underlying emotions. We might not be able to determine what convictions a particular image conveys, but again, that’s why I said not to worry about the psychoanalytic part. We’re not after that. We’re after the emotional power behind it, which the image creates as we relive it. That’s the springboard. From that, we realize the potential of that conviction through conscious effort. That is, we turn the images and emotions into a well-crafted story. It’s like finding a hot ember and building a fire pit for it, a place for the ember to become the blaze it’s capable of becoming.

Bits of dreams are fantastic sources for stories, so long as they really stick in your heart and soul and you go about sharing them in a conscious, deliberate way. It’s not a matter of getting the whole dream locked down. Instead, the goal is to latch onto that part that has always stuck with you, then share it through a story that lets readers latch onto it, too. That’s what I’m experimenting with lately. I hope to share some of these dream-inspired stories soon.

What kinds of dreams have you remembered over the years? Have you made any of them into stories?


 

01 UpholderCheck out my fantasy novelette, Upholderfree to read now.

Click here for the free PDF or the Kindle Edition.

Thanks for reading.