Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Sometimes, you find a title before you find a story that fits it. I wrote down "Between Two Fires" in a notebook years before I began the novel that would get that name. Between the writing down and the beginning, I tried several times to write a short story based on the title. I got my viewpoint character away from the fire that began the story (the fire of a burning city, as it happened), but I never got him to the fire that was supposed to end the story. Poor guy. Imagine being a character whose story never ends…

Meanwhile, I'd been reading J. R. R. Tolkien's Silmarillion and lamenting his never finishing a long version of his oldest story, "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin," which he wrote in the trenches of France during World War One. So much could've been done with his tale of a hidden city betrayed by its king's son and destroyed by dragons sent by the dark lord Morgoth. The sudden flight of a hero through darkness from a burning city…

Yes, the fall of Gondolin influenced me when, during my first NaNoWriMo (2006), I wrote the first draft of Between Two Fires. How many present-day writers of fantasy can honestly say that Tolkien hasn't influenced them? Still, my story soon diverged from Tolkien's. My viewpoint character wasn't a Man who wed an Elf-maid, the king's daughter, but a king's distant heir whose marital prospects are clear to everyone else but him. You'll learn what comes of them before story's end. Too, my story has no dragons, but what I made up to replace them is I hope as dramatic as dragons would be.

As the story went on, it became ever more my own. Onto a doomed city's battlements came a prophetic priestess, like, yet unlike other members of the Tinisarai, the Star-Begotten. As Tolkienesque novels should have poems, she spoke her prophecies in chokas, examples of a form of Japanese verse of which I learned one day when, bored in a library, I was browsing through the Encyclopedia Britannica. It was fun and easy for me to compose chokas, and I didn't see why only the Japanese should've invented them. Later, I'd give forest-dwelling Vikings called the Vorsteren a literature of alliterative verse (all right, Tolkien wrote scads of this), and the Cavern Dwellers, my version of Dwarves, recorded their lore in the easy running meter, as Lewis Carroll called it, in which Longfellow wrote Hiawatha.

Please don't think that, if you read Between Two Fires, you must wade through long stretches of poetry that interrupts the story's flow. The discipline of writing a first draft of over (but not much over) 50,000 words in a thirty-day month forced me to be extremely tight. The novel focuses principally on battle. As a history buff, I've studied wars — World War One, World War Two, the American Civil War, the wars of the late Roman Republic, and the Crusades, inter alia — for most of my life, and I put into the novel all that I'd learned of war. Still, as the novel is fantasy, it needs fantasy weapons. I hope that you like light-lances and sunwings powered by prayer. Oh, yes, and my substitute for dragons.

Every story needs a MacGuffin, in Alfred Hitchcock's immortal terminology. Mine has seven MacGuffins, the Oracle-Stones, brought from the One by the Nine Messengers at the world's dawn to turn primitive Men into the Star-Begotten. Why I had nine Messengers for seven Oracle-Stones, I must confess to having forgotten in the past eleven years, but, in any case, only one of the Messengers matters: Olarak, who refused to return to the One when his work in the world was done. He claimed the seven Oracle-Stones for a purpose as nefarious as I could imagine, but, before he could fulfill that purpose, the Star-Begotten stole them back from him and crossed the sea to a refuge in the east. He followed them there and, over the centuries, recovered three of the Oracle-Stones. As our story starts, he makes a play to regain the other four. What becomes of his play will I hope please and surprise you.

Despite his evil intent, Olarak is no dark lord. One criticism that I have of Tolkien's Morgoth and Sauron is that they're too nihilistic ever to rule a sustainable world, and their followers, the Balrogs, Dragons, Orcs, and Trolls, are too debased, disorderly, and wantonly destructive to survive. Once they ran out of plunder and slaves, they'd starve to death. Successful villains are disciplined, goal directed, and hard working. Indeed, a worthy villain works harder than any nine-to-fiver works. You might as well live an honest life. In any case, as for Olarak, as Scripture says, "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light" (II Corinthians 11:14). Olarak is angelically beautiful and desires only immortality amid a world of imperishable beauty. It's the means that he's willing to embrace to reach his goal that makes him absolutely evil…

You can read the opening of Between Two Fires for free by clicking on Look inside.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017


Like J. R. R. Tolkien, I can't seem to get the fall of Atlantis out of my mind. That curling green wave…

Sadly for Tolkien and for a world of readers, he finished none of the projected novels of his vision of Atlantis, Númenor, the Westernesse from which Aragorn's ancestors came to found the Middle-Earth kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor, which he would rule. We readers must content ourselves with "The Akallabêth," a summary of Tolkien's majestic vision of Atlantis, which appears towards the end of The Silmarillion. The summary makes you mourn what never got written.

I wouldn't set anything that I've written beside "The Akallabêth," but I have finished four versions of the Fall of Atlantis. You can read one of them, "Ignis Deorum," for free on line. My most ambitious treatment of the Fall of Atlantis is the novella The Drowning Land: An Atlantean Alphabet, in which I follow the last days of the Land amid the Sea through the eyes of an amnesiac who bears a curse: he can't learn his name without destroying the birthplace to which he's returned.

You may wonder about the second part of the novella's title. I must confess that both it and the novella itself were inspired by my memories of long ago having read and often reread Harlan Ellison's "From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet." (I wish that I had his gift for titles.) I gave myself the challenge of writing a story in which each chapter title starts with a successive letter of the alphabet, and each chapter starts with the first letter of its title. Even as I began to plot the novella, I feared that the X chapter would be the plotting's roughest part. Imagine my surprise when I came across an X word that fit the sources that I was using, and determined the conflict and the action for the rest of the novella. Sometimes, what's the most restrictive can be the most liberating.

If you're familiar with the Atlantis legend, you know that it's taken many forms over the millennia. I've generally stuck to the original sources, the Timeaeus and the Crit1as of Plato. In this novella, I added to them details from another ancient source, Diodorus Siculus. Critics of the Atlantis legend tend to see these sources as contradictory, but, for me, they meshed well. Sometimes, contradiction is the mother of consistency.

Enough pseudo-ancient wisdom! (Or is it ancient pseudo-wisdom?) In "real life," if one can speak of such a thing in relation to Atlantis, "Atlantis," a Greek word meaning "land of the god Atlas," could never have been the native name of the land of which Plato would write. I honor this fact by never referring to that land as "Atlantis" in the novella itself. The "Athens" against which the "Atlanteans" fought, if that city existed at all in the legend's time frame, would not have been Greek, but could have been a city of the pre-Greek people that the Mycenaeans would overrun. Athens, believe it or not, isn't a word of Greek origin. Still, a Greek pun is important to the plot that I devised, so Athens is Greek in my story.

When I'm writing fantasy, I like to use prophetic dreams. Properly used, they can be stories within a story and reflect the main story in ways that illuminate it. A prophetic dream can speed the story along. Here, they give you a glimpse into the other world in which the gods — the twelve principal gods of Ancient Greece, though not called by their Greek names — are weighing the deeds of the land's children as their fate is determined. I get to complete the scene amid which Plato abandoned his second tale of Atlantis. For a good pun, one might change the world.

You read a tale of the fall of Atlantis not for that tale's linguistics or dream sequences, however, but for its action. This must lead inevitably to the land's destruction in a single night by the gods' judgment. In keeping with this stricture, I give you prophecy, omens, intrigue, murder, and the X factor, which I don't want to spoil for you in case of your choosing to read the tale. I also give you love, color, pageantry, and a sense of what the antediluvian civilization may've been like. I hope that I give you enough to take you from A to Z.

If you want to learn more of The Drowning Land: An Atlantean Alphabet, you can read its opening sections (A-D) for free by clicking on Look inside.

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