The Wind from Heaven is almost ready for publication. Typesetting is all done, and final proofreading is in progress. And after that comes Behold! That should be ready sometime next year.
Ah! But spring is almost here, which means it’s almost time to start writing another one. I’m happy to say I’ve already been given two key pieces of it–one of which has solved a major problem with the plot. There’s stuff going on in Durmurot, and in Lintum Forest, that has to be addressed.
In writing a series of any kind, the writer has to beware of repeating himself. Edgar Rice Burroughs got bogged down with Tarzan and ran off a dozen or more books featuring lost cities. People enjoyed them anyway, but sheesh! You couldn’t throw a brick in Africa without breaking a window in a lost city. I don’t want to do anything like that.
But the new stuff excites me, and I hope it excites my readers, too. Meanwhile, I’m waiting for a catchy title. Sometimes I get badly stuck for a title.
What new stuff? Well, I can’t tell you that, can I?
I was 13 years old when a friend lent me his copy of Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs–adventures in the inside-out world of the hollow earth, complete with dinosaurs and monsters–and it blew me away. I had no idea there were books like this! I couldn’t get enough of them. Happily for me, ERB wrote dozens of books. I’ve still got ’em (paperback price: 35 cents!), and I still read ’em from time to time.
Burroughs introduced me to other worlds, pure fantasy, anything goes. Just like Tarzan went to Pellucidar once.
But then in high school, sophomore year, I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, and oh, brother! This took fantasy fiction a notch higher. I find it bordering on the impossible, to describe how much I enjoyed it. I spent the next ten or twelve years of my life trying to write a fantasy like Tolkien’s. What the heck, everybody else seemed to be doing it–you never saw so many unsatisfying imitations published.
I learned an awful lot about writing by reading and re-reading Burroughs and Tolkien. I also learned to give up trying to imitate them, and just write like myself: took more than a few years to learn how to do that, too. The end result is my Bell Mountain series.
I envy those of you, out there, who’ll someday discover top-flight fantasy, as I did, and just go to town on it. I know reading isn’t as fashionable as it once was. But as much as I love movies, there’s nothing better than a roaring good book. No special effects genius, no cast of actors, no director can ever quite match what that special book can do with your imagination.
Does it serve God? Does it give God the glory? I’d say that depends on what the reader does with it. Tolkien was a devout Christian, and I’m sure he hoped his books would do that. Just as I’m sure that for many readers, they did.
I know, I know–none of these has ever been called Serious Mainstream Literature. You’d never catch Tolstoy writing about celebrity spiders; and Jane Austen wasn’t big on lost cities inhabited by maniacs.
But these are the authors I’ve learned from, and these are the authors whose works I love–and return to again and again.
See the little monkey on Tarzan’s shoulder? His name is Nkima, and he’s the biggest braggart in the jungle–which is kind of funny, because he’s mortally afraid of… everything.
He is also the inspiration for my character, Wytt–who is afraid of… nothing.
People often ask me where my characters come from, and how they end up in my Bell Mountain novels. And if I had to guess, I’d guess that Wytt is probably my most popular character. A lot of readers have told me so. But where did Wytt come from?
If you know me, you know I’m a Tarzan fan. And Nkima is my favorite character in all the Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I mean, he’s so full of it! And it’s all hot air. This amuses me: a trait that would be unbearable in a real human being is a lot of fun in Tarzan’s monkey sidekick.
As the Omah creatures began to take shape in my mind, I asked myself, “What would Nkima be like, if all his bluster and bravado were perfectly genuine?” What if he really were as brave and bold as he makes himself out to be? What would that look like, in a little character no bigger than a monkey or a squirrel?
And then I had him–Wytt, Jack and Ellayne’s self-appointed protector and guide, who takes on enemies many times his own size, and lets them have the rough side of his tongue while doing it–and gets away with it. This little tiny hero armed with a tiny stick chewed to a point, who’s always up for any challenge that confronts him. No job is too big for him.
Yeah, he’s kind of easy to like. If Wytt’s your guardian–baby, you are guarded, but good. And given the numerous perils in which Ellayne and Jack have found themselves, he’s been kept rather busy. He’s even had to save Martis once or twice: and Martis is a professional assassin who ought to be able to take care of himself. But some of the adventures are a bit dangerous even for him.
I’m sure Wytt will be up for the next book, whatever the adventure turns out to be.
One is always working to refine one’s technique. But one thing hasn’t changed: if you want to be a writer, you still have to listen to other writers. Agatha Christie and Edgar Rice Burroughs are still there to back me up.
Anyway, after seven years of working at it constantly, my literary voice is more my own, and mine only, and someday maybe new writers will try to learn from me.
Someone around here was enthused enough to prefer my books to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Well, what can I say?
I first read The Lord of the Rings in high school, and it overwhelmed me. My imagination was already on fire, thanks to Edgar Rice Burroughs–first his Pellucidar novels, and then his tales of adventure on Mars. But Tolkien–!
I was astonished that such a book could ever have been written. Burroughs’ books are short; Tolkien’s was a monumental trilogy. You wind up spending a lot of time in it. The marvelous thing about The Lord of the Rings was that it positively came alive for me: it made me believe in the story that it told. Perhaps it was the mass of detail: Tolkien’s imaginary world is vast. To this day, after many re-readings, I’m sure I could find my way around the Shire, and I’m sure I’d like it there. And I’d know which places to avoid–Mordor, Mirkwood, and the Mines of Moria.
I’ve never seen any illustrations of LOTR which satisfied me. That’s because Tolkien’s art made his people and places real to me, as if I’d actually been there, seen them; and any illustration is, of course, someone else’s imagination, and can never show me anything exactly how I’d already imagined it myself.
It gave me a burning desire to write fantasy. I can’t even guess how many pages I turned out in notebooks, and on my old manual typewriter, trying to imitate Tolkien, trying to match him. But I can say it took several decades for me to realize that the world didn’t need another Tolkien: any fantasies I wrote would have to be my fantasies, and no one else’s. And that took another couple of decades to accomplish.
It’s important to remember that when LOTR came out, there was nothing else remotely like it. Since then, the fantasy genre has been suffocated with Tolkien wannabes, shamelessly ripping off his once-upon-a-time unique creation. I still love Tolkien’s Elves and Dwarves and warriors, etc., but find everybody else’s cheap imitations intolerable. I suspect that if my first reading had been now instead of then, it wouldn’t have had the impact that it did.
Burroughs and Tolkien inspired me, and I doubt my own books would ever have been written if I hadn’t read theirs first. I still stand up and salute The Chessmen of Mars, and in my imagination, search for the road to the forest of Lothlorien.
I’m currently reading a Young Adults novel so I can review it for Chalcedon. I’m about halfway through it, and it has begun to give me a kind of creepy feeling, sort of like the feeling you get when the Crawling Eye is stalking you. Because I’m not yet finished reading it, and Chalcedon has first dibs on the review, I will follow my custom of using pseudonyms for both the book and the author. For the time being, it shall be known as Deeply Neurotic People with Feminism Thrown In, by Hortense Portense.
I liked it at first: crisply written, cleverly arranged, with a first-person teenage girl protagonist whose narrative voice somehow reminded me of Karl Kolchak: if you can imagine Darren McGavin’s Night Stalker as a 17-year-old girl, which I hope doesn’t give you the heeby-jeebies.
I am sorry to say the story is turning toxic awfully fast. And it’s pitched to young readers, most of whom have not yet lived long enough to acquire sharp critical faculties and are thus in danger of having something not so nice slipped under their door. So my review will have to be a warning light to parents, a role that’s not quite my cup of tea. I would’ve truly hated it, to have my folks vet the books I was reading when I was 15: but in those days there wasn’t stuff like this for them to worry about. My mother liked to read some of my Edgar Rice Burroughs books when I was through with them; and I would read some of the historical novels she had.
There are books out there that aren’t good for us, and I’m afraid this is one of them.
The accusations of “misconduct,” most of it apparently of a sexual nature, are coming hot and heavy not only here in America, but also in Britain, so far involving “about a dozen” Members of Parliament. And a prominent Welsh politician, in the wake of unspecified charges leveled at him, has been found dead in his home in northern Wales: they’re calling it a suicide (https://www.yahoo.com/news/uk-politician-found-dead-misconduct-claims-151848137.html).
Powerful, important men in business and in government have been chasing after women since wealth and power were invented. The author who led me to understand this was, of all people, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan.
Among the great apes, Tarzan’s people, the big apes used their status and their muscle to make sure they got the best food, the most food, the most comfortable resting spots–and as many she-apes as they desired, whether the females liked it or not. That such “apes” as ERB described are totally fictitious is irrelevant. What Burroughs really had in mind, when he wrote those stories, was human beings.
We are Christians, and we call it Original Sin. Even David, called a man after God’s own heart, was guilty of sexual sin when he took Uriah the Hittite’s wife away from him and arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle.
If we were humanists, we would deny Original Sin, insist that all wickedness comes from outside the human heart, and claim that we can fix it by allocating more power to the government. Man, we would say, is perfectible by man.
Jesus Christ, our Savior, taught otherwise. “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies; these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” (Matthew 15:18-20)
We are not perfectible by our own efforts, no matter how strong the coercion; and that’s why God has given us a Savior.
In time the current hubbub over sexual misconduct among the mighty will die out. But without the personal regeneration obtainable only in Jesus Christ, confession of sins, and acceptance of God’s grace, the misconduct will continue.
Some of you are down on movies and television for celebrating immoral and even wicked actions and letting the characters in the story get away with it. Those are not unfounded criticisms.
As a fantasy novelist, I must plead guilty to writing in such a way that the story turns out as I want it to. King Ryons gets to Obann in time to save the city. Lord Orth passes through a phase of madness and idiocy to emerge as a true man of God. These things happen because I wrote them that way. It can’t be helped.
I watch a lot of old TV and movies. One reason is for relaxation. After a day of writing, I need to veg out. I don’t think any of you will accuse me of allowing these films to shape my moral outlook.
But there is another reason.
Writing a novel isn’t as easy as it looks. The only thing easy about it is that it’s very easy to mess it up. And as I write, I have two overriding concerns: character and story. Both have to be right, or the novel will be wrong.
So I watch for the same reason I never go to bed without a book to read until I fall asleep. I want to learn how to create and manage believable characters that my readers will respond to, and how to tell a story coherently, convincingly, and compellingly. I can’t learn that unless I immerse myself in other people’s stories. And because the story-telling art is so difficult, I have to keep learning all the time.
As hard as I try to avoid it, some of the stories I watch turn out to be dreck. From these I learn what not to do! From the others, the ones that are not pigs’ breakfasts, I pick up innumerable hints that I can apply to my own stories. From C.S. Lewis, Agatha Christie, Walter R. Brooks, J.R.R. Tolkien, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Upfield, and many others, I learn the techniques I need to make my novels stand the test of readership.
And daily Bible reading is indispensable as a guide to what I ought to put into my stories and what I ought to leave out. As a writer, I can do nothing without God’s blessing and guidance.
A steady diet of B.S. fiction, consumed uncritically, unthinkingly, for no other purpose than “because it’s there,” has a really good shot at rotting the consumer’s mind.
If you want to be a musician, you have to listen to other people’s music. The same hold true for story-tellers.