Andrew Klavan is a hard-boiled crime novelist who became a Christian around the age of 50. He is a master storyteller who gets what literature is supposed to do for a person. Consequently, he is not afraid of the dark, so to speak. His characters, particularly in his adult novels, often have major flaws. Some Christian readers don’t like the fact that Klavan’s novels often include sex scenes and a lot of language.
Well, if you want to enjoy Andrew Klavan minus all the adult stuff, look no farther than this series.
Main character Charlie goes to bed in his room one night and inexplicably wakes up strapped to a metal chair in an enclosed room, surrounded by instruments of torture. He remembers who is he (a high schooler with a black belt in karate), but he has no idea how he got here.
That’s the opening to the first book in the series, aptly titled The Last Thing I Remember. Klavan has long been fascinated with characters who have trouble remembering things, distinguishing fantasy from reality, or trusting their own thinking. Charlie is no exception. It will take him a good bit of the first book to realize that he’s forgotten an entire year of his life … and it will take nearly the whole series before he can trust himself again.
I can imagine someone will object: “Wait, because these are YA novels, there is no sex … but the very first scene includes torture?” Yes, there is plenty of violence in the Homelander novels. They are thrillers, after all. But a couple of factors mitigate this. First, sex and violence are not the same in the contexts in which they occur, what their purpose is, or the effect they have on the human mind. So I don’t think it’s necessarily hypocritical if a supposedly “clean” book excludes sex but includes some violence.
Secondly, the way the violence is handled is not exploitative. Charlie wakes up sore, in a torture room, and has obviously been through some stuff, but we don’t actually see him getting tortured. And the violence throughout the rest of the series is handled in a similarly dignified way. Klavan gives us plenty of blow-by-blow descriptions of fight scenes, chase scenes, and escape scenes, in some of which Charlie (or other characters) get hurt pretty bad. He does not give us any detailed blow-by-blows of helpless people being brutalized. And, though there are probably some deeper issues here that I haven’t thought out, this feels like an important distinction. It’s as if he allows the characters to have their choices and their dignity.
This pair lives near our house. Like, in our yard somewhere I think (possibly in the surviving spruce tree?). This photo was taken from my dining room window.
I kid you not … we move to the West, and in the very first year, a pair of eagles moves in? How lucky are we?
They are not shy. Earlier in the summer, about once a day one of them would swoop across our yard, screaming. I even saw one sitting on a telephone pole (as above), screaming, notice me, and calmly go back to screaming. I get no respect.
Watch, Papa Eagle is about to give you eye contact …
Apparently, based on the YouTube comments, the following song has been out for six months. I just discovered it last week, playing the country station on my car radio while running errands, and it quickly became my theme song for the week.
It’s just so doggoned unifying.
Also, I like the phrase “one big …”, as in an earlier Andrew Klavan quote, “It was like the whole country was one big series of bad choices.”
And though this song is upbeat, there is a certain insight to calling life “one big country song,” because country as a genre can be pretty tragic. You know what they say: if you play a country song backwards, you get your wife back, you get your truck back, you get your dog back …
One early fantasy series that I read was The Belgariad by David Eddings. Here are the covers as they looked on the series when I had it.
As you can see, the titles are all on theme by being about chess (“pawn,” “queen,” “gambit,” etc.). The covers are all similar, but each cover has a slightly different color scheme to vary your reading experience: mustard, green, rust, blue (harder to see in this image), grey. After all, you’re going to be looking at that cover for a while, as long as you are reading the book and carrying it around. It will form part of the visual landscape of your life. Also, and this isn’t obvious unless you’ve read the series, the color and general look of each cover matches the country to which the adventurers travel in that volume.
Last week, I unveiled my draft for the cover of my book The Long Guest. With the help of blog commenters, the font that we settled on for the title (at least for now) was Goblin Hand:
Now here is the draft for the second book in the series. I’ve kept the font and general title layout, but the color scheme is colder because, after all, we are going to Alaska.
Writing about the afterlife is tricky. It does not always go well.
Bookstooge recently reviewed a book that was set entirely in the afterlife, and it failed (at least, based on his review, it failed) because writing about the afterlife immediately brings out the limitations of the author’s understanding of: God, eternity, human nature, human embodiment, space, time, etc.
Some of these limitations on our understanding can be fixed with better theology. (For example, the TV show The Good Place could have benefitted from an understanding that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and who can know it?). Others of these limitations can’t be fixed because they are a consequence of our inability to imagine an existence that transcends space and time. New Age accounts of “out of the body” experiences immediately lose me when they describe things like “a cord coming out from between my shoulder blades that connected me to my body.” (Pro tip: if you are out of the body, you do not have shoulder blades.)
But despite these pitfalls, I find it irresistibly attractive to follow my characters just a step or two beyond death. Perhaps it’s because the moment of death is so poignant in a story, or because there is an opportunity to address unfinished business. “Wrong will be right/when Aslan comes in sight.” We are all longing for that wrong will be right moment.
The 11-minute song below is a ballad that successfully (I think) follows a character slightly past death. I find it very moving. I hope you do as well.
For the comments: when an author attempts to write about the afterlife, do you start rolling your eyes or do you go with it? What are some of your favorite post-death scenes in books or movies?
Today I present my mock-up for the cover of The Long Guest.
What is Normal for the Genre
TLG is in a genre of epic sci-fi/fantasy that is light on magic. Often books in this genre have an evocative landscape on the cover, to draw you into the world of the book. For example, this copy of Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness shows the icy landscape through which her characters travel …
On this cover for S.M. Stirling’s A Meeting at Corvallis, there is a lot of detail to show exactly what sort of world is contained in the covers. The broken asphalt and the ruined skyscrapers in the background show that this is a post-apocalyptic world. Meanwhile the horse and buggy, and the main character’s battle axe and chain mail, show that in this world, we use medieval technology. Finally, the man’s battle gear leads you to expect combat.
Often books in this genre will show one or more main characters, usually in only a semi-active pose. This particular one, unlike some of Stirling’s other books, shows the character face-on. I don’t prefer this as a reader, because I prefer to form my own mental picture of the character.
A good example is this copy of Jean M. Auel’s The Valley of Horses, which shows Ayla from behind. We’ve already been told that Ayla is tall and blond, so this doesn’t do too much damage to our mental picture of her. Notice the other hints at the important parts of the plot: the wild horses, the rugged mountains, and Ayla’s sling.
So I would like the cover of The Long Guest to look something like this. Nimri (sitting on the ground) and Zillah look at the unfinished, scaffolding-covered Tower. Grasses in the foreground hint at the steppes they will soon traverse. You get a general sense of what they look like (Nimri’s beard, Zillah’s bun), but are left to imagine their faces.
Obviously, my painting has less detail than the two examples above.
Here it is with a different title font …
And here, courtesy of photoshop tools, is a version with duller colors. I kind of like this one, but am concerned that it makes the book look like a horror story, which it isn’t.
The spine would look something like this.
What do you guys think? What kinds of covers do you expect on your fantasy books?
Postscript: Quick & Dirty Mock-Ups with Other Fonts
“I mean, if you hadn’t shot that guy — with his wife and his kids and his mom who loved him — he’d have thrown that grenade and killed every single one of us. Nicki. Jim. And your girlfriend Lady Liberty too.”
I looked away from him so he wouldn’t see me blushing. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.”
“I bet if you asked them, you’d find out they have moms too. Nicki and Jim. Meredith. They maybe all have moms.”
“Maybe even you,” I said.
“Well, let’s not jump to conclusions,” Palmer drawled.
I walked another moment in silence. It was a pretty miserable choice, you know. You either kill a guy or he kills your friends. Either the murderous rebels win or the murderous government. It was like the whole country was just one big series of bad choices.
Ben Shapiro interviews an eclectic grab bag of people each week on his Sunday Special. (Their main common factor is that they were willing to come on and be interviewed by him.) The interview embedded below is my favorite of all the ones he’s done so far. It’s super long, but if you are interested in the fiction industry or the writing process or the sci-fi and fantasy genres or identity politics or religion, then it will be worth your while.
Orson Scott Card is the author of the super popular sci-fi novel Ender’s Game. I tried to read this novel when I was way too young and I did not get all the way through it. It was hard for me to keep in mind that Ender and his co-trainees were kids when in some ways they acted like geniuses.
Card is also a Mormon, or LDS (Latter-Day Saint) as many of them prefer to be called. This gives him a unique perspective on religion, specifically on what it’s like to be misunderstood as a religious person.
AT 4:18, Card clears up what exactly counts as sci-fi versus fantasy: “The usual is that science fiction is stuff that has not happened but is possible, and fantasy is stuff that doesn’t happen and isn’t actually possible but we can imagine it. And that almost works except for the fact that it’s considered science fiction if you do things like faster-than-light travel or time travel. And those can’t happen. Time travel especially, because the string of causality is unbreakable. … So it’s arguable. But I learned the practical definition right away. The covers of fantasy books have trees. The covers of science fiction books have sheet metal with rivets. So it’s rivets versus trees. If your story is illustratable with rivets then it’s sci-fi, and if it needs trees to be effective, then it’s fantasy.” (N.b.: This is why my books are fantasy even though they feature no wizards.)
11:35 On the fact that fantasy magic systems have rules too: “You can’t just throw magic on the page and make it fantasy. You have to make it fantasy that would pass muster with a science fiction writer, because that’s who’s writing fantasy now.”
At 15:00, he addresses Pantsing versus Plotting: “I try to think ahead. Mostly milieu development. Then I’ll think of obligatory scenes, things that have to happen. And I’ll have to then set up those scenes so that they mean something. So there’s some planning that goes into it. I know writers who think like screenwriters, and their thought is all on the [outline]. I can’t do that, because anything I wrote for anything after chapter two is going to be discarded as soon as I find out what’s going on in chapter one. The process is pretty flexible, because by the time I’m nearing the end of any novel, the outline is now a relic … And I’ve seen, for example, an early novel by Dean Koontz, where it was obvious to me that after developing an amazing cast of characters that readers cared about, he caught up with the point in the outline where they all go into an alien spaceship together, and at that point he was just following the outline and it didn’t matter who any of the characters were.” (N.b.: Card’s method is plantsing, and it is the method I use as well. )
At 37:00, he starts talking about religions in fiction: “If you are going to create a character that has an existing religion, you have a responsibility to make it plausible. In America, we have two generic religions. If you need a hierarchical religion, you use Catholic. If you need a congregational religion, you use generic-Protestant-but-really-Baptist. Those religions are available and we all have some experience with them by watching movies. Jewish, not so much. I would feel a great deal of trepidation making a character of mine Jewish, especially orthodox, because I’ve known enough orthodox Jews to know how rigorous the demands are, what has to be kept in your head all the time. And I do that as a Mormon. I know all of our rules by heart, I don’t even have to think about them any more. But whenever I watch somebody’s fictional treatment of Mormonism, no one ever gets it right. No one even comes close. Getting somebody else’s religion wrong is a terrible faux pas.”
41:56: “That’s one of my minor messages: people have religion, and the fiction writer who retreats from that is cheating himself and his readers.”
43:51: “There are smart people in Hollywood. There are good people in Hollywood. They just don’t have the power to greenlight a film.”
At 52:00, he starts talking about the move towards identity politics in sci-fi: “And many of them, whom I know, are people who are simply writing their conscience. But their conscience is ill-informed.”
55:20 and following, on race: “When every white person in America knows that they are labelled as racist, that means why keep trying? Because no matter what you do, you are going to be labelled as white privileged and as racist. … But I know that now, all white people are getting more and more nervous that no matter what they say, it’s going to be turned on them and used to call them the ugly name racist. And that is pretty much the ugliest name that we have in our vocabulary right now. If you’re looking for your Tourette’s list of words that you should not speak, words which will wound, the f-word is way way low on the list. We are used to the f-word, we hear it all the time. Compared to racist. Wow! That’s serious. That’s savage.”