“Don’t run off too far, Sarah,” said my father. But I guess I did.
Sarah was me before I was Silk. I became Silk because Sarah couldn’t run away.
I was five or so when my father took me walking to Woodside Park. It was just a few blocks away from home, but to me it felt like miles. There, rough concrete gave way to soft gray powder and chips of shredded wood. I swept out hieroglyphs with my toes, stomping up little clouds of dust. Despite sneaker-prints and an old mitten in the dirt, the park was empty save for us. At the far edge of it, down a long-sloped hill, a dark throat opened in the trees.
And I, of course, wanted to go down that.
The park itself sat dull and empty beneath a listless sky. There were swing-sets hung from cold gray pipes, and a slide that left brown smears across my butt and smelled like rust and old pee. I was bored out of my mind, I think, and my father probably was as well. I remember breathing sharp and prickly things when he picked me up. His barbwire scent burned the skin inside my nose and made me wriggle in his big, soft hands. After a few minutes swinging on the swings, and a few passes down that ugly slide, I spotted the path down into the woods. I wonder, now, if I knew what called to me.
Don’t run off too far, Sarah, he said as I stepped into the shadows. If he’d onlyknown how far I’d run someday…
(Photo by Masha Sardari)
Hello, folks. Thanks to my friend Victoria Pond, I’m contributing to the Next Big Thing blog-hop project. As other authors in the hop-chain have said, the Next Big Thing is a branching pyramid-of-prose for authors to discuss their latest release or Work In Progress. Each author answers some preset questions (see below for my answers), and then tags five others to go next week.
For my turn, I’ll be discussing my novel-in-progress Holy Creatures To and Fro. An excerpt from that book is featured above.
What is the working title of your book?
I got the title of this book from a line in Dante’s Divine Comedy – Paradiso (Canto XVIII):
So from within those lights the holy creatures
Sang flying to and from, and in their figures
Made of themselves now D, now I, now L.
First singing they to their own music moved;
Then one becoming of these characters,
A little while they rested and were silent.
The passage refers to the souls of the Just Departed, flying across the skies of heaven and spelling out “Love justice, ye that judge on earth.” Originally, my mind snatched on that phrase “holy creatures to and fro” because I liked the image it conjured in my head. Later, as the novel took shape, I realized that themes of justice and the idea of a sacred creature “singing to (her) own accord” fit the themes I’m exploring n the novel… a book about a very unsaintly teenage runaway whose internal landscape is a sort of purgatory as she moves through something very much like hell.
I’ve toyed with other titles for the book, including – very briefly – Demerge, which recalled both the Gnostic Demiurge and the fusion-word de + merge, which suits the main character’s state of mind. All my readers hated that title, though, so I stuck with Holy Creatures, which I often call Holy Critters among my friends.
Where did the idea come from for the book?
The simple answer is that I started writing an homage to Lovecraft’s short story “The Outsider” for a Lovecraft-themed anthology, and when it passed 8000 words with no end in sight I thought, Huh, I guess this is my novel… finally! Although I’ve been a professional author for over two decades, I have yet to finish a novel – plenty of novel-length projects, but not a novel. My previous attempts had crashed because they didn’t feel right. This one did… and still does, three years after my Muse took a detour with it and ran off in some weird directions.
Silk originally began as a supporting character in an abandoned screenplay project called Forsaken, and the idea of a runaway girl breaking into an an empty mansion during a hurricane stuck in my head. Combined with my interests in urban tribes and postmodern shamanism (which I explored in Cult of Ecstasy, Deliria: Faerie Tales for a New Millennium, and a ton of my short stories), that girl and her desperate journey became the novel Holy Creatures.
What genre does your book fall under?
I’m not sure it does fit under a genre, which has made the book a hard sell, even within my own head. I’ve put it aside over a dozen times, thinking No one’s gonna want THIS. It’s not a “sexy wolf-girl fights crime” book or a “my vampire boyfriend” novel, so I figured I was wasting my time with it. Thankfully, I have several beta-readers who’ve threatened bodily harm on me if I dump this book in the trunk. And Silk would probably kick my ass from inside my head if I let her down.
If I had to elevator-pitch it, I’d say that Holy Creatures is a magical realist urban fantasy. That’s not exactly accurate, but it’ll work.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Chloё Grace Moretz blew me away in both Kick-Ass and the (surprisingly good) American remake of Let the Right One In. After her turn as Abby in Let Me In, I would give quite a bit to see her portray Silk. She’d need to dye her hair blue, but somehow I think she’s up to that.
In my head, Silk’s adoptive mother-figure Angelica Carver – a nod to Angela Carter, Anne Rice and Mercedes Lackey – is played by Angela Basset in scary-regal mode. Silk’s departed Alpha mate Tolliver looks kinda like a teenaged cross between Vin Diesel and John Boyega from Attack the Block, though not British. They’ve both got Tolliver’s feral slow-burn charisma, and I haven’t seen any other mixed-ethnicity American actors who are both young and intense enough to play him properly. Flamboyantly gay Fiasco could be played by Taylor Lautner if he got some acting lessons – he’s got the right look and presence. As for the rest, I’m not sure. It’d be interesting to see what Cameron Diaz would do with the role of Silk’s mother; she’s got the acting chops but I’m not sure she’d want such a harsh and brittle role.
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A haunted feral runaway descends into her personal underworld.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Several publishers have expressed an interest in it, but given how long the book’s gestation has been, I don’t want to sign any contracts until I have a final draft I’m happy with. Considering that I have several huge projects in the works beyond this book (Mage 20th Anniversary, The Dreamdance Oracle, Arpeggio and Powerchords: Music, Magic and Urban Fantasy, for starters), I’d rather let Holy Creatures emerge at its own pace than rush the process along and consequently spoil it.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It’s still in progress. I’ve been working on it on and off for roughly three years, though not steadily on it for more than a few weeks at any given time. Unlike most of my work, Holy Creatures has neither a paycheck nor a deadline attached to it, so it gets worked on when I have an opportunity. That said, the book is kind of an obsession for me. When I have time to rejoin Silk’s weird little world, I do.
The worst part has been the first three chapters. Although whole portions of the book have flown by in a single pass, those chapters have been rewritten more times than I care to recall. Finally, I just threw them out and started the book in a different place. CLICK! That was the trick that made ‘em finally work. The moral:Don’t get too attached… a fitting one for this book.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Probably the closest comparisons I can think of are Francesca Lia Block’s The Hanged Man, Holly Black’s Valiant, Angela Carter’s “Wolf-Alice” and “The Company of Wolves,” Alice Hoffman’s Green Angel, and Jane Lindskold’s Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls. It’s not quite like any of them, but all have influenced the story and my approach to it.
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
The deeper inspirations for Holy Creatures come from my girlfriend Coyote, who has Asperger’s Syndrome; an ex-friend who has Asperger’s as well; my own experiences with sensory processing disorders (and perhaps a childhood on the autistic scale myself); and my enduring connections with Spirit-Wolf and the Feral Girl archetype. My friend Inky and former wife Cathi were profoundly influential too, but the greatest influences came from my affinity for the woods, my barefoot lifestyle, my Pagan beliefs, and my realization that American society is profoundly self-absorbed, locked in a form of spiritual and cultural autism. I like paradoxes, and so the idea of an autistic urban shaman observing the cultural disconnection around her seemed like a fun playground for ideas.
Another key inspiration comes from the myth of Inanna’s descent. Perhaps the most ancient piece of literature we have (older than the Bible by a fair stretch), it features the goddess Inanna (aka Ishtar and Astarte) passing through a number of gates on her way down to visit her sister in the Land of the Dead. When she gets there, her sister Ereskigal, Goddess of Death, kills Inanna, skins her, and hangs the skin on the wall. Eventually, Inanna is resurrected by avatars of Hope and Compassion; even then, though, she carries bits of the Underworld inside her forever.
And then there’s the writing and music of Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, David Bowie and Trent Reznor; the art of William Blake; the photography of Ryan McGinley and Masha Sardari; and the defiant work of the Romantics and Decadents of the 19th century. All these artists have struggled with the limitations of their form and audience, and I’ve often felt the same way, especially with this novel. It would be easier to make this a “wolf-girl fights crime” book, but that’s not what I want from it… nor is it what Holy Creatures wants to be. Throughout its many drafts, I’ve wrangled the balance between surreal first-person present-tense mind-games, and a book that’s actually readable. The early versions were damn near incoherent, and even the more “final” ones have a disconnected quality that’s totally intentional. I’ve been trying to capture a visionquest on paper, and that’s sort of what Holy Creatures is.
All those concepts got tangled up in the idea of young fans who take their fictional inspirations too far, and the perils of letting someone else define your identity for you… or of defining identities for other people. I learned a bit about both extremes during my days working in the White Wolf Game Studio, where fans occasionally forgot that we were writing fantasy. When I hit that phrase in The Divine Comedy, it all kinda clicked. Silk herself is a “holy creature” – a feral exile haunted by ghosts that seem more real to her than most people do.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Another excerpt, perhaps?
The green breath of forest gods held itself for me.
Night-critters hid themselves from my rage.
Deep in the woods, finally free from nosy neighbors, I squeezed my eyes shut and choked up body-wracking sobs. Sharp cries grated their way up my throat, tearing loose all pretence of civility or shame. I ripped off my clothes and punched myself, pounded my belly with hard fists until I swore I heard something red and tiny cry out and die.
I threw myself naked on the gravel and rolled around. Dared myself to leap off a hill, and then did.
The moment of freefall felt like my escape.
Then I crashed hard in a pile of sticks, tearing my skin open on rocks and roots until I came to whatever senses I had left.
Breathing so hard that my ribs seemed to meet on the middle inside, I stared at the darkness and tried to think.
What will you surrender, Silk?
That was the first time I heard that phrase inside. The phrase that marked the other times I’d needed to break through life’s chamber doors. What will you surrender, Silk?
I don’t know yet.
But I will not surrender ME.
Thank you, Victoria – and thanks to everyone who’s reading this.
Now to tag the following five authors to answer these same questions next Wednesday!
Karina Cooper – Genre: steampunk and paranormal romance
Dennis R. Upkins – Genre: horror
Angel Leigh McCoy – Genre: fantasy
Crystal Connor – Genre: horror and fantasy
Monica Valentinelli – Genre: Fantasy, horror and RPGs