Monthly Archives: January 2012
I am working furiously on “The 12th Demon” and there are vampires. Then, today’s prompt for storypraxis intrigued me so I wrote this short, short story that captures some of the flavor of the characters in “The 12th Demon”. I hope you like it!
the end of the night
“Why haven’t you ever asked to drink my blood?”
Sebastian glanced at our reflection, rather my reflection in the train window. “We are friends, Jon. I’ve never looked upon you as dinner.”
I pulled his cloak up around his shoulders. He was slumping in the train seat, his cloak rumpled, his hair askew and his features haggard. Gone were the imperious, powerful facial expressions of the vampire I had known for months now. “You look terrible, you know.”
Sebastian shrugged. “I’ve looked worse. You should have seen me during the Crusades. Kill or be killed. Drink or die. Blood everywhere. I was an unholy mess.”
I glanced at my watch. Ten minutes. “Why are you doing this?”
Sebastian turned away from the utter darkness outside the train window and his burgundy eyes were moist. He blinked and patted my hand. “It is time. There is always a time to cease; to pause; to exhale.”
“You don’t inhale.” I said.
Sebastian smiled and his fangs were visible. I glanced around at the other passengers on the train, all still and ensconced in their private worlds. Who would he have eaten? Which mortal would he have claimed?
“I could give you just a little.” I held up my wrist.
Sebastian pushed it gently away. “Do not tempt me, Jon. You are the reason I have chosen to die, you know.”
I felt my heart quicken. “Me?”
“Yes, you. Pulling me into your world of arcane investigations. Proving to me that their are monsters worse than I in this world. Showing me that the future of mankind is hopeful and you will prevail in time over the creatures of night and blood and death like me.” He turned back to the window. “How long now?”
“I never chose this lifestyle, Jon. It was thrust upon me. But, I chose every victim over the centuries. Some reluctantly. Some with glee. You have given me Choice again. I don’t have to be this way anymore.” He sat upright in his seat and turned so that his gaze was fully on me. His eyes glowed with his power. “Do you think there is a place for me in heaven? Or, will I live forever, again, with the damned in hell?”
I swallowed under the intensity of his gaze. “I cannot answer that, Sebastian. I refuse to believe you have no soul. I refuse to believe that God’s forgiveness would be denied even you. I have to believe that even Judas could have claimed forgiveness.”
He nodded and released me from his gaze. I relaxed. Never would I feel those eyes on me again. I glanced at my watch. “One minute.”
Sebastian adjusted his cloak and his ascot. He ran a hand through his dark hair and like magic, it was straight and full. He was suddenly himself, his powerful vampire mastery filling the air with electricity. “So, it is morning in France?”
“Yes, we will be out of the Chunnel any moment now.”
Sebastian reached over and turned up his palm. “I have prayed to your God, Jon. I seek His forgiveness. We shall see if He will take me in this new morning at the end of the night. Tell Lydia she has chosen a good man in you. Will you hold my hand?”
I took his cold, frigid hand in mine and he turned his gaze fully on me. Light glimmered out the window for a second and with a lurch, the train passed out of the tunnel into the countryside of France. Sunlight gushed in through the window and fell upon Sebastian’s shoulders. He closed his eyes and waited.
Nothing happened. No fire. No ash. No explosion of flesh. His cheeks flared with crimson and his hand suddenly grew warm in mine. I gasped and released it. He opened his eyes. They were bright blue. His mouth fell open and my eyes grew wide. His fangs were gone. He turned and looked out the window and the morning sun fell full on his face. He looked through his own reflection and smiled.
There was the mystery of the man in the rocker. My mother often told the story of how, at the age of 14 (which would be in 1932) she was forbidden by her mother and father to go to a dance party. In the small town of Saline, Louisiana there just wasn’t a whole to do for entertainment and my mother really wanted to go to the “Jump Josey” party. So, after she was sent to her room, she slid out the window and ran across the yard in the dark toward the neighbor’s house.
She would talk about how much fun she had at the party and suddenly realizing how late it was. So, she ran back to her house. It was now close to midnight and the little hamlet of Saline was quite and dead as a door knob.
She eased up on the front porch with her shoes in her hand and into the house. As soon as she shut the front door behind her, she head someone rocking in the rocking chair. In the dim interior of the living room only lit by reflected moonlight, she saw someone sitting in the rocker. Her heart was beating and she was so afraid it was her mother and father. She quietly slipped by the chair but when she passed her parents’ bedrooms, they were both in the bed fast asleep. All of her sisters and her brother were in their beds. Then, who was in the rocker?
This was the great mystery. I remember sitting on the edge of my seat as my mother told this story. She told it over and over throughout my childhood. And, I jumped every time the big Reveal was, well, revealed. In fact, my mother and father were incredible story tellers. It seemed as if their entire lives were one unending story after another. I grew up believing in fairy tales and ghost stories and that good would always triumph over evil. I grew up believing that life, like stories, has a beginning, a middle, and an end and the best stories always have the strongest endings! I grew up believing that everything in life was a story; coherent; understandable; forward moving toward a satisfying end.
In our postmodern culture where relativism rules supreme, it is difficult to see where life in the 21st century matches the classic story. I guess that is why I absolutely LOVE anything written, directed, or produced by J. J. Abrams. Yes, I watched every episode of LOST with breathless anticipation. And, yes, I loved the finale. It fit. It was inevitable. It was a strong ending. I watched every episode of Alias. I went back and watched Mission Impossible III again and loved it. And, Fringe is one of my favorite shows right now. Just last week, I got hooked again by Alcatraz. And, as a life long Trekker, I was shocked and stunned by the brilliance of his reboot of Star Trek.
This past week I began the long process of re-editing my final version of my next book, “The 12th Demon”. Today’s post is about plot. My editor, Andy, had this to say about character development in light of the plot devices regarding one scene where Jonathan Steel has “lost” the teenager Josh again and is reeling with emotional conflict over this failure to keep his promise to Josh’s mother:
You’ve written a novel that centers around action, which is excellent. However here it would be good to dwell on Steel’s emotions. He’s just lost Josh. He would be feeling ashamed, angry, and even afraid. Help the readers connect with him on an emotional level by giving Steel a moment of vulnerability here. See this talk by JJ Abrams about the most important scene in Jaws (start at 10:00).
Here is the link to this most excellent discussion. Watch it over and over and bathe in the pure brilliance of the Mystery Box.
My mother gave me a “mystery box” each and every time she told me that story. It set the stage for my entire life. It has made me an investigator of all around me: people, places, things, situations, life in general. For in everyone of us, in every situation there is a mystery to be solved. And, it is in the journey to discovery that life finds its most satisfaction for me. In fact, the greatest discovery of my life was in finding a relationship with Jesus Christ. Opening that “mystery box” was the most profound experience of all.
Oh, yeah. The rocker.
My mother slowly crept back into the living room, still carrying her shoes. The rocker was still but as she got closer, it began to rock again and she could now hear a deep, throaty breathing from the person in the chair. Who was it? Had someone come into the house to rob them? She should have run back to her parents’ bedroom and cried for help, but if she did, she would be in big trouble over the dance. So, she drew nearer to the chair and asked, “Who’s there?” More deep breath and now, a thumping sound like a heart beating hard and slow. She reached out in the darkness and felt hard, scratchy whiskers and she screamed, throwing her shoes up in the air. The man in the chair bolted up and landed right on top of her as they toppled to the floor. The man’s face grew close to hers and he . . . licked her. He licked her? The lights came on as the family tumbled into the living room and there perched on top of my mother was the family hound. You can figure out the rest!
Meet Vivian Darbonne. Without the apostrophe. In “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”, Vivian is a minor character serving as the “administrative assistant” to the evil Robert Ketrick. She is seductive and surly and her catch phrase is “looky what the cat dragged in”. She drips with Southern charm but beneath her pouty exterior is a calculating creature of pure evil.
In my upcoming book, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon” due in October, 2012, Vivian becomes a major character. I recently began my first edit of that book with my editor for Realms books. He had some suggestions for Vivian.
Even the most direct women, I believe, seduce with words and physical suggestion before taking action. Coquettes and Sirens gain sexual power over their victims through the tease, through mixed signals, and through seeming helplessness. I want the audience to be seduced by Vivian. To love her, pity her, and hate her at the same time. You have to work to make her more human, less black leather.
His suggestion: look at the possibility of turning Vivian into a femme fatale. So, what is a femme fatale? That great, inexhaustible, and highly reliable source, Wikipedia describes a femme fatale like this:
A mysterious and seductive woman whose charms ensnare her lovers in bonds of irresistible desire, often leading them into compromising, dangerous, and deadly situations. She is an archetype of literature and art. Her ability to entrance and hypnotize her victim with a spell was in the earliest stories seen as being literally supernatural; hence, the femme fatale today is still often described as having a power akin to an enchantress, seductress, vampire, witch, or demon.
The list of literary “femme fatales” was long but two examples from films interested me. First, the character portrayed by Mary Astor from “The Maltese Falcon”. This is one of my favorite movies featuring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade and directed by John Huston. I immediately located the movie in my iTunes list and watched it again.
The first time I really sat and watched this movie was in 2005. I was preparing my script for “The Homecoming Tree”. This play was set in 1941 and I wanted to see a movie from that year. Watching the movie helped me work out the nuances of behaviors and habits from that period and most importantly, how men and women interacted.
Astor really irritated me. From the first frame I didn’t like her. I guess it was because instinctively I didn’t trust her. What was it about her that made me not trust her? Maybe it was because she was so ingratiating and so smooth with her conversation. So calm and unflustered. I never like her the entire movie, but I had to admit she was one brazen dame!
What qualities did she exhibit that classified her as a femme fatale? She was seductive, vulnerable, conniving, and slowly reeled in every man she met. Okay so this was one model to use for Vivian. But, there was another movie that I recalled from the 1980’s. It was a very steamy, very explicit movie by one of my favorite writers, Lawrence Kasdan. He had written the screenplays for three of my favorite movies, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. And, if you think about Leia in Empire and Marion Ravenwood in Raiders, they both have a bit of the femme fatale. But, nobody, and I do mean nobody can compete with Kathleen Turner as Matty. I tried to watch this movie again but had to turn if off several times when my wife walked through the room. Yes, I felt very, very guilty. But, Matty’s character is the perfect femme fatale for a more modern age than 1941.
What sets her apart from Mary Astor’s character is the give and take with the man in her life. She pulls him close with her seduction than pushes him away. She entices him with subtle words then slaps him across the face and pushes him out the door. The most famous scene is near the first part of the story. Ned has visited her house for the first time and she has locked him out. Matty is standing in the foyer and she has locked Ned out. He goes from window to window to door and Matty is not moving. She sends the message, “I don’t want you to come in. But, I do want you to come in.” Finally, Ned breaks out a glass door and they, well, they connect.
Matty is up to no good and (spoilers here) she sets Ned up to kill her husband and take the fall then disappears with all her husband’s money to some exotic island.
Back to Vivian. How can I transform her into the perfect femme fatale? How can I take her seductive demeanor and make her helpless and fickle? That is the challenge. Vivian is a major character in “The 12th Demon” and clashes right off with Rudolph Wulf, a man in league with the twelfth demon. Now I have my work cut out for me. So, if you’ll pardon me, Vivian and I have a date tonight. Don’t worry. I’ll keep a close eye on her!
Do you have a favorite “femme fatale”? Share with me. Oh, and if you haven’t read “The 13th Demon” pick up a copy and meet Vivian Darbonne without the apostrophe. See what the cat dragged in!
To all prospective writers today I start a new series of blogs dedicated to the process of taking a novel from a final draft to the finished, published project. To this end, I will share with you some of the comments I just received from my editor for my second book, “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon”. Don’t worry! There will be no spoilers. I want to dwell on the process so you can see what I see as I hack and hone the work to its final product.
Here is the opening paragraph of my editor’s letter to me regarding my final manuscript “The 12th Demon: Mark of the Wolf Dragon” slated to debut in October, 2012:
What a pleasure to work with you again on this series. You’ve put together an excellent novel here—and I find the move to more of an action / thriller genre a good one. Horror protagonists tend to be pitiable, average Joes put in unfortunate circumstances, but Steel is the Jason Bourne of paranormal Christian fiction, and I love that you play to his (and your) strengths here.
Wow! That really pumped me up. Then came the next 14 pages. Yes, 14 pages of detailed suggestions on improving the novel. How would you react to receiving 14 pages of suggestions? At first, I was very overwhelmed when my editor sent me a similar set of pages for my first book, “The 13th Demon”. It was almost a year ago and I remember sitting at my desk stunned at the amount of work it was going to take to bring my novel to where my editor thought it should be. I almost called my publisher, Realms Books, and told them I would send back the advance check and could we please tear up the contract?
Isn’t it funny how easily we can be discouraged? I’ve found that one of Satan’s most powerful weapons is discouragement. Years ago, I wrote a short sketch. I played Satan and my friend, Mary come out on the stage holding a little candle. She was singing, “This little light of mine. I’m going to let it shine . . .” I was dressed all in black and I leaned in and began whispering words of absolute doubt and self loathing in her ears. I kept it up until she stopped singing and I blew out her candle. She relit the candle two more times and each time I chose another area of her life to talk about such as her failures with her marriage, etc. and blew out her candle. At the end of the sketch, I went one last round of discouraging words and she blew out her own candle!
Satan discourages us, but ultimately we are our own worst enemy. We blow out our own candle. I realized Satan was whispering these words in my ears and I chased him away with some choice words, the name of Jesus, and a few scriptures. I sat down and completely rewrote most of my manuscript in six weeks until my editor and I completed the final product, “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”. After that rewrite, even though I had turned in the final manuscript for “The 12th Demon” I went back and took it through a similar process and rewrote it and sent it in to Realms this past November. Gratefully, they passed it on to my editor, Andy Meisenheimer and now I have twice as many suggestions as on the first book!
But, I am not in despair. You see, Andy told me in the email with the attached notes that he really liked this second book and wanted to really push me even harder than on the first book. Push me harder? Okaaaaay!
Lesson learned. You can always improve. You can always grow and be better. I strive to always remain teachable. Many of my favorite authors started out a book series with a book that was good, but had weaknesses. And, with time, their subsequent books just got better and better and better. This is what I want to do. I am hoping for that day when I have learned enough of the ropes of writing that the pages diminish, but the praise increases from my editor.
“Once I started “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye,” I could hardly put it down! I just had to read one more page and suddenly I found it was three a. m. and I had to start work in four hours. I can hardly wait for the next Jonathan Steel book, “The 12th Demon”.”
I have been invited to speak at a breakout session at the upcoming Evangelism Conference for the Louisiana Baptist Convention January 23 and 24 in Alexandria, Louisiana at Louisiana College. I will be speaking Tuesday afternoon on Frequently Asked Questions from the “Faithless”. It will be a two part session covering six of the most importantly asked questions from skeptics and nonbelievers regarding the Christian faith. Here is my description of the presentations:
F.A.Q.s from the Faithless! Part 1 and 2
This presentation will be two 45 minute sessions. Each session will discuss three of the most asked questions by skeptics and nonbelievers regarding the veracity of the Christian faith for a total of six questions. In today’s culture of growing hostility toward the Christian faith, Christian’s MUST be prepared to answers these challenging questions and practice “pre-evangelism”. In fact, these questions are asked by Christians and our inability to answer these questions is at the heart of many who are leaving the Christian faith. Come to both sessions and learn simple answers to these challenging questions. This introduction to “apologetics”, the defense of the Christian faith will show you there are answers to these questions and there are reliable resources available to equip Christians with the tools we need to defend our faith! Be prepared to answers these Frequently Asked Questions from the Faithless!
In light of the bestselling books by the “new atheists” such as “The God Delusion” or “God is NOT Great” the prevailing thought is that if you believe in God you are delusional. Or, as Stephen Hawking would say, you’re believing in a “fairy tale”. What kind of rational, reasonable proof do we have that the God of the Bible exists?
Science and faith are at odds and science is the enemy of faith. The Bible says kooky things like the universe is only 6500 years old when the Chinese have written historical documents older than that. So, what gives? Are faith and science enemies? How can a Christian believe in science and the Scriptures?
Why can’t everyone just leave me alone. It’s up to me to decide what is good and what is bad. Truth is in the eyes of the beholder. Why should I confine myself to YOUR truth. Is there such a thing as absolute truth?
Speaking of the Bible, it seems to be an old book written over thousands of years full of contradictions. I’m sure it has been changed over time to fit the current political climate of the church. How can I believe in an ancient book that has changed so much over the centuries and is filled with so many glaring errors?
Earthquakes, floods, wars, famines, disease — the world is filled with evil and suffering. If there is a God, why does He allow these things to happen? Since they are happening, there must not be a God.
Millions and millions; possibly billions of innocent people have been killed over the past two thousand years in the name of Christianity. Why should I become a Christian and join the ranks of those who perpetrate these atrocities?
Got Questions? Get Answers!