I haven’t written a philosophical rant in a while, so I thought I’d indulge. And when I say rant, I really mean it. LOL Sometimes it helps to vent my frustration in written form. I don’t expect it to change the world, but I’m also not willing to change myself to fit the world, or meet it half way. At least on this one point. Read on to see what I mean by that.
In light of the upcoming release of Helena, I thought I would dedicate a few posts on the story for those who aren’t familiar with it, and maybe include a few new tidbits for those who know the first book, Wolfen by heart. (By the way, you have no idea how amazing it feels to say with total sincerity and no exaggeration that there are actually people out there who have not only read this book, but re-read it multiple times!)
So here’s something you never knew: A couple of years ago, I had lunch with a fascinating man who worked in the film industry. He’d read samples of some of my books and we got to talking about Wolfen. He asked me something no one had ever asked before:
Did you ever intend for humanity to survive in the end?
My answer seemed to surprise and disappoint him. I don’t think he expected me to answer the way I did. At the time, I didn’t feel there was any other way to answer but, as I have revisited the question since then, my answer has stayed the same.
Before I tell you what it is, I want to say this book broke so many rules it’s ridiculous. That was kind of the point. I wanted to burn the rule book, let the story flow however it wanted, and whatever it turned out to be, that was what it would end up being. I gave myself no limits or guidelines, except one: be different. I didn’t want to retell the same stories that have already been told so many times, so right off the bat, I knew two things:
#1 My monsters would not be the result of a disease. That was too simple, too familiar, and too easy to fix. A disease is usually curable, or treatable. You can see a disease coming and take preventative measures. Moreover, disease outbreaks eventually burn out. They may claim a thousand victims, or a million but, historically, humanity as a species is resilient and bounces back, often with new immunities and vaccines to prevent another outbreak.
What makes my monsters so scary is that they are unstoppable. They don’t discriminate, they can’t be outrun or overpowered; very little can take them down and keep them down for long, and they multiply too quickly to be controlled in any way. Think of the destructive power of invasive species with no natural predators. Think of mice in Australia, for example. They can destroy an entire ecosystem at an incredible rate and are nearly impossible to eradicate. Now imagine if this invasive species preyed on the most readily available food source: humans.
#2 My monsters would not be inherently evil. We all know good is supposed to triumph over evil. Evil has a goal (whatever it may be) and everything it does is to bring it one step closer to that goal. If you know what the goal is, you can form strategies and battle plans to stop the spread of evil. Like a disease, evil is something that can be addressed and/or prevented.
My monsters have no evil master plan or ultimate end game. In fact, they aren’t even intelligent enough to know what those things are. They are pure instinct, and everything they do is merely the result of their nature. Not agents of evil, but agents of chaos. I always thought chaos was much more frightening than evil. Because, once it gets loose, there’s no stopping it.
Given these two parameters…
Did I ever intend for humanity to survive in the end?
No. Logically, there is no way they could have overcome the monsters they’d created. The threat was, by design, far better at survival than humans. In seeking to elevate their own species by forcing evolution, humans had not only created the means of their own destruction, but also crippled their only effective weapon against it.
By the way, in case you were worried, this isn’t a spoiler… it’s still only the prologue.
When I gave my lunch partner this answer, I could see he wasn’t happy with it. He told me most screenwriters would have at least provided a hope for survival. I already knew that. Which was why I’d made the decision to go a different way. Wolfen is not a story where humanity triumphs again–in fact, it’s not really about humanity at all, hence the title.
I think of the creation of converts (the monsters in question) as similar to the meteor strike that wiped out dinosaurs. They’re a giant reset button on the history of life on planet Earth. They wipe the slate clean, and clear the path for the emergence of a new dominant species–if it can survive. That’s the true question of survival in this book:
Once the dust has settled, which species will be left standing: Wolfen or converts?
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Do you know why I love books? For a few reading hours, they allow me to be brave through the psyche of another person and not care about consequences.
Books have taught me that I have a massive character flaw: I am a coward. In a million tiny ways, most of them insignificant and shrug-worthy to others, I am a coward. I don’t always say no when I should. Resulting from a desire to solve problems and be helpful, I do that first, and think about whether I should have done it later, after it’s come back to bite me on the ass. It’s partly my own nature, and partly the nature of my day job, which dictates, “You do what is asked, you do it with a smile. You go the extra mile, do more with less, lead by example, and smile.”
As I read that back to myself, all I can think of is the creepy guy on the street corner, always saying, “Gimme a smile, baby.” It’s the same thing, really. Except the former pays you to do it and the latter calls you a bitch if you don’t.
What would you do if you had the freedom to do or say anything? Would you tell that coworker who called 5 minutes before end of day to request 2-hours’ worth of work to take it somewhere else? Would you wear that outfit people call “inappropriate” with pride? Would you go to that club or bar people whisper about, but never admit to visiting?
What would you do if you no longer cared about what people thought of you?
I think about this a lot–about the boundaries we set, or don’t set in different ways and situations. I think most of us have pretty solid boundaries when it comes to the big stuff, and we’re more than willing to enforce those boundaries by any means necessary. Some people draw the line at having sex on a first date–some people draw it at having sex, period. Some people won’t lend money (or books). Some people refuse to step foot on a suspension bridge. Maybe you don’t want to give up your child’s recital to help a neighbor move. Maybe you refuse to go to that crazy rave party your friends are pushing you to go to. Maybe you don’t want to emigrate to a foreign country and leave your entire life behind so your spouse can take that great job offer. We draw lines in the sand, and we refuse to let them be crossed.
But what about the million and one little things we have to do every day and not even notice? You ask that the toilet seat be put down, yet every time you go to the bathroom, it’s always up. You say you don’t want to watch that horror flick late at night but, “Come on, babe, it’s only an hour and a half. It’s no big deal.” You tell your weekly lunch crowd you don’t want a certain type of food, but, “Oh, come on, just try it! What’s wrong with you? You never want to try new things.”
I am at an age where every unpleasant choice comes down to one question: Is the outcome so important to me that I am willing to risk temporarily or permanently damaging my relationship with this person? Most of the time, the answer is no, so I go along the path of least resistance. I won’t stubbornly argue a point of view that won’t make a difference in the long run. I will give in and do that thing, or go to that place, and grin and bear it for a few hours.
The problem is, after a while, people start taking advantage of that, and I get resentful, and it’s as much my fault as it is theirs, because I don’t say anything to let them know this is not okay with me. Until the proverbial straw breaks the camel’s back and causes an epic meltdown.
A big (and controversial) part of The Beast Series is that very concept of freedom from consequence. What would you do if you didn’t have to care about what people thought of you? That kind of freedom comes from one of two places: money and privilege, or apathy and the recklessness of having nothing to lose. My (anti)hero, Prince Bastien, lives in the former. He is untouchable, and he knows it. He does the things he does because there is no one to make him stop. There is no one to tell him, “No, this is wrong.” He is surrounded by people whose purpose in life is to do his bidding, and friends who revel in the immunity he bestows upon them through association. He doesn’t care, so why should they?
Bastien is what happens to a person when they stop giving a shit–about anything or anyone. And his friends are what happens when people gravitate toward that kind of assholery because it excuses their own bad behavior. People don’t like “bad” people, I don’t think. What they like is being able to be a little bit bad themselves, because whatever they say or do, they can always console themselves by remembering they’re still not as bad as the other guy. It’s the allowance of freedom from conventional rules of etiquette we crave; the “permission” to be mean under the guise of standing up for ourselves; to indulge those aspects of ourselves polite society deems unacceptable. Or maybe just to forcefully rebuild the boundaries we have allowed others to breach far too many times.
Boundaries are a funny thing. The word itself feels so firm and absolute. “Pushing the boundaries” is a phrase always associated with something nearly impossible–great feats of effort to overcome that ethereal border between what is possible and what is not. In contrast, our personal boundaries are sometimes so flimsy they feel more like a wish. They move and evolve constantly over the span of a lifetime, or even the span of a day. What felt like such an important principle yesterday becomes irrelevant today. The things we could demand last week are no longer an option come Monday morning.
We ourselves treat boundaries as if they were suggestions. We sacrifice the integrity of our own for the sake of other people and undermine other people’s for the sake of ourselves. If we put our foot down, someone is always on hand to accuse us of being selfish, having an attitude, not being a team player. So we pick it back up again, and play along–and smile. And then we take back our due from someone else, do to them what’d been done to us because, damn it, we deserve recompense! And so it goes…
I started this post this morning with the intention of making a new resolution: to be braver, stand up for myself more often, and set proper boundaries. It’s been hours since then, and in the time between me setting aside an unfinished post and coming back to complete it, I actually got the opportunity to do all of that. And I’m happy to report that I did. Maybe not as forcefully as I would have liked, but I took a step. I made progress, and I didn’t let myself get stomped into the ground by a temperamental hothead in a bad mood.
Today, I feel brave(r).
Tomorrow is Friday, so I’ll just focus on the positives. LOL
Until next time!
The Beast Series is available at your favorite online store as an eBook and paperback:
Think back on your life so far. Think of one instant when you have made a conscious choice to be completely open and vulnerable with another person. I’m talking sincerity, honesty, and all those things that make us all so uncomfortable. No defense mechanisms, no lies, or omissions, no subtle (or obvious) changes of subject. Just one moment when you decided to lay your soul bare to another human being and let them see the whole, true you.
Can you think of more than one? Can you even think of one?
I’m just going to go ahead and get the point across right at the start here: Books are magic. They just are. You can argue all you want, but you won’t convince me otherwise.
Books are magic, and in the hands of a skilled wizard, they change the face of the world–for better or worse, but mostly for the better, I think.
Books show us things we rarely see, or want to see. They open our minds to possibilities we never considered. Science has shown that reading fiction books enhances brain function and increases empathy in readers. Fiction allows us to escape to another place, another life, to live grand adventures and weather terrible tragedies, and experience fated love, all contained within the safety of a book. And whenever it gets overwhelming, we can set it aside for a while, catch our breath, and restore our equilibrium before moving on.
I am an immersive reader. When I read, I forget the outside world exists. I forget to get off the bus at my stop. I don’t feel hunger or thirst. I tune out the cloying noise of the real world, ignore what’s going on around me, and just sink into the story I’m reading. I become an unwritten character in the book, following the heroes’ journey from the shadows, but everything they see, I see. Everything they hear, I hear. The tone of the book sets the tone of my moods, and the characters’ personalities and attitudes affect my own. When I read about a brave hero, I find myself walking a little taller, speaking up a little louder. When I follow a character with a particular speech pattern or accent, it sometimes leaks into what I say and how I say it.
When I read Charles Bukowski’s Post Office, I kid you not, I had to stop a third of the way through because I sank into an existential crisis that made me resent just having to wake up at a set time in the morning to go to work. I was annoyed by everything and everyone that week. I hated my job and imagined quitting on a daily basis. I just didn’t see the point of it, and I hated the fact that I had to report to the office for those set times because they paid me to do it, and the usual bills just won’t go away on their own.
I applaud Mr. Bukowski for the brilliance of what he’s accomplished, but I will never read another of his books again. Not because he isn’t good, but because he’s too good. I read to escape the doldrums of everyday life, and he gleefully drags me back into them and sinks me even deeper, where I can’t see a way out.
But that’s the thing about fiction: When it’s good, it’s transformative. That’s why I prefer stories with happy endings, ones that are uplifting and awe-inspiring, because reading them changes my entire outlook on life and my place in it. It makes me feel like I can accomplish anything, and everything will work out in the end. Don’t scoff. I may put a brave face on it, but when my writing stalls, or when life throws obstacles and disappointments in my way I need a little encouragement.
The worst thing about books is that they end, and when they do, I’m forced to deal with reality again, where animals don’t talk, and Othercreatures don’t hide in the shadows, and people can’t change shape. It annoys me at the best of times, but when I’m interrupted in the middle of an intense scene, it actually jars me quite a bit and it takes me a second to reorient myself to the present.
I’m telling you. Magic. Guided astral projection that turns ordinary people into Seers.
The same phenomenon applies to my writing, too. I don’t make up the story, so much as watch it happen and describe what I see. When I type it out, it’s as if I’m revealing words that already exist on the page, and I become the book’s first reader.
Some writers do their best work when they outline a book and follow its path to the end. That doesn’t work for me. Whenever I write out an outline or summary, it feels as if I’ve already written the story. But it’s an abbreviated version, so I feel cheated out of the richness of the entire novel, but at the same time the impetus to write it out diminishes to almost nothing, because it’s “already done.”
It’s kind of like forcing myself into lucid dreaming. I never understood the appeal of that. The best thing about dreams is that they open doors I never would have thought to open. Why would I ever want to limit that to my conscious mind’s comfort zone? When my drift descends toward the water’s surface, why would I steer the dream into flight? The most amazing wonders could await me at the bottom of an ocean, for all I know.
Why would I ever want to give up the amazement of experiencing magic by reminding myself it’s not real?
My stories are daydreams I translate into words so others can enjoy them, too. I give them structure to make them coherent, but I never pull back or steer them in a particular direction. Even when–especially when–they lead somewhere new and potentially uncomfortable. That would be cheating myself and my readers out of its true potential.
I may or may not have been called a cynic and a pessimist in the past (although I prefer the word realist). When it comes to everyday life, I’ve had decades to learn that disappointment is a part of the human existence, and I temper my expectations accordingly. I’m also a control freak who, due to the aforementioned disappointments, has adopted the philosophy that “if you want it done right, do it yourself.”
Books and stories are where I let go of all that. Within the worlds of my imagination, I know that my characters know best. When a new one shows up with an outstretched hand and a twinkle in his eyes, I’m more than happy to follow wherever he decides to lead. No arguments, no complaints.
Some people drink or smoke to “loosen up”, others dance or exercise. I dream.
Hi, my name is Alianne, and I am a shameless dreamaholic. 🙂