So you can read my books

Friday, June 25, 2010


Several of you have asked to see a photo of my hospital on stilts.

Sadly, like my character, Samuel McCord, I am a man of high hopes and low tech ... meaning I have no digital camera. But I do have this photo of the stilts before the hospital was placed upon them from the groundbreaking ceremony attended by former President Bush and actor George Clooney.

Fitting in with my post's title, these steel "stilts" are twice as tall as I am. Perspective is everything. Look at all the politicians we've elected, only to discover how stunted their high ideals are after the fact.

But the distorting mirror I'm referring to is fiction. Fiction is not reflective of real life. Unlike real life, fiction has to make sense. So we as authors fudge the facts of life to draw the reader in with the illusion of reality. As Stephen King said : good fiction is the truth within the lie.

What kind of literature did you first read? I mean the genre that you chose to read and not your parents? The question is important. I'll tell you why in a moment.

As a young boy recently moved to Lafayette, Louisiana from Detroit, Michigan, I was isolated because of my strange accent, my lanky height, and lack of relatives. I was the stranger, the outcast.

I found refuge in mythology.

My mother's tales of Lakota myths and Irish legends spurred me to investigate the school library on my own. I discovered Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY : awe-inspiring tales of fearsome creatures, strong half-gods, and cunning heroes. Zeus wasn't my father, but I could sharpen my wits to become Ulysses, who confounded the very gods of Olympus. And the elegant, simple drawings by Steele Savage ensnared my imagination during boring classes.

I accepted these things as a child would -- uncritically. My only measure was if I enjoyed the story. Later as I grew a bit older -- able to reflect and reason, I found Sherlock Holmes and science fiction. And in those twin genres, I discovered the value of reason -- but then Ulysses had already taught me the treasure of a keen mind.

And how I discovered the joy of reading influenced my style of writing. As you no doubt have noticed, mythology plays an important part in my writing. The lyrical poetry of Homer and the other Greek playwrights molded my sense of the dramatic and of expression.

Yet, even as my soul demands magic and poetry, my mind is not satisfied unless I put reason behind the mad sorcery of my hero's adventures. In essence, I do not write pure fantasy or pure science fiction -- but a blend of the two, mixed in with the genre of the detective -- hence the frontier detective, Samuel McCord, part poet, part philosopher, and reluctant policeman.

But what of the distorting mirror?

Inside my, and your, brain is a compact world composed of all we have seen and experienced. From that well, we draw for inspiration and stories. Yet, that compact world is not THE world. We haven't experienced everything. And the conclusions we have drawn from our experiences are as flawed as our limited grasp of the truth, colored as it is by culture, custom, and character.

Our novels are merely distorted reflections of what we have experienced. Even we will admit that more is unknown to us than what is known. Which to me is quite all right : myths spring from the unknown and our trying to fill in the blanks.

History has proven to us that what was considered science last century was merely flawed, failed conjecture. Which to me is just fine : science fiction springs from those awesome two words : what if?

So my fiction is a blend of myth and science, history and conjecture, ending into those wonderful words : what if the impossible was possible? What then?

In the calculated lies of my fiction, I leave certain questions unanswered, certain areas shadowed for the reader to fill in.

Remember the scariest movie monster you ever flinched in fright from? You never got a clear glimpse : just flashes of scales, slit eyes, and red, sharp teeth. That was enough. Your imagination filled in the rest with enough to give you shudders for sleepless nights afterward.

Besides, I do not know everything, and the artist in me craves to be honest. The mythic beginning of things is always shrouded in mist and mystery. Yet, this I do know :

In life there is dark as well as light -- and sometimes the dark wins. I try to portray the full picture of what I know in my fiction. The fanciful scientist is often the one who makes the greatest discovery.

I guess you could call my genre : science fantasy. Cold, hard facts can often lead us into the shadows where the dark unknown is waiting for us to reveal our minds' limitations and our fragile grasp on sanity and life.

So now, I re-ask you : what kind of literature did you first start to read of your own free will? Look at what you are writing now. Look at how you write it. Can you see the seeds of your style, your genre, in your first chosen books?

Let me know what you first started to read. Tell me if my theory is reflected in the genres in which you write and the manner in which you write them. Let's share secrets over the cyber-campfire, shall we? Bring your own cyber-marshmellows.
Here is Tarja singing "I Walk Alone" that has special significance to Samuel McCord's fate at the end of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. The video is done in the style of a Brothers Grimm's tale :


  1. I also read mythology. I think it was in a textbook my older sister brought home from school, and I loved it. However, I did read much of it after about age 13, so a lot of the details are fuzzy.

    I read epic books like "Roots", James Michener, and others like that. I recall reading Hanta Yo around age 16. However, I then discovered romance books. hehe. Most didn't stick with me, they were candy, but I did fall in love with LaVyrle Spencer and her style of writing. I do think it has influenced me to some degree.

  2. *sticks cyber-marshmallow over fire*

    I think I started reading books like Nate the Great when my mom stopped reading to me in the evenings; I loved the mystery and the adventure.

    I started writing several mysteries myself (none really worked out) but I think the adventure part grew on me, the plots and the action. Probably from all the fantasies that I've read since then.

    The story that I'm currently writing now is mostly adventure/SF, and reflects what I've read and currently are reading, so I say that your theory is exactly on the mark. :)

  3. I'm almost embarrassed to say how true this is. I first was attracted to my father's trashy novels but also his noir mysteries. What can I say? It fits:)

    Thank you for more wonderful insights. I enjoy learning here!

  4. "Our novels are merely distorted reflections of what we have experienced. Even we will admit that more is unknown to us than what is known." - So true! I find that most of the problems I have with my characters are rooted in me putting too much of myself into them, making them reflections of little bits of me.

    I've always thought writing is a highly psychological exercise. So is myth. Have you read The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campell? If not you should. It's a fairly old book about the origins and the universalities of myths all over the world. It should definately be required reading for authors, because it gives you a kind of cultural 'blueprint' to Story.

    My first books, btw, where The Nibelungen Saga (childrens' edition), Karl May's western stories (don't know if they were published in English), Enid Blyton's St Clair series and fantasy by the german author Wolfgang Holbein (starting with the very Lovecraftian Der Hexer von Salem series).

    So what does that say about me? I have a pretty eclectic style of writing, I guess... ; )

  5. I'm still chewing on it,but off the top of my head, I'd say you were right. Mythology was the first book I remember checking out of the library over and over. In fact, I pretty much had it to myself most of my elementary years...I also love fantasy...Stephan R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant series (love the play on words), Dragonlance series, LOTR-larger than life. But what's in my head, while being larger than life fantasy, is rooted in science and....religion! I really need to figure out how to begin!!!! Very interesting observations you have...

  6. I read two mythology books over and over in elementary school, one of Greek Myths and one of Norse. I also read every book on sharks I could get my hands on, so go figure. I read Where the Red Fern Grows about a dozen times, a Wrinkle in Time, Dragons of Pern, but at 13 I discovered Koontz, Robin Cook, John Saul, Mary Higgins Clark, and that's mostly what I read. I also loved Marion Zimmer Bradley and read Mists of Avalon countless times. Watership Down became a favorite when I was sixteen, as did Dune. I much prefer fantasy and science fiction to any story based on reality.

  7. I loved Edith Hamilton's "Mythology" in high school.

    I read most genres in middle and high school, but my favorites were mysteries and horrors. Oddly enough, I don't write mystery and horror. But there's an idea of a horror novel that's been niggling at me for a long time.

  8. Encyclopedia Brown
    Pippi Longstocking
    The Hobbit
    The Lord of the Rings
    Collected works of Ralph Waldo Emerson
    The Martian Chronicles
    The Silver Chalice
    Wuthering Heights

    This is kind of interesting. Thanks Roland.

  9. The Grapes of Wrath
    Cannery Row
    Native Son
    The Sun Also Rises
    The Stand
    Paradise Lost

    Sorry, I keep coming up with more

  10. Agnes : Thanks for the high praise.

    Mary : Edith Hamilton has touched so many children. Our first choice in genre is telling in our writing I believe.

    The Golden Eagle : Adventure is the bait for all of us boys to start reading. I remember reading the mysterious beginning of BEAU GESTE and being hooked. My first large book.

    Terry : I enjoy having you visit. I searched through my step-father's book as a young boy, too. Though a hellicopter mechanic, he loved poetry. He introduced me to Robert Service :

    There are strange things done in the midnight sun
    By the men who moil for gold;
    The Arctic trails have their secret tales
    That would make your blood run cold;
    The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
    But the queerest they ever did see
    Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
    I cremated Sam McGee.

    Thanks for bringing back those memories.

    Tessa : Yes, I've read that book and also Campbell's THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. We read alike I see. THE RING SAGA and H.P. Lovecraftian stories.

    Have you read anything by Carl Jung?

    Words Crafter : Isn't it odd how many of us read Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY? I'm happy you're again interested in my musings. It means a lot.

    Christi : The Norse myths always fascinated me, too. The Norse gods stoic bravery in their certain doom in The Twilight of the Gods. And yes, I prefer fantasy over reality any day. Marlene, stop figeting on my lap!

    Medeia : What was the very first kind of book you started checking out of the library when you started to first read for your own pleasure? {When you were a pre-teen.}I bet that kind of book has an echo of itself in what you now write.

    S.M. : Encyclopedia Brown. Now, that brings back memories. You certainly have a great memory for the books of your pre-teens. But then they meant a lot to us, didn't they?

    Kazzy : Yeah, it is a neat name for a genre, isn't it? Don't think a publisher would think much of it though.

  11. OMG, I DON'T REMEMBER!!! Isn't that awful? That was sooo long ago. I do remember the summer of second grade having read everything at our small library in my grade level and borrowing from all the grades up to 5th. I read everything I could get my hands on. The limit was 5 books and I'd finish my 5 days before time to go back. I checked out Animal Farm from the 'older kids' section that summer and the librarian looked at me really funny. I read it as a fantasy having no idea it was allegorical until years later in high school. But I digress...

    I do remember reading all the books about the western heroes, my favorite was Annie Oakley. I wanted to BE her. I could actually shoot pretty darn good, too. Oh, oh, oh Walter Farley, all of his Black Stallion series. Trixie Belden (sleuth) series, later John Jakes, LOTR, Gone with the Wind, Agony and the Ecstasy, the Brontes, Grapes of Wrath, The Good Earth, scifi stuff that I don't well remember, Watership down. Geez. I was all over the place. Huh.

    Maybe that's why I wrote a children's book and am now writing southern romance and have a fantasy in the wings. Interesting.

    Thanks, Roland! Great thought-provoking post.