So you can read my books

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


How many masks does your novel wear?

Each person we meet wears a mask. Beneath that mask lies several faces ... all true in different seasons. But those seasons are known only to the heart of the one wearing the mask. We have to guess.

Life is a masquerade. The dance steps are complex. And sometimes our feet get stepped on. Why should they not? Each person dances to the music they alone hear.

Sparked by K.M. Weiland's excellent post[ }, I was looking at the masks in my historical fantasy, RITES OF PASSAGE.

Of course, my use of "mask" is a facade itself. I use it in one sense to mean symbolism. Do you use symbolism in your novel? Do you use the interweaving of names, objects, and experiences to stand in for universal truths in your story?

You don't have to. I do it for me. I do it for those who would re-read my novels and discover something new with each new visit.

The names in my novel mean something : Samuel from the Hebrew 'Shemu'el' : heard of God. Those in crisis and pain cry out to God in my novel, and in stalks Samuel.

Is he the answer to their prayers? I do not say. By the time of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, Samuel has become agnostic. The irony is that he, no longer having the heart to believe in God, is still the answer to the prayers of those in pain.

Meilori means 'beautiful laurel.' The irony there is that the eternal woman feels neither beautiful nor a winner {laurels were used in Ancient Rome to fashion victors' garlands.}

Google 'DayStar and Isaiah' to find the possible scope of Samuel's enemy. Another irony when you realize Samuel's eventual disillusionment with the being he calls the Great Mystery. The irony increases with FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE, when Samuel's very lifestyle becomes Renfield's, the vampire-priest, main reason for clinging to the faith his best friend no longer has.

The transatlantic steamer Samuel finds himself on is the DEMETER, the name of the Greek Corn Goddess who in myth contends with Hades. Samuel befriends a little psychic girl on the voyage whom he likens to a small Corn Goddess. And she is instrumental in fighting DayStar.

The ship's voyage in itself is a symbol for the journey all of us take on the unpredictable seas of fate. Many of the doors aboard that ship take people to places far different than they expected ... just like the doors in our own lives.

Phrases are repeated throughout the novel. I will only state one example . Twice, once in the middle and again at the ending, DayStar gestures to Samuel when he means to sacrifice him and sneers Pilate's words, "Behold the Man."

{Go to my Bad Boy blogfest post to read the first incident.}


They, too, are used as symbols in my historical fantasy : the young girl, Rachel, is murdered and her face removed to be used as a mask by the killer. Masks are worn by the passengers to hide their true motives for being on board. Some remove them. Some change masks. Others see through those of others. Still others realize that the face they thought was their own was, in fact, a mask worn to protect and conceal their fragile illusions.

At the end of the novel, Samuel has been run through with a broadsword. He is on his hands and knees, alone and dying. Elu's face appears to him in the spreading pool of his own blood. And the Apache shaman speaks to him.

{Elu’s words were cruel whips. “Where is the Dyami I remember? Or was he but a mask you wore when the battle was easy? Are you going to die like some beat dog on your knees? Or are you going to stand on your own two feet like the warrior Meilori believes you to be?”

His voice thickened. “What is it to be, Dyami? A beat dog or a warrior who bares his teeth at the approaching darkness and pulls his enemies down with him into that last night?”

I managed a crooked smile and croaked out, “Woof.”

Elu stiffened, then smiled so sad it was a pain to see as I used the butt of my rifle and lurched to my feet. Still I would have fallen if I hadn’t had the Pope’s broadsword to use as my second crutch. I swayed and almost fell. Somehow I stayed on my feet.

Taking in a ragged breath, I took one weak step. Then another.

My heart became stone as I heard Elu again. But he wasn’t speaking. He was singing. Singing my deathsong. I nodded to the growing shadows.

“Reckon so,” I said to the darkness.}

Those aren't all the symbols I used, of course. I don't want to bore you. I just wanted to ask :

Do you use symbols in your novel?

Are you aware of the underlying themes of your novel?

Those themes, those symbols are the rudders that direct the flow of your novel's story. If you are unaware of them, you are not in control of your narrative. And that's how novels run aground. Don't let yours be one of those that do.

Symbolism, themes, ironies -- they all work best when not noticed. Our major task as a writer is to tell a rousing, entertaining tale. Our main goal is to keep our reader on the edge of her/his seat, so caught up in the tension and striving that they find themselves lost in the narrative. And when they look up at the clock, they are amazed at how much time has flown by.

The symbolism, themes, and ironies mixed in artistically will add depth to their enjoyment of their reading without their ever really noticing them. They are the spices of the meal ... not the meat of it. The teacher in me adds them for my own pleasure. The artist in me strives to introduce them subtly and gently. I just wanted to ask you if you added symbolism, themes, and ironies to your novel as well.

Odd to say, zombie movies can be symbolic of modern man's fears of civilization and progress reducing him to a puppet of the system, dead to the real meaning of life. However, I don't think this movie uses that kind of symbolism :


  1. Have you ever been a teacher? Have you ever thought about being a teacher? You have much wisdom to impart...and I thank you for it.

  2. Wow, Roland, the historical fantasy that you're writing seems pretty epic with not only storyline, but symbolism.

    As for myself, I just write for the sake of the story and let readers decide the symbols themselves.

    As for masks, I've had several characters wear masks in some of my stories. Masks are abundant in many tales really. They can symbolize many things it depends on the story really. At least, that's my opinion.

    Cool and entertaining post. Write on!

  3. Hey Roland, thank you so much for your concern! The earthquake was in Ontario (the eastern side) but I'm in the west. In vancouver. So I'm fine, not even a tremble in the ground.

    The picture you've chosen for this post is stunning. I just stared at the intricacies and the colors for a moment. It just calls to you.

    Your story has such symbolism. It's like a JK Rowling novel. all those tiny details, in the names, in the objects, in everything. All adding to theme, augmenting it, playing on something, giving the reader a hidden message. I love it.

    I'm not so intricate in my writing. Nothing that awesome coming from my side of the computer.

  4. Words Crafter : Yes, I was a teacher for a time, then studied to become a counselor. When my mother contracted cancer, I emptied my savings and started my own bookstore to be more able to take her for her treatments. Thanks for the compliment -- I did teach creative writing for a time.

    Vatche : It's the English teacher in me : I set my sights on creating literary fiction out of fantasy as Raymond Chandler & Ross McDonald did with the mystery genre.

    Why not go for epic, right? You must write what feels instinctually right for you. Above all, have fun with it. Thanks for dropping by and leaving your comments. It means a lot.

    Melissa : I am so relieved that the earthquake was so far away from you.

    My favorite novels growing up were the ones I could read over and over again, finding new layers as I grew older and more discerning.

    I want my Samuel McCord adventures to be like that. On the surface : just a rousing fantastical adventure, full of danger, jokes, and by-the-skin-of-your-teeth escapes. But on other layers : questions on what it means to be human, to be courageous, to be honorable. Are there absolutes in conduct?

    Or as the Gray Man would have you believe : are there only varying shades of gray in living, no right or wrong, just what is convenient or inconvenient?

    I wanted to make an Easter Egg hunt of a novel - where you could Google up names of characters, objects, and phrases to find new dimensions to an adventure you only thought you knew.

    When my own problems grew darker, it helped to focus on making RITES and NOCTURNE multi-layered.

    Whew! What an answer, Melissa. Sorry. Thanks for the kind comparison to J K Rowling. I'm sure Harry Potter is casting a revenge spell my way!

  5. His voiced (spelling, fix this) thickened. “What is it to be, Dyami? A beat dog or a warrior who bares his teeth at the approaching darkness and pulls his enemies down with him into that last night?”

    I managed a crooked smile and croaked out, “Woof.”

    LOL. That can be taken both ways, you know. And I liked this because it made me "snicker."

    One of the things I like so much about your writing - either novel snippets or "dream sequence" - is the symbolism. I learned early on that every name and semi-familiar quote has a symbolism, a reference to something deeper and more profound than the reference itself. Your writing is so emotive that I'm able to recognize when the symbolism is evident.

    Well, to my limited knowledge of such things. Because I'm interested, and I use books such as your's to explore mythology, religiosity, sociology. The symbolism is not lost . . .

    And here it might seem derogatory and unsupportive to the other readers. You've allowed me to e-mail you before with indepth thoughts. I will impose upon you again for a discussion.

    As to your question of using symbolism in my writing: No. My story is a straight forward womens fiction.

    Well, I do use psychology and terms that people not associated with those cultural norms would't entirely get. The more often I answer questions like this, the more I believe I writing to a very limited audience.

    Not good Bro; not good at all.



  6. Masks. I never really thought about my writing involving masks . . . but I can definitely see how it would correspond. Thank you for the insights!

  7. It's so funny how true this is about masks, characters, and both my finished MSs. They are both stories about people who appear to be something to the rest of the world, but are really totally different in nature.

  8. Most certainly do use masks and double meaning in my stories. I love to use a persons decision or action to mean something else also. Or dialogue to have a double meaning at pivotal moments.

    And I do enjoy the use of names. Wyatt Paxton, my MC is the Sheriff of Mercy Corner--Wyatt Earp. A key secret to my story is found in the name of my mountain in this story, Mt. Hesper. I chose Mercy Corners as my town name because of the irony of it in my MC early life and now what he will find in the same town.

    My WIP is fairly fresh, so I am still weaving words, but I know I will use more name game.

    As for masks, my MC has the patented stoic man in charge and in control mask that he trades off with a 'everything is fine' smirk mask. General but no less effecting when you know how his childhood went(think beaten dog). His mask is protective as are his actions and he reasons that he is just being strong and doing the right thing--proving his long dead bastard father wrong.

    And when I first found your blog, I smelled teach all over it. That, and someone who loves this amazing and thankless task that is writing. Again, I enjoyed your entry, insights, and bits of your book worlds.

  9. Most of my character names and/or how they look is symbolic. I use colors and other small elements as symbolism for particular mythologies or concepts. It's not something I want to be the focal point of the book, but more like little Easter eggs if the reader notices. :)

  10. Your symbolism is so intriguing. I enjoy your style so much.

    Love that photo of the masked woman too. Nice choice.

    I use masks. Murderers are prone to wearing them but the killer isn't the only one, not by a long shot.

    About halfway through I realized there are underlying themes. Not sure about symbolism. Could be in there somewhere:)

  11. WOw, this is one of the most thought-provoking post I've read this week. You make really good points and ask good questions. I like the examples you used too.


  12. I think there are symbols and themes in my novel. They are easy to find if you reading carefully. I am always torn between making them more obscure vs more obvious. Not in-your-face obvious, but there.

    Hey, I gave you an award over at my blog, btw!

  13. Here's something weird: One of my main character's last names is Meioshi, which means "little niece" in Japanese. But when I had come up with the name, I didn't know of its meaning, and now it actually pertains to her character! She is, in fact, a little niece in that she is closer to her uncle rather than to her parents. Fate?

    I use symbolism all throughout my writing. One of the themes in my book is identity, and each of my characters has a "mask" that they must figure out how to remove.

    Us real people wear masks just as much, as you mentioned, and we cannot be classified as just one person.