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Friday, October 18, 2013



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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.

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." 


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.



  1. I don't put as much thought into the symbolism of my novels as much as you do :). They're there, of course, but I prefer to keep them light, there for people to make what they will of it.

  2. J E:
    As I said, I do it mostly for me, a former English teacher and counselor. I write historical fantasy in the Wagner Operatic fashion. :-)

  3. I love to use symbolism in a book. Loved your post. On my way to get a copy of your book. My Kindle is filling up again.

    Hope all is well with you.

    Hugs and chocolate,

  4. Great post, Roland. I don't "consciously" set out to use symbolism, but my work is highly thematic, and strong themes lead to symbolism (hope that makes sense?). As for ironies, yes. My writing is all about ironies ... not unlike my life. :)

    VR Barkowski

  5. Shelly:
    Symbolism sneaks into my works whether I plan it or not: my unconscious is sneaky! Thanks for downloading my book. I plan to do something for yours the first part of November.

    Of course: our unconscious mind slips symbols into our work, especially when we weave themes into them, Irony seems to be the prevailing wind in our times and lives, doesn't it?

    I'm so happy you like my post. :-)