Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why I Wrote Quest for Celestia

Quest for Celestia

When I was in college and became a Christian, someone ended up handing me a copy of The Pilgrim’s Progress, a book that John Bunyan wrote while he was serving a twelve-year prison sentence for preaching the Gospel without permission.

From a literary perspective, his book was a groundbreaking achievement—it was one of the first (if not the first) novel-length allegories ever printed, and according to some scholars, for more than two hundred years it was the second-best selling book in the world, trailing only the Bible.

Even though I’m not typically a fan of “the classics,” I read it and it really impacted me. I’m no theologian, but the narrative-based look at the Christian life connected with me in a way no sermon ever had. The story made sense not just to my mind, but to my storyteller’s heart.

However, honestly, the book is hard to get through. With its archaic language, heavy-handed moralizing, and blatantly obvious allegorical lessons, it’s almost inaccessible to modern readers.

So, a few years ago when I was exploring writing a fantasy novel for teens, I decided to reimagine John Bunyan’s tale, not through the eyes of a preacher, but through the eyes of a storyteller.

As a stand-alone fantasy adventure story, Quest for Celestia takes readers on an epic journey through a land of giants, dragons, danger and deception. While John Bunyan’s themes, images, and fragments of thought have certainly found their way into this story, it’s not just a retelling of his allegory, it’s a completely new vision of the quest he tried to encapsulate in his tale.

Stories live only as long as they’re retold or remembered. I hope Quest for Celestia will introduce a whole new generation to the fantastical, mythic story that spans the ages, the story that John Bunyan was imprisoned for telling to the world.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Annoying Names in Novels

When authors try to be clever it annoys me to no end.

I would rather my readers spend their time immersed in my stories than looking for hidden meaning in the names or locations, so I was floored when one of my readers pointed out one time that the name Sevren (a villain who first appears in The Pawn) is Nerves spelled backward.

Man, I hadn’t noticed that, and I never would have used the name if I had.

Why? Because when readers see that, they’ll naturally start looking for more of the same and that would get in the way of their engagement with the story.

I’ve seen authors use Angela to represent—guess what?—an angelic, good character, my, how unobtrusive that is. Or Diablo as the name for a character who . . .  well, you get it.

Yes, I know, Natasha spelled backward is “Ah, Satan” and could be your devil worshipping character, but please don’t fall into that trap.

Yes, you could use the name “Marie Annette” for a character who’s being used as a puppet.  The name looks okay on the page, but say it aloud and you’ll notice that it sounds the same as “marionette.” As soon as readers notice this, what do you think they’ll naturally do?

Yes, of course, they’ll start analyzing every name, every location, to see what you, the clever author, are using them to represent. And when that happens readers are no longer in the story itself, but looking at it from the outside in and you’ve shot yourself in the foot. 

Why do this to yourself? 

Just use normal names. 

Don’t let anything get in the way of the story.

Monday, January 02, 2012