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Deconstructing the Novel, Part 4 – Fearful Symmetry

BRIAN SAYS:

“So, where do we go from here?”

That was what Chris and I said to each other, probably at the same time, probably at a bar, when we sat down to talk about Fearful Symmetry, book 2 of the “Shattered World” series. Okay, it was very likely we said it at the same time, because the person who asks the question first doesn’t have to bear the burden of answering it, and we were most definitely at a bar, because that’s where we do our best thinking. Yes, I said thinking. The good news is we already had a bit of a blue print going into this. Believe it or not, we planned ahead while we were working on book 1, The Shattered Visage Lies.

Chris and I knew we wanted this to be a book series. Waking up with super powers is something that should be explored in depth. Comic books have been exploring super powers for over eight decades now, and we wanted to spend more time than just one book looking at what regular people would do if they were gifted these extraordinary abilities. Book 1 was a journey of discovery where we looked at a diverse group of people with different backgrounds at various stages in their lives. We wanted to factor in different religious beliefs and socioeconomic lifestyles and how those forces would impact an individual’s motivations. Without creating too many spoilers, we came to the conclusion that people would use these abilities to be self-serving. We’re not saying that everyone would be selfish, and we certainly know that there are many selfless people willing to risk their lives for others on a regular basis, but we believe there are very few people who would immediately change their morality or emotional status quo if they were suddenly bequeathed with superhuman abilities. Yes, people change, but that usually happens at a much slower pace, and that was how we wanted to handle things with book 2.

All too often, stories rush to get to a certain point and sometimes that point gets lost along the way. I’ve discussed how this happens in comic books “back in the day” when there was a new villain every month, one whose origin story takes place within one page. The hero didn’t care about the villain’s motivations, because they were never really fleshed out. Instead, it was just a different super power that the hero had to overcome. The hero was the focus of the story and the villain was just a conduit to get to the hero. The downside to that is desensitization. The hero experiences the same two-dimensional villain over and over again. We wanted to make sure that didn’t happen in “The Shattered World” series. Some of the super powers our characters have may be powers that other characters from comic books, television, and movies have, but we wanted to make sure we explored how our characters perceive these abilities, what they do with them, and how their lives change as a result.

With Fearful Symmetry, we wanted to take our time to really examine the toll these abilities would take on people. Not just the powers, but the experiences the characters had to go through. In The Shattered Visage Lies, we sent our characters on some pretty wild adventures to gain the knowledge of how they got these abilities. Many of them kept secrets, some even had to lie, and a few had to make substantial sacrifices. In Fearful Symmetry we wanted to explore the consequences of those secrets and lies, especially when those characters unravel the secrets of others. Don’t forget, if you’re keeping secrets and telling lies to other, then others are probably keeping secrets and telling lies to you.

In an effort to really maintain the “start small and then expand” idea throughout the series, we set book 1 in Pennsylvania. Even if the reader doesn’t know that it’s 5-6 hours of driving time from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, they will at least recognize that all of the settings are within the same state and, relatively speaking, close to each other. In book 2, we start to expand from that, taking our characters out of state, having them question how truly big of an area is affected by what’s happening, and wonder how many people have these new, powerful abilities. Another way we wanted to tackle the idea of growing from a single point is with our “big bad” of book 2, Ethan. With him we … You know what? Let’s talk about him later….

CHRIS SAYS:

One of the things that Brian and I agreed on early in the planning stages of the book was that we wanted this to book to be a horror novel. From that starting point we began to truly delve into the realm of horror and examine some of the key elements of the genre, some of which are rather subjective, so we both sat and thought about what horror really meant to both of us. While my mind often touches on Lovecraftian ideas at times like these, I was reminded of something far more unsettling than fantastic places and alien forces – reality. In college I read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl and have often thought of a singular phrase from that book: man’s inhumanity to man. Over the years I have revisited that phrase many times and it has led me to explore works by Robert Burns and Samuel von Pufendorf. The more that Brian and I discussed the notes that I had written about these pieces the more excited we got about trying to incorporate them into the novel.

Man’s inhumanity to man infests every period in history and manifests itself in so many ways and we wanted to try to incorporate the notion in several ways. The easiest and most recognizable form is violence. I’m not much of one for spoilers, but I don’t think there is any damage done by me saying that this is a book of violence. And why not? It’s easy to work with. It’s as real as every day. It’s identifiable. And quite frankly, when people want to be seen as powerful it seems to come quite naturally.

Greed and obsession also come to mind. Manipulation and control. Excess and denial. All of these can be exploited for the background that Brian and I were looking to create. And all of them followed with our desire to create horror through man’s inhumanity to man, sometimes these kinds of thoughts don’t even start out as intentionally cruel, but observation of the cause and effect leads one to realize just how devastating the effects can be. Perfectly horrory.

And then there’s fear – always unreasonable and irrational, a voice whispering words of doubt and insecurity. For instance, there’s the fear of change. Sometimes it’s mild and we simply ignore any possible benefits that might come our way, because we are secure in doing what we know. Sometimes it’s much more self-destructive. And the fear of losing comfort. We take for granted our convenience and our technology. But how irritating and unnerving it is to go back to doing things the old fashioned way or the absolute umbrage of being denied comfortable shoes, running water, premade meals … things that are small and inconsequential, perhaps, but things that we have enjoyed for so long that we take for granted their availability. Now perhaps neither of those two fears lead directly to doling out misery upon others, but fear is a powerful motivator and it often leads to anger – the key ingredients to brew up a powerfully horrific concoction. Until next time…

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Deconstructing the Novel, Part 3 – The Shattered Visage Lies

BRIAN SAYS:

Chris and I always tout The Shattered Visage Lies as an ensemble piece. Yes, the last time we discussed this book, we agreed that it had a protagonist and antagonist in the forms of Michael and Marvin. But we could also argue that they aren’t the only ones. There are more characters than just Michael going through life trying to accomplish individual goals, and Marvin isn’t the only one trying to stop them.

In The Shattered Visage Lies, people are waking up with super powers. We really wanted to examine what different people would do when bequeathed with these new abilities. We also knew that we were tackling some concepts that have been done many times before in comic books over many decades. We wanted to put our own unique spin on it, so we decided to give super powers to a woman in her mid-sixties and a girl who was still in elementary school.

In Emma, we have an active widow with strong Christian values. Her husband died as a firefighter and she never felt the need to remarry, always content with helping her community. Then one day she woke up with the skills to become a perfect killing machine.

We found Emma to be an interesting character because she wanted to view these new abilities (enhanced speed and reflexes with precision accuracy) as a gift from God, but she was unsure how to use them. She quickly learned that there were other people out there who would be more than willing to take advantage of her and her abilities. Her faith was being challenged. Sometimes in speculative fiction, especially stories with horror elements, a religious character is, or is quick to become, a zealot. Emma was not a zealot, but a person who was steeped deeply in her religion, and found it challenging when her faith wasn’t providing quite the answers she was looking for. Sure, Michael viewed her as a zealot, but that was mostly his viewpoint, one where organized religion was not a priority in his life. And, obviously, Chris and I had a fun time writing any scene where Michael and Emma had to interact. It’s always fun to annoy Michael!

Haley was definitely the most tragic character of the book. Sure there were other characters who had to deal with physique altering mutations, but Haley was too young to truly understand what was happening, let alone have any concept of how to control it. Especially since she could turn people to dust with a mere thought, making her one of the most powerful characters in the book. She was different things to different people. A cautionary tale to most. An advantage to others. A humanizing factor for Michael.

As we discussed last entry for The Shattered Visage Lies, Michael was the reluctant hero. For most of the book, the emphasis was on “reluctant,” but when he learned about Haley, he shifted to “hero.” As a family man, he loves his daughter more than anyone or anything, and Haley was about the same age. He knew very well how Haley must have felt, because he knew how his daughter would have felt had she gone through the same thing. It was because of that Michael went toe-to-toe with Marvin, and why he had to deal with the outcome of the situation despite doing all he could trying to avoid it all together.

 

CHRIS SAYS:

All of the characters in the book go through a period of growing pains, as they learn about their abilities and decide how these newly found powers change or don’t change who they are as people, but one stands out to me: Derrick.

None of the other characters go through a learning curve quite like Derrick does. His power is less definable than the rest and he’s not really sure what he is actually doing through most of the book. It’s true that he does learn how to harness it, but in the back of his mind he always has some doubt that things will work out the way that he expects them to resolve. This is a character that Brian and I agree is both fun and necessary, especially if there were going to be future books. We wanted to set a “power precedent” that makes possible the introduction of some less classical, more fluid abilities to intrigue the readers and for characterization aspects, as they certainly keep the characters themselves a little uncertain.

Derrick also struggles with others. Not just because he’s a slightly awkward young man, but he seems very sure of the role that he needs to fulfill. He wants to achieve the greatest good possible and he’s both dismayed and perplexed by characters like Michael who are very reluctant to take an active role in improving society. Derrick is a very outward thinker who simply refuses to allow Michael to shrink back into the crowd, making him a useful motivational tool.

Brian and I were also intrigued by the thought of a low-level thug using new talents to topple the hierarchy, which led us to create Stone. A big guy who was destined to run into a bigger guy sooner or later, Stone got as far as his brawn could take him. But what if the brawn gets amplified? Unbreakable skin shields his nerve endings, rendering him nearly impervious to pain.

Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t make him any smarter, but now he can walk out of a sticky wicket with the best of them… and unscarred to boot. The heightened fear factor alone makes him an attractive underground boss. It also makes him a force to be reckoned with as a character. Our heroes certainly have their hands full with this juggernaut. And how does his special power affect his personality, you might ask? It amplifies his thirst for a fight, naturally. And it leaves even me wondering if anyone can quench it.

 

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Deconstructing the Novel, Part 1 – The Shattered Visage Lies

BRIAN SAYS:

Okay, after an intermission, we’re back. Let’s just blame the small hiatus on vacations, shall we? Anyway, if you can’t tell by this installment’s title, we’re going to start going behind the scenes of our first published novel, The Shattered Visage Lies, including answering the most asked question we’ve been receiving about the book – what does the title mean? Don’t worry, we’ll tell you what it means. Well, what we think it means, anyway. In case you haven’t read it yet, feel free to take a moment to grab yourself a copy, or an eVersion to peruse. It’s okay. We’ll wait. Have it? Read it? Good. Let’s move on.

When it comes to the great debate of Marvel vs. DC, I find myself on the Marvel side. I won’t bore you with ALL of the details as to why, just one: how the denizens of their respective universes react to super-heroes. Up until recently, the citizens of DC’s United   States love their super heroes. The general populace of Marvel’s United   States does not. How do you think we, as a nation, would really react to those with super powers? How would you react to a real life Super Man?

One of the ideas we wanted to explore was the classic, “What would you do if you had super powers?” Don’t forget – you can’t choose which one(s) you get. You get them, now deal with it! You might even be a half-animal / half-human mutation. Would you tell anyone that you have them? Heck no! Would you put on a mask and fight crime? Doubtful. I think most people would be afraid of them at first, then try to figure out how to use them to their advantage.

I’d like to think of myself as a good person. (Okay, I’ll give you a moment to laugh.) I certainly don’t think I’d become villainous or create an evil lair or have henchmen if I had some kind of super power. But I do know I would try to find ways to make money from it! Telekinesis? Vegas, baby! I’d get that roulette ball to make me a millionaire! Telepathy? Still Vegas, just at the poker tables. Mind Control? Yep, same place – the Vegas poker tables. Super speed? Lucrative sports contract! Super strength? Same lucrative sports contract, just different sport. But, that’s just me.

I’ve always found origin stories fascinating, because it’s usually an ordinary person in an extraordinary circumstance. And it would always make me mad when, in the comic books, a character’s origin story is told within a few pages. Inevitably, they would always jump into a set of tights and don a coordinated mask and either fight crime or cause it. But why? The motivation behind their actions was what I was more interested in. That was one of the themes we wanted to explore in this book. We didn’t limit the demographic of power receivers to pretty faced teenagers, either. We gave them to the young, the old, the rich, the poor, the religious, the apathetic. Of course, it wouldn’t be a super-powers book without bringing these characters together!

Okay, we decided to write the book to see what happens to a person’s id, ego and super-ego when given super abilities. So, where did we get the title, The Shattered Visage Lies? Well, I’ll let Chris explain that one….

CHRIS SAYS:

Hello! So Brian covered the topic of super powers and in so doing put his on display: an unconscionable belief in Freud. Sad. But that’s not why you’re here, is it? Of course not. Where did we come up with the title of the book? What was the underlying theme that we hoped readers would pick up on? Well, I’m glad I asked….

In the case of The Shattered Visage Lies, many of you are likely familiar with Percy Bysshe Shelley’s sonnet, “Ozymandias” and have correctly guessed that this is the origin of our novel’s title. It’s a favorite of both Brian and I and we wanted to pay a little bit of a tribute to some historical literature, but that’s the boring part of the story. “Ozymandias” has a sister poem. Shelley and his friend, Horace Smith, wrote dueling sonnets with the same title, both incorporating similar base themes. Smith’s poem is a bit more circular, suggesting that the future and the past are related and never as far from each other’s view as we might hope. A horribly understudied poem, Smith later renamed it and, alas, many have forgotten the poem’s origin.

In the case of Shelley’s sonnet, however, not much need be said about the poem’s power of longevity. Whimsically enough, this is the poem’s central point – that the endurance of art outshines the works of leaders and empires. It is here that we find the true reason for the name of our book. It is a message Brian and I agree is crucial to our continuance as a functional society…a message we would be wise to share with politicians and kings alike for it is the nature of rulers to be granted power, which causes them to seek more. According to John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Hubris is the stepping stone to inhumanity and we all benefit from its departure.

Now that we’ve discussed the title, let’s move on to the major theme of the book and how that relates to the title. In essence, it’s about deconstructing personality. Science can map every person’s physical being, breaking a body up into its most basic components. But what about personality? Is there a way to unravel a person’s personality and examine it in a fractured state to understand our thoughts and emotions or are we simply too filled with interwoven pieces to allow for our personality to be untangled and examined? “The mirror never lies” unless it’s broken, so if you’re looking at a shattered visage in a mirror, are you really looking at yourself? If we add this component or remove that one, do we stay the “same person” or is a new persona created? It’s intriguing…intriguing enough that it inspired us to write a book about it.

Until next time!

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