My heroes have always been villains, Episode II: Sauron, lord of Mordor

It’s the second Thursday of the month and, as promised, this is the second installment of “My heroes have always been villains.”  Today, I discuss one of the greatest villains in modern fantasy literature:  Sauron of Mordor, the title character of The Lord of the Rings.

Peter Jackson’s amazing LotR movies (and the slightly less amazing The Hobbit movies) have brought Sauron to the attention of the population at large to a greater degree than ever before, but he was hardly a shrinking violet to begin with.  Millions upon millions of us met him in the books, after getting teased by him as the Necromancer in The Hobbit.

Except…well, we never really met him, did we?  Tolkien uses Sauron in The Lord of the Rings almost as H. P. Lovecraft uses Cthulhu, Azathoth, and all his other Great Old Ones, more as a symbol, as a force of nature, than as a character.  This tactic has its pluses and minuses, and I’ve always had mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, the lack of an actual character of Sauron gave him an increased mystique, rather the way unseen and inscrutable entities in horror stories can increase their fearfulness, as we project all our worst personal nightmares onto them.  Sauron can also be the literary representation of real-world threats to “the free peoples of the world”, from Hitler and Stalin to Saddam Hussein, all the way back to Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun.  Yet, he’s even worse than that, for he is in some sense the representation of a physical, universal force rather than “merely” a bad guy.  Of course, we’re given hints here and there, as in Aragorn’s telling of his summary of the story of Beren and Lúthien, that Sauron is not the ultimate evil in the world, but was the servant of the Great Enemy, Morgoth.  That’s all we’re really told, though.  So, for now at least, Sauron is very much the force of evil in Middle-Earth.

But he really is very much a force, not a character.  The only time we ever see any person-to-person interaction with him is second-hand, when Pippin relates his harrowing experience of looking through the Palantir, through which he meets the Dark Lord himself.  It’s certainly a terrible encounter for Pippin, but it must be said that Sauron isn’t especially impressive in that interaction.  He misreads the situation seriously, and his dialogue is not as moving and powerful as we might have hoped from such a deadly entity.  This is clearly not because Tolkien was unable to write powerful dialogue—there have been few better at such things in the modern world.  I suspect that Tolkien is deliberately showing that, though Sauron is dreadful and dangerous beyond easy comprehension, he’s not really all that bright in many ways.  He’s driven by a sense of ever-present fear, and though he’s done some impressive and clever things in the past, as when he fooled Celebrimbor et al into making the Great Rings, he doesn’t seem particularly imaginative or able to see and understand the minds of his enemies except at the most superficial level.

Again, I suspect Tolkien does this on purpose.  I think his point in general is that, usually, evil is born of a limitation of the mind, a dysfunction, and that the evilest characters are, in many ways, profoundly limited (Gandalf himself describes Sauron as a “wise fool”).  This may well be a fact of reality, and it’s probably a good lesson to promulgate, but Sauron’s lack of personality has always disappointed me slightly.  That disappointment is very slight, though; overall, as a force of nature, with the dark majesty and terror met by the other characters—especially by Frodo and Sam—his impersonal nature is brilliantly effective.  There’s a reason these are some of the greatest books in the modern world, after all.

Of course, if one wants to encounter Sauron as more than a symbolic natural force, one need only read The Silmarillion.  He doesn’t have a huge presence there—it’s very much the story of Melkor/Morgoth and his war with the Valar and the elves.  However, as Morgoth’s chief lieutenant and right-hand man, Sauron can’t help but make appearances, especially in the tale of Beren and Lúthien.  He certainly is seen with a bit more depth here, but he doesn’t come off too well, doing most of such winning as he does through treachery rather than cleverness, before he is overcome by Huan, the Hound of the Valar (though he has an impressive magical battle with Finrod).  Other than this, Sauron is barely mentioned in the later parts of the main story.

In the Akallabêth, the Downfall of Númenor, we get to see much more of Sauron, in what seems to be his “finest” hour, when he uses cunning and manipulation, applied over decades to centuries, against the people of Númenor, who are too strong for him to defeat militarily.  It’s an impressive display of beguilement and deceit, worthy of Iago, but it’s still not that awe-inspiring, and it leads to the destruction of Sauron’s “fair” physical form when the island nation falls.

(This has always led me to wonder how Sauron didn’t lose the Ring when he lost his shape.  He’d obviously made the ring earlier, because he’d been able to assume fair shape when he deceived the elves into making the Rings of Power, and after the downfall he was never able to look anything but horrifying.  So, did he not have the Ring when he was in Númenor for all those years?  If not, where did he leave it?  Would he really have trusted it to anyone else, or to be safe in any stronghold?  If he did have it, how did he not lose it when Númenor, and his body, were swallowed by the sea?  I have yet to encounter a good explanation for this.)

So, though Sauron is one of the quintessential villains of modern fantasy literature, he is a symbol, a force, rather than a character.  To the degree to which he is a character, he seems to be Tolkien’s critique of the weakness of mind that leads one to become, or to continue to do, evil.  This may well have been deliberate on Tolkien’s part, and is a respectable line to take.  But it does mean that Sauron, however awesome and scary he can be, lacks a certain complexity and pathos, unlike, say, the character of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, whom I discussed in the last installment, and many of the villains I will be discussing in the future.  Nevertheless, he holds a special place of honor, as one of the most powerful, most formative influences on me of the nature of large-scale villainy in fantastic literature.

I think it’s clear, if you look through all the works, in all media, that have followed The Lord of the Rings, that I am not alone in this.

This blog post speaks an infinite deal of nothing

Hello and good day.  It’s another Thursday, and time for my weekly blog post.

I honestly have no idea what I’m going to write about today, so as I do with many things—for instance, when I draw pictures—I’m just going to start and see what happens.  This is, perhaps, in some distant way akin to “automatic writing,” except that I see what I write as I write it.  If I didn’t, it’s hard to know just how many typos there would be, but I’m certain that there would be many.  In fact, it would be unreasonable for me to expect anything but gibberish.  One might as well seat the proverbial thousand monkeys at a thousand typewriters as engage in that particular experiment.

I guess what I’m doing is actually more akin to the classic, Freudian psychotherapeutic “free association,” in which the patient (that would be me…or should it be, “that would be I”?) just starts speaking and spits out any thought that wanders into his or her mind.  Freud would then interpret these utterances as all having something to do with sex, at least if you believe the common impression of him.

Mind you, that’s not as crazy as it might sound once you think about it.  After all, people do think about sex a lot.  How could it be otherwise?  Each one of us comes from an unbroken line of ancestors who achieved at least one successful sexual coupling.  By “successful”, I mean “leading to offspring which, in turn, achieved sexual maturity and then, themselves, achieved at least one successful sexual coupling…”  You get the idea.  Repeat indefinitely, down through the eons, eventually producing you and me.  None of us comes from ancestors who were virgins or celibates.  Apart from breathing, drinking, and eating, surely the most prominent part of our beings is the sex drive…for good, sound, inescapable biological reasons.

Of course, the difficulty of navigating the phase space of our conflicting drives, emotions, social mores, and legal concerns does lead to problems at times, not the least of which is society’s terrible legacy of discrimination, sexual abuse, misogyny, and so on, and the understandable backlash against them, which can occasionally go too far in the other direction.

I don’t want to get too deeply into that right now.  Suffice it to say that sex is important—it’s essential—but dealing with it in a modern, moral society can be extremely complicated.  That’s just the way the world is, I’m afraid.  If you want to live in a universe with simple dynamics which are susceptible to simple-minded solutions, you’ve picked the wrong universe.  I suggest you move along and try another.

Writing about sex, though, in fiction, can be tricky.  I, at least, am not very good—or at least not very comfortable—with it.  However, there are times when at least the fact of sex is essential to some story that I’m writing, and I at least have to work in the subject matter.  It’s rarely that important what the mechanics of a particular coupling are, so I tend to bring matters up to the point and then cut to the aftermath,* as in both Son of Man and Paradox City.  If you’re reading my works for the dirty parts, you may be slightly disappointed so far.

But don’t lose heart.  I can now tease you with the fact that, in my current novel (Unanimity) there are some more explicit, not-skipped-over sex scenes.  This is not for prurient or commercial reasons (though I’m happy to titillate you to engage your interest), but because they really are necessary parts of the story.  At least, they are necessary in my estimation, and since I’m the author, I’m the one with authority to make such decisions.

Speaking of Unanimity, it’s going well, and I’m excited about it.**  As I’ve been saying for some time, it’s getting closer to the end, but that really goes without saying.  Every word written is closer to the end, which doesn’t necessarily mean the end is near.  Indeed, there is still much more that must happen before the story is finished, and though “journeys end in lovers meeting,” I fear that many of the people in my world will not be meeting lovers at the close of their journey.  Many will not reach the end of the story at all, though they will reach the end of their own stories.  Those who survive will be sadder, but hopefully wiser.

On other matters, the audio for the second chapter of The Chasm and the Collision is nearly complete and should be released by early next week.  I’m having fun making these recordings, and hopefully those of you who listen will have fun listening.  Also, as promised, next week I shall release the second installment in “My heroes have always been villains.”  I haven’t yet decided which villain to explore, though there are oodles of them bouncing about with whom I could entertain myself.  If any of you have requests, by all means—or at least by any available means—let me know.  I can’t promise that I’ll go with your suggestion, but I do promise to take it into consideration.

With that, we’ll call it good for the week.  Despite the fact that I had no idea what to write about, I’ve spewed out about a thousand words in the space of less than forty-five minutes.  Of course, you may think the fact that I had nothing to write about is all too obvious, and that it would have been better had I abstained.  You have every right to think that way.

And I have every right gleefully to ignore you.


*“Afterglow” is probably the term most people would tend to use, but since events in my stories rarely stay glowy and idyllic for long, I think “aftermath” is probably a better word.

**Not because of the sex thing.

My mistress’ blog posts are nothing like the sun

Hello, good morning, and Happy Thursday!  It’s May 31st, 2018.  Within the next 24 hours or so, this month will disappear over the temporal horizon, never to be encountered again.


As those of you who follow this blog will know, the audio of the first chapter of The Chasm and the Collision is now available, both on my blog (here) and via YouTube (here).  I think it’s turning out well, and the relative speed with which I can come out with the chapter-length audios, compared with my far-from-very-short short stories, appeals to my sense of immediate gratification.  It’s also fun to go back into and engage with my novel in a deep, intimate way.  I certainly recommend to all authors out there that you take the time, at some point, to read your works aloud.  At the very least, this will call your attention to awkward phrasing and word choice; you will learn from the experience.

Many people say of good writing that it comes across as if the writer were speaking.  What I think we usually mean when we say this is that the work comes across as we wish people would when speaking, or when speaking at an idealized best—that it combines, you might say, the best aspects of the written and the spoken.  As a lover of the written language, and of language in general, I think that’s tremendous praise.

Of course, as always—sometimes it feels as though it’s literally always—Unanimity is coming along steadily.  I’ve felt weary on many a recent morning, having problems as I do with chronic insomnia, and have often needed to trick myself into writing my daily quota.  You know that trick, if you’ve been following this blog:  telling myself that I’m going to write at least one page, good or bad, something I can usually do in short order.  I almost always end up writing about three pages instead.

I shudder to think of the volume I’d be able to write if I were to do so full time, given how much I’m able to do in my spare time.  Of course, I’m sure there would be diminishing marginal returns if I wrote too much on any given day, and there might even be a tendency to procrastination, but I think I could work around those issues.  It would, at the very least, be worth doing the experiment.  For that to happen, I need enough of you to buy my stories and spread the word about them for me to be able to quite my day job.  Hint, hint.

This provides a rather brutal segue into a preaching topic, and that is the subject of reviews, ratings, and likes.  I encourage all of you—most of whom, I assume, are writers and/or readers—to take the time to give feedback on works that you read and otherwise consume.  This is particularly valuable for those who are struggling to make a name or have an impact, but even at higher levels it’s useful.  It’s useful for the creator, and it’s also useful for those who are considering exploring the creator’s work.  If you read a book that you bought from Amazon, for instance—or even if you’re perusing a book that you’ve already read elsewhere—take a moment to rate it.  I’m not saying you have to write a review, if you’re not so inclined, though those are certainly useful.  But at least give a star rating.  It takes about a second, maybe, and gives feedback for established works and valuable credibility to newcomers.  Similarly, if you see a video on YouTube that you like, “like” it.  Or if you see something shared on social media—Facebook, Twitter, whatever—please take a moment to give it some feedback.  It costs mere instants of your time, but it is of tremendous use and value to those who create and to your fellow consumers.

Also, if you feel so inclined, take a moment to “like” someone’s blog post.

This all can’t help but come across as self-serving…and I won’t lie, it is self-serving as far as that goes.  But it’s not merely self-serving.  If everyone who reads this post were to commit to giving at least brief feedback to other blogs, to videos, to books, etc., but in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, they were to decide never to rate any of my work…well, I’d be disappointed, but I’d still feel that I’d achieved something of value.

Silence is worse than derogation.  The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.  Or, to put it another way, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

That last sentence is clearly an exaggeration, but it makes a valid point.  I know that Thumper’s mom counseled him that, if you can’t say nothin’ nice, you shouldn’t say nothin’ at all, but in many cases, even a “thumbs-down” can be better than no reaction.  Of course, I do beseech you, in general, to keep feedback civil even when not complimentary, for like Hannibal Lecter, I find discourtesy unspeakably ugly.  But, given that minor caveat, I sincerely ask you all, please, to give feedback and/or reviews on those media of which you partake.

Especially mine.

Well, as Forrest Gump might say, that’s all I have to say about that.  I wish you all well.  In two weeks, I shall post my second installment in the “My heroes have always been villains” series, and before that time I shall no doubt release the audio for chapter 2 of CatC.  In the meantime, I will also continue to write on random subjects on my other blog, Iterations of Zero, so feel free to check that out.

I bid you well, and hope for the best for you all.


You stubborn ancient knave, you reverend blog post, we’ll teach you.

There’s not a whole lot new going on this week, but one thing that is new is that I have begun work on the audio release of The Chasm and the Collision, and it’s proceeding swiftly.  The book’s chapter lengths are generally shorter than my short stories, so the audio for chapter one of CatC is going to end up around forty minutes long.  There will undoubtedly be significantly longer future chapters, but I don’t think any of them are as long as, for instance, Hole for a Heart or Ifowonco, so they’ll be coming out rather more rapidly than have my earlier audio tracks.  Also, I’ve developed increasing skill at creating the audio, and that tends to lead to greater efficiency.  Undoubtedly, I’ll continue to make mistakes, and hopefully I will continue to learn and improve over time.  We shall see.

Unanimity continues to lengthen, though its progress has been slow this week, because my motivation, or my energy level, has been poor.  This is explored in my most recent post in Iterations of Zero, which started out as a simple Facebook status, but which rapidly grew too long for efficient use of that venue.  It deals with the problems, and the ongoing and inescapable danger, of suffering from dysthymia and major depression.  I don’t know whether it’s of use to anyone or not.  Fellow sufferers may at least get some reflective value from it, I’m not sure.  Anyway, because of the problem discussed therein, I haven’t written as much this week on Unanimity as I tend to do when at my best.

This is where my ongoing, habitual commitment (which I’ve described here before) kicks in.  Even on those mornings on which I don’t feel like doing much of anything—most mornings, when it comes down to it—I tell myself, “All right, you don’t have to write much, but at least write one page.”  This is a reasonably non-daunting task, since I write very quickly once I get started, and it almost always leads me to write at least two pages, and sometimes more.  It’s easier to keep working once I’ve forced myself to get started.  In fact, it’s often hard to stop, because I don’t want to quit before I’ve reached a good pausing point, from which I’ll be able to pick up again next day, and I also want to complete whatever chain of narrative is prominent in my head that day.

A related ethic has led to the continued production of the aforementioned audio for CatC.  I committed to recording at least some of it every day, and that led rapidly to the complete recording of the chapter.  In fact, it only took two recording sessions.  Now, I’m working on the editing, which, thanks to skills I’ve developed over time, is going more quickly than it would have in the past.

I’ve tacitly decided that I’m going to do my blog series, “My heroes have always been villains,” on a once-a-month basis, on the second Thursday of each month.  If you’re looking forward to the next installment of that series, you now know when you can reliably expect it to come out; I tend to be rather compulsive about plans of that sort, barring events that make me unable to write at all.  These are always possible for anyone, and are more possible for me, given the difficulties I describe in my IoZ post, “A daily game of roulette.”  I wish I could be more optimistic about such things, but to be more optimistic about my optimism would require me to have a more optimistic starting point in the first place.  Instead, my main proactive force, the thing that keeps me pushing forward, is simply a profound and often maddening (to other people, at least) stubbornness.

With that, I think we have enough for this week.  I’ll almost certainly be posting my next audio file before the next regular blog post, and I’ll spread news of that on social media, so notification should be easy to get.  My daily writing continues, as it ought to do (by definition), and the first draft of Unanimity will be finished before long—probably before the end of summer, though certainly not before its beginning.

I hope you all stay well, and try to improve every day, in at least small ways.  If you happen to know someone who struggles with depression—and it’s not possible to have depression without a struggle—please reach out to them and show support.  They are often entirely incapable of helping themselves, because the very part of their being which would do or even motivate that helping is what the illness debilitates.  They may not feel that they’re worth saving, but if you do, then it’s going to be up to you to do it.  It’s said to be difficult to provide psychotherapy for sociopaths because they don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with themselves.  In depression, the problem is a little different:  it can be difficult to help this disease’s victims because they often, quite literally, think that they do not deserve help, and that your time would be vastly better spent on other people and causes.  You should judge for yourself.


A minist’ring angel shall my blog post be


I have not been feeling well.  Consequently, I must apologize for the fact that I didn’t post anything on my Iterations of Zero blog this week.  That’s the second time in the last month that I’ve neglected that blog, but I have to say—I hope you’ll trust me on this—that if I had written anything, it probably would have been quite substandard for me (how that compares to anyone else, I’m in no position to judge), and might have veered into true gibberish.  Sunday was a wretched day, and even now I’m still at the tail end of the bug that bit me.  How bad was it?  Let’s just say, when I saw a news story about a minor outbreak of salmonella associated with a particular company’s eggs, I wondered whether I might have gotten a minor dose of it.

For the record, I’m quite sure this was not the case.  Sick though I’ve been, I know that it hasn’t approached salmonella level.

I have, except for that Sunday omission, kept up with my writing and related matters, pretty much to my usual level (though only later review will reveal if quality suffered).  Unanimity, for instance, is proceeding at a steady pace toward its conclusion, though it’s not there yet by any means.  I had no idea when I started writing it that it was going to be so long.  I’m going to need to be absolutely ruthless in the rewrite and editing stage to make sure there’s not just a lot of unnecessary stuff in there.  I don’t feel like there is, but it’s hard to tell while in the thick of things.

Speaking of length, I’m almost done with the final editing of the audio for Hole for a Heart, and I expect to release it onto my blog by the end of this week, to be then adapted for “video” and posted on YouTube.  It’s my longest audio yet, and I’m pretty happy with it.  As always, there are some technical imperfections here and there, but my audio skill is gradually improving.  I hope you’ll enjoy it.

I’ve decided on a slight change of plans with respect to my audio projects.  I had originally intended to go from Hole for a Heart on to the three short stories in Welcome to Paradox City, probably following the order of the book.  Instead, though, I think I’m going to do a chapter-by-chapter reading of The Chasm and the Collision next.  I feel that, now that I’m developing at least a modicum of skill in this area, it’ll be fun to release that story in audio.  I had planned to serialize the book when originally writing it.  I quickly concluded that serialization wasn’t going to work in that case, especially given my personal logistic constraints at the time, but I think it will be fun to serialize it on audio.  I do love the story, I must admit it; I’m quite pleased with the world I created, as well as the characters.  If I can entice more readers into exploring it by rationing out the tale, read aloud, a chapter at a time, well…I think that will be time well spent, and will certainly be enjoyable for me.

I may occasionally intersperse a reading of one of my short stories in the middle, at good pausing points in the book.  That will depend on whether I need a break from the story or not, more than on anything else.  One thing seems certain, each individual chapter of CatC will take less time to produce in audio than any of my short stories so far.

Coming back to Iterations of Zero:  I’ve mentioned before that, partly as a way of making up for having missed (now) two weeks of writing it, I’m planning on re-blogging some articles I wrote before, and originally posted here, but which really are more well-suited for the general-purpose, non-fiction-related IoZ gestalt.  I may edit those articles/posts before republishing them, or I may just throw them out as they are.  We shall see.

With that, I think there’s not much more that needs to be said this week.  Again, the audio for Hole for a Heart should appear here within the next 24 to 48 hours, and subsequently on YouTube.  Most importantly, my original fiction writing will continue at its usual pace, through Unanimity, to a short story immediately after, and thence to my next novel, which is already chewing on the inside of my brain, sensing hungrily the proximity of freedom.  And whither then?  I cannot say.


Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor blog post

Hello and good day to you all.

It’s been a reasonably productive week for me, especially considering that I haven’t felt very well.  I didn’t even write an entry for Iterations of Zero last Sunday, but I’m planning on making up for that by publishing two new posts this coming week—one new and one republished from among works that were previously posted here.

On the other hand, Unanimity has been proceeding at an excellent pace.  On Saturday, April 28th, its first draft passed the quarter-million-word mark.  This will be my longest book so far, even after I pare it ruthlessly down in the editing process.  That’s not a bad thing, though—at least I hope it won’t be.  The story will be as long as it must be.  I’m just the messenger; please don’t shoot me (though you can, if you wish, quote MacBeth and call me “Liar and slave!”).  I’m greatly enjoying writing the book, and that has to be my primary criterion for success.  Obviously, I hope that people will read and enjoy the finished product, but even if I knew without any possible doubt that no one would, I think I’d still write it.

The recording of the audio of Hole for a Heart is complete, and the sound-editing process has begun.  I’ve been forced to re-record some of it due to mic malfunctions during the initial reading, which led to terrible static.  Apparently, once or twice while I read, the microphone cord came partly loose.  The result, when looked at on the waveform-layout, is a terrible progression of spikes, and when you listen…well, you won’t listen, because that’s been deleted and re-recorded.  Trust me, you wouldn’t want to hear it.

I did a little more “voice acting” in this story than in its predecessors, because there are more characters interacting, and there’s a bit more drama and emotion in that interaction.  I worry that I might have hammed it up a bit in places, but at least I enjoyed myself.  The story doesn’t have a happy ending, but then again, it’s a horror short story, so it wouldn’t end happily, would it?  Looking back on my published short stories, only one in three seems to have a “happy” ending, and if you go back in time to earlier works, that ratio drops even farther.  My novels, though, are another matter.  They all end up, more or less, with the good guys having triumphed, at least for the time being.

Unanimity will end on a bittersweet note, though.  Oh, of course, the situation will be resolved, and the dangers will be conquered, but the outcome will still be tragic, and the surviving characters will be scarred by their experiences.  This, unfortunately, is just the way things often are—in life as in fiction.

The next novel I plan to write, on the other hand, is going to be much more upbeat, and probably quite a bit shorter.  I’m not sure which of the stories clamoring about in my head will be released after that.  Eventually, I’m going to write a second book, and then a third, in the saga of Mark Red, but I really want to get other things out first before I return to my young demi-vampire and his friend and mentor, the vampire Morgan.  At some point, I expect also to write my prequel to Son of Man, detailing the back story of the character Michael.  That’s a tale that’s been waiting in my head for at least as long as Son of Man waited.

Of course, sooner or later, I’m going to write the story of my beloved characters The Dark Fairy and the Desperado, originally created in idle drawings, and yet other books lie waiting in between.  Thankfully, I write almost every day, unless I’m feeling quite ill.  I’d love to be able honestly to paraphrase Epicurus and say, “When I get a little time, I write books.  If I have any left over, I work to buy food and clothes.”  Unfortunately, in real life, working to make a living takes up a far bigger chunk of my time than writing does.  And then, of course, I have to sleep, alas.

Finally, as I said previously, I am going to start, probably next week, writing my long-planned series on my favorite villains from literature—from novels, to myths, to legends, to comic books, to movies, and beyond.  Often in fiction (and less often, but far too often, in real life), villains are the ones who set a story in motion.  Without Sauron, The Lord of the Rings would not be worth telling, and Harry Potter’s life would be far less gripping (though probably much more pleasant) had there been no Voldemort.  Villains act while the heroes, more or less, simply react, but both of them, when they’re “good”, teach us about the world and about ourselves.  Perhaps more important, reading about them is fun.

On that note, I’ll bring this blog post to a close.  Thank you all for reading, and please be as well as you can possibly be.


Author’s note for “Hole for a Heart”

holeforaheartredgreywith frame


Those of you who have followed this blog for more than half a year will already know at least a bit about the origins of my story Hole for a Heart, but there’s still more that can be said, so don’t fear too much in the way of redundancy.

The seed of this story was planted on a bus trip from southern Florida to Ohio, where I was going to visit my parents.  As I’ve described before, while passing through a relatively hilly area of central Florida, I saw, through the west-facing bus window, a tall tree near a highway exit.  Underneath it stood what appeared to be a scarecrow.  The Greyhound moved far too quickly for me to make out any details, and unlike Jon in the story, I did not have the option to stop.  But it was an interesting sight, partly because, like Jon, I couldn’t really see the point of putting up a scarecrow under a tree on a hill near a highway exit.  Neither was it anywhere near Halloween.  I wondered what the story behind it might be.  So, I quickly pulled out my smartphone and jotted down the sight as a possible story trigger.

The actual tale itself didn’t really form until several months later, more or less all at once.  This happened at the beginning of October, just in time for me to finish it and publish a draft on my blog for Halloween.  This happy coincidence helped inspire me to crank away at the tale, though it led me to first publish it in less than ideally polished form.

The protagonist of the story, Jonathan Lama, is named after two people I’ve known.  The first name was given in memory of a friend of mine from work, who died of what I believe was a semi-deliberate drug overdose, and it is his form I see when I think of the character.  The last name is that of someone still living, and who appears to be doing much better, rebuilding a life that had almost been destroyed in a similar fashion.  Quite apart from being a way to give an homage to these two people, I think the combination of one dead and one living person somehow suits the character of Jon (the one in the story), who is in some ways—as his former girlfriend would no doubt say—not actually living his life.  This could, of course, be confabulation on my part; I don’t honestly recall exactly what my thought process was in deciding on the name, except that it certainly was chosen after the two people I just mentioned.

The title of this story is a fairly obvious reference to the state and fate of the “scarecrow” on the hill.  That dead (?) remnant of Joshua Caesar, that scourge of western central Pennsylvania in the late forties and early fifties, is missing its heart, having had it cut out by his vengeful neighbors when they had finally decided to take justice into their own hands.  But that’s not the only reference to which it applies, nor was it the original meaning for the story’s title.  In fact, it’s Jon himself who bears the titular empty cavity in his torso.  Despite being truly gifted and brilliant at his chosen field, Jon has a near-nihilistic ambivalence toward life, toward attempting anything that involves real commitment and stress.  He sees no point in struggling in a world where all lives end, and everyone leaves with exactly that with which they arrived.  This ambivalence had cost Jon the love of his life (who shared a name with the ill-fated former object of Joshua Caesar’s affections), a loss that had further hollowed out his own metaphorical chest.

I like the supernatural elements of this story, and I like the juxtaposition of Jon’s and Joshua Caesar’s two very different personal philosophies.  The latter is a Nietzschean, “the strong and the superior do what they like and are responsible for the greatness of humanity,” point of view, while the former is, as I said, practically nihilistic.  But I think my very favorite elements of this story are the gas station clerk, Matty, and his employer, Mr. McGlynn.  I just find them both quite likeable; I enjoy their conversations with each other and with Jon.  Clearly, Matty is not the very brightest of sparks, but he’s smarter than he seems at first glance, and is earnest and well-meaning in his way.  McGlynn, quite sharp indeed, is in superficial ways like Jon.  He’s content to live a simple life running a gas station next to the interstate, despite probably being capable of more.  But on closer inspection, his attitude is worlds apart from Jon’s.  There’s no despair or sense of meaninglessness in McGlynn’s philosophy of life; he seems to enjoy himself very much, in his way, and he clearly has affection and respect for his young employee, and for his customer.  He does take a mischievous and slightly sadistic satisfaction in telling a story that might horrify both Jon and Matty, but I think he can be forgiven for this.

I would think that, though, wouldn’t I?

As with many of my short stories, this one leaves us all hanging at the end, me included.  I wonder at times just what the new driver of the restored ’97 Mustang will do after he pulls onto the interstate at the end of the tale, and whether this path will take him to Chicago, to seek out a young woman who had, in her own way, stolen Jon’s heart before the story ever began.  More than that, though, I think it would be fun, if we had world enough and time, to follow Matty and McGlynn.  I’d like to visit that gas station, to stop and share conversations with the two of them—perhaps while drinking a cup of gas station coffee—to listen to McGlynn’s tales of local history and legend, while Matty hangs raptly and unabashedly on his words.

I think I’d listen just as enthusiastically.