Friday, July 7, 2017

An Afterword for THE BOOK OF DAVID Part Two: "Pictures and Craft"

A quick reminder just in case you missed Part One of this Afterword, ideally to be read after you've read The Book of David: This book is not appropriate for younger readers. I wouldn't let my kid read it and I would never give a copy to your child. Should they obtain a copy elsewhere, this is me giving parents a heads up to use extreme discretion.

Don't write me an angry email or yell at me at a signing. Pay attention to your kids and what they're reading, dude.

All right, Esteemed Reader, hopefully it's just you, an adult old enough to have read the full novel and interested in some behind the scenes material, and me. But this is a public blog, so welcome whomever:)

I had a friend passively-aggressively leave behind a few church pamphlets during one of his ultra religious phases, which was irritating ("I'm judging you and worried you're going to Hell for not being as good as me"), but totally forgivable as one of those pamphlets featured a ridiculously sexualized depiction of Jesus on the cross. It's still hanging on my wall and never fails to make me smile. I've seen sex used to sell everything else, but religion? Really?

I'm not going to share that picture here because it doesn't match up exactly to the Sexy Jesus I described in the story. I think whatever erotic depiction of our Lord and Savior you conjured in your head as you read the story is perfect and I don't want to mess with it. The wonderful thing about a book is that it doesn't work without reader participation, which is why the scares are so much more personal than they could ever be in another medium. The reader has to help the writer terrify them by imagining the story in their head.

I once read a quote from a little boy in tears after he'd just seen the first Harry Potter film that made me cry. He told a reporter, "I got it wrong. I imagined Hogwarts all wrong."

I'm never sure just how much to share about these books of mine and how much to leave a mystery. On the one hand, we created the story in your head together and it's yours now. On the other hand, what's the point in writing these afterwords if I don't share some insight and some behind the scenes stuff?

So I'll make you a deal: I won't share the pamphlet that inspired Sexy Jesus (I also saw Ted Neely perform Jesus Christ Superstar in person), but I will share some ACTUAL PHOTOS from the four-wall mural painted on my son's room when we bought our house, starting with this guy:

Hopefully, the version you imagined in your head is scarier. I did my best to make him scarier. But I found the original painting creepy enough to start with before I started playing it up.

Actually, there are a lot of creepy animals painted on my son's walls that didn't make it into the book. Like what the heck was the painter thinking here? Tell me he didn't want to frighten children:

I think the animal paintings were a big part of what made me want to buy this house. I knew at once they were going in a story. I knew they'd work in The Book of David because I needed an equivalent for the hedge animals at the Overlook Hotel. As I revealed in part one of this post that my initial idea for this story came by simply tweaking The Shining, I decided early in the writing process to lean in toward that and make my first truly long horror story serve as my love letter to Stephen King--although I also wrote an actual love letter just to be safe:)

There are multiple references to King's work throughout the five chapters. My favorite is a tie between the Takuro Spirit and the fact that all the souls in Heaven "float up here," though I do love the sentence: "Sexy Jesus strode across the desert, and David followed." The plot of BOD is an intentional remix of The Shining, both the novel and the film version.

I took a class on the films of Stanley Kubrick in college because it was available for a summer session and sounded like an easy way to fufill a credit requirement (it was). I came away with a deep appreciation for Kubrick, a lesser respect for the professor, and a whole lot more respect for Stephen King.

The professor annoyed me from the start because the only correct answer to any question was "Kubrick was a genius. Praise his holy name." A Clockwork Orange rules as does Full Metal Jacket and Dr. Strangelove, but I thought 2001 was "just okay," Barry Lyndon was a yawn fest no matter how excellent the lighting, and Eyes Wide Shut was so tedious it made nudity boring. I wrote the paper that would determine half my grade (the other half was determined by attendance, and yes, there were a lot of athletes in my class, why do you ask?) on a comparison between the novel and film version of The Shining. 

The conclusions I came to are that both are excellent tellings of the same story by two masters, showcasing their different strengths and weaknesses. King probably should've drank less, Kubrick was a huge a-hole, and neither of them handled the magical negro, Dick Halloran, in a way I'm completely comfortable with (more on that in a minute), but those heterosexual white guys sure could tell a story:) Ultimately, I got a 'B' on the paper because I suggested Kubrick's film wasn't 100% perfect and he was too busy trying to be smart to always be scary. Also, he made a lot of dickish criticisms of King's book while claiming he'd made a superior version by repackaging ideas already contained within the novel.

The Book of David is intentionally a remix of The Shining. I like to think that Stephen King, who wrote a remix of Dracula early in his career, wouldn't mind.

We've got a haunted house instead of a hotel and it's the wacky pop who's got the supernatural psychic abilities instead of the son (though I think on a long enough timeline, Peter would come into his own), wacky pop is the opposite of an alcoholic for much of the story, and it's mom who's the writer and eventually, the addict, and who chops through doors with an axe (point to Kubrick on that one as King's croquet mallet isn't as exciting).

There are multiple touch-points throughout The Book of David referencing The Shining so long as I didn't find them too intrusive. I never could find a spot for a fire-hose that becomes a snake or creepy twin girls and didn't go out of my way to create one. But you better believe it's not a coincidence that David has an interview with a man named Ullman, makes a bargain with a nonliving Entity in a meticulously described orange bathroom, has to contend with regenerating wasps nests, and B2-17 is totally a reference to Room 217 because of course it is. If you suspect something in my book is a reference to King's better book or Kubrick's film, I assure you it probably is ("Give me the knife, Andy").

One thing that is obviously missing in The Book of David is that there is no magical negro. In fact, there's no diversity among the cast whatsoever, which is something I went out of my way to establish. By all rights, Katrina Paskus should be the black friend as she's the closest proxy to a Dick Halloran character, but I made her white because my best friends from a small Indiana town are all white. Also, I promised my wife I would never write a magic negro character as she's black and they piss her off (we've been married more than a decade now, and she's lovely, but not magic). Once in a while I do my best Bagger Vance impression and assure her that "the rhythm of the game just like the rhythm of life," to keep things interesting:)

In fact, BOD has an (almost) all white cast because it's appropriate to the setting. It grew out of me telling my black father-in-law a story of my youth in a small Indiana town he deemed "a crazy white people story" (he meant it with love), and I thought, I'll tell you a crazy white people story.

I'm sure you regular Esteemed Readers remember that the main reason I gave up on traditional publishing was because mainstream publishers were uncomfortable with a white guy writing about a biracial character. I won't ever let a publisher tell me I have to write about exclusively white characters, but I'll totally do that sh*t if I feel like it:)

I'm writing Banneker Bones 2 now as penance. And besides, the racism in BOD is part of a larger theme as well as another touch point with The Shining. Both the film and the book drop N-bombs and if there's one decision I'm still not 100% confident in, it's my decision not to drop an N-bomb in BOD. The first draft contained a few and I don't believe in sacred words (or softening history), so I would definitely use the N-word in a story about slavery or the Klan (another bucket list item).

In the case of BOD, I found that the use of the N-word led to beta readers debating whether or not it was appropriate (it was). For this reason, I found that using the correct word I believe the characters might actually have said became too much of a distraction. And I wanted Esteemed Reader thinking "I wonder why racism is being brought up?" rather than "is Robert Kent himself a racist?"

I'm not against using the N-word in fiction when it correctly characterizes and is accurate in its deployment, but I never use it in conversation. When I sing along with Kanye, I sing "ninja." I don't mind looking black family members in the eye and saying, "yes, I used that word in a novel, never in your house," if the book truly called for it. But BOD doesn't absolutely call for it.

One of, if not the central theme of BOD is the momentum of the past and its impact on our protagonists. Thematically, one of the most important lines in the text is "Like so much of the United States, B2-17 felt to her like a collection of bad decisions made by some long dead white men no longer in this reality to suffer the consequences of those decisions." Stephen King wrote long pages about racist characters staying at the Overlook, Stanley Kubrick positioned a Calumet Can in different shots of his film, and I've got my sign for Brownsborough/Whitesville. The past is very much with all of us.

Originally, my plan was not to have any black characters in this story at all, because there are entire towns in Indiana that are still segregated. I grew up in one and I know some of what white people get up to when they're isn't any diversity to keep us honest. But by Chapter Four, I found that I wasn't completely against David even though I guessed Esteemed Reader might be, and his treatment of Susannah got me mostly onboard team f**k that guy.

I mean, sure, he was crazy, but it wasn't entirely his fault, and he was only killing hedge fund managers and politicians:). Any politician who supports the total repeal of their constituents' health care and the death of innocent people so another tax break can be given to the upper class might not actually be in league with Satan, but I ask you, if the result is the same, what difference does it make?

I think it's of great significance that I wrote the majority of this serial novel containing some definite political ranting in 2016. I cannot recall another election quite like the farce we held that year. I don't want to rehash that unpleasant contest as I didn't vote for either major political party's candidate and I don't really care who you voted for, Esteemed Reader. 

But there was more anger in the populace than I can recall seeing during any other election in my lifetime. I found myself hating both Republicans and Democrats and fantasizing about a way in which I might be able to stop them and all their banker friends, who never went to jail despite my vote for hope and change eight years previous.

In the aftermath of current political events, I'm not sure how we go on from here. A revolution--hopefully a non-violent one--is inevitable. Our elected officials cannot be this openly evil and this openly corrupt and the rest of us still pretend we're living in a free country. 

How can we ever again take the office of the US President serious now that it's been held by Donald Trump? How can we can take the Democratic Party serious after they openly stabbed Bernie Sanders in the back and made it clear they don't care what the people want?

Of all the outdated momentum from the past the characters encounter in BOD, perhaps the greatest is the American political system. We're still operating on a patched-together shamble of laws originally conceived when people wrote with feathers and quills by candlelight. It's a system designed to benefit a certain class of heterosexual white males and its not coincidence that it continues to do so. That's what it's meant to do. If you want a system that supports all Americans, we're going to need a new system. Period.

That being said, I am not in favor of violent revolutionary tactics. Yes, we can all see that the United States has the largest prison population by far because we're the sort of as$h*les who make that and healthcare profitable for a select class, but that doesn't mean it's okay to kill innocent citizens to change society.

I'm also not playing fair in BOD. If you and I went out for a beer to discuss political policy, I would never be as extreme as the tone of BOD. My opinions are far more nuanced. It truly bothers me that we haven't punished any bankers and that those who are hoarding the nation's wealth aren't afraid of the rest of us. Otherwise, I'm generally pretty reasonable on most issues and I usually land somewhere in the middle between the extreme left or right.

But moderation in politics doesn't make for an exciting story. I want Esteemed Reader half on David's side by the end of Chapter Five, so I did my best to amp them up over the previous four chapters. I'm not going to slow the momentum of the novel by presenting every counterpoint to every political assertion made because this isn't a civics class, it's a horror story.

The day is coming when Americans are going to have to stand up and take their country back from the oppressive elite. Or the oppressive elite will likely stop messing around and crack down on the citizenry hard until we're all Ferguson, MO. The only thing that scares me more is how many nuclear weapons are out there just waiting to be picked up by the disenfranchised Americans politicians have been perfectly clear they don't care about. 

No doubt, much of my research for BOD has landed me on a watch list or two. I'll end this afterword by showing you the 60-minutes piece that scared the crap out of me and inspired much of the end of this story. I figure if this is the base approved for media coverage, how much worse off are the top secret bases whose top secret funding has likely been skimmed?

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