Cleansed By Fire Update: Where I’m At

Well, Miz Pink managed to fill in for a bit yesterday with her April Fool’s post, and since it had a religious angle of sorts, I’ll consider the spiritual aspect of this blog covered for the next day or so.

And Hummus Idol came back yesterday, too, which is good for keeping the snarkiness level up.

So, given that I also finished two more installments of my Cleansed By Fire novel in the past several days—bringing Chapter 7 to a close on Saturday and beginning Chapter 8 on Tuesday—I thought I might take some time today to take stock of the novel and share some ramblings about it.

Who’s in Charge Here?

Once again, I have that odd feeling that the novel is, at times, writing itself, with precious little concern given to my opinions. That’s a joke, mostly, but there’s some truth in it. I know I’ve mentioned before that I don’t precisely know where this novel is going—aside from a few major endpoints that are set in stone and some general character directions/fates—and that some of the things that have happened were as much a surprise to me as to any of you readers.

Something happened again recently to make me wonder how much conscious control I have over this plot sometimes.

Back in installment #29, which was part of Chapter 5, I briefly introduced a character named Bohlliam, located in the wasteland of what was once Los Angeles. I had no idea where he came from and didn’t particularly want him in the story. I didn’t want to add another character, even a minor one, at that point, and had no clue what his purpose was. However, as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t actually bring myself to purge the scene. There was no emotional attachment, but instead a sense that I had to leave it in.

And when Bohlliam appeared again in installment #39, which was part of Chapter 7, I still didn’t want him around nor understand why he was there. I did understand in part why I hadn’t written about him again until that point, as his condition and “job” made little sense until after I had introduced the idea of the simons who serve the three Popes. But I still didn’t know what I was supposed to do with him.

Finally, last night, I became aware of exactly why he is needed, and which major character he intersects with. I even became aware of a somewhat distrubing turn one storyline will take as a result.

Such feelings of only being in partial control of the novel are becoming increasingly common, but no less weird to me as they continue.

Lighten Up

A lot of this novel involves some pretty heavy stuff, and some pretty nasty stuff. There are several people in this novel who don’t do nice things. Some of them do so because they are plain evil or arrogrant, some do wrong because it’s part of their job and/or they think it’s the right thing, and others do wrong in the pursuit of justice/revenge. And, in the process of this story, I destroyed a large hunk of the future New York and I still don’t know how many tens (or maybe hundreds) of thousands of people fictionally died in that process. That’s kind of grim.

It occurs to me at various points that this novel needs bright spots. It would be so easy to just write about vicious things, viscerally satisfying conflicts, intrigues, betrayals, anger, fear, sadness. It really would. It’s like The Force in Star Wars, in the sense that choosing the Dark Side is often quicker and easier and more immediately satisfying.

So, I’ve actually made a concerted effort (this is at least one area where I feel in total control of my novel) to bring scenes of joy and love where I can. Three scenes in which this has stood out for me the most (though I’ve injected such things elsewhere) were in the scene of Grace dancing in the snow in installment #26, as part of Chapter 5; the letter from Charlyes to Maree in  installment #30, as part of Chapter 5; and the love scene between Gregory and Amaranth just a few days ago in installment #46, as part of Chapter 7.

Because frankly, life is too complex for me to have a one-note kind of atmosphere, where all is either doom and gloom or rough justice.

Character Notes

I’m not going to address every character that appears regularly in the novel, but here are a few personal thoughts about some of them:

Maree Deschaine — I enjoy this character immensely, even though I am often less than certain how sane or how moral she is at times. She’s not evil by any stretch, but she has an interesting mix of noble/ruthless and just/vengeful. She has become, in many senses, a force of nature. And although she is focused on a single quarry, I suspect she will impact multiple plotlines eventually.

Gregory and Amaranth Dyson — I can’t help but feel a close connection to these characters, given that they are based in some ways on myself and my wife. They are people caught in a situation they cannot control but must attempt to anyway, and that resonates with my own life. But I can’t shake the feeling that while they may be “good guys,” is being good going to be enough for them to get through everything?

Charlyes Kamusian — This is a character I had never envisioned in any of my plans for the novel. He “appeared” quite a long time ago, but in a very subtle way, and was never really described or named. When he “officially” appeared via the letter he wrote to Maree, I realized he was going to be important to this story, but I suspect more as a facilitator than a problem solver.

Bechan Adym — Another character who wasn’t planned. In fact, I didn’t plan on Israel showing up in this novel directly in any fashion. But appear it did, first with Bechan making the decision to flee the quarantined nation, and then with a couple other scenes in which portions of his escape attempt are seen. I am still not sure what his purpose is in the story. I guess you’ll probably find out shortly after I do.

Lyseena xec-Juris — As I mentioned at least once before, she was intended to be a central protagonist. But against my own plans and wishes, she has become something else: An important character, but a secondary one; an antagonist for several of my characters, but not a villain; an honorable woman who is going to probably have to do dishonorable things at some point because of her duties.

Paulo sup-Juris — This man is still somewhat of a cypher to me. Some of his character traits mirror my own, while others are nearly polar opposites of mine. He’s a good man, but torn between a duty he isn’t willing (or perhaps able) to set aside, and the family that he has but isn’t allowed to have. He is slowly inching up in prominence, and I’m interested to see where he goes.

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