Saturday, December 20, 2014

Why I write: When Gods Fail

Spoiler Alert

This was going to be a post on why I write, (perhaps with an extension to why it was that anyone writes) but as I thought about what it was I write, and I thought about what it was about the reaction to what I write (negative, usually; though we have a tendency to remember the negative) and I decided that, instead of writing about the muse and the process, I should think carefully on why I wrote the specific books that I wrote and what my intentions were. For some reason when a reader calls out my intention as horrendous or as indicative of a flaw in my personality, I feel like I should respond. Not directly. But I should make a stand.

One of my books with the most negative reviews is When Gods Fail—the first book in the series (those who read past the first one tend to enjoy the next two). I should mention that they usually circle around the fact that the story is too dark, is horrid, in fact, and that the author has some sort of sickness, or that this view of mankind is too horrendous to be worthwhile. That the book is dark (the entire series is, in fact) goes without saying. That is the whole point of the series. I was sick of reading and watching too many TV and Book series with the same hagiography on whence we came [1]. Let me tackle that point first: that the series is about a man, a normal man, who, in a land without laws, in a land with only the rule of survival, turns evil. I’m not sure how outlandish this is. Many seem to think it too far out. I wholeheartedly disagree (this is not an opinion). If one is to look at history, current events, they’ll know that this happens to humans in times of complete duress.

Look, I’m not being cocky (though there is some defensiveness); I too started a story about a man who helps to build up the world, who slays the evil and makes it all right. But that’s been done before (Lord knows that I’d find more readers that way). And my first job, as an artist and a writer, is to show society the dark side [2], if only to show what is possible if we are not vigilant.

Every record of civilization is also a record of barbarism

And thus, in Gods Fail, Tom moves into the world and though he strives for something better, he ends up being something much worse than he ever envisioned because of the empirical choices available to him, because the basis of his previous identity were all tied up in barbarism (unknown to him). Therefore the man’s individual struggle takes a turn for the worse because his house is, no matter how beautiful, built upon something other than what is claimed.[3] Hence, he falls. But it doesn’t end there, for that’s the first book alone. No, from there he must be redeemed. And that, dear reader, is the real point of this post-apoc story: what do humans do when their past is steeped in blood? Is there a way forward? Of course there is, and whitewashing the past isn’t something I consider an answer.

Tom, over and over, realizes what it is he must do, and he too cannot hide in the past, cannot change it for something that it is not (no rationalizing will set someone free here). Will he find it? Of course, that is the true question. For all that he’s done in the previous books, the third book has him carrying out his bravest act. And from there where does he go? Does he fall again? That’s the question, and I hope that all of you are willing to read the answer this spring.


[1] It’s more than that: there were several editor voices telling me to stalk in the land of the horrid is a fool’s errand. That those who do so will definitely not gain a readership. The Road, that modern version of hopeless post-apocalyptic fiction, even has some good (albeit an open ending). How can the world you picture not have good come out? Again, look at reality and let that soak in. I’m not sure that I can say anything else about that except that one should read as much as they can with as much focus on the facts: the good do not always win, and anyone thinking otherwise is not paying attention.

[2] I’ll rely on James Baldwin, here, that the artist’s relationship with their society (a lover’s relationship, to be certain) is to be that person who calls them out on their illusions, and to that end if someone wants to read about happy endings, or striving or something about the world being the world that it is not, then read another author. You will rarely find that in my books, and if you do, consider it a moment of weakness on my part as an artist.

[3] A matter of contention, I’m sure. But it’s not some odd view of the world of some veteran. No, it’s based on reading combined with experiences overseas. There is nothing to be said for those who believe in some teleological view of the world. Again, there is good in the world, but to be blind is something else. It will rarely be found in what I write, this blindness (though I too will be subject to the same forces as others).

Update 07AUG2015: Odd to think, but I'm sure that now I have to properly speak about that which I'm doing: that is how my character's quick change (from suburbanite to post apoc killer) is somewhat indicative of struggles for dwindling resources and how that changes people (see all the places with water shortages and so on).

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  1. Love this Nelson! Another author I like has a similar issue with his book "prince of thorns". In the first chapter of this book there is a mention of raping and looting a town. His book is often discarded as the book "with all the rape". Very unfair to his work.

    How else would you describe "when Gods fail"? You have a man who has seemingly lost it all and is faced with an entirely new landscape and lawless society. Survival often depends on the decisions you make and in Toms case people had to die. Is he admirable? Not really but as you continue to read you will learn to understand and see the redemption that he will go through.

    1. Great point(s) Gabe! I agree that it's a a very subjective thing (what one finds offensive) and people's past can come into it. So I understand the view, but I just wanted to point why I wrote it that way. And you're right, there's no one who would say he's admirable in the beginning. But that was the point.

  2. Come now. Your thinking that the piece of writing, once tossed into the void is still the writer's to interpret? That flies in the face of many a literary theory. So be it, right? Wrong. It is now up to the reader to interpret what you've written. Whatever they may say (psychoanalytical or anything else) is valid criticism.


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