Saturday, May 14, 2011


Greetings and Salutations, Loyal Literary Loiterers!

"The warship Midgard plowed through the frigid, churning sea towards her quarry: the hamlet of Norrvik.  The distant village lay nestled around a narrow, mist-shrouded harbor of barren stone.  Jagged, ice-covered cliffs shouldered the small town, sheltering its inhabitants from the killing winds.  Sparse vegetation dotted the cruel terrain, while small wind-stunted trees stood twisted towards the sky.  Despite the howling wind and blinding sleet, one could still determine the conspicuous absence of Norrvik’s proud fleet."

So begins the first paragraph of my first, full-length novel: a paragraph that's been in existence for about half of my lifetime.  Frankly, if I was still twenty years old, that really wouldn't be very impressive, but considering that I'm now ten years beyond the point of euthanasia in the world of Logan's Run, that's a long friggin' time. 

When I wrote this first passage back in High School I could scarcely conceive of where it would ultimately lead me.  If I could hop into a time machine and go back to tell Young Dave that these words (and a host of others) would one-day see physical incarnation in the form of a paperback book, the reaction wouldn't be pretty.  In fact, I'm convinced that my extra-scrawny self with the port-hole-sized spectacles would have told Future Dave in no uncertain terms to stick my wild claims "where Paddy stuck the dough-ball".

And yet, here we are.  What was the germ of inspiration that resulted in me writing a five-hundred page novel?  What was it like to craft all those imaginary people, the world they inhabit, and their dialogue?  What was it like to guide this Rogues Gallery of characters through a plot that only ended when it ended?  After this initial paragraph was scribbled down on loose leaf, why did it take so damned long to finish it?

Cripes, those are a lot of questions.  Go 'way, willya?  Can't you see that I'm tryin' to watch Terry Jones' Medieval Lives in peace here? 

Okay, okay...I'll talk!  Just stop starin' at me like that, it's friggin' creepy.

For the purpose of ensuring a reasonable amount of brevity, let's just start from the beginning.  Where did the idea for the book come from in the first place?  Now, I'm not talking about the book's influences, since I've already documented that as nauseum right here.  No, I want to explain where the germ of the idea sprang from and how it seemed natural to spin it into a full-length novel.

Brother's Keeper is the first volume in a potential nine book, three-volume, arc.  The first (totally self-contained) volume introduces readers to the characters of Valarius and Tyrian, two brothers who are born into a life of inherited privilege as sons of the High Governor of Galadria, a fictional nation that resembles Medieval Italy.  As sweet as this "jackpot-by-birth" seems to be at face value, the two brothers are restless, bored and also harbor serious trepidations about the Machiavellian dealings that their father must engage in to retain his power.

This leads the elder son Valarius to turn his back on his inheritance in lieu of pursuing a life of unnecessary and potentially deadly hardship as a warrior.  As a wannabe pretender to the throne and official Black Sheep of the family, Tyrian goes one step further by falling in with a pack of hardened, notorious pirates.

Okay, so where the hell did that all come from?  I don't have any siblings, my Dad isn't a wealthy governor and I'm about as Italian as John Lithgow.

Well, as I've documented in previous posts (handy-dandy link provided right here) as a kid I was a huge fan of fantasy stories and role-playing games in particular.  The great thing about hobbies like this is that it practically forces your imagination to percolate.  Not only do you start making up characters, you start thinking about who these characters are, where they came from and what their motivations are.

Also, as an only child, I've always unconsciously wanted a sibling.  In a way it's kind of a shame that my parents had me and were then forced to declare: "Well, there you go, total perfection on our first try!  Not bad!  No sense having another one since it's just gonna end up feeling inferior  in comparison..."


Regardless of whatever my parent's reasoning was for not breeding again ("Eeeeeeewww."), a part of me has always wondered what it would be like to have a sister or brother.  As if my folks sensed this, somehow, I was very privileged as a kid to have my younger cousin Jason live with us for awhile. Although there's no specific reference to this in the book, that priceless experience certainly helped me to reproduce the sort of unique sibling rivalry and banter that Valarius and Tyrian often exhibit.

By the way, any writer that tries to tell you that their characters aren't a reflection of themselves is either lying or embarrassed by what their creations reveal.  Even if it isn't a conscious decision, I really believe that our opinions, experiences and dispositions just naturally bleed into our creations through a process of passive osmosis.  As I told someone in an email recently, personal strife usually translates into passion and passion typically equates good art.          

So, as much as I try to pass Tyrian and Valarius off as two separate and fictional entities, the real truth is that both of them are actually, to a certain extent, me.  At first Valarius is shy, socially awkward and retiring and Tyrian hides his lack of self-worth with brash, bravado and self-fulfilling failure.  Despite these flaws, both of them have strong passions and unwavering convictions to pursue their own unique ways in the world.  As their wild surroundings and uncontrollable circumstances begin to have an effect on them, the two brothers experience a transitional arc in their personalities that I believe all of us must endure.

Although my Dad could never be perceived as vastly wealthy, he was very successful doing his own rebellious thing as a visual artist.  So much so that everyone I spoke to as a kid would ask me: "Sooooo, do you paint or draw as well?" as if they were obsessed with proving their hypothesis about creative genetic inheritance.  Yes, I dabbled with both those things in the past, but it was almost a disappointment to people when I told them that I liked to write instead.

So I suppose a compelling case could be made that when Valarius and Tyrian turn their backs on expectations just for the sake of doing something stupid, this is actually a metaphor for my desire to pursue something creative, impractical, and outside of my artistic pedigree.

I know!  Deep, huh?

And this brings me to how I was able to write this book to completion.  By the time I'd mapped out the back-story of these two disparate siblings, I was staring at the framework of a pretty elaborate little yarn.  Something that incorporated tidbits of my own unique experience set filtered through the framework of the fantasy novels and Greek/Shakespearean tragedies I was ravenously devouring at the time.

But, ultimately I wrote it because it was the kind of book that I wanted someone else to write so I  could  read it!  I didn't think that such an animal existed: a fantasy novel that spoke to the universal human experience.  In fact, if I had a dime for every fantasy novel I've started to read and then abandoned just because it had nothing going on thematically or any modern relevance...well, let's see...I'd have about four or five dimes...      

Now, I don't want to completely spell out all the themes of the novel, what fun would that be?  People are more then free to enjoy the book's many pitch battles, family dramas and historic details on a completely superficial level and go no further.  That's fine by me.  But the really diligent reader who likes to prospect for hidden meanings and subtext will have a veritable field day with each re-visitation.

In my next entry I'll go deeper into the nuts and bolts of writing of the book.  I'll try and talk about how I managed to eke out the time, how I plotted the thing, and how the characters magically came alive and often stubbornly refused to do what I told them to do.  I'll also talk about how navigating through a full-length novel improves your skills as a writer and how the initially painful process of self-editing can be totally liberating.

Until then, Happy Reading, folks!  .

EPIC (If only due to my Dad's amazing artwork):

The DeathQuest Saga: Brother's Keeper (Volume 1)

EPIC VIEWING:  I'm an easy mark for this series, which features Monty Python alum Terry Jones.  Terry's a devout medieval historian who has a blast exploding myths about the Middle Ages while consistently bringing the funny:

Terry Jones' Medieval Lives

FAIL:  What I didn't want the cover to look like...

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