February 13, 2010

THE WRITE STUFF: CHAPTER HEADINGS ARE KIND OF IMPORTANT (PART ONE)

One of the things that some of the readers of It Takes A Wizard may have thought was this, what the hell did the writer mean with those chapter headings, and is he incapable of doing something that was, uh, a little less... dadaist?

Well, for the most part I had a definitive idea of how to name each chapter, in an almost classical Alan Moore manner that used a line or two of certain songs, which in turn somewhat reflected the theme of the chapter you were about the read. On most of them, I thought long and hard about which song to use (or which reference from a movie or book), and then on which line of that song to use.

Now, here, call it the Director's Cut, if you will, I shall tell you what those chapter headings should have been what song they referenced, and why I chose them.

CHAPTER ONE
SON, HE SAID, GRAB YOUR THINGS
(I'M GOING TO TAKE YOU HOME)

That one should be easy to place, shouldn't it? It's one of the most famous lines of one of the most famous songs, Solsbury Hill, written and performed by Mr. Peter Gabriel. I chose this particular line, because it reflects (in a roundabout way, and not particular the way Mr. Gabriel intended, but such is the beauty of interpretation) our hero Isaac Silverberg meeting the Devil...

(or rather, the first devil, there would be a meeting with a second devil later... and isn't it always like that? That the devil is charming? And you want him to like you? That you want to help him?)

...or in this case, Nicholas Bonaventura. The scene at Jersey Command plays on numerous levels, and none of them are immediately recognisable and the deeper meaning would only unlock later, but with the chapter heading the reader would have known, if only later, that this was about Isaac actually going "home", which was an allusion to what would later be the reveal of the book.
The original lines of the song are thusly...
He was something to observe
Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom boom boom
"Son," he said "Grab your things,
I've come to take you home." 
CHAPTER TWO
THE TUNNEL AT THE
END OF THE LIGHT

That one, one of those that weren't based on a song or on a movie or book reference, is also pretty self-explanatory. It references the journey Isaac is about to embark, and by flipping the proverb around, I tell you that from here on out, things are only going to get worse... pretty much for everybody.

CHAPTER THREE
HOPE IN HELL

One of the characters that I am immensely proud of, in terms of depth, is Hope. I have grown up with Vertigo Comics (a lot), and while I am an atheist myself (sorry, kids), I never particularly liked the idea of shitting on any people who do have faith in something, which over the years quickly became one of the signature moves of anything that Vertigo produced. Angels are not better than Demons, God is an asshole... you know the drill. And while I may tackle the topic in one of the books I am currently writing from a different perspective, Hope came out of my desire to write a Catholic girl, a faithful girl... who was one of the few human survivors.

And I put myself into her shoes (which were about nine sizes too small) and thought to myself, if you are surrounded for three years by what is obviously an insane environment, wouldn't you believe that this was hell? The actual, real hell? How would that change you? What would you turn into? How far would you go?

Now, that's a tricky one, that question. And so I have Hope still pray (her prayer at the end of  Chapter Two ties all the different scenes together), I have her believe with a ferocity that borders on insanity, and this chapter also shows the dichotomy between the Old Testament faith (I made her a fighter, and I still think she is a solid 9 on the open-ended Ellen Ripley scale) and the New Testament faith, which consists primarily of forgiveness, symbolised at the end of the next chapter by Hope looking up at Jesus on the cross – indubitably one of the most powerful images in the history of the world (Jesus on the cross, not what I wrote, I may be arrogant, but not that arrogant).

And so the chapter title is a bit of a double entendre. On surface level, it merely tells you that there is a girl in "hell", and her name is Hope. On a deeper level, it tells you that even in the darkest places, even in the pits of despair, there is still something, there must be something to hold onto.

Or you have lost your humanity.

CHAPTER FOUR
THE BEAUTY OF THE BEAST

Again, this is a somewhat warped reference to an old fairy tale, and it mostly deals with Everett, Nichole Bonaventura and our two Rosencrantz & Guildenstern-like trolls (my deepest apologies to Billy Shakespeare) that provide a bit of a chorus for the magic parts of the book.

One of the problems that you face with world-building is how to give it some structure, some complexity. Most books fail in that regard, and I believe even I am a little bit wobbly here. Mostly this is because I simply didn't have enough pages to go too much into detail about what type of society would develop in a magic environment, but one of the things I absolutely didn't want was the monolithic evil so prevalent in modern fantasy books. You always have all the shifts in allegiances on the good folks' side, but evil is always and forever evil.

Kind of boring, don't you think?

While we get some nice glimpses of Nichole and Everett, I think that Guildenfang and Lottabutt (what was I thinking?) are what makes this part of the book.

Somebody dismissed them as Kevin Smith working stiffs and thought that would be a flaw. Well, to that one I say, I take it as a compliment, because that is exactly what they are supposed to be.

And oh, the reason why I am referencing Guildenstern and Rosencrantz (for that one reviewer, who probably has never read Hamlet) is that this is their purpose in the book, not only to provide a chorus, but also show that – however you structure society, there's always going to be those working stiffs.

And for those who did know Shakespeare, the names alone would have kind of given away their fates, eh? I knew from the beginning that those two trolls were going to bite it, and just like Tarantino did with his heroic German Officer in Inglourious Basterds, I wanted to lure the reader into the trap of actually liking those two characters...

... but their seeds of destructions have already been put in from the get-go. As the next chapter illustrates more deeply, actions have consequences, and however much you may like those two trolls for their acerbic commentary, nothing changes their very first exchange two chapters back, where we both find out...

... that they are still monsters. They still eat human beings (and the only allowance I made was that Lottabutt says that "not cooking them is barbaric"... which brings a call-back later on in the book, and oh dear, that call-back later pissed off both the publisher and the production editor, who whined a lot, thinking about sequels and prequels and side-quels, maybe the Guildenfang and Lottabutt chronicles).

And so, we set up all the things to come.

CHAPTER FIVE
IN THE BLOOD OF EDEN

Here he raises his bald head again, that damn Gabriel. I'm sure I used him a lot in this book, because his last name is that of an archangel (and one of the better ones). No, not really, but that would make a decent anedocte, eh? The reason why I chose that particular song as the title is that this chapter pretty much deals with Paradise Lost.

As Isaac remembers (and we as the reader don't know it yet), we have a unique opportunity to show what Manhattan has become through both his eyes and the eyes of the girl who has survvied all of this madness, and while they both see the same things, they see them in a very different way.

One could almost make a comparison to James Cameron's Avatar, as in the fact that Quaritch and Sully may both be on Pandora, but they see the same environment coloured by very different experiences. Quaritch, I believe, does have a certain point in seeing Pandora as a hostile environment. After all, the air can kill you in five minutes, eh? Same here with Hope. She is conditioned to see the Magic Kingdom in the strictest terms of survival, whereas Isaac still needs to learn...

... and what she teaches him here is one of the central themes of the book. It's called responsibility, Isaac. You better take some of it.

Actions and consequences. Taking responsibility. Living up to it.

And there's Blood in Eden, Eden is in fact built upon the blood of those who died, because Isaac screwed up, none of this should have been like this, we get told, it should have been better (something we are going to find out about in the later chapters).

The reason I chose this as a chapter title is not only the song's title (which would have been a good enough reason, already), but because of the lyrics themselves...

I caught sight of my reflection
I caught it in the window
I saw the darkness in my heart
I saw the signs of my undoing
They had been there from the start


And the darkness still has work to do
The knotted chord's untying
The heated and the holy
Oh they're sitting there on high
The chapter ends with a nice dichotomy that sets up the next chapter, Monsters' Ball, as I have Hope talk – as only a sexually innocent can do – about what it is they do there, and they do it at night, every night... again, a dichotomy between almost the child-like innocence still shared between Isaac and her, and the hedonistic decadence, almost that decadence of grown-ups, that is about to be displayed by the deformed magic creatures.

But more on that the next time.