Author Jess Hanna: Mega-Dark Blog Tour #2

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Next Installment of the Mega-Dark Blog Tour. Now up: Jess Hanna

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More about Me
This is a continuation of my first post on the Mega Dark Blog Tour. In that post, I focused on where I came from, when I knew I wanted to be a storyteller, and the origins of my fascination with the supernatural. This second post will continue along that vein, providing further insight into what motivates me to write. But before I dive in, I would like to thank Patrick Todoroff for hosting me on his blog.

After I got saved, I saw the world with an alarming new clarity. The supernatural things that interested me before now took on a more sinister tone. I found that the majority of it (Ouija boards, the occult, ghosts, aliens, etc.) was meant to lead me away from the truth of God. Don’t get me wrong, I was still fascinated by these things, but the way I viewed them was not longer with fascination, but as tools of the enemy.

It wasn’t too far into the future that I stopped writing altogether. While I had an interest and felt I could write well, I didn’t see it as a viable career choice. I allowed ‘real’ life to crowd out my love of writing. I even stopped reading for many years. To fill the void I lived my life the best I could, moving from one unfulfilling job to another. It wasn’t and hasn’t been terrible, but spending a career climbing the corporate ladder is just not all that appealing to me.

Everything changed when I turned 32. While floundering in questioning what to do with my life, I felt a strong urge to get back to writing. I hadn’t written anything in so long that I wasn’t sure I could still do it. I tried to push the feeling away, to be practical, but the tug was strong. I knew I had to write, regardless of whether or not I felt the tangible benefit of it in this life.

I also started reading again and re-read my copy of On Writing by Stephen King. After I finished it, I took his advice and just started writing. Within a few months, I had written the first draft of my first book, The Road to Hell. I was so happy to just finish a full length novel at all, and let that elation carry me until I started the second draft. I found it was hard work, taking what I had written and scrutinizing it with a critical and grammatical eye.

To find out more about my experience writing my first book, along with details about my motivation and the painstaking process of multiple edits and the submission process, check out my next stop on the Mega Dark Blog Tour with Mark Carver.

Don’t forget to check out my website for more about me and my writing.

http://www.jesshanna.com

Junk Food and Cowardice re-post

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RE-POSTED FOR THOSE WHO DON’T LIKE TO CLICK THROUGH:

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JUNK FOOD AND COWARDICE
I was told the other day my fiction was the literary equivalent of fast food: cheap, suspect, and eminently forgettable. In this person’s mind, too much fiction – especially genre fiction – is impractical. Unhealthy.

Fact is, it’s true in many ways: my novels won’t ever make the “Great Books of the Western World” list. (http://thegreatestbooks.org/lists/40) I’m not in a snit over it. Espionage thrillers about futuristic mercenaries, clones and killer drones aren’t going to change the world. I’m OK with that. As a writer, I’m pecking at the keyboard to exercise my imagination, to spin a yarn, hopefully entertain someone. Maybe even make a couple extra bucks before my time is up. I just hope I’m more like Panera than Mcdonalds.

now I want onion rings…

I’m aiming for that lofty goal because as a writer and artist who is also a Christian, I’d like to inject some substance, trace-elements of spiritual qualities in my work. After all, it is a product of my time and labor, an extension of my person, if you will, and I’d hate to think my soul is vapid and shallow. But that’s the fear, the accusation, isn’t it?

Which is what brought me to the charge of cowardice.

I finished Flannery O’Connor’s “The Violent Bear it Away” recently. (http://www.amazon.com/The-Violent-Bear-Away-ebook/dp/B009LRWWN6/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1375299985&sr=1-1) I read it decades ago for some Eng Lit course, and didn’t get it at all. I was stunned this time around though. The following passage in particular hit me.

“Tarwater clenched his fists. He stood like one condemned, waiting at the spot of execution. Then the revelation came, silent, implacable, direct as a bullet. He did not look into the eyes of any fiery beast or see a burning bush. He only knew, with a certainty sunk in despair, that he was expected to baptize the child he saw and begin the life his great-uncle had prepared him for. He knew that he was called to be a prophet and that the ways of his prophecy would not be remarkable. His black pupils, glassy and still, reflected depth on depth his own stricken image of himself, trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus, until at last he received his reward, a broken fish, a multiplied loaf. The Lord out of dust had created him, had made him blood and nerve and mind, had made him to bleed and weep and think, and set him in a world of loss and fire all to baptize one idiot child that He need not have created in the first place and to cry out a gospel just as foolish. He tried to shout, “NO!” but it was like trying to shout in his sleep. The sound was saturated in silence, lost.”
Excerpt From: O’Connor, Flannery. “The Violent Bear It Away.” Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Your mileage may vary, but what stunned me wasn’t merely the prose, the theme, the characters; it’s classic American literature for a reason. But I had the sudden intimate realization I lacked both the skill and the courage to write something that messy, that audacious. There’s an anger, a certain mad daring, not to mention profound bravery needed to grapple with the enormity of free will, Man’s primal defiance and the mystery of God’s grace without imposing clichéd answers. I was numbed, humbled.

I confess that with rare exception, I find most of the contemporary Christian artistic offerings as insipid as they are sincere. My opinion is that as flawed as we believers are and will be down here, the reality of God deserves better than the modern evangelical status quo. The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters and brought the entire universe into being at the divine fiat. That is the spirit reportedly indwelling us.

As an artist, a writer, I agree with Akira Kurosawa that “The role of the artist is to not look away.” I understand what Steven Pressfield means when he says “The artist is seeking the real by means of the artificial.” It’s just that I flatter myself if I think that simply waving around the live-wire of some controversy, spilling some fictitious blood or allowing my non-Christian characters to drop an F-bomb or three, I’ve struck a blow against saccharine mediocrity. It might be bold to some, blasphemy to others. It might make me a shark in the koi pond, a vandal in the Precious Moments Temple, but sizzle ain’t steak. None of that is inherently more gritty or authentic. Like the song says, ‘It ain’t necessarily so.’

O’Connor’s novel reminded me once again true skill doesn’t rely on gimmicks, that gratuitous detail isn’t realism, and that my work will never really ring true unless I’m willing to leave the cloistered certainty of comfortable answers. As a Christian, an artist, a writer, as a human being, I have to venture out into the mystery that is God, the madness that is love, and the scandal that is grace, then have the courage, the humility to get out of the way and let them be what they are.

A bit of controversy.

Skip this if Christianity/homosexuality is a sensitive issue for you. This has nothing to do with writing, spec-fiction or indie publishing. Please also note this is neither an exhaustive theological investigation, nor an invitation to debate. This is a personal perspective.

I’m always fascinated and dismayed by the Homosexual/Christianity/Bigotry debates.

I think the core message gets lost in the scuffle and slander: made in the image of God, there is nonetheless in each of us that element that is isolated, broken and defiant. We sin because we are sinners – not the other way around – and sexual immorality (of which homosexuality is one type) is symptomatic of that deeper disconnect.

Each of us is lost in our own way and in desperate need of a savior. No one is excluded from that. Yet it seems we cling to the wonderful truth that God is love while ignoring the only aspect of his nature ever emphasized to the third degree: his holiness. In Jesus Christ, God invites anyone and everyone to become citizens in an eternal kingdom under the leadership of the Son. He calls us out of darkness, out of sin, to a new, regenerated life. Repentance isn’t merely the first step to salvation; it’s the key dynamic in our faith and journey. God is looking for loyal hearts, authentic, honest worship – not perfection – and I’m also convinced from scripture, theology and personal experience the grace that forgives also heals and transforms.

Each of us is ultimately accountable for our own decisions, our own actions, including our response to the fundamental (yes, I used the ‘F’-word) claims of the Gospel. Anything less is playing the victim and irresponsible. Sin is the soul’s choice of not-God, and it is the thing that kills- not doctrine.

Jesus is your answer.

The science fiction of no God

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
– Alan Alda

We all make them. We all run into them/get run over by them. Common ones I have dealt with:

1. I’m male, an artist, so I must be gay. (my wife is always amused at this one)
2. I’m physically disabled so I must be mentally challenged. (One potential client saw me walking with my cane and asked if I was capable of doing her job. I replied it was fortunate you don’t cut glass with your feet. Fact is, one of the reasons I started using a cane in public was the tediousness of people talking to me like I was a three-year-old about to have a seizure.)
3. I’m a Christian, so I must be willfully uneducated, uncultured and hostile toward science, literature, etc. (After all, only stupid, poor hicks believe in God.)
4. I’m pushing 50, been saved longer than ten years, so I must be like Statler and Waldorf, a religious ‘old wineskin’ hindering ‘real’ revival.
5. Because I have a Pentecostal Christian background, I’m a hop, skip and a jump away from prancing about in my undies like King David waving a prayer banner whilst frothing in tongues. (See #2)

*Ahem*

To clarify, it was Iain M. Banks‘ passing and his last novel “The Hydrogen Sonata” that prompted this post. The above have been simmering for a bit – Guess I needed to get them out.

It’s just that the ‘H.S.’ typifies science fiction’s traditional assumptions toward religion, spirituality and faith. And it got me thinking.

Before I go any further, I’m not disparaging Mr. Banks. Far from it. The man was an absurdly brilliant and prolific writer. Would to God I could write half as much half as well. I agree with Neil Gaiman who said ‘his bad books were good while his good ones were astonishing.’ His Culture series novels are sprawling space-operas filled with Red Giant-sized ideas, story-arcs measured in parsecs, tragedy in gigadeaths. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you owe it to yourself to read at least one of his books. “Consider Phlebas”, “The Player of Games”, or “Against a Dark Background” are all good starting points. His work is at once an inspiration, a challenge and a rebuke, all in the best possible way.

Mr. Banks’ assumption was common to the genre: that technology renders religion and faith spurious. That humankind will mature beyond the need for an Imaginary Friend/Sky Bully, and develop the ultimate, prosperous, tolerant, secular-humanist utopia under the new omniscient, omnipotent, and ubiquitous gods of Artificial Intelligence. That thought was the foundation for every novel, a common thread, implicit or expressed.

I couldn’t help but note Mr. Banks didn’t so much discard God as replace him. With all the disdain for religion, future fictional people still require a guiding hand. The A.I.s are as much protagonists as the deities of Greek Mythology. Indeed, they play much the same role in his plots.

I’ve heard it said we’d ‘need to invent God even if there wasn’t one’ for ethical, moral, transcendent philosophical purposes alone. This isn’t so much an essay on apologetics but a question of how realistic is a fictional future without people who believe in God? Odd that as a Christian, I’m accused of wishful thinking and unreasonable fantasy. For the record, nearly half the characters in Shift Tense profess some form of religion, be it genuine, misguided, or manipulative. It’s not simply my preference – it made sense that in depicting the future, people would still be made of the same stuff.

Despite centuries of predictions, the sheer number of religious people is telling. God is far from dead. If a writer’s job is to construct a credible fictional universe, how plausible is it to discard religious faith? In the context of an unknown future/exploring an unimaginably vast universe, is it reasonable to think people will leave God behind?

If anything, I suspect religion will be cherished, will be preserved even more for inspiration, guidance, comfort, certainty, rationalization… Just like today.

Losing my religion?


I was asked recently about the ‘religious’ characters in my stories and ‘all that Christian stuff’, and figured I’d post some sort of answer.

I’ll freely admit one of my central goals as a writer is to integrate Christian themes into my work. However, I’m committed they work organically in the plots and I avoid heavy-handed, preachy narrative, or contrived ‘alter call’ moments. I’m not ashamed of my faith or trying to be coy and ‘sneak in’ definite truth-claims, but I feel part of my job as a writer is to keep the story line internally consistent. That means characters – Christian and non-Christian – have to act/re-act in ways that are authentic to their particular worldviews. That’s part and parcel of the calling of any writer. More so, the believer.

I’m never comfortable analyzing my own work, but Running Black intentionally addresses the sanctity of human life, specifically the premise that a transcendent worldview is the only thing that restrains Man’s inherent inhumanity against their fellow Man. Historically groups dehumanize, demean, and demonize ‘others’, caricaturize them as outcasts and opponents. As a person who has dealt with a physical disability all his life, I’ve encountered this dynamic before.

One of the catalysts for the Eshu International series was the fear that cloning technology will one day allow us to mass-produce human beings, who in turn be viewed legally and culturally as solely as property. A high-tech version of slavery. Hopefully, Running Black and even Shift Tense touch that nerve in the midst of all those firefights, explosions and betrayals.

Now Clar1ty Wars is a different animal. It is a serialized, sci-fi re-imagining of the 19th Century Opium Wars. The big picture is this nasty, shadowy war between the planetary government and massive, space-bound corporations who have been controlling an entire planetary system with a drug. I’m trying to portray the conflict on the street-level using an immersive, mosaic style. There are recurring characters, but each chapter offers a different perspective, a new piece of the puzzle. The Clar1ty Wars focuses on regular people – the good, the bad and the ugly – caught in the crossfire of a war.

Acknowledged or not, religion and spirituality play a major part in our societies and people’s lives. This has been true all over the planet for centuries up to today. And wishful humanist thinking aside, I don’t see that dynamic disappearing any time soon. For me and my writing, it means devout characters will play their parts along side the rest as the conflict unfolds. For example, the cabbie in One Bad Apple’s ‘The Doubter’ learns to see the protagonist, Seeb, in a new light. Little does he know it, but he’s slated for another appearance at a crucial time in a later installment.

Hope that helps. If you have an further questions just ask.