Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"The Strange Man" Commentary (Part II)

Thanks for coming back! In case you missed it, click here to read Part 1 of the exclusive commentary.

Like before, this commentary comes with a HEAVY SPOILER WARNING. Read no further if you like surprises.

Page 59--So, this is probably THE most controversial and debated scene in the book among readers and even my editors. Lindsey cries out for Jesus to save her from the bogeyman. All fine and good, except...she dies. This has raised some questions: “If she genuinely called on the name of the Lord, why did He not rescue her? Why did she die? Did God abandon her?” One review even went so far as to say I was condemning her for what I, the author, viewed as a sinful lifestyle. In a Christian book where demons are involved, it’s awfully easy to just have the hero “rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus” and then, wham, instant relief from danger. But I don’t think it works quite like that in real life and it definitely doesn’t work like that in The Coming Evil Trilogy. People die. Sometimes good people, who call on the name of the Lord. I think of the story of Job. The Lord forbade the devil from killing Job, but said no such thing about all of Job’s kids. They all died in one horrible afternoon. Now, most Christians want to cast themselves in the role of Job--believing that the devil can never harm them. But maybe, sometimes, we’re Job’s kids. But, even in the death of Job’s children, God was given the glory and it eventually strengthened Job’s faith. That’s a victory of a kind. I love Lindsey and certainly was not stepping in as Author and condemning her or passing judgment on her. In fact, I think there was a line that was eventually cut that said the spilling of her “innocent” blood is what affects the lake at the end of the book. Nor was I suggesting that God abandoned Lindsey or that He didn’t forgive her or save her soul.

What was most important about this scene to me is to show that the “rules” of The Strange Man are different than, perhaps, what people might expect from a “Christian book”. Evil will not be banished from the world by a simple “I cast you out, Satan!” You’re gonna have to dig in and fight harder. And sometimes, you’re just going to lose. No one is safe.

Page 65--Chapter Five. I guess there are always things that you read back over and think “Aw, man, I wish I could do that differently.” Well, folks, welcome to Chapter Five. This was another really old scene and no matter how many times I edited it over the years, it just doesn’t ring right to me. Aw, well. Sometimes you just gotta let it go.

Page 67--Jeff’s sermon went through many rewrites in the past decade. I have dissected his sermon more than, probably, any other thing in this book, save for Dras’ last conversation with Rosalyn at the end of the book. It’s hard because this is a preaching scene, but I didn’t want it to feel like the Author was preaching to the Reader. That was never my intention. Jeff changed a lot as a person through this scene, too. When I first wrote it, he was this really loud televangelist mega-church kinda preacher. All shouting and with the weird affectations that seminaries teach preachers to use so they don’t sound boring. Yet, when we saw Jeff in his “off-time”, he didn’t talk like that, so the character just seemed two-faced. I stripped a lot of those pulpit theatrics and made him real. He’s a good (though definitely flawed) guy with good ideas and he’s trying to tell people who really don’t care. I also trimmed down his speech here. He used to go on and on in some of the earlier drafts, pretty much laying down the foundation of the Garden of Eden and Original Sin and all of that. It was bad. Really bad. I focused it in more on Greensboro and what they’re going through as a people. I’m actually at peace with where this scene’s at now.

Page 70--With the bike ride through Greensboro, I wanted to capture youthful innocence. This is like a Spielberg movie right now, with the kid on his bicycle looking at his picturesque town. Except it’s not so picturesque anymore. Everything that Dras holds dear is gone, which I can relate to. Originally “Greensboro” was “Greensburg”. I changed it to “Greensboro” once I realized that the old country backroads I spent many an afternoon driving down while working through the story in my head was “Greensboro Road”. Incidentally, there was a field by that road with an abandoned shack, hedged by tall grass and a mysterious age-scarred wooden sign that read “Old Greenesboro”, with the odd “e” and everything. Some have mistakenly assumed that this story is set in Greensboro, North Carolina, but no. Just named after a scenic drive in northeast Arkansas.

Page 75--Chapter Six and Franklin Whitaker. Another later addition. I actually wrote this a long time ago, then cut it, lost the file, and had to rewrite it from scratch.

Page 79--Chapter Seven. A lot of things going on here, a lot of mixing of old and new. Dras and Jeff’s argument has been in the story since the beginning. The ladies gossiping about Rosalyn was fun because it’s a great character moment for Rosalyn. By now, we’ve seen Rosalyn, we (hopefully) like Rosalyn. To hear what the town thinks of her and says behind her back should make us mad. That it’s coming from church ladies should be even worse. Look, I know there’s going to be people reading this book who think that churches are full of hypocrites and judgmental types. I get it, okay? And you know what? Yeah, those people are there, and I wanted to be honest about that.

Page 83--But then I introduce Leonard Fergus, ideally played by the great character actor Bill Cobbs! I love Fergus, and having him chastise these “good sisters” in his playful manner hopefully breaks some stereotypes about church folk.

Page 89--Enter Sheriff Hank Berkley. Originally, he had very little to do in this book, but I found myself writing more and more scenes for him because I just love him. This is also where we meet Deputy Dane Adams.

The real Dane Adams is a salesman who has worked on and off with my dad in the screenprinting business for twenty some-odd years. Way back in the day when I told people I wanted to write a novel about monsters, the real Dane Adams said he wanted me to put him in the book and kill him off. Done! The fictional Dane and the real Dane share little in common. Also, Dane’s another character who had very few scenes (other than dying), but I found myself putting him in more and more. He and Hank make a good pair.

Page 93--Chapter Nine. This chapter has been through a lot of rewrites. I always loved this chapter, but I had a nasty habit of bouncing around between Dras’ POV and Rosalyn’s. I probably still didn’t catch all of it, but I tried. It’s only been recently that I’ve had to discipline myself into sticking with one character in a scene. I come from a screenwriting background, which has a very detached eye. In a room full of people, I’ve got to be able to move freely and zero in on each thing a character does. Despite my best efforts, I've carried that over into my fiction writing, so when I get a couple characters in a scene that both have things going on in their heads, I really have to restrain myself from ping-ponging between the different POVs. I’m trying to do better at trusting the characters to communicate what they’re going through internally by how they act.

Page 100--The kiss! I’m a sap for the whole “guy didn’t know his true love was beside him the whole time” stories. I just re-watched the tail end of Some Kind of Wonderful (a boyhood favorite of mine) last night and was nodding and all, “Yeah, man. Yeah, that’s good stuff.” A sap I tell you! A sap!

Page 101--Groundhog Day Part XII is going to leave a few people scratching their heads (including my editor). No, don’t bother Googling to see about that Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day. This fictional movie is a nod to The Monster Squad, a major inspiration to me as a young lad and to this series. Groundhog Day Part XII is the slasher movie that the main character in The Monster Squad--Sean Crenshaw--wanted to see at the drive-in.

Page 105--Chapter Ten. New scene created for the Realms version. All of these deputies play a role (some big, some small) throughout the trilogy, so I decided to introduce them all here. I love their banter and had a great time coming up with these different variations on the Strange Man legend. Plus, I really love writing “good ole boys”, for some reason.

Page 108--Earl is one of my new favorite characters. I don’t think he even appears in the Xulon Edition, but he’ll be a major player in Book Two, so I wanted to introduce him here. While he’s an antagonist, I totally see where he’s coming from. With the Realms Edition, I wanted to mature the overall story--I wanted to include characters whose struggles with God’s justice and sovereignty are complicated, and maybe even justified. Looking back, the Xulon Edition was very clean cut. Very “trust in God and everything is okay”. While I do believe that, you’ve got to sometimes alter your definition of “okay”.

Page 113--Chapter Eleven. Our introduction to Deputy Ryan Stevenson. This guy is a bad guy. There are very few human villains in The Coming Evil Trilogy. Most of them are just hurting people lashing out, but Stevenson is a thug, through and through. Some people just like being mean. More “good ole boy” exchange between Hank and Dane.

Page 127--Dave at the video store. This was a Realms Edition addition. Dave is also featured in the short story “The Coming Evil: Clown Time...The Remake!” available to read for free on this very blog.

Page 127--Garden Tool Massacre is the name of the fictional movie playing at the theater in the 1988 remake of The Blob--another favorite of mine and an inspiration for the kind of tone I wanted this book to have.

Page 132--She-Vampires From Mars is actually an original title, as opposed to a nod to another film. I have plans of writing a real script for She-Vampires From Mars one day and trying to get it made as a direct-to-video “gem” :p

Page 135--Chapter Thirteen. A new scene for the Realms Edition. I really played Jeff as a foil for this book. He’s a jerk. But, because he plays such a huge role in the rest of the series, I wanted to write a scene that, hopefully, warmed audiences up to him a bit. Also, this is another red herring as we think maybe Jeff is about to step in and become the hero. But, no. Our hero is busy nodding off while watching She-Vampires From Mars. We have some mention of Everett Greene and the fate of Old Greenesboro. Oooh, mysterious. You’ll have to stick around for the whole trilogy to find out what happened.

I’ve also considered writing the story of Old Greenesboro one day. Hm...

Head over to Part III of our commentary where we explore the dangers of "preaching" in Christian fiction and other theological musings!


Tim George said...

I appreciated the realism of that cry to God that seems unanswered. People do die - sometimes with little fanfare. How God answers those cries is often a mystery from our point of view.

The Gill-Man said...

I also liked that moment. I also thought it established that the Strange Man was something a bit more than an incorporeal demon. He seems to be a monster, with a flesh-and-blood presence. While he is repelled by the Word of God, that seems to be in the same vein as Dracula being repelled by the cross. He IS an evil entity, but he has a physical component that makes him a threat on our mortal plain as much the spiritual.

On a lighter note, I actually got the reference to "Groundhog Day Part XII", as "Monster Squad" is a favorite of mine (I know, shocking!). I got quite a chuckle out of that one! The one I couldn't place, although it seemed familiar, was "Garden Tool Massacre", so thanks for clearing that up!

Now, I think I speak for everyone when I say that "She-Vampires From Mars" is one we'll all line up for!!!

Jessica Thomas said...

It's very interesting to see your take on the story. I have noticed some "ping-ponging" but it could also be called third person omniscient. :) You do it in a way that isn't confusing. The story flows naturally. I've got 1/4 left and so's very creepy. (The demon's at her? ouch.)

Greg Mitchell said...

Agreed, Tim. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the LAST half of Hebrews 11--about the righteous men who *weren't* delivered. That's powerful stuff.

David, believe me, I'm always trying to think of ways to bring "She-Vampires" to life. Maybe a comic book?

Jessica, thanks for commenting and for taking the time to read the book! I hope you enjoy it :)