Monday, April 4, 2011
"The Strange Man" Commentary (Part IV)
Here we are at the end! For those who have stuck with our commentary, thanks for tuning in. I realize many might not get much out of my reflective ramblings, but I like to get my thoughts out, nonetheless.
If you've yet to read the others parts, here are the links:
Page 233--The Strange Man reveals a bit more of his motivation here: He hates humanity. A lot of times when I've seen demons or classic villains in movies and books, they want to rule the world or be worshiped or whatever. But the Strange Man is not so conceited. He just hates people. They disgust him. I’m not the biggest fan of humanity myself, at times. All it takes is about ten minutes reading the comments section on any number of news articles on Yahoo and you see how much hate and bitterness and ego and ugliness is out there. In church, I’ve often heard a lot of blame being placed on the devil for the evil in the world, but I think a lot of it is just people. The Strange Man, like all devils, was an angel once. It was his job to look out for these “selfish, arrogant people”, watching them kill each other and shake an angry, defiant fist at God. He’s experienced their hate and has become corrupted by it. Now he’s the embodiment of man’s cruelty, turned back on them. Poetic justice?
Page 238--Dras talking with Hank over the CB is new to the Realms Edition. After having inserted more of Deputy Dane Adams into the story, and building up his relationship with Hank, I really felt Hank needed a moment to learn that his friend had died. Bring some closure to that arc.
Page 243--New scene. Again, trying to build up Jeff and Isabella as part of the main cast.
Page 249--The second “witnessing” attempt. This is another scene I agonized over. Worked and re-worked and re-worked for years. I originally wrote this scene coming out of a very evangelical culture in the Christian film industry. Every movie had a “money shot” where someone laid down the gospel--the “altar call” scene. The whole movie practically built upon that moment--unfortunately oftentimes at the expense of character, plot, good writing, etc. Someone shares the gospel, someone gets saved, and everything is wrapped up in a nice bow. Part of the thing I wanted to do back then with The Strange Man was show that “Hey. We can tell the gospel, but have all the other stuff too.” I wanted the message in there, sure, but also good characters and plots, excitement, etc, and to also turn the “gospel scene” on its ear--where it’s not a neat and tidy conclusion. It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered how vehemently some Christian writers are against this kind of scene period. They would say that this is a trademark of bad writing and that this is the reason “Christian Fiction” is not taken seriously by the literary world. But I felt that this was a vital scene to the characters. This is a big moment for Dras because he finally gets it now. Things like “God” aren’t just stale old dogma he’s been passed down in church--they are things that he’s experienced for himself and, now, he’s sharing that from his heart.
But there are ways of doing this kind of “gospel” scene and there are ways not to do it. I’ve struggled with how to do this scene correctly. In the past, no matter how many times I wrote this scene, it felt like I was hitting pause on the story, turning to the audience with a twinkle in my eye and saying, “Now, kids, let me tell you about Jesus.” Unfortunately, that’s how it reads in the Xulon edition. In the beginning I was so afraid of getting it “right”, of saying everything the Reader needed to know to understand the gospel--that’s the Bible teacher in me. Plus, as I said in the last part, the Bible is the foundation to my fictional mythology, too, so where's the line between "preaching" and just explaining the rules of my fictional world?
Originally, this conversation with Dras turned into a whole sermon--pages and pages worth (though I trimmed it a bit for the Xulon Edish)--and, soon, it wasn’t genuine to Dras anymore. It sort of stayed in the “canned gospel” approach that failed Dras the last time. When I sat down to write the Realms Edition I KNEW this scene was the first on my list of things to rework. I felt extra-sure when my editor--a CBA editor--told me the scene was too preachy and unrealistic! So, I scrapped most of this scene. More than that, I scrapped my old way of looking at things. This scene wasn’t about saying the right things for the Reader. This is Dras and Rosalyn’s lives on the line here. I focused on my characters--on Dras. After everything he’d been through in this story, what did he need to say to Rosalyn? I wrote this scene from the heart--Dras’ heart--to Rosalyn. The scene is about ten times shorter than its original incarnation and, dare I say, ten times better. Does it still come off as preachy? Well, I guess that depends on the Reader. But I tried. Whattya gonna do? It is what it is.
Page 253--Rosalyn asks Dras, in essence, “If God’s so great, why is my dad dead?” I added this for the Realms Edition because it suddenly struck me that of course she’d ask this. And, of course, Dras doesn’t have an answer. In my own life, I think I’ve tried too hard to answer all the tough life questions for people, thinking that, if I do, these people will come to a faith in Christ. But it’s called “faith” because we don’t have all the answers. Some people aren’t okay with that. Rosalyn isn’t, but what can Dras possibly say in defense against her tragedy? It’s a messy question with no easy answer and I’m proud of myself for not trying to answer it here. I would have ten years ago. I would have spent ten pages trying to convince Rosalyn why God is still good, even when bad things happen. But, now I know better. Sometimes God has to defend Himself and I’ve got to trust Him to do that in His own time and His own way.
What I like about this scene, is that Rosalyn still rejects what Dras is saying, which, to me, drives home the message of this book. This is not a conversion scene! This isn't a book about Rosalyn “accepting Christ” in the end. Dras hopes that happens, of course--it’s her only salvation against the Strange Man. But the more important battle, to me, was Dras claiming his faith. A part of that meant sharing it, yes, but it’s the act of sharing it that was important, not the result. Some people think this book ends on a cliffhanger because we don’t know what happens to Rosalyn--and, sure, it is designed to leave you ready for Book Two--but I think Dras’ sacrifice here is a solid ending to his story in this book. He’s learned a lesson. He’s become a man, at long last. Will it make the difference for Rosalyn? Well, only time (and the sequels) will tell.
Page 260--Some readers have expressed confusion over Dras’ eventual fate. Is he dead? Is he alive? I thought it was pretty clear, myself.
Page 261--Thus begins the new ending for the Realms Edition. One of the first things my editor at Realms pointed out was that the Xulon Edition just stopped. No real ending. Of course I answered “But there’s two more parts to the trilogy!!”, but my editor said, very kindly and patiently, “Greg, you’re gonna tick people off if you don’t give them a satisfying conclusion in this book.” This was my attempt to remedy that. I gave Rosalyn and the Strange Man a kind of “final battle” here, but again had to be careful not to ruin things to come. I had to hold back and allow for a type of victory, but still keep the threat and the tragedy alive. It was difficult, but I really like this confrontation with Rosalyn and the Strange Man. Again, she’s not “accepting Christianity”, just choosing her love for Dras over the Strange Man’s lure.
Book Two picks up about fifteen minutes after The Strange Man ends.
Page 263--"The Hour" is capitalized on purpose. And what an ominous purpose it be. Ooooohhhh...
Page 263--Another new scene. Another hard one to write. This was a further move to “wrap up” Dras’ journey, by having him reflect on what he’s done, what he’s been through, and wondering what will happen next. I like ending this with him talking to his father. I find it fitting that, at the end, Dras was finally Jack Weldon’s son.
Page 265--Epilogue. This is from the Xulon Edition and serves as a setup for the direction the series will take in Book Two. Looks like the bad guy won this round. We can only hope things fair better for our heroes in Enemies of the Cross: The Coming Evil Trilogy, Book Two (tentatively scheduled for release Winter 2012 from Realms Fiction)!
Page 266--“To Be Continued...” Cheesy, right? Old-fashioned? It’s no secret that I love the Back to the Future Trilogy and this is my direct tribute (rip-off?) to the “To Be Continued...” first glimpsed at the end of the first BTTF movie on VHS. When I first saw that, I was like “What? To Be Continued? You mean, there’s more?! YES!” These days “TBC...” is sort of a groan-inducer, I imagine, but I was excited to include it. And, yes, you can be sure the other two installments will follow suit with BTTF, with a “To Be Concluded...” at the end of Book Two and an accomplished “The End” that wraps up the trilogy :p
Page 267--“Among the Dead”. This is commentary for another day, but I will say that I’m really happy to see this short story included in the publication. I view it as The Coming Evil Book Zero, really. It was a dream of mine to see the story of The Coming Evil expand past the trilogy into short stories, comics, sequels, prequels, sidequels, whatever I could get my hands on. The day I sat down to write Among the Dead I was feeling discouraged and so bogged down with the trilogy. I wanted to just cut loose and write a totally separate adventure with these characters just for fun. I cranked out this story in an afternoon and I had such a blast. I can’t even describe it to you. I think I even cried a little. It was so liberating. I didn’t think too hard about anything or what it “meant”. I just wrote something for the heck of it. This was such a powerful moment for me as it was my first inkling that these characters had more life in them that just a single trilogy. They felt real, with lives that extended beyond their battle with the Strange Man. Now, on the blog below the trailers to your right, there are a number of short stories for your reading pleasure (they’re free, yo!), chronicling Dras and Rosalyn’s life before the events of Book One, but Among the Dead will always be the first. It’ll always be special.
That concludes our commentary for The Strange Man. If you’ve managed to sit through my entire rambling, congratulations! You win a cookie! Seriously, you who have bought the book and enjoyed it...it’s meant the world to me.
Thanks for listening, and be sure to keep it tuned here for more updates, short fiction, and interviews. See you back again for (possibly) another commentary when Enemies of the Cross, Book Two of The Coming Evil Trilogy, hits stores and the Strange Man’s war with the faithful of Greensboro really begins.
It only gets crazier from here.