Friday, September 6, 2013

Like Fire Through Bone: Fantasy Inspired by Christian Folklore

Vasilios Eleni has learned to make the best of life as a eunuch and valued slave in the household of a wealthy silk merchant. When he begins having dreams of a demon who steals away children and eats them alive, Vasilios's well-ordered life begins to unravel. General Markos Özdemir has been ordered by the Emperor to investigate the kidnapping and murder of children from the capital, but he’s become frustrated with lack of progress. When he learns of Vasilios’s dreams he begins to suspect they are the key to tracking down the demon.

Vasilios and Markos work together, and soon the attraction between them flares, leading to deeper attachment. Vasilios admits to his feelings for Markos but knows they must first find a way to exorcise the child-eating demon. Their quest takes them into to desert to seek out mystics and a half-man, half-serpent monk, as well as heretics, ex-concubines, and angels. The mission remains unsolved when Vasilios is trapped in the household of a cruel man. Things go from bad to worse for Vasilios, and getting back to freedom and the new love he has with Markos could cost him his life. 

It is exactly a week until Like Fire Through Bone is released by Dreamspinner Press on the 13th and I'm starting to get that release day jittery feeling. Since that date is coming right up I thought I'd talk a little about writing the book.

It started, in part, with a conversation I had with my brother about the representation of religion, specifically Christianity in fantasy. I had just watched the pilot of Game of Thrones and one of the things that really bugged me about it was, while it was obviously a fantasy world based on a specific historical moment, any actual religious tradition had been totally erased from the picture in favor of an imaginary one.

This is actually a really common occurrence in fantasy, where authors will go out of there way to based a fantasy setting on a historical time and place but totally ignore the often vital role religion played in that time and place. While it is a totally legitimate world building decision to make up a religion I would like to feel as if it was a decision an author made for a good reason.  Too often though I feel as if fantasy authors don't even consider the possibility of actually addressing real world faith traditions unless it is specifically to portray them as evil (yeah Pullman I'm looking at you.)

In fact I read a whole series of articles on Fantasy Faction about religion in creating fantasy worlds where incorporating actual religion was never brought up as an option, not even once. It was simply assumed that if an author wanted to address religion at all it would be making one up from scratch.

Also while angel/demon stories are popular in m/m romance the theology behind them, or lack there of often makes me cringe. I don't need to theologically agree with the author I'm reading but it make me sad to see an element of my faith life totally stripped of any theological significance at all.Or worse written by an author who obviously didn't think religion and theology was important thing to tackle while writing about demons and angels.

Well, I thought, let's see if I can put my money where my mouth is.

I am a big believer in starting any world building with real world mythology. Ancient Egyptian myths, check. Medieval Chinese folk lore. Did it. That epic of Norse mythology the Edda, also based a world on that too.

Having some early Church history under my belt, along with quite a bit of biblical studies I turned to early Christian folk lore, theology and mysticism for inspiration. Out of that came Like Fire Through Bone. 

The demon Gyllou comes from early Christian folklore as a demon who threatens mothers and infant children, causing miscarriage and infant mortality. Women who harmed children could be accused of being possessed by this demon and exorcised accordingly. Historians believe the figure of Gyllou probably predates Christianity was some kind of other mythological creature prior to being incorporated into Christian folklore. Also according to myth the Archangel Michael was a particular adversary of Gyllou's. 

Thus Gyllou became my bogeyman, a creature who kidnapping babies and devouring them.

Christian folklore from the Middle East also brought me a strange little myth of a man who was half-snake, half-human but wise and just nonetheless.

From the desert fathers and mothers of the earliest Coptic Church came some bad-ass mystic theology and acts of asceticism of mythical proportions.

And fairy tales offered up a particularly creepy and Christian flavored tale in the 'Girl without Hands' full of angels and demonic temptation. This tale became reworked into the back-story for my much more self reliant character Aritê, a desert mother herself.

Kingdom theology is my specialty, it is what I write, what I preach, what I teach and strains of that run through the story. I also thought about a lot of theological and historical issues while writing it. Such as the role of theology and faith plays in systems of oppression, both for the oppressor and the oppressed. I thought about the role of women in Church history, about the lives of female saints, mystics, heretics and theologians. I thought about different stories about people's journeys into faith, the ones who struggle with it and the ones who don't, the people who have mystical experiences and the ones who don't, different reasons to believe or not to believe.    

Out of all of this I created a world which starts with the mythology and then evolves past it to encompass the fantasy element of the world as it never was. Like all fantasy based on history and mythology Like Fire Through Bone is about retold tales and re-imagined moments in an Empire that never existed and a world where magic, demons and angels are real.

Like Fire Through Bone is not your typical angel and demon story. The demon is a child eating monster who raises hoards of undead. The angels are creatures that pass in and out of humans lives, bringing messages from God but leaving the humans to do the hard work of getting on with it.

Nor is it typical fantasy and I think because of that it might not be for everyone. Christians and non Christians alike might struggle with some of the imagery.  As a historian, theologian and most importantly a life long fantasy fan I am proud to have written it though.

Like Fire Through Bone come out on September 13th from Dreamspinner Press pre-order a copy in either ebook or paperback

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