Friday, February 19, 2010

A Book of Tongues Cast of Characters (II)

Today, we'll talk about two men of faith. Let's start with...

“Reverend” Asher Elijah Rook

There’s just something about a bad man who knows his Bible. Much like with Chess and Ben Foster, it all began with Russell Crowe’s Ben Wade in 3:10 to Yuma—but Ben’s a happy hypocrite in many ways, an atheist autodidact who uses the Good Book as just another way to work his will on idiots. I wanted Reverend Rook to have the sort of faith which can sour, but never entirely evaporate; to be a man literally in love with his own method of damnation, capable of dreadful things, but also capable of teaching a wild boy who’s never cared for anything to at least care for himself. I also wanted him to be big and deep-voiced, ‘cause I (and Chess) like that.

Enter, therefore—as my primary physical template for the Rev—one Clancy Brown.

Now, I realize that to most people these days, Brown’s an official old dude…chiefly recognizable as either the Kurgan in Highlander (which you may or may not find an attractive image—I do, but then, there’s a lot that’s wrong with me), Drill Sergeant Zim from Starship Troopers or Brother Justin Crowe from HBO's Carnivale. When I first began thinking nasty thoughts about Brown, however, both he and I were considerably younger. Here’s a pretty good shot of him from the days when he was also Rawhide in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and might even occasionally be found cavorting naked onscreen with the likes of Jamie Lee Curtis (in Kathryn Bigelow’s Blue Steel, in case you’re wondering); do feel free to ignore the attached screencap of Lobo, though:

Plus, a good selection of recent Clancy Brown pics can be found here (including one next to Nick Stahl, for body-size reference):

So: What we mainly know about the Rev is that he’s from Missouri, the Mother of Outlaws herself, and only ended up on the Confederate side of the War because he headed south when he first took off running. He’s also a damn man-mountain with an impressive command of Scripture and a not-so-secret liking for “the Other”. This impulse is what spurred him to flee his original posting as town preacher, after his flock burnt a goat-eyed boy alive for the sin of simply having been born a witch-child, and Rook didn’t feel quite morally-uncompromised enough to stop them. It’s also what he thought at first pushed him towards Chess, though the gravitational pull of another magician-to-be actually had far more to do with it, as he eventually learned.

There’s a line I heard once in a terrible movie—it might have been The Wraith, starring Charlie Sheen—that’s always stuck with me: “When you feel nothing, you can do anything.” In Rook’s case, as with all hexes, I think that goes the other way, as well; when you literally can do anything, it’s hard to feel much at all, especially for the day-to-day. What keeps Rook bound to Chess, however, is that he can’t stop feeling for him—it’s impossible for either of them not to get a rise out of the other, whether that be sexually or what-have-you. They were married long before the Mayan goddess Ixchel ever chose Rook as her quote-quote “little” husband.

Like Chess, Rook’s family originally hails from England, though they’ve been in America since before the Revolution. His last name means either “crow” (sometimes used as a euphemism for preacher, due to their propensity to dress in black) or “a swindler—someone who betrays”.

Sheriff Mesach Love

Like Rook, Mesach Love knows his Bible inside-out. He’s a decorated former Blue-belly, a Nazarene preacher of fierce devotion, lawman for and founder of Bewelcome township in New Mexico, and runs his tiny slice of post-War paradise like a combination of former soldier rescue and redemption-through-hard-work boot-camp. People let him get away with it, though, because he’s got great charisma and they’re more than slightly afraid of him. You see, he has God on his side.

When I first sketched out Sheriff Love, he owed a great deal to the music of the band 16 Horsepower, as well as the physicality of their lead singer, David Eugene Edwards. They specialized in "incendiary gospel, hallowed folk and mordant tones infused with a high, dark theatricality worthy of Nick Cave," as AllMusic critic Eric Hage puts it. Here’s the video that really got me thinking they were the cloggin’ shit, “Black Soul Choir”:

Then, after watching the video for their song “Haw”, it suddenly occurred to me: Hey! That guy looks somewhat like a rawboned-up Jared Padalecki (the young Texan actor probably best known as Sam Winchester on Supernatural)! See for yourself:

So now, whenever I think about Sheriff Love declaiming on how GOD hath given him the power to SMITE whomsoever GOD doth choose that he do so unto, part of me is always seeing Jared making that black-eyed nosebleed squinch-face at a demon, before sucking its unholy smoke-soul out and gulping it down like a dry drunk. Or him and Clancy Brown wrestling, which’d be fun as hell, since they’re both Sasquatch-sized.

The variety of Protestant Christianity both Rook and Sheriff Love subscribe to is an offshoot of Calvinism known as Wesleyan Arminianism, which traces his roots back to the teachings of Arminius and John Wesley. Although its primary legacy remains within the various Methodist denominations (the Wesleyan Methodist, the Free Methodist, the African Methodist Episcopal, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion, the Christian Methodist Episcopal, and the United Methodist), the Wesleyan tradition has also been reinterpreted as catalyst for other movements and denominations as well—Charles Finney and the Holiness movement; Charles Parham and the Pentecostal movement; Phineas Bresee and the Church of the Nazarene.

Like a lot of “power in the blood” faiths, Wesleyan Arminianism’s a fascinating mixture of free will and predestination which states outright that although God can save anyone, it won’t work unless that person wills himself to be saved; you are put in charge of your own redemption, knowing full well that Man’s essentially sinful nature will make the road to Heaven an unending up-hill slog. The Scriptures are the primary engine through which a sinner can refine himself, so both study and the expostion of Scriptural ideas through everyday actions are equally important. But the absolute pinnacle, the moment in which we know for sure that salvation is real, is when the Holy Spirit speaks to/through us directly. As Wikipedia puts it:

“Although we are justified by faith alone, we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that makes us holy.

To fulfill all righteousness describes the process of sanctification. Wesley insisted that imputed righteousness must become imparted righteousness. God grants his Spirit to those who repent and believe that through faith they might overcome sin. Wesleyans want deliverance from sin, not just from hell. Wesley speaks clearly of a process that culminates in a second definite work of grace identified as entire sanctification. Entire sanctification is defined in terms of "pure or disinterested love." Wesley believed that one could progress in love until love became devoid of self-interest at the moment of entire sanctification.

Apart from Scripture, experience is the strongest proof of Christianity. ‘What the Scriptures promise, I enjoy’. Again, Wesley insists that we cannot have reasonable assurance of something unless we have experienced it personally.”

And herein lies the main difference between the Rev and Sheriff Love. Rook has never heard the “still, small voice” of the God he purported to serve directly, though he’s trucked with all sorts of supernatural forces and literally gotten into bed with dead gods from other cultures. Sheriff Love, on the other hand, either has, or is convinced he has—and he certainly does have something looking out for him, though what that really is has yet to be determined.

But both of them yearn after salvation, and for both of them, true salvation can come only through sacrifice on another’s behalf. For Love, it’s his wife, his son, his town, America. For Rook, it’s Chess…most days.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Book of Tongues Cast of Characters (I)

Predictably, we begin with:

Chess Pargeter

This pretty little Satan of a man wears his preferences the way he wears his guns—outside his pants, for all the honest world to feel. An unrepentant man-killer in both senses of the phrase, he’s both known since damn early on that ladies ain’t his meat and he ain’t theirs, and consistently sneered at the dangers of living life the way he chooses to. Practical to a fault, Chess is also completely apolitical; he saw the War Between States mainly as a double chance for travel and recreation, even while still serving as a Private in the Confederate Army.

Born in San Francisco, a literal son-of-a-bitch straight out of the Barbary Coast’s deepest stew-pits, Chess spent the first ten to twelve years of his life like any other whore-get—his days were lost in alternately avoiding his Ma, “English” Oona, and helping her feed her opium addiction, his nights robbing tricks or turning them. It took some time to breed what lingering affection he still had for her out of himself, but it certainly helped when she figured out where his true interests lay, and sold him a time or two to cover her debts.

The real moment of decision, however, came after Chess cut the throat of a Pinkerton who was beating him for taking his billfold, stole his first gun from the corpse, and started practising with it. Soon, he discovered that size meant nothing when adjusted against skill with weaponry, especially if you were always willing to shoot fast, shoot first, and shoot to kill—so he signed up with Lieutenant Saul Mobley’s Irregulars and started putting that personal philosophy to work, to deadly effect.

Chess made few friends in the army, though he did gain at least a few admirers (Kees Hosteen included) based on his willingness to swap blow-jobs for extra bullets. Unluckily for everyone around him, however, it was under the Lieut’s command that he eventually met “Reverend” Asher Rook…and the rest is history.

Just as the Hexslinger Series in general takes a good portion of its inspiration from James Mangold’s 2007 3:10 to Yuma remake, I’ve never made much secret of the fact that whenever I think of Chess, the physical template I most often see is that of Ben Foster as Charlie Prince in that same movie, antihero Ben Wade (Russell Crowe)’s ambiguously gay sidekick. Like Chess, Charlie’s young, mean, odd-eyed, bearded, given to sartorial flourish, served in the War, wears his guns cavalry-style, and will do almost anything for his beloved “boss”. However, I do like to think there are enough points of difference to make Chess his own man, coincidental initials aside.

Here’s a representative sampling of Foster, as Charlie and otherwise:

You’ll note that while his eyes do occasionally look green in some shots, the whole “red-haired” thing is me. And Chess.;)

Finally: Chess’s first name derives from the county of Cheshire, in Britain, which is where his mother thought her mother originally came from. He doesn’t know this, however, having never asked her. Which brings us, hopefully less predictably, to the second part of the Pargeter equation—

“English” Oona Pargeter

Oona’s one of those difficult characters, a classic reduction—ie: “your Mom’s a whore!” “Sure is. So?” We don’t know her for very long in A Book of Tongues, and meet her at the very end of her descent into addiction and bitterness, but I’m hoping to do better with her in A Rope of Thorns. She’s a small, red-haired woman with a strong Cockney accent, and the things Chess doesn’t know about her will always make for make a far longer list than those he does.

Oona’s first name means “famine”, and is Irish in origin. Her last name means, roughly, “plasterer”. It’s Norman French. I have this strong sense that Oona’s father’s family may have originally been Jewish, and adopted the name as a way of passing for Christian during the reign of Henry II. One way or another, however, she was born into crime and poverty in the area of London then known as Seven Dials.

Once most of the rest of her family had been Transported, clapped in gaol or hanged, Oona traveled to America as an indentured servant at age ten, was seduced and turned out by age twelve, and had become a gaiety-hall gal/prostitute by age fourteen, working in dives like San Francisco’s Bella Union.

From her point of view, pregnancy with Chess ruined her “chances” of ever graduating from penny-a-dance whore to kept girl, as well as leaving her physically debilitated—pelvis cracked, parts torn, with almost no time off to heal between “engagements”. She suffered from childbed fever, lost her complexion and developed her opium habit. From there, it was a slowish yet inevitable road to the “hospital” under Selina Ah Toy’s.

Sharp-tongued and not unintelligent but woefully undereducated, Oona bequeathed Chess her anger, her stubbornness, her perverse brand of pride, and a world-view which holds that all men are tricks, all women whores, and while most people lie about it to themselves, you’re a fool to do the same—get the money up front, give nothing for nothing. Love’s a mug’s game. Sure, she was more than willing to beat Chess and pimp him out to strangers for as long as he’d let her get away with it, but on some level she always knew there’d come a time when he’d turn against her—and part of her, the part for whom self-destruction had become the only victory left to her, saw that inevitable betrayal as something to be celebrated: Good for you, ya flamin’ molly. Yer free now.

While Oona may have sometimes claimed what she wanted—or considered her due, more like—from Chess was his support, I think his “success” as an outlaw pleased her far more. It’s like his revenge on the world was hers.

Physical template: Emily Watson when younger, Katrin Cartlidge when older. Freakishly, here's a pic of them both (from Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves):

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Book of Tongues Apologia

Due to space and time constraints, CZP Publications were unable to allow me to include my original Apologia at the back of A Book of Tongues. So I thought I'd start my pre-release series of related promotional materials there--by proving I did actually do some research, though not a lot, and explaining a little bit about my "process" (ha ha). Enjoy.

A BOOK OF TONGUES: Apologia, References, Etc.

I began writing A Book of Tongues with one very selfish idea in mind: To keep myself occupied and amused while looking after my son, then less than five years old and newly diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, in the wake of recently having lost my job. Though I’ve been a writer all my life, for the last twenty years my main focus had been short fiction with a side-order of reviews, articles and scripts; the very notion of being able to write a 100,000-word book by the end of the year seemed laughable—let alone end up with a narrative so large it spilled over into another 100,000-word book, slated for the year after that!

All of which means that from the start, the main audience I was thinking about was composed of me, myself and I. The epic romance of Reverend Rook and Chess Pargeter was an unabashedly fetishistic fantasia spun around things I enjoy, because I enjoy them: Blood, (gay) sex, magic. Bad people behaving badly. Ancient civilizations and not-so-dead mythologies. A vaguely steampunk-y alternate history setting whose twin visual precedents were far too many viewings of James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma and Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. Yes, I did research here and there, but it wasn’t exactly deep—and the result, I’ll be the first to admit, is a lot like poetry reformatted on a ridiculously grand scale: Full of metaphor and analogy rampant (next time ‘round, I should probably invest in a search engine which automatically removes the word “like” from random sentences), a shadow-show of red-gold cut heavily with black, in which emotion and sensation very firmly rule over cold, hard fact.

At base, this book exists because I wanted to throw two equally screwed-up dudes together and see if they’d stick; all the girls are monsters (except when they’re also whores), all the boys are whores (except when they’re also monsters), there are pretty much no (really) good role-models of any sex, and I also moved the days of the Mayan and Aztec calendars around at will because I wanted to be able to have things happen on my terms, with cool-ass meta-commentary attached. For all of the above, shame on me: I may try to do better in future, though I know for a fact I will probably never live up to anyone’s expectations (particularly my own).

Still, I do hope you enjoyed at least part of what you found, gore, moral greyness and ass-fucking notwithstanding. If so, there’s more to come. If not, catch you on the flip-side.

For those who are interested, meanwhile, here’s an incomplete list of reference materials I stole from freely throughout: The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in the Wild West from 1840-1900, by Candy Moulton (Writer's Digest Books, 1999); Handbook to Life in the Aztec World, by Manuel Aguilar-Moreno (Oxford University Press, 2006); The Lost History of Aztec and Maya, by Charles Phillips and Dr. David M. Jones (Select Editions, Anness Publishing, 2004); Children of the Night, by Tony Thorne (Indigo, Orion Books, 1999); The Barbary Coast, by Herbert Asbury (Basic Books, 2002); plus a whole host of various Google-searched Internet sources, including (King James edition), (yes, I know),,,,, and the Firefly cursing cheat-sheet page.

I was inspired by T.A. Pratt’s use of Aztec mythological tropes in Blood Engines, his first Marla Mason book, and Tess Gerritsen’s wonderfully graphic description of ritual sacrifice in her book The Surgeon. Not to mention Alexander Irvine, whose A Scattering of Jades set the pattern, and Kenneth Mark Hoover, whose Haxan stories do Weird West ten thousand times better than I ever will.

A massive retroactive thank-you also goes out to my tireless pre-Draft Zero readers: Sonya Taaffe, Francesca Forrest, and above all Valerie David, without whose aid and correction the character of Grandma would quickly have degenerated into Yoda gone Dine. I appreciate the time you all took, especially when life and issues interfered.

I’d like to thank my publishers and editors at ChiZine, Brett Savory and Sandra Kasturi, for enabling my lurid balderdash. Thanks also to all the friends who, over the years, continued to assure me I would eventually write novels: Michael Rowe, David Nickle, Sephera Giron, Mike Kelly, Marcy Italiano, Leah Bobet, Ian Rogers, Nancy Kilpatrick, Bob Knowlton, Peter Halasz, Monica S. Kuebler, Jason Taniguchi, Donald Simmons, Sarah Ennals, Andrew Specht and many, many others. If I’ve forgotten to mention your name, please take it as wrote.

Next time: Character generation, with photos of the original models. I'll try to get it up ASAP.