Saturday, September 09, 2006

Inquiring minds want to know.

Some people have expressed curiosity about how I got my ideas for Acts of the Saints. Since I fully understand how maddening unsatisfied curiosity can be (like, how the hell did those quick-change artists on "America’s Got Talent" DO that?), I decided to provide some insights into the novel.

Television is responsible for the birth of Acts, the original title of which was Acta Sanctorum, a Latin phrase not many people would have understood. Waaaaay back in the mid-1980s, I occasionally caught the broadcasts of televangelists. At first, although I was somewhat entertained by their antics, I tended to dismiss them all as hucksters and/or laughable fanatics. Then I started paying closer attention. What I heard and saw I found both riveting and disturbing.

Right around that same time, Bill Moyers--one of my journalistic idols--did a two-part special for PBS that explored the beliefs and practices of fundamentalist Christians. I believe these shows were titled "Thy Kingdom Come" and "Thy Will Be Done." PBS also aired a special called "The Sword of Islam" about Muslim fundamentalists.

Yikes! thought I...and started doing some serious research.

These programs implied, whether intentionally or inadvertently, a strong likelihood of some very frightening fallout from such religious extremes. End-spectrum Christianity and Islam both embrace dominion-grounded theologies that are obviously at odds with each other. Throw expansionistic Zionism into the mix (or don’t, for that matter) and you’ve got a recipe for world war.
Just imagine what would happen if one of these religions, driven by its radical element, tried to claim the whole of Jerusalem. Oh boy. Here, again, come the Crusades...nuclear style.

Mind you, I’m not talking about reasonable, tolerant, ecumenically-minded Christians, Muslims, and Jews. I’m not talking about people who espouse a live-and-let-live philosophy. I’m talking about militant "We want the whole planet to be populated only by those who share our beliefs" ideologues. And they’re out there.

So that’s how Acts of the Saints came to be. It’s simply a theoretical, imaginative extension of current realities.

I initially wrote it out long-hand, on a yellow legal pad with a batch of sharpened, No. 2 pencils at the ready, then typed it, chapter by chapter, on my Olympia manual portable typewriter. (Remember, kids, this was in the late 1980s. However, I still write this way when I’m sick of sitting in front of my freakin’ monitor, although the Olympia--God bless it, RIP--has long since found its way into some landfill.) I distinctly remember carrying the manuscript around in a leather briefcase my ex-husband had bought me. Why? Because, hell, I didn’t want the novel to be lost if fire or a tornado or undiscriminating burglars swept through my house while I was gone. (Again, I need to remind you I had no computer at the time, so I couldn’t make back-up copies. That painstakingly typed-out manuscript was the only version I had.)

I eventually did make more copies, but that process, too, was a major pain in the ass. Twenty years ago, especially in America’s outback, there were very few print shops--especially ones with collating copiers. I remember standing at some machines and doing one page at a time. Finally, I got a computer...well, a kind of computer. It was a monstrous IBM word processor with an equally monstrous (and noisy) thunka-thunka printer.

In the 1990s, I secured agent representation for the book. A New York agent--WOW!

Not. The submission process turned out to be a case of bad timing. Y2K was fast approaching, and publishing houses were apparently being flooded with what they called "millennial fiction." (Honest, that’s a term they dreamt up!) If they thought a work even remotely fit their definition of this invented genre, it was summarily brushed aside. The pigeonhole was just too crowded, and crap predominated.

I was flabbergasted. I’d never thought of Acts as a 2000-specific novel and certainly hadn’t intended it to be viewed as such...but that’s how it was seen. One editor even flat-out said it was too much like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (which he obviously considered THE definitive work of millennial fiction)--even though I hadn’t even heard of The Handmaid’s Tale until he mentioned it, and the two novels in fact have few similarities. After sending Acts to maybe six different houses, my agent finally gave up. There was no getting around the millennial-fiction prejudice.

So I shelved the manuscript.

Years later, I accidentally discovered the brave new world of e-publishing while surfing the ‘net looking for editing work. Acts was the first novel I submitted. It was immediately accepted by a serialized-fiction site that offered edgy stories in conjunction with stunning original art. However, the site folded when Acts was maybe a third of the way through the editing process.

This was probably for the best, at least as far as my book is concerned. The artist who was working on the illustrations was monumentally talented...but he either didn’t bother reading the manuscript or didn’t take instruction very well. Scenes were continually misrepresented. The character Catherine looked vastly different every time she appeared: first, like a young and sullen crack-head Latina (huh?); then, like a haggard and flabby old whore (huh?); finally, somewhat the way she was supposed to be--an unconventionally pretty but weary, 42-year-old blond woman with a mind and heart. But her depiction still wasn’t quite right. She looked flabby and frowzy. Martin was wrong the first time and way-too-much resembled Yanni after that, and the Summoner--I shit you not--looked exactly like Alice Cooper. Exactly. Even my editor’s husband noticed it. WTF?

So, I’m very glad a class operation like Samhain ultimately accepted the book. I don’t know where/how the cover artist found that stunning sculpture of St. Sebastian, but it’s perfect.

Why is the hero a Catholic priest? Because a.) Roman Catholicism has always taken serious knocks from fundamentalist Christians and b.) I have enormous respect for all the Catholic orders and for Jesuits in particular. (No, I’m not a practicing Catholic--I have some major issues with that church, as well--but the respect is still there.)

If you have other questions about the novel, feel free to ask. If you’d like to review it, please do. (Contact Samhain's Review Coordinator, Promotion is going to end up being a bitch for me, since this is both an e-book, which most reviewers scorn and/or shun, and not easily categorized. And I sure as hell can't afford to place ads for it.

In the meantime I'll keep tackling the edits for my Cerridwen and Ellora's Cave books and keep working on the next volume in my proposed paranormal series for EC.

Talk to you again soon!