Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Facing The Unknown

Unknowns and gray areas have always raised anxiety for me in real life, yet those places are where everything interesting happens in fiction.

In Rosemary’s Baby, which I wrote about last week (and which is one of my favorite books), the antagonists clearly fall into the evil camp from the readers’ perspective, no matter how they try to justify their actions to themselves.

In contrast, in the most well known virgin pregnancy story in the western world, that of the Virgin Mary, the reader is meant to see the pregnancy as an unqualified good. Mary is portrayed, to the extent she is featured at all, as troubled at first but then quickly honored and grateful for her role. (It helps that an angel explains everything to her.)

For The Awakening Series, I put Tara, the protagonist, smack in the middle of those extremes. The many unknowns in her situation struck me as more realistic, and more anxiety-provoking, than Mary’s story.

Things happen to almost all of us that we didn’t expect and didn’t ask for. Rarely is there a reason for them that makes any sense, yet we need to deal with them. 

Often those events change us and the course of our lives in ways people around us struggle to understand.

Also, the unknown often poses the greatest emotional challenge. Fearing you’ll lose your job or a loved one can become so painful and scary that it’s almost worse than things that actually happen. Once something occurs, I can take steps to handle it no matter how bad. Beforehand, though, I can only imagine how awful it will be.

As Mark Twain said, “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

How different people deal with the unknown also causes great conflict, particularly when it comes to religious faith.

Some people find in religion definite answers, if only to say “it’s God’s will.” Others find that same concept deeply disturbing, as it can sound as if some all-powerful being targeted them for misfortune.

My mom & dad at their 50th anniversary.
I personally struggled with the things people say in the wake of tragedy after my parents were killed by a drunk driver.

People said what they may have meant to be helpful, but in words that reflected what they needed to believe to feel all right about the world again. Often their words sparked anger and frustration in me, yet I felt unable to express that because I didn't want to be rude or hurtful to those who were likely trying to offer sympathy in the best way they knew how.

Though it's an entirely different situation, those feelings and experiences are part of the conflicts in The Awakening series, as well meaning people of strong but different faiths and world viewpoints clash with one another.

I suppose all writers deal with their demons in one way or another through what they write. The gray areas—and the unknowns—these are mine.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

How Rosemary's Baby Inspired The Awakening Series

Rosemary’s Baby (by Ira Levin) is one of my favorite books, and it’s part of what inspired The Awakening Series

It’s the kind of quiet horror that I love. The story is disturbing because of gradually building suspense and looming evil rather than blood and guts.

Other things I love about Rosemary’s Baby and how they fit with The Awakening Series (warning if you’ve never read or seen Rosemary’s Baby, there are SPOILERS below):

An Unusual Pregnancy

Tara (my protagonist in The Awakening) and Rosemary are in slightly different situations. Rosemary wanted to become pregnant, and Tara didn’t.

But they are alike, too. Rosemary wanted a baby, but not to have her pregnancy forced on her. 

Tara wanted to delay having children until she finished medical school. She chose to abstain from sex, but at the beginning of the book finds herself pregnant anyway.

The two women also are similar in they’re both willing to entertain what appear to be impossible answers to the situation they find themselves in. They follow where logic leads rather than assuming they lost their minds, though others around them attempt to convince them that’s what’s happening.

Woman As Hero

Despite that on first glance Rosemary appears to be the standard “woman in peril” staple of many horror and suspense novels, she doesn’t remain a victim. Ultimately, I see her as “women as hero.” While she isn’t able to defeat the evil people around her, she is able to take control of the situation. 

Rosemary figures out what happened to her friend Hutch, how her husband became so successful, and the real goals of her seemingly benign elderly neighbors. I used her as a sort of model for Tara.

Both Tara and Rosemary, once they discover their situations, do everything they can to figure out what’s happening and how to deal with it. They don’t wait for others to rescue them.

Tara trusts those around her, just as Rosemary trusted her husband and neighbors, but she reexamines everything and everyone to figure out how to survive.

Finding Her Own Way

Rosemary also is unconventional. We expect her either to be defeated or choose to end her own life and her child’s. Instead, she’s determined to find another way.

Tara, too, is unwilling to accept the choices others offer to her.

Everyone has an opinion about her pregnancy and its origin, but Tara is determined to figure out for herself what it means. Even if she likes and trusts someone (such as her mentor Nanor, founder of a woman’s community whose daughter also had a virgin pregnancy), she doesn’t accept as gospel what that person says or do what that person tells her to do.

Means and Ends

I also like Rosemary’s Baby because it features antagonists who on the surface appear ordinary and kind but whose beliefs justify, in their own minds, doing terrible things.

While the antagonists in Rosemary’s Baby hold beliefs that are generally considered to be evil, Levin makes clear that they have a deep and strong faith that they believe justifies their actions. 

On the surface, they do what look like good deeds. They help a young woman hooked on drugs become sober and take her into their home, they befriend Rosemary and try to help her through her pregnancy, and they help Rosemary’s husband’s career.

All these things, though, are done to try to achieve a nefarious purpose.

On the other hand, Rosemary’s choice in the end is one that is motivated by a clear good—love for her child—yet it’s unclear whether it’s the morally correct choice given what’s at stake.

In The Awakening Series, I chose antagonists who do questionable (and sometimes criminal) things because they see it as necessary to protect the world. While Tara herself is clearly not evil, what her pregnancy means and how it happened is unknown to her, as is whether those who oppose her might, on some level, be doing the right thing.

In the end, the questions over right and wrong and the difficulties in choosing the best path when no options are clearly good is a big part of what I loved about Rosemary’s Baby and what inspired The Awakening and the later books in the series.

Haven't tried The Awakening Series yet? If you're reading this the week of February 6, 2018, it's a good time to check it out, as the e-book editions of Book 1 are free.