The Taste of Childhood Summers Long Gone — My Favorite Line

Several years ago, when I was still living in Southeastern Idaho and suffering from the throes of depression related to not only an undiagnosed mental disorder but also due to my sexuality, I stumbled across an author whose work had been described as ‘homoerotically disturbing’ and whose last official ‘horror’ novel was hailed as ‘the most disturbing thing ever written’ by several individuals in the sphere of writers I know. Known as a young and upcoming talent in the prime of her career, Poppy Z. Brite would later go on to become widely-recognized within the horror community and garner a cult following. Though after Katrina she decided to stop writing, and through perseverance and acceptance she began her transition to become Billy Martin, her true, male identity.

Regardless of the fact that Billy no longer writes, the things he did write during the early part of his career were truly haunting, disturbing, and—surprisingly, for a horror author—truly emotional.

The book in question that I read of Billy Martin’s was perhaps the book he is most famous for: Lost Souls.

Twig, Zillah and Molochai — the three main vampires in Lost Souls. Art by Anna Shellkova

Lost Souls, the vampire novel that would eventually become eponymous identity of the young author, tells the story of a group of people who live in Missing Mile, North Carolina – most particularly, a young pair of twenty-somethings who aspire to make it big with their music career and eventually free themselves from the situations they are in. Through it all there comes the hardship that often does in small towns with strange lineages. When vampires arrive in North Carolina, and when Ghost and Steve (our heroes) become intertwined in the lives of said vampires and a new ‘fledgling’ that has just been made by them, things begin to go to hell – quite literally.

For me to say that one of the favorite lines that I have ever read came from a horror novel may be somewhat surprising to people.

Horror is not often a genre that is considered to be in the high ranks of the literary classes. Instead, it is seen as one of the low genres – a work of fiction that relies on elements of ‘overt shock’ and ‘gruesome suspense’ in order to entice interest in the reader. That, though, has been proven to be false. Authors such as Stephen King, Anne Rice and Dean Koontz (all prominent within the horror world) have written astounding works that are filled with literary symbolism and deep personal meaning that anyone can connect to, and there are dozens, hundreds of others who have written similar things that have gone on to win prestigious awards. For that, I can easily say that horrific fiction is a high genre, and in his career, Billy Martin was one of those individuals who wrote in that genre.

You might be wondering, though – what is my favorite line?

My favorite line comes during a scene in which two of the characters, at the height of the stress of their lives and in a situation where they could very easily die, share an intimate moment together—not sex, not passionate love, but a kiss.

The line is as follows:

That golden flavor on [his] tongue, that was not Dixie beer. It was the taste of childhood summers long gone, and laced through it was the dark taste of fear.

– Excerpt from Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, 1992. Bracketed text edited to remove spoiler.

There is an unbelievable amount of power within that line that I could spend hours trying to decipher. Most obviously, it speaks of fragility – of the moment in which you are on the brink of something that could end part of your existence or change it altogether and with you there is another person whom you care about more than anyone else in the world. The matter of the kiss could be removed in this instance and be inserted into almost any situation. There exists within the line the metaphor of tangible fear – of a knowledge that things had once been glorious in the past and that now the terror is present. It, in my mind, describes a first – a love, a kiss, a heartbreak, a move, a step toward something strange and a pace away from something you know is safe.

There are few people whose work has truly moved me to the extent that Billy’s has. That scene hasn’t only haunted me, though. Anyone who’s read Lost Souls will hold onto that moment forever, just as they will the amazing literary power Billy was during his career.

Character Building: Creating a Non-Traditional Hero

Most heroes in fantasy novels are one of many things. They’re either tall, handsome, have broad shoulders, have fair hair, eyes the color of one of the many elements in nature and come of age to learn of their fighting prowess due to one of many events, particularly the loss of a family member or a friend. Most importantly, however, most of them are human. I knew from the moment I once again started working on my fantasy novel Blood, the first in the Brotherhood Saga, in 2009, that I wanted my hero to be different, so that’s what I did–made a nontraditional hero. I created Odin Karussa, who enters the novel within the first hour he’s born, with the intent of making him unique — different, per se, than the normal heroes you often see.

What makes Odin different, you might be wondering, and what sets him apart from the heroes we are so often used to seeing in fantasy? To start, he’s short. At five-foot-six at the height of his young adulthood, he’s quite often dwarfed by his fellow companions. Along with his height, he’s skinny–a stick, some could call it–until about a quarter of the way through the book, when vigorous training eventually sculpts him into a stocky-but-muscular character, and his eyes are red not by albinism, but a distinguishing birth trait that no one seems to know about.

You might be thinking–what? A short, stocky, red-eyed character? This sounds ridiculous! I want my tall, fair-haired, pretty-eyed hero whose face draws the eyes of most everyone! That is something Odin is not. Though attractive, humanity shuns him. Called a ‘demon child’ at birth, isolation ruled his life and continues to do so up until a breaking point in the beginning of the novel, creating within him a sense of agoraphobia that causes him to be wary of most everyone around him.

Most people don’t expect to read about a hero like Odin. He isn’t perfect or exceptionally strong. He may hold an advantage over others in the slowly-dying world of magic, but he is by no means a god within his kingdom. He struggles with many things different children grow up with. Bullying, isolation, confusion, a lack of place within the world–all are prevalent within his early childhood and up until the point where he is conscripted into the royal military and all play a healthy role in shaping Odin’s character. It isn’t until he’s freed from a royally-imposed isolation that the wealth of his problems begin to fall into place.

Was it difficult writing a nontraditional hero? No. Not particularly. I like to write stories about people or things that are different than what many expect. Odin Karussa, in particular, is a character that’s stuck with me for some six years now, and choosing to revisit his story was and is something that continues to excite me every time I look at The Brotherhood saga. It follows a character who, through the course of the series, progressively begins to fall to his own personal demons. Yes–they are trials, there are conquests and there are uplifting outcomes, but I don’t think the story lends itself to a happy ending. With an untraditional character, I think that’s what makes it all the more rewarding.

The Silent Melancholy — The Writers Who Inspired my Style

As an author with a horror and dark fiction background, it isn’t surprising to most people when they find that the majority of my fiction (even that which could be considered anything ‘but’ horror) has this sort of dark, creeping suspense that tends to gradually build until the climax–where, at the crucial point in the story, things explode, or a revelation is unveiled that twists the reader about in the narrative. When I made the subtle transition to fantasy, I decided to incorporate this same kind of style within my fiction, along with the fantastical elements (prose, setting, etc.) that fantasy is famed for.

The biggest question I get asked is which writers have inspired me. The question that isn’t often asked is which writers inspired my style.

If we go back to the very beginning (to my teenage years, when fantasy fiction consumed much of my reading life,) my first true experience with fiction of a darker edge was that written by Garth Nix. An Australian author with a background in English, he penned novels such as The Ragwitch (which I have yet to read) and The Seventh Tower  series (which I read in its entirety.) He also wrote a series called The Keys to the Kingdom, and while I only read the first two, that wasn’t the series that inspired me. No. The Abhorsen Trilogy was.

 

The Abhorsen Trilogy tells the story of a line of anti-necromancers whose jobs are to keep the dead down instead of actually resurrecting them. The first book, Sabriel, opens with our heroine reviving a schoolmate’s dead rabbit from the River of Death by pulling its spirit back from what is essentially the Underworld. Eventually, the story follows Sabriel as she is given her missing father’s bell set (the Abhorsen’s magical objects to tame and fight the dead) and is sent on a journey to the Old Kingdom—which, beyond the nineteenth-century-esque Wall, is filled with undead and magical entities in what could be considered a medieval-styled setting.

Nix writes with a dark melancholy that gradually builds up and then, at various climax points, heightens for tension, but it always seems to fall back into place to create that moody, somber tone that I think inspired me so much as a teenager.

Other authors have done the same thing.

In his less intense moments, wherein he builds up tension, Stephen King tends to use the same effect. Classic moments of these techniques are used in novels Bag of Bones, in which the main character, who is living in his lake house, is slowly being haunted by the ghost that lives on the property, and in Rose Madder, where our main character is slowly being pursued by her crazed, abusive husband. Billy Martin (formerly known as Poppy Z. Brite before he began his gender transition) used the same technique in a similar manner, though in a much sparser way. His writing style relied heavily on stark and shocking imagery in order to create an overall picture for the reader to see, but that usually came after the one thing I admire most about dark fiction writers–that slow, creeping buildup. One of his most disturbing books (and which has been coined in some circles as ‘the most disturbing book ever written’) is his novel Exquisite Corpse, which is based loosely on the Jeffrey Dahmer killings and follows not only the story of the killer, but a young man and his estranged ex-lover.

Here’s the deal: if you open any of these books (or any book by these authors, now that I think about it,) you’ll notice one thing that is extremely similar about their writing. It won’t be the style, it won’t be the word choices; it won’t even be the scenarios. It will, instead, be the mood—which, as I’ve said before, begins with a soft dark spot that eventually twists and transforms into something so malevolent you find yourself unsure as to just what it is you are reading.

My style has been highly influenced by those who write horror, not fantasy. To bridge those two genres and create something that could be considered dark or ‘horrific’ fantasy isn’t a new thing, but it’s something that I personally haven’t seen a lot of epic fantasy writers do. Of course, there are always elements of suspense and scare in fantasy works, but true horror is often hard to find. I try to make that prevalent in my work.

The Rainbow in Genre Fiction

As writers, we have to strive to make our work different. Be it the context of which are worlds are set in, the way we tell our stories, the locations we set them in or the timeframes that we present the reader to, there are an innumerable amount of ways to make writing ‘different’—which, I think, is one of the most exciting thing about discovering a new writer. The thrill of seeing how they make their work different, especially the worlds that their favorite genres are set in, is always one of the greatest things that happens whenever you crack open a new book. Though that may sometimes not be the most pleasant thing in the world, I think it makes for interesting literature.

The topic this week on the Guild of Dreams is to write about what makes our writing different from another’s. While that in itself is a great idea, I stumbled over the topic itself because I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to present this essay to the readers of the fantasy collective. I decided that, in the end, I should write it, because if I’m not going to, no one else is.

As many of you probably already know, I self-identify as homosexual (i.e, I’m attracted to the same sex.) I won’t go into specifics, but this has been a near-lifelong identification for me and it has affected everything from the way I perceive things, people, to the way I respond to certain situations and also the way I interact with others. It also affects my writing, which some might find surprising.

Readers and writers alike often ask, ‘What makes your writing different?’

I say, ‘I write about gay characters.’

The writing world is very sparsely-filled with such characters. Genre fiction as a whole especially suffers from a lack of identifiable and relatable individuals that relate to the GLBTQIA spectrum (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual.) Oftentimes, gay characters are presented in minor roles (the strong female character’s sassy, finger-snapping hairdresser gay male friend or the bitter lesbian who hates men.) The two aforementioned roles are probably two of the most commonly-used examples of tropes within the gay community. Even writers who are pro-gay or are gay themselves often don’t write about gay characters, or have them as minor characters whose issues are never highlighted in detail. Growing up, especially as a young gay adolescent and eventually teenager between the ages of nine and fourteen, I searched for positive role models. Sadly, I only started finding them at the age of fourteen, when my thoughts and feelings about my sexuality were festering to the point where I was becoming depressed. While Christopher Rice’s debut novel A Density of Souls ultimately helped me find that support I needed, it was one of the few books I read that had a positive gay male as a role model at the time.

In my fiction, I try to write characters the reader can look at realistically—flawed, dignified, respectable and sympathetic men and women who readers can identify with. Sure, they might not be perfect, but who is in the real world?

Examples of gay men and women in my genre fiction wholly rely on the source. Several characters in my collection Amorous Things are gay or lesbian. My two leads in my novel Sunrise are gay. And, most specifically related to this blog, a major character in The Brotherhood eventually enters into a relationship with someone of the same sex. I won’t say who it is, or allude to which character it might be. I will say, however, that their relationship speaks of how it is to live as a person who doesn’t identify as heterosexual. The doubt, the fear, the misconception, the mistreatment from others, the worries about being in a position of power and about raising a family in a world where the ‘traditional’ is supposed to be the ‘right’ and ‘proper’—all these things are presented in this character’s plight, and though I struggled with including this aspect of this character’s life in the book, I ultimately realized to hide it would do no one good.

In the end, I want to craft engaging stories that are told from points of view that are underrepresented. In my mind, those in the LGBTQIA community are highly underrepresented, and I will never stop writing for them.

When fantasy becomes reality

As a writer, I’m often asked about where my ideas come from. It’s no simple thing to answer, because honestly ideas can come from anywhere. Thoughts, concepts, dreams, movies, books, art–there’s a plethora of things that can inspire anyone and anything that looks on them, which is why, I believe, that since our origins and our time on this planet (when we began to write on walls and tell stories between one another,) we’ve always been fascinated with this idea to express the things we are scared of, what we admire, what we are fascinated with, and, ultimately, what we hope for the future.

In my own personal experiences as a writer (through which I have some fourteen years of experience, given I started so young,) ideas normally come from one of three places.

1. Concepts and Symbolism. A lot of the stories in my collection Amorous Things come from the idea of simple concepts or symbolism. Stories in particular, like Elijah (which tells the story of a young man whose overbearing partner is obsessed with personal perfection,) comes from the idea of beauty. Other stories like The Glass Doe details the idea that life can be connected between more than just one body. Uncle shows how artistic tendencies can sometimes drive people crazy and An Amorous Thing, the title that the collection inspired by, describes a fear that I think all living, sentient things have–that after death, we can remain trapped in this world. In these stories the concepts are most obviously underlying (the perfection, the connection, the artistic tendencies, and death.) What tends to be overwhelming about these stories is the symbolism. In Elijah, the main character’s blossoming skin condition becomes the symbolism for the failure of physical perfection; in The Glass Doe, an animal that is made entirely out of glass and is still somehow acting like a natural, organic thing; and in An Amorous Thing, the idea of a corpse maintaining its sentient ‘soul’ is what’s utterly the most terrifying thing about it. As a writer, I try to do two things: entertain people and teach them about things, whether it be through concepts, ideas or my own personal experience. Through these concepts, ideas and experience, I try to convey things to people in ways that they understand, or in ways that I can understand them myself. While some of the more bizarre pieces in my collection might be over people’s comprehension (Playing God and Bellaerama come to mind,) I write certain pieces to understand myself, otherwise those concepts remain locked in my head.

2. Ideas. When I was initially rewriting Amorous Things, I had a story in my head that came from the idea of a city living beneath a floating entity the people below it called ‘God.’ When I first tried to write this story, I attempted to condense it into a novella. When that failed, I set the idea aside, then came back to it a year later and wrote the novel that became Utopia. One more year later it still remains somewhat-incomplete, and at nearly 200,000 words, it’s no surprise that within there is a plethora of concepts that run through it. Atheism, life after death, what it means to be a good person, what it means to do bad things—the novel, in a nutshell, tells the story of a perfect society collapsing when it is realized perfection is unobtainable. An idea like this—where ‘perfection’ dominates a world—is ultimately what spurs on my creative process, and that I believe of many others. The What If? here, in this instance, was just too great that I couldn’t not explore it.

3. Dreams. Last but not least, some of my ideas come from dreams. Many writers often tell me that their work is explicitly based off their dreams and only their dreams. For me, I dream very rarely, and when I do dream I dream things most people don’t normally dream—colors, images, sounds, locations, faces of people or animals. It’s a rare occasion whenever a dream comes to me fully-formed and realized, though whether or not that is due to the psychotropic drugs I take due to my mental disorder I am not sure. However—when I do dream fully-realized things, brilliant, abstract and downright-horrifying scenarios come to mind. One of my better-known contemporary stories, The Dog on Taylor Road, came from a fully-realized dream, in which I dreamed of a family pulling over at a truck stop, meeting a dog, then meeting the same creature at another truck stop to see its horrible fate. Quite notoriously, though, the abstract notion of my sleeping mind created my novella Wraethworld, which tells the story of a little girl whom, after being visited by a supernatural entity, stumbles into another world.

Symbolism, concepts, ideas and dreams are ultimately what fuel me as a writer. Within them I can explore almost every aspect of the world and the people and things within it. To be able to tell a story and convey a message in a nontraditional way is, I believe, one of my strongest gifts as a writer. For that I feel blessed, because more often than not, I tend to write stories that people don’t expect—which, in the end, always makes them more fun.

The Beginning: An Opening and an Introduction

Hello everyone,

My name is Kody Boye. I just wanted to start off first by thanking our wonderful creator, Bruce, for opening up this blog to myself and all these other fantasy bloggers here. I’m sure we’ll have a great time.

To introduce myself, I’ll start with a little synopsis:

I’m Kody Boye. I was born in Southeastern Idaho and started writing when I was seven, after a teacher assigned my class an object-specific writing topic. At the time, I wasn’t sure how to react, but right when I began writing I became so engrossed in the process that I wrote throughout the entire time period in class, then at our first break. My love of writing continued to escalate throughout my youth and into my teenage years, where I eventually made the transition from fantasy to horror, and I eventually was published at the age of fourteen in the Yellow Mama Webzine with my short story [A] Prom Queen’s Revenge.

Fast forward a few years later and I’ve become mildly-successful with my writing. I’ve put out a few books, both independently and through presses, and have made a small name for myself. I’ve done what some people in the past never got to do due to the lack of the internet, so to say I’m incredibly-thankful for my writing career at this point would be an understatement.

I began writing as a child because it was somewhat of a joy. As a teenager growing up in small-town Southeastern Idaho, where both the pressure from religious persecution and a number of other things were weighing on me, I used it as an escape mechanism to run away from the problems I was having (which included, but was not limited to: atheism/agnosticism, a blossoming mental disorder, my sexuality, and the fact that I was so horribly bullied.) At the age of fifteen, when a specific event forced me to leave school, I poured myself into my writing, and for the next few years I worked myself to the bone to produce what I thought were substantial and complex works. I wrote a handful of novels during that time that will never see their light of day in their current incarnation, and eventually I began rewriting my true love—fantasy—when I was sixteen. I did this because, at the time, I had a brain tumor scare that I believed would leave me incapable of writing. That, however, didn’t happen, and I am still here today to write and share my story.

At twenty, living with friends in the capital of Texas and making my living on my writing, I write for a variety of reasons. I write to support myself. I write to entertain myself. I write as an escape mechanism. I write to transport myself to other worlds and see other places, to understand different peoples and cultures and times and scenarios. I also write to entertain and make others happy, to uplift them or take them to a place where they can feel safe (or sometimes utterly terrified) for any given length of time. Most importantly, though, I write for myself—because in the end, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else, and because I feel it is ultimately what I am supposed to do with my life.