06 October 2014

Proust Your Protagonist with Ron Shannon

Meet British spy Christopher Weymouth
of the forthcoming adventure-suspense
novel, The Hedgerows of June.
Introducing

Christopher Weymouth

The other day I was sifting through old family memorabilia and discovered something that blew my mind. You see, the paternal side of my family all hail from Germany, and my grandfather fought in WWII before coming to the US with his wife and my dad, who was born in 1947. A lot of documentation from that time was lost during the war, but between my siblings and I, we have some of the essentials--birth records, marriage licenses, old photographs, etc.

Imagine my surprise when I found something extra dating back to WWII! I don't know how it came into my grandfather's possession; my guess was at some point when he was stationed in Paris to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier--but it looks like excerpts of a personal diary.  

As far as I know, my grandpa didn't use the journal for any ill will, like reporting its contents to his fellow officers. He and his family were fans of America long before the war started, having visited New York City just before my grandpa was drafted.  My guess is Grandpa found something sincere within Chris Weymouth's words that he could personally connect with.

Here's the mind-blowing moment I have to share with you: Weymouth's journal notes follow the French author Marcel Proust's, in that they ask a lot of the same personal questions for self-reflection. Proust wrote his journals in France in the 1890s, when such a level of introspection and sensitivity was lauded.  Self-questionnaires also became all the rage in England during the time period, and it seems Weymouth's notes are a unique connection between the past (19th and 20th centuries) and the present (21st century).  Here are his notes, unaltered.

~*~

I am Christopher Weymouth, the piano player at a small cabaret in occupied France. That is what everyone in my small village believes. In actuality I am a British spy responsible for getting bad information to the evil Nazi colonel, Landric Mueller.

What do I regard as the lowest depth of misery.
I have been undercover for so long I forget what I am doing and who I’ve become. That is until someone I know and care about is hurt because of my actions. I have suffered this kind of misery and I can tell you that I will never fully recover or find a way to wash it from my memory.

Where I want to live.
Since the beginning of this war I have dreamed of only one place, the English countryside and the estate my father left me. It is the place of childhood memories, good and bad. It’s where my father nursed a broken heart and where he raised me, an overly sensitive and capricious son. I can’t wait to go home.

My idea of earthly happiness.
Happiness can mean many different things to many different people, but the question specifically asks for my idea of happiness. I thought about having someone to love and for that person to love me. Yet, I know it’s more than that. It’s the capacity to give someone my love, whether it is romantic, friendship, or any other form. For so long I’ve had to hide whatever love I’ve been able to experience. I’ve lost the facility to love for fear of the damage it may cause. Did I ever possess the talent? I’m not sure, but to rediscover it would be my idea of earthly happiness.

What quality do I most admire in a man?
Without a doubt it is honesty. Not only in what he says, but in what he does. A man who says one thing only to do another whether from misguided obligation or duplicity is a man to fear and avoid.

In a woman.
Man or woman, the answer is the same for the same reasons. Honesty is the most admirable quality anyone can possess.

Favorite virtue.
I admire virtue, but I am often lost when discussing virtue. Patience is a problem. Yet, I am not ashamed when I become impatient. After considering the subject of virtue I must admit the one that always wins my admiration is humility. It is so easy to be proud. Is it possible, in this world of dreadful turmoil, to be humble?

Favorite occupation.
Musician. It provides for creativity and personal achievement. It offers the means to not only see the beauty in the world, but to contribute to it.

What I most value in a friend.
You don’t have to agree with a friend. In fact it is healthy to disagree and to debate. But when it comes down to it, loyalty is the most valuable aspect of any friendship. A disloyal friend is not a friend at all.

Most marked characteristic?
I hear and recognize accents. I can tell where a person is from by listening to how they enunciate certain words. I speak three different languages, but it’s the ability to recognize the accent that makes me a valuable asset in the intelligence arena.

Principle defect.
What I consider to be the greatest happiness is also my greatest fear. I fear loving another human being. It is a flaw that has developed with time and experience and it will take a serious effort to correct it.

What, to my mind, would be the greatest misfortune?
This is similar to happiness. What if I was to find that I am in love alone? What if I found the skill to love, but it turned out to be unreciprocated. This may sound terribly selfish, but I can’t help it.

What Would I Like to Be?
Yes, I would love to be a friend, a lover, but more than those, I would like to be a mentor. Such a position would be an honor, but probably the most difficult station to achieve. What an overwhelming responsibility.

My heroes in real life.
I can think of one, the American writer, Mark Twain. He perceived the world from an artist’s point of view. He found the humor in life. He also knew the tragedy of inequality, ignorance and greed. This war is the festering wound of such tragedies.

Favorite heroine.
Queen Victoria. Not a stranger to hardship, but brave. She was a true leader.

What is it I most dislike?
This damned war. The absurdity of this prolonged tragedy and the evil behind it.

Natural gift I would most like to possess.
I would most like to possess the appreciation of beauty whether in nature or mankind.

How do I want to die?
I should say something like in the service of my country, but that would not be true. I would love to die in the arms of a beautiful woman.

Present State of Mind.
I am sad, depressed, due to the loss of someone I cared about. I cannot help but think her death is my fault in some way. I am convinced I need to avenge her death, but I am not sure it is for justice or for me.

What is my motto?
This damned war. It’s a phrase I heard my mentor say, but I have taken it for my own. It is what I repeat to find the courage to keep going.

~*~

About The Hedgerows of June:  France, late June 1944. The town of Saint-Lô is an important Nazi transportation hub in occupied France and the experienced German Army is determined to defend it. An inexperienced American Army is equally determined to conquer Saint-Lô. The result is the Battle of the Hedgerows, one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.

A British spy, Chris Weymouth, and an American expatriate, Mary McCorkel, meet at the home of Jean-Claire, an aging French Resistance operative. She tells Chris they have been given the responsibility to reunite four children with their fugitive parents in Saint-Lô. Chris is reluctant to take the dangerous mission, but Jean-Claire tells him he has no choice. The OSS has ordered Chris to get the children to Saint-Lô for purposes he is not permitted to discuss with Mary. Mary has her own secret reasons for making the journey.

Image (c) Ron Shannon
To get to Saint-Lô they must cross the treacherous French farmland known as the Bocage, or hedgerows, and what will soon be the battlefield. While staying one step ahead of the attacking Americans and dodging the defending Germans Chris and Mary discover their lives are threatened not only by the war, but also by the secrets and deceptions they are sworn to protect. 

Available October 18th at Amazon and Barnes and Noble! 

About the author: Ron Shannon discovered his passion for storytelling at a very young age: while listening to his teacher read the Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol to the overly-excited members of his sixth grade class. He studied at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey and graduated with the unlikely degree combination of accounting and English. Recently he completed his Master of Fine Arts in Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Ron lives, daydreams, and writes at the New Jersey shore.


04 October 2014

Writing Fantasy is like Writing Horror: You Can't Walk Away from the Dark.

Evil Looms and Good Approaches.
 By amdandy. Licensed from iStock.
Stephen King wrote that we crave horror movies because the genre is "innately conservative; even reactionary. [...]"
It is true that the mythic 'fairy-tale' horror [...] intends to take away the shades of gray [...] It urges us to put away our more civilized and adult penchant for analysis and to become children again, seeing things in pure blacks and whites.
I appreciate that King throws out the reference to fairy tales in his quote, because it helps cement my belief that the horror and fantasy genres have always been closely related to each other. That's why I think I can claim fantasy, in its own way, shares a lot of the traditional morality that tends to crop up in horror--namely that good will prevail and evil will be punished. (It's usually how those punishments are doled out that determine the genre.)

Ever since I was little I always hoped that justice would be served for those who suffer and those who inflict suffering. Justice happens in fairy tales, and reading fairy tales led me to write fantasy. And I have to admit, a degree of fairy-tale morality has trickled into how I structure the plot of my stories. But I draw the line at how I create my characters.

In fairy tales, it's very clear as to who is evil and who isn't. There's no mystery about it; the Wicked Stepsisters and Evil Queen are just what their names suggest. And even if these characters get away with being evil for the duration of the story, a final, horrible justice compensates for that. In Cinderella, the Wicked Stepsisters have their eyes plucked out by doves. In Snow White, the Evil Queen is forced to dance to death in hot iron shoes.

My series, Worldwalker Tales, does contain various influences from fairy tales; namely the Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve (ahem, the original) version of Beauty and the Beast. I'm working the Beast's background from the de Villeneuve tale into The Step and the Walk, the novel that focuses on the character Andresh Camomescro from The Name and the Key. 

From the very beginning I knew de Villeneuve had a darker origin story for the Beast, including the nature of his curse. To oversimplify the plot: for his own protection, an infant Prince is raised by a Fairy in an enchanted forest. When the Prince grows into a handsome young man, the Fairy decides she doesn't want to be his mother anymore, but his lover. The Prince rebuffs her sexual advances and as a punishment, she turns him into the Beast.

Part of the reason why this version of Beauty and the Beast appeals to me is that there isn't a black-and-white morality tale here. Unlike the more popular versions of the tale (which we now default to as the Disney version), the Prince does nothing to deserve his punishment. And if I remember correctly, the Fairy isn't given the kind of justice we see in such stories. The Fairy fades into the background, and to be honest, she's disappeared from my memory altogether while the traditional plot of Beauty and the Beast picks up from there.

In Worldwalker Tales, Andresh is my Prince/Beast character. The Step and the Walk serves as his origin story, and it is dark. And I did want it to have some semblance of de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast.  Instead of an enchanted castle in an enchanted forest, Andresh is confined to the caverns inside of a mountain. Instead of a Fairy, Andresh meets Narjineyah (whom he calls Nara), a woman who is nowhere near what she seems to be. Nara does mentor Andresh, and what starts out as a relationship between a teacher and her pupil becomes something cruel. And following the de Villeneuve tradition, Andresh is unjustly punished for his relationship with Nara.

The Puppeteer by Denis Zorkin.
Licensed from Dollar Photo Club.
I always knew the plot of Worldwalker Tales would take a disturbing detour during The Step and the Walk. I knew I would have to "go there" and I wanted to arm myself as much as possible for the journey. Doing research on a topic like this certainly wore me down. After reading case studies, first-person accounts, news reports, and works of fiction that address the issue, I felt like I might've gone off the deep end for trying to remotely understand why human beings are so good at hurting each other.

And then I was scared to write.

In horror, you take readers down a dark journey, and there is no promise of a return. Justice may be served, but justice does not equal a happy ending. Horror is not a genre of happy endings, anyway, as Stephen King has said: "Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win."

With fantasy, the expectation is that although there may be twists and turns that plunge readers into darkness, ultimately, there will be a return: a resolution that is happy or, at the very least, fulfilling.

I think I'm asking a lot of my readers. I'm taking a character they love and I'm throwing every twisted thing I can at him to see if he will bend or break. If my fiction can capture any shade of the realities from my research, readers are going to be disgusted. Maybe it will trigger something horrible for them. Maybe they will bend and break just as Andresh bends and breaks, but in doing so, they know  the suffering is temporary because something far more fulfilling will come along to make up for that pain.  Justice tends to offer such fulfillment, but what if I deny it?  How do  I bring readers back from the brink?

I don't have easy answers for this. But if I think of de Villeneuve's Beauty and the Beast, I might have an idea. There is no Hammurabi Code-level of justice in her fairy tale. Resolution came simply because her characters--Belle and La Bête--kept moving forward into a different story altogether: their own.

If I bear this in mind, I should be able to fulfill the requisites of my genre. When things seem especially bleak, there will be hope for the reader that the darkness of the journey will end with reward.

Writing is never a small feat.