I finished my readthrough of Antiphon on Wednesday night and continue to have a really positive experience as I make my way through The Psalms of Isaak. As before, the audio cast really shines and being able to just sit back and be read to hits my brain differently than if I were reading with my eyes. My head is filling up with the Story and I’m already seeing new bits of Hymn taking shape that were foggy before.
I’m particularly proud of the title for this one. When I set out to write Lamentation, I anticipated a trilogy — Lamentation, Canticle and Requiem. But I realized near the end of the first book that I was looking at five volumes and that the last had to be Hymn. So I was left with another title to track down. When I stumbled across the word antiphon and saw that it was a response to a canticle, I was quite pleased!
This book, truly, is a response to the book before it. The antiphon being crafted in secret by the mechoservitors of Sanctorum Lux is the central connection to the title, but also Vlad’s response to his family’s kin-healing and to meeting the jin in the waters. And Jin Li Tam’s response to the threat against her family. Winters’ response to the loss of her people and her faith. Neb’s response to the dream and his response to the truths he learns about himself, his heritage and his father. And Rudolfo’s response to the realization that he can not keep his family safe.
I finished Canticle in April 2008 and started the third volume in August 2008. I would’vewrapped by the end of the calendar year but by then my father’s health had started sliding and production along with it. I was at about the halfway mark — and just a week from the release of Lamentation and my debut as a novelist — when my father died in February 2009. We’d also just learned that Jen was pregnant with twins.
I’ve mentioned before that the distance from when I wrote the book — and maybe the act of listening rather than reading — has really impacted my experience of the story. I’m quite amazed that the book and series hold up so well despite the interruptions and strain and sorrow they were each written through. I finished Antiphon’s last chapter — Rudolfo watching the sky — while Jen and Lizzy and Rae were in the hospital. And it was funny. I planned to take all of the characters through what is now rougly first two chapters ofRequiem. And I was going to use what is now the prelude in Requiem as the postlude to Antiphon. But I sat back from the end of Rudolfo’s scene and had a sense that the book was done. I shrugged it off and sent my chapter along with a note to Beth saying “Hey, call me after you read this. I have a thought.”
She called me. I was either on the way to the hospital to see all my girls or I was already there. And she said, “Is your thought that the book is done?” I said, “Yep, except for the postlude.” And she agreed adding that it would just need a Jin Li Tam scene for the postlude. And she was right, of course. Truth be told, Beth is usually right. She knows story. So Antiphon was kind of accidentally finished. It took six weeks with newborn twins in the house, but I turned over the postlude and voila, the book was wrapped.
In the readthrough of Antiphon, it was especially obvious to me how much I was using my fiction as a sandbox for processing my former faith. I had moved slowly from my younger years as a faith and Bible-based Baptist pastor to the secular humanist I am today, over a long, evolutionary stretch of time. With pits stops in Pentecostalism, Ignatian spirituality, Episcopalianism, Universalism.and agnosticism along the way. Living in both camps and all the highway in between really prepared me for the story I’m telling in the Psalms of Isaak. And that story afforded me the opportunity to explore those thoughts.
When I write my Y’Zirites with their knives and blood and gospels carved upon their flesh, in my memory I’m sitting on the back pew belting out “Are You Washed In the Blood?” at the top of my lungs in a J.C. Penney polyester three piece suit with a tattered leather KJV open on my knee. Though I think some have mistaken my Y’Zirites for Islamic fundamentalists instead of the Christian fundamentalists they’re based on. I find it fascinating that I once believed in the necessity of shed blood for sin…here in an age when we’ve gone to the moon, cured diseases, learned how to swim like fish and fly like birds. I have friends who still believe this. And the Psalms of Isaak is actually quite popular among faith-based people. I keep hoping it’s because I handle the topics well and spend more time considering the questions than pontificating the answers. Because I find it all fascinating. And my feelings about it all are based on my time both within and without the faith.
Juxtaposed against the blood cult, we have the very intentionally designed religion of the Androfrancines — secular humanists using the power and hierarchy of a deified “light” of human understanding and accomplishment to protect what’s left of humanity. Of course, they also brought back the spell to protect others and we see how things have gone for them from the first page of the series onward. But in this book, we also learn of a deeper darkness as we see just how far Neb’s betrayal by the Androfrancine Order goes. But then we also see the other side of the Order through Charles as he learns what it means to parent his metal children and as he gives himself over to their own faith…drawn from a dream coded into a song pouring from a silver crescent (familiar, I hope, to those who’ve read “A Weeping Czar Beholds the Fallen Moon”) found when they were building Sanctorum Lux deep in the Churning Wastes.
So lots of stuff in this very chewy book.
My favorite bits:
And now, he held his dying friend in the belly of a ship that bore them slowly upward. Voices that called him out to serve. Dreams that pointed the way in whispers he could not comprehend. Promises of home and promises of violence. These all moved across his inner eye, going back two years to the pillar of smoke that marked Windwir’s
Petronus looked up and saw the bloody sky of another sunrise over the Churning Wastes.
“Look Grymlis,” he said. “We’re fl ying.”
But Grymlis had already fl own, and Petronus hoped his friendwould fi nd home and light awaiting him in what ever place he landed.
Weeping, he lay still and watched the porthole as the sky shifted from red to black. When they came to take Grymlis away, he let them, his eyes never leaving the expanse of night they now flew.
He thumbed through the pages of the book, his eyes settling on apassage about the Child of Great Promise and the healing of the world. He’d read the gospel through several times, each time gleaning more from the patchwork words of Xhum Y’Zir’s seventh son, the one-eyed Wizard King, Ahm. What he took most from it was how carefully it was woven with just enough truth to foster a sense of trust,
enough fancy to stimulate imagination and enough personal application to engender a sense of belonging and commitment. It delivered purpose.
He could see why the Androfrancines, focused upon the light of human achievement and knowledge, would resist and suppress this. Making each and every individual potentially an important contributor in a faith that promised healing to the world— particularly in the midst of cataclysm and upheaval— was a potent elixir for the disempowered, disenfranchised and disillusioned.
My least favorite bits: Okay, next time I put the words “lurch” and “stomach” into the same sentence please, please, please hit me with a pillow hard enough to make me think but not so hard as to muss my hair. And not just this book…it’s in all of them. And the hair on the arms raising. I would add all the crying but…hell, it’s about loss and trauma and hard choices and betrayal. So the crying works for me.
Another big thanks to Audible and the audio cast for their really wonderful work. Things are starting to bubble nicely for that last half of Hymn as I saturate myself with the story. And I’m becoming aware of things that need to change in the first half. So the exercise is working and hopefully you’ll all be in the studio soon wrapping up the Psalms of Isaak. Looking forward to having you all in my ear again as I slide into Requiem now.
And since they were born the same week, here’s a picture of my tiny twins when the Antiphon ARCs came out. Lizzy looks contemplative as she touches the holy artifact. Rachel looks happy and ready to possibly sell it for some really yummy mashed peas..
Trailer Boy out.