Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Hell You Say

by Chris F. Holm

My books might not feature much by way of politics, but questions of faith are front and center in my Collector series. If they weren't, my books would be one hell of a lot shorter. See, the series centers around an undead guy named Sam, who was a decent enough chap in life – went to church, paid his taxes, didn't litter – only to find himself on the wrong end of a deal with a demon when his wife fell ill, one that condemned him to an eternity in hell. Not that he'd categorize it that way; as far as he's concerned, eternal suffering's a small price to pay for saving the woman you love. But even he'd admit his existence ain't no picnic. Particularly because in my books, hell is tailor-made to each of the condemned – their punishments specifically designed to maximize their torment. In Sam's case, he's cursed to peer in on the humanity he left behind, his face forever pressed against the glass. As Dante wrote:
There is no greater sorrow
Than to be mindful of the happy time
In misery.
Or, to hear Sam tell it (less poetically, no doubt) in this conversation lifted from DEAD HARVEST:
“I’ve got a contact in the demon-world who might have some idea who’s behind this – I thought I’d pay him a visit, see what I can see. Only I’m not exactly relishing the idea.”

“Is he – I mean, do you have to go…” she stammered. “Is he in hell?”

I laughed. “Near enough – he’s in Staten Island.”

“Oh,” she replied. “But you’ve been? To hell, I mean?”

“Have I been? Sweetheart, I’m sitting in it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Hell isn’t some faraway land, Kate. It’s right here – in this world, in this room. Heaven, too, as near as I can tell. They’re just, I don’t know, set at an angle or something, so that they can see your world, but you can’t quite see them. Occasionally, the boundaries break down, and the result is either an act of horrible savagery or of astonishing grace. But make no mistake, they’re always here.”

Kate’s brow furrowed as she looked around the room. “I guess I always imagined hell to be all fire and brimstone.”

I lit my cigarette and took a long, slow drag. “You ask me, I’d guess heaven and hell look pretty much the same,” I replied. “Only in hell, everything is just a little out of reach."
 It's been a trip, having the books out there for all the world to see. When I was writing them, I was very cognizant of the fact that I was playing around with some sensitive concepts, and (the sales boost of a book-ban aside) the last thing I wanted to do was turn off potential readers. But I think wrestling with the notion of faith, the inevitability of our own mortality, and the question of what, if anything, comes next, is universal to the human experience, regardless of where you come down on those questions. And thus far, correspondence with my readers has borne that out; the only thing they ever gripe about's my penchant for salty language. It seems swearing's far more controversial these days than heresy...

8 comments:

Catriona McPherson said...

Great post, Chris. I love the expression "salty language"!

Kieran Shea said...

Then again, my man, an editor once told me--if you're not pissing people off, you're not doing it right.

Chris said...

Thanks, Catriona! And Kieran, I'm trying my damndest, but readers are harder to offend than one might expect...

Meredith Cole said...

Very funny, Chris! I guess we won't elect a non-religious presidential candidate anytime soon--but perhaps readers are more accepting of others beliefs (with religion or otherwise) when it comes to fictional characters...

Joshua Corin said...

Having turned off many, many readers with my novels' political/religious creme filling, I definitely can empathize.

Chris said...

Honestly, I think the fantasy elements have done more to turn mystery-folk off than the religious elements. But either way, I think we can agree my commercial instincts are less than stellar.

Reece said...

Remember, Chris, a fatwa can be very good for sales (see Rushdie).

Chris said...

Noted. Maybe I should go unlisted, first...