Behind the Scenes of The Penitent Assassin
“Seriously? We’re going to do this now? It’s 6am and you need to get some shut-eye.”
I’m fine. I’m used to functioning on only a little sleep.”
“Yeah…if this is what you call ‘functioning’!”
Besides, I think this might be Part 1 of–
“Part 1? Good God, do you really think people are going to want to read multiple posts about this topic? How big is your ego?”
Uhhhh….not that big. Really.
“Uh huh. Sure.”
Look, can we just get on with it?
“Hey, knock yourself out…what do you want me to do?”
I thought I could talk a little about how The Penitent Assassin began…you know, kinda like the commentaries people listen to while watching a DVD…after they’ve watched it the first time…
“Huh. Yeah. Ummm. Okay. But you’re assuming a lot of things here. First, that people have read your book. Two, that people are going to give a rat’s ass about the process…or whatever you’re planning to talk about and three, well…I’m sure there’s a three. Oh, I remember. With a DVD commentary the viewer is able to still watch the movie while the FAMOUS actors are talking. People only listen to those things to learn something more about their FAVORITE actor. You’re not exactly FAMOUS and you’re not even your family’s FAVORITE author.”
What? What do you mean I’m not their favorite author?
“You didn’t know that? Seriously?……Seriously?”
“No, don’t ‘nevermind’ that…use it.”
“Why not? I’m sure it would be more interesting than whatever else you were going to talk about.”
Wow, you’re being rather cranky today.
“It’s 6am and I’d rather be sleeping.”
Okay. Well, admittedly I’m not famous–
“We KNOW! Get to the good stuff already!”
And while certain members of my family have read and enjoyed my novel, fantasy is not exactly their genre of choice. In fact, very few of my relatives read fantasy. You might say I’m the oddball–
“Oh, there’s no ‘might’ about it. We say it. All. The. Time.”
So, you might ask, Shawn, how did you get into fantasy if no one in your family reads it?
“……what? Was I supposed to really ask that?”
It would help if we’re going to do this as an interview–
“But…I thought you were doing some stupid DVD-like commentary…”
I remember being fascinated by The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings when I was younger. Of course, at the time, The Hobbit was a quicker read and I’d also seen the animated movie, which I still enjoy (though I can’t wait to see the Peter Jackson two-part Hobbit movie! I loved his LOTR trilogy.)
“Yeah, yeah…let’s get going here…I want sleep.”
And then I stumbled onto Terry Brooks’ The Sword of Shannara (which yes, is very similar to LOTR). I had to read it and write a book report on it in junior high (‘middle school’). For those of you who don’t know, it’s a very long book.
“Kinda like this blog post!”
If I recall, my book report was rather long too, probably pushing upwards of 10 pages…and I got a B- on it because the teacher said I wrote too much. Can you believe that? While other kids were reading short books, and turning in half-page reports I’d read this massive novel and had written a very detailed synopsis describing the plot and characters…and I got a B-? I tried to explain to her that the book was over 700 pages long and had dozens of characters…didn’t matter. B-
“Maybe you just sucked at writing….?”
Regardless of the grade, I was hooked on fantasy. I searched the school library for more, but there really wasn’t much to choose from — I pretty much remember the Narnia books and LOTR…
“Ummmm….are we ever going to get to the real reason we’re here? A little background about The Penitent Assassin?!?”
Skipping ahead. I’d written a different novel–
“What? No. Stick with The Penitent Assassin!”
I am! After dozens of people had read this other novel, many of them commented that they loved the villains. They liked the ‘hero’ well-enough, but most of their favorite characters were the villains. ‘You should write a book peopled with villains,’ they said. Well, I took that suggestion to heart (perhaps a bit too much)–and in earlier versions of The Penitent Assassin, Mallor (the main character) was a lot less ‘penitent’. A few people read the beginning chapters and thought he was just TOO hard. ‘You might want to consider softening him up just a little,’ they suggested. ‘Perhaps make him just a bit more sympathetic…’
So I rewrote the beginning. People read it. They liked it but thought he needed something else….
Around that time my wife suffered a miscarriage. We were told the baby would have been a girl. We were both devastated by the loss. It was so sudden and so abrupt…everything was fine until the day it wasn’t. We comforted each other. Our families expressed their sorrow. And then…there was nothing. The world continued as if nothing had happened. There was no funeral. Nothing to mark this sad occasion…and sure, people suffer this kind of loss every day, but to me and my wife, this was heart-breaking. The little girl we’d dreamed of having was gone and there was absolutely nothing we could do about it. That is a stunningly painful realization. And yes I know, an obvious one as well, but at the time, the weight of her loss pressed down on us both. We did what we had to do to find a way to move forward.
I coped by writing. And eventually, the storyline involving Mallor and his kidnapped daughter was born. I suppose the fight to rescue his daughter was one I wished I could have waged somehow…
“Well….I….I think we can stop for now. You can write another post about creating The Penitent Assassin some other day. Okay?”
And so as to not leave this post on a somber note, a year after her miscarriage, my wife did give birth to a healthy baby girl. She and her older brother are now old enough to realize that daddy is actually working when he’s typing on the computer and not just goofing off. Well, mostly not goofing off.
“Say goodnight already!”
Goodnight/good morning friends. I hope you have a wonderful weekend.