I’ve got a fairly decent-sized section of my “favorites” bookshelf dedicated to Dario Ciriello, who since 2009 has edited and published Panverse Publishing. His fantastic 2009 anthology Panverse One was a direct inspiration to starting Bull Spec, and after three outstanding volumes in that all-original-novella series (and another anthology, Eight Against Reality) and his best-selling memoir of a year living in Greece (Aegean Dream) he edited and published novels by Bonnie Randall, Doug Sharp, and T.L. Morganfield, as well as his own international thriller Sutherland’s Rules, a kind of mad-cap drug smuggling misadventure ranging from California to London to Afghanistan and points between, and! his collection Free Verse and Other Stories. He’s one of my favorite people in the world, and I’m pleased as punch to be able to tell you a little about his new supernatural thriller Black Easter, before he tells you a bit about the hard parts of writing it.
Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award winner Ken Liu calls Black Easter “a perfectly paced tale of terror and love that you cannot put down” which, as far as blurbs go, is indeed pretty neat. It’s also got some dark, original wrinkles on the realm we know as “hell” as well as a pair of trios — a black magician, a seer, and an SS officer from 1944, and an expat family from San Francisco renting an old house on the same small Greek island where the first trio carried out their own ritual suicides 70 years prior — that end up battling both over the same set of physical bodies as well as quite possibly the fates of both human- and demon-kind. There’s less rollicking misadventure (as in Sutherland’s Rules, where a hashish-fueled plot twist is never too far off-page) but plenty of the same tightly plotted, high-stakes action that keeps those pages turning, and more-than-meets-the-eye characters that don’t act as mere two-dimensional plot devices.
I’m absolutely certain that Dario got some of the ideas for this book from his time actually living as a San Francisco expat in Greece; I had no idea just how hard this novel was for him to finish. In fact, there were three “hardest parts”. Here’s Dario to tell you all about them:
— Essay by Dario Ciriello —
Every project we undertake has its own distinct challenges, and writing a book is no exception to this. Black Easter – my fourth book and second novel – had not one but three hardest parts. It was a tough book to write.
The first of these occurred when my work on this novel was interrupted for an entire year. I’d got the first thirty thousand words (about a third of the book) down when I expanded my small press, Panverse Publishing, and began publishing other authors. Since I was doing everything alone the workload quickly became overwhelming, and I soon had no time at all for my own writing, or indeed almost anything else.
A year later, after publishing three novels and a nonfiction book by others as well as my own first novel, Sutherland’s Rules, I called it a day and decided to keep Panverse as a single-author imprint for my own works. Picking up the beat of my abandoned story after so long a break wasn’t easy; we change, and my greatest fear – since I’m not someone who plots or outlines – was that there’d be a splice in the book as visible as the bolt through Frankenstein’s neck. There were days when I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pull it off. But after carefully rereading the existing portion, going through and expanding my character and background notes, and immersing myself in the story and its players again, I began to move forward – tentatively at first, then picking up speed as the story came back to life for me.
The second hardest part of this project was the sheer level of invention needed. Black Easter required, among other things, that I create a whole new demonology from scratch. I knew the book would involve a pact with Hell, the selling of souls for rewards, but I wanted to get away from the Biblical mechanics of Hell and the demonic realm and explore something original, complex, and nuanced. And I had no place or need for the Christian Devil as ruler of this kingdom.
What if, I asked myself, rather than being evil and antithetical to humanity, the demonic realm were complimentary to ours, so that humanity and demonkind were interdependent? The idea threw up all sorts of interesting questions, and before long led me into speculation along Lovecraftian lines. What if there truly were some overarching, cosmic evil, something infinitely worse than Hell and its attendant demons? What if Hell, the demonic sphere, were actually all that stands between us and some terrifying, transcendent evil, which, unopposed, would devour both the human and demonic realms? Since we seem to be hardwired for conflict, perhaps Hell might actually rely on human fear and suffering as a motive force, energy to keep demonkind strong enough to sustain its eternal, even desperate defense of our shared spheres. Perhaps we should be grateful to Hell rather than fear it.
Like any research or invention, of course, I thought through my new demonology in considerably more detail than is apparent in the book. Knowing where to draw the line between what the reader needs to know and all the rest which you, the writer, have invented or researched is another hard part of writing, a boundary fence on which it’s all too easy for unwary authors to impale themselves. We want to show off our cleverness and learning; but since the goal is to keep the reader entertained and turning pages, Mies van der Rohe’s favourite adage, less is more, is one of the fiction writer’s best watchwords.
The final hardest part of this novel had to do with the fact that several passages take place with characters in a disembodied state, in either astral-type realms or on the frontier of Outer Hell, where the endless struggle outlined above actually plays out. Since my characters have no bodies and none of their physical senses or material points of reference in these scenes, this required the use of a great deal of literal metaphor, forcing me to milk language for all it was worth. As one writer friend memorably put it to me years ago in a phrase that still makes me chuckle, the writer trying to describe the indescribable has no option but to dig deep and “make language their bitch”.
Whether I succeeded or not, only the reader can say.