I’ve been reading a dear friend’s work lately and I’ve gotta say, it’s reinvigorated my drive and determination with writing.
Oh, it’s called The Feast of the Innocents: A Novel of Astonishing Terror and it’s by the one and only Colin Harker. I can’t remember how Colin got on my radar and we became friends on Twitter (it may have been our love for Goth music or the fact that I write above vampires?), but her blog posts and the occasional poem and stories she shares there (seriously, check her out), have kept us in contact.
When I saw she’d released her latest book for pre-order, I bought it for Kindle as soon as I could. Now that the paperback is available, you can imagine I want that one as well. 😉
The way it’s tied to my writing is, it’s helped me dive more into the slippage of sanity Sinner Sharpe is feeling.
It was always my intention as of late, with Sinner Sharpe to delve into the horror he’s facing–not physical horror–at least not yet, but the mental horror. He’s seeing horrific visions, he’s losing large gaps of time, he’s being attacked on his ship (an already enclosed space) for weeks.
He is, quite frankly, losing his mind and I’m excited, if a little nervous, to continue that first passage. I’m 30k into the story as of this post and have the entire book outlined (I know, who would’ve thought I’d become an outliner), so I’m excited to get to the transition of the mental horror to the physical horror.
But make no mistake, this is still a fantasy story–the dark part–the horror part–is definitely one facet of the story.
What I’ve learned from adding so many fantasy characters to a typically dark story is that, I have no interest in “genre-bending” which I feel I’ve shot myself in the foot with regarding The Dark World series. Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of what I’ve done with the series, it’s just, trying to explain to others what it is or really hone in on a niche in a Tweet is close to impossible for me because I can’t fit “vampires, werewolves, dragons, giants, merpeople, elves, magic, enchanters, etc.” into 240 or so words and make it compelling so I thought “dark epic fantasy” would be a good explainer but people go into it not understanding and come away not enamored or just not “getting it.”
And that’s been an eye-opener.
That’s why I’ve taken such a hard stance with Sinner Sharpe and Vanessa Locke (more on that later), what they are, what to expect when you enter the world, and where (generally) you’re going to go.
That’s why reading Colin Harker’s The Feast of the Innocents: A Novel of Astonishing Terror, is so important to me because it’s a gothic horror novel. That’s it. There’s no genre-bending, there’s no surprise happenings (as far as I can tell). It’s unsettling, it’s evocative, it’s written extremely well. That’s what I expect from anything gothic (in the literary sense) — my kind of horror, if you couldn’t tell.
And that’s only helped strengthen what I want from Sinner Sharpe and where it sits in the many genres under the “fantasy” and “horror” genres – dark fantasy.
Not “epic” because I don’t think I’m ever writing an “epic” fantasy again. Contemporary, perhaps, but “epic” was for younger me, who had lots of time to sit and flesh out. I’ve come to embrace and enjoy “shorter” fantasy. Fantasy that doesn’t drag as, as an adult with various responsibilities, my time is valuable. I want my reader’s time to be valuable as well. The Tales of Sinner Sharpe is going to be 90k words. I’m a third of the way done.
And I can’t wait to get there.
Outlines and the rigidity of “genres” has helped tremendously in this regard. What I once thought was “not for me,” the “rules” of the genre, only showed how ignorant (and young) I really was. And how much harder I made the work for myself.
That’s fine. I move forward.
As does Sinner.
I’ve shared a few excerpts on Sinner Sharpe on my newsletter, and if you’re subscribed, you’ve probably already gotten a taste of what I’m doing, but if you haven’t, here’s a taste.
Here, we meet Sinner in the middle of a tussle with some shady figures who bust in on him while he’s attempting to get rest at an inn while his right hand man and their new recruit eat their food downstairs. Sinner has been out of sorts since he’d been told a strange story from the new recruit about the strange land they’re heading toward. This is one of my favorite scenes and I absolutely enjoyed the physicality of it. Let me know what you think in the comments:
The door slammed open with a bang. I rolled off the bed. Barely got my hand over my mouth before the gas was filling the room.
I stayed low to the floor, shifted a dagger at my hip out of its sheath and held it out in front of me. The smoke burned my eyes, but I kept them open.
Same as before, I thought.
I was glad I was ready for it this time.
I heard the men enter the room and when one was just in front of me, I slashed a leg with the dagger as hard as I could.
Doing my best not to inhale, I rolled under the bed before any hands could grab me and squinted.
Four pairs of legs, one bleeding, circled the bed. They wore thick-soled black boots, not unlike mine. Their pants were a black leather.
The Black Band. Shit.
I heard them grunting.
In the next second, the bed was thrown off me, its face smashed against the wall. I rolled a bit to avoid being hit by its wooden edge.
Their arms reached for me, but I slashed with my dagger as often as I could, pushing back at least two of ‘em.
I couldn’t see their faces in the smoke, but I could just make out the black bands around their mouths.
I coughed, my hand free from my mouth now as I swung with my fist to keep them at bay.
Couldn’t hold them off for long. Eventually one knelt at my head while another, fed up with my swinging, placed a boot on my wrist. The one at my head wrapped an arm around my neck and flexed.
Air wouldn’t pass through my burning throat. I turned my dagger’s blade on him. Stabbed him right in the forearm.
He screamed and released me.
I coughed, stayed low, and moved atop the sprayed blood for the open door.
Was almost there when one of ‘em placed something heavy over my eyes and pressed something hard against my lower back, forbidding me blessed movement.
A cry of pain left me, the heavy thing was removed, and I was lifted from both arms by a pair of hands.
The dagger fell out of my grip and a fist pummeled my midsection. I doubled over.
As they dragged me against my will (I made it hard for ‘em), the smoke grew less in severity, and I figured they were pulling me toward the hallway.
More on Sinner Sharpe:
I’m choosing, with this round of storytelling, to dive into ‘harder topics,’ and things I want to write about. I want to give my worlds more nuance, my characters more stakes, and hopefully more heart. I write for everyone but I cannot deny my experiences–Black experiences–are what have shaped me and should shape my writing.…
This helped shape the nature of the story: Sinner is an outcast from this island. He has no magical ability, same as all from Othril, and when on the mainland, this lack of magical ability is apparent—he is ostracized not only because of his physical dark features, but his inability.