Chapter Twenty-One, What Step is Next? by E.M. Hernandez

First off, I would like to thank everyone who participated in National Buy Evan's Book Day. We sold a fair number of copies and on August 10th, 2017th paperback made it to around 30,000th place on the world-wide Amazon book rankings. That may not sound like much, but many debut novels never see the sunny side of 100,000th, so I'm very pleased.

Now that I am through, for now, with marketing and publishing responsibilities, I look forward to putting my time back into writing the sequel and also into developing this blog and the podcast into something more substantial. I'm hoping to invest time into interviews and topical episodes about character writing, plot development, and the business of writing. Wish me luck.

This week's chapter is about a series of discoveries Sentrus makes. The world will be clearer for him before this chapter is over. It will also be more hopeful.

But it is also about Aaron, who is coming to terms with the trauma he has suffered and the blindness that now, in his mind, defines him.

I assume we've all felt cursed at one time or another. Nothing will go right for days, or weeks, or months at a time. Money, romance, work, family, health... One, or all of these essential elements of life refuses to stop hurting us. I'm usually convinced, during those seasons, that the fault is, at its root, mine. Maybe not everyone thinks this way, but for me my disasters are my own and my victories are accidents. When things go smoothly it's because things feel easy... "If things are easy I must not be challenging myself. If I'm not challenging myself then it wasn't really a victory now was it?"

I can't recall a specific disaster that spawned Aaron's dilemma in my mind. I'm not sure why I decided to blind him, or how I knew that he would initially respond to that disability with the same frustrated, wimpy, self-defeating manner that I imagine I would adopt in similar circumstances. I could just have easily made him brave and defiant in the face of adversity. He always has been before. No danger was unfaceable, no challenge insurmountable. 

But something about his new situation is different. 

I do know, it will be a joy to bring him through this trial. I look forward to watching Aaron pull himself out of the mud. I'm not sure when it will happen, or how. But at some point, this boy is going to become a man and put away his childish self-pity in favor of a courage he doesn't know he possesses.

And I also know, his only hope to see again and his only hope to love Sarai as he aught to love her, is on the other side of that transformation.

Chapter Nineteen, Ashes and Embers by E.M. Hernandez

Here I am, on the tail end of Memorial Day weekend, and by sheer serendipity the chapter for the podcast consists entirely of a memorial service for those killed in the Durian Revolution.

The funeral of the Artoren is wrapped in a confusion of emotions. All war memorials are. The victors honor their foes. The conquered honor their conquerors. The living remember the dead, both with pride and with mourning. All wars are moments of great decision, which shape all that follow them, never more so than in a Revolution; the participants must accept and address the decisions arrived at by the arbitrament of the sword. 

How should we talk about war? It is one of mankind's great puzzles. It is honorable to defend one's home and dishonorable to invade another's. But war is not simple in the way a crime can be simple. There is too much history and too many claims to what is right. One of the myths I have recently confronted is the simplicity of national identity. It is not simple, it is densely complicated. It is emotional. It is both more irrational and more logical that family identity. Does a government make a nation? An idea? Genetics? Language? Do we need nations, or are they merely myths in and of themselves? Collective myths easily disposed of? Are they worth fighting, killing, and dying for?

I have preferred answers to these questions. I think those preferences are better spelled out in Breaking The Skies than they could ever be in a blog post. My beliefs are deeply influenced by C.S. Lewis, who confronted many of the over-simple answers in defense of Pacifism with deep conviction and genuine experience, gained on the battlefields of World War One.

It is good to honor the fallen. And it should be painful to do so. Indeed, it is frail to honor them with words. It is perilous to honor them with show. It is appropriate to honor them with family and company and respect. But above all, it is essential to honor them with contemplation and vulnerability; a willingness to let our hearts be troubled as we consider what they died for and those they left behind. 

I look forward to the Fourth of July around this time of year. The month or so between Memorial Day and Independence Day can and should be a form of secular lent, in which the weight of the sacrifice is carried until we celebrate of the birth of a new nation, conceived in Liberty.

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Chapter Eighteen, Executioners by E.M. Hernandez

The following is a quote from Robert Bolt's, "A Man For All Seasons." The play (or its film adaptation) is an indispensable meditation on justice, law, and conscience.

Roper: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man's laws, not God's — and if you cut them down — and you're just the man to do it — d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake.

Western civilization possesses an almost perverse affinity for the law. The Roman empire was sustained by laws and those laws were sustained by religion of a fanatical kind. To break a law was to flirt with divine retribution.

The English constitution, before the 20th century at least, was a millennium long experiment in discovering the natural law via deduction, experimentation, manipulation, and faith. Magna Carta is not a document of democracy. It is an assertion of the rule of law, even over kings.

The shocks of WWI stole much of this love of law away from Western Europe. It all but killed it in Germany for a time. The entire nation became "practical". What was effective was what mattered, not what was just. They were knowing law breakers, supporting the government in its efforts to re-arm, without getting in trouble. Thus they became a nation of sneak-thieves and could not support justice any longer.

Whether on purpose, or not, I have presented my Durians as people of law; from the lowest ranked private, to the rulers of the land, they embrace it as the way to settle their differences. They are prepared to submit to it, even at their own peril. Justice may not be the only native inhabitant of the law, but they know it can only grow within its bounds. 

This is how, again perhaps by accident, I have ended up with a government lawyer as one of my favorite characters. Neils is a policy wonk and the kind of student who finds and loves and hates and memorizes every loophole in the book. He is, in that way, completely different from myself. But we need his kind. The gentle pedant. The merciful martinet. The open-minded obsessive. 

We especially need them now, in these United States. We need those who accept, even demand, that the truth and the law are the last words.

And then, we need the crowds to cry out in one voice, if the law should fail us,

"NO VENGEANCE!"

"NO VENGEANCE!"

"NO VENGEANCE!"

To save our friends, our enemies, and ourselves.

 

Chapter Fifteen, He Yet Breathes by E.M. Hernandez

I've been thinking about this chapter recently, because I often consider writing a novel to be a fascinating metaphor for the sovereignty of God.

My life, in recent days, has been very confusing. I can not understand what God is doing with my life, my career, and my family. Some good things are happening, combined with some not-so-good things and all of it feels mysterious. 

Why does God let bad things happen to good people? Why does he frustrate our plans and delay our desires?

I'm not especially good, but I do try. And it is in that trying that I reminded myself of another person who tries, and tries with all his might. The character Aaron. He's determined. He tries with all his might to attain every goal. And even so, he has blind spots. Much like myself.

He's a good person. So why do I put him through horrible trials?

The answer is simple: I need Aaron to grow. He can't stay who he is at the beginning of the book. How will he be the man Sarai needs if he stays a determined, but incompetent and emotionally fragile little boy? He can't. And so, he must suffer. Not for the sake of the pain, but for the sake of the growth which the pain can and will stir in him. 

I am sovereign over Aaron and I love Aaron. I genuinely believe that he exists independently enough in some strange metaphysical space in my own head that I cannot simply make him something he is not without taking him through the journey. If I arbitrarily change his character then I make him someone else entirely and the Aaron I love ceases to exist. If he goes on the journey... He can grow and be both who he is on page one and who he is at the bottom of the final page of the final book in the Sentrus Chronicles. I look forward to getting him there and giving him his hearts desire, even as that desire grows along with him.

I have to trust that God is sovereign over me and he loves me and he wishes to first grow me into who I must become, shape my desires to what is best for me, and then give me those desires as they can do the most good. I have to trust that, despite my best efforts, God is a much better God to me than I am to Aaron.

 

In this week's chapter, Tem's efforts to take care of the injured artoren do further damage and both save and shatter Aaron's life all at once. And we learn the identity of the traitor.

Chapter Twelve, Swear by E.M. Hernandez

In order to make an oath, you have to search yourself to your furthest depths. First, you have to decide if you are capable of fulfilling your vow. Then you have to decide whether the thing you are swearing on has the value you think it has. Finally, you have to decide if you can live with the consequences of failure. In this chapter, Sentrus will find himself without answers to any of these questions. And only by getting to the end of the story will we, the readers, find out.

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