Fantasy, Rock n’ Roll, and…Getting Spiritual?

It’s fairly obvious that my love of fantasy and my love of music really fuel In the Red. That comes across pretty blatantly, and I probably don’t even have to say that’s the case anymore. Yet there’s something else that fueled that story, or rather something that I discovered part way into the piece.

In its very earliest stages, Jeremiah was supposed to meet a much more grisly fate than what he does. I was okay with that. I was ready to show that I could go dark and stay dark and not have any sort of happy resolution and be this über female horror/dark fantasy writer and be proud of it.

And then I couldn’t do it.

Somewhere during the first few edits, I suddenly realized that there was more to the story. There was more to Jeremiah than the brat he starts out as and the distasteful person he tries to be. This wasn’t a story about someone just getting their comeuppance. Remember, this story has sat around in some form or another for eight years or so. And in those eight years, I’ve done a lot of growing up. I also went back to the various versions of The Red Shoes and realized that while some end with the grisly fate of the lead character, others take it a few steps further and offer some sort of hope. While I wasn’t trying for a straight-out re-write, I did want to honor the basic form of the story, and it finally hit home why it makes more sense to not just leave things dark and ugly. So I went back to the drawing board, so to speak.

It wasn’t until I was really fleshing out the second part and exploring how I felt about the different aspects of music (and life, for that matter) that I realized that this was a pretty spiritual title for me.

Before you go look at cats on the internet, let me clarify. This isn’t an overtly religious piece. That wasn’t my intention, at all. I’m probably more spiritual than all-out religious these days (not that there’s anything wrong with either), but I do believe in a higher power and that it’s a good one. I do believe we all have our purposes and there are reasons for everything. I also feel like a huge religious message doesn’t always have a place in a dark urban fantasy story…but the spiritual aspect of redemption fits in just fine.

In the original Hans Christian Andersen story of The Red Shoes, the message is very moral and its somewhat jabbed down readers’ throats. I didn’t want to necessarily do that. I wanted to explore why demons and angels would care about rock, and what a lost soul like Jeremiah’s place in the world really was. And really…I wanted to believe that he could be more than what he wanted to become. I wanted him to be more than a really lascivious, decadent rock star. I wanted to know that somewhere, deep down, there was a person under that mask that I’d inadvertently created.

Maybe I wanted to make sure that there was part of that in me, too. After all, I gleefully created this thing and left this poor person in a horrible situation. Was that what I really believed he deserved? Was that what was best for the story?

Jeremiah is one of the first characters I’ve written that I’ve actively disliked until very late in the game. It took revamping and expanding the story to make me understand that yeah, he was selfish, but it was a protective kind of selfish, a childlike kind of selfish. It  comes from a human place, and one I can relate to. A lot of his journey in the second half of the book resonates with me and is probably close to some of my own (not physically or mentally, mind you…there are huge differences between me and Jeremiah Kensington. He’s probably one of the characters that is the most far-removed from my personality). I’ve walked that path of mental self-torture at times, I’ve wallowed in self-pity and anger, I’ve pushed away things I’ve loved to punish myself. We come from very different places, but perhaps I wanted to know that there was a chance of moving forward for both of us.

The demon aspect is pure fantasy. Ultimate evil isn’t necessarily something I put a lot of stock in. I don’t want to waste my time in believing in something horrible. Truth be told, Jack and the band were a lot of fun to write, plus I got to put a new slant to the rock n’ roll crossroads myth. In truth, Jack and the band are probably just as petty as Jeremiah, so I ended up with this huge exploration of selfishness, pettiness, and base behavior that suddenly had to be resolved into something more.

What do you do when you alienate everyone?

How do you go on when you’ve got nothing?

What do you cling to when you can’t see the forest for the trees, when you feel like you’ve got nothing left?

About a year and a half ago (though it feels like yesterday) I was facing urgent surgery to correct a problem that had been causing mysterious illness-like symptoms for a good long while. While it wasn’t life-threatening, it took forever to figure out what was actually going on – like ten months and maybe ten doctors, or so. I went through every diagnosis in the books, went through more tests than I ever want to go through again, and slowly witnessed my emotions, my health, my wallet, and my well-being start to crumble. Added to that was a host of life problems and emotional re-hashing thrown in to over-complicate everything and stress me out and keep me up at night (as if being in constant pain wasn’t enough to do that, already). I confided a lot in certain friends, a lot in my mother, and some others…and at some point, I finally had to focus on what I did have. I had people ready to stand by me. I had some sort of options, or people who were willing to help me find them. I was granted huge amounts of grace on numerous occasions, and I’ll never be able to thank certain people enough or ever repay them. This all brought up a lot of mixed feelings, a lot of turmoil on how I viewed myself. I rehashed a lot of personal thoughts from past periods of pain – times when I’d lost family and pushed the feelings away, times when I was forced through hard life changes, times when I’d had to part from those I’d cared very much for or had to break a few hearts of my own, times when I wondered what I was doing with my life. It all came up in those ten months…it’s why I say you really can never run from your past skeletons or bogeymen…they’re going to catch up to you at some point. And man, they caught up with me but good.

At some point, I finally realized that I wanted to believe in something more. I couldn’t deal with any more negativity. Sure, I had been brought up going to church and believing a certain way, but I also think that at some point a person has to sit down and choose what makes them happy/what helps them get by for themselves. For me,  It didn’t necessarily have to have a name, but I wanted to believe in a purpose, in something good. I wanted to slowly walk forward and know there was a reason for me to do so. And I think that part of myself, that desperate longing to know that there’s a purpose for everyone and everything, definitely gets echoed in Jeremiah’s ultimate journey. He falls harder than I ever have, and he has more to deal with than I did, but I just couldn’t let him fade out.

It’s interesting to me that he’s so horrible to a lot of the characters in the book (especially women) as he gets famous, and yet there is a core group of people (especially women) ready to hold his hand and smack him upside the head. And I get that…while I rolled my eyes at his antics half the time, I found that I wanted to take care of him, too. I wanted better for him (and probably for that part of myself that recognizes that kind of pain).  I wanted to know that everyone can get a second chance, everyone can move forward and do some good in the world.

I want that for myself, I want that for friends and family, and I suppose I want that for certain characters, as well.

So while I don’t necessarily go into the blow-by-blow moral fable aspect of the original Red Shoes story, I would like to think that some of that hope, that fall, and that redemption is maintained. Because we all deserve that kind of hope, and a hint of a somewhat happy ending.

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