I’m a huge fan of crime novels period, with George Pelecanos and Elmore Leonard being two of my favorite authors, and so it should surprise no one that my urban fantasy series, the Knights of Breton Court, has the pace and feel more of a crime novel that the Arthurian legend creeps into. However, let me back up.
A friend of mine was over at the house raving about the series (it is a little known fact that once you’ve declared yourself a fan of my work, I’m likely to invite you over to my house and fix you dinner). Now, keep in mind, the way the publishing industry works, I haven’t (re-)visited these stories in a couple of years. So it was pretty cool listen to him dissect the work, relate to the characters (I always take “did you live on my block? Cause I know these people” as the height of compliments), and revel in Arthurian geekery as he got all of the legends of the knights of the round table that I wove into the story.
And just as, as a writer, I’m vain enough to believe that the words I put onto page demand to be read—especially as book three, King’s War, has just been released—I wanted to talk about the “big idea” behind each of the books. Or at least some of the things rolling around in my head as I was writing them.
With King Maker, I explored the Jungian idea that we have shadow selves, in this case, the “we” being Indianapolis and the idea that even cities have shadows. So on one level, it’s what makes it easy to “believe” that there is this magical underbelly to our everyday reality. One that’s always there yet we never both to look for it or acknowledge it, filled with plant elementals, senile mages, trolls, fairies, and all manner of beasties. At the same time, this magical shadow city serves as a kind of metaphor for another kind of shadow. A very real world one: homelessness.
With King Maker we are introduced to a world of outsiders, people who are typically “voiceless” in our society: the homeless, drug addicts, gang members, prisoners, and the poor. The powerless, the invisible, the “least of these” … and we peek into their world, see their faces, and hear their stories. Sometimes through poor choices, sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control, they struggle to maintain their dignity, humanity, lives. As they face fear, loss, spiritual hardships, and their very survival, King rises up.
(I won’t lie, I worried about whether this would be criticized for being poverty/pathology porn. And despite the story casting a spotlight on Indianapolis, the tourist board may not like the aspects of the city I chose to highlight.)
In King’s Justice, since the “king’s justice” is the time of relative peace in the kingdom, we have time to explore the brokenness that both the heroes and villains operate out of. That there may not be good and bad people as much as people united by a common pain or brokenness, struggling through life who make different choices. That maybe the only thing that separates “heroes” and “villains” is whether they can come together in their woundedness and surround themselves with people who accept them another where they are, how they are, then build them up, affirm them, and encourage them to wholeness. But if they continue to act out of their own efforts and “strength”, going it alone, they end up driving people out of their lives.
As King’s Justice culminates in “the great sin”, an act of betrayal blows up the knight’s community and mission, King’s War picks up with the long journey of redemption. Personally, my favorite scenes were when I was writing about Lott’s attempts at self-punishment and (failed attempts at) reconciliation. He was mired in his wallowing in his brokenness, with an attitude of “You want to point to me as a villain, fine, I’ll be a villain.” But that’s the guilt and shame talking. The thing is, brokenness can be redeemed. Real love risks and offers redemption and when loved well, we’re taught about God. In all of our brokenness and (self-) deception, in all of our brokenness and desperation, we can come before the Lord and be fully accepted. This is what the search for the Holy Grail means to me.
So in King’s War, I ask the question “what does reconciliation look like?” What does it mean to realize the sin you’ve committed—hurting not only yourself but also your community—the pain you’ve caused, the public waves of repercussions of what was thought of as a private sin, and to seek to make things right when you feel like you can’t forgive yourself or repay the hurt? What does it look like for a community rocked by scandal to walk into the difficult places and enter into the process of forgiveness? What does it look like to move forward, live, and pursue the mission you were called to do in wholeness?
This was where my head was while writing the books. Toss in the legends of the Green Knight, Red Knight, and Black Knight (in each of the books, respectively), Tristan and Isolde, trolls, zombies, a dragon, elven assassins, Red Caps, griffins, gangstas, and thug life and this isn’t your father’s King Arthur tale. But it is mine. I hope you enjoy it (though my wife wants me to make sure to say that it doesn’t guarantee me inviting you over and cooking a meal).