The Distance to Here

It’s been a long time since I posted here.  I’m sorry about that.  I’ve had a lot on my mind.

I’ve been reading a lot, which is usually a good thing.  But the two best books I’ve read this year sort of hit me like a one-two punch.  First Gabe Lyons talks about the creation of culture, and the importance of intent in culture creation, and then C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength.

I’d read the first book of Lewis’s Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet) as an undergraduate, back in 1993, and I’d read the second book, Perelandra, on a plane to Ireland in 2006.     I loved both books, and I’m not sure why I waited so long to read the final chapter.  Sometimes I think books come to us when we’re ready for them.

That Hideous Strength hit me like the proverbial a ton of bricks.  I was almost brought to my knees by the power, beauty, and soul of the book.  It was horrifying in places, warm and domestic in others, and utterly unyielding.  The moral and philosophical issues that Lewis explored (some of which I had read about in his nonfiction books and essays) were integral parts of the story’s progression, and some of its intimations of dystopia still ring true today, 66 years after its first publication.

That led me to two thoughts.  The first was an absolute sense of humility about my own writing, something I should have gained after reading my friend Nathan’s  Heart of the Universe.  I was just floored, flummoxed, flat-lined.

The second was “okay, so what am I really getting at here?”  I didn’t write Blood for Blood with any particular message in mind, but if culture really is “the air we breathe,” (ie, everything we experience, whether professionally produced and published or just overheard in conversation), as the creators of PASTE magazine said, then the novel says something, whether I meant it to or not.

So I asked myself, what does Blood for Blood say?  The answer to that question turned my blood cold.  It said, to the Benedict (the protagonist), “you shouldn’t have friends, because you’ll only get them killed,” and “you should never show mercy, because if you do, the person you showed mercy to will only grow more powerful, more wicked, and more dangerous, and will destroy everyone you care about.”

To Aila, the antagonist, it said, “don’t try to rise above your station or drag yourself out of abusive, domineering situations and relationships, because you’ll only get torn down in the end.”  To be fair, she did some very bad things along the way, but it doesn’t change the outcome.

What … the … FRAK?

I actually said that?  That’s the opposite of how I feel, the opposite of my own beliefs.  How did I get from there to here?

King Solomon said “without a vision, the people perish.”  I think that’s what happened here.  Blood for Blood has five acts, and I planned each one separately, without any thought as to how the larger picture would turn out (I didn’t even write them in order, though the fourth and fifth acts were written second to last and last, respectively).

It’s funny, but in the beginning of the book, Benedict quotes Adam Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, saying, “Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent.”  To some degree, that became the through-line of the book.  But as wise as Adam Smith was, he operated in a day when rehabilitation and social causes of crime were little more than the wispy beginnings of theories.  Today, I expect more of the justice system (though it usually disappoints me) and certainly more of myself.

So, I’ve trunked Blood for Blood for the time being.  I have a few ideas as to how I could edit it to remove the nihilism, and perhaps make a shift from Adam Smith’s, “Mercy to the guilty is cruelty to the innocent” to William Shakespeare’s “quality of mercy.”

But for now, I’m going to wait.  I think I need to write other things, things that have intentionality from start to finish, before I have the perspective and presence of mind to repair Blood for Blood. 



  1. […] and, indeed, the bulk of what I’d written so far.  You can see that in the previous posts, The Distance to Here, Stumble Inn, and No Innocent Use of […]

  2. […] know that I trunked Blood for Blood due to ethical concerns over its message, and that I subsequently figured out how to make it work […]

  3. […] was busy during the Blood for Blood hiatus, which you can read about here and here, if you haven’t […]

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