A (sort of) Guide to Reading No Gods, No Monsters

Hey Good People,

First off, thank you for coming on this journey with me. Books are nothing without readers. My gratitude is unending.

This isn’t a review. (I did consider it. Honestly, I only considered it once I was 1,500 words into whatever this is. At first it was a guide, or a FAQ, or somewhere in the same genre as those DVD commentaries from the era when people watched movies with the commentary feature turned on. Do people still do that? I haven’t in years.)

((Side-sidenote: A true DVD commentary are those “Notes” things on Goodreads. I can do one of those if you want me to.))

Can an author review their own work? I think so. I considered giving myself a rating, even. An honest one.

But I worry it’d be the sort of thing that sounds like a good idea right up until the internet proves it isn’t.

I want you to give this book a chance and rating it myself might make some folks come away with the wrong idea.

Writers have to have some pride or else they’d not survive this part: the sharing with strangers. The truth is I’m very proud of this book, even when my editor’s brain is fully engaged and I’m crossing out entire sentences during readings.

So, the better question: do I think this book is worth your time?

Maybe. I hope so. If after this not-review you still want to read the book.

I’ve occasionally ignored the good advice of authors who’ve told me Goodreads is for readers. I’m a reader. And occasionally I leave ratings, or, and I suspect you know authors do this, come to see how my creature is doing.

So, I know some of you are deeply confused, exasperated, maybe even angry. Even people that really like this thing.

I considered that the appropriate author response is: “Fine, you didn’t get it. No big.”

But that response feels condescending. It isn’t a useful response to readers genuinely approaching a book and aren’t getting it. There’s no way to salt a dish like this, except according to taste. My taste, from the inside, is different than a reader who doesn’t know what I know. I can wait for the reveals because I know what they are (mostly), and I know which ones matter.

That said, while revising this book, my wife recommended I do one small thing. “It’ll help readers,” she said. And I considered it and actually had a physical reaction. It just didn’t feel…right. So, I didn’t. Well, I actually settled on a compromise that was only half-helpful.

(A thought I’ve had while writing this is that books shouldn’t need explainers. If they do, then it is a failing of the book. I haven’t ruled that out completely. But some of my favorite stories have been illuminated by explainers. A whole industry has been made off explaining media.)

So, here I am with another half-compromise to half-help readers who’ve found this book. Readers who might’ve seen this talked about, or buzzed about, or enthusiastically pushed into their inboxes, and now find themselves with a confused look on their face. Or readers that read my debut The Lesson and thought, “hey, I like what this guy is doing” and picked this up only to realize “I have no idea what this guy is doing, please help me.”

Please know I did not intend to be completely bewildering. Maybe just a little. Or in an exciting way. Or in that very specific way when you’re talking to a friend about a challenging topic and you’re both invested in getting to the bottom of it, but you also know you won’t because no one has gotten to bottom of it. It is just the air we all breathe, and you have to accept it, but occasionally not accepting it can be an enriching experience, you know?

Maybe you don’t and there’s no hope for this creature of mine. But I want to try. Because I do think it is amazing that readers take precious moments out of their own life to read work they’re excited about. So maybe a head-to-head/heart-to-heart will do enough to make this worth the time/resources you’ve put in to read my book.

Anyway, here we go.

Things you should know while reading No Gods, No Monsters

1. The protagonist is the community.

What “community” means may not be altogether clear yet. The community is on a hero’s journey (and they haven’t all found each other yet). Calamities will bring them together. Each POV is given to add (more) weight to each person within that whole.

Examples from TV:

The Wire (mostly The Wire, maybe The Expanse?)

Examples from fiction:

“The Matter of Seggri” by Ursula K. Le Guin (an epistolary novella, made up of different “matter” from the inhabitants of a planet called Seggri. The story of Seggri is told through shifting POVs over time. The planet has a narrative arc through the individual narratives.)

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Sometimes called a mosaic novel. I was so pleased when I stumbled across Emily St. John Mandel’s work because it made me feel more sane. My debut The Lesson is also like this, though easier to follow since all the characters are closely related and in one setting/time.)

Why am I doing this to you?

 No Gods is sprawling, but there will be an honest attempt at bringing all the elements together over the course of the Convergence Saga (it’s three books, so, a trilogy, but why stop confusing you now?). When I discussed the name for the series with my publisher, we all agreed that the name of the series was important on many levels.

 In my acknowledgments I (synonym for acknowledged) that there were “too many” characters. But multiple times throughout the outlining and drafting process I considered who I’d cut. Every POV seemed to be doing important work for the whole, either as a (very) important character or for setting up some central idea that would be used now or later. I know how this sounds. I promise I’m not lying.

Lots of POVs is how my brain works. But I think that’s how stories in our world work, too. Communities move according to many intersecting narratives, not through the actions of single protagonists. We like our stories this way, but our world isn’t this way.

The goal is to represent community somehow, while giving the individual representations, the people, significant weight. They pull against the central narrative with their own specific concerns.

(Sidenote: Many trilogies are designed to be episodic or quasi-episodic with the first book standing alone and the next two feeling more sequel-ish. I tried to make this stand alone, but this trilogy is more of a BIG-thing-in-three-parts sort of deal. Some people have strong feelings about which is better. I think it is more about what you’re trying to do with a story.

2. This book (and series) is about power. And MYSTERY. And how power uses mystery and is motivated by mystery. (More importantly it is about trying to capture the feeling of helplessness when hitting up against the incomprehensible.)

Examples from TV:

For Power: The Wire (again), Luke Cage (?), House of Cards, Succession

For MYSTERY: Lots, but my favorite is The Leftovers. (Most of you know another one contributed to by the same creator but I’m not naming it here because it’ll undercut my point too much.)

Examples in fiction:

For Power: Lots, but which ones can I name specifically. The Broken Earth Trilogy. Really, anything by Jemisin. Or Butler. Or Le Guin.

For MYSTERY: Big one that comes to mind is the Southern Reach Trilogy.

Why am I doing this to you?

Because it feels real to me? I’ve had to get comfortable with not knowing things or finding things out that lead to greater not knowings. I have a theory that there’s a relationship between this and power. I also think too much about metaphysics.

So, how do I represent that to a reader? By writing a whole book where the big things are happening in the background and even the major players seem confused.

There are lots of things that will be answered. Promise. But I’m afraid to tell you that this mystery thing (and its power over people) comes up a LOT more. I really can’t say anything else because I am having a bodily reaction.

3. Plot is events. Otherwise, it is people learning things about themselves.

(Or, Plot is external events (often calamity) outside people’s control (like what happens regularly in our society). Otherwise, it is (mostly) internal heart/mind things (sometimes) within people’s control brought about by social situations, leading to internal or external decisions being made.)

I won’t give examples. I think this is a salt to taste thing, mostly. Some people like action, where action means people are actively doing a lot of things. And in No Gods people are doing things. Sometimes it is action-ish. Sometimes it is two people baking bread and one person’s hand gets burned and they both learn something? I can’t say why that’s plot to me, but it is.

Why am I doing this to you?

I really don’t know. I read faster books than this and love them because they’re plotty. I read a LOT of Urban Fantasy books before deciding I wanted to do one. Faith Hunter’s Soulwood series is a favorite.

People make this separation by saying one thing is “literary” and another thing is “genre” or “commercial” or whatever. I hate these line because I see extreme levels of craft in plot-rich books. It takes skill to do plot and character and slip big ideas in.

When I sit down to write, ideas crowd the page, too. And because I have all these ideas, I want to represent them somehow. Sometimes, I’ll flat-out use bee analogies. Other times I bury it in themes. Other times people feel a lot, or imply feelings via subtext. For me, that’s action, movement. This stuff is valuable in my real life and so I give it lots of space in fiction.

Really this point isn’t as important as the other two, but if you read this and it feels like nothing is happening and/or makes you think, “Am I missing something?” You’re not. That’s just what this is.

(EDIT (that is also sort of a SPOILER for future books): Structurally this trilogy will be broken down thusly: Book One: The People. Book Two: The Monsters. Book Three: The Gods. There’s some crossover in each book, of course, but the concerns shift accordingly. Also, each book can be thematically summarized thusly: Revelation, Reckoning, Reconciliation. Each of these aren’t clear-cut. This is the sort of stuff that makes my skin itch to say, but it might help calibrate expectations.

***

Writing books are hard, so a big part of surviving the process is chasing the joy.

And selling a book is primarily about selling the things people get excited about and hoping that folks stick around for the other things you’ve slipped in (or packed in so hard the thing won’t close).

If none of this is helpful, I’m still sorry. But thank you for coming to this thing I made anyway. Hope I catch you some other time. Also, have you read The Lesson? Shameless plug to read The Lesson.

(But maybe don’t because the above things are also true-ish of The Lesson.)

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