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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Stern Agony--The Premise

      In sum, Stern Agony is a story of a man's life, a man who begins this journey as a precocious teen, living in wealth and privilege, but also mired in alcoholism, drug addiction and abuse. What will become of Shaw Pence and his beloved Hollows Ranch?

    The premise of my novel demonstrates that life is indeed just a game and nothing more--and everything more--that whatever happens in life is simply what happens. It's in how we move forward that we find significance. 

     Stern Agony demonstrates that what ‘will happen’ is key to a fully lived life, and what 'will happen' is entirely dependent on us. The main character of our lives is us; we are cause and effect for everything--the good, the bad, the random. What didn't happen, what could have happened, or might have, or should have, or did, are simply old stories we tell ourselves, barren landscapes littered with useless objects best ignored, twice told tales of failure, of acclaim, of excuse. Our past is not prologue; our past is dead to us.

The world is, in fact, but a stage; the things in it are givens. Our intention is our through-line, and the point of it all is change and understanding. Without change there can be no depth, no progress, no understanding, and we remain forever and always at the shallow end in a pool of excuses. Without purpose and intention, without challenge and change, we may as well be stalled boats on a pond, and when the water dries up, dead trees. 

     It's what we intend to do, will do, actually do, that's important. Just having understanding, and nothing more, no desire, no purpose, no movement, is like having a fervent desire to do something never done--and then never doing it. We must keep our sails furled, harnessing the wind, our ship sailing toward shore, because someday the lake bed will shrivel and crack. 

Just ask Shaw Pence.

1. The poem Thanatopsis, by William Cullen Bryant serves as a source for the novel's title, Stern Agony.
Following are the relevant passages, as alluded to on page 102 of the novel, wherein the poem serves as a clue to Gramp's hidden treasure:

"To him who in the love of Nature holds   
Communion with her visible forms, she speaks   
A various language; for his gayer hours   
She has a voice of gladness, and a smile   
And eloquence of beauty, and she glides   
Into his darker musings, with a mild   
And healing sympathy, that steals away   
Their sharpness, ere he is aware. When thoughts   
Of the last bitter hour come like a blight   
Over thy spirit, and sad images   
Of the stern agony, and shroud, and pall,   
And breathless darkness, and the narrow house,   
Make thee to shudder, and grow sick at heart;—   
Go forth, under the open sky, and list   
To Nature’s teachings, while from all around— 
Earth and her waters, and the depths of air— 
Comes a still voice—"...

2. The co-progatongist's name, Cassie (short for Cassandra) was chosen purposely from the ancient greek Myth of Cassandra, alluded to in Homer's Iliad and elsewhere in literature. The myth is mentioned by Gramp and it would behoove readers to familiarize with the Myth:

Cassandra was a daughter of King Priam and of Queen Hecuba of Troy in Greek mythology. In modern usage her name is employed as a rhetorical device to indicate someone whose accurate prophecies are not believed by those around them.
In an effort to seduce her, Apollo gave Cassandra the power of prophecy: when she refused him, he spat into her mouth to inflict a curse that nobody would ever believe her prophecies, despite their complete accuracy. She falls asleep in a temple, and snakes lick inside her ears so that she can hear the future.
Cassandra is a literary figure in epic tradition and tragedy.

3. Legend of sacred Native American burial grounds.  Indigenous peoples thrive on traditions of merging with the land, physically and spiritually. After death, restless spirits can be trespassed and wronged. Native Americans are more present and powerful in their burial and sacred places, because they have merged their essence with the land itself and the land spirits there. And when the land is damaged, disturbed, built on...the spirits, the land, nature, revolts. The average American feels that when they die, they go to heaven or hell, or somewhere else. The traditional Native American may have an idea of a distant "happy hunting ground" but also that some part of their spirit is fused within the land, especially where they are buried. Stern Agony explores this idea when Shaw and Zella unearth artifacts in a cave on Hollows Ranch, unleashing the Myth of the Wet Man

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