Silas: Vampire and Guardian

Reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is an extremely emotional experience for me. Unlike many book lovers, I don’t make a point of rereading my favorite books every year or so. My “to read” list is so long that I just don’t seem to get around to it. But in the past two years I’ve read The Graveyard Book three times. I have purchased four copies of it and I know I’ll be buying at least two more (the audiobook and the two volume graphic novel). It’s easy for me to get lost in the poetic prose of one of my favorite authors, but the story and the characters reach for me in ways that make me want to hold the book to my chest like it was more teddy bear than paperback.graveyard-book

I love the characters. I love Bod, how strong and brave and foolish he is. How real he is. I love Mr. and Mrs. Owens and Miss Lupescu and Liza Hempstock. But most of all, I love Silas.

Silas, Bod’s guardian, is by far my favorite character. I love how he shelters Bod, protects him, and sees to his needs. I love how he is able to reach a point where he can see he’s sheltering him too much, and learns to let go so that Bod can grow into a man. I love how he can find the humility to apologize for the wrong he’s done. I love how real the love between Bod and Silas is, despite the lack of physical touch or open expression with words and phrases like “I love you.” In their final goodbye, they simply shake hands, but in that handshake so much is said, so much genuine love and affection. Silas’ love for Bod was so evident and unmistakable through Bod’s childhood that, to me, their one final handshake is as good as a thousand kisses and hours of cuddling. Neither of them show evidence of broken dissatisfaction in their parting, the kind that leads to permanent hurt and rifts, because they know they are completely loved and accepted by one another, even if that love always appeared in a less conventional way.

I’m jealous really. I’m jealous of what Bod was given by Silas. I’m jealous of the real love Bod was given in his childhood, not just by Silas, but the whole of the graveyard. All those wise loving departed souls that took a genuine interest in seeing Bod learn to live. They had lived their lives already, and instead of them taking the opportunity of a living boy residing in their midst to vicariously experience another lifetime, they chose only to assist him in learning to live his life on his own.

Cover of Vol. 1 of Graphic Novelization. Silas standing behind Bod.

Nobody has perfect parents, but I think it’s a damn shame when parents tell their children how to live the life God gave them. One of the jobs of a parent is to open the eyes of a child to the world, all the ways of living and being. It’s all well and good to decide in your child’s youth that this or that avenue would be good for them, but should they turn out to want something different for their life, if you respond by cutting down their dreams, force feeding them your views, and breaking their wings so they never learn to fly, or even fall, on their own, you’re not helping them to grow; you’re destroying them. You had your chance to live and choose. This is their life, their choices, all of them: good, bad, or indifferent.

Since my miscarriage, I frequently go back and forth on if I want to take another shot at having a child. I don’t know if I want children, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll be a rotten mother, but I think if I could be certain that I could be a mother like Silas, then that would be enough for me. For on the day my child picked up their bags to leave their childhood, I’d know they knew I loved them, even if it was in my own strange way. I’d know that I’d done everything to protect them from danger in their youth, until they were old enough to take care of themselves. I’d know that I wasn’t perfect, but that my willingness to apologize for my shortcomings had gained me my child’s respect, not censure. I’d know that they would miss me, and be grateful for my influence on their life. I’d know that they would never be afraid to come home, even if they’d made decisions that they knew I would disagree with. They’d know there was a still a place for them because they were loved, unconditionally.

I’m not under the illusion that Silas was somehow perfect. Perhaps the intensity of my current struggles has made me latch onto him a bit unreasonably, reading more into his and Bod’s interactions than was ever intended. Silas wasn’t perfect, but I can’t help but dream and wish that he could somehow have been my guardian too. I think this is what makes reading The Graveyard Book such an emotional experience for me, so that when I turn the last page my eyes are streaming tears and my heart is a twisted knot of hope, longing, and unrecoverable loss.

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illustration by Chris Riddell
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All Growed Up

I’ve been working on a young adult fantasy trilogy for over a year now. The way I have it plotted is in a sort of broken chronological order, meaning that book number 3 is meant to be published first followed by book 1 then 2.

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Book 3, entitled Immortal Bond, has been complete for over six months and placed to the side for additional work when I finish books 1, The Channeller, and book 2, My Brother’s KeeperThe Channeller is my current project (aside from copy editing Us which I am hoping to query for soon). I finished the first draft in early December 2015 and it was about 86,000 words. Working this series backwards has been interesting. I expected the world to morph and develop as I went through the series, and I knew that by the time I made it back to Immortal Bond there would be a lot more than just copy editing to do.

I just never imagined I’d have to redo the whole thing.

I was nearly done with The Channeller when I started saying to myself, “Wow, there’s some mature themes in this story. I better be careful.” Then the writer in me rolled her eyes and said, “Look just write what you need to write and you can tone it down later if you have to.” I let myself believe this, until one day I wrote something that I knew had to stay. It was a scene that told a lot about two characters, one of them, named Renaud, is key to my entire series. I read over the scene once or twice then took it blushingly to my husband.

“Hey honey,” I said as I handed him my laptop. “Can you just read that bit there and tell me what you think?”

He read it while I stared at his face, trying to gage his reaction. When he finished he turned to me and said, “It’s good, but this is not young adult anymore.”

I hadn’t prepped him for that reply which made him saying it all the more compelling. I spent the next few weeks with a nagging question in the back of my mind, “now what?”

After weeks of running Immortal Bond through my mental editor, I finally worked it out and came to this conclusion: The whole thing needs to grow up.

I don’t often plot on paper, just in my head with the occasional notes jotted here and there in my notebook or word document. But I went through all the key scenes and I am certain that I can mature them and grow up my characters (some of them literally). I even got excited about it, thinking that it will probably be better this way then my original idea.

However…

I am basically going to have to rewrite the whole thing from scratch. I already started. I’ve been making notes for rewrites of Immortal Bond as well as making notes for how this will effect My Brother’s Keeper (which is tecnically next on the agenda after The Channeller). I even took the time one day to rewrite a whole scene in Immortal Bond, the same scene that started my professional writing journey in July of 2013. It’s the scene that defines the whole story of Immortal Bond, everything else in the book bleeds out from that chapter, like an ink spot on a blank piece of paper.

It’s going to be a lot of work, but I’m a proud parent and I can’t wait to see what my baby will look like after I finish taking the YA out of her name.

© Rachel Svendsen 2016