Posts Tagged ‘Hell’

Go to (artistic) Hell

October 25, 2022

Like the real world isn’t scary enough these days? Now I’m asking you to join me in visiting Hell?

Hold on. This is *artistic* Hell—how artists across history and cultures have depicted a punishing afterlife. And it’s really interesting. It can even be a fun, momentary diversion from the genuinely scary things like politics, climate change, Putin’s war on Ukraine, etc.

I’ve just launched Facebook and Instagram feeds on the art of Hell. You can find them on either of those social media at @hell_scapes. Here are links to the Facebook page, and to the Instagram account. We’ll explore some works that may be familiar to you (Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights) and some that are likely to be completely unfamiliar (a 15th century Central Asian image of Muhammed at the gates of Hell).

Garden of Earthly;y Delights
Vision of Hell by Heironymous Bosch, in his Garden of Earthly Delights triptych (late 1400s, in the Prado Museum).
Muhammed rides towards red gates that mark the entrance to a fiery Hell
Muhammed (with the turban) approaching the gates of Hell, on a mystical steed called a buraq. From a 15th century illuminated manuscript of Nahj al-Faradis, or The Path to Paradise. From the Timurid Empire, which encompassed today’s Iran. Iraq and much of Central Asia. Image from the David Collection in Copenhagen (inventory # 14/2014), photographed by Pernille Klemp.

Why am I doing this? My fantasy novel Shaken Loose, which will be published in summer 2023, is set in Hell. In doing research for it—yes, writing about an imaginary place did require research!—I ran across a lot of intriguing, moving, gruesome, or just plain bizarre paintings and sculptures.

These images tell stories of what the artist and their society valued and condemned. And of what they feared: After all, they were trying to depict the Worst Punishment Imaginable. They tell us something about the artist’s own self: Were they gloating at those tormented souls as they painted them in flames or chains? Were they feeling compassionate? Rebellious? Confident about their own destiny, or worried?

These images also raise related questions about ourselves. Why have we humans felt such a widespread need to imagine a punitive afterlife? Of course we yearn for justice that may not manifest itself in our lifetime. But does justice always require punishment? How about our criminal justice system today: Can we imagine and implement a form of justice that isn’t centered on the infliction of pain and suffering?

Painting of souls in purgatory
Souls in purgatory, from the Hours of Catherine of Cleves, an illuminated manuscript created around 1440 in the Netherlands. In the Morgan Library. The Hellmouth is a common motif in medieval European art.

I invite you to follow either the Instagram or Facebook feed. (They have the same content.) Beyond that, I invite you to help! Think of it as a Hell Art Scavenger Hunt. If you’re visiting a museum and find a painting or sculpture of Hell, take a photo of it along with its informational plaque and send them to me. I will credit you as the “finder” of this treasure.

You can expect one or two posts each week — not enough to overwhelm, just enough to provide a moment of whimsical or thought-provoking relief from work Zooms, stalled commuter trains, or bad news headlines.

Join me in Hell! For fun and relaxation! Meet you at the fiery gates. Or cave. Or jaws.

You can find purgatory in suburban Connecticut. Photo by Ilana DeBare

Book contract!

February 1, 2022

Did you hear the shouts reverberating through your modem?

I have a publisher!

I’ve signed a contract with Hypatia Press to publish my two-book fantasy series, Shaken Loose.  

No, this is not a specifically Jewish book. But it did indirectly grow out of some of the issues we’ve explored together in this blog—such as the contradiction between a supposedly just God and a universe so full of injustice. 

This moment has been a long time coming. I started writing Shaken Loose in 2014, at which point I envisioned a single book. I began querying agents in 2017 with no luck, did several rewrites, realized it needed a sequel, queried more agents with no luck, hired a developmental editor and did more rewrites, gave up on agents, and finally moved on to small presses that allow you to submit without an agent.

Now here we are at the start of 2022, and these books finally have a home. Hypatia Press is a newish small press dedicated to “quality irreligious publishing,” which is a perfect description of Shaken Loose

This is Connecticut. Not my book. Photo: Ilana DeBare

It’s set in a dystopic afterlife—a Hell that includes both truly evil people and anyone from throughout history who was not a baptized Christian. Yep, that would include me. And billions of other folks. Maybe you? It’s more fascinating than grim as the modern, secular Bay Area protagonist encounters 4th century Hun tribesmen and Chinese revolutionaries and Jim Crow-era segregationists and, of course, Satan. 

And viewed today—as opposed to when I started writing back in 2014—it’s a relaxing, almost benign kind of dystopia! There is absolutely nothing in there about Covid or Trump or climate change. 

Maybe this is the start of a new genre: “Escapist dystopia.”  :-) 

The tentative publication date is summer 2023. Now I start a new stage of this process—marketing. I need to create an author web page, solicit promotional blurbs from other writers, develop a social media strategy, maybe start an additional blog that is more focused on fiction than this one. Not as much fun as writing the actual books, but at least I have a long lead time to work on it.

I’ll keep you posted! And at some point, probably early next year, I’d love your help in spreading the word.