I began writing what would become my first published novel, The Age of Apollyon, the week of Halloween in 2011. In the months prior, I had become enchanted with Gothic architecture after reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame, my musical sustenance was a steady diet of symphonic heavy metal, and I made the snap decision to finally write the story that had been simmering in my imagination after watching Underworld for the 10th time.
The Age of Apollyon was spawned from a very dark place. The story itself is an ultra-Gothic nightmare of cathedrals, graveyards, demons, and violence. The protagonist is actually a professing Satanist. I don’t know what exactly compelled me to write this grim tale and its sequels, but compelled is exactly what I was.
And it freaked me out.
I admit that there has always been a seed of darkness in my imagination. I’m attracted to Gothic imagery and things that are traditionally labeled “dark” (wearing black clothes, tattoos, extreme metal music, Gothic novels, etc.). However, I am not, nor have I ever been, a “Goth,” and in fact I consider myself to be a very laid-back and positive person. But in the deep places of my mind lies a shadow, one that I know I cannot indulge.
That’s why I was so apprehensive about writing a story like The Age of Apollyon. I’ve never been an addict but I’ve seen the struggle firsthand and I know the reluctance to “go there,” especially if it has had a negative effect on your life in the past. Since my story would incorporate many Satanic and occult elements, real and fictional, I had to open the gates and let the ghost and ghouls run free.
But that wasn’t the hardest part. I also did a lot of research on various forms of Satanism and the occult. I combed through books like The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey and The Book of the Law by Aleister Crowley. I examined symbols and images (who knows the difference between the sign of Baphomet and a simple pentagram?) and the names of demons, since in my story, Christian churches have been seized by the Church of Satan and renamed in honor of their infernal masters.
As I read and wrote, I was intrigued and repulsed at the same time. I felt a profound disturbance in my spirit, but I never felt convicted to stop writing. Despite the above description, the story is one of hope and redemption, and in order for the light to shine brightest, the darkness has to be pitch black. The Satanic world I created was certainly theatrical and infused with dramatic license, but I wanted the foundational truths to show through. Satan may disguise himself as an angel of light, but at his core, he is, to borrow Mickey Rourke’s descriptive phrase from The Expendables, “Dracula black.”
So I prayed. A lot. I’m not the kind of writer who gets too wrapped up in the emotions of the story that I’m writing (a “method writer”) but I could feel a shadow hovering over me as I wrote. I hope I did not bring any of that shadow into my relationships with my family and friends, and I was immensely relieved when I finished the trilogy two and a half years later.
I know my experience is not unique. Many writers go even further into darkness for their craft, often into subjects that are more grounded in reality, such as serial murder, rape, perversion, witchcraft, etc. Some have experienced them firsthand or interview people who have. I doubt they enjoy it, but as every writer knows, the story has to be told.
As I wrote, I made sure of one thing: the darkness I depicted was always portrayed as evil. I did not want to glorify Satan and his corruption, even though a large portion of my characters swore allegiance to him. But I also wanted to do this for myself. I wanted to convince myself once and for all that the light is indeed better than the darkness.
I know I’m going to “go there” again. The book I’m working on now is even more bleak, though from a historical perspective, and the book after that will go to the voodoo swamps of Louisiana. But having lived through The Age of Apollyon, I feel that I have better control over the shadows that slink and scurry through the caverns of my imagination. And darkness always flees before the light. John 1:5 reminds us: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (NASB).
If we venture into those dark places, we must always remember to keep the Light close.