As I may have mentioned ad nauseum, there’s a new book out on the market that I had a hand in. Europa’s Cry…An Angel’s Tale was a project brought to me by award-winning artist Michael Apice and I consider it to be one of the best things I’ve ever written.
I met Michael at the 2004 Pittsburgh Comicon. Like most of the big time artists I know, I was introduced to him by stunt-woman and model Jasi Lanier, who was working with the likes of Joe Jusko, Dave Nestler and Jeff Pittarelli at the time. Michael and his colleague, Romik Safarian, were a couple of good-natured Long Islanders with contagious accents and sick senses of humor. They were both putting on art demonstrations throughout the weekend and I got to watch, over a period of a few hours, Mike airbrush this gorgeous painting of an angel. As he and Jasi talked, he mentioned that he was looking for a writer to work on this very personal story he wanted to tell. He’d been through four or five different guys and while they were all talented, they weren’t interested in the story he wanted to tell. They kept wanting to take it into different directions, away from his concept. “One guy wanted to turn it into a cyberpunk story,” he said. “And that wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
So Jasi grabbed me and dragged me over to his booth. At this point, both Amy and I were used to this behavior from Jasi. She’s a match-maker at heart. So many of the contacts we have in the industry directly resulted from Jasi intervention. Michael and I talked and continued to talk for the rest of the weekend. The story he wanted to tell was the story of an angel sent to Earth by God to “minister to the sick”—i.e., people fallen so far from the path to Heaven that this angel, Europa, was literally their last hope. “Not the people on Touched by an Angel, who are basically good but lost their way. I mean the people Jesus searched out—lepers, murderers, thieves, the ones who are basically damned already but can still be saved.”
At first I wasn’t initially interested. If you read my stuff regularly, you already know I consider myself a “Recovering Catholic” and an agnostic teetering on the brink of atheism. Sometimes that happens when you grow up in one faith and start studying others. Mike, however, was a hard-core, to-the-soul Christian.
But the story intrigued me because it wasn’t specifically a Christian story. Yes, he had the central conceit of angels and Archangels, God and Jesus, but at the heart, the Europa story was one of redemption—not only of human beings but for Europa herself. Like all great speculative stories, Europa, being not of this world, would be the perfect mirror for humanity. When I told Michael I wasn’t interested in writing bible stories for adults, he didn’t even bat an eye but basically repeated back to me the above. The idea wasn’t to make this preachy or even religious. The stories should be about faith, in a higher being and in our fellow men. Why are we here and what are we supposed to do? The core of all fiction, really. And through these ideas I realized I had a way to explore the nature of my own tentative faith.
I’m fairly well-versed in the bible and have studied bits of kabalistic gospels, not to mention The Divine Comedy (as both a literal and satirical poem), Milton’s Paradise Lost, a smattering of Geoffrey of Monmouth and a whole lot of Gaiman’s Sandman. Other things, too, started to swirl around in my head as I turned the story around. So much could be drawn from to enrich these stories so as to speak to readers of any faith. As long as you believe in the central conceit—“God” sent “an angel” to us in modern times—but stayed away from proselytizing as much as possible, we really could have something very, very special on our hands.
Through our conversations, and a few phone calls over the next few days, I had a basic idea of what he wanted and banged out a first draft in a couple of days. We decided to go for broke with the first story—Europa’s initial mission would be to try and save a pedophile.
Which meant I would have to get into the head of a type of person I found abhorrent on a personal level and try to understand him psychologically and emotionally. I couldn’t make him an abject villain, a hand-rubbing Fagin lurking in the shadows of an elementary school. How the hell would a reader relate to him then? Who would care if he were doomed to hell or not. The people I’ve met through the years who were pedophiles, you’d never know it by talking to them. That’s the primary terror as pedophiles don’t go around with flashing signs over their heads indicating that’s what they are. They carry this secret, horrible shame under a veil of intense rationalization and cognitive dissonance. If I could get the audience to sympathize with this character, even a little, then we might have a chance with this proposed series.
Even though the story and writing came easily, I worked harder on Europa’s Cry than I had on anything previous. Because it was something that I felt could be very important. If not to readers than at least to Michael and me. Thankfully, Michael provided me with a character through which I could express my own opinions (as Europa operates very much in his voice) in the form of the devil in female form: Patience. Using Patience as her own personal advocate, I could introduce moral dilemmas without having to worry about the prose turning evangelical. And though we have the angels referring to God as “the Father”, we’re going to address the nature of God as well in subsequent stories. And what’s so amazing is that Michael Apice is allowing me the license to do this, to work out my own issues at the same time as following his storyline and utilizing his faith as the backbone.
What we both hope to achieve with this series, should it catch on (and even if it doesn’t), is help people understand that it’s okay to question. It’s okay to feel doubts, and it’s okay to find solace, in your faith, whatever it may be. Especially if, like me, you’re not 100% sure what you believe in. Because ultimately, the Europa stories, as we have them tentatively mapped out, really asks what we, as individuals and as a culture, believe to be right and wrong. Was God wrong to give mankind souls and Free Will, as Patience believes, because we aren’t worthy? Are we worthy of this gift? That was the foundation of the first war in Heaven—it was fought over our existence. Did the winning side really win?
It took a long time to get Europa’s Cry from concept to page. Because that it’s neither fish nor foul—not strictly Christian but not strictly anything else—we opted to put it out ourselves and it took a while before technology caught up to our desires. It wasn’t until recently that print-on-demand was affordable, manageable or even reputable. Now it’s no different than self-distributing your own movies. All the hard work is on our shoulders but, of course, it always was.
I’m looking forward to doing more of these and I hope everyone who reads the first story finds something of value in it. We’ve already had one person tell us that it’s “offensive” to Christians, even though a Christian was the motivating force behind it. To which we replied, “If your faith can be shaken by one piece of fiction, maybe it wasn’t that strong to begin with.”
I still haven’t figured out what I ‘believe’ to any concrete degree, and I wished I saw things more through Europa’s eyes, with her unyielding devotion to “the Father”. Unfortunately, I tend to see the world more from Patience’s point of view. Hopefully, that can change the more I write.
If nothing else, Europa’s Cry is worth picking up solely for the six pieces of Michael’s artwork. If you do decide to pick it up, it’s a quick read at 40 pages. Right now it’s available through Amazon and through our personal sites, mike-watt.net and michaelapice.com. If you order through us, we’ll likely even sign it for you (I know I will). But feedback is what I’m most interested in. I want to know what you think.