What Readers Are Saying
About The Darkest Eyes
"A tale with an excellent balance of emotion, wit and character, and with a walloping climax that had this reader swiping the iBook pages late into the night(s)."
Rita McDonough Jenkins
"Who wouldn't be drawn to Will? She's got it all -- brains, beauty, and the body of an Olympic athlete."
Jane Taylor Jarvis
"Almost mythological in nature, it begs readers to consider their own humanity, good vs. evil, intellectual and personal creativity, environmental issues, politics, and more."
The Darkest Eyes
Will Roan is at the top of her game career-wise. She's a deep-sea submersible pilot who's brainy, daring and cool. Her personal life couldn't be more different. For as long as she can remember, she's seen little gray aliens lurking in the shadows, watching her, stalking her. Will has managed to keep them a secret, but that has meant sacrificing a lot.
Presenting a sane exterior to the world has meant that she could never get too close to anyone, and she could never settle in anywhere. Physically and emotionally, she's always been on the run. Lately, though, the grays have been threatening to tear down the wall Will has erected between her inner life and the real world. They've been relentless in their pursuit of her, infringing on the semblance of normalcy she's constructed.
When a particularly frightening encounter costs Will her job, she makes her way home. She's just in time for her dying mother -- her dying, crazy mother -- to give her an object that could explain away Will's madness or draw her inextricably into its clutches. A beautifully carved crystal skull holds the answers to the mystery of Will's life, her mother says. She can use it to cross a portal to Atlantis -- her real home.
Will's first instinct is to run, but her flight is interrupted when her beloved young niece disappears, the apparent victim of the aliens who have been tormenting Will. When Will decides to take the plunge into the unknown to find young Becky, she faces a multitude of challenges. Can she rescue the child? Can she trust the man who suddenly shows up to help her on her quest? Is she sane? Is anything she's experiencing real? Is it possible that the fate of three worlds could depend on her?
How The Darkest Eyes Came to Be
When I began writing The Darkest Eyes, I didn't aim to write in any particular genre. In fact, I didn't think about it. If that was a mistake, then oops.
My 610-page first novel started out nearly a quarter of a century ago as an admittedly lousy screenplay. I had just been accepted to the Graduate Screenwriting Program at the University of Southern California, and I was gung ho. I wanted to enter a contest, but there was very little time to hash out a script. Having never written one, I was undaunted.
I don't know exactly where I got the inspiration for the story. I never can answer that question, though. Stories come from a hidden well within. They bubble up from the unconscious. I suppose I'm better than some at fishing for them. I start thinking or speaking or writing, and the stories come right along. That part isn't difficult for me. Going back to what I've poured onto the page and mercilessly whipping it into shape is what's tough.
I didn't have time to go through a proper revision process with that first screenplay, and I wouldn't have known how, having been quite ignorant then about the form. There must have been something there, though, because the characters I had hurriedly constructed wouldn't leave me the eff alone.
I found myself thinking about those characters and their story at odd moments. I had created them and then left them in very sorry condition. They had something to say, but I had duct-taped their mouths.
I wrote more and better screenplays, but my ambition to become a screenwriter was unfulfilled. After floundering for a while, I succumbed to the lure of a regular paycheck and began working as a technology editor, which turned out to be an excellent career choice.
I still felt the creative writing itch, but there was precious little time to scratch it. At one point, when I was feeling particularly gloomy about having no time to indulge my creative side, I decided to take an important piece of advice: Write for one hour a week.
Finding an hour was something I knew I could manage -- but what could I possibly write in such a fragmented way? It came to me that I could write a novel based on that old, messy screenplay. I could use it as a blueprint. I could jump into the project for just an hour a week because the story was already there.
Not So Fast
At first, it was as easy as I'd imagined it would be, and I soon was writing for more than an hour a week. I was commuting to work by bus back then, and later by train, and I used that time to fill many notepads.
The more I got into the project, the more it changed. Finally liberated, my characters exploded into action that at times surprised me. New characters showed up. The story grew and morphed. It took years, but I finally came to the end of my tale, and I was ready to break into the publishing world.
I sent out a great many query letters. I mailed chapters to interested agents. I received a handful of rejections couched in praise and encouragement, and a bunch more that were simple no's -- hold the sugar-coating. Mostly, I got silence.
After a while, I decided to begin writing a new book, and I was happily ensnared by a different story. The new book would be much easier to market, I felt sure, and then when the agents mobbed me with "What else have you got?" I'd have The Darkest Eyes to show them.
That next book was interrupted by a family tragedy. It was a long time before I felt like writing again. Everything had changed.
Enter Kindle Publishing
Some years later, although I was still not writing, I started to think about publishing. Amazon had made it ridiculously easy to self-publish a book. I should go ahead and offer The Darkest Eyes to the world, I thought. After all, it was already written.
It would need just a little polishing, I told myself. As I began what I expected to be a light edit, a funny thing happened. I realized that the story wasn't right. In fact, the whole last third of it was really wrong.
Fixing The Darkest Eyes was both a miserable and a glorious experience -- miserable because I felt the whole thing unraveling on me at times, and glorious because I was able to catch the threads in my trembling hands and weave them into something that made sense and felt powerful.
It took more years to finish the book for a second time, and then I had to go back and edit it again, and again, to address all the small stuff. I almost couldn't stop editing. That can be a deadly obsession with a 610-page book.
It was only when I started distributing it to early readers, when I was forced to put into a few paragraphs -- or lines -- what the book was about, that I started thinking seriously about the genre. Someone said, "there are aliens, so it's science fiction," and I went with that.
At launch, I began marketing The Darkest Eyes as a science fiction alien encounter book -- sort of. To hedge, I described it as "sci fi/fantasy," and boiled it down to "Alice in Wonderland Meets Communion."
When I saw the other books Amazon surrounded it with, though, I was uncomfortable. Mine was the odd book out. It reminded me of that Sesame Street bit: "One of these things is not like the others."
I started looking into the descriptions of various genres and quickly realized that The Darkest Eyes does not fit well in any genre, although it incorporates elements of many.
These are some of the things it definitely is:
Adventure (a heroic quest, journey through unknown terrain, powerful object, rescue, defeat of a monster, hostile environment, battle for survival)
Romantic suspense (woman in peril must learn to trust someone with whom she becomes romantically involved)
Horror (supernatural threats, visceral experiences)
Mystery (puzzle must be solved)
Psychological suspense (unfolding of a nightmare -- what is real and what is imaginary?)
Science fiction (speculative -- blurring of myth and fact, extraterrestrial life)
Fantasy -- (imaginary worlds, portal crossing, alternative reality, paranormal abilities, mythological underpinnings, epic conflict, good vs. evil)
So, The Darkest Eyes clearly is cross-genre. It's not literary fiction, because even though it does tackle some big, complex issues, the emphasis is on action rather than ideas. It's fast-paced and adrenaline fueled.
That leaves general fiction, or mainstream fiction, which is driven by a mix of genre and literary fiction techniques. The Darkest Eyes has a strong premise and a hook. It has well-developed characters who drive a clear plot arc. It offers insights and perspectives about the human condition and the state of the world, but they don't overshadow the story. It blends transparent language with passages that are more literary in tone, but it's accessible and easy to read.
Whew. Who knew that after years of creating my epic tale, I would have to go through labor pains to figure out what species I'd given birth to?
I still think the "Alice in Wonderland Meets Communion" tag line works -- but it might work just for me. It might not be appealing enough to rope in a general audience. I'll have to think harder about how to do that.
Or maybe not. As the Gryphon said, "No, No! The adventures first. Explanations take such a dreadful time."
A Taste of The Darkest Eyes
Following are a few select passages from the book.
Will Roan has just been sprung from the local jail, in a wildly inexplicable fashion, by a man she's never seen before -- someone enlisted by her desperate sister, whose daughter has disappeared. Will's mind is roiling with possible explanations for the stranger's presence as they speed out of town, and her behavior reflects her high anxiety:
They drove in silence.
"You're confused," Danzer finally said. It was less a response to her than a general observation. To Will, it felt condescending.
Polly glanced back toward her sister. "He's not --"
"Watch the road!" Danzer warned. The car was drifting toward the oncoming lane, which currently was occupied by a semi.
Polly regained control. "It's not what you think," she said to Will. "You've got to trust us."
"Right," Will muttered. "I suppose I should just settle back and enjoy my jailbreak while another nut case spins tales of the lost civilization of Atlantis conveniently located at the bottom of the neighborhood mud hole."
"It's all the same to me," Danzer said. "Back home I'm considered a nut case for spinning tales of the lost civilization of Earth. I don't really care what anyone believes."
"Polly, you really have to start doing a better job picking your men."
Her desperate flight has taken Will, in the company of her sister and a man she barely knows, to the deep water hole in the woods known as the "Bottomless Pool." With authorities hot on their heels, the three dive in.
"Will awakened under a canopy of stars. Judging from the positions of the constellations, she was somewhere in Africa. She wasn't sure in what sense she was waking up, though. Perhaps she was experiencing an extremely lucid dream. Or perhaps time had passed -- months, years even -- and she was stirring from the depths of a coma, the galaxies above her no more than remembrances of patterns behind the lids of long-shuttered eyes. Maybe centuries had passed, and ape scientists were hovering over her, thrilled at having cloned a more-or-less intact representative of the extinct human race."
Newly arrived in Atlantis, Will hears an ancient tale that explains the origin of the parallel worlds. Here's a snippet of the story:
"The boy tried pointing his tilleen many times -- many ways, at many trees. His efforts were in vain. Then he wondered if he had to find the exact tree, and he became certain that he must, and that caused him great despair because he had been wandering for days and had no idea how to retrace his steps. Night was falling, and the boy was cold and hungry and wanted his mother. He fought back tears, squeezing his eyes shut. When he opened them, he saw a curious light in the distance.
"He walked toward the light as it approached him, growing larger and more distinct. It was a lovely glowing ball, spinning and dancing among the trees, swirling with every color of the rainbow. The boy followed the light as it wound through the forest, sure that it meant salvation. After many hours of pursuit, the boy was rewarded. The light stopped moving. It ascended into the branches of one particular tree, causing it to glow brilliantly in the dark forest. Without hesitation, the boy pointed his tilleen at the tree, thought of home, and tumbled back into Atlantis."