Not in some abstract, incomprehensible way we tend to think of the divine, but in some genuine physical form. Not just a vague presence or an omnipotent watchmaker or even a warm, fuzzy feeling in your soul. No, I’m talking about a real guy who you might see walking down the street. For thousands of years, this was the conception of divine forces. Not as abstract ideas, but as people you could meet. They didn’t give two damns about faith because they didn’t need it. They were jealous, petty, cruel, and often clueless. In short, they were a lot like us.
This is where my novel, Divine Misfortune, sprang from. What if this ancient concept of gods was the world we still lived in today, and the gods of old were still part of our world? I’ve often heard people say they have a “personal relationship with God” (however they want to classify that), and it always brings two thoughts to my mind.
ONE: This is a fairly radical concept and a new one. A peasant in the Dark Ages was unlikely to believe God was really looking out for him. God took care of the big stuff and left the unimportant stuff to the king, who was probably a jerk but that was just the way it was.
TWO: What if your personal relationship with the divine came with all the problems and obligations implied. In short, what if Zeus asked to crash at your place for a few days?
Divine Misfortune is not a book about religion. It’s not even a satire of such. The world of Divine Misfortune is simply too different from our own to have much to say about religion in our world. There’s no faith, for example. Having faith in Zeus, Set, or Ogbunabali makes as much sense as believing that Brad Pitt or President Obama only exists as long as you believe they do. We know these folks are real, and we don’t expect to debate their existence.
Another difference is that the gods in Divine Misfortune make no claims at infallibility. Even if they did, their mortal followers would know they were lying. The gods of this world make mistakes. Many, many mistakes. And nobody expects them to be perfect. They’re just hoping to gain a little extra divine favor without getting smote in the process.
I started writing the novel with a few vague ideas. I wanted to have fun with the idea of gods walking among us in our modern world. Not hidden. Not forgotten. Just there. Gods who use the internet, love television, and go on awkward first dates just like the rest of us. I wanted to take the trials and tribulations of heroes of legend, plant those heroes in the suburbs, and have them deal with having gods around even when you’d rather not. Sometimes, it’s better to avoid the gods of old, but how do you do that once you’ve invited them into your house? And when deities clash in your living room, how do you avoid getting stepped on in the process?
That’s what inspired me to write Divine Misfortune. It might not have much to say about modern religion, but it does have a crackerjack scene of Quetzalcoatl sitting on a couch, watching Spanish soap operas, trying to figure what to do with his eternal life. And, really, can’t we all relate?