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The Circles of Heck vs. Circles of Hell: A Primer in Pre-Teen Perdition

One of the top questions I am asked—second only to “How the hell did you get into my living room!?”—is “How is your AMAZING book series for middle-readers—Heck: Where the Bad Kids Go—inspired by Dante’s epic poem, Inferno?”

Well let’s go back a bit…In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over…okay, maybe that’s too far back. I’ll skip a bit.

It was, like, 2005 or something. A filmmaker friend of mine wanted to collaborate on an animated short about the devil—sort of a VH1’s Behind the Brimstone sort of thing—so I got to thinking, which is what I tend to do when I want to avoid actual work.

One of the nuggets I came up with was a Hell for children (thank you, Pat Benatar) that—of course—just had to be called Heck. It was loosely based on the structure of Dante’s Inferno, and the story just sort of grew organically from there. Since the subject material was so potentially bleak (even eternal darnation can still be something of a bummer), I wanted it to strike the proper tone between funny, silly, exciting, and meaningful.

So let us analyze the differences between Dante’s Hell and Dale’s (my) Heck:

• Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It chronicles the journey of Dante through the medieval concept of Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering.

• Heck (not quite “Hell) is a series of books for pre-teens, teens, and anyone who likes the dark and goofy. It chronicles the journey of Milton and Marlo Fauster through an underworld middle school. There is a character named Virgil. In Heck, there are nine circles of supreme irritation based on childish “sins.”

And, since we live in a distracted age and need simple things to hold our attention…what is that spot on my wall? Is it a spider? Oh…it’s just a squooshed spider. So I guess it was a spider but now…anyway, I made the following chart to illustrate the key differences between Dante’s Inferno and Heck:

Screen Shot 2014-02-21 at 10.26.32 AM

Now let’s dig deeper: in fact, all the way to the underworld! All aboard…

 LEVEL ONE

 Limbo: The First Circle of Hell

You are in Limbo, a place of sorrow without torment. Here, there are the virtuous pagans, the great philosophers and authors, un-baptized children, and others unfit to enter the kingdom of heaven. The atmosphere is peaceful, yet sad.

 

VS.

 

Limbo: The First Circle of Heck

Welcome to the most boring, dull, drab, awful, endless, monotonous place where you ever twiddled your thumbs and stared off into space. Limbo is like having a Time Out…forever. Everything moves soooooooo tortuously slow. But hey: at least the broken clocks are right twice a day. Now go wait in the corner and think about what you’ve done—for all eternity.

 

LEVEL TWO

 

Lust: The Second Circle of Hell

Here, sinners are blown around endlessly by the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire as punishment for their transgressions. The infernal hurricane that never rests hurtles the spirits onward. You have betrayed reason at the behest of your appetite for pleasure, and so here you are doomed to remain.

 

VS.

 

Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck

Gimme gimme gimme! Didn’t anybody ever tell you that greed would get you nowhere? Well…nowhere good at least. Welcome to Rapacia: Where you could never get enough, and what you did get is now completely worthless. Remember how you swore you’d die if you didn’t get it all? Well, be prepared to hand over all the pretty, shiny, glittery things you had to possess and obsess over. It’s the price you have to pay. Greed it and weep!

 

LEVEL THREE

 

Gluttony: The Third Circle of Hell

The gluttons are punished here, lying in the filthy mixture of shadows and of putrid water. Because you consumed in excess, you meet your fate beneath the cold, dirty rain, amidst the other souls that there lay unhappily in the stinking mud.

 

VS.

 

Blimpo: The Third Circle of Heck

You are what you eat…so you must be one sugary, salty mess of fudge, milkshakes, and curly chili fries with cheese! Welcome to Blimpo: Where your best friend is food and your gross lack of willpower is your worst enemy. You are all urge, and no purge. Never feel full? Get used to it—because this is one mess you can’t eat your way out of.

 

LEVEL FOUR

 

Greed: The Fourth Circle of Hell

Here, the prodigal and the avaricious suffer their punishment, as they roll weights back and forth against one another. You will share eternal damnation with others who either wasted and lived greedily and insatiably, or who stockpiled their fortunes, hoarding everything and sharing nothing.

 

VS.

 

Fibble: The Fourth Circle of Heck

White lies, whopping lies and everything in between makes you a liar, liar, pants on fire! You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth! Welcome to Fibble: Where believing your lies makes you the best liar of all. So go ahead: lie through your smiling teeth. Lie in wait. But, above all, lie low. You’ll be here awhile. Honest.

 

LEVEL FIVE

 

Anger: The Fifth Circle of Hell

Here are the wrathful and the gloomy. The former are forever lashing out at each other in anger, tearing each other piecemeal with their teeth. The latter are gurgling in the black mud, slothful and sullen. Their lamentations bubble to the surface as they try to repeat a doleful hymn.

 

VS.

 

Snivel: The Fifth Circle of Heck

Boo hoo. Who? You. Forever! Welcome to Snivel, where spilled milk is just one of the many things you’ll be crying about. It’s a place where the whining flows freely,  and no one cares about your moaning because they’re too busy groaning themselves. Now you’re really down in the dumps: way, way down!

 

LEVEL SIX

 

Heresy: The Sixth Circle of Hell

Burning tombs are littered about the landscape. Inside these flaming sepulchers suffer the heretics, failing to believe in God and the afterlife, who make themselves audible by doleful sighs. You will join the wicked that lie here, and will be offered no respite.

 

VS.

 

Precocia: The Sixth Circle of Heck

Your attempt to grow up too fast only made you go down, down, down way before your time. Welcome to Precocia, where the bad kids who don’t think they’re kids go. Every day is Freaky Friday where your salad days are served with a sneeze guard, meaning, no more kidding around. Ever.

 

LEVEL SEVEN

 

Violence: The Seventh Circle of Hell

The violent, the assassins, the tyrants, and the war-mongers lament in the river, while centaurs armed with bows and arrows shoot those who try to escape their punishment. The stench here is overpowering.

 

VS.

 

Wise Acres: The Seventh Circle of Heck

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but down here, words hurt far, far more. Welcome to Wise Acres where those with sharp tongues can cut deep. It’s the place for kids who sass back with a vengeance. So, if this sounds like you, then get ready for the ultimate war of words, and pray that you never run out of ammunition.

 

LEVEL EIGHT

 

Fraud: The Eighth Circle of Hell

Those guilty of fraudulence and malice are whipped by horned demons while the hypocrites struggle to walk in lead-lined cloaks. The magicians, diviners, fortune tellers, and panderers are all here, as are the thieves.

 

VS.

 

Sadia: The Eighth Circle of Heck

The foulest of the foul. The most brutal of the brutal. Welcome to Sadia, a place where the end always justifies the mean. Here, you’ve got to be cruel to be a kid, because the golden rule is an iron-fist. Think you can roll with the punches? Well, here’s hoping you don’t bruise easily.

 

LEVEL NINE

 

Treachery: The Ninth Circle of Hell

This is the deepest level of hell, where the fallen angel Satan himself resides. His wings flap eternally, producing chilling cold winds. Sinners here are frozen deep in the ice, faces out, eyes and mouths frozen shut. Traitors against God, country, and family, lament their sins in this frigid pit of despair.

 

VS.

 

Dupli-City: The Ninth Circle of Heck

Friend or faux? Welcome to Dupli-City, where every kid puts their best face forward: both of them. Treachery, manipulation, and betrayal are always in fashion. It’s a place where you’ve always got to watch your back, becomes there’s always someone ready to stab you in it. And, after an eternity spent here, you may just find that your own worst frenemy is yourself.

 

 

So, the moral of all this is: ALWAYS READ THE FINE PRINT. In fact: read EVERYTHING! Be it the work of a long-dead Italian poet ruminating about a fantastical spiritual journey, or a middle-aged wise guy who likes his satire served with a side of groan-inducing puns. So read whatever you can get your hands on, even the bitter and dark because—without that—how would we truly appreciate sweetness and light?

 

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Tunes from Heck!

Longtime Heckler Jordan Knapp is a young musician from Georgia without what you would call “formal” training yet has an undeniable talent for composition…a Danny Elfboy, perhaps. Here is his latest composition, or “decomposition” actually since it’s for Heck, called “Enter Bea ‘Elsa’ Bubb.” Be sure to check it out!

Judge This Book By Its Cover

Fibble: The Fourth Circle of Heck comes out in paperback in April. To celebrate, all of the Heck books (well…maybe not the first one) will be given new covers. Nothing huge, just tweaked and simplified. Here’s the new Fibble cover. What do you think? Can you spot the differences?

Fibble: The Fourth Circle of Heck Nominated for Pulitzer Prize!


Not really, but here’s a cool little video trailer for the book.

Rapacia: The Second Circle of Heck Nominated for Oregon Book Award!

Though speechless, I hope very much that I will be allowed to give a speech! Check it out: apparently, readers will be able to have their say too, so don’t be shy! This is way cool, practically uber cool. Here’s a little background on the awards:

“The Oregon Book Awards are presented annually for the finest accomplishments by Oregon writers who work in genres of poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, drama and young readers literature. All finalists are promoted in libraries and bookstores across the state, and invited to take part in the Oregon Book Awards Author Tour, which brings finalists to public libraries and independent bookstores in towns including North bend, Eugene, Newport and Astoria. Oregon Book Awards Special Awards honor some of the state’s most dedicated supporters and lovers of books.”

Heck Nominated for Oregon Reader’s Choice Award!


The Oregon Reader’s Choice Award is an exciting way for discriminating Oregon 4th—12th graders to choose their favorite book in a real-life democratic process.

Oregon students, teachers, and librarians are all able to nominate books based upon a number of criteria, including literary quality, creativity, reading enjoyment, reading level, and regional interest.

This spring, students will decide the winner! Cross your fingers, toes, hooves, and barbed tails!

And, until then, check out the Heck Discussion Guide, courtesy of the Multnomah County Library.

In Which I Answer Your Pressing Questions


By far the most frequent question posed to me as a writer—aside from my favorite research tool (Google), my preferred way of viewing attractive people (Ogle), what a group of geese is called (Gaggle), and my favorite lady (Gaga)—is “Mr. Bayse (always spelled wrong…always), how are crop circles made?” To which I would answer, there are two ways to make a crop circle:

1) Make one yourself.

Tools

First, you will need the following supplies:
• Two planks attached together at the end by a rope
• A two-foot long marking pole
• One hundred feet of plastic surveying tape
• An OS Pathfinder map, with detailed field boundaries and pathways
• Infrared glasses (not necessary if sufficient moonlight is available)
• A plastic garden roller

Field Work

Choose a field: something that will conceal your flagrantly illegal act yet is still visible enough come the dawn to draw the media attention you so crave.

Round and Round You Go

Drop off the planks and roller near the site by some identifiable marker that you can find in the darkness. Park your vehicle away from your site as to not arouse suspicion. Walk back to the site to the point at which you have previously decided will be the center of your design. Move to this point using tractor lines. From the center of your circle about six feet from the nearest tractor line, spin around in a tight circle on one foot while dragging the crop down with the other. Place the marking pole at the center and attach the tape before walking out to your predetermined radius. Walk the perimeter, dragging one foot as you go to leave a trail, until you return to your starting point.

Next, get out the planks and roller and get to work! The planks are ideal for angular, detailed work while the roller is a powerful ally in covering a great deal of ground while lending subtle curves. A circle flattened from the inside out will create something called a “radial lay,” while the reverse will approximate a concentric flow. For added credibility, try to select a shape that has some mathematical or mythical importance (i.e. nothing obscene or related to your college football mascot).

Before you finish your formation, always check for accidentally cast human detritus such as beer cans and cigarette butts: anything that researchers will not likely associate with higher life forms. By carrying with you either a magnetometer or calibrated dowsing rod, you can leave behind a confounding electromagnetic residue. Extra points for mysterious, anomalous goo or chemical substances left in the middle of your creation: the nougaty center of your perplexing, paranormal riddle.

The second way to make a crop circle is…

2) Make contact with a technologically advanced extraterrestrial race.

• After contact is made, decide on a common language (I suggest Esperanto or a binary-based language…in a pinch that catchy melody from Close Encounters of the Third Kind can get a dialog going).
• Next, submit a shape that you think would make a compelling field of dreams (or nightmares). Most extraterrestrial races are more than willing to work with you on shape development for a minimal surcharge. Sometimes you can get “two-for-one” deals where they throw in shape design as an incentive. Hold your ground. Many aliens will attempt to charge you an arm, several legs and what appears to be a pronged tail.
• During the shape review process, be sure to ensure that your shape affects on an emotional level; uses complex codes to communicate a new language; or is strong enough to survive the inter-dimensional transfer process without compromising the design.
• Now the fun part: selecting a field. Cornfields make a bold statement, yet never underestimate the subtle sculpting properties of wheat. Most alien races have detailed maps of their favorite fields and regions, but don’t be afraid to bring a relatively new field to their attention. You are the artist and know best what canvas would prove most complimentary to your unique work of artistic expression. Also, take into account the collective psyche of the region you select and what would freak them out the most.
• Before your shape is transmitted, have your lawyer review your design and the trademark laws of the selected country, to ensure that no branding transgression has occurred (it is best to avoid anything remotely resembling a swoosh).
• Lastly, sit back and enjoy the pandemonium your weaving, inscrutable pattern of broken stems creates.

This approach, while intriguing, is expensive and may well incur the possibility of hostile extraterrestrials abducting you and your family while you sleep (most extraterrestrials receive their human medical training by playing Operation… and, as many of you know all too well, there is nothing colder than an alien probe).

For more information on writing, visit http://www.wherethebadkidsgo.com.

Oh, and here are some other questions that have recently come to my attention:

My writing process: Put off, freak out, write on.
The inspiration for my current book: my devotion to the Heck series and expanding/deepening the emotional world of the characters; contractual obligation.
One aspect of my current book that interested me the most: stretching wide the scope of Heck to accommodate all sorts of nasty layers and thinly veiled personal vendettas and agendas, especially the hamster wheel of consumerist society (“Mmm…Buy a Triple Bacon and Asbestos Cheeseburger and be Momentarily Happy today!” “Buy ‘Frighteningly Thin Celebrity Magazine’ today!” “Buy the ‘I Am, Surprisingly, Overweight and Unhealthy Due to the Cheeseburgers Yet Want to Look like an Airbrushed, Studio-photograph of a Celebrity with an Eating Disorder, Five Personal Trainers and On-call Plastic Surgeon’ Diet today!” “Buy the ‘I Am Miserable In That I Cannot Attain Falsified Perfection’ Self-Help book today!” “Mmm…Buy a Triple Bacon and Asbestos Cheeseburger and be Momentarily Happy today!”)
A challenge I faced when writing my current book and how I overcame it: Having to write a book in a few months, staying with it until it was finished, editing it again and again until it was pretty good.
How much truth is there in my work and how do I handle that?: Lots. I am not nearly creative enough to fashion worlds and characters from scratch. I always have to draw from some personal experience. I just make sure it blends well with the story. I find that the nuggets of “truth” act like little hooks that pull the reader closer.
What are you reading right now?: I am reading Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic – and How it Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. I love reading books about diseases. I find them infectious.
What is my favorite food?: I don’t care for food. It always ends up making me have to go to the bathroom.
What writers have influenced me?: Most every writer influences me in one way or another—a clever turn of phrase, a particularly concise sentence. Even bad writers influence me, hopefully for the better. I love reading the work of Heck’s fans. As a kids’ writer, it’s important to read kids’ writing.
What am I working on now?: Snivel: The Fifth Circle of Heck.