Thursday, December 4, 2008
Today's special guest blogger is D. Barkley Briggs, author of The Book of Names, the first in a series of adventures set in the Hidden Lands of Karac Tor. Learn more at www.hiddenlands.net
WRITING AS SACRED TRUST
If you want to build a ship, don't herd people together to
collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but
rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Saint-Exupery's marvelously succinct, yet evocative quote summarizes for me the far-flung task of writing as sacred trust. Perhaps not all writers share my view—some might say it reeks of old-fashioned notions, or self-importance—but I still believe the writing task to be darn near sacrosanct. The stakes are too high, the rewards too great, the reader's time too valuable, for average prose and common insight. Anyone who aspires to be a teller of stories enters into a long, noble tradition, of shaman and tribal elder, and later, bard and scribe. Confucius, Jesus and Plato told stories as part of their understanding of their mission and means. These verbal spell-casters ignited the imaginations of their listeners or readers with spring-loaded picture bombs which, upon detonation, enervated or eviscerated the soul. In both cases, people were left begging. They wanted more.
There is something sublime about being drawn to an object, idea or task in a manner that allows it to feel like it’s really your idea, your own desire at play, as Saint-Exupery intimates. A boat can be built in many ways. And storytellers tell many stories. But the brilliance of the best writers is primarily discovered in what is missing—vis-a-vis, in how transparently they include their readers. As a matter of honor, the best stories refuse to treat the reader like chattel, slave to the tale, but rather as fellow participant in breathless longing for the sea. What is the sea? It doesn't matter, really. It is authentic. It is adventure. It is sorrow. It is loss. It is courage. It is wild. It is a lover's kiss, a father's playful wrestle session with his kids, a letter from an old friend. It is mysterious and wise, or lurking with desperate evil, or enraged by injustice. People wish to swim deep, journey far, into such bold, colorful waters. Merely ordering the reader to grab a plank and swing his hammer, read a page, connect the dots—occupy the "story vessel" by rote exercise of plot and dialog, however skillful—is self-defeating, even for a technically grand read. Should the audience be persuaded by your wordplay to build the boat with you, according to spec, in that glorious harmony that forms between writer and reader, your task is still only half complete. If he has not had the love of the sea imparted to him, he will remain inside the hull, where it is safe. To truly venture forth, he must own the story. This is the difference between tales that captivate, compel and complete, and stories that merely thrill or distract. In the latter, the reader is always one step removed. Sure, he enjoys the idea, and the view is grand. But he has not yet fallen in love with the ocean.
Boats are meant to sail. Go far. Likewise, readers are meant to brave the narrative until they forget that it is words on paper they are staring at, until they become convinced there is no boat at all, only ocean. In this beautiful ecstatic experience (called "suspension of belief"), they enter the story for themselves. The Apostle Peter was so fascinated by a god-man storyteller walking on water, he simply had to get out of the boat and join him. That is our task, as writers. Beckon the reader to something immersive and true.
In such a place, genre loses its meaning. And to this end, I must again echo Saint-Exupery. In telling my tale, I hope not to have tilted only toward fine organization and writerly wit and lyrical prose (though I hope for those, as well). More to the point, I hope to stand beside the sea, tell what the salty air tells me, capture the gulls' cry on my keyboard. I hope to let the "endless immensity" breath upon me, through me, to others, as fellow journeymen to a land of wonder called Karak Tor, where four boys who have lost their mother must learn to fight for themselves, for destiny, for their very name. It is a magic land. A dangerous journey. We set sail, on page 1.
Within a few pages, if all goes well, the journey becomes my reader's idea. I want them to say, "Let's go out further, see more. What's out there?"
But wait...it's just a young adult fantasy, right? It's just another title on a shelf, escapist fun. Yes, but it can be so much more. It's wild and magical—a sacred trust.
I invite you to the Hidden Lands.
THE BOOK OF NAMES VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '08 will officially begin on December 1 and end on December 23. You can visit Dean's blog stops at www.virtualbooktours.wordpress.com in December to find out where he is appearing!
As a special promotion for all our authors, Pump Up Your Book Promotion is giving away a FREE virtual book tour to a published author or a $50 Amazon gift certificate to those not published who comments on our authors' blog stops. The winner will be announced by Pump Up Your Book Promotion at the end of the month.