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Serpent Blog - Phototropism - The Book Passage Blog Part VI

Serpent Blog

Phototropism - The Book Passage Blog Part VI 
"The truth of my writing – the spiritual truth for which I write – is all that darkness, so clear in its depth that there is, like God in eternity, no seeing to the end of it." David Plante

I had never dreamed of writing a novel. I wanted to write stories. I began by writing short pieces. Serpent Box itself began as a short story that was inspired by a photograph of a boy I saw in a book. The image I saw evoked a feeling and that feeling drove the creation of a story. All stories begin, for me, with a feeling, an emotional tug, a visceral pang. They begin in wordlessness. They begin in darkness. They strive toward light. My stories are phototropic.

I desire to create something like a dream, and I want to make it delicious, so delicious that you will want to read it again and again in order to savor it. This is what Cormac McCarthy is like for me, rich, succulent writing that is both intoxicating and informative to the story he’s conveying. In this way I seek to emulate McCarthy.

Many writers have left their mark upon me. I am an amalgam of those whose sensibilities jibe with my own. But no writer has had more impact on my writer’s psyche than Cormac McCarthy. He is, whether he likes it or not, my mentor. His cadence is biblical. His rhythm, hypnotic. His scope, vast. His dialog, terse and never unnecessary. When I read All the Pretty Horses, a bomb exploded in my head. This, I said to myself, is what I have been waiting all my life to read.

I am not comfortable with the idea of telling a story. I despise plot. I try to convey a sense of story, indirectly, through tone, mood, rhythm, language, and by rendering individual moments that, when juxtaposed, will create a greater and more meaningful whole that does tell a story – much like a film. In some ways I compose stories like a filmmaker, by employing a series of shots. A scene in a film does not require language to be understood. In film, language is secondary to image. I am image-oriented and wish to convey stark, crystal visuals that utilize sense to create a feeling of space and time more vivid than can be ordinarily imagined.

I cannot bear to write anything that feels written. Nor can I bear to read it. I want to be invisible to reader. I want to begin each story with a plunge into a wholly believable world. The first sentence, for me, must act like a vortex. It must capture you without you realizing you’re being captured, for only then can I show you what it is that I see in the story-world. The most difficult part of writing is conveying exactly what I see and feel to you. That is the essence of it all, sharing something I see vividly, and feel viscerally, with you. The trick is to get you to feel it as I feel it and understand it as I understand it. Not to teach, not to tell, but to show you what it is I see. I don’t want you to look at me, I want you to look at what I am looking at. Therefore I must be you and me. I must write as me and read as you.

I wrote Serpent Box to try and reconcile what I feel toward the mysteries of life and the universe, and the concept of God. I was searching for the meaning of faith, just as my young protagonist Jacob Flint embarks upon a quest for his own sense of meaning and purpose. Together, Jacob and I began a journey that helped us to make some sense out of life’s ironies and evils, in the face of its beauty and good. What does it mean to live?

I have used the word darkness to describe that which I write from, working toward a moment of illumination. Perhaps darkness is not the right word, a more accurate word is mystery. That which is unknown, and possibly unknowable, is what I seek to explore. I cannot know for fact that there is a God, but I do know as fact that there is a spiritual realm of energy that I cannot explain. I have seen it first-hand. I have been lucky enough to see a paranormal phenomenon, and not just see it with my eyes, but hear it and feel it pass through my body. That event changed my life, but I will not describe it here. I use it to explain how I look at the world and how I derive my spirituality. Einstein said:

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds: it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.”

Nature is the lens through which I do my small part to interpret the world. Religion, in Serpent Box’s case a very extreme religion, is the filter through which I attempt to glean notions of personal and spiritual faith. Childhood, specifically the transition from childhood to maturity, is the human condition through which I continually explores themes ranging from wonder and curiosity to humility and morality. Racism and violence are the millstones around the neck of mankind that I still cannot understand, nor accept, nor reconcile, and I wrestle with those demons in my writing, certainly in Serpent Box, which takes on the overlooked history of racial violence in America for which we have still not atoned.

So it is through the process of story-writing that I learn what it is I truly believe. My stories often begin in darkness, and sometimes they end there, but they do strive toward light. I hope that the process of writing will illuminate me, and thus you, the reader. Please forgive me if I fail. I have so, so much yet to learn.


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