Monthly Archives: September 2013
Hireath. Such a lovely word, filled with intense longing and passion for something just beyond reach. In my case, it is a longing for a land I’ve never seen, a country I call home even though the likelihood of my ever getting to visit are almost nil.
My life is a constant tug of war between Irish flights of fancy and the practicality of daily living on my Scots side. More than once I’ve described myself as a realist with optimistic overtones. I long for Scotland with a hireath that can’t be explained, but is as real as the crags and heather of that far-off land; even though I know any possibility of an ancestor of mine having once lived there is lost in the dim mists of time. Scotland is home and always will be. I was never born there, never lived, and, unless some mysterious twice-removed relation leaves me an unexpected legacy, probably will never get to visit.
Yet, I also can’t forget the Emerald Isle with its whimsical dells and enchanting personality. It, too, is part and parcel of who I am and imagination weaves and intertwines throughout my personality like the painted vines on my living room walls. Oh, I know stencilling is gone with the wind, but I like it! I hate bare walls. I detest the ordinary. You ask why and I ask why not?
And so I dream of wet heather and foggy moors, wish to walk cobbled streets and hear the lilt of Irish tongues. It surfaces every time the weather turns cold and misty, whenever I drink a cup of tea in the morning, see a bit of tartan, or hear the plaintive cry of Celtic flutes.
There is another type of hireath that permeates my being with a longing even more intense. A longing for my eternal home in the Presence of the One who created me. Some may scoff and call such idealist longing airy-fairy or claptrap. Whether you want to call the place Heaven or Paradise or some other term doesn’t matter. It is as real as Scotland or Ireland and I have a future home there.
How can I believe? How can you not? Literature is filled with references to knowledge that surpasses human understanding. The world itself is rife with circumstances and events that are unexplainable and point to something beyond our physical selves. Science can tell us what something is, but science by itself cannot explain why.
Back in the 1980s when our space probes first reached Saturn, National Geographic was filled with articles on the shepherd moons and braided rings of Saturn. Natural phenomena that defied our science for explanation, laughed at our physics and cosmology. Our scientists’ response? To sweep the “facts” under the rug and store them out of the light of day. We can’t explain it, so it must not exist.
We don’t have to have all the answers. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of faith – and hireath.
Reality is a funny thing. On the surface, reality seems to shift and flow with the times or with culture. Different groups of people, different epochs, different mores warp reality to fit the desires and wants of the individual.
Or does it?
Reality is steadfast. It endures. It is truth when all else changes. What shifts and warps are our perceptions of reality, which are as fickle as the individual or culture chooses and lasts about as long.
Teenagers are rebellious.
Everybody has sex frequently and with total strangers.
Profanity is as normal as breathing.
All conservatives are bigots, narrow-minded, racist, homophobic idiots.
Pick up any fiction book, whether secular or religious, and you will find most, if not all, of these perceptions of today’s society. What’s really sad is that American writers overlay other cultures with these same perceptions.
Reality shows us a completely different world. I work with 7th-12th graders in a small, rural community. No, these kids are not perfect. They mess up. They get mad, They do thoughtless things at times. But they do not fit the perceptions of the times. Most of these kids are polite. Most don’t use profanity. Most aren’t sleeping around or taking drugs at the drop of a hat. These are great kids to work with and be around. They come from good families–some blended, some different, some ordinary. Their parents are good people, who genuinely care about others and work hard to take care of the community. They come from all walks of life and all cultures. They invest in the future.
Frankly, I’m sick of picking up a book that automatically makes assumptions about me and my culture that are contrary to reality. I miss the stories about ordinary people who hold fast to that which is good. Ordinary people who struggle and strive and succeed in spite of the obstacles because they believe in something greater. Ordinary people who inspire others. These are true stories that happen all the time in our neck of the woods. Yet somehow, writers don’t think it’s “believable,” they don’t think such stories are “realistic.”
The other day my husband read a review of a book he enjoyed which stated the book was not “realistic” because there was not one word of profanity in it. “People don’t talk like that.” I don’t know what world the reviewer lives in, but I feel sorry for him. Where I live, everyone I know talks without using profanity. We don’t sleep around. Our kids are hard workers who are respectful and don’t take drugs or get into trouble.
I think our moral compasses have gotten so far out of whack we can’t tell reality from illusion any longer. Maybe we, as writers, need to get folks back on track by creating interesting stories with real heroes. They exist in this world. Why not in fiction?
Last week, my son pointed me to a carton based on Bill Watterson’s 1990 speech about the true definition of success. You can find it here: http://www.boredpanda.org/inspirational-advice-from-bill-watterson-in-comic-strip-form/
Watterson created the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips, one of my all time favorites, a strip that resonated with something inside me like nothing else. My family will tell you I’m always quoting Calvin and Hobbes, and I’ve been known to use examples from C&H in my classes at school or to cheer up someone else’s day.
So what does this particular cartoon have to do with writing? Everything! For the past several years I’ve struggled to make a place for myself in the writing world, prove that I had talent and that my creations would make an impact if I were just given the chance. Follow the yellow brick road of success–lots of readers equals the measure of worth and value. What the current definition of success doesn’t tell you is it’s only one definition. Something Watterson discovered and had the courage to redefine in his own life.
So what does success look like for an aspiring writer? A completed manuscript. Yep, it’s that simple. Success is birthing a new world, complete with characters you like and admire. Success is telling a story that sticks with the reader, that gets into the reader’s head and heart and lingers like perfume or the memory of the perfect summer day.
I used to think the measure of my talent was how many readers told me they liked my book. Then I discovered that if only one reader read my story and liked it, I did what I had set out to do: entertain someone. I am a storyteller, not an author. Yes, there is a difference. Storytellers tell stories, anywhere, at any time, to entertain. Doesn’t matter if the story gets repeated or not. It’s “in the moment.” Authors depends on print versions, number of copies sold, making money, being in the spotlight, having a brand/platform.
Like Watterson, I’ve learned there’s much more to life than making money. Than having a book on the best seller list. Than racking up a 10,000 readership. And for the first time I am content. Content to create my stories. Content to spend time living life to the full without worrying about deadlines or numbers or marketing. Content to create my own definition of success regardless of how it’s perceived by the rest of the world, or even another writer. The only difference between Watterson and myself, is his work was interesting enough to the population to make him money.
“To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy…but it’s still allowed.” Bill Watterson.
Thanks, Bill. Let’s go exploring!
Humanity is fascinated with the power of one–stories of individuals who stand up for what is right, the underdog who takes on impossible odds, the person of courage who dashes in while everyone else watches.
Yet when it comes to crafting gripping stories writers shy away, as if such stories are unbelievable or implausible.
If we look at the classics (some from years past and some more recent), we see the best stories center around a single individual or group of individuals who make a difference: the Scarlet Pimpernel, Frodo, Luke Skywalker.
I touched on this a couple of weeks back under the topic of reality–how realistic should novels be. Yet the subject deserves its own blog, for at the heart of each one of us lurks the desire to make a difference. We want to change our worlds if only in a small way. Too often we don’t see any results, so we begin to believe such stories aren’t true and reject novels that remind us of what we fail to achieve.
Unfortunately, sales results tell us we still long for the power of one. We crave stories that make a difference. Which is why writers who want to tell not just a good story, but one that seizes the human heart and lingers in the imagination, need to craft a story whose kernel revolves around the power of one.
If a reader strips away all the action and adventure, strips away all the mystery or romance, strips away all the “bells and whistles,” what is left of a story? A farm boy takes on the empire to save the girl he loves. A simple hobbit risks everything to destroy a great evil. Those are the tales that remain long after we’ve forgotten the details of the story, or maybe even the author or title.
Not seeing results can even enhance the tale. What kind of hero keeps going when all hope is lost? History is filled with examples and even Tolkien notes its power in a conversation between Frodo and Sam near the end when all their hope is lost. A true hero keeps going because it’s the right thing to do. When hope is stripped away, when all is lost, the power of one becomes even more poignant, more powerful to grip the reader and keep us turning pages. Will the hero break? We hope not, we pray not. We want to see him succeed.
I believe it’s easy to write a story with bells and whistles, with lots of “grit,” but much more difficult to take a straight arrow, steel true hero and demonstrate the pathos of struggling against the inevitable without losing hope. Can we make such stories believable? It depends. It depends on our own life story and how deeply ingrained the power of one is in our personal lives. Do we struggle against the inevitable without giving up?
Maybe the power of one is simply rooted in a spiritual faith, an example set by the One who came into the world to save it. If so, it has been encoded into our very DNA and we as readers will keep demanding such stories and praying that we as writers can live up to the task.