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February 14, 2012

“Slowly I Turned”: Flashbacks, or Candy Doesn’t Need To Have A Point

by hmsnow1

Today I spent some time looking at my big-picture timetable for some of my current writing projects. I don’t remember if I’ve given the matter serious consideration before; it’s so terribly easy to let the struggle for a daily rhythm become all-important. I have other issues with big-picture planning that tend to deter me, but now isn’t the time for all that. Anyway, I have three… no, scratch that, four projects that I need to advance to the next stage of completion this year. One, the comic fantasy novel on which I’m currently focusing, I need to bring to the end of its first full draft. One, my sole venture into nonfiction, needs serious revision to bump it firmly into third-draft territory. One, the next Makkarios manuscript, needs a final polish before it enters the publication process. And the last, which incidentally is truly the last (of the Last Book of the Kings series) needs to move into the planning stage.

 

It struck me as funny when I realized I had reached the final volume of a series that has been running through my life like a vein of gold through a rock for nearly twenty years. It was through this series that I taught myself to write… and to rewrite… and to scrap whatever still didn’t work and rewrite again until it worked. I started to think about those days. Frankly, I was a different person then. That version of me probably wouldn’t recognize this version. I would worry if such were not the case. I live a different life in different circumstances, among different people. Even those few people who have remained constant in my life since them have certainly not remained the same.

 

Thinking about it put me in mind of the more recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, featuring Johnny Depp, and how Willie Wonka kept having flashbacks about his childhood. I’m not saying that either of my parents ever said, “No son daughter of mine is going to be a chocolatier writer.” Not in so many words. I do remember my maternal grandfather saying to me, “But you’re going to get a real job, aren’t you?” The sturdy, pragmatic Midwestern stock on both sides of the family cringed from the idea. Writing doesn’t put food on the table; it doesn’t produce useful goods or save lives. It’s just pretty fluff for a winter’s evening when the weather is too inclement for real work.

 

But as I look back from my present vantage point, I see the truth that many writers have stated in various ways: no parent in his/her right mind wants a child to grow up to be a writer. Become a doctor, plumber, accountant, trash collector, librarian, Peace Corps volunteer—anything that’s more financially reliable than writing.

 

I never paid much attention. (Story of my life.) I had enough practical sense to know that I need an income, so I did what I had to do to live, but I never imagined giving up my desire to write for a living. Granted, “what I had to do” turned out to be something I am by nature no good at doing, so each day tends to be a bit of a dogfight. I dream of a day when I can set aside this particular struggle and focus on writing entirely. Meanwhile, I continue the battle for balance between what I want to do and what I need to do and what I’m forced to do.

 

I’ve had all of this bouncing around the back of my mind for a little while now. Meanwhile, I was talking to a reader a few days ago, listening to his opinion of Come Together. He belongs to my church, attends my Sunday morning class, and has read my Keeper series with commendable loyalty. His response to the Makkarios book was mixed: I didn’t know how to interpret it. It troubled him that there didn’t seem to be a direct allegorical correlation between certain characters/ locations and the approved spiritual realities. There was something in that direction, though, so he found himself puzzled, not knowing how to treat the book. So I talked to him briefly about how I viewed the series—as an extended fictional meditation on Trinitarian theology and, as an offshoot, the spiritual gifting of the believer. On a certain level, I was actually pleased with this reaction. It has been my ambition to write on multiple levels. That is to say, if someone just wants a good adventure, they can read my stories at that level and be satisfied. Not everything needs to have a point or teach a lesson. But for those like me who see theology lurking behind everything, I want to offer the opportunity to dig a little, to do a bit more thinking.

 

I did try to write allegory once. Honest, I did try. The Keeper House Unending, in its original incarnation, was meant to be an allegory. I gave it up, because allegory is a rather constricting form of literature better suited to short fiction than long. Odd—one of the few things I still remember about that time was the afternoon I spent working out how it would work if I did write an allegorical novel. I remember exactly what the living room of my parents’ house looked like then, and what cartoons were playing on TV. (“Sorry, I was having a flashback.” I see. These flashbacks happen often? “Increasingly… today.”)

 

Anyway, those days seem like such a different world at this point that I’m a little awed that I’ve come to the last book—and not just the last book, but a new direction altogether with the Makkarios series starting up. Epic fantasy is fun, but like I said, I’m a different person than I was then. I think differently. I have so many new projects in the wings, as well as material that hasn’t quite coalesced to the point of becoming a project, that I can’t help feeling excited when I look ahead at the work that needs to be done. Ah, writing. I begin to suspect that, like chocolate, writing “contains a property that triggers the release of endorphins.” Whatever the cause, I think I’m in love…

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