Several of you have asked to see a photo of my hospital on stilts.
Sadly, like my character, Samuel McCord, I am a man of high hopes and low tech ... meaning I have no digital camera. But I do have this photo of the stilts before the hospital was placed upon them from the groundbreaking ceremony attended by former President Bush and actor George Clooney.
Fitting in with my post's title, these steel "stilts" are twice as tall as I am. Perspective is everything. Look at all the politicians we've elected, only to discover how stunted their high ideals are after the fact.
But the distorting mirror I'm referring to is fiction. Fiction is not reflective of real life. Unlike real life, fiction has to make sense. So we as authors fudge the facts of life to draw the reader in with the illusion of reality. As Stephen King said : good fiction is the truth within the lie.
What kind of literature did you first read? I mean the genre that you chose to read and not your parents? The question is important. I'll tell you why in a moment.
As a young boy recently moved to Lafayette, Louisiana from Detroit, Michigan, I was isolated because of my strange accent, my lanky height, and lack of relatives. I was the stranger, the outcast.
I found refuge in mythology.
My mother's tales of Lakota myths and Irish legends spurred me to investigate the school library on my own. I discovered Edith Hamilton's MYTHOLOGY : awe-inspiring tales of fearsome creatures, strong half-gods, and cunning heroes. Zeus wasn't my father, but I could sharpen my wits to become Ulysses, who confounded the very gods of Olympus. And the elegant, simple drawings by Steele Savage ensnared my imagination during boring classes.
I accepted these things as a child would -- uncritically. My only measure was if I enjoyed the story. Later as I grew a bit older -- able to reflect and reason, I found Sherlock Holmes and science fiction. And in those twin genres, I discovered the value of reason -- but then Ulysses had already taught me the treasure of a keen mind.
And how I discovered the joy of reading influenced my style of writing. As you no doubt have noticed, mythology plays an important part in my writing. The lyrical poetry of Homer and the other Greek playwrights molded my sense of the dramatic and of expression.
Yet, even as my soul demands magic and poetry, my mind is not satisfied unless I put reason behind the mad sorcery of my hero's adventures. In essence, I do not write pure fantasy or pure science fiction -- but a blend of the two, mixed in with the genre of the detective -- hence the frontier detective, Samuel McCord, part poet, part philosopher, and reluctant policeman.
But what of the distorting mirror?
Inside my, and your, brain is a compact world composed of all we have seen and experienced. From that well, we draw for inspiration and stories. Yet, that compact world is not THE world. We haven't experienced everything. And the conclusions we have drawn from our experiences are as flawed as our limited grasp of the truth, colored as it is by culture, custom, and character.
Our novels are merely distorted reflections of what we have experienced. Even we will admit that more is unknown to us than what is known. Which to me is quite all right : myths spring from the unknown and our trying to fill in the blanks.
History has proven to us that what was considered science last century was merely flawed, failed conjecture. Which to me is just fine : science fiction springs from those awesome two words : what if?
So my fiction is a blend of myth and science, history and conjecture, ending into those wonderful words : what if the impossible was possible? What then?
In the calculated lies of my fiction, I leave certain questions unanswered, certain areas shadowed for the reader to fill in.
Remember the scariest movie monster you ever flinched in fright from? You never got a clear glimpse : just flashes of scales, slit eyes, and red, sharp teeth. That was enough. Your imagination filled in the rest with enough to give you shudders for sleepless nights afterward.
Besides, I do not know everything, and the artist in me craves to be honest. The mythic beginning of things is always shrouded in mist and mystery. Yet, this I do know :
In life there is dark as well as light -- and sometimes the dark wins. I try to portray the full picture of what I know in my fiction. The fanciful scientist is often the one who makes the greatest discovery.
I guess you could call my genre : science fantasy. Cold, hard facts can often lead us into the shadows where the dark unknown is waiting for us to reveal our minds' limitations and our fragile grasp on sanity and life.
So now, I re-ask you : what kind of literature did you first start to read of your own free will? Look at what you are writing now. Look at how you write it. Can you see the seeds of your style, your genre, in your first chosen books?
Let me know what you first started to read. Tell me if my theory is reflected in the genres in which you write and the manner in which you write them. Let's share secrets over the cyber-campfire, shall we? Bring your own cyber-marshmellows.
Here is Tarja singing "I Walk Alone" that has special significance to Samuel McCord's fate at the end of FRENCH QUARTER NOCTURNE. The video is done in the style of a Brothers Grimm's tale :
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