When a story “stays with you”

It’s 1989. I’m five. And it just so happens to be Christmas. I open my first present: a VHS copy of my soon-to-be-favorite movie monster, Godzilla. I watch it. It’s a horribly made dub, but I’m in love. Giant mutant dinosaurs wrecking cities with the theme of nuclear proliferation has me hooked. And from then on, I’m convinced the greatest thing I can do as a grownup is become a monstrous reptile myself (keep in mind, I’m still five at this point).

Flash forward to 1997. I’m in my English reading class. The teacher asks me what my interests are. I sheepishly admit science fiction and “monsters”. He selects Dune by Frank Herbert. I read through the novel – understanding little, but absorbing much – and when I’m done, I feel like I’ve been to another galaxy, another world entirely. One that’s full of monsters and sci-fi goodness.

Now, it’s 2013. A friend has been suggesting I read Ender’s Game for a long while. I finally take the plunge and read it. And I love it. Not only is it good (to me), but I find myself recognizing similar storytelling techniques that I might employ as a writer. Soon, the idea that I could write a full-scale novel comes alive. And I start writing that said novel, finishing in the latter half of 2015.

So what’s the point of all this? For one, I’m still a fan of Godzilla. For two, I am still a fan of Herbert’s original Dune saga and for three, I’ve read plenty more of the Ender series since reading the original Ender’s Game. Why? Because each of these stories had an impact on me. They had that “it” factor. But, most perhaps importantly, they stayed with me. We’ve all seen a movie or read a book we’ve found to be entertaining. But, was it good enough to come back to? Again? And then one more time? Aside from the three stories I listed, I can think of a few others that have had that affect on me. I’m sure you can think of your own list too. Often it’s just the right timing. Other times, it’s just our interests being realized through story. And yet, in some instances, it’s a good story that grabs us and doesn’t let go.

As a writer, I tend to desire many things: great sales, a following of dedicated readers, maybe a movie deal, to name a few. But, one of the greatest compliments I can receive is a reader who not only reads my work, but comes back a second time to read it again. And a third. And maybe even a fourth. Because that’s when you know you’ve written a good story. It stays with someone. It doesn’t end on the last page. It just keeps going, reigniting that magic you felt when you were five. And that’s a great feeling, as I can recall.

Best Laid Plans

As June winds down, I find some of my best laid plans have been thrown to the wayside. Namely, my finishing a story within this month (which is only partially true). But hey, here’s why:

I became a father. 

I’ll admit it. I’m like most people who hop on social media, find his newsfeed flooded with baby pictures, and immediately wonder why parents feel compelled to take pictures of their kids every five minutes. Seriously though. Is it necessary to take a photo of your child for sitting on a couch? For staring at the ceiling? Or when he’s standing alone in his underwear for no reason? Well, after a weekend that ended with my first-born son, I can actually start to agree with these people. Seriously.

Having a son – one of your own your flesh and blood – has got to be one of the most amazing experiences in the known universe. My faith teaches me that this is good; that I was designed (like my wife) for populating the world with more like me (and her, of course). And I’ll have to agree, you literally feel a presence like God Himself is right there when a birth is happening. A child – a soul – appears as if out of thin air and fills the room. It’s like spontaneous combustion, only in reverse. Where there was once only two, now there are three – a father, a mother, and a child. You might call that synergy: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I like to think of it as a miracle. Nothing short of one and nothing less, either.

I never knew what it would be like, but in all the months leading up to the birth, I imagined what it might be like. After all, I’ve been force fed different interpretations and versions of childbirth on television for years. Chances are, one of them got the experience right. Right? Well, not exactly. Nothing seems to do the moment justice like being there for yourself.

For example, I once read that there is a difference between traveling to Istanbul and actually being in Istanbul. We may have an idea of what something will be like, what it will feel like, but ultimately, we have no idea until we are there. In the moment. Watching it all go down. And then exhaling once it’s over. If there were ever a case for God – and there are many – then childbirth would be it.

He – God – is rather adept at taking what we imagine and blowing whatever notion we have out of the water. It’s as humbling as it is terrifying when you think about it. Again, nothing short of amazing.

And so, now that I’ve downloaded some of my first thoughts, it’s back to the grindstone. Only now, with less sleep. And more baby. Here’s to July’s #12Months12Books and whatever else life has in store.

 

Oh, What Thoughts Awaken in the Early Morn’

There was a full moon the other night. That could be one reason as to why I’m feeling the way I do. My family – specifically those on my father’s side – find ourselves affected by the light of a full moon in strange ways. We aren’t secretly werewolves or some members of the occult; no, we just get a little antsy when there’s too much light in the room. Or too little.

I feel like a strange creature because I like the dark as much as I like the light. Some of my best work can happen in the dark while conversely, some of my best learning experiences can occur in the light of day. It’s a curious conundrum I find myself within. To think that in order for people to enjoy a good book or a good read, I must immerse myself in darkness; in secret; away from the world until that work is ready. If Edgar Allan Poe were still alive, I’m sure he’d agree. Only while others are asleep, I find myself awake. Conversely, when I prefer to sleep, others come awake themselves. What an interesting arrangement, this is – this whole light and dark business. Other writers and storytellers must find themselves in this same, ambiguous mess. I like the challenge, personally, even if the concept makes little sense to anyone else.

The one comfort I find in writing is that it reminds me of a common truth: I’m human. A being that indulges in darkness and light alike, or rather, dwells in both. The scientific term would be cathemeral (active in both night or day) but that description alone does not do the human condition justice. People often relate pain with dark times while joyful days are just that – days, but with light abounding. Why is this so? As a writer, I feel most invigorated in the early morning. When the world is still waking up for the day, I’m the most alive in thought. The light hasn’t fully reached me where I am, if you will. And when I feel the least inspired, the least likely to produce a good work, is the middle of a sunny day. How can that be so? Is it because I absorb the day so I can expunge what I’ve gathered at night? Something to consider, I suppose, if nothing else.

So this tightrope walk I’m on goes onward – drawn to the light on one end, but drawn to the dark just as much. And not because I desire dark times or eternal dusk; no, that isn’t it. I simply know where I must be if I am to work at my best. And it typically isn’t in the face of a hot sunbeam. Maybe one day I’ll adapt, but I’m curious if other authors or writers throughout history would agree. Or vehemently disagree. Either or, I’m intrigued to know the answer.

So here I am. It’s early morning; I’m immersed in my early morning thoughts, immersed in the unsteady nature that my thoughts bring, but excited at the possibility of what may occur should I tame these thoughts for proper application. And all the while, I am wondering when the sun will take hold of me again. For when it does, I’ll be thrust out of the dark room of my own understanding and thrown back into a world of new understandings – ones far beyond my foresight and well beyond my own making. Perhaps that way, when the dark returns, I will have had time to make right the chaos of these early morning voices. My thoughts will have been tamed in radiant sun; unable to hide away in the dark recesses of my own imagination. Oh, what a grand feeling that will be. And oh, what a great moment it’ll be for me to share. For the tasks I’ve completed in secret – or in darkness, if you will – will at last have the opportunity to be enjoyed by others. And in the light of day, no doubt.