Since the late 1990s, I have written fiction that centers around crucial themes of self-determination, faith, courage, and the quest for meaning in an often hostile and tragic world, where protagonists must tackle tough moral decisions amid humanity’s isolation to face down and defeat the evil they are up against. Employing a style of sparse, lyrical prose; recondite vocabulary and an overpowering use of language, I find the craft in telling the story as important to me as the story itself. But as Barry Hannah, my mentor at Sewanee Writers’ Conference, once put it to me, fiction is more than location and a mastery of narration. It takes patience, talent and diligence to reveal the story’s true character. When that works well, it is like painting with words, showing what I see and what I feel in hopes that my reader will share in the same sensory experience.
The writer E.M. Forster once wrote, “How do I know what I think till I see what I say?”. This is the mantra I follow every time I sit down at the keyboard. How do I know what I think till I see what I say? For me, writing, especially fiction writing, is as much a process of self-discovery as it is telling a story. Writing, storytelling and art in general have the ability to move us in ways only first-hand experiences can do better. This applies to the artist as well. But this process of invention takes a great amount of resources, both personal and professional. Some come in the form of capital, monetary and interpersonal. Some have to do with time, a large amount of which is required to produce something of meaning that a culture thinks is important and wants to understand. Some of these resources are less tangible and more open to interpretation, such as skill, inspiration, and accreditation.
On one level, for a story to be a success, I only have to write it. The words and descriptions I use will say everything about how I feel and imagine this situation unfolding in my mind. On another level, for it to be successful and reward me with the opportunity to continue to produce meaningful work, it has to be received by the public. Here talent, enthusiasm and endorsement play a much more vital role. All of these can be positively affected by several factors, both before and after publication. Marketing, public readings, supporting youth and adult literacy programs all play a part, as does working with people and institutions, who embrace and inspire the passion and practice of art.
In 2007, with my family’s support, I left my day job to focus exclusively on writing. Of course a pursuit of this kind is not without risk and in the months leading up to my leaving we adjusted our lifestyle and saved what we could to afford me this opportunity. We talked to our children about doing with less and showed them through example the importance of following one’s dreams. We helped them to understand that quite often this requires sacrifice, a life lesson we hope they espouse as adults.