I’ve just started reading The Revenant, a Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke. It recounts the story of Hugh Glass, a legendary mountain man/fur trapper who was horribly mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his companions. Against all odds, he not only survived but dragged himself (literally) hundreds of miles, without food or resources to obtain it, to the nearest fort. Once recovered, he set out to find and confront those who had left him.
I’m writing a novel about the same time period, with some of the same characters, and have done quite a bit of research in order to make my book as historically accurate as I can. I am reading The Revenant to gain more perspective on the lifestyles of its characters and settings for the events. Boy, is it different! By page 51, I find major discrepancies between this author’s presentation of events and the historical information my sources give me.
It raises interesting questions about “literary license” in historical fiction. I find it disheartening that this book is being made into a major motion picture. Unless my research is wrong, the movie will be portraying erroneous information. Maybe it doesn’t matter much, since all the characters are long dead and the events are perhaps not very consequential at this point, but it still bothers me. People read historical novels and see historical movies, I think, to learn as well as be entertained. I know I do, and I want some reasonable diligence about the truth.
“Nowadays most men lead lives of noisy desperation” – James Thurber
Do you ever long for silence? I do. I’m a writer, so that means that my work is all about words. In addition to creative writing, a writer is expected to blog, tweet, post on Facebook, post on Goodreads, and comment on others’ blogs, tweets and posts. The appeals seem endless. Now, you may argue that these are all silent words – but are they? They act upon the ears of the mind just as much as spoken sounds.
What is the true silence we long for? It is, for me, the wordless silence of a still mind. Still – undistracted by words. In it we hear the silent language of tree, of rock, of mountain and plain, of God. These voices tell us what is real. Our words, at their best, witness to this reality; but if we cannot be still enough to hear it, how can we speak its truth?
I want my writing to reflect the deeper reality, to put into words what I hear without them. I cannot do this without silence.
Do you ever feel you have lost some important part of your identity? That you have become defined by a role you play? Or that other people’s demands, or media distractions, are taking too much control of your life? As a quiet and introspective person in this busy, noisy world, this is a problem with which I am always struggling.
In The Wisdom of Ambrose, Susan Anderson has hit a wall. She has been her husband’s “helper” so long that she has lost touch with who she is in herself. From Ambrose, a humble but clumsy bear who inhabits a mythical world, she learns to “just do the next thing,” and finds that she is led to a solution far more effective than her husband’s.
I find I have hit a wall also. It seems to be a different sort of wall, but yet I sense that Ambrose is speaking to me, too. My wall has to do with electronics, particularly social media. The sites are brightly colored, designed to attract our attention, to look fun. We are pulled in; and before we know it, we are led down this or that rabbit trail, just as Susan’s husband led her to follow his ideas.
“Just do the next thing,” Ambrose tells me. The challenge – pay attention to what is truly my next thing. And then do it. And then do the next. It’s hard, but when I do, the importunities of electronic media fade into the ether that they are, and all at once, I am really me.
Thank you, Ambrose!
“Is this written for children?” Authors of fantasy, myself included, often hear this question.
The answer is, well, no. Yes. Maybe.
Both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien pointed out that although fairy tales and myths have in our culture been relegated to “children’s literature,” for most of human history, they were the vehicles for teaching spiritual and moral precepts to every age. At their best, fantasies are tales of the spiritual journey, part myth, part fairy tale, that invite us to set aside our preoccupation with material phenomena as the only reality.
“Faerie” (as Tolkien called it) and myth take us to alternate worlds similar to ours but permeated by a numinous quality, a kind of mystery. They touch us in a way that the “real” world of everyday cannot. While the protagonists may seem familiar and homespun like us, they inhabit worlds that are intriguingly fuller and richer than our own. Entering these worlds through story opens up in us our natural human longing for the numinous in our daily lives. We sense that there is a transcendent world that interpenetrates our own and gives us a deepened joy in life and all it means.
The longing for, and awareness of, the numinous around us are what Lewis called “the religious imagination.” It is our “faith-muscle,” the faculty in us that allows us to apprehend transcendent reality. It seems to me, as both Lewis and Tolkien worried, that we who live within a materialist worldview are losing our ability to appreciate such stories. In fact, they feared that this worldview is eroding our ability to recognize transcendence, and that as a result we are losing our awareness of spiritual realities, and even the ability to believe in God.
So – are such stories for children?
Well, no. And yes. They are written for the child in us, to remind us that, yes, we do live in an enchanted, as well as material, world. That world is all around us, and it is within us, always waiting to be explored.
Key Words: fantasy, transcendence, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, story, materialist worldview, numinous, myth, fairy tale
How fun is it to have lunch with old school chums you haven’t seen in many years? Really fun! There we all were, laughing and squealing as though we were still in junior high, and reminisced. Finally, we are old enough to confess how insecure we had been – “I just wanted to be like everybody else, and my parents made me wear galoshes to school.” It was a revelation to me. I thought I was the only one. And we remembered how mean kids could be, including ourselves, oblivious of our shy teacher’s feelings when we teased him unmercifully that day, until he rushed from the classroom in tears. We remembered old haunts, and how the teacher who terrorized us also led Camp Fire Girls and we tried to avoid it but were made to go, and how we used to take off on our bikes in the morning and not be expected home until dinnertime, and the adventures we’d have.
I looked around the table and could still make out the faces I had known, only Life had happened to them, and to mine. Clearly, we had all borne sorrows and traumas, as well as joys and children. But we didn’t talk much about that. The Pantherettes were back, the girls who played violin in the school orchestra, who performed jazz dance at assemblies, who brought home straight A’s (or not), who longed to be “popular” but were really, indisputably, nerds. We had all survived, and we were still laughing.
Jonah – a prophet who defied God. The Prodigal Son’s elder brother – a man who refused to forgive. What if they met?
Read an excerpt from my short story, “Jonah,” here: http://www.tuscanypress.com/blog/jonah-short-story-submission.php.
For a wonderful review of The Desert, be sure to check out this link to “Bindings”, a blog on the Christian Post: http://blogs.christianpost.com/bindings/, written by Christine Sunderland, author of The Magdalene Mystery.
What is it about trains?
As I write this, I hear a train whistle nearby. It’s the Wine Train, starting its day of carrying excited tourists up the Napa Valley. What is it about trains that draws us so? Why are they so romantic to us?
Last week, we spent a few days up in the Sierras, and visited a little old railroad town named Portola. Trains are its reason for being, and they have a railroad museum there that seemed almost as big as the town itself. Inside a large barn were a number of old railroad cars to visit, including the private coach of Western Pacific’s president, with its own fair-sized lounge, office, sleeping compartments, and tiny galley, all very compact and, though comfortably appointed, not as luxurious as I would have expected – well-suited to a no-nonsense businessman, not his wife, I suppose.
All along one side of the barn were work areas lined with tools and equipment for repairing and remodeling trains, and parked next to them was an old steam engine, just being restored by the volunteers who give their time, energy, and expertise, free of charge, just glad to be getting their hands full of train grease working on these old behemoths.
Outside were acres of tracks, filled with all kinds of cars available for climbing on, and some even open to explore inside. We spent a happy hour or two clambering around on them, feeling what it is like to work so close to something so big, so heavy and powerful. The couplings alone gave me a little shiver, thinking of the sheer muscle needed to work them, and the horror of being caught willy-nilly in their implacable, unrelenting grasp. Everything was big, ponderous, overwhelming – and so much fun to scamper up and down and all around. I got to walk around inside a caboose – haven’t you always wanted to know what that was like? And we even found an unlocked engine, sat in the engineer’s seat and handled the levers and speculated about the gauges. All that was missing was a whistle chain to pull.
It was a place of imagination. So many stories floated around those old cars, whispering – the engineer, always aware of the massive power under his control and in his responsibility; the workmen (gandy dancers?) in their rough and ready style, laughing in the face of the danger they lived with every day, proud in their conquest and sometimes falling prey to it.
And then there was the president, away at last from the frivolities of his wife’s home décor and socializing, engrossed and intent in his life’s work of heading up this company, leading these men, building a business – and with it, a nation.
Emotion flooded me as we gazed at a troop transport from World War II. It was lined with bunk beds. I found myself thinking of all the fears, all the homesickness, all the false bravado it had housed, and wondered how much real sleep those bunks had seen.
Back in town, we found a train store run by an older man. He had several gauges of model trains on tracks laid out up and down the length of his shop, and he was pleased to have us there, to show us his pride and joy, and to talk. He had lost his wife some twelve years before, and then spent several years traveling the world. That had eventually palled, and he had found a measure of contentment in this little store, among his trains, sharing his passion.
What is it about trains?
They say writing a novel is like giving birth. I don’t think that’s quite right. Writing a novel is like being pregnant; having it published is like giving birth.
When the idea for a new novel first strikes us, it is exciting. We are passionate about it, and our whole attention is focused on it. Then it begins to germinate. Deep inside us, it grows, gradually taking on its full form. It is private, our secret. People can see something is happening, but we can’t really share it – yet. The process is wonderful, but it isn’t all ice cream and chocolates (although we tend to eat too much of both in our preoccupation) – we have our moments of indigestion (plot twists that just won’t work) and constipation (writer’s block). But all through the long months of creativity, we know that we are participating in a mystery, and we smile to ourselves in our specialness, sure of our progeny’s proud destiny.
Publishing brings on the labor pains. The editor is our well-trained OB/Gyn, their obstetretical implements grammar books, thesauruses and style manuals, and they go at us with fervor. Our pregnancy is no longer ours alone, to hug to ourselves and shower with devotion. No. We are coached, directed, corrected, as this miracle of ours, that we made, makes its mewling way into the outside world, into the receiving hands of the doctor, to be cleaned and dressed by professionals and made ready for presentation in the public eye. It is returned to us, a being now separate from ourselves, but we gaze on it with a kind of awe and devotion. A real book. There it is. We can hold it in our hands. It is ours now to foster into that destiny we know it’s meant to fulfill.
Re-announcement of my new book, The Desert. A sequel to The Forest, it is the story of an impetuous young man who plunges into a forbidding and unknown desert, intent on rescuing his beloved. He finds mortal danger, friendship and betrayal, and his destiny to plumb a great mystery and right an ancient wrong. He is able to succeed only by growing in trust of the mysterious One who has called him.
The Desert is available at http://www.oaktara.com/bookpage-thedesert and at http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Menchian-Journeys-Susan-Prudhomme/dp/1602903662/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1401315701&sr=1-1&keywords=susan+prudhomme , as well as Barnes and Noble and many other on-line outlets. I hope very much you will enjoy it, and that you will write a brief, positive review for Amazon.