Sunday, August 18, 2013

Currents of Meaning: Why do you write what you write?

Theme: A unifying or dominant idea, motif, etc, as in a work of art.

As a writer I believe that my story comes from some place deeper than merely a random explosion of words that falls together and happens to turn out to be some degree of entertaining. Those kinds of tales, and I know they do exist because I’ve read some of them, seem to me to be little more different than passing someone on the street, feeling the rumble of your lunch time double bean burrito build into a pressure system and braaap!!

“Wow,” the passer-by exclaims. “It smells like cherries! Amazing! You’re so talented!”

Yeah…not. Stories, real stories, real tales worth sitting by the fire, in the park, or even on the can to read do not just pop out of nowhere and burst on the scene. They have a source, and believe it or not, even the most benign story has a meaning, purpose, and logic to it.

The stories I tell and the words I pick to tell them all come from a repository of thoughts and memories, both conscious and unconscious, stored by categories of words and groups of phrases somewhere in the soul. The warehouseman in charge of that facility is awakened and sent on a mission to locate specifically sought after information based on a database like system of shelves, drawers and boxes labeled with tags that are sometimes meaningful, sometimes confusing. While the filing system isn't always obvious in its attempts to make sense of individually remembered events and words, when he stands back and views the row upon row of shelves he can see that everything in that storage system is generally grouped by large, interlocking pools that clearly list the distinct, over-arching form and shape of the events in which that scenario played out, sharing some information and keeping some sequestered, waiting only for that special event or person to call out the deeper, more intimate details of that data.

Pulling back further those data pools are grouped into trickling streams that bubble over rocks and wind through forests as they make their way toward a much larger flow, the central channel inside the world of this mind. This gathers all the long travelled streams into one massive body, a living breathing river running its course along a path pre-determined by the weakness or strength of the various soils, bedrock, and life altering obstacles yet to be encountered. When taken as a whole, observed from high above at the end of its course, it becomes obvious that throughout the years and miles of its long run, that river...that life...had one overarching theme fed into and determined by each of those smaller streams, moments in life that in the end made the wide river that becomes me when the number of my days are fulfilled.

Now…where were we…oh yes, writing. Gotta get back into the stream there… …

Alley Oop!

Ah, now we’re swimming again…

As anyone who has read my books knows, I write decidedly not poetic, non-'literary', commercial military action thrillers. While the above paragraph may seem to indicate I have a penchant for painting beautiful words, my actual books will demonstrate that my preferred form of storytelling is to write about car chases, guns, bombs, and killing bad guys. But, and here is what I really want the reader of this blog to learn from this post, I write what I write for a reason. In all I do, everything I say and everything I write there is a purpose. There is an overarching theme.  I believe this is true for all artisans whether you write, sing, build houses, fix computers, make sandwiches or dig ditches.

Now when I say there is a theme to everything, this is not the same as saying that every word or phrase or action is calculated to touch on that theme specifically. I do not plan my days, or even my writing, by rising early and putting together a list of the people I will meet and what i will say to each one in each circumstance. Many years ago I was actually accused of doing just that, albeit not in a serious way. Back when I was a carpenter for a living I was known for being the guy with quick funny things to say at any moment. In the midst of a conversation I might bust into an impression of the boss, but using a Russian mafioso accent or I'd do an improvised song and dance to the beat of the nail guns and chop saws as we worked. These impromptu shows would make the guys howl with laughter, forcing occasional squirts of tomato soup through Clayton’s nose which made the laughter even worse. Eugene once laughed so hard a pea from his macaroni salad got lodged in his tear duct…from the inside. The staff medic eventually got it out, but only after he’d spent fifteen minutes on bottled O2 to get him to calm down. Some of the guys swore I must sit at home all night plotting the next day’s jokes and practicing potential scenes so that "if Brian says this, I'll do this and shimmy left. But if he does this instead, then I'll say this other thing and do a shimmy to the right, with a spin at the end. Yeah....perfect."

No, that’s not the kind of theme I mean. Having a theme and purpose does not mean having everything planned out in advance. It means, knowing the general theme and purpose for which you are here on earth and acting toward that end in everything you do. It means having a general big-picture attitude toward life and making your decisions based on that picture of how things should be in the context of how they are. Now that I am firmly established in middle age and can look back on over forty five years of life and see a theme that affects and impacts every part of what I have done from choice of my spouse to career choices, homes, friends, artistic expression, etc. 

In my writing I try to include that same understanding into my characters’ lives as I flesh them out. For instance in my novel 65 BELOW Marcus 'Mojo' Johnson has several minor themes, those little streams I mentioned above, including finding peace after twenty years as a Marine sniper, rebuilding his family homestead, finding something to replace the woman who rejected him. The overarching theme though, and that which drives the story, is Marcus's undeniable need to protect the innocent even when they don't know they're in trouble, and even if it costs his life and/or happiness. Through all the stories involving Mojo that is the major overlying theme that guides his life. He is the sheep dog amongst wolves.

Now is that theme of Mojo's my own theme? Is it the same theme as my other characters may have? Some parts maybe, but other characters like Kharzai and Mike Farris, and Lonnie Wyatt have other general themes toward which they are working. All of their disparate themes flow together into what I believe is my own life theme: Being a godly man trying to live a Christ-like worldview in a secular world.

Are my books therefore Christian literature? I was turned down by every Christian publisher I approached on account of the realistic violence and unrepentant warrior attitude of my characters. Those characters, retired USMC Master Sergeant Marcus ‘Mojo’ Johnson, USMC Major Mike Farris, CIA Field Agent Kharzai Ghiassi, Alaska State Trooper Lonnie Wyatt, are people like the biblical King David, who had no qualms killing when necessary, yet was able to dance with unabashed joy when worshipping before the Lord. The overall theme that is threaded through all of my books is, as far as I can see, the theme of my own life. That worldview, and the actions my characters take, the doors they chose to open and those they choose to avoid are all informed by that worldview, that meaningful motif, that direction…my theme.

 What is the theme of your story and or your life?
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1 comment:

  1. Well, I'm singularly impressed. Baklava and tomato soupe de snoze. Now that's what I call funny. I had a friend you could always count on to snort one out de snoze. Spaghetti was the best one. And the milk, back when we were happy campers at age eleven.

    Since I'm the first commentator here: HAPPY FUCKIN' BIRTHDAY, DUDE!!

    Sorry. Couldn't resist. Hope I'm not banned from de blog for dat.

    Jim in Msla