Feeding from a bountiful table

It’s funny, but the tour of documents I’m going through from that ‘liberal arts education short course’ list have proven a rich and timely banquet for the book I’m writing. This isn’t the sort of material I would have expected to be particularly useful — I’m basically writing a love story between a male and female soldier of enemy nations set in wartime, and government per se did not figure heavily in the outline and will not figure heavily in the finished book. It’s a character story.

But freedom is a huge part of the story: what freedom means, what we have to do to earn it, what we have to do to keep it — and how we define those we call our friends and our enemies. And for these issues, the words of de Tocqueville, Adams, Ben Franklin, Lincoln, and others, have proven invaluable. My characters, on their way to finding each other, are having to define and redefine not just love and trust, but what they believe about race and family, religion, dependence and independence, duty and honor, truth, justice, war and peace, and not least of all, freedom. It’s making for some challenging storytelling, because the main character, who speaks in the first person, is not a particularly reflective soul. She’s tempermental (though she sees herself as the soul of balanced reason), she’s got a dry sense of humor and she’s a good observer — but she has always been reactive in nature. Things happen, she reacts. She doesn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the whys and the hows. And, for the sake of the story, and my sanity and the reader’s sanity, she can’t spend much time thinking about those things now, either. I can think of few punishments more hideous than to be chained for 1200 pages inside the head of someone who is thinking about things.

Heaven help us all.

So … I have all these wonderful bits and pieces of other people’s genius, and I have to use them in an active, show-don’t-tell, act-don’t-think fashion.

And it’s fun. It is honest-to-God fun, to sit there and think, “Okay, let’s have a nice bloody demonstration of why Adams in the Federalist papers was right to worry about the tyranny of the majority, shall we? And while we’re at it, how about something funny and maybe a bit kinky that includes the telling bits of Thoreau’s demand for blunt honesty, and for marching to the beat of one’s own drummer?”

Democracy in Hyre, the R-Rated Version. That would be me.

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About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

3 comments… add one
  • Jim Jun 8, 2003 @ 19:01

    Tres bien 🙂

  • Holly Jun 8, 2003 @ 4:24

    That Taoist adage — When the student is ready, the teacher will appear — has always been particularly true in my life.

    The trick, I’ve found, is to recognize the teacher when he, she, or it shows up, and then to be patient. Because what I think I’ll be learning is not always what the teacher plans to teach.

  • Jean Jun 7, 2003 @ 21:39

    Isn’t it interesting how things show up just when you need them–even if you didn’t know you did?

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