By Richard Sutton
©2013, All Rights reserved by the Author
I’m sometimes asked why I chose to pursue fiction writing, and especially why so late in my career? For me, there are two very key reasons, both of which stem from the fact that I was one of those reads-both-sides-of-the-cereal-box-at the-breakfast-table kind of kids. The need to write, and the resolution it brings both came to me from reading. The craft developed much later.
Being a constant reader, spinning out stories in my head while attending classes at school, it seems like it would have been logical for me to think of writing as a career pursuit, but it didn’t happen that way. Writing was very important to me throughout my young life and into my twenties as I kept journals, wrote short stories and poetry and often illustrated them, too. But they were strictly written for my own reading. Rarely shared and actually, looking back, they were usually quite obscure, often peppered with private expressions and concepts. In this way, they provided a kind of therapy: helping me to unravel some of the more puzzling situations I was thrown into.
We were a family always on the move towards better opportunities. We moved almost every year as I was growing up in the 1950s, so learning to be the new kid and find my way in a new home was critical to my mental health. The concept of stability and home as a destination came much later. Home meant this place, right now, and getting used to that idea was the task. Adaptation and flexibility were the keys. It taught me the importance of being a careful observer of detail, and learning to recognize a sense of place. Knowing where you truly are, not just happening to be there. I’ve had readers express that they find that in my fiction and it helps carry them into the story. I hope so.
Words and the power of the mental images they could create always seemed like magic to me. I believed that if approached in just the right way, they might yield transforming results. If they did, I kept it to myself. In some ways, I still do. There were always particular writers, though, whose work gave wings to my own fantasies and dreams, in whatever direction they took.
The first of these was L. Frank Baum, author of the Oz books. I was spending a boring day at my grandma’s house. I was seven and as my assigned chores were all finished, I asked my grandma if she had anything I could read. She disappeared into the cavernous attic upstairs, and returned with a well-worn copy of Tik-Tok of Oz (1911) by L. Frank Baum. I would give that book a lot of additional wear over the next few years, reading it several times as I grew to understand all the words. It transported me to a place where another kid who felt outside of things managed to find her way, and beyond comfort, it provided me a glimpse of how the magic of writing could work in a reader. It made me want to be able to do that, too. I still have that book in my personal library.
Then there was Tolkien, coming when I was in my early teens. Everything written about Tolkien’s work that I read years later seemed to resonate in my own experience reading. On one level, his writing created another universe, peopled with fantasy creatures who spoke flowing, expressive languages. But closer to my heart was the magic that Tolkien wielded regarding those moments of the simplest kind we all face almost daily, when we are called to act. He illuminated the magic and power in everyday living. The power of home. The power of what is right.
So for me, while fiction is and has always been transporting, it doesn’t seem as much of a flight from reality as it does a flight into reality. My own work, since changes in my business life gave me the time to write fiction, has always approached solutions to the knots of contradiction in our sense of being where we belong. Should we be here, or there? Should we struggle to prevail, or find a better fight?
All around me, I see and hear stories of human beings trying to cope with the minutia of living as much as with the huge, insurmountable obstacles thrown at them. News broadcasts often fill me with dread and can be very depressing; but sometimes, there are tales told of unique achievements or pathways. Often unrecognized at first, the stories that move me most are those of people who find ways to do miraculous things from within simple lives and with few resources.
The physical needs of any writing job require a conversational inventory, and a point to be made. Those lessons I learned for many years in the advertising trade, both in design and in copy writing and marketing concept. There are also specific steps that if taken, provide better results. Some of these are academic rote and others came from battlefield experience in the trenches of marketing. Later when our family business was growing, I got involved with local politics and persuasion on a small-town business level. But it was only when I started seeing the signs pointing to an upcoming change – in this case, the end of our bricks and mortar retail operation after nineteen years – I began to feel the freedom to begin writing fictional stories as a means of clarifying my own internal troubles. The words in my tales comforted me, and later, comforted my readers, too.
For me, fiction writing is a welcome relief from what has been called the “business brain” which we employ constantly in just getting along the best we can. Fiction is a driven but still gentle master, which absorbs me almost completely during a draft session. Since much of my work is historical and involves details and specifics of setting and location, I work with a lot of research, but as reference notes, generally. My characters seem to write their stories for me, usually in marathon sittings. I have even had specific logjams in my work, broken in dreams, as if my character told me in conversation what was going to happen and why. The real work begins when the results of these manic sessions need to be re-written into a cohesive narrative or accessible dialog. Only by doing that again and again, can I seem to learn the nuance of my craft. Rewriting is not pleasure in itself, but the results can certainly be.
In the grip of an extended story, I know I can seem remote, as my wife has mentioned, but I don’t really want isolation during these times. I want to remain immersed in living, to keep the juice flowing, so I’ll jump up from the keyboard, and rake leaves for two hours, or paint a room, or change the oil in the car, then get back to the tale.
Our family business (my day-job) has been online since 2007, so I have daily maintenance and customer contact to keep me engaged as well. This interaction strengthens my work, so I may hit the keys for hours on end; yet eventually, I’ll need to get away from it if only for a few minutes, to deal with reality properly. To re-engage. I secretly try to make more hours in the day so I can do everything — often at once — before I rest. At other times, I’ll need an extended period away from the keyboard, to give my brain time to recover and find new inspiration. Weeks can flow past, then in a frenzy, I’ll complete a novel in two or three sittings.
My own definition and practice of the magic of words plays out in all my life’s details. I’ll often find the need to experience something first hand, in order to distill it properly into phrases and actions on the page. Travel helps that, as does having curiosity about almost everything around me. I’m often compelled to engage closely with the natural world; with wildflowers and trees and animals and saltwater and dirt, so I always feel welcome there and recharged afterwards, as are my characters. But the adult fiction writer is never very far-removed from the “new kid” at the breakfast table. These days, I’d still read the cereal box, but now, I’d probably write an essay about it, too.
Mr Sutton’s Web Site: http://www.sailletales.com/
The Red Gate: http://www.amazon.com/Red-Gate-Helped-Uncover-Familys/dp/1441472258
The Gatekeepers: http://www.amazon.com/The-Gatekeepers-Richard-Sutton/dp/1449924182
Available at Barnes & Noble, in print and for Nook: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/red-gate-richard-sutton/1100071943,
Smashwords in all eBook formats: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/242232
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