Posted by: Robin | May 1, 2008

Why This Writer Writes, Part 4

I write because I have a story to tell. I will never quite understand what happened the particular day I got the idea for my five novel series The Fire-Dragon Star Cycle, but I have read and heard the life stories of too many writers to claim it was a unique experience, the most recent being J.K. Rowling. I had long wanted to write fiction and made several starts, using semi-autobiographical events as a jumping off point. No matter how persistent I was, my ideas never took on life. Then one day six years ago, there it was, like an implosion of ideas from a wide-range of my reading. It was fully formed and my three main characters Samantha Fitzroy, Father A. David Fitzroy (once King Arthur), and Finn stood before me. It was a world where the intriguing mention in Genesis about the Nephilim, sometimes interpreted as the offspring of angels and humans, lived and worked for and against the planet and its inhabitants. Avalon was a place where all the stories are true. Only after the fact did I realize where all the elements came from, even many tiny details, i.e., why Sam had red hair and her siblings were triplets named JD, Jack and Jamie.

I discovered I was more storyteller than novelist. I was not writing literature and probably never would (a major obstacle for one whose education and training is literature). I was surprised at how much research it took to fully realize the fictional world I’d imagined in an instant, but I loved it. It’s taken years of writing to give the story texture and nuance and make it true to itself. Like life, I discovered my characters in layers until they lived and breathed, often confounding my plans for them. Most of all I had to understand as well as I could, the historical context of the late fifth/early sixth century in Britain; Celtic, Welsh and Roman life and custom; and the various incarnations of Arthurian tradition and literature. Sometimes it was frustrating to live within its limits, but the integrity of the story demanded it.

In the last phase I discovered a drastic change had to be made in how my Arthur would have lived to be true to Welsh tradition, law, and custom. I wanted to be as true as possible to the historical context, but by then certain elements of the 12th and 13th-century romances were too integral to the story, despite their absence in the earliest Welsh tradition (before Geoffrey of Monmouth, or as the experts call it pre-Galfridian). Susanna Clarke, author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, once told me in an online book discussion that an author of fantasy will inevitably meet a few things in their story that can’t be explained entirely by logic, but they are necessary things to happen. When confronted with that situation, the writer must serve the story. She just has to hope that she has woven her fictional world well enough that the necessary suspension of disbelief is as effortless as possible. So I served the story. Now the first of the five parts of my story is done, and each of the other four are in rough draft form.  Marketing comes next, and I am ready to face that gauntlet and whatever comes of it. I have confronted the analogous question of the tree falling in the forest: Is a story only a story if it is read (and bought)? No . . . and yes.

Meanwhile I write and serve the story that claimed me one late winter day. Ironically, once started, I am teeming with ideas for other things to write. I write because I have stories to tell.

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