May Newsletter: My Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
When conversing with readers, students and aspiring writers, I am frequently asked the following:
What determines the deeper significance of a Story? And where does it come from?
Or, regarding a specific book, scene or character, (insert applicable name, title or scenario, but for the purposes of introducing my new book, Refuse): What about Refuse? Why the character Deacon Wells?
My short answer to the first question is, sometimes you know right away what the root inspiration and subsurface messages are. Other times, you don’t. That being said, there is always a deeper root, purpose or message than what the surface view of art reveals.
My long answer is that regardless of media, the entire, often multilevel significance of artistic expression is difficult to determine, at least at first… even to the artist. In time, however, discovery and understanding eventually happens. This was definitely the case for me when I wrote Search for Yesterday. In fact, it wasn’t until several years after writing it that I became aware of the desperate cries of a much younger Quinn woven all throughout it. Once conscious of them, much like having witnessed a disturbing scene and being unable to erase it from my mind, it was impossible to unhear my youthful pleadings. What an incredible a revelation it was, to read my story with full knowledge of its metaphoric origin! Suddenly I was finding new understanding, not only of the story’s deep underpinnings, but of personal struggles, some of which I deal with even today.
Much like it was with Search for Yesterday, with the Deacon Wells Books I, II & III, the question of root, and or deep, message remains only partly clear. Apart from Deacon’s character, and the knowledge that much of the story is rooted in a belief in the goodness and strength of human spirit, I haven’t yet pinpointed the sublevel, deep-from-the-core-of-my-heart, impetus behind its content and context. That said, it doesn’t mean there isn’t one . . . or many. I don’t believe meaningfully impactful writing, or art, for that matter, ever stems solely from a desire to treat boredom, or for self-entertainment. This kind of expression doesn’t come from social, political or economic pressors. I’ve heard novice authors say, “I just thought it would be fun,” or “I really just wanted to see if I could do it,” or “I got sick of bad books, so I decided to write a good one.” These or any number of other reasons might be good first steps, but they all lack the impetus to be the true root of meaningful art.
I joke about how Search for Yesterday began, when on Thanksgiving afternoon of 2008, I was the only person in the house not passed out from tryptophan overdose; I opened my laptop and decided to write a novel. The truth is that my story actually got its beginning in 1979 when as a high school junior, I dreamed of becoming a novelist. I started then, what would eventually become my first novel. I quickly realized I hadn’t the training or life experience to write the kind of novel I envisioned, so I stopped trying. On that Thanksgiving afternoon 29 years later, lack of life experience nor training was the case, and although I admittedly was surprised with the shear magnitude of the accomplishment, looking back, I am thanking that younger, sensitive and socially awkward, yet bullishly-ambitious Quinn, for providing not only the content, but the context for my precious metaphor.
If you are an impassioned writer and haven’t yet been able to pinpoint the heart of your expressive voice, don’t worry. Sometimes we’re too close to our work and it may take an insightful, considerate individual to point us in the right direction, as it did for me. Or circumstances will change, allowing fresh perspective. Like we say about Utah weather, “If you don’t like it, wait fifteen minutes… It’ll change.” Things are in constant flux, in and around us. Sometimes we just have to wait for our circumstance or environment to shift so we can see what is hidden beyond the obstacles that were blocking our view.
In one of the winding-up scenes of Search for Yesterday, Kid, who has only just regained his memory, mentions an uncle, who he is certain is searching for him. Deacon Wells, “Uncle Deak,” as Kid calls him, will be coming.
Before I go into answering questions regarding Refuse and its leading character, Deacon Wells, let me tell you that, in writing this or any other novel, I am determined to include something of import on every page. I toil over each sentence. I carefully select words and phrasing that connect to a particular character’s development, the plot or sub plots, and always, the overall storyline. Each sentence should enhance the reading experience. My wish is to immerse you in each scenario, such that long after the book has been laid down, you find yourself reliving it as you go throughout your day. In short, I suggest you don’t skim or speed read through any of my books. I don’t believe in fluff, and you’ll miss something that matters later on.
Okay, back to discussing Deacon Wells Book 1 – Refuse. In constructing the Deacon Wells character, I intentionally made him a larger-than-life personality, who embodies the ultimate spectrum of human struggle. You will find it both endearing and tender when he, as five-year-old David Wells, is introduced in the opening scene. I’m confident you will not only fall in love with him, but find part of yourself living in his character as well, connecting his wild, inquisitive, hapless, joyful and sometimes tortured self and situation to your own life experience. One of the things I love most about Deacon, which incidentally is the reason for the title of Refuse, is his refusal to have his life, in any way, dictated by circumstance or societal say-so-ers, and his dogged determination to change the destiny they prescribe for destitute people like him.
My hope is that the combination of struggle and growth Deacon endures in becoming the person he desires to be will not only resonate with you in reflecting on your own past, or summon the courage within, to help navigate a, perhaps, difficult present. None of us are completely unique in our emotional make-up or the obstacles we are forced to fall victim to or overcome. With that in mind, I hope Deacon’s trials and triumphs find commonality with you, and that you will appreciate yourself more as you relate with him and learn to recognize your own victories.
Each member of the human family has infinite worth regardless of age, education, social or economic status or abilities. What we too often see or experience in our neighborhoods and the world, with prejudice, intolerance, oppression and persecution is reprehensible and inexcusable. We can and must be better. I saw a Facebook post today: “The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday” (Matty Mullins). How much can I do to improve the world if I am just willing to make this my mantra? Who knows… maybe Deacon Wells’ adventurous saga will provide a gentle nudge to be and do better for each other.
So, returning to where I began, regarding the underlying import of this story: I will need to do more soul-searching and pondering to discover and fully understand the why of characters and what life significance they might represent. However long that takes, I’m glad to have you join me and welcome any and all insights you care to share with me and other readers here on the blog.
My warmest regards… Happy Reading.
Quinn O Heder