And this time I’m not actually referencing the cartoon in Writers’ Digest many years ago. This is not a matter of “there is a book in you, and it will have to come out.”
When I say “there are many books in me” right now, I’m not talking about the multitudinous confusion of voices that keep me awake in the night going “I’m only eighty thousand words. A slim volume. You could type me in three days.” (And don’t get me started on the fights between my pen names. In the same way it’s not madness if you’re rich enough, it’s merely eccentricity, it’s not schizophrenia if you get paid for it. It’s merely being “driven” and “prolific” – that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)
What I’m talking about, instead is about he stories that go to making up all of us. Stories are an amazing thing. See, we’re finding that false memories are very easy to implant, and though I can’t prove it, I suspect we’re more susceptible to a well written book than a movie when it comes to remembering it vividly as though it had happened to us. Though this might depend on your type of intelligence. I’m more verbal than visual and that might make a difference to me. I don’t know if more visual people experience movies int hat way. I don’t. To me the books are more “real” because I get to know what people are feeling from inside their heads. It’s a way to experience things that don’t happen to me – to live someone else’s life for a while.
I think this might be one of the reasons that biography is often found inadequate to explain historical figures, in way or another, and that to get the full rounded picture of someone, you need to know what they read – particularly what they read over and over until it became a part of them.
You could probably explain a lot about me, by knowing I was raised on Enid Blyton’s adventure series (pre-modernization) which means I absorbed a lot of British concepts of fair play and manners from the early twentieth century. Into that fell Mark Twain, the adventures of Captain Morgan (with original color lithographs, showing every beheading and sword-wound in loving detail), then a lot of very odd books – including the complete work of Thomas Mann – and then Clifford Simak, and a lot of Heinlein. Somewhere with that were a lot of WWII memoirs and fictionalized biographies.
With those books in me, how could I not feel more comfortable in an anglo-saxon culture. What is otherwise inexplicable, becomes inevitable when viewed that way.
At the same time I was reading a lot of non fiction and philosophical works, which informed me, but did not mold my personality. However, to this day, I remember growing up in England and having adventures with my cousins (and Tim, the dog) off the coast, during summer hols. I remember fighting for Luna’s freedom alongside Wyo and Manny. I ran the Way Station with Enoch. I was a slave in an alien planet, sold to an old beggar-man who was really an intergalactic spy. Oh, yeah, and I went riding with the musketeers on that long hail-Mary pass to retrieve the Queen’s jewels from Buckingham. I remember the horses dying under me, and perfidious inn keeper laying a trap for us.
Those experiences have become part of my soul in such a way, that should there be a weighing of the heart after death, I’ll have to explain why we chose to let Mike harass the Warden.
Yes, of course, I was also there, at the end, when the Earth got bombed, and I became a smuggler to hide the books that civilization might rise again, maybe that will count in my favor.
I am as much a child of those books and those authors as I am of the relatives who raised me, of the landscape I grew up in. Sometimes, I think I am more so.
This is both good and bad:
It is good because for many of us, it gives us a chance to have children we never had – to touch generations yet unborn.
It is bad, because it gives us a chance to touch generations yet unborn. How are we touching them? Whose influences are coming through our writing? Is this what we want the people reading us to become? Do we even know? How much control do we have?
Just like with having children, when you find out that you didn’t just reproduce yourself, but ancestors you never even met, your literary children will go on paths you can’t predict, and forget new ways of seeing things, give people experiences for good and ill that you can’t imagine.
Embrace it, own it. Be proud of it. Imperfect you might be. Not the equal of the giants who formed you. You might struggle and hem through word.
But in the world of tomorrow, a world past your death, that book will be part of someone. It will make someone act the way they remember your characters acting.
And just like with sending your DNA forward, you’ll be alive and present in that moment, in the heart of humanity yet to be.