*I know, I know, I owe you a chapter of Rogue Magic. I’m actually going to take a two week hiatus. This week because we have a friend in town and we’re having a party a day, pretty much, next weekend because I’ll be in TX teaching a workshop at the Bedford Library. After that, Rogue Magic will resume. No, I’m not doing guest posts for two weeks, though I might do them every day next weekend. (Not this.) Because I’ll be really busy (the workshop beats the stuffing out of you.) I had to cancel Fencon due to family stuff that requires I be in town. (That too is a long story.) So I’ll be away Wednesday through Monday, next week, and that might be mostly guest posts. Not right now. I just am not in the head space to do Rogue Magic. Part of this is that the book finally TURNED — I figured out what I was doing wrong, so I think I can finish it. IF I weren’t going to TX next week, I’d say I could finish it by next Friday. As is it might be the Friday after, but it will be done soon. Which is good, because we rather need the cash and also because I want to do Darkship Revenge (which broke open at the same time. They’re linked, though not as closely as DSR and AFGM. ) Okay. I’ve babbled long enough. I’ll let Peter have his say, and I’ll go clean the house.*
Writing from the heart and soul
I’d like to thank Sarah very much for inviting me to contribute a guest blog post about my new book, and how writing it affected me. She’s a good friend and faithful supporter.
One reads a great deal about how, when writing fiction, characters develop wills of their own. They drag the author off at a tangent from the ‘scripted’ plot, insist on growing into people very different from those originally in the eye of their creator, and interact in ways that can change their planned relationship altogether. I’ve had some limited experience of this, having published two SF novels so far and being busy with a third. The latter, in particular, has surprised me – the relationship between my two leading protagonists has developed very differently from what I first envisaged. Who knows where it – and they – will end up? (You’ll be able to find out in December!)
However, I don’t experience that sort of writing as involving my heart and soul. It’s fun, it’s creative, it’s enjoyable – and sometimes very frustrating! – but it’s something I’m basically observing from outside. One can remain dispassionate if one chooses, allowing one’s characters to dominate the story as far as one wishes, but always ready to reassert control, delete a few thousand words, and take the plot in a different direction. (Other authors’ experience may be different, of course.)
That hasn’t been the case in my latest book, which is a non-fiction memoir of service as a prison chaplain. ‘Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls’ was very difficult to write, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. Some of my memories of prison work are very amusing – for example, I’ve written previously about Sam The Sex God – while others are soul-searing in their utter evil. Close encounters with murderers, drug cartel bosses, terrorists, religious and other fanatics, sexual predators and the like are often so difficult that one simply can’t describe them in clinical, dispassionate terms.
I’d deliberately blocked many of those recollections, not wanting them to be a constant burden. To relive them in writing this book was sometimes very difficult. I haven’t included all the gory details, because if the memories are nauseating to me, what will they do to readers who’ve never been exposed to the reality of the sewers of life? Words on paper can’t adequately convey such moral filth… but even so, I’ve had to try to describe some of the truly evil people who are locked away behind bars.
I doubt very much whether most of those so steeped in darkness of soul and character will ever reform. Nevertheless, if we write them off, aren’t we writing off all humanity with them? If there’s hope for reformation and renewal in a single soul, isn’t there at least some hope for every soul? Many will argue that there isn’t, that some people are so far gone that there’s no way back for them: but if so, doesn’t that deny any possibility for divine grace to move in them? (Of course, if one denies the divine in the first place, that isn’t a factor for consideration, but I’m not of that opinion – otherwise I wouldn’t have been a chaplain in the first place, would I?) I provide some examples of how what I consider to be divine grace can, indeed, change souls and lives.
I’ve long been unhappy about the very poor, biased and inaccurate portrayals in books and other media of life behind bars. Those by current and former inmates tend to dramatize and glorify their side of the story, and demonize prison authorities (mostly unfairly). Those by former guards or executives go to the opposite extreme, while the entertainment industry debases the truth on both sides in favor of sensationalism and whatever sells best (usually sex and violence). I haven’t yet found a book that struck me as fully balanced; so that’s what I tried to write. It’s as fair, honest and even-handed as I know how to make it.
I wrote the first draft of this book in 2007, three years after a serious on-the-job injury led to my enforced medical retirement from prison chaplaincy. It was raw then, too much so to be ready for publication. I put it aside for three years, letting time heal some of the scars in my memories even as I learned anew to walk properly and adjust to the physical limitations imposed by my injury. In 2010 I rewrote major sections of it, making it more objective, adding facts and figures and statistics; then I put it aside once more, because (as I’ve mentioned elsewhere) I didn’t think my writing skills were yet ready for publication. Finally, I took it up again last year and this year, polishing it and getting it ready for prime time.
I hope and pray my book succeeds in getting more people involved with and interested in one of the largest social problems confronting the USA today. We’re spending as much, if not more, on the criminal justice system as we are on national defense – and much of it is wasted or unnecessary expenditure. We incarcerate proportionally more of our population than any other nation on earth. If we don’t reform the system soon, it’s going to grow into an unmanageable, self-perpetuating monstrosity. Some maintain it already has.
I hope ‘Walls, Wire, Bars and Souls’ will contribute to finding a solution. I’d be grateful if those of you who read it will join in the discussion on my Amazon.com author forum, or here, or on my blog. There’s a lot to talk about.