So, I’m putting together a newsletter. That is, a paper newsletter, to send to friends, family, fans, and readers–Sorry, I couldn’t think of a synonym for readers that began with F–since I now have a solid list of people who would (probably) like to hear from me occasionally. The idea is to include a short-short story, a book blurb or review, a writing tip, maybe a guest article or interview, kicking off each quarterly issue with a seasonally relevant “letter from the editor” (that’s me). My first, aborted attempt turned into this blog post. Aborted, because too heavy, too serious. But look at the bright side: at least I know what I want.
I had a notion to start a newsletter back in October 2008. I rambled on for four full pages about news media, advertising, politics, terrorism, and how we’d all live longer if we’d just relax. At the time, it seemed appropriate to the Halloween season. In retrospect, I still agree with everything I wrote, but why did I have to be so boring about it?
Since then, I’ve authored two more books, started a third, and published uncounted posts and stories online. The newsletter idea remained, but why bother? Whenever I thought about it, I concluded that I really had no idea who I even wanted to be as a writer, and I couldn’t for the life of me imagine why anyone on God’s Earth would possibly care.
Then it hit me.
You have to understand, my mind thinks in abstractions. I’ve been working toward a personal destiny, but I’ve never been able to put it into words. (Some great writer, eh?)
What coalesced the vision was an experience at church. Not a religious experience, per se, but a traumatic one. We’ve all experienced similar social tragedy, whether at church, at work, with our significant others, or within a support group. A precipitating event changes some of the group’s opinions or attitudes, rumors fly, fears mount, favors and loyalties are traded in dark places, and eventually one camp or the other cries uncle and disappears forever.
I’ve wondered, as humanity unfolded from Africa, spreading to Europe and India, Asia and the Americas, whether this was the force that caused us to settle the continents. In each tribe, did personal differences cause social divorce? Did each group push out the others, forcing them to migrate to new territories? Over the ages, is this the process that has generated such a wonderful variety of humans around the world? If so, we’re still at it today.
But this time, for me, it was different. It felt different. I saw it differently. Because I was different. I felt the same hurt and dismay as every other time before. But I also saw the drama unfold as an historian might, as one who is looking on it from the outside rather than living it from the inside. And that was because I was now a character author.
I like to say, “Every novelist is a psychologist,” because we have to learn to live inside the heads of our characters, even those characters who are completely different from us, even the villains of our stories. I try very hard not to cross the line and psychoanalyze my friends, because that’s not cool. But I found it very easy to empathize with those who did the hurting, even though I disagreed with them.
I realized that fiction is more than just entertainment, because stories are part of our spiritual journeys. Reading and writing fiction can stretch our minds, hone our perceptions of the world around us, help us to understand our fellows, and make us better people.
Maybe that’s why I believe everyone should be a writer.