Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The First Thought (of Many)

My novel, The Exiled Monk, was born on a farm in Ireland in the summer of 2010, but it still had a long way to go, and so did I.

The entrance to Wickle Cottage, Innishannon, Co Cork, Ireland.
My wife and I would work on the farm during the day and I would write articles in the evening to make a little money for us to go places on the weekends and to save up for a tour at the end of our summer. Most of the time things worked well, but occasionally I would need to go into town to get some more focused writing done. So I would leave Wickle Cottage and walk down the hedge-lined lane to get into the small village of Innishannon. There I could get a cup of coffee and some wifi at the Found Out Cafe, along with some distraction-free writing time.

We knew we weren't going to be able to do everything we wanted to do while we were in Ireland, so we started to prioritize and, very quickly, the UNESCO World Heritage Site on Skellig Michael, rose to the top of the list. It's a 6th century monastery on a remote island in the Atlantic where the Celtic monks would copy and preserve not only biblical texts but also the great artistic and philosophical works that would connect Renaissance Europe to the Classical ages of Greece and Rome.

The main street of Innishannon village on a fair summer's day. 
I got to thinking about what it must have been like to brave the ocean and the unknown to go to that remote island. While walking between the hedges my mind wandered to the fate of a boy who paddled himself out, away from everything he'd ever known, in the hopes that what he would find on the island would be worth the risk. I got lost in a story in my mind. It was like daydreaming, but not about something I might do or had done. I was immersed in my imagination of that boy's experience, his fear, his determination, his exhaustion, and his unyielding hope.

While the story was born out of my growing need to reconnect my head and my heart after studying in seminary, The Exiled Monk really began to take shape as a narrative when I met that boy and began to wonder why he was paddling to an island on the horizon. What was he fleeing? What was he drawn towards? Why?

Those questions would beget questions of their own as I struggled to understand the gargantuan task of writing a novel. I sought to place that boy and those questions in a context that I'm familiar with and have loved since I was a boy: fantasy fiction.

In my very first iteration this nameless boy was sent by the monks on the island to meditate in a cave. In his meditation he found a magic that turned the cave from dark stone to translucent quartz and awoke from his meditative trance to see the sun shining through the rock around him. That scene barely survived (in a drastically altered form) to make it into the book, but for me it was the first thought that this boy and this journey might be a story that I could write, a world I could reveal, a novel lurking within me waiting to come out.

What has remained, both in The Exiled Monk and in my life, is the connection with that boy who would leave behind the familiar, the normal, the safe, and go out into the unknown until finding that point (in actuality the many, many points) where it feels too difficult, too far, too much, too overwhelming, but going back isn't an option. In the novel Peek repeatedly faces moments where there's no way home, there's no way to make things like they were, there's no way to undo what has been done, so the only way out is through. The only way to go is forward. That feeling has characterized so much of my life over the past seven years, especially my writing life.

I have wanted to give up more times than I could count. But each time I have felt too committed to turn around, too invested to give up, and so I persevered. I don't know how many times I thought I was too stubborn for my own good or wondered quietly if I would fail so miserably that it would have been better to have never started to begin with. When I started writing it was euphoric, I was embarking on a new adventure. But as I struggled to wrap up the narrative, as I struggled to incorporate feedback, as I struggled to rewrite the story completely, as I struggled to understand the magic and religion in the world, as I struggled to fund the Kickstarter (and as the first one failed), as I struggled to fulfill the Kickstarter, as I struggled to learn the writing industry, as I struggled to build an audience, as I struggled to not feel like a fraud, failure, fake for not doing everything without struggle, I would look back over my shoulder to see how far I'd already come before turning again into the struggle and giving myself to it.

It started with the thought of a boy paddling out to an island as I walked into the village wondering if I could write enough to pay for the trip to that island (spoiler: I did and I'll tell you about it next).

No comments:

Post a Comment