A Craft to be Practiced

broken-mirrorI started my fiction-writing career with mystery, which I chose precisely because it is formulaic. As a beginner, I wanted to be guided by a lot of structure. I never held the delusion that I possessed some towering talent burning to be free, or any special voice that had to be be expressed. I always approached writing as a craft to be practiced. I still see it that way.

I ended up writing thrillers, not mysteries. In a thriller, the threat to the status quo is recognized but not understood. Someone is trying to kill me but I don’t know who, or why. That appeals to me. It’s how I live.

In a mystery, the crime is well-described from the beginning and the only question is whodunit, or possibly whydunit. You leave clues and red herrings along a trail of rational problem-solving, leading to a conclusion that is not, hopefully, foregone.

That was too formulaic for me. The thriller offered more degrees of freedom but still was tightly bound by realism and critical thinking. I wrote some sci-fi, which stretches the imagination more, but always within the strict parameters of rationality.

I’d like to write something that doesn’t make sense, at least not all the time. What doesn’t make sense? Just about all of life, when you consider it. Time doesn’t make sense. Time as lived, not as defined mathematically by science. La dureé, in Bergson’s terminology.

Pictures belie the reality of time, but rhythm affirms it. Where is the ten-year-old I once was? Hell, I’m not even sure about last week.

Love doesn’t make sense. Most emotions don’t. Religion doesn’t make sense, really, it doesn’t. It might seem to, for victims of untrammelled egocentricism and superstition. Superstition doesn’t make sense.

Nor does probability really make sense. It’s empirical, not intuitive, a distinction that is the bane of gamblers. I taught the principles of statistics for years and I could not, even today, really explain the behavior of the normal curve. I can demonstrate it, but not account for it.

Birth and death, of course. Total mysteries.

And I have always been attracted to the principle of cosmological transformationalism, a kind of magic practiced by shamans, regardless of culture. I think I’d like to dig into that. I once saw a man turn into a bird, and I almost understood it. That is a promising avenue.

An interesting challenge would be to embed an irrational shamanic phenomenon within a hyper-rational form, such as sci-fi. That would be a  challenge.


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