I began writing THE BOOK OF ASHES in May 2013. This coincided with a personal decision to withdraw from society as much as was practically possible for a period of time. Initially, I believed the withdrawal would be temporary . For while I have always admired the monastic life, I have never been able to conform to either its religious or aesthetic strictures. My mind delights in spontaneity, and I am too spiritually omnivorous for holy orders. And yet three years and two books later, a discipline of its own has emerged from this existence and I remain committed to it. If anything, my isolation will deepen.
I better explain.
I have a book coming out next week – an important one for me. Although I don’t begrudge it of others, I never did the whole “professional-workshop-rub-elbows-with-authors-and-editors-of-note” thing. I have noticed how the publication of a workshop grad’s novel is treated as an event – a celebration of mutual import. Resonant words like “launch” are invoked (both for book and career). Authors receive exposure by association with more famous colleagues, and recognition from peers, who take time to read and discuss the book seriously.
My career, by contrast, was not launched with the care of a newly-minted cruiser but rather tossed off the back of a truck by a shady hitch-hiker in a hurry, someone staying low to the ground and moving fast. That’s just how things worked out for me. Travel and opportunities for professional networking are limited for me now. I miss that camaraderie and, while I do have peers who support me, there’s no sense of being part of a class – a group that shared the experience of developing to this point. Unfortunate, as this would be my coming-out novel, the one that marks a new stage of growth. That acknowledgement is likely to remain tacit, which saddens me as this is the book I would have my peers read and take to heart. And so I am reminded again that fate and circumstance have offered me a different road.
The apocalypse in THE BOOK OF ASHES is entirely a personal one. As my friend Gareth Woods noted in his blurb: “The end of the world can have very human beginnings.” Fascinated as many of us are with “the end of the world” we are too often deaf to the cries of those whose worlds are ending all around us. The brutal eruption of immigrants on Europe’s doorstep, recent violence in Paris and San Bernardino and the current apocalyptic tone of the American elections all serve to remind: worlds end. Sometimes at our hands, sometimes not. Mine ended in May of 2013 and I eulogized it in novel form. Now the trumpet sounds again.
As this world descends into chaos, I have begun outlining my next writing project with the leisure of a man not under contract. Cue cards, crowded with penciled notes, dominate my kitchen counter. I read and watch documentaries like I have plenty of time on my hands. In another week or so, my Christmas present to myself will arrive – a manual typewriter identical to the one I used in college.
Deeper roads beckon that I must follow.
One world ends. Another begins.