Here’s a question you may or may not have asked yourself in a while: “Why did I decide to become a writer? Why do I labor over page after page, pouring years of my life into a single book? Why do I work so hard towards my first big break as an author?” Okay, three questions, but still…they’re worth asking yourself now and then, especially when you find yourself lost in the mire of words and story structures and plot lines and character development, all while trying to squeeze it into the very narrow gaps of time you have in-between papers and schoolwork and work-work and bills and blah, blah, blah.
Flicking through the special features on the extended edition Lord of the Rings DVDs, my favorite bits will always be the background stuff on Tolkien himself. Not that I don’t enjoy all the behind-the-scenes stuff (all the work involved to make the Battle for Helm’s Deep is an epic unto itself), but the wide-eyed I-wanna-be-a-writer-just-like-you side of me gets a nice dose of motivation out of watching that kind of stuff. One of the blurbs I best remember is about how Tolkien and his friend C.S. Lewis came to realization that they were going to have to write the kinds of stories they wanted to read, seeing as how no one else appeared to be writing them. And from them we got The Lord of the Rings (of course), the Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia (that last one being Lewis’ obviously).
For myself, I’d say that’s part of it. Actually, there’s almost a dark side to that kind of thinking. Or maybe a healthy envy: when you come across a book so freaking good you wish you’d written it yourself. I have a personal shelf of books that I’ve come across that I would say I love so much I’m almost jealous of them in that respect, in that I wish I’d written them myself. Chief among them is the Harry Potter series. In that case, I wouldn’t say for the wealth or the fame that resulted and fell into J.K. Rowling’s lap, so much as the profound effect it had on the world. Yeah, I know that sounds like the same thing as fame, but I mean it more as the fact that it reached the hearts of so many people and basically created a shift in the entire industry of literature and the printed page. Coupled with the fact that it stirred controversy on par with Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, you know with the whole witchcraft thing and all. Yeah, it’s ridiculous to judge a book based on stuff like that, and it’s my disagreement with that thinking that makes me not feel so bad about having stuff like the Twilight saga on my shelf next my copies of Harry Potter and The Hunger Games.
Controversy aside though, at its core, Harry Potter is a beautiful story, simply put. And that’s what strikes me most. It’s full of heart and sincerity, and stands on its own as something wonderfully unique. This is what it is about all the other books on my personal shelf of books-I-wish-I’d-written. For my money and personal taste, that’s something I will never get tired of, and will always look for in a story, and so…that’s always the story I try to write. Another book that does this for me is Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is probably my most favorite book by him (though that may change once I get around to reading American Gods). It’s just one of those stories that somehow fits into the real world even though it’s so fantastical at the exact same time. Again, a kind of story I enjoy reading as well as writing. I would also put Melina Marchetta’s The Chronicles of Lumitere trilogy on that shelf too, if only because of the profound effect it had on my feels while reading it, and doing so far more than I expected. Let’s not forget the His Dark Materials trilogy either by Philip Pullman, one of the best science/magic crossover stories tapping into the ticking of the universe this side of Fullmetal Alchemist.
And right at this very moment, I’m reading a book that I’ve barely dented and already I can tell it’s gonna go on that shelf with those other books: V. E. Schwab’s Vicious (mentioned previously). I’ve FINALLY gotten to reading it and it looks like my anticipation will be generously rewarded. More than that, but it scratches an itch inside me I can’t describe, but it’s one that only a story like this can satisfy. Perhaps it’s something in my current state of mind, my recent mood, what I’ve gotten into and exposed myself to lately that influences my interests and tastes (including listening to songs like “Bad Blood” by Bastille). I guess I’d call the kind of itch I’ve got now a “wicked” itch, an itch to see wickedly badass characters who harbor a kind of bitterness towards something in the world, leaving me curious how things are going to turn out when two such characters become locked in a clash with each other. That and of course revenge is always a dish best served…well, anytime for me.
It’s the same reason every now and then I enjoy reading or watching something high on nightmare fuel masterfully combined with beautiful imagery, grim and yet alluding to the possibility of hope shining through all that darkness. There’s not one genre of story I enjoy reading or writing, but there is one thing that they all have in common to make it onto that personal bookshelf: they have such heart and soul that they feel like living entities, real and breathing worlds of their own.
Oh, there I go again, getting high on my own words.