We celebrated the arrival of fall and cooler weather with our first fire of the season last night. Had to make s'mores for the kids, of course, but I womanfully resisted the diet-demolishing treat. Watching the flames was very relaxing, and gave me a chance to meditate and think about the week ahead and work out a couple of scenes from the WIP in my head. I also told some stories because unless you have a very big roll of duct tape, you can't park a storyteller in front of a fire and keep them quiet.
It got me thinking about what it must have been like for the very first storyteller. That very first story had to be born by a fire. Think about what life was like for our distant ancestors: taking shelter in caves, fearful of the dark, huddled together against hunger, enemies, the cold, the inexplicable -- nights must have been pretty tense times for the tribe. Under those circumstances, silence wants be filled.
So what do you talk about by the fire? Gossip tends to alienate and infuriate; truth is painful and even more worrisome. When as a group people want to be distracted and soothed, you have to give them something else that they want to think about, something funny or exciting or impossible; something better than the here and now. Something less painful than yesterday, and more hopeful than tomorrow.
I have this book I'm working on at the moment that consumes me. They all do, but each in their own way a little differently. This story is all about hidden fires, those things we most want and what we're prepared to do in order to earn them, fight for them, or even steal them. Respect, wealth, love, power, possession, revenge, dominion -- wanting them and going after them is a big chunk of the human experience.
The characters in this novel are an interesting mix. I really love the cast, although they do require constant balancing checks to keep any of them from taking over the story, kicking me out and running it on their own. You know your characterizations are strong when you start fantasizing about killing off someone who isn't supposed to die in the story. I imagine if they were real they'd think the same thing about me.
The challenges of making this story work are considerable, and there's always the doubt looming in the back of my mind that I can't do it, that I'll fail, that it will end up being a great big heap of lukewarm manure (and I've battled this doubt every single time I've written a book, and no matter how many times I win, it never goes away.) At the same time, I like the doubt. For one thing, we're old pals. Doubt also keeps me sharp and motivated because I despise it and I refuse to give it what it wants. There is no greater pleasure in writing for me than finishing the last page of a manuscript. Every time I do I stomp doubt and grind its pointed little head in the dirt. And while doubt can never be completely terminated, as long as you're willing to work hard and keep getting up after a fall it can made to suffer extensively.
With NaNoWriMo just around the corner, I hope those of you who are thinking about writing a novel in November will give it a try. Since I can't join you in the writing this year, I'm planning some posts each week this month that I think might help with the details and the process. I'll also be cheering you on in November. But unless the demands of life and work and family are overwhelming, don't talk yourself out of this. Try it. Don't worry about finishing or selling or publishing; just write. You may find that you surprise yourself.
As for the fire, for the storyteller it's always inside, contained by the tales we want to tell. Whether it warms us or burns us, it wants to be shared. That's why we're here. That's why we tell our stories. So we can be your fire.