Updated: Apr 23, 2018
We all have our alter egos – those other sides of our personality that lurk and frolic in our secret dreams. For the most part, we keep these secret others caged and locked away. We rise from our nocturnal escapades, blush, perhaps even shudder, but then we get on with the business of our waking day, leaving those others to writhe and bump around in our subconscious mind. We train ourselves to ignore them. We pooh-pooh our dreams, and all the characters that people them, as “weird” and “not real.” And we never (with the exception of our Halloween costumes, or the occasional drunken party) let those miscreants out in public. But it’s different for writers. These others become the characters in our books. We spend a lot of time with them. Unhealthy amounts of time. Until one fine day, we bring them out, exposing them, and our self, to the whole wide world.
With my middle-grade novels, this isn’t such a big deal. Anyone reading them would think that my alter ego is a heroic, somewhat naïve, and lovable young girl. Kind of weird, I suppose, for a middle-aged man, but pretty benign as far as secret selves go. Even somewhat endearing. I must be a pretty sweet guy.
But what do you do when your secret other turns out to be a despicable rogue? And further, what do you do when said rogue becomes the main character in your latest novel, and you know that you will forevermore be linked to him in the public’s eye? Hmm! Good question. One I’ve been mulling over as I count down toward the quickly approaching launch date of my next book.
I’ve always felt that it’s the writer’s job (at least in his or her books) to go places no one else would go, doing those things that no one would actually dare to do. That way, the reader gets to go there too, vicariously experiencing, while wide awake, all of those secret dream adventures that we generally put away in order to be functioning, upright members of society. Some of these adventures are sweet as sugar, while others are undeniably despicable. If the writing is vivid and fully realized, the reader enjoys a bit of catharsis through reading. It’s good for the soul. They get to live those other lives, exploring those other sides of life that they never would otherwise. That’s the writer’s gift to the world; we take people on journeys. That’s why we’re valuable.
I grew up in a small farm town in Idaho. It was the epitome of white bread America. A village full of nice people and churches. I went to Summer Bible School in the Baptist church. We memorized verses and prayed. We sang countdown songs about Jesus coming soon, and about how we’d burn in hell if we weren’t washed in the blood. We learned to fear God as the preacher told us stories about just how insufferably hot hell was going to be, and how long eternal damnation. It was the stuff of a child’s nightmares. At least mine. I still remember a dream I had where I was standing alone in a hayfield, watching my family and friends lift away to heaven while I was left behind. There was no way I would ever be worthy of that journey to paradise. My secret others were just too shameful, and I well knew they were parts of me I was never going to shake.
The irony (there’s always an irony) was that the Baptist preacher – the same one who had instructed us all in navigating the path of righteousness – ended up being nabbed by the police for flashing young girls in public. I’m sure it was tragic for him and his family to have one of his secret selves burst forth so wantonly onto the waking world. It certainly shook the community, as well as the foundations of the white-steepled church where he proselytized. People were aghast. Scandalized. That preacher probably felt terrible. Hell was his certain fate. A real tragedy. But if you think about it, it’s sort of hilarious, too. I always hoped he came to think so.
Life is absurd, mysterious, and oftentimes beautiful. I know I believe this because that’s what comes out in my books. It’s a great adventure for everyone involved. We’re all just doing our best, balancing on that thin line between the sacred and the profane – the reality and the dream – trying always to discern which is which. It gets foggy sometimes. The way is hard to see.
Anyhow, my new book is called DELIVERING VIRTUE. It’s humorous and irreverent and sort of beautiful, too. The hero is both despicable and charming. I’m sure he means well. It comes out November 7th. Read it if you find yourself intrigued. I make no guarantees, but it might just save your soul.