Monday, October 24, 2011

And the moral of the story is....

I’ve been thinking a lot about my first book signing at the Barnes & Noble store at the Promenade Shops in Loveland, CO. I was so nervous talking to people and even worse when talking about my book. They wanted to know what it was about, what age it was written for, and what rating of content I would give it. One elderly woman approached and seemed interested in purchasing a book for her grandchild. She asked me what the moral of the story was…
I drew a blank. I hadn’t thought about a moral to give the story. It was good, clean, fun writing for me. My answer was that of a stupid, blind-sighted, inexperienced author. I told her that there was no moral. It was just fun and adventure. Her look was; “What are they allowing authors to publish these days?” And she turned and left.
I want to right this mistake. She might never read this blog, but I will be more at peace. The book has so many morals! I just didn’t look for them, or even register that I was adding them to my book. The characters evolve, learning trust and cherishing virtue. They learn to forgive. They are true to what they believe, and most of all, it is that good conquers all. (Cliché, I know, but true!)
As I’ve been occupied on the other books, I’ve come to find that there is a much deeper moral underlying the entire work. It is of self-mastery. Magic plays a large role in my books, and there are two main types. One is called “Calaith.” It is darkness, anything evil. Thoughts of vengeance, anger and hatred fuel this magic. It is easy to wield.
Then there is “Estelthra.” It is one of the hardest to use because it requires excellent self-control. Thoughts of love and kindness fuel this power. It is much more powerful than Calaith. It is used mostly for healing and comfort, but those that master it can use it as a powerful defense.
Which magic would you be more likely to wield?


  1. I'm working on "lojur". It's not easy, especially after dealing with nasty people in retail. Sure would have used 'myrkur' earlier.

  2. I intended to leave this reply long ago but it slipped my mind. Better late than never, as the old cliché goes. An old professor of mine once shared his greatest observation from years of practicing law. It went something like this:

    "Every case you present will have three distinct arguments. The first argument is the one you prepare before going into court. It is solid, well-reasoned, and cleanly articulated on the paper before you. You spend a lot of time on this argument and you make it flow logically and eloquently. You should be proud of it.

    The second argument is the one you actually deliver in court. It is, of course, derived from the first argument that you wrote and practiced, but it's not as good as the first. You have to take into account the unexpected angles presented by your opponent. You don't have the luxury of time to so-carefully craft your words before speaking them. If you could just pause the outside world for a moment, the right words could be found easily enough. But we simply can't do that. The second argument, the one everyone gets to see, is almost always the worst.

    The third argument is the one that comes to you as you're trying to fall asleep the night after having lost your case. You know now precisely the right words to say, the right answers to all the questions, and all the flaws in your opponents' positions. The third argument is always the best, but we seldom refight the exact same battle twice."

    This would have been back in 2007, but I remember the parable quite clearly. I think the core of what he said wasn't so much the platitude of "hindsight is 20-20" as it is "getting caught off-guard is tough, learn the lesson but don't dwell on the past." He certainly wanted us to predict what was coming so as to not be caught off guard, but he also wanted us to know that prediction is an imprecise business.

    I tend to spend a lot of time re-arguing old losses and thinking about how I could have better-approached some unexpected twist of events. I think this is very common—quite human, really—but at a fundamental level, I don't know how helpful it is.

    To play devil's advocate for a moment, I think if the older woman at Barnes & Noble had instead asked you to tell her what the prevalent themes were in your book, you would have been able to speak of them far more easily and perhaps arrive at a satisfactory answer. Asking for the moral of a story implies that there is just one moral, and to an extent, also implies that the book at question will bludgeon the reader with that moral. Not to be too much of a literary snob, but the best stories often have some degree of ambiguity in terms of their lessons; they require some degree of interpretation by the reader. It's not "don't cry wolf" stated in bold at the end of the book, but rather the choices made by characters that hint at the importance of self-control, self-actualization, or mastery of one's self. Why are moral conundrums more fulfilling than clean lines dividing the actions of heroes and villains? Because we live in a complicated world with competing intents and justifications, because people are flawed, and because those flaws are often what make people so interesting.

    How does an author condense that into "a moral of the story?" Perhaps just by saying "people are complicated," but surely that leaves something to be desired.

    Best wishes in your literary adventures.