The Point of View for My Work as an Author–On Leere

This post is a continuation from the AML Blog. Read it first to understand my path in becoming an author.

Yes. Today King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals is released into the world. At one point I was so excited about writing it. I sat in my chair too long and suffered a deep vein thrombosis. Ah, the hazards of the writing life.

To understand my work, it must be kept in mind that I break things. For example, to scientifically test the fragility of a thing, one must tap it with a hammer, or something more sophisticated, until it breaks. This provides information. When one protects things from real tests, whether those things are ideas, ideologies, or facts, one can run the risk of letting structures get sloppy, weak, and unable to bear the weight of what needs bearing. As a computer simulation modeler I build digital ecologies. I try to make them as useful as possible by trying to capture the relevant players in an ecology, their interactions, and processes. However, to make it useful I must try as hard as I can to break it. I have to put it through its paces. Try inappropriate parameters. Take it to its extremes. Try to knock it off balance. When it passes test after test (sometimes this literally takes years), then we call the model robust. If it breaks too easily, we call it fragile. If it turns out to be fragile it is more often than not a worthless model. Sometimes in testing to make it robust, I have to make adjustments. Reconsider approaches. Rethink what’s important and not important. But it is in the testing, the trying it out, that fragilities are revealed. And finding fragilities is the first step in building a robust model.

I do this in my fiction too.

Take A Short Stay in Hell. I tap the concept of ‘Eternity’ until it breaks. It’s in putting it back together that I’ve made my own most important theological realizations (much of my writing is for my own explorations).

Take The Scholar of Moab, I try to break notions of truth, fact, faith, and consciousness. If it takes conjoined twin cowboys, unreliable narrators throughout, or truthful madwomen then so be it.

Let’s look at an extended example, in Gilda Trillim. One thread in the work is the relationship between individuality and community, and the ingestible. In the book, the life of Gilda Trillim is being explored by a young student, named Katt. Gilda like, Joseph Smith, has extraordinary experiences that some consider too far fetched to be believed. As a result, much of Gilda’s universe has divided into camps about her, some feel like she is a liar and manipulator. Other think she’s just crazy, a mad genius. Others, especially those who know her best, think she partakes of the divine.

Gilda is trying to discover the essence of life. She begins by exploring Eden’s symbol: the apple. She spends a year in a Russian convent creating chiaroscuro paintings of an apple seed. She knows everything about the seed. From every angle (she even does a chemical analysis of appleseeds to find their constituent parts). She finds nothing there. By digging down she discovers the void. She goes big and looks at community by exploring all the connections associated in a black cake that she bakes (an actual recipe from Emily Dickinson!). Suddenly everything is connected, but in going big, rather than uncovering the void, she finds chaos. Later in the book, we find Gilda a prisoner of war in Vietnam where they put her and her fellow prisoners to harvesting crops. A drought leaves her starving. And dying. Alone. In another void, she decides to give what she views as her last pinch of rice to the rats that frequent her cell. Like mother birds, they reciprocate with food returned from their bodies. Community. This brings bigness again. So big she is visited and taught by her Mother in Heaven. All of this back and forth between individual and community, void and chaos, is brought into focus by what she ingests. Apples. Black cake. Rice. Rat vomit. And finally, Mother’s milk (see Rachel Steenblik and Ashley Mae Hoiland’s new book for more on this!). In the end individuality and community bounce back and forth in relationships of meaning and affect. In the end, looking into a sacrament cup it all comes together for Gilda.

Around me the deacons with tousled hair and wrinkled white shirts have passed the bread and the water, blessed with ritual exactness (repeated twice today at the insistence of the Bishop). The Sacrament. The Lord’s Supper. What is this? I take the small cup between my thumb and forefinger. I look at the clear water, cool in a white cardstock cup. My gaze descends all the way to the bottom of the cup. I stare. Peering in, it’s as if I’m looking into the benthos of a small pale white pond. The individual fibers that make up the paper of the cup are magnified and by attending even more closely, enlarge to fill my field of vision. The young man standing beside the row shifts impatiently, hinting that I should drink it up and return the tray to him, but I don’t want to drink it. I want to imbibe it with my eyes. With my heart. With my mind. I keep the cup and hand him the tray. I look back into the water. And I discover I know it! Not the water as H2O, but as symbol. As an offering. I know it through and through. How strange. Unlike the apple seeds, I sense in the cup’s liquid a purity. A revealed totality of essence. I sense it through and through. Not as a noun-ed thing. Neither the fullness of the thing it represents—a remembrance of sacrificial blood. But a symbol whose presence is a given fullness. A grace. White cupped water. A symbol. Nothing seems hidden or withdrawn. It is pure expression. A pointer. And as pointer, pure. To what does it gesture? Events thousands of years ago. Events that have since created networks and networks within networks full and rich, but all somehow condensing in this cup, and through it into me and shooting from me, binding me in complexity and relations running in and through all of time. I’ve spent my life trying to understand one thing in fullness and am I offered it in a paper cup? Isn’t this Logos? The word made flesh and made word again? I look at the water, its surface tremorring in tiny wavelets dancing across, distorting all that lies below it, yet not affecting its givenness. Its grace. I think, wasn’t it a single word that God spoke that brought the universe into existence? An utterance, a sound, like the water in the cup that contains the fullness in symbol from which all things emanate? And in this don’t we see the purity of this word, which appears as is? Apparent, it offers itself as is. I am that I am. And now it all comes home. Finally I see it. The one thing whose appearance is the thing in itself. Essence in this water. Apparent and graspable in its univocal simplicity. Representing the word made flesh, a word spoken in the beginning from which all things emerge, and returning here in this cup. In my hand.

p. 256-258.

So amid all the imbibings, here at last community, individuality, and the divine come together. Both symbol and reality unite. Wholeness.

I give this extended example because I am easy to misread. In some shallow readings I get challenged that I’m only trying to break things.Yes. I am trying to break things. Not to leave them broken, but to expose fragilities where work is needed. I tap things in my fiction. I tap them hard sometimes. I don’t want my thinking, my science, or my theology to be shallow on important things.

So now you are ready to read Leere.

Opening introduction to the book on Amazon.

Like those three-dimensional objects that look entirely different depending on the angle from which you view them, this novel presents a number of faces. From one direction you will see a conventional adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear set in the American West. However, if you view the book a few steps to the north, you will see a novel that is more Margaret Atwood than Shakespeare: a post-climate-change-catastrophe tale about a transgenic-goat rancher named Leere, the self-styled King of the La Sals Mountain Range in Utah. And from another angle still, the novel becomes a meditation on ecology, land, place, and consciousness! And like most of the really great adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, there are transgenic porcupines and semi-sentient BattleDredge attack robots. Funny, tragic, and timely, King Leere explores futures that may materialize sooner than we think.

For the next two days Leere will be on sale at a substantial discount to celebrate the launch.

Comments

  1. J. Stapley says:

    Steve, this post encapsulates so much of what I love in your work. Perhaps that is because I fancy myself a builder of models in my own way. But also most certainly because I feel like we share the body of Christ.

  2. OK, I’m more impressed than ever. Breaking things to expose fragilities is a great image and more self-aware than I ever hope to be.

  3. .

    What is the normal price from which this has been discounted from?

  4. Thanks J. and Christian. So true.
    @thmazing $12.99 print, $7.99 kindle.

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