I know this journey well, for it was one of the lifelines that carried me back from my personal abyss, which I’ve written about before and will do so again. I have heard a dozen variations of what brought writers to their knees and how they found the words to spin despair into hope. Although particular circumstances differ, as does the degree of incapacity, we have enough in common to recognize our kinship. We are those for whom the stories-of-the-heart have been a beacon, a sustenance, and a means of growing even stronger as we heal.
Sometimes, the very act of writing – no matter what the subject matter – helps us to focus. There’s nothing like a thorny plot twist or a challenging bit of dialog to distract us from other problems. Joseph Conrad said, “It’s work that saves us,” and this is as true for writing as for any other endeavor. Stories, unlike so much of real life, must have structure and meaning.
Some stories, on the other hand, do more than provide a framework for intellectual problem-solving. Whether they are characters, situations, or entire worlds we know and love, or whether they arise during our time of crisis, they speak to us – they call to us. They give us a voice. Perhaps a new voice, perhaps one we have lost or that life has battered out of us. Or maybe it is simply that when we are pushed to the wall, emotionally or physically, we need to connect with what gives us joy. Wellsprings of secret delight and unabashedly un-guilty pleasures. And healing.
As I said, I’ve been through my own version of the journey. So when I read this from Katharine Eliska Kimbriel, her words resonated deeply with me:
I’ve been fighting illness for fifteen years, too. I’ve spent my life savings…saving my life. I still cannot not work at an office job. But I can edit up a storm, and I have an Allie book to finish. That is the reason I kept going. This is the series of my heart, the adventures of Alfreda Sorensson.
One reviewer wrote, “Night Calls will leave you with . . . the feeling that though there may be dangers in the world, the powers of goodness and knowledge can overcome.”
Anyone can dump their anguish onto the page, writing for their own benefit and not necessarily to communicate to a reader. To be sure, such writing has therapeutic benefit for the writer and in the hands of a skillful writer can be turned into something of value, often dark and edgy. Several of my short stories written in crisis eventually made their way into print, and I’m grateful to have had an editor’s objective judgment in that process.
These “cries from the darkness” stories are quite different from “calls from the light.” The latter are the stories that nourish us through sorrows, that keep us going while our hearts and bodies heal, and that give us something to live for. In 1984, a number of women on the US Olympic track team trained at the gym where I worked out. I’d never seen anyone work so hard physically. They’d pin an image where they could see it as they strained and sweated to their physiological limits – a focus, a goal, a reason. Some stories are our equivalents. That’s what I hear when I read Kathi’s description of the Alfreda books.
Kathi is in her bones a thoughtful and complex writer with a great sensitivity to character development and relationship. My introduction to her work was the Nuala novels, which I wrote about in “Radiation, Polyamory, and Adventure: Katharine Eliska Kimbriel’s “Nuala” Series.” I’ve had the joy of reading a short story featuring Allie and her family, and can hardly wait to read more. Dark fantasy with a hint of the numinous, as Sherwood Smith observed. A story with heart. And hope.
Here’s some more details:
“When you have the Gift, your life is not your own.”
I was born to a family that harnessed the winds and could read futures in fire and water. Yet my mother kept her secrets.
Then the werewolf came, sharing his madness.
Now it’s my turn to keep secrets….
Night Calls is available in ebook format from Book View Café. Print on Demand paper versions from Lightning Source and Create Space will follow. Kindred Rites appears in December, and the third book comes out in Spring 2014.