“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” Khalil Gibran
I’ve been very fortunate to be invited to attend book club meetings to discuss my latest novel, The Brink of Freedom. I love meeting people and love discussing books. It’s a bonus that the book under discussion happens to be mine. I’m grateful that people are willing to read what I write and they want to discuss it with me. No author could ask for anything more.
The questions that come up in these meetings are varied and incredibly detailed and thoughtful. Readers see my plot lines and the struggles of my various characters. They tell me my fiction gives them an appreciation of issues the headlines in the news could never provide. It’s an honour to have readers read my work so carefully.
With both novels, Nicolai’s Daughters and The Brink of Freedom, I have explored dark subjects, but more to the point, I’ve investigated the shadowy side of our humanness. My particular obsession being: what makes people do what they do? In my mind, there’s always a reason and most of the time it’s not what you see displayed on the surface.
Many book club members ask me similar questions, but worded a little differently. “Did he have to do that?” Or “Why did that have to happen? It’s not fair.” Or “Why could he or she not have had a happy ending?”
Yes, I know. I’d like all my characters to have happy endings and I’d love it if they would also stop screwing up, but they seem to have a mind of their own. They do what they do and I simply write it down. I can assure you, I shake my head too.
I am attracted to the damaged, both in real life and in my fiction. I often wonder if my exploration of the same human foibles and themes in my work comes from a need to finally pen that happy ending for some of my most battered characters. I don’t know. This is a far too psychological question for me.
So my short answer (if I ever have one) to the members of book clubs who ask me the question about a happy ending is: In real life some people never find it. Fiction should be as authentic as life itself. Besides, lives that are uncomplicated aren’t very interesting to read about. Damage, on the other hand, is fascinating. And it motivates a writer to write and explore.
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