WHY ARE WE WRITERS?
I don't really know why but maybe someone else does.
As all struggling writers do (I assume), I have discovered a stable of published authors whose inner voices speak to me in either the soft whispers of passionate lovers, the shrieking screams of exhausted children or the gruff orders of Commanding Officers. Each one of them brings to me a different vision of the world. Raymond Chandler is the snappy dialogue and witty retorts I wish I were able to provide to a couple verbally fencing around the inevitable conclusion of a frantic dance amidst rumpled sheets.
James Ellroy’s staccato prose gives me harsh conversations and brusque actions, punctuated by extreme violence and carefully woven plots.
Robert E. Howard filled my head with pulp characters, otherworldly demons and sumptuous, lithe women all described with sentences of sometimes-lyrical prose and breathtaking vistas.
Jim Thompson showed me the true, horrific darkness of a man’s soul and the fate immorality gives to the evil.
Thomas Harris drilled into me the need for research, research, research laid forth on the page in the briefest of sentences.
Cormac McCarthy showed me how to reveal the abject beauty of a sunset to a dying man and how once you know the rules backwards and forwards; you can shatter them by killing your protagonist off page.
John Irving told me to laugh during the grim times and set free the bears whenever possible.
Alan Moore taught me there is no such thing as a boring character, just one you haven’t explored fully yet.
Frank Miller said, “There’s nothing wrong with you that I can’t fix…with my hands.” And most importantly, “This will be a good life. Good enough.”
Kipling, Tennyson, Tolstoy, Conrad, Dumas, and Melville all brought the wonders of the past into clear view. A thousand others voiced their opinions, but sometimes it feels like trying to listen to the clamber of a leaderless group of elected officials, all trying to make their opinions heard. There may be a voice others find soothing, but I have my carefully cultivated quorum of writers whom I adore.
At the peak where there is only space for a spare few, there is Pat Conroy. It is not just his body of work, his careful and painstaking exploration of his early life; of his loves so bright in his mind that we are blinded by their beauty; of loses which are so grim and dark they bring a grown man to his knees with great, tectonic sobs of agony and a maelstrom of tears; of children and parents, of life and of death. Having not grown up in the South, I have no connection to the old ways of the gentleman and the beauty of the Southern Belle, but Pat Conroy has described it in such detail that even I long for the beauty south of the Mason/Dixon line. He writes of his father as a fighter pilot, sharp, cruel and mean as an angry Water Moccasin. He writes of the beauty of his mother, the woman who gave him life and art. He writes of an angry old brother who witnessed the horrors inflicted on his family and could not take the internal damnation he scalded himself with.
“Beach Music” is a homage to his family and, more importantly, to himself. It is a story of anger and frustration and the internal struggle to let go of those childhood memories for the sake of his child. It is the story of a lost soul who fled to another country to protect himself from painful memories only to have to face them when his mother falls ill to terminal cancer. All of that is simply the plot, for the novel (perhaps his longest) was about self-forgiveness and acceptance of past sins. It is about a man knitting himself back together and allowing others to be as they are. He cannot change them, but after all these years of isolation and pain, becomes a source of strength. It feels like a runner hurling himself over the finish line, every muscle straining forward with a strength he didn’t think was possible. Pat Conroy never reached the heights of internal family examination as he did in “Beach Music”. It is his best commentary on himself and his life and it is the brilliant examination of a man not afraid to admit his weaknesses and defects. The end of that novel brings forth memories of my own desires to be a better man, a better father, a better husband and a better son. I may never reach my goals but I strive every day and moving forward towards perfection is enough.
Years after I first read “Beach Music”, I discovered Pat Conroy and his father had reconciled and actually toured the country together. His father claimed all Pat’s good ideas were based on him and therefore, he should be signing autographs. Sure enough, he did. Sometimes more people wanted his father’s autograph than Pat’s. He claims that is just fine. Not only do his characters attempt to change, but Conroy himself actually did. From being a child of a possibly alcoholic abuser, to accepting his aging father for being who he is and enjoying the time he had with him before “Lt. Col. ‘Bull’ Meachum” passed on. He forgave himself and his father. Is that what writing's about? Self-forgiveness? Bravo, Mr. Conroy.
All of Pat Conroy’s books are excellent and many deal with similar themes, which makes me wonder why we become writers. To deal with our inner turmoil? Hash it out and pound it flat like a piece of meat? Is it true that great art comes from great pain? Or are we all different? James Ellroy is tortured by his lost mother. Jim Thompson by his time spent in Texas and the shitty jobs he had. Robert E. Howard, a man trapped in the west who doted on his mother and killed himself when she died. Aren't all of us searching for an explanation of ourselves? A "cure" for our internal pain? Don't we use writing to assuage our suffering? Don't they say, "if you don't have to write, don't." All of these writers felt the same way and suffered through low incomes, lost families and other problems. Still they wrote.
But if you can't NOT write...then by all means...WRITE.