Recently, in an interview I was asked what theme in THE LAST SECRET links it to the rest of my novels. The question seemed to suggest that a writer begins each work with a conscious sense of some overarching theme or proposition. While I know that was the interviewer’s treating the seven novels as a cohesive body of work, it did get me thinking.
Whenever a writer’s lifetime of work is examined, of course there will be similar qualities, topic, and issues. That’s only natural – especially given a serious reader’s search for interpretive meaning. But the starting point for me as writer is always the Story – and in using that word I mean character and plot. Take an interesting character, put him/her through the paces of a difficult or intriguing situation and the Story begins to evolve.
The hard and most vital part of the process is getting inside the character, discovering who this faceless blur with a name actually is. Why does the pastor get up in the middle of the night and drive his car to the edge of the boat slip and then just sit there? Why are the shades always down in the old woman’s windows? What is it about the beautiful girl’s happiness that seems so desperate? In trying to answer these questions, the gears are forced to turn, fueling the narrative energy that ultimately becomes the Story.
What may seem to a reader like intentional symbols and deliberate themes often comes as a surprise, a revelation to the writer. It’s like being caught in a highly detailed, onrushing dream in which one feels not only part of the action, but subject to the dream’s wishes. With awakening comes the familiar, though unsettling out-of-body release from another reality. Then, comes reflection, musing, trying to understand what the dream really meant in the context of one’s own life.
The Story, like the curious, inescapable spell of the dream comes first. Interpretation and understanding follow as natural corollaries of the Story’s power over its reader – and its writer.