I have an artistic friend who once said something very, very interesting to me.
He said all books have spirits.
Most of the time, I can understand such a concept in a very animist way. Sure, the rocks, the trees, the plans, raccoons, all have souls and are connected. Yoda me, baby. It’s the Force. But could books be part of the Force? I had to pause.
If books have a spirit, then I’m responsible for giving them that spirit.
In a flash, it all made sense to me and I got it in a very real way. Yes, my books are imbued with a kind of supernatural aura. How could they not be? I’ve spent countless hours pouring my precious life energy into writing and editing them, and in the end, it wasn’t just me, it was other people donating the minutes of their lives.
When I hold my book in my hand, I’m holding the minutes of my life. And other people’s minutes as well. Such a thing becomes sacred.
This goes beyond theme, or story arc, or character arc. This is the dynamic soul of my book. What kind of souls do my books have?
The Never Prayer is all about isolation, despair, the cold. My hero starts off so alone, and it’s only with the help of her friends can she win the day. Hmmm, sounds like me, writing alone for years and not having a writing community.
Long Live the Suicide King is about finding meaning in unexpected places. Its soul is full of yearning, and yes, more despair, but also the hope that comes from a supportive community. Sounds like me, starting to get my feet under me and starting to believe I might actual have a future in this writing gig. Thanks to the readers and writers in my life.
Elizabeth’s Midnight has a magical, beautiful soul, looking for adventure and doing the impossible. That’s one of the themes in the book – we can do the impossible. And as Elizabeth tells Quince, they’re called quests, not easies. Quests are supposed to be hard.
Which leads me to the spirit of my epic sci-fi/western series, The Juniper Wars. Dandelion Iron is the first book but, really, the whole series has a pioneering, adventuresome spirit. It’s going on the journey even though failure is certain.
Which is where I’m at in my writing journey. I’m four books into my career and I don’t have yachts, private jets, groupies, or a purse-dog.
Sometimes, I think the odds are stacked against me of ever breaking out. Other times, I know it will take time and my job is not to fret over my career, but to continue to write on a daily basis.
The spirit of Dandelion Iron is tough. I’m not tough, but I’m learning. And you know, with my initial books, I was kind of tip-toeing around, not fully committed, writing for what I perceived to be the market. I wanted so desperately for people to like my books.
With my series? I was going to walk out onto Main Street, guns ready, ready to die. If traditional publishing didn’t like my book, fine, I’d do it myself. I would write my series, all six books, no matter what. If no one read them, screw ‘em all.
I was done playing it safe. I was done chasing a market. I was going to write this grand epic adventure and I was going to fill it with everything I love: an amoral Roman Catholic priest who struggles with the idea of God, addicts, gun fights, broken-souled gunslingers, and peril on every page. I’d also throw in a love story because dammit, I like romance. I didn’t Indie publish the series because an editor from Kevin J. Anderson’s WordFire Press saw my passion on the page and offered me a contract.
At one point, in book four, my main character starts thinking, “Kill me to stop me.” And that’s where I’m at. I’m going to write books. I’m going to publish those books by any means necessary. I won’t stop.
I love holding my first four books and being proud of the spirits that fill them. Every one of them is uniquely me, filled with my own spirit. And yes, though the first three might have been written by a fearful hand, the final product is mighty.
And even if I die tomorrow, I leave behind the power and fire of my novels for readers unborn to discover.
What an incredible thing I’ve been blessed with.
But I won’t die tomorrow. I still have the fifth and sixth book of The Juniper Wars series to write.
Kill me to stop me.
Aaron Michael Ritchey is the author of four young adult novels and his short fiction has appeared in various anthologies and online magazines. His also a dynamic speaker, having taught classes on all aspects of writing fiction around the country. In 2012, his first novel, The Never Prayer, was a finalist in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Gold Conference. In 2015, his second novel, Long Live the Suicide King, won the Building the Dream award for best YA novel, and he spent the summer as the Artist in Residence at the Anythink Library. Aaron lives in Colorado with his cactus flower of a wife and two stormy daughters.
You can learn more about Aaron and his work at his website. He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.
Donna Volkenannt says
This is an interesting post that got me to think, maybe too much, about what it means to be human and have a soul.
Please don’t judge me as being contrary with my comment, because that’s not my intention.
I am an animal lover, and I do believe animals have unique personalities and loving spirits. Every dog I’ve every had has given me unconditional love and much joy. Losing one of them was like losing a dear friend, but I’m still not convinced they had souls.
As far as writing, I think writers give energy and voice to their works, which can create a unique spirit, but does an inanimate object like a book have a soul? I don’t believe so.
Aaron M Ritchey says
Thanks everyone! And yeah, you know, i was talking to Barry Eisler at one point and he said, if someone gave you a million dollars to write a book for the market, you should totally do it. But if not, you should probably write what you love. It took a long time to figure that out.
Margot Kinberg says
Books really do have souls of their own. And authors give voice to those souls. I think that’s why it’s so important to pay attention to what characters tell you when you write.
L. Diane Wolfe says
That’s why you can’t write to market. You have to pour your heart and soul into a story and tell it the way it needs to be told. The, it will come alive.
Allan J Emerson says
I like your determination, Aaron, and the freedom you’ve found with discarding worries about what “the market” expects. All the best with your writing!