Richard Wright, the author of Native Son, once said:
The more closely the author thinks of why he wrote, the more he comes to regard his imagination as a kind of self-generating cement which glued his facts together, and his emotions as a kind of dark and obscure designer of those facts. Reluctantly, he comes to the conclusion that to account for his book is to account for his life.
Where does the writer end and the writing begin? To some extent every artist puts some of himself, of his or her own life, into his work. Sometimes this is intentional. More often, it is an unavoidable side effect of living and being an artist. It’s certainly true for me. I’ve discovered that writing is an intensely personal process for me: my ability to write successfully, such as it is, is intimately tied to my own life experience. As Wright says, imagination serves as a glue and emotion as a designer, but the stuff of writing is memory and observation. I suspect this is true of most writers.
It goes without saying, therefore, that there is much of me in my first novel, Exile: The Book of Ever. In some ways, that reflection is literal: the book is set in New England, where I grew up and still live. In other ways–in most ways, really–that reflection is thematic. And one of the major themes of the novel is the question of faith.
The main character, Ever, is a young woman who grew up in a deeply religious community, one who managed to survive the apocalypse by remaining insular and holding true to a firm set of beliefs. During her journey through the story, she often relies heavily on her faith in God to make decisions and maintain hope and determination.
More than a few readers of Exile have commented (with uniform courtesy and general acceptance) that they were surprised by the religious elements of the novel. The simple presence of a religious theme seemed unexpected to them. This isn’t surprising to me, and in fact is comforting in a way: I didn’t write the book for a religious audience, and as I’m currently not religious myself, I wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed as a Christian writer. I was pleased and flattered to see that my intent had, for the most part, succeeded: readers seem to see Ever’s faith as a part of her character, a driving force and a motivation.
Another theme of the book, and one I hope I conveyed adequately, is that all is not as it seems: that our reality is, in the end, defined primarily by our current perception and understanding, and that these things naturally change as we go through life. Ever has faith, but by the end of the novel, hopefully it is clear that her exposure to the larger world and her experiences in it have begun to change her.
Faith is a journey that has no end except death, at which point, hopefully, our questions are answered one way or the other. I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to Catholic school for 13 years. For most of my young adult life, I identified as an atheist. Over the last few years, that atheism grew into something I like to call, tongue firmly in cheek, spiritual agnosticism.
I’m in the process of writing up an account of my long, strange, spiritual trip, but here’s the punchline: about a year and a half ago, for a variety of reasons, I decided to join the Mormon Church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I was baptized, attended for over a year, and went through their temple ordinances.
I am no longer a Mormon (thank all of the many, many Mormon gods, thank Krishna, thank Christ).
Why? The short answer is because, at the end of the day, I couldn’t force myself to knowingly participate in a cultish church whose doctrines are not only intolerant but batshit insane.
Religious belief for me is a bit like an electron: hard to pin down, and changed innately by the act of observation. If you asked me what my religious beliefs were, I’d say that the most accurate description of me would probably be that I’m an atheist. But it’s a bit more complicated than that, and as soon as I define it the questions return to swirling around in their cloud. Suffice it to say for now, however, that my long-held, shortly-retired, recently-reacquired viewpoint on organized religion is generally negative.
I think my readers are going to be very surprised by the direction Ever’s spiritual journey takes in The Book of Ever.