This stop in the journey at last brings this series to the present (2015 at the time of this writing), covering what for me is probably the most fruitful and exciting period in my reading career, a time I’ll refer to as the “inkling phase”.
Most people who know me for any length of time will soon come to find out my great affinity for the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Over the years I have eagerly soaked up not only their work, but also biographical details about their lives. Theirs was indeed a unique literary friendship. As most Lewis and Tolkien aficionados know, they were friends and colleagues, and met together on a regular basis, along with other authors and scholars, for many years to share rough drafts of their works in a group known as the Inklings.
And so it begins
So when I decided to form a literature club circa 2005, it seemed only natural that the name of the group should be the inklings. The group did not exactly catch fire at first. For the first couple of months no one even came, and then finally there were two of us and I suppose that is when the group actually began. We met in a Borders book store (remember those?) and read things like Lewis’ essays On Stories, and Tolkien’s The Monsters and the Critics, both amazing sources of inspiration for me as a writer. Mostly we read fiction though. This is when I took in such wonderful books as The Count of Monte Cristo, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Til We Have Faces, The Brothers Karamazov and George MacDonald’s Complete Fairy Tales. We read primarily science fiction, fantasy, and the classics, though we did read some literary fiction as well. Of that last sort, Gilead, which I believe won the Pulitzer Prize, was my favorite.
By 2008 there were four of us in the group. One of the unstated goals I had when starting the group was to share our own work amongst ourselves, just as the original Inklings had done. And the more I read these great works, the more they rekindled my love of fiction, and this longing began to stir within me more and more. Still nothing might have come of it if another member of the group had not mentioned to me at one point that he was working on something for which he wanted some feedback. That conversation was like striking a match to the dry kindling that had been laying there all these years. I responded enthusiastically that not only was I more than willing to look at his story, but that I might have something for him to look at as well.
I had had the beginnings of Into the Vast written down for quite some time at that point (I began the story in 1995) and that was what I chose to dust off and share with my friend. In the time between when I last had worked on it, my ideas for the story had changed considerably. As I sat down to attempt this, my first ever novel, the story changed even more. None of the original character names stayed the same nor did much of the plot. If you ever saw the horrible Sylvester Stallone movie The Demolition Man, I would say that my original draft was somewhat along those lines, though not intentionally so.
By 2009 when I really began working on the novel in earnest the group dynamics of the Inklings had changed and I was sensing that with all the time I was devoting to reading I was never going to get my writing off the ground so I abruptly left the group in the early part of that year. I regret to say that my reading slacked off considerably during the next few years. I remember reading about other authors saying how important it was to read as much as possible to help their writing, but I didn’t believe it. I had such limited free time that I reasoned it would always be better to spend it writing rather than reading. I also had the very wrong-headed idea that if I read other work, especially any science fiction, it would unduly influence my work and I wanted it to be as original as possible. Needless to say, I have since seen the error of my ways and now attempt to strike a balance between reading and writing. Reading other authors has done nothing but enrich my writing and I only wish I could read more and more often.
Of flames and fiction
It’s odd because the Inkling experience was what reignited my passion for fiction after my long sojourn in the land of non-fiction. And that passion for fiction is what reawakened my desire to write. Perhaps the flame burned too brightly at first, consuming the wood upon which it had been kindled completely. It took a while before I would add fresh wood to the fire. If memory serves, I believe it was The City of Ember which sparked my current reading renaissance (rather ironic given the title, eh?). That book also had the effect of renewing my faith in modern writers. I’m still rather biased towards dead guys, but my enjoyment of that book showed me that there were still fresh voices and stories to be had even amongst the modern morass of the literary landscape.
And so that brings me to the present where, though I may no longer have the Inklings, between Six Degrees of Kool Books, the Nightstand Series, and Goodreads, I have a glut of wonderful stories to choose from and I cannot read them fast enough. In terms of writing and reading, I have never enjoyed either more fully than I do at present and look forward to many years ahead of both. Indeed the road does go ever on and on. And for me it all began in the deep deep woods near the Cave of Time in a little hole in the ground where there lived a hobbit.