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Sunday, November 21, 2010

in praise of whimsy

If you're a person who has read a number of my blogs on writing you'll know I lean to writing stuff with weight and significance. However, I have friends who write in all sorts of genres - mystery, for instance, which seems to be a format used by Christian intellectuals to relax with, for example, GK Chesterton (Father Brown mysteries) and Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries). A couple of years ago, for a bit of fun, I decided to spin a yarn, the kind I might have told my kids when they were 9 or 10. It was indeed relaxing to write the piece, a cross between a western, frontier epic, romance and historical novel. My agent took it and peddled it around the block. After many adventures and - definitely - misadventures, I inked a contract for the story's publication in a book length format. Strange things happen on the writer's road.

Now I am researching another piece of whimsy: a young man wants to learn to fly, circa 1917, despite objections from his religious community. How would I spin doctor this for my used-to-be 9 year old daughter and used-to-be 10 year old son? Well, the adventure of flying the first aircraft, biplanes, and doing loops and dives with them in the blue sky in an open cockpit - that would excite them for starters. Learning how to handle these first flying machines - almost crashes and a few wrecks, that would keep them listening. Flying through thunderstorms, punching through cloud banks, throttling into sunrises and canyons, putting the pair of them in the cockpit so that the wind is running through their hair and whistling over their goggles - that's how you make sure everyone is having a good time, including the writer who has always wanted to fly open cockpit biplanes himself and feel the wind in his hair and the raindrops on his hands, in addition to wearing the awesome leather gear that was an essential part of flying without a canopy and which protected an aviator from the cool air that bit into the arms and chest and legs. And that is the heart of the matter, I suppose - I write the whimsical books because I want to live them and no one else is going to write the stories for me exactly the way I want them to look, sound, and feel.

So there you are. I write the heavies because I love to author them too, but that's not the same as wanting to live out a flight of fancy in your imagination. I'd never write a steady diet of whimsy because there are too many important stories to be told in the novel format. But now and then, when there's been a steady diet of thesis and academic writing and literary fiction, years of it, it's nice to slip on wings and go to frontier land, or adventure land, or fantasy land and create your own kingdoms of sheer colour, wonder and delight.

Just for yourself. But others can come along for the ride if they want.

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