I suspect the condition of “not knowing” is a real gift to the writer – it heads one in the direction of the extraordinary rather than the certainty of what is known.
Though I’ve had unintended and albeit modest success with a little piece of fan fiction called Echoes of the Before Time set in Hugh Howey’s world of Wool, the story still closest to my heart has been read but by a few.
In case you missed it, and there’s a good chance you did, let me introduce my first full-length novel to you by way of a blurb
An FBI agent’s obsession with his late father’s secret sets him on a collision course with a past he has carefully avoided, shadowy enemies he never suspected, and a most unlikely friendship with an autistic man who sees reality in ways no one else can. Will Jackson Barrett’s determination to unlock secrets his father took to the grave save or ultimately destroy one he only knows as — The Source?
My protagonist in that story is an FBI analyst who has nursed a lifelong obsession with his father’s secret – one that still cries out from the grave where he laid his father to rest. Writing coaches often stress that it is essential to make sure the reader can see a character’s motivation. For Jackson Barrett, the motivation is to understand how an enigmatic and mostly voiceless fellow named Manny can possibly offer the answers he so desperately craves.
Much is embellished and imagined about Manny Fox but he is indeed based on a very real person by the name of Gene. Whether Gene was a true prodigious savant will never be known. Like Manny, Gene remains a wonder and a mystery. I don’t know if Michael Bunker had such inspiration with his oddly titled, Brother Frankenstein, but he perfectly captures what I found in knowing Gene – I had much more to learn from him than he from me.
Gene was a man-child of many mysteries. Nearly 50, he went nowhere without his plastic dinosaur twirling in his fingers. More times than one a friend asked me what I thought Gene was talking about as he muttered to himself. I often wondered if he saw and understood things no one else imagined.
By the time I met Gene, he was blind and totally dependent on his mother who was dying of cancer. Gene loved to have someone he had never met tell him their birth date. Sometimes almost immediately, and sometimes after a great deal of showmanship, he would bark out the day on which that person was born. But one thing remained a constant – he never got it wrong.
Though my character, Manny, cannot communicate the answers, he ironically resolves the most important question of all – does anyone ever really have all the answers?
As Judith Kitchen notes:
For writers of nonfiction, who deal predominantly in facts, this chasm of doubt can be unsettling … surprise leads to discovery. And discovery is what the real writer – in any genre – is really after.
Hopefully, it’s no secret to those who know me that I am an unabashed Christ follower who has no problem affirming I believe in a God who is the source of all things. But faith doesn’t require me understanding everything. In fact, it sets me free to revel in what I do not know while affirming what I am most sure of. It frees me of needing to – having to – know the unknown.
Perhaps that was Gene’s greatest gift to me – he reminded me of how much I am sure of and how very much I don’t need to understand. How about you? What reminds you of what you are sure of and what you probably, at least in life, will never fully understand?