Here are the unedited, first five-hundred words of my next novel, a novel dedicated to my forthcoming son, Basil Augustus:
There are some stories that deal with the fanciful and whimsical. You have most likely read these stories. They tell of both heroes and heroines bravely facing the unknown. While these stories serve an important purpose in our society, they fail in one important aspect—or so say the stuffy, codgerly academics; for those who cannot write, critique those who can by creating foreign paradigms of literary excellence. Stories of fancy and whim minimize both the suspense and mystery of their narrative precisely because we know, no matter what may come, that the teller will refrain from killing his or her protagonist. If we know, all along, that the protagonist is in no real danger, then how can we believe? How can we narratively participate? We are left with a sense of discomfort and disbelief because we have to consciously break out of the narrative and tell ourselves to pretend as if what we are reading is real, though we know otherwise. In this way, we break out of the magic that is story. This, of course, and ironically, destroys the narrative world that the author has labored to create. But to experience the plot as the protagonist is experiencing the plot, with no knowledge of outcome—that is true literature. In summary, stories of fantasy, intrigue, and mystery fail precisely because we begin with the knowledge that all will end well. And all that is left of the author is the mundane task of connecting dots in a sea of white.
Take, for example, the Aeneid. Like any proper epic, the Aeneid, in the middle begins. Once we are rightly brought up, so to speak, we find Aeneas sailing the wine-dark sea driving his ship towards Latium. And we, the reader, do not know the outcome. Will Aeneas escape Troy? Will Aeneas be ensnared by Dido? Will Palinurus successfully navigate Latium? Will Aeneas or will Aeneas not kill Turnus? And Rome, that once great Republic, what will become of Rome? We do not know. We are kept in the dark, clearly. We must read and allow the story to unfold. Aeneas may die, and with him the dream of Rome, and we are forced to participate in Aeneas’ journey with that eventuality in mind.
Other stories, simpler stories, however, are not of this caliber. We read; we know the outcome; we follow plot, but we do not risk. Stories of this sort are safe, stories for the kindhearted and gentle-minded.
This is not one of those stories.
If you have cracked open the binding of this book in the hopes of finding such a literary travesty, then I warn you: you are, sadly, mistaken. The following story is dark, grim, and harrowing, even more so because it is true. If you are the kind of reader that maintains a reasonable amount of perspective on things of apocalyptic proportions, then continue—this book is for you. As the evening sun sets and darkness creeps over your shoulder, alight your lantern, boil tea-water, and keep pace with the journey. But know this, a story that deals with broken kingdoms, post-apocalypse, and eschatology are not for the faint of heart. There is no shame in admitting that you have not the stomach for it. On the contrary, I encourage you: close this book and slide it back onto its shelf.
If you know yourself, however, then locate your spot of comfort—perhaps that one near the window?—and read on as we now turn towards our protagonist.