The seed of an idea

September 7, 2006

Auralia, still as death, like a discarded doll, lay in a burgundy tangle of rushes and spineweed on the bank of a bend in the River Throanscall, where she was discovered by a hapless old thief …

One day in 1996, before Anne and I were married, we went hiking with our friends Jon and Anna in a vivid territory of woods, waterfalls, and boulders near Flathead Lake, Montana.

Somehow, our conversation meandered from thoughts on the scenery, wildlife, bears, and blackberries, to explore questions and experiences in art, faith, and imagination.

At one point, Anne said, “Isn’t it strange how some people reach an age where it’s like they take their imaginations, fold them up, and put them in a closet?”

Sometimes, an idea can snag in your mind, the way a seed drifting through a garden is suddenly caught on a blade of grass and eventually falls and takes root.

I began to think about that metaphor. Metaphors are major distractions for me. I rarely get very far in listening to a sermon before the pastor’s metaphor of choice has sent me off into imagining how that metaphor might play out in a story. This particular metaphor was particularly arresting. It was as though the branches of those technicolor trees reached out, seized Anne’s question, and unfurled it like a scroll.

I imagined what it would be like to walk into a vast wardrobe where garments crafted by wild imaginations had been tucked away into drawers and stacked up on shelves. They were dusty and forgotten. But as I unfolded them, I discovered a whole secret history of the people who had abandoned them there.

And then I began to think about the people who had given up such treasure. What would their world be like, drained of all color and imagination? I thought of the “Grey Men” in Michael Ende’s extraordinary children’s story Momo. What kind of oppression would settle like a chilling mist over their lives if they had been ordered to surrender their varying forms of creative expression?

And what would happen, then, if an artist — a young person bursting with imagination and blessed with a gift for unleashing outrageous and revelatory colors — walked into such a world to remind them of all that they had left behind, all that was possible? Would such a person be welcomed as a savior? Or driven into exile? Or killed?

A fairy tale began to take shape. I wrote a story about 90 pages long. But I knew, somehow that the story wasn’t complete. And when I shared it with others, they had questions about characters who had appeared in the margins. I began to explore the stories of those characters, and I realized that this was a much more complex and interesting story waiting to be told. What began as a simple childrens’ tale expanded into a novel.

And then I married Anne. I wanted to be around someone whose mind worked like that. When it comes to poetry, great ideas tend to drift into her path all of the time.

The story grew as I explored. Anne kept asking questions, through the days before the wedding and into the years after it. And our close friend, writer and actor Danny Walter, asked questions too — especially about a character called “the Ale Boy.”

The story grew some more.

It became a novel called Auralia’s Colors, which will be published by WaterBrook Press, a branch of Random House, in September 2007.

I look forward to sharing it with all of you, and to telling you the story about how the book came to be published, which is more bizarre and unlikely than anything in the novel itself.

I hope you enjoy meeting Auralia.

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