The Art of Mirriam Neal

//for darkness shows the stars

Deborah commented on my last post with something that I felt deserved a whole post to itself – but before I continue, let me introduce you to Skimm. My friend Jessica brought this to my attention, I signed up, and I’m in love – it sends the important news updates to your email in a concise, entertaining way and it won’t depress you. I promise. Onward.

Deborah, a long-time reader and fantastically awesome person herself, said that my post made her think about my novels, which she loves, but she wants me to explain all of the ‘darkness and pain and feels-shredding-ness’ in the novels. She’s curious as to why my novels have turned that way, and my reason for it. (She also emphatically stated ‘I LOVE YOU AND I LOVE YOUR BOOKS AND YOUR CHARACTERS,’ but she was wondering what happened to my more heart-friendly stories.)

I thought that was a great question, so Deb, here is why. Have you ever gone outside at night, but the light from a nearby shopping mall or grocery store has made it too bright, and you can’t really see the stars because the sky isn’t dark enough? Most people have. But have you ever stepped outside on a really clear, black night and been able to see the Big Dipper? Orion? The Little Dipper? Maybe even star-clusters you hadn’t noticed before? It’s incredible. It makes you appreciate the stars, not the darkness of the night, and that’s why.

I don’t like lukewarm or mediocre stories where nothing terrible happens and nothing super great happens and everything is okay. Those stories leave a dusty taste in my mouth and the only impact they have is to assure me I don’t want to write that way. The stories that affect me and stay with me and break me down and put me back together better than I was are the painful stories, not the easy ones. While sometimes I wrote lighthearted romps like the Paper books, those are usually side-dishes. I write those to keep me sane while writing darker novels.

I write that way because I want to change people, not just make them smile. Because writing that way changes me. Because I crave emotional depth and spiritual contrasts and battles between evil and good. Because I want to see everything clearer, and maybe other people will, too. Not everyone wants this. Plenty of people prefer light beach reads or something simply to make them smile and laugh and while I adore humor (it’s in even my darkest of novels), I’m not interested in that.

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing… this shadow. Even darkness must pass.” – J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

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