Jeffrey Overstreet's Auralia's Colors releases today, Sept 4, 2007.
I will finish his interview and review Auralia in November. But I want to share part one of his interview today. I thought I might review the book, too. But this is not a quick read because I've found myself stopping to savor some delicious writing. So, I look forward to offering a full review in November. In the meantime, lovers of language, of different worlds and compelling stories may want to click on the cover and read more about Auralia's Colors.
Visit Jeffrey's website.
1. Which fiction character would you most like to be?
We need characters who show us how to change the world through quiet, humble, faithful service. I’m inspired by Colonel Christopher Brandon in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. The saintly Alyosha of The Brothers Karamozov. They’re both principled fellows who aren’t doing what they do to achieve glory or avenge some terrible wrong.
But most of the time, heroes are portrayed as men who employ violence to avenge some terrible wrong. You’ll find that I’ve lost my patience with stories like that if you read my reviews at lookingcloser.org. If I have to sit through one more story that boils down to a gladiator or a braveheart with sword in hand questing to avenge his wife’s death, I’m going to scream.
Okay, here’s an unlikely role model: Growing up, I felt a kinship with Kermit the Frog.
No, I don’t mean to say that I felt like a puppet. But think about it. Think about Kermit’s story in The Muppet Movie. Kermit started in the middle of nowhere (a swamp), developed a lively imagination, and followed his dream. Because he had a beautiful dream, others were inspired to help him achieve it. And then, when that dream came true (against all odds), it happened because of the contributions of many people. He didn’t get there by himself.
Sure, I had the idea for a story called Auralia’s Colors — but that was inspired by something my wife said. And I wrote it down because my teachers, all through elementary school and high school, encouraged me to become a writer. The story was critiqued and edited by people who cared. Ultimately, it was published through the efforts of two agents and a publisher who believed in me. Auralia’s Colors is the fruit of a loving, caring community.
Finally, I want to spotlight on a character who has been overlooked in literature. Michael Ende, who wrote The Neverending Story, also wrote an inspiring fairy tale called Momo that is, in my opinion, more powerful and meaningful today than it was when it was written. That’s all I’m going to say: You’ll have to look up Momo to discover what I’m talking about. That character had a huge influence on the story of Auralia’s Colors. I wish I had a little bit of Momo’s power — she can change the world around her by merely listening to her neighbors.
2. If you could ask any person, living or dead, a random question -- what question would you ask of whom?
This is a spur-of-the-moment response. And it’s probably a selfish answer.
When I wrote Through a Screen Darkly, I discovered that the best part of the experience was talking it over with readers all over the world. I’ve talked it over with sixteen-year-olds and with professors who use it in their classrooms. I’ve talked it over with Christians and atheists. Americans and people on the other side of the world. So many great conversations.
I really enjoyed writing Auralia’s Colors, and I love sharing the story with people. And I’d love to talk with readers about Auralia’s Colors too. So I’d probably ask Oprah Winfrey if she’d be willing to read the book and have dinner to talk it over. If she liked it and featured the book on her program, that would give me an opportunity to share the story with millions of readers. That’s like winning the lottery, but hey — it doesn’t hurt to dream big. You never know. Somebody might bring that dream to Oprah’s attention. And she might get curious. She values the imagination and artistic inspiration, so she just might go for it.
3. Do you have any rituals that you practice when you write?
I read poetry before I sit down to write fiction. I love Jane Hirschfield, Scott Cairns, Luci Shaw, Ranier Maria Rilke, W.H. Auden. John Milton… and the subtle and provocative poetry that my wife Anne composes.
Poetry slows me down, helps me concentrate on the music and power of words. I write better when I’m not in a hurry. I write my first drafts with a pen and a notebook. That helps in making me pay attention and work at every word on the page.
I also spend a lot of time walking on the beach along the Washington or Oregon coastline. Or hiking in the deserts around Santa Fe, New Mexico. I tend to find inspiration there.
4. What crayon in the box describes you on a good day? Bad day? Which one do you aspire to be?
Hmmm. I can’t quite wrap my head around that question. But I will say that when I was a kid, I wanted the Big Box of 64 Crayons. I wanted all of the colors. If you asked me what my favorite Crayon is, I’d have to say… my favorite is the one that’s missing.
Auralia’s Colors is about a girl who gathers all of the colors from the world around her and weaves them into revelatory, world-changing expressions of her imagination. Because she is so attentive to the world around her, she discovers colors that no one has ever seen before. And I watched that revelation have a strange effect on the characters.
5. What’s your favorite turn of phrase or word picture, in literature or movie?
I love the scene in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet when Hamlet decides to reveal the truth of a matter by exposing people to a work of art. “The play’s the thing to catch the conscience of the king.”
And when Hamlet’s murderous uncle sees the truth of his own evils presented to him in a play, he cannot pretend his innocence any longer. He stands up and shouts, “Give me some light!”
We should strive for that kind of revelation in art — not the kind that preaches a message, because that chases people away, but the kind the shows such a piercing, unsettling truth that people are caught off-guard and transformed by what they see.
6. If you could change something in any particular novel, what would you change about it and why?
When I read The Golden Compass, I thought it was the most enthralling fantasy I’d read since The Lord of the Rings. But then the sequels broke my heart. It took this character I loved, a curious adventurer named Lyra, and led her to the belief that there is no such thing as a benevolent God. The whole story was just a setup to slam the gospel. The trilogy becomes a bitter condemnation of Christ and those who love him. I wanted to break into that world and save Lyra and her blind guides from such ignorance and deception.
Many people have condemned the Harry Potter stories, saying that J.K. Rowling’s stories will lead young readers into practicing witchcraft. I don’t believe that at all. I have yet to meet a child who’s been ruined by fairy tales, but I’ve met many who have learned good lessons from them. Magic in the realm of make-believe is a symbol, a way of describing spiritual mysteries. Tolkien and Lewis understood that. But Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, on the other hand, seems to be designed as a deliberate attack on Christian faith, and it betrays his ignorance of what that faith entails, and the nature of the God who inspires such faith.
When I look at the world, I’m not at all inspired by the idea of placing hope in humankind. In spite of occasional highlights of humility and virtue, we’ve clearly demonstrated that we will abuse whatever powers we obtain. For me, the most inspiring figures in history were moved to incredible acts of service through their humble faith in a higher authority — one that is sovereign, benevolent, and generous. I don’t believe in the fascistic, cruel god that Pullman associates with Christianity, but rather the God of Christ, who is full of grace and liberating truth.
I think of that great poem by William Butler Yeats: The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold… That’s what happens in the world when we stray too far from our Creator. Auralia’s Colors was, for me, a memorable, life-changing journey. I started writing it in 1996, and I spend the better part of a decade living in that world, because it helped me rediscover the mysterious design of the world around me. And that made me even more curious about the Designer, and how his grace overwhelms our foolishness.
7. If you were assured of writing a best-seller, what genre would it be?
If I knew that my next book would be a bestseller, I’d write a book of poetry. If we could make a book of poetry into a best-seller, perhaps people would rediscover the power and beauty of language. Maybe they’d stop reading just to find out “what happens next” and discover what is happening right now, in these words, at this moment.
Unfortunately, most readers don’t have the patience for poetry, so they don’t understand how it works, and they miss out on what it reveals.
8. What period of history intrigues you the most?
The period before this solar system existed. And then, a close second… the period after the end of this world. Think about those mysteries, and all kinds of important questions will spring up.
But when it comes to literature, I enjoy reading about medieval times — or fantasy stories set in worlds that resemble the Middle Ages — because civilization was still closely integrated with nature during that time. Nature lends itself to metaphor and symbol far more readily and eloquently than the things humankind makes. Stories about human invention tend to be discouraging stories about our failures and the corrupting nature of power. But stories that lead characters to discover things in the midst of mountains, rivers, caves, canyons, fire, ice, and storm — these stories often give us a sense of awe and wonder. That’s good for the soul.
I think Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films were popular for a lot of reasons, but one of the most compelling was this: Moviegoers rediscovered the grandeur of the natural world through that fabulous imagery of New Zealand. It was like going on vacation to a place of unspoiled natural beauty. And I believe that nature is one of God’s most powerful languages through which he reveals himself. Maybe that’s why I like to write fantasy. It makes me concentrate on the natural world, and I start discovering the spiritual mysteries incarnate there.
To be continued....