Have you read a novel written by someone you know?
It’s fun. And a little spooky.
As you read, you catch glimpses of the author — mannerisms, habits, preferences, figures of speech— wedged into the lines of text. My sister-in-law insists that when she reads one of my novels, she hears my voice reading it to her.
It's as though a piece of the author's spirit dwells inside every one of his books.
Fact is, characters and their motivations are a reflection of an author's values and perspective.
In his novel, Space, James Michener has a scene in which a Korean reporter is interviewing one of his point of view characters, Professor Mott. During the interview, when confronted by family details, Professor Mott asks, “Is it necessary to print that?”
“To print it? Maybe not. To know it? Absolutely.”
And she digressed to explain her (and Michener’s) attitude toward data—
“Have you ever studied the ceramics of Korea? Probably the greatest in the world. Our potters never try to make a perfect vase, flawless in all dimensions. They allow the clay to manifest itself, to work out its own destiny. And how do they achieve that unmatched celadon finish? They don’t apply it as a celadon color. They underglaze, one subtle shade after another, pale colors you are never allowed to see. And they follow this patient ritual because they learned that if they go in some bright morning, all eager to create a masterpiece, and simply brush onto their vase the celadon color, it will always remain just that, as long as the vase exists. But if they start way back and apply first a slight gray, then a green, then a shadowy brown and finally the pale yellow, when the time comes to place the real yellow, it rests upon a pulsating base which will enable it through the next five hundred years to become whatever shade of exquisite celadon the passing fancy requires. That way you get a piece of crockery that dances and breaths and lives its own life.
“I work like a Korean potter. I underpaint, ridiculously. I must know how you felt about Jensen’s death, and a thousand other things, so that when in my book I present you as my scientist, the underpainting will be so generous that your portrait will vibrate for five hundred years.”
In the layers of this dialogue, we learn—
something about Korean pottery,
something about a fictional character,
and something about the author himself.
Just like the layers of an ancient celadon vase.
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