As a writer, I often seek both the appropriate and the inappropriate.
The inappropriate makes me think, jars me out of preconceptions and frames of reference that otherwise would echo with dull familiarity through my stories (and my life). I'm drawn to the writers who force me to think, who take my view of the world and jar it loose with a sharp nudge of their pen. Hesse, Rand, King, Clarke, their names we know without their given names even being needed. Go to any list of "the hundred best novels of all time" and their names will be listed there. They have broken the ground of the familiar and made themselves memorable to millions.
The appropriate has a different power: it is that which makes us comfortable in a story. That winds our minds and our emotions down a path and makes us feel safe. These storytellers make us feel hope, joy, possibility, or, if they do their job well, wonder. These names are no less familiar: Tolkein, Heinlein, Roberts, Wiggs, Gabaldon, Austen, and this list goes on as long as the other. Surprisingly few show up in those "100 best ever" lists outside their own genre, but they touch us, move us, and, I think most importantly, make us feel safe. They make us believe that the world has order and purpose.
When I set out to write, I spent years attempting to discover what were my criteria, what was going to guide my writing. I found it over a decade ago in a class that said, "Writer a story like you've never written." After a lot of thought, I chose my criteria. I wrote in first person, which I'd never done before--I got so deep into the head of my character that I never made it up to the word "I." And I wrote a villain, a true villain, one with a different morale standard. It was the nastiest, most evil place I've ever gone as a writer. This is a power in that place--a carnival-like draw that makes us click through on the latest news story about a murder or an explosion in China, that causes gawkers' blocks along the other side of the nation's highways.
That story was never published and the novel that character still demands over a decade later will never be written, because that story helped me find my simple guideline. All of my writing follows a single precept:
To champion the human spirit.
If it fails to do that, I'm not interested in the story. I want to live in a better world. I want my amazing step-kid to live in a better world. I want to pass on a better world than even the one I received if I can find any way to do so. Therefore, all my writing shares that one common thread.
I now live in Oregon, I lived in Washington State for almost thirty years. I wake up in the morning and watch the smoke-red sunrises from the wildfires that burn for to nearby, I read today that Washington State is now suffering from the largest wildfire in its history (over a quarter of a million acres, 390 square miles). That one fire burns over some of the most beautiful hills you can imagine. It is a quarter the size of Rhode Island and still growing. One more growth spurt the size of last night's shift and it will be bigger than the five boroughs of New York City. There are presently 32,000 men and women fighting fire across the west. Sixty-six of those are classed as large fires and complexes (multiple fires joined into a mega-fire), Only 12 of those are classed as 75% contained or better by the National Interagency Fire Center (20 are rated at 0% as I write this).
My last two novel releases and my latest short story are about honoring the men and women who fight wildfire. The books were written before this fire season had truly begun and the short story a month ago before we knew quite how bad a one it was going to be. I love these stories. They are about hope, commitment, and love. They are about passion for the firefight and for each other. They are about that world I wish to pass on.
I just wish my romances, which I'm very proud of, were a little less appropriate to the season.
All my thoughts and good wishes are with the men and woman who have answered the call to face the fire. I hope that my words reveal even a tiny slice of the amount of heart that you are bringing to what you are out there doing for us right now.
M. L. Buchman has over 35 novels and an ever-expanding flock of short stories in print. His military romantic suspense books have been named Barnes & Noble and NPR “Top 5 of the year,” Booklist “Top 10 of the Year,” and RT “Top 10 Romantic Suspense of the Year.” In addition to romantic suspense, he also writes contemporaries, thrillers, and fantasy and science fiction.
In among his career as a corporate project manager he has: rebuilt and single-handed a fifty-foot sailboat, both flown and jumped out of airplanes, designed and built two houses, and bicycled solo around the world.
He is now a full-time writer, living on the Oregon Coast with his beloved wife. He is constantly amazed at what you can do with a degree in Geophysics. You may keep up with his writing at www.mlbuchman.com.