I've asked a few friends to stop by for a house-warming party in my new digs. Corban Addison has just released his first novel A Walk Across the Sun, set in India and following several characters intersection with the seedy world of human trafficking. The book's catching steam; it's been pushed by John Grisham and Oprah's O Magazine. In a flat world where we demand everything be efficient and have obvious (and immediate) utilitarian purpose, many of us insist that the work itself offers goodness to the world – writing need not be justified by accomplishing some other purpose or added agenda. However, sometimes we ride that mule too far, to the point that our writing becomes selfish and myopic. In Corban's debut novel, he has written something that takes the story seriously, on its own terms – but he also has a message he wants to give away. This is not easy to do.
This part of the party's going to be a conversation around the table.
Why writing, Corban? Why do you find yourself needing to tell stories?
Since I was fifteen years old and starting to spread my wings in an adult world, writing has been my outlet, the preferred channel for my thoughts. When I was a kid, I used to write essays and reflections on anything and everything, work on them tirelessly until I felt I had perfected every word, and then stuff them away in a file on my computer, never to be read by anyone. At the same time, I read voraciously and preferred fiction. Story was a form of travel for me. It peeled back the skin of the world and gave me a glimpse of humanity as it looks under the hood. I've always been conscious of truth, and I've always loved to learn. Long before I ever thought about the power of story, I responded to that power by devouring stories and allowing them to frame my vision of the world. At some point, these two currents (my impulse to write and to consume stories) merged into a singular dream: to write a story. As soon as I tried my hand at it, I fell in love with it. And away I went, down the Rabbit Hole. For years I wrote stories as I had written essays, spending countless hours refining them, only to learn that no one wanted to publish them. But the dream only grew stronger as the pile of rejections mounted. That was a training ground. I learned how to write by trying and failing and trying again. All along I believed I would find a story with wings. Ironically, when it happened, it was the story that found me. The idea for A Walk Across the Sun was my wife's before it was mine.
You've written a good story that also has something of an agenda – you want people to think long and hard at the issue of sex trafficking, hoping to contribute to another abolition of slavery. Did you think much about the interplay between letting the story be the driver and letting the issue be the driver?
When I set out to write A Walk Across the Sun, I knew it would never work unless it could stand alone as a compelling work of fiction. The story had to sing, or it would flop. That said, my objective in writing a novel about the global trade in human beings was to confront the reader with a reality that many people find hard to believe. I wanted to do more than describe the problem. I wanted to give readers a first-class trip through the trafficking pipeline. I wanted to reveal the many dimensions of the trade and to leave readers with the strong sense that all is not lost, that hope is real and that all of us can engage in the fight for justice. Bringing the two strands together was a labor of love and editing. There were times in early drafts of the manuscript where I fell into the didactic trap, overplaying my hand as an advocate. Eventually, however, with the help of some fine editors, I was able to submerge the facts about trafficking into the narrative, leaving the story to drive the book and allowing the issue to emerge organically in the consciousness of the reader through the experience of reading the story.
Colum McCann says, "I believe fiction can capture the moment when the thorn enters the skin." Where do those words take you?
Story has been around as long as communication itself. It transcends every barrier that divides us as human beings, and it compels us in a way that nothing else can. In a very real sense, story is the universal language. In my mind, the reason for this is simple. Story is the framework of our existence. All of us are living a story, so all of us are interested in stories. What makes fiction such a powerful medium is that it allows the writer to transport the reader to places within a particular story that would be missed in a purely factual account. There are moments in life that have profound significance, yet the clock doesn't slow down to allow us to dissect them, ponder them, suck the marrow from their bones, and live inside the transformation. In fiction, the clock can slow down or speed up. One scene, one moment, can occupy pages or a single sentence. A story can open a window on the world that does not exist in the four dimensions of space-time. There is great irony in this: Fiction offers perspectives on reality that reality itself cannot afford.
This year, I'm feeling tugged into new places of generosity, as a man, a dad and husband, a writer and pastor. I'm going to give you a prompt; just tell me whatever comes to your mind. Here goes: write with generosity
One of the saddest facts of modern art is the all-too-common divorce between the artist and the audience. So many artists these days pride themselves on creating art for themselves, not for the people who will view it, read it, and ponder it. To me, writing generously is writing with the audience in mind–not in a disembodied sense, but in a very real, very particular sense. When I was writing A Walk Across the Sun, I wanted to create a story that would reach the broadest possible audience, from the seventeen-year-old girl who spends her afternoons devouring books to the eighty-year-old grandmother who puts down her knitting and picks up a novel. In crafting the plot and the characters, I made very intentional choices about what I would include and what I would not include, how I would describe certain things, especially difficult things like sexual violence and the trafficking of children. I knew that my readers would be real people, and I wanted to meet them in the reality of their lives and give them a story they would love and a story that would open their eyes to the world around them in a new way.
image: daily progress