It’s been a strange August full of strange happenings.
It started when I packed up my gypsy wagon once more and moved from Chicago to North Carolina with an unintended pit stop (i.e. dead car battery) beside a nuclear power plant. Did I mention it was the dead of night in West Virginia with everything closed the following day? Soon after, Charlottesville, Virginia, was set upon by white supremacists. My husband is a UVA alumnus and we dated through our undergrad years, so I have a romantic devotion the town, its students, and community. It broke our hearts to see it tainted with hate and violence. Immediately following, the sun and moon aligned in the first solar eclipse in 99 years. All in a month.
Prophetic much? I came close to telling my builder to scrap the house plans and dig a bunker. Then I remembered that living in fear is exactly what our enemies want—whether they come from within (supremacists) or without (terrorists). We can let the internal and external devils govern our actions, or we can seek some semblance of understanding so as to respond discerningly. Words are our power, friends.
As men and women whose lives are dedicated to the craft, the responsibility falls on us to be facilitators of a positive language exchange. Antagonistic rhetoric is too readily accepted today, indirectly and directly. It’s become the only way many know how to communicate. But anger and fear only fuel the beast.
Make no mistake: we are angry; we are fearful. But as guardians and proprietors of words, we understand that there is grace, knowledge, and a defined intent to every written and spoken element. This is the credence we give to spending hours deliberating over each a and the that make up the sentences and paragraphs and pages of our chapters. Words matter.
Once expressed, words resonate through the chambers of the world we inhabit and through the chambers of ourselves. We believe them— believe in them. So we must choose wisely, now more than ever. This is not the time for ignorance or flagrant tweets. 140 characters have the power to unite or destroy a nation.
Let’s be clear about the truth of language: words see no color of skin, religious affiliation, age, or sex. They supersede time, wealth, and political powers. They are steadfast as the mountains yet fluid as water. Our sacred texts even refer to them with veneration: In the beginning was the Word… They are to be honored and applied with due diligence. Anything less twists their nature and makes them void.
Silence is not an option either. I’m ashamed to confess that I tried that in the past. During the volatile election year, I had a well-meaning family member counsel me not to publicly express my personal beliefs. She warned me that it would never reflect my true heart. I’m guilty of caving to the pressure. I didn’t want to offend family and friends on either side of the political divide.
Charlottesville changed me. It was indisputable proof that polite passivity is its own kind of culpability. It allows malevolence to seed around us. We must write courageously. The conversation has been started whether we want to be part or not. It’s the writers’ duty to share perspectives.
I write fiction. On a daily basis, I put my Sarah-ness in a box and step into the shoes of other people, invented characters, historical figures, neighbors, friends, etc. My aim? To gain wisdom. I may not agree with the other individuals’ reasons and actions. I may never find clarity on the situations they faced, but it is my job to decipher intent—to root out the humanity. What I find may be ugly and horrific. Writers must be prepared for that. It’s part of the trade. We must be prudent in how we handle our subject matter.
We’re taught in craft classes to be an objective eye to the subjective universe. Not to cross author-narrator-character lines. Show, don’t tell. Use exclamations sparingly. Avoid red herrings. Trust your readers’ insights to prevent overwriting and didactic prose. Trust your readers, we tell ourselves when we want to write our own opinions into the story. Because we have a yearning to ensure that the world hears our message. But like all things, there is a time and place. Now is that time.
The moon has eclipsed the sun. The signs are clear. We must unite as writers to take back our noble, our good, our mighty ordinance. Love, truth, respect, understanding: these are the words that need declaration. Those who raise discriminate fists need reminding of the words on which this country was founded:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
It is an unalienable right, endowed by divinity. So it is written. So I believe. So I write.
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About Sarah McCoy
SARAH McCOY is the New York Times, USA Today, and international bestselling author of The Mapmaker’s Children; The Baker’s Daughter, a 2012 Goodreads Choice Award Best Historical Fiction nominee; the novella “The Branch of Hazel” in Grand Central; and The Time It Snowed in Puerto Rico. Her work has been featured in Real Simple, The Millions, Your Health Monthly, Huffington Post and other publications. She has taught English writing at Old Dominion University and at the University of Texas at El Paso. She calls Virginia home but presently lives with her husband, an orthopedic sports doctor, and their dog, Gilly, in Chicago, Illinois. Connect with Sarah on Twitter at @SarahMMcCoy, on her Facebook Fan Page, Goodreads, or via her website, www.sarahmccoy.com.
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