“The Memory of the Flesh” and the Muse


A bit of self-promotion, plus thoughts on writing…

One of my old stories, written before 9/11 (and, eerily enough, spotlighting a misguided global response to terrorism), is up at The Wayfarer’s Journal, a new e-zine featuring speculative fiction from a Christian wordview. Character-driven, rather than science-laden, “The Memory of the Flesh” examines the nature of the soul, scientific shortsightedness, and technology run amok. Love for family drives the core of the story, told in first person by a poor farmer living in an unnamed “-Istan” as he watches the unseen dismantle his world. A love story, “The Memory of the Flesh” occupies a rare niche in science fiction. Women readers, especially, have enjoyed it.

As an older work, it’s not the level of writing I’m producing currently, but I like it anyway. Purists may find fault because it contains a fair amount of passive voice, but that’s in keeping with the way people speak in that part of the world, plus it reinforces the idea that things act upon people, rather than the other way around. In other words, I wrote the passivity on purpose; it’s part of the theme of the story.

So, you can tell me what you think. At around 13,000 words, it’ll keep you occupied.

One last writer’s comment on the craft…

Everywhere I go in writers’ circles, I hear this same piece of advice: Write the story within you.

Personally, I think that’s the worst advice writers receive. Here’s why: The story you have within you is no stinkin’ good.

What I mean by that goes back to pushing boundaries. Anyone can write the story they have within them. But the only memorable story is the one that comes from some place beyond you. It’s not what you can produce now, but what you could never write unless the combined muses of Dante, Homer, Clancy, King, Dickens, Dick, and Dr. Seuss descended upon you en masse.

Good writing costs. It forces you to reach to another level. It calls on skills you don’t possess, ideas that aren’t yours, characters you’ve never met, voices from regions unknown, and points of view you’ve never once considered. Anyone can write the story within them. But the kind of story that grabs other people’s hearts isn’t that story. It’s the one you don’t think you could write in a million years, but you’ll still die trying to commit to paper—a story that expands you as much as it expands other people.

Don’t write the story within you. Write the story you consider impossible. Readers will know the difference.

Thanks for reading.

13 thoughts on ““The Memory of the Flesh” and the Muse

  1. B

    I have always rebelled against the idea that I should write about what I “know.” It may simply because I run across that statement in so many books about writing; or it may be because it seems like a lame excuse to write tedious stories about myself.

    There seem to be few people who can write about what they know and not come across as egotistical or boring. James Herriot is one of that rare breed. Sharon Olds is one of the type that you know that every one of her poems are about herself—and she doesn’t put the necessary work into the poems to make the connect between her and the reader. I’m all for personal style—I’m simply tired of published writers writing ‘selfishly.’ Give me a reason to give you 15.95 for your book! Dickens managed to write for his daily bread and maintain his style.

    When I write, the most important part is the idea, the picture. After I get that down, I remember that someone is going to read it—and I need to get that across to them, not just myself.

    I would be hideously bored if my writing consisted only of what I knew. Part of writing seems to be stepping outside yourself for a moment. And, yes, my instincts immeaditely recognize one of those cheesy, over-quoted writeryness in that sentence, but it is true.

  2. francisco

    “The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean. If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the readers will most certainly go into it.


  3. Helen

    I feel stupid for asking this, but I couldn’t quite grasp exactly what you were trying to say; however, the comments helped a bit.

    Are you trying to say something like what Annie Dillard said when she wrote, “Aim for the chopping block. If you aim for the wood, you will have nothing. Aim past the wood, aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.”?

    • Helen,

      That’s about it. Write the story that demands to be written by a writer more skilled than yourself. Then become that writer in order to write the story. Don’t just go the first mile. Go to the second.

  4. Terri Main

    I’m just glad I was able to snap up this story rather than one of the big magazines.

    I really enjoyed it ans was proud to publish it.


  5. I like the story. It’s one of those punchy one’s that reminds me of Steinbeck’s Pearl. He expresses what he understands, how he understands it, and there is no underlying explanation of why these things are; they just are. “Life” is like that. In this case, rather unusual “life.”

    I think if authors wrote what they knew, then there would be little change in status quo. We have some of the amazing technologies we have today because they were, at some point, a work of fiction. We have God’s imagination, so why bridle it? The flip side of that coin, of course, is that we have some of the social ills we have because of art preceding life.

    • David,


      Yes, the narrator’s at the mercy of events he can’t control, nor understand. I find that setup to be the most chilling since life is truly like that much of the time.

      Eerily enough, since I wrote the story, the military’s announced it’s currently testing self-repairing weapons using technology identical to what I describe. Not planning, but testing! So this kind of thing actually exists now.

      This story also pre-dates Michael Crichton’s Prey, which I found to be a good story, but without the strong humanity my story has. Nor does it try to place the events in the context of faith.

      My story also has a “Don’t meddle with the things of God” angle. Scientist discovered genetic drift from genetically-altered vegetables and grains, so we’ve already poisoned the genetic purity of what God made. The technology I describe in my story becomes the secondary way we can foul the environment in a way we can’t resolve, at least not the way I resolved it in “The Memory of the Flesh.”

      I also hope the ethical and spiritual questions in my story get people wondering about the nature of Man. It’s a meditation on the soul and the power of the flesh to desire its own way. I hope people pick that up. I felt I telegraphed it a little.

      Anyway, thanks for reading.

  6. I write non-fiction – your words are perhaps even more apropos for that genre. We can’t write well unless we reach for the unreachable. The rule that we’re to write what we know has value – but wriitng well means stretching past the breaking point for the unknown. That is what turns the craft of scribery (is that even a word?) into the act of worship. And that worship shapes our words into an invitation to our readers to reach for the unreachable, too.

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