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Matt Dickerson: Entering the story

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Posted on December 16, 2015 |
By Matt Dickerson



I like fishing. I like telling stories. I’ve enjoyed doing both for as long as I can remember. Some say that fishing and telling stories are two sides of the same coin. Fish + Stories = Fish Stories.

Some think that fish stories are about bragging, and for that reason they are also about exaggeration. There might be some truth to that. (Which is to say, there might be some untruths in there.) But they are also about confession. And perhaps more than anything, telling or writing stories about fishing is just a good (or perhaps bad) excuse to relive my fishing experiences.

Writing stories in general — whether fiction or non-fiction — is also a way for me to make sense of things. Some people think authors write in order to tell what they already know. But writing stories is also a way of exploring what I don’t know. It is how I learn.

Over the past two years, in addition to the 50 or so columns I’ve written for this paper (mostly stories), I’ve also been fortunate enough to see four of my books published: two novels, and two collections of fishing narratives. Which is to say, four books of story. In most of my fishing stories I’m a character as well as the author. Sometimes I’m the primary character — the protagonist — the hero. Once in a while I’m the villain. Other times I’m just a minor character, someone on the peripheries.

By contract, all my published works of fiction have included fishing of one form or another, though I’ve never been a character in one of my novels. My 2014 novel is set in the mid–seventh century Europe. Since the novel was promoted as “historical fiction,” and I wasn’t actually alive in the early medieval age, I couldn’t put myself in as a character. Similarly, my 2015 novel, “The Gifted,” is a fantasy novel set in a secondary world. Readers might have thought it odd if I had appeared in that other world.

Still, I have at times at least imagined entering one of my stories. I’m not speaking of my fishing stories; as noted above, I’m already in those. Rather, I’ve imagined myself in one of my fantasy novels. I would be a character within the story, but simultaneously also the author outside of the story.

Stories have conflict. That’s what makes them interesting. Sometimes that conflict is at a cosmic level. The heroes need to overcome obstacles, and those obstacles can be large and significant. Cosmic evil. Powerful villains. Voldemorts and Saurons and President Snows. Farquaads, Darth Vaders, Lokis, Zombies, and Wicked Witches from both East and West. But it doesn’t matter how big and bad and powerful those enemies are, because I am the author. If I enter into one of my stories as a character, I could write for myself whatever I needed to overcome any obstacle —all the power I wanted or could imagine, superhuman powers as well as super-technologies. I would be a superhero of superheroes: Spiderman, Wolverine, Captain America, Ironman, Superman and Batman all rolled into one. It’s my own story, after all. I’m the author. I would solve the world’s problems by giving myself enough strength simply to overwhelm and defeat all my enemies.

As a side note, when I imagine myself in one of my fantasy novels, I also include fantastic fishing in my created secondary world: world-class steelhead fishing, except without the crowds. After using my power to destroy my enemies and become the hero who saves the world, I can head off to the wilderness for a few days and have a great fishing spot all to myself (before I am called on to save the world again).

I was thinking about this because it’s Christmas time. And the Christmas story is about an author who really does decide to enter into his own story. It’s about the creator of the entire universe, and the author of the story of its history, the author who really did create a world with fantastic fishing, as well as backpacking, kayaking, snowshoeing and canoeing. And then the author chose to enter into that world and that story as one of the characters.

Except this author did it in a very different way than when I imagine myself in one of my stories. Yes, there was a cosmic evil to be defeated, an enemy no less powerful than death itself. It was an evil that infected everybody. And yes, the world was full of suffering caused by that evil. The evil made a world of zombies. But the author didn’t enter into the story to defeat that evil by overwhelming military power and superhuman strength. Quite to the contrary, he entered into the story as a small, fragile, helpless baby of a middle-eastern refugee family fleeing political oppression. A baby named Yeshua (or to Anglicize it even further, Jesus) born in a stable (probably a cave), because the wealthier members of society couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make room for that poor refugee family. A baby whose family just barely escaped a mass killing of all the male babies in the region by a king jealous of a potential political rival.

That’s the Christmas story. And it continues. The author wrote himself into the story as a character, and then defeated evil not by overwhelming force, but by overwhelming love. He made himself a character who by the world’s standards would have been seen as weak and powerless, but who indeed possessed a superhuman strength of a very different kind.

It is very different solution than the one I would have written if I put myself in as a character into my stories. But that Christmas story is one I am very thankful for. I wouldn’t want to imagine the world without it.

Plus, the author-turned-character in the Christmas story did make friends with several fishermen and even included a couple good fishing scenes.

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