Genre: Short Stories, Fiction
Date Published: January 20, 2017
Joy and emptiness, rest and effort, meaning and madness – these and other themes weave their way into the tales and the problems these characters seek to unravel.
Contents: 18 Short stories, 178 6”x9” pages, ~62k words.
Preview on Amazon contains the first story, “The Ashen Heart”, and 3/4 of the second, “The Woodchopper’s Son”.
Two of the stories, “The Woodchopper’s Son” and “The Prisoner of the Ashen Lake”, have been put into audio form, read by the author, and can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLw9MjSFObAc2D1Jwi-JOIZ7ZiJtzZ6iUl
About the Book Interview with Oliver Kaufman
What was the inspiration behind this story?
These stories were created with the purpose, usually, of working through whatever I happened to be experiencing inwardly at any given time. Maybe confusion, maybe feeling lost, maybe just a sense of wandering or questioning of some kind, or perhaps sadness. States and ways of being that weren’t necessarily conducive to just carrying on with the status quo, but could probably use some serious exploration, to see where things were coming from, what they contained, and what they might develop or transform into. A lot of times at the end of these I’d feel a sense of resolution, or like peace had returned to the area of life that the action of the story had to do with. It felt like the stories touched on things that were common to human experience, so they seemed like positive things to put into a collection and share.
One of your characters is going on a shopping spree. Where does he/she go and what does he/she buy?
The Gopher from The “Woodchopper’s Son” ends up buying tons of gold and jewelry, as much as he can hold. Only, as he strains to hold it all, he becomes doubtful of himself and quite tired – depressed, even – and lets it go with a sigh. He curls up in the middle of it all and thinks to himself about life and how confusing it all is, lamenting things – such as the nonsensical, and perhaps damaging, nature of his own behavior – and sighing repeatedly. Some people who are walking by see him and wonder what’s wrong – maybe he’s sick – but just continue on. By nightfall he goes to sleep, and he dreams of mermaids, swimming around him, but still he’s unhappy. The next day, he waits, depressed, till someone feeds him – he then perks up a bit and heads home.
Your character is at a bookstore. Which section is he/she shopping in? What book is in his/her hand right now?
Joy from “The Ashen Heart” is in a section dedicated to ancient books, many of which haven’t been well-preserved. She’s carrying a couple already, reaching up for another. The titles are in some long-forgotten language, and when she touches their covers, she does so thoughtfully, methodically. She holds one up so it’s framed by the light – there’s a sadness, and a certain sense of respect and sense of wonder there. She appreciates it for what it is, despite its damaged state, and wishes to restore it, or at least understand it for what it is. Many strange diagrams are found throughout its ragged pages, and she feels the rough edges of the pages as she reads. She thinks about the pictures, the words, and the work as a whole. She has a gentle way about her. Nearby, there aren’t too many other people in this section, except for a rather excited-looking youth, squatting nearby and thumbing through the pages of one tome with great enthusiasm. Her own selection made, she now brings her rather tall stack of dusty, dry, and ruined-looking books to the front for purchase.
I’m inviting your main character to dinner. What should I make?
Let’s say you’re inviting the prisoner from “The Prisoner of the Ashen Lake”. Then, make the bed, in case he wants to retire from the activity of the dinner party. Also, you might prepare some large chunks of meat – he has a beastly appetite sometimes. Keep your place cool, but not too cool, so he doesn’t grow uncomfortably frustrated. Most of all, hold no expectations about him. If he doesn’t like your food, or doesn’t want to talk or participate, don’t try to change him. If he just wants to leave the party for no apparent reason, don’t take offense, just let him go. He may be following a silent understanding of his true nature, even if he couldn’t explain it to you directly.
Were you surprised by the behavior of any of your characters or the direction of your plot at any point while writing?
Yes. For one, I’d sometimes get frustrated, mid-story, with how the conflict of the story didn’t seem to be subsiding, and a lot of times that frustration became an integral part to the rest of the story – you can see this in the arrival of the petulant cloud in “The Earth, The Sky, and the Petulant Cloud”. I thought the conflict was done, but it wasn’t. Other times, I’m writing in a really serendipitous way, and the kinds of things that come out as I’m swiftly writing things down can really surprise me. For instance, the way most of the stories end is a complete surprise to me. “The Blue Bird’s Tale” you might say is one giant surprise, and, as my first real experiment with flow writing, it really stands out for me. I didn’t know what I was doing at all, but something appeared, nevertheless, that I found really magical, whimsical, and maybe even profound sometimes.
The very continuation of the plot is in a way a signal, even to me, that something’s unfinished, and being explored through the story.
Also, one thing to keep in mind is that often the narrator himself is a character in these tales, and that often he’s surprised me with the things he (though the character he is can vary) says. In “The Woodchopper’s Son”, for instance, half the story is the narrator’s dialogue, but, all of a sudden, he launches into a story. The story and its contents were not planned in the slightest – it just seemed to appear out of thin air, as a creation of the narrator, though perhaps influenced by my search for a story to indeed be told, at least at some point.
How long did it take you to write this book?
The stories were made over the course of several years, before the idea for a collection started to hatch. Once I got to work, it took a few months to arrange it, edit it, and figure out the publishing process.
How did you come up with the title?
I sort of felt it out, once I had all the stories in place, collected together. Same can be said for most of the story titles. It actually had a different name at first – The Reflective Journey – but when I switched around some of the stories, the overall title changed, too.
Tell us about your cover art and how it pertains to your story.
It doesn’t necessarily pertain, but I made it by visualizing what kind of cover might be good for it, and the image of flameless smoke, against a cyan background, came to mind. The gold edge and blue color were brought in later.
Is there an underlying theme in your book? If so, tell us about it and why/if it’s important to you.
Probably resolution, answers, exploration, new experiences, and growth through the exploration of conflict. Many times, we can get stuck, either on one side or the other of a conflict, or instead just in the middle, confused and with no sense of resolution or what’s the truth. The question I wonder is – what’s the middle ground? What is the truth in a given conflict? Where’s common ground? How can peace, both inner and outer, be found? What about contentment, resolution, or understanding? All these things, I feel, are important, and underlie a lot of what these stories are about and how they function.
Fiction can often provide powerful life lessons. What message do you hope readers get from your book?
It’s not so much a message, as an experience of some kind. It’s my hope that my readers are moved, even in a way they can’t express, by the way the stories, words, and events unfold. I hope that they feel like they’ve touched on some mystery or reality they cannot necessarily consciously understand, but can feel. I hope they connect and relate to it, and come away from my book like it’s enriched or deepened their own experience and ways of seeing and understanding their world. Whether or not it will be like that for anyone, I don’t know, but that’s my hope.
About the Author
Oliver Kaufman is an author and the founder of theworldwithin.org, a website dedicated to self-awareness, self-healing, growth, and the exploration of one’s own inner, conscious world. He currently lives in Redmond, Washington, in the US.
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