From my perspective, every book of value is about ‘something.’ Perhaps my belief in that statement is a by-product of having to write book reports all through my primary and secondary education. Education has changed significantly in that regard; I don’t believe even reading books is a prerequisite for graduation anymore, much less writing reports on them. That is a shame.
The heart of every book can be summed up in a sentence or two, and it goes far deeper than saying, “This book is about the War in Vietnam,” or “This book is about vampires,” or “This book is about love.” I’ll use my three novels as examples. All of my books are about human values …
The Olympian: A Tale of Ancient Hellas is about the worth of a human being. It is set in ancient Greece and action takes place at the Olympic Games and concludes at Thermopylae, but it is not about those places or events, or about the two main characters, Theagenes the boxer and Simonides the poet. The book is about human values. My core statement that is at the heart of the book: The worth of a man’s life is judged not on what he does for himself, rather on what he does for others. Some time after the book was published, I came across this quote from 19th century clergyman and social reformer Henry Ward Beecher that describes the heart of the book better than anything I’ve read.
“Greatness lies not in being strong, but in the rightly using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own, solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.”
Henry War Beecher (1813 – 1887)
The Hamsa is about human dignity. Unlike The Olympian, which spans a few weeks — though flashbacks delve into earlier events — The Hamsa spans a man’s lifetime and the story chronicles three Winter Olympic Games — 1928, 1932 and 1936 — and the events described in the novel occur mostly in Europe but also America. The final chapters conclude in Auschwitz. But the book is not about these places and events, nor even about its protagonist, Bronisław Czech. The novel is about human dignity and my conviction that all men are born with dignity. No one can take a man’s dignity from him. He can give it away, but no one can take it from him if he refuses to give it up. Every part of the book focused on that conviction.
Tobit and the Hoodoo Man: A Mystical Tale from the Civil War South is about doing the right thing under the most dire of circumstances. I chose to set the story in the Civil War South and to tell it from the perspective of a black slave. It is not about the War Between the States or slavery. It is about making the right choices to advance the goodness of the world. Each man faces choices every day of his life. If we choose to do the right thing — which is often is not the easiest alternative — our lives will be of the greatest value to humankind. That statement is at the heart of the book and every event turns on that core statement.
The heart of every book — what the book is really about — should be branded in our brains from start to finish, and every word in the book should be written to support that idea. My current project is about truth. Truth is universal regardless of its source. That statement will guide me from the first word to the last. With the core idea firmly embedded in the writer’s mind, her story will hold together and reward him with a work of authenticity with the potential to bring value to its readers.