I few weeks ago I stumbled across Alex Jeffers’ Tattooed Love Boys in the Wilde Stories 2013 collection. I love short stories and speculative fiction but I find often that I enjoy a story while reading it, but forget it not long after shutting the book. Tattooed Love Boys stuck with me. Sure, it was about tattoos, beautiful boys, angels (maybe), and gender switching, which are basically the things I love most. But the writing in this story set a mood and tone that was what made the story stick with me. It had a dreamy quality that made the reader, like the characters, not question the weirdness.
Immediately I went out and got Jeffers’ The Padishah’s Son and the Fox which is both delightful and disgusting. Telling an ‘erotic’ fairytale with all the gruesome darkness of true fairytales, with many unexpected turns the story left me completely satisfied as a reader. The storytelling is lovely, giving you a genuinely visceral response, both positive and negative.
Though wonderful neither of these stories had the length and depth for me to completely immerse myself in, to forget myself in. Luckily the next I picked up was The Abode of Bliss. I read it in two sittings, interrupted only by the need to interact with my family and to sleep. Given the chance I would have read it straight through. Though I was emotionally overwrought when I finished it, so maybe it’s best that I had time to reflect on it when I finished (easily done as I was on a plane).
The Abode of Bliss by turns made me laugh and made me weep. Reading it I felt both lonely and loved, and was filled with longing, both sexual and romantic. The prose is poetic though not overblown or contrived. It is evocative and heartfelt but with an emotional distance, as if the story teller is remembering, that allows careful observation. But still I felt close enough to be pulled into the remembered emotions, to cheer and cry for Ziya. I felt entirely inside his world, inside him, a character made up only of a words on a page.
This is how I hope to write. Some day I want to be practiced enough to feel confident that I can tell stories this intense, this clearly crafted, stories that sound this true no matter how made up they are. Here’s the thing about storytelling: it’s all made up, even when it’s true. As far as I can tell, Jeffers isn’t Turkish, (he says in his end note that he’s never been there) but somehow he manages to utterly transport me to Turkey. And carry me there inside the mind of character who feels completely authentic, so fleshed out as to be entirely real, utterly believable.
Jeffers’ books have reminded me that writing what you know is shit advice, it always has been. If people only wrote what they know we’d never have Madame Bovary, or War and Peace, we certainly wouldn’t have Star Trek or Harry Potter. My own stories, at this point, are merely dirty little tales, with characters hopefully polished enough that readers will love them so much that they feel what the characters feel. They, at their core, stories of young men finding a sense of community in eras before my time. They are stories about things I have no experience of, having never been a young man in the 1980s. But these are the stories I have to tell, the characters who live in my head. So I will do my best to do them justice.
Reading The Abode of Bliss was pure joy as a reader, exactly what I needed for my vacation, to be entirely transported out of my own world. As a reader I couldn’t ask for more out a book. As a writer I’m thrilled to find books like this that inspire me to try and make my stories much better than they are now. Books that encourage me to keep writing the stories that come to me. Stories of cities I have never lived in, of people I am not and do not know. I will sleep tonight dreaming if Ziya in Turkey. I will wake tomorrow ready to better practice my craft, to more skillfully use words to bring readers into the world I created.