Fourteen Stones follows the stories of four major characters. Three of them were pretty easy to write, especially the “bonus one” who got added only after I started writing the book, when I realized I’d need his take on the action. The fourth one – my favorite – was incredibly tough.
He’s a priest named Ribas Silvaikas. Even as I put together words for this post, trying to come up with a few to sum up who he is, he’s giving me a hard time yet again. He’s contradictory and challenging. He cares profoundly about other people, but very seldom lets them get close to him. He would always rather listen than talk, always rather help than be helped. He has weaknesses, one of them crippling, and is very much aware of that; but although he doesn’t lie, he’s rarely fully honest about his weaknesses even with himself. I explored his life more thoroughly than I did with any of my other characters, digging back into his earliest memories. He was damned hard to get to know. At the same time, I came to love him deeply.
The book alternates perspectives by chapter. During the writing, I looked forward so much to Ribas’s chapters. I couldn’t wait to get back inside his head and spend those pages in his company. Every time, though, I’d arrive in his mind and feel as if I’d hit a roadblock. There he’d be, as warm and kind and generous as ever, and as elusive and stonewalling as ever, all at once. As one of my other characters put it, Always so stubborn, Ribé.
Having a favorite character created a particular challenge in the writing. I wanted my portrait of Ribas to do justice to the man in my imagination. I don’t know if we can ever be sure we’re doing that, and it’s especially hard when that imagined figure seems to draw us close with one hand and push us away with the other.
Even now, with the book finished (?!), I’m not entirely sure I drew him the way he deserves. When he got especially difficult to write, I held onto specific things I knew: his smile, the way his voice sounded, the heart trouble that left him vulnerable and how he felt as he struggled against it. I went back to sketches I’d done from his childhood and revisited the young boy who was forced to grow up much too fast. With all of that in my head, I tried to stay connected with Ribas even as he seemed to “want” to push me away. Don’t write those things, I could imagine him saying; I have to be the strong one here, the anchor for everyone else. I pushed back as well as I could: But this is what’s true of you, my stubborn friend.
This has turned into a longer post than I meant to write. I’ll close it with the teaser I mentioned: a short reading from Chapter 2 of the novel, the first paragraphs in which you’ll meet my beloved and difficult priest.
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