Part of being a creative writer and a teacher is working on process and what makes storytelling and sharing important. From topics like plot, conflict, character building to philosophical constructs and patterns in narratology and hermeneutics it is easy to dive into the world of writing and get lost. The two sides are (1) the work and creating it and (2) process and purpose. I think of these two elements as my never dying metaphor of the coffee and the cup. The coffee is writing, stories, books, and output. And the cup is the aesthetic purpose for containing that content. All that being said, let’s talk about The Staff.
The Staff, a literary parable, was also a Finalist for the International Book Awards earlier this year. Called “a novel with the rarefied atmosphere of ancestral myth, The Staff unfolds in a time and places that feels ancient and simultaneously apart from history.” Ron Samul’s debut novel is touted as “an intriguing, skillfully constructed plot about the darker side of human nature,” according to The Book Life Prize. This novel is available on Amazon and Barnes &Noble online book sites.
Winners and finalists traversed the publishing landscape: HarperCollins, Penguin/Random House, Simon and Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, TarcherPerigee, New World Library, Hay House, Rowman & Littlefield and hundreds of Independent Houses contribute to this year’s outstanding competition.
Chapters are funny things when you are a writer. During the editing process of writing The Staff, the connections and relationships between chapters was an evolving thought. I started with writing numbers. However, during editing the numbers were so jumbled and disconnected I didn’t even see them there. I progressed to replacing numbers with lines or breaks. It started with a centered line, then a series of asterisk and eventually a mix of different versions. Finally, during the last few revisions, I took out all chapter breaks, lines, and anything that resembled a specific stop. Then I replaced it with a double space and left it.
And then I read the novel and I really liked the fluid motion that was created. If people wanted to stop, they could stop at any one of those breaks and stop. A few people have asked me about chapter breaks and the fact that I don’t have chapters. My response has been, why would I want you to stop reading?
Conceptually, chapters and their history is an often overlooked element of writing. There are a variety of approaches for chapters. In spy novels, location changes are highlighted in chapter headings. Sometimes, a writer will add a quote to the beginning of a chapter to add some kind of esoteric quality to what is coming. Sometimes, that is intriguing to me and other times it is a distraction.
Nicholas Dames wrote an article The Chapter: A History for the New Yorker in 2014. And he outlines that “The first authors who wrote in chapters were not storytellers. They were compilers of knowledge… who used chapters as a way of organizing large miscellanies.” He goes on to explain that complex religious or philosophical texts required an almost index quality that was created for the purpose finding the location of important passages and areas to refer.
Later, as novels developed, chapters became manageable nightly moments that were framed for the reader. “Laurence Sterne’s “Tristram Shady” insisted that “chapters relieve the mind,” encouraging our immersion by letting us know what we will soon be allowed to exit and return to other tasks or demands. Coming and going – an attention paid out rhythmically – would become part of how novelists imagined their books would be read.”
It makes sense when Dickens and others were writing their stories in serials that chapters were like short story titles and that when collected together, it makes sense that we are reminded about what is happening as the story unfolds.
In modern novels, chapters have become flexible. In the age of Netflix binge watching, where the credits are not even consumed when a new episode starts, are modern readers looking for a break or time to digest the story — or are they reaching for the next moment of conflict, action, and storytelling. Just keeping reading.
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The Jumping Boy is a unique and probably the most memorable character in the novel The Staff. The Jumping Boy plays a strange and often comforting role in the novel. He first appears around the church when a meeting happens, and while it explained that the Jumping Boy was always around, it was never clear which family he came from. He is just a runt. This shows that even in a small village, there is a sense of casting out things that people don’t want. And the child lives feral. In this small hamlet it is better to not claim this daft young man than embarrass a family name.
“There was a boy in the village that nobody spoke to because they all knew he was an imbecile. He never spoke or laughed when someone would try to amuse him. He would wander the village and do things that seemed like that of a curious child, but he wasn’t playing as the other children did. He would never go and explore the woods, or walk around the rocks and look for crabs by the ocean. The only thing he truly seemed to enjoy was jumping up and down.”
The second time he appears, it is a meeting with Philip and Emmit concerning a box. Philip watches the Jumping Boy as he plots his next move concerning his political and personal relationship with Emmit.
The next time we see the Jumping Boy is when he shows up around Taska’s cottage. This scene is intentionally created to play Cain’s blank mind to that of a feeble mind. Cain is weary of this child and perhaps looks down on the silly boy. But the child’s behavior is contagious. And seeing how much fun he brings to the three of them, even Cain can’t help but join in, even if he doesn’t understand why.
“She hadn’t felt this light and easy for years and year. So many difficult and tragic events had belabored her sense of happiness. It had been so long.”
And the scene ends with the boy jumping out of the doorway and into the darkness.
“Taska let out one final laugh as he disappeared into the falling twilight. For a long time they sat in silence. Words would have only interrupted and trampled the ardent happiness that the heart held captive for the rest of the night.”
After the Grounding of the Fleet, he is there, standing with Taska, reminding her to be brave and face the village head on. He becomes a tailsman for Cain and Taska. He reaches out for her hand and holds it while they wait on the Grounding of the Fleet. It is noticed that he is calm, he is just a boy. When Taska push the child away and ignores him, Cain shows emotions. Something that has been vacant in his life.
“He saw the boy’s reaction. Watching the child’s face wounded Cain greatly with a pain that he felt through his chest and down to his legs. Not like the pain of the glass triangle, piercing into his hand, but that of something incomprehensible. It was a deeper pain that emerged from the pit of his chest and spread all over his body, dissipating into numbness at his fingertips. The concussion of his feeling broke him. It was cold.”
Clearly, this symbol of innocence shows up as freedom, simplicity, and happiness. But Cain now realizes that this feeling of togetherness, their past fun, now feels like something broken and changing in him.
He shows up when Sophia tries to stop Taska from going to Old Lady Gertrude’s house. When that scene ends, the Jumping Boy is just spinning around like a wild animal. “The jumping boy ran after Taska and Cain, laughing and spinning in a surreal dance, mocking the severity of the wounded souls.”
Just before the Annual Visit, it is mentioned that on cold nights, the jumping boy would sleep at the base of the blacksmith forge. He takes the men from the boat to the door of Philip and his family.
Finally, it is Cain who tells the Jumping Boy to “Jump!” and the boy smiles and laughs at him has he is marched up to the tree at the end of the novel.
It is not clear when this strange kid was born in the novel, but I wanted to add more complexity, more depth to the village. Looking at the length of this article, he played a significant role in the book. The boy is Cain’s alter-ego. He is innocence born from guilt and neglect. And while Cain knows his fate at the end, he still thinks that the jumping boy should be jumping.
|Tall Ship in New London|
Let’s Talk About The Staff is a series of discussion articles based on the novel The Staff by Ron Samul. For more information, check out the novel and read other linked articles.
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In a remote fishing village, a well-known member of the village is murdered, and the suspect is caught and beaten. When he wakes up he can’t recall who he is or what he has done. The village council decides to invoke an age-old ritual that condemns the killer and a villager together for life. Taska Valimar is selected to be the warden to the killer in this draconian social contract. Scorned by her life of servitude, Taska begins to unravel the secrets of her missing family. What she finds begins a spiral of deceit and revenge. In the midst of the darkest hours, Taska searches for friendship, hope, and a way out. The Staff is a timeless tale of lies, treachery, and hope.
Del Sol PRess seeks to publish exceptional work by both new and recognized writers, as well as republish literary work that we consider extremely significant and that have done out of print. Their approach is eclectic, but with an emphasis on original, unique, and accessible work with an edge.
My sincere thanks to the nominating editor(s) and all the writers in the list. It is an honor to be among them all. Check out their website here.
HERMOSA by Marisa Clark
MALHEUR AUGUST by Nancy Minor
MALL by Pattie Palmer-Baker
MARILYN & THE NEW YORK ITCH by Pat Ryan
OUT LIKE A LION by Robin Martin
THE BEREAVED by Emma Schrider
THE PSYCHOPATH COMPANION by Claire Ortalda
THE STAFF by Ron Samul
STORIES YOU NEVER TOLD ME: AN IMMIGRANT
DAUGHTER’S JOURNEY by Catherine Kapphahn
THESE THINGS HAPPEN by Jane Sadusky
WRAPPED IN THE STARS by Elena Mikalsen