“The best kind of writing comes from questions and a human being wrestling with those questions. A writer's job is not to resolve the mystery but to expand the mystery,” Owen Egerton, Austin comic, writer, and seeker of truth, said recently to a group of aspiring writers. Egerton was talking about writing The Book of Harold, the Illegitimate Son of God, published this year by Dalton Publishing.
Egerton is already a well-known provocateur in Austin — the author of another novel, Marshall Hollenzer is Driving, co-creator of the Sinus Show, screenwriter, commentator for National Public Radio, and comedy recording artist. He spoke to the Riverbend Church writing group, The Scribe, in early September.
The best writers have a relationship with mystery, a desire to explore and take the readers along with them, he said. The Book of Harold was his own experience at wrestling with a mystery — what would it look like if a guy made the same claims now that Jesus made back in his day. Harold Peeks, an unassuming middle-aged nobody, starts telling people he is the son of God, saying things like “God is insane. And totally in love with us” and “We are utterly alone, and unavoidably connected.” The story takes off from there with Egerton asking questions about faith, religion, and institutions along the way. He very much wants us to see the whole topic through new eyes and he provides some belly laughs to ease the glaring truths he uncovers about religious institutions.
In spite of the pitfalls of religion as an institution, Egerton seems to have retained his ability to be awed by the great mystery, and he connects it to writing. In fact, people of faith have a responsibility — indeed a duty, he said. A duty to preach? A duty to teach? No, a duty to create beauty.
“When you create beauty, you're doing something that honors God,” Egerton said, “and it involves framing.” He used the example of Jesus' story of the widow's mite. No one knows her name or who she was, but Jesus put a frame around the widow doing her small part by giving out of scarcity. “He framed a moment and found meaning there.”
The truth we're seeking can be compared to the blind spot in our vision, Egerton said. We can see it obliquely, out of the corner of our eye, but we can't see it if we stare at it. “The beauty of fiction is it's not on the head — you see around the edges. That's why we're more moved by a story than a statement of fact.” Just relax and follow the story, he said, you will wander onto the truth.
He approaches writing as a calling, an almost-religious vocation. “If I don't write, I'll be sacrificing something I was meant to be,” he said. Writers must follow their own inner vision to be any good at all, but they also have to be mindful that they are asking a lot of people. “We are asking people to read us when they could be reading the greats, like Hemingway or Flannery O'Conner.”
Egerton is now a Quaker and describes his religious philosophy as “shruggism.” When people ask him what he believes, he simply shrugs. He joked that Quakers stay silent in their services because they're afraid they're going to offend somebody if they speak.
The Book of Harold is an irreverent, humorous, gentle pilgrimage through the claims of religion that in no way diminishes faith, but instead reframes it.
Owen Egerton’s website, http://www.owenegerton.com/, has contact information, a list of appearance, and a social media section.