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Lions Roar : May 2017
might lead us out of our current trap. It was interesting to see that same thing enacted within this imaginary ghostly community. In the Tibetan teachings, it’s said people get stuck in the ghost realm because they don’t recognize or won’t accept that they’re dead. They won’t accept that they have died, while we won’t accept that we will. That’s right. They mistake their consciousnesses for actual, solid reality, which is sort of the joke. Reading the book, you know that they’re immaterial and they’re being produced by their own neurotic habits of mind. You know that about them, but maybe you’re not sure about that truth about yourself. In writing a book that takes place simultaneously in two realms of existence, are you trying to say something to the reader about the nature of life and death? Well, not really, except that in the ultimate sense that all liter- ature does that. The artistic process is interesting because I’ve found I have to start with very few ideas about what I’m trying to accomplish. So I always tried to keep my intentions to the minimum—to minimize my intentionality and just see where the story leads me. Nothing about themes, nothing about char- acter development, nothing about philosophy. The best thing for me is to start with some small, fascinating nugget. In this case it was that mental image of Lincoln with his son across his knees. If I can just get that much—an image that produces a lot of curiosity and a kind of artistic joyfulness— then I just trust it and dive in. Writing this book, the thing I found myself most interested in was a question we all have to contend with. On one hand, we are born wanting to love and most of us are lucky enough to find it. And as I get older, it seems to me that the whole point of this life is make yourself more loving and less selfish. So that’s all well and good. But as you get older, you’re also faced with the fact that this is all finite and conditional. That’s a really crazy kind of one–two punch that life gives us. So you have this very soulful, spiritual person in Abraham Lincoln. He is at a time in his life when he was arguably as wide open as any human being in history. He is so unobstructed. But he’s in a lot of trouble in his job—the country is going into the ditch and tens of thousands of people are dying every day—and then his favorite son dies suddenly. This story is a beautiful way to ponder an issue that is getting more and more important for me as I get older. PHOTOBYDAMONWINTER/THENEWYORKTIMES/REDUX “They mistake their neurotic habits of mind for actual, solid reality,” says Saunders, “which is sort of the joke. You know that about them, but maybe you’re not sure about that truth about yourself.” LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 44