It's Friday the 13th, which seems weirdly fitting for a post about a book called The Oracle Year. This is one of my favorite books I've read this year, and the author, Charles Soule, is one of the good guys—charming, sincere, and a great writer. I met him after I'd read his book, so it was fun to get to ask some of the questions that had popped up for me over the read and just talk about things like The Black Panther movie.
Soule's novel revolves around Will Dando, an ordinary guy who wakes up one day with 108 predictions in his head, and as he quickly learns, they are real. What Dando does with this information, and what he learns about himself and the world we live in, is provocative and swift moving. Just when you think you know what's going to happen, Soule flips the script and keeps you guessing.
The Oracle Year is Soule's first novel, though he's already well known in the graphic novel and comics world, and we asked him to tell us a little about writing the book. Below is his brief chronicle of the wandering path that led him to publish The Oracle Year and what he hopes readers come away with when they're done reading it.
* The Oracle Year is our Debut Spotlight pick for the Best Books of April. *
So… I wrote a book called The Oracle Year. It is, in part, about the things people want to know about their futures. A prophet appears in the world, proves he actually knows what’s coming, offers to answer people’s questions about what’s going to happen, and provides an email address. (In the old days, you’d have to climb up to the top of the prophet’s mountain to pass along your request, or petition the temple priests for a chance to get your question heard—but hey, it’s the 21st century. No one has patience for that.)
Why this book, out of all the things I could have chosen? Pretty simple, really—when I started working on it, my future was all I could think about. At the time, I was working more than full-time as a junior attorney. This was a career I’d obtained almost by accident, by not pushing sufficiently hard against life’s currents when I should have. I know how that sounds, and believe me, it felt even stranger to be living it.
I was swimming hard, doing everything I could on the side to try to find my way back to where I should have been in the first place—somewhere I could make a living from creativity. Writing, music, anything. I didn’t care what I’d be creating, I just knew that creativity was, for me, home.
Getting there—getting here—wasn’t easy. Every bit of my limited spare time was budgeted toward dream-achieving, with the possibility always ringing through my mind that it was possible, even likely, that it would all come to nothing. For years…years…every birthday cake, every wishbone, every lost eyelash, every coin-into-fountain, every time I noticed it was 11:11…I’d make the same wish. I won’t tell you the specific wording, because that’s bad luck, but I’m sure this paragraph gives you a pretty good idea.
Through it all, I would have given quite a bit to ask an oracle just one question, to get a little glimpse of what was waiting for me.
I would have asked this: “Will my wish come true?”
In The Oracle Year, I decided to flip that script a little—yes, the book’s about things people want to know about the future, but even more, it’s about the Oracle himself, Will Dando. He’s a New Yorker, twenty-seven, staring down the idea that his future might not be what he always imagined, and then he gets this dream. It’s just a list, really—one hundred and eight specific events, each with a date attached, things large and small. The story is about the ways Will chooses to use the information he has, and how both his life and the world in general spin out of control as a result. I think it’s a pretty fun read—among other things, I tried to make it extremely unpredictable (heh).
As part of the process of writing the book, I had to come up with a ton of things people ask Will—the questions they email to the Oracle in the hope they might get an answer. Thinking those up actually ended up connecting with me pretty deeply.
I think we all have that one question, right? I already told you the one that sparked the book’s creation—I have a new one now, and I’m sure you have your own. That one thing about your future...if you could ask, and actually get an answer…what would you want to know?
Some of the questions I dreamed up were frivolous. Who’s going to win the Super Bowl? What’ll happen in Star Wars Episode IX? A few like that, but mostly, I went with things I thought most people would actually ask—the things that really matter. Will I ever see him again? Will I get better? Who will I marry? What kind of world will my kids inherit? And of course, the biggie…When will I die?
It made me think quite a bit about how we, as people, operate in a world where we have zero certainty with respect to anything at all about our futures, individually or collectively. We don’t know if we’ll be around in five years, if there’s a point to what we’re doing, even that the sun will rise again tomorrow. All we have, all we know, is our past. Where we’ve been. Tomorrow makes us no promises. And yet…
…we keep going. With no assurances whatsoever, we just keep going, trying to build something of our lives, of our species. I don’t know what you call that. Some might call it a shared delusion, insanity, willful blindness to reality. I call it something different.
It feels a little like faith to me, and I think that’s beautiful. There’s one thing we all believe in, every one of us, no matter where we come from or where we are now, and it’s what I’m hoping people take away from reading The Oracle Year.
We believe in tomorrow.
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