April 25, 2012 - By Lance Farrell
Leader Staff Writer
Did you ever wonder how the world got so messed up?
This is the sort of question Ty Beltramo ponders. Beltramo, of Oxford, has just published a science fantasy novel titled Eden's Jester.
By the light of day, he telecommutes to a computer-programming firm in Denver, CO, but in the small hours, you'll find him hard at work at his craft.
The novel's plot posits "a race of beings who were left on the earth to guide our evolutionary process . . . to take the earth from a primitive to an advanced state." Yet this race of beings doesn't agree on how to achieve this goal – is it to be a process emphasizing competition or collaboration?
The main character of the novel, Elson, is an immortal being living in the gravel pits of Oxford who isn't sympathetic to either view. Instead, he feels that there has been a "significant incompetence or lack of communication from the highest levels down," Beltramo summarized. Elson spends his time subverting both sides and makes a Faustian bargain that goes awry.
Elson is not an autobiographical character, Beltramo insisted, but he admitted that there are some questions shared between the author and the protagonist. As in our real world, there is "plenty of evidence that would cause us to ask some better questions and demand some better answers, but nobody seems to want to do that," Beltramo said.
Such an interrogation of tradition may be jarring from a theologian, but "the idea of a jester," Beltramo reminded, "is to challenge conventional thinking, to break the bad news, to reveal that the emperor doesn't have any clothes."
Beltramo grew up in Ortonville before moving to Oxford in 2005. He lived briefly in Dallas, TX while pursuing his M.A. in theology, but otherwise, he has always been a Michigander.
Along the way, he earned a B.A. in Humanities from William Tyndale College, with a minor in ancient languages. As a student at Tyndale, he would write technical essays concerned with translations from Greek and Hebrew. In graduate school he moved onto expository writing, while still maintaining the technical focus on the Greek language he began at Tyndale.
Looking back, the Tyndale experience appears to be formative for the "budding theologian" and novelist. The close study of ancient languages provided a firm grasp on grammar, syntax and diction. Most importantly for the author, it was at Tyndale where he began writing "just for pleasure."
Though today he prefers to focus on creative writing, he still pens academic essays in order "to keep the edge, [because they] force a much higher level of discipline." The sharp cultural discussions in his essays span from so-called high to low culture. In recent articles published in The Curator, he maneuvers deftly between explorations of the immigrant experience in America, the concept of wealth in modern capitalism, and the staying power of narrative found in (of all places) video games.
Beltramo said that his training as a textual critic and a student of ancient languages equipped him well enough to understand the mechanics of writing, but tackling questions of style required an education only offered "by getting much more involved with other people," he noted.
So, when Beltramo became an independent consultant in 2008 and was liberated from the 9-5 straightjacket, he joined a small group of like-minded writers on the first Saturday of each month at Tim Horton's in Oxford. Together, the eclectic cadre would listen, edit, and elevate each other's poetry, fiction, and memoirs. With the support and advice of this monthly writing circle, Beltramo began to work toward his lifelong dream of writing a book.
As a serious student of language he has examined his own abilities and development closely. A chief lesson he's gleaned as he has reflected on his path as a writer is that his mindset mattered. He finds that his weaker work corresponds with the times he forced him self to write even when nothing was coming naturally.
Beltramo creates best in the stillness of morning, he said, and rises well before dawn to write. He finds that he can "immerse himself in a scene much better in the morning" than at other times of the day. After sending his kids off to school, he then logs a couple more hours composing before joining his Rocky Mountain computer science colleagues to create applications for the Apple I-phone.
Before dawn, Beltramo sits in a quiet office with windows on three sides. His day work as a computer programmer is like a solving a math problem, he compared, so environmental distractions aren't as much of a hindrance with that work. But distractions during his writing time are more consequential, and he has asked for isolation from his family during these creative hours. His children respond to his request for quiet by "knocking more quietly," Beltramo joked.
Since writing is a release from the introverted, technical persona that dominates his psyche, he's much more emotionally raw when in the composition mode. It's not easy to maintain the immersion, and that's why he must put up walls to protect his creativity. The morning provides the simplicity and solitude he needs.
Beltramo is a serious and disciplined writer, with a firm understanding of his own process and limitations. He advises up and coming writers to "learn to love sentences, learn to love the work. Read as much as you write, and read like a Writer. Stop and figure out why passages work so well. Ask: 'what did this guy do that so captivated me—why does this passage seem so bad.'"
Beltramo takes his own advice, and has already begun work on a second novel which will follow his subversive antihero. For an illuminating and entertaining read about an Oxford immortal living in the gravel pits, download a copy of Eden's Jester from www.amazon.com today.