Push the Envelope: To attempt to extend the current limits of performance. To innovate, or go beyond commonly accepted boundaries.
As The Phrase Finder site reminds us, “pushing the envelope”–prior to Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff–was a concept used primarily by mathematicians and engineers, including those exploring the idea of space travel. Since then, the phrase has come into general use to mean going beyond the usual ways of doing things.
If you have read my novels The Sun Singer, Sarabande, and Conjure Woman’s Cat, you have seen a common theme: protagonists in seemingly impossible circumstances who must go beyond the usual ways of doing things to survive.
The envelope, like the box, is a comfortable place. It contains our successes of the past and what we’ve learned from them. It’s risky to push it, much less destroy it. The envelope, like the box, is also a prison, cozy as it may be.
To change our situations and ourselves, we often have to destroy the envelope to get rid of the invisible restraints that keep us from finding power or even a simple solution.
When Robert Adams destroys the envelope in The Sun Singer by stepping into an alternative universe, he doesn’t know who he is for a while. That’s a “real life” danger, too. But Robert learns and by the end of the novel he is much more than what he was at the beginning.
I’m not sure I would take the risks my characters take, but I can visualize what it might be like by writing my stories. When I read them later, my imagination takes off outside the envelope where I can explore the pros and cons of doing such a thing in my own reality.
My writing has changed me. No, it hasn’t turned me into a Gandalf or a Harry Potter, but it has made me very suspicious of people who say “we’ve always done it this way” and “doing what you ask is impossible.”
Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of “Sarabande,” a contemporary fantasy coming out in a new second edition for Thomas-Jacob Publishing on November 1. Sarabande, like Robert Adams, must destroy the envelope to escape what has been haunting her.
If you read on Kindle, you can pre-order your copy today.