Just Wait and See…

Guardians of Legend: Son of Ereubus

“A vow is a purely religious act which cannot be taken in a fit of passion. It can be taken only with a mind purified and composed and with God as witness.”
~Mohandas Gandhi

The picture you see, is what Oliver Wetter (Fantasio Fine Arts) calls ‘work in progress’ and what I see as no less than the exact rendering of my first, and greatest, love. (update 4/30: this has now been replaced with the final wallpaper)

I opened an email from him earlier, in which he asked for my final ‘okay’ before beginning work on the details. And here I sit several hours later, still staring at it like a teenage girl in love. And this might seem like the tritest blog post in the world, but give me a moment here: This is what being an author is all about.

This is the face I’ve seen in my dreams for nearly 14 years. This is the face that I saw when I wrote chapter one, while using a piano bench as a desk, my freshman year in High School. This is the face that was behind every rejection letter, every critique, with me every single night I went to sleep feeling, with no scant portion of conviction, that I would never be published. And here he is, in the flesh, every emotion captured perfectly; his sorrow evident in the lines of his eyes; his passion and conviction present in the set of his jaw; his power apparent in the strength of his stance and intensity of his gaze.

This face…this image that never left me…is why I persisted when it all seemed like a dead-end dream, when my hopes felt like nothing more than just that. When the whole world told me that it wasn’t and would never be…I saw Garren in my heart and said, “But it is…just wait and see.”

A time will come in every writer’s life, where a vow must be made. This is no small thing. This is something that should be done in the quiet of your heart, below your pride and selfishness and the rough edges of your human nature. Beyond the acknowledgment of your identity as an author, past the raw and war worn edges of adolescence, this vow is not to yourself, or the public at large, but to that which you create. Consider it, if you will, a true and holy marriage between your soul and its intended place in this world. If this is the path that is meant for you, nothing else will do. Nothing.  And just like in marriage, you have to rest all of your hopes on it with only the purest faith, or you will fail it. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. Through writer’s blocks and rejections. In anonymity and infamy. There are no promises. There are no assurances. No one will give you a reliable ‘guide’ on how to succeed at this, because the relationship between you and your craft is as unique as that of two lovers.

My good friend Ien said it best, “A novel ought to be written with all the incipient madness, the inchoate passion of a love letter riddled with rash, extravagant promises, blushing with hyperbole, rough in its intimacies and raw to the point of tenderness.”

To see a lover for the first time, face to face, whom you’ve known only through the painfully distant affection of love letters for well over half of your life, is beyond words. To introduce that lover to everyone who told you, all those years, that you would never meet (or worse, that they didn’t exist) is perhaps beyond expression.

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It’s Around Here Somewhere…

“It turns out that an eerie type of chaos can lurk just behind a façade of order—and yet, deep inside the chaos lurks an even eerier type of order.” ~Douglas Hostadter

It’s 3:30am. Again. And here I sit at my kitchen table, wrestling with a hundred thousand voices, every one of which is screaming for my sole attention. This schizophrenic existence that is every writer’s life has its benefits (you’re never lonely–ever), you’re very rarely bored (and if you are, it won’t be for long), and you certainly have the ‘get out of jail free’ card for being the eccentric one in the family.

But there are moments like this one, where my heart and head and hands are on such different wave lengths that it feels like I’m a fractured spirit, drifting through a single-souled world. Would I want to change even if I could? You already know the answer to that.

There are plenty of authors who have everything down to a science, when it comes to order and organization. I am not among them. Ideas come to me at all sorts of weird, inconvenient  and usually unwieldy moments—including when my body is supposed to be resting. I don’t even know the meaning of the word anymore. Neither do my stories, apparently.

And, per usual, this got me thinking about chaos as it relates to us as artists. Think about a painter’s studio. What do you see in that mental image? The first thing that comes to mind for me, aside from the large loft windows and high ceilings, is the staggering amount of ‘stuff’ that’s hanging around on tables, chairs—the floor. Paint is everywhere, canvases are in places they probably shouldn’t be. There is a blanket half tossed, along with a pillow, onto the couch (and a bit on the floor) because the artist slept/tossed/fretted there the night before.

As authors, our lives aren’t any different—not really. You just can’t walk into our studios because we carry them with us, but rest assured they’re just as messy and chaotic. This isn’t the same thing as my waiting room analogy. This is more like the fragments of what will be, the tools we use to create our worlds and that internal space in which we do so. The muck and mire of possibility; the thread and fabric of imagination; the cords that bind a reader’s disbelief; veils to mask the twist at the end of novel #35; a helmet from a slain warrior; a pool of dark water complete with a smidgen of enchantment and a scrying spell; the unraveled ends of our sanity; a broken spinning wheel for yarns that have taken on a life of their own…you get the idea.

So where the hell is my ability to go to sleep at a decent hour? I had it—I know I did. It’s around here somewhere…

Any Less

“There are two kinds of writers – the great ones who can give you truths, and the lesser ones, who can only give you themselves.” ~Clifton Fadiman

For too many years, genre fiction has been the red-headed step child of the literary world. We’ve been cut out of awards, organizations, withheld due recognition and called every name in the book aside from anything that would give the impression that we are true artists.

Growing up, when I first began my love affair with literature, I didn’t know the difference. I knew of course that some books had shiny gold stickers on them, stating that they’d won one award or another. I knew we studied certain stories in school over others, because someone somewhere (distantly) declared that this work had something to say—something important enough to be shared with generation after generation of the growing populace.

We tell our children that imagination and ingenuity will help them achieve anything their hearts desire. We tell them that the sky is the limit and we encourage creativity, freedom of expression and thought. We teach them a great number of truths while they are young using imaginary places and fantastic creatures, but once they’re old enough to know that none of the magic is real, then we only allow a certain kind of fiction—a specific range of imaginary things, plausible things, limited things. There are some exceptions to this rule, but they only apply when the truth being told, when the lesson being taught, is so horrible that to teach it in its true form would be too much for younger readers (Animal Farm) or if the work itself is so ancient that to disrespect it by saying it was invalid would be sacrosanct (Beowulf).

But here’s the question—are the truths taught through a fictional, alternate world any less real than that of our own, desolate, often depressive reality? And what’s worse, when do we need the beauty of an utterly fantastic world more? As children, or once we’ve figured out that life isn’t what we’d all been told—that we can’t be whatever we want, that we won’t have limitless opportunities, that not everyone shares, or likes us, or will let us cut in line? When do we need help re-learning the fundamental stuff? My answer? As adults, we need more help than ever to step outside of our daily life and see from the eyes of someone who’s never lived in our shoes. Consider this, back when Beowulf, and tales like it, were told, they didn’t have what we’d consider now “literary” fiction—they didn’t need artistic reminders of how dark our world had become. They lived it. They didn’t hide at home in their houses, watching TiVo reruns of reality television. What they did do, was share wonderful, adventurous stories of what could be. They passed these stories from one generation to the next and each time the story was passed, more details were added, more layers were laid and the once simple fables became legend and shaped whole cultures.

How is this any different from what you’ll find in the fantasy/science fiction section of the bookstore in your neighborhood? The real answer is that is isn’t. The same is true with art and film. Are the lessons learned from watching “The Village” any less important or vital than those gathered from watching “Doubt”? Some would tell you yes—but what I want to know, is what are they so afraid of? What part of that person died when they grew up that no longer allows for suspension of disbelief? And why are those of us who held on to that part of ourselves being punished for their loss? If you don’t understand what I’m talking about then go and find me a child, anywhere in this world, who doesn’t like fantasy. They will explain it to you.

Is it that you see in us what you long for in yourselves? Is that it? Are you afraid that by admitting that there is more to our created worlds than merely fun and frivolity, that you’ll somehow have to come to terms with that part of yourself again? Perhaps our childhoods have grown so tormented that our reaction to fantasy is either all or nothing. We either lean on it for protection or we hate it for not protecting us enough. Maybe that’s the truth of it—a culture’s response to fantasy could very well hold the key to how long it will survive.

No matter what the answer is—this much is undeniable: Just because you aren’t willing to give anything of yourself to a written work, doesn’t mean it isn’t willing to give any less of itself, or its truths, to you.

No Small Measur

Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whoever told you that courage wasn’t necessary to write was either lying, or…well—no, they were simply lying. In an author’s life, just as in the life of any sentient being, he will come against a multitude of personal demons, none of which are merciful and all of which try his soul just as much as anything tangible would, provided he is any artist at all.

Every word we write, every world we craft, every essay we conjure the courage to post, everything that we allow to cross over from that tenuous, indescribable place and into the real world, leaves us vulnerable. It’s no secret that many authors have struggled against anxiety, depression, a plethora of unmentionables, and at times even madness itself. But why?

Because we see what others don’t. I’ve often read where one agent or another mentions in a flippant manner that authors shouldn’t take things quite so personally, and it makes me pause and wonder what exactly it is they think we do, when we come up with some of the things that make them sit back in wordless wonder? It isn’t personal in the same way that a teenage girl takes offense to not being able to sit at the popular table at lunch, or being picked last for dodge ball or glossed over for a promotion.

It’s personal in that we’re letting loose a little bit of our madness.

Anne Sexton, Edgar Allan Poe, Hemingway, Tolstoy, Vonnegut, Sylvia Plath, Virginia Woolf…need I go on?

But writers today aren’t as gifted as those individuals, someone out there is thinking. I suppose you believe that all artists are fully appreciated in their lifetime then? Or are you assuming that only those listed were blessed enough for such rich recognition? No, in every generation, we’re told with equal fervor that we will never compare to the former. I suspect this has something to do with why writers, should they be any good, are such a brave and boistruous lot. We have to look inside of ourselves every time we begin a piece and ask of our  soul, what are you willing to give up for this? Before the first sentence is even formed in our heads, we’ve entered into an unspoken agreement with the fibers of our being that we won’t let this one be the one that tears us apart. I’ll only share a faint glimpse of it, we promise.

We struggle, not against the common woes of what the world has labeled ‘writers’ block’ or fear of rejection, but with the perpetual attachment these creations by necessity, fight us to maintain. We are still connected, long after the ink has dried.  It takes courage because we aren’t merely setting something free, we’re sending pieces of our very selves into the ether with no assurance that what becomes of them, won’t demand of us more than we’ve been willing to give. Those fragile threads, those ephemeral, maddening veins carry a writer’s blood and cannot be, by the writer—by us, seen as anything less than vital to our survival. So the simple phrase, don’t take it personally, isn’t just wrong—it’s said by someone who couldn’t conceive of such bonds. But, judging by their professional closeness to this art, we know that they want to more than they will ever admit.

It takes no small measure of courage to do what we must do, because inside somewhere, down below all the fears and misgivings, we know how the world will respond. We know there will be bad reviews, poor sales, sparsely populated signings, dry spells and rejections. We know, but there is life before our eyes that we cannot bear to keep from those who would call us mad. It is a driving passion to show you the unfathomable. After all, if you don’t like our story, perhaps it wasn’t meant for you. It was meant for someone, or if we’re very lucky a number of someones, who we may never know, who may find our work hidden, dusty and aged, among gadgets and things our minds can barely imagine now, but will seem commonplace to our reader—however distantly in the future they exist.

Requiem

“If man were immortal he could be perfectly sure of seeing the day when everything in which he had trusted should betray his trust, and, in short, of coming eventually to hopeless misery.  He would break down, at last, as every good fortune, as every dynasty, as every civilization does.  In place of this we have death.”
~Charles Sanders Peirce

I can vividly remember sitting at the conference room table, on my lunch break, beginning the journal that would eventually serve as my plot book for Fable. About a month later, towards Halloween, I sat down with my laptop and without any thought to when I would finish it or if it would be published or even if anyone other than myself would ever read it, I began to write. I’d realized, through the most sundry conversation in the world, that I had to either step out in faith that I had talent enough to do what my heart wanted, or give up and walk away. No more talking about being a writer, no more saying that one day I’ll get around to it. That was 3 1/2 years ago. On March 30, 2010 I was offered a publishing contract on Fable, which will tentatively launch sometime in November/December of this year.

And just as I embarked on a journey then, walking blindly into unknown territory, I am doing so again as I go through the process of negotiating the contract and beginning a relationship with Rhemalda Publishing. It is the death of one part of my life and the birth of another. And even now, before having stepped farther than two feet down this path, I can assure you that it has brought irrevocable change to who I am as an author.

I once had fears that I would never be able to finish Fable; not that I wasn’t motivated but fears that I was unable (in more romantic moments I would have said unworthy). But, the words never stopped coming and within 12 months I’d finished all three books in the first trilogy. And even though there may have been a point in my writing life where I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would be too thrilled about a contract to care about anything else, I still fear being unable. I’ve grown considerably as an author since I wrote or even revised book one, and of course there will be an editor going through the manuscript and hopefully fixing my adverb abuse (wasn’t aware that I had this problem until recently). All that aside, there is this little part of me that feels like I’m standing on the edge of this huge precipice staring into utter nothingness and everything in me wants to cling to the cliff and not leap off. But, I will leap. I owe the book that much.