Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Weather Changes

So here's the deal. The story affectionately known as "V" has reached a standstill, and at this point its future is uncertain. Again, for me and my writing process, this is nothing unusual. In fact, there have been many occasions in the past when I have had to "retire" a particular story idea that I had been working on, in some cases for years. Such a retirement is always provisional, however. After all, I once retired the story concept that eventually became my first novel, The Bluebird of Happiness. It was at a point when the story idea (then known as The Terrible Blue) was already seven years old and didn't seem to be going anywhere... but in another six years it would finally emerge, almost overnight, in a supernova of inspiration. So you never know how these things will evolve. Sometimes things just have to develop in their own good time, and you can't force it if it's not the right time.

My story "retirements" are often conceived not as throwing out the story idea altogether so much as "deconstructing" it. In other words, I wish to preserve the best ideas from it for possible re-use later, either in a revived version of the same story (as happened with Bluebird) or in another story entirely (or perhaps various ideas from the original concept will pop up here and there in a number of different stories).

In any case, there is a more positive side to what is happening right now. It is not merely that "V" has lost some of its inspiration. Rather, a new inspiration has been slowly but surely displacing it. It is as though a nebulous mass of low pressure weather has begun pushing out the bright, high pressure air of "V". I sense some dark fugue arising in my imagination, still in the earliest stages of formation, taking on only dimly perceptible shapes, but with an undeniable mounting energy and the promise of great power, like the low rumbling of distant thunder. Like Bluebird in its final inspiration, it has the feeling of music and of hieratic, dreamlike vision. When I feel the story as music and as visionary image at least as much as narrative, I know it is mine.

One thing I can already say about this new story concept--it does not yet have a title, but I'm temporarily referring to it as "Rainbow"--is that it bears strong resemblances to Bluebird (to the point where I am wondering if it may in fact be a related story involving some of the characters from the earlier novel). At the very least, there are definite similarities in terms of character types, settings, themes, and feelings. This makes me worry, of course, that writing what comes most naturally to me, what most inspires me, will mean writing the same story over and over, albeit in different variations.

However, when you think about it, many great authors have carved out a niche for themselves by writing multiple stories and novels that largely involve the same general type of setting, characters, themes, etc.--one only need think of Jane Austen, for instance, or Henry James, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, and any number of other novelists whose works, despite their individual variations and unique qualities, display an overall aesthetic and thematic unity that stamps them with the distinctive mark of their creators.

So perhaps being true to my muse will mean creating a canon of works that bear the strong, distinctive mark of their author and of his peculiar obsessions, tastes, and notions, so that someday people might say, "that's like something out of a Steven Holland story". At least, that is how I like to flatter myself.

Right now, all I know is that I feel like Dorothy, having just left Professor Marvel's house, as the first storm winds begin to blow, with the promise of some wondrous and magical Oz waiting to be discovered on the other side of the cyclone.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On Coming Down from the Heights

Artistic inspiration is such a strange thing. Even though I have had a few different bursts of inspiration with regard to "V", it seems to go in cycles. I get this magnificent vision, and then my enthusiasm slowly fades... and then another grand new vision, taking the story to a whole new and previously unforeseen level, followed by yet another fade, and so on....

I actually haven't done much writing in the past month or so, and honestly I've been tempted with the idea of just setting “V” aside for awhile and taking up one of my many other literary ideas. Or maybe focusing on music for a bit instead of writing. Maybe I just need a break from it.

This more up-and-down, slow-going kind of process, unfortunately, is far more typical, not just for me but surely for most writers, than what happened last summer when I wrote The Bluebird of Happiness in a 6-week sustained burst of fiery, deeply inspired passion (which totally surprised me both in its duration of intensity and in its endless fecundity). I felt a lot of pain during that obsessive writing process, but now it seems more than worth it, because that pain was inseparable from the inspiration.

This reminds me of something Nietzsche said: "Indispensable ... to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference." I don't know if I'm exactly indifferent to the passion that inspired Bluebird, but it does feel now like I was on top of a mountain last summer--alone in a vast, cold emptiness, yet in possession of a sublime and ecstatic vision--and that since then I have gradually come down from that high, sometimes slogging through black swamps of uninspired depression, barren fields of numbness, and finally arriving on a plain of gentle calm.

The calm is more conducive to functioning in the "real" world and being able to focus on all of my many interests other than the relatively narrow range of obsessions and passions that drove me to write Bluebird. But it is far less conducive to writing something that feels as truly inspired and powerful as that felt. I suppose it is unrealistic to expect that writing can always be like that. I knew at the time that it was highly unusual, and that many writers perhaps never experience that level of inspiration at all. Perhaps I should count myself lucky that it happened even once.

But in a way I think I will always long for a repeat of that experience. I already feel a sense of nostalgia for that story and its characters, which may seem funny because it hasn't even been published and most people haven't read it yet. When I look back on it, it feels comforting and deeply satisfying, to know that I accomplished something of which I didn’t quite know I was capable, and which stands as the greatest fulfillment of my talents thus far. But it is a source of joy also in that it reminds me of something I discovered myself to be, a vision of my best and greatest self, and it helps me remember who I really am. As I said at the time, it felt like a distillation of my soul, and like I was exploring and expressing the heights and depths and breadth of reality as I knew it, my grandest ideals of truth and beauty.

I think that this quality alone will make The Bluebird of Happiness one of my personal best no matter what else I write. Not every work can be on that level, I know. Artists' work, at its best, is about trying to express their most dazzling vision, the extremes of what they are capable of perceiving, knowing, experiencing, and feeling. It's a constant struggle to climb that mountain of inspiration and vision, to see something wondrous and majestic and to communicate it to others. Sometimes, as happened to me last summer, the muse carries you up there with her glorious wings and doesn't let go till you've bled your last drop, and then returns you slowly and gently to the mortal realm. Maybe I just need some more time to recover before I'm ready for another such journey that near to heaven.