Friday, March 22, 2013

Notes From Somewhere Over the Rainbow

First of all, I really need to come up with a real title for "Rainbow". I'm not going to force it though; I have faith that the right title will present itself when it's ready. My ideas about the novel continue to develop rather fruitfully but, despite my excitement, I don't want to say too much about it at this point. It's still in the pre-production phase of development, but is coming together nicely.

One thing I can say about it without giving away too much is that its themes are becoming clearer in my mind. One of the dominant themes, I am coming to realize, has to do with vision, perception, and imagination, particularly with respect to knowing other people and knowing oneself, but also with respect to knowing reality in general.

Martin Lane, like his author, wears glasses and has suffered poor vision since childhood. But this physical defect stands in sharp contrast to the powerful vision of his poetic and artistic imagination (I am speaking of my character, not myself), which enables him to see things that others cannot. In a way, this is a variation of the old motif of Homer, the blind poet.

A big question in the story, as it was in Bluebird, is whether imagination distorts and deforms our vision of reality, or whether it actually enhances and expands that vision. In the former novel, this question was explored mainly in the context of Thomas Fairchild's idealized, unrequited love for Alexandra Grey, a woman he hardly knows, but in "Rainbow", it will be illustrated more broadly, both in terms of Martin's perception of other people, and in terms of others' perceptions of Martin... and even in Martin's perception of himself. As with the first novel, I will again alternate between the protagonist's first-person point of view and the accounts of other characters.

When I first invented Martin, almost by accident, back in 1997 (he was actually, originally, a co-creation with my friend and fellow writer Bill Rogers), he started out as what I now think of as a "mythic persona", based on hearsay about a real person, but more a product of the creative imagination than anything else. So it is very fitting, and perhaps only natural, that the novel centering on Martin should largely deal with the theme of how we know others by way of imagination.


So what is going on, meanwhile, with the novel referred to as "V"? Well, something interesting (to me, at least). As I described before, the original story concept dated from 2006, and it was originally only supposed to be a short story. When I recently whittled the story down to its essence, what remained was essentially the original short story concept (which could possibly assume the length of a novella). However, since then I have realized that the newer ideas could form a story unto themselves, entirely separate from the original 2006 concept.

I have been quoting passages from the work-in-production on my Facebook page with the tag "V is for V". This was of course not the actual title ("V" itself being an abbreviation of the title), but ever since I came up with that tag, I thought that this phrase "V is for V" had kind of an interesting ring to it, as well as a certain significance--about signification itself. So I am entertaining the notion that the new story concept (the one that occurred to me last September) might actually be titled "V is for V", and that the older story idea will retain the original title.

Although it had evolved into a story of epic proportions, I am thinking now that it will actually be much shorter, either an extended short story or a novella (it seems many of my story concepts fall into that middle ground)--but one that, through conciseness, density, and suggestion (these, of course, being qualities of poetry), will still have something of an epic feel to it. I have long been fascinated by the idea of relatively small-scale art works that contain whole worlds within them, like worlds in miniature.

One reason for the separation is that the two stories are rather different from each other in feel, tone, and theme. I had incorporated the old story as one component of the new story, but it seemed a bit of an odd fit. The old story is more sensual, meditative, and delicately dreamlike, whereas the new story (i.e., "V is for V") is more visionary, tragic, and coldly austere (which makes it similar in tone, I think, to Bluebird... not surprisingly, since it was born on the heels of that novel's completion).

This development is interesting to me too in that it shows me how my general mood has changed since last fall, when what I am now calling "V is for V" essentially replaced the older story. The new idea better fit my mood at the time, but now I have returned to a place where I can also find interest in the old story idea.

For that matter, the tone of "Rainbow" is quite distinct from that of The Bluebird of Happiness. It is not nearly as dark and full of suffering, but it fills me with a different sort of inspiration. It is basically the telling of Martin Lane's life story, though it will not be told in strict chronological order, and will combine his own account with the accounts of other characters. His story will likely not appear as tragic as that of his friend Thomas Fairchild, but I think it will still seem mysterious, strange, and, in its own way, fearful (more wonder than terror).

At least it does to me, Martin's creator (or perhaps, the receiver of the muse's vision of Martin). I can only imagine it would appear that way to those to whom I tell his tale.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

It's All About Me

The subject of a future autobiographical novel?

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, “I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself.”

As more of life goes by, the more I realize that one of the questions which fascinates me the most is that of how much we can know another human being, and indeed how much we can know ourselves. I think of it as the ultimate mystery of the human soul. We can never fully know the vast, dark reaches of our own interior being, the murky, mysterious inner space of our memories, dreams, imaginations, and subconscious and unconscious longings, fears, and desires—let alone that of another human being.

Nevertheless, knowing ourselves and knowing others are two of the most fundamental projects of human existence. But these are not projects that can ever be completely fulfilled. When we think that we fully know who someone else is, or even that we fully know who we ourselves are, we are hopelessly deluded.

This mystery of the human soul, I am realizing, has become one of the major themes of my writing. It was more than suggested in The Bluebird of Happiness, and will be even more fully brought out and explored in “Rainbow”. In the latter novel, I am also attempting to explore the ways in which our conception of others and of ourselves is based on our own perception and imagination. But the question might also be asked: is there in fact anything more to our identities than this?

As with Bluebird, I will not attempt to provide any definitive answers to the philosophical questions raised by the story. And, as with the former novel, I do hope to provide some intriguing suggestions and possibilities that readers might wish to further explore on their own.

One thing that is an ever-present challenge to the fiction writer is getting inside the head of another human being (or, in some cases, another sentient being, even if not human). In reality, we only have access to our own inner experience, and to write about a fictional character (no matter how autobiographical the character might appear to be) requires a tremendous act of the imagination.

To some degree, however, writers can only write about themselves. That is to say, even when writing about purely imaginary characters who bear little resemblance to themselves, the character’s thoughts, feelings, and experience must be imagined by the author, and this imagining must necessarily occur through the filter of, and must necessarily be informed by, the author’s own thoughts, feelings, and experience. After all, our own experience is the only experience to which we have any access.

So, even though some of my characters may appear to be more autobiographical than others, in some sense they are all autobiographical—and, at the same time, they are all perfectly imaginary. Whether I am writing about young passionate poetic men, or old dour disillusioned men; about beautiful baroque women, or wide-eyed little girls; about misunderstood man-apes or vampiristic voluptuaries; about bizarre business executives or perfectly ordinary Martians—in each case, no matter how fanciful the creature, he, she, or it is always, inevitably, a reflection and expression of its creator, even if only of its creator's wildest dreams or darkest fears.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Everything Old Is New Again

I have decided that the "Rainbow" novel is definitely about Martin Lane, who played the main supporting actor role in Bluebird. The idea of writing a novel with Martin as the protagonist is actually far from a new concept.

My original conceptions of Martin go back to 1997, although it wasn't until 2003 that he emerged as a definite character that I intended to write about. At the time, I imagined him as the main character in what was then called The Terrible Blue (eventually The Bluebird of Happiness). This was part of a radical re-imagining of the novel that up until then had been the story of Thomas Fairchild. Martin actually remained the main character as late as November 2011--only six months before my final grand vision of Bluebird--at which time I decided to revert to the original idea of having the novel revolve around Thomas.

However, while there is nothing new about the basic idea of writing a novel with Martin Lane as the protagonist, "Rainbow" is for all practical purposes an entirely new conception, and bears little resemblance to my earlier ideas of Martin's story. As I mentioned before, when "Rainbow" began forming in my imagination not even two weeks ago, I at first wasn't even sure if it was going to be about Martin. However, as time has gone on it has become more and more clear to me that it is about Martin, and that it can only be about him. That realization makes so much sense, has made everything fall into place, and is also just a very exciting idea to me. I feel that I am seeing a fuller and richer vision of who Martin Lane is, and there is so much there to explore.

I mentioned earlier that "Rainbow" bore a close resemblance to Bluebird, which initially made me concerned that I risked falling into the predicament of writing essentially the same story again and again. I am no longer worried about that. True, "Rainbow" and Bluebird do share many similar features and qualities, not the least of which being that they share some of the same characters. However, even though it involves the same fictional world, "Rainbow" has its own very distinct feeling. I think this is because each story reflects the "soul" of its main character. In Bluebird, one gets inside the head of Thomas Fairchild; in "Rainbow", one will get inside the head of Martin Lane. Because of this, each novel has its own unique vibe--emotional, intellectual, and aesthetic. In short, each novel has its own "personality", reflective of the personality of its main character.

(This makes me wonder about the exact relationship between my characters and myself, which is beginning to seem all the more fascinating, perplexing, and mysterious to me now. But that is a topic best saved for its own separate post.)

In the same way that Bluebird possessed, in my imagination, a strange power and mystery (which I was hopefully able to convey in the work itself), "Rainbow" has its own strange power and mystery, different from that of Bluebird. Like its predecessor, "Rainbow" is, in my own mind, a work that is musical, visionary, and ecstatic. It is a different music, a different vision, and a different ecstasy, and will express a different myth than the one told by Bluebird.

Oz, the quintessential American fairyland, was a prominent motif in Bluebird, but "Rainbow" will further develop that motif. Long before I actually wrote Bluebird, I had begun developing my own private mythology and symbolism of Oz in relation to the story. However, this was brought out only partially in the first novel. One thing "Rainbow" will allow me to do is more fully to explore and express my personal Oz mythos.

I am beginning to realize, too, that one thing I am very interested in doing as a writer is to show the endless mystery of human beings. Although much more will be revealed about Martin Lane than in the first book, he will not really be explained. In fact, if I am successful, he will seem even more mysterious at the end than he does at the beginning. I hope and believe that Thomas Fairchild and his experience were left more mysterious at the end of Bluebird, and I hope and believe that the same will be true of Martin Lane at the end of "Rainbow". As with all knowledge, the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. This is truer of nothing more than it is of human beings.

"Rainbow" is largely about Martin Lane coming to know himself. Like the reader, he will know much more about himself at the end, but, also like the reader, one thing he will have learned about himself is what a wondrous and mysterious, and never fully knowable, creature he really is.

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Tale of Two Tales

Okay, I feel like I'm going somewhere again. First of all, "V" is not lost. It was like a star that got too big, too massive, and finally collapsed in upon itself. But the core remains, and it now seems purified. What I realized is that many parts of that grand construction were not essential to that particular story, and began to feel like so much dead weight, making the task of writing it feel unnecessarily burdensome. And that's the opposite of inspiration. I realized that many of those individual parts might work better elsewhere, and some were perhaps not necessary at all, mere filler. I made a list of what I felt to be the essential elements of "V", and after looking at it, I felt much better. It now seems much more clear, a simpler, smaller-scale, but more aesthetically unified idea.

I had always thought of that story as being one of my mid-length fictional works, perhaps a novella or a short novel at most (it was originally, in fact, only a short story), not the overblown epic it was somehow evolving into. I already have two ideas for truly epic novels, stories which can only exist in epic form because of their very nature, and I don't need to give myself more work than is necessary in this short and distracted life. After all, Homer wrote two epics, and that is more than most authors have done. I'll feel incredibly grateful and fulfilled if I am able to complete my two epic novels before I leave this earth.

(I should note that I have described Bluebird as an epic, and I suppose it is in some sense, but it is of fairly standard novel length and would be dwarfed by these other two works.)

Now for the new novel idea... its working title, as I have said, is "Rainbow". This is a reference to The Wizard of Oz. I'm not sure yet if the actual title will contain the word "rainbow" or not; we'll see.

The idea of this novel being a companion piece to Bluebird is becoming stronger. I am thinking that the protagonist may very well be Martin Lane, the best male friend of Thomas Fairchild, Bluebird's main character. I can't help but think of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and how the best friend of the first novel's protagonist became the main character of the latter novel.

It would not be a sequel, nor a prequel. It may overlap in time. But I am actually not overly concerned with continuity. In fact, I'm not particularly concerned to go out of my way to avoid apparent contradictions or irresolvable, differing accounts. I am thinking of these stories as myths, and my characters as mythic figures. As in ancient myths, many varying tales were told about gods and heroes, and it would have been difficult if not impossible to put them all together into a coherent whole. That's okay because myth is poetry, not history. It tells truth in a symbolical way, and by circumventing the literal accounts of science and history, it can access aspects of reality and truth otherwise invisible or incommunicable.

Like Bluebird (indeed, perhaps like every novel I shall write), "Rainbow" is philosophical. If The Bluebird of Happiness was primarily about, as its title would suggest, happiness and the possibility thereof, then "Rainbow" is primarily about beauty, and its significance in human life. If Bluebird was a tragedy, then "Rainbow" is more of a fairy tale. But, as in all fairy tales, there will be much darkness to overcome.