Friday, November 21, 2014
My sophomore effort in the art of writing novels, Rainbow, has, after 17 months, now surpassed 20,000 words in length. That is obviously a very slow rate of expansion (especially compared to the sudden supernova appearance of its predecessor, The Bluebird of Happiness), but is perhaps closer to the norm of novel writing.
One thing I have realized is that I do feel very inspired about Rainbow, but my inspiration is working in a different way than it did with Bluebird. The inspiration this time around is perhaps not quite as dramatic and intense, but is more diffuse and remarkably long-lasting; after all this time, the project is still very exciting to me, I am constantly thinking up new ideas for the story, and (thankfully) have not been suffering from writer's block.
That last situation is perhaps largely due to the fact that, since my last progress report back in May, I created a loose outline for the remainder of the novel. This served the double purpose of giving me a greater sense of direction by helping me to see more clearly the overall shape and flow of the narrative, having put the multitudinous individual scenes I had thought up into some kind of workable order (one that is not completely linear in chronology, but rather a narrative sequence that made sense to me as the author, the order in which I wanted to reveal the various parts of the story), and of providing me a rather thrilling view, from on high, of the entire grand, vast scope of the novel, which further added to my inspiration.
As I have mentioned before, Bluebird and Rainbow are related stories, involving many of the same characters, but neither is a sequel or a prequel to the other. Their relationship is much more ambiguous and complex. One thing that I have found both challenging and fun is to write Rainbow in such a way that, no matter which book someone reads first, there will be surprises in store when they read the other volume. Each book reveals things that the other one conceals. You might say that they keep each other's secrets. So it really does not matter greatly in which order someone reads them. The fact that Rainbow is being written after Bluebird hardly matters if at all; if someone starts with Rainbow, they will still encounter surprises and revelations in Bluebird.
Not only that, they will no doubt also find themselves a little perplexed as to the exact relationship between the two narratives. I am also attempting to write the second novel in such a way that nothing in the narrative creates explicit discontinuity with the first novel, but also in such a way that it may create a vague tension in the reader between the claims of the two narratives. (When, exactly, is this scene in Rainbow happening in relation to that scene in Bluebird? Et cetera.)
In this way, the second novel is independent of the first, yet does not definitively contradict it. So, while a reader may wonder--may feel, if not be able to explain just why, there is a subtle tension between the two stories--it will still be entirely possible to maintain the belief that somehow the two novels provide quite different but non-conflicting accounts of the same fictional universe.
Even within the sprawling, non-linear context of Rainbow, it will probably be challenging to piece together the exact sequence of events (hell, it's even challenging for me, and I'm the one writing the damn thing). The narrative ranges freely throughout the span of Martin Lane's life, at least from his childhood up until middle age, and, unlike Bluebird, there does not seem to be any clearly defined temporal center to the story--in other words, there is no specific time period that feels like the main "present" of the story (other than Martin's entire adult life, or the roughly three decades of it that are covered). I do not know that I did this on purpose, but I think the decentered temporal setting has the effect of making the story feel somewhat uprooted, which is entirely appropriate to its nature.
Just as the relationship between the two novels is ambiguous and complex, so are many of the relationships among the characters, and so is, above all, Martin Lane himself. I like to think that Rainbow is a mystery novel of sorts, only one where the mystery is not a crime to be solved but the main character, who, like a real human being, is never really solvable or completely definable. It is not the nature of my stories to provide tidy endings where all uncertainties and ambiguities are resolved; I rather delight in leaving the reader with a feeling of open-endedness and an even deeper sense of mystery.
I recently took a look at some of my early notes on Rainbow and was happy to be reminded of some of my more playful descriptions of the story: "barbaric, vast, and wild"; "the higher form of decadence"; a "fashion epic". (I only hope I can live up to such visions!) Those are as good descriptions as any of what it is I am attempting to do with this work of fiction. As for what it all means, what it is about... well, I must leave that to my readers to discover for themselves. It would be impossible to explain anyway (or, as I often say, I can only explain by writing the novel itself).
In any case, Rainbow still is to me a grand vision, just as it was at the beginning when it first emerged from the mists of my imagination, only now it is much more fully developed, and the story continues to grow ever larger in my mind each day. It is actually rather amazing to realize how that small seed of a story, so vague at first yet rumbling with low, distant thunder, has evolved over the months into such a vast, complicated, intricate novel with its multitude of concrete details and subtle meanings. I am aiming to paint a lifelike portrait of one human being and his life, which is something that defies easy or neat summarization. I like to think that Rainbow is a realist novel in the best sense of the term, that is, a grand, elaborate story, completely made up, that shows life for what it is: something enormous, unexplainable, and wondrous.
"The answer, of course, is Martin Lane."