Friday, May 10, 2013

Angels Are Lonely on the Earth

I have completed my 39,000-word novella Angels Are Lonely on the Earth. It was composed in another burst of inspiration from April 8 to May 9. Although certain elements of the story had been in my head for years, it began to emerge in more definite form last September, at which time I thought of it as a radical reimagining of an existing story concept whose title began with V. In hindsight, of course, it was really an entirely new story concept, though I did not separate it out from "V-----" until this year.
Inspiration often happens at the oddest moments. What may now be seen as the main idea of the story occurred to me in a flash the morning of November 2 as I was walking from my car to my workplace. And it was on the morning of April 4, while I was still lying in bed, that the title came to me, together with a related question uttered by the protagonist near the end of the story, both of which provided the final spark of inspiration.

The story is set in St. Louis, where I currently live, about a hundred years hence. The reasons for the futuristic setting are not science fictional; i.e., they do not relate to advances in science or technology, or even to changes in society. The reason for the choice of time period has mainly to do with the fact that the protagonist, Andrew Gordon, is a fan of the poetry of Thomas Fairchild, the protagonist of The Bluebird of Happiness. Thomas and his work are referenced throughout the story, and have a significant influence on Andrew's life and thought. In this way, I have written a related story that is not actually a sequel.

Angels also references a short story I completed in 2009 called "The Strange Case of Richard Arthurs", borrowing a mysterious outer space phenomenon from that tale as a plot element. This phenomenon, together with the strange effects it produces in human beings, might lead some readers to regard Angels as a science fiction story; personally, I do not consider this story to be SF. The difference has to do with emphasis, or what the story is mainly about. I would hate for non-SF fans to miss out on the story, which I think is simply a human drama, because of a misconception. (Having been a lifelong science fiction fan, it is certainly not antipathy to the genre that causes me to assert this story's non-SF status. At the very least, I would say that if it is SF, it is not merely SF; and I would also say that if it is SF, it is SF of a more literary type as opposed to standard genre fiction.)

As was the case in Bluebird, there is much reference to philosophy, poetry, and classical music, and there are a number of passages that relate, or show, the protagonist's dreams and visions. I am certain that many readers will think the story, having something of an epic feel to it, easily could have been expanded into a full-blown novel; but I am satisfied with the concise and often poetic nature of my storytelling, and prefer to leave much to the reader's imagination. I consider myself to be primarily a poet who sometimes writes prose fiction, which at its best may be thought of as a form of poetry. I also think of myself as a mythmaker, and a good myth is always suggestive, evocative, and ultimately mysterious. As Andrew Gordon learns, poetry and myths and dreams point us toward the ineffable, rather than attempting to spell out that which may not be uttered.

The story is a tragedy, but I think it is ultimately a hopeful one. That is not as oxymoronic as it might sound, for, as one character suggests, tragedy as an art is actually about hope. It is a celebration, not of death, but of life, and affirms not life's defeat but its victory.

It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, and just as brave knights battle dragons, so too do writers often battle their own dragons. With this story more than any other, I feel that I have done battle with the dragon of nihilism and despair. I do not mean this in a grandiose sense of battling them for all humanity, but only for myself, and perhaps also for at least some of my readers. The story is more personal for me than I would like people to understand, and it is a story I feel I needed to write in order that I might not be overcome by a particular kind of darkness. It appears at times that those dragons were sent to slay me; but I think that really I have been sent to slay them. In the ongoing war of light against darkness, I like to think that this little tale constitutes a small but significant victory.

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