Tuesday, January 21, 2014
On the (Yellow Brick) Road Again
Okay, so, after writing the first 10,000 words or so last summer, and then letting it lie fallow in the months since, I resumed the writing of my second novel, Rainbow, on Sunday, and managed to write over 2,000 words in two days. The manuscript now stands at just over 12,500 words, which is about 1/8 the length of Bluebird, and already 1/4 the standard minimum length of a novel. I do expect this novel, however, to be quite a bit longer than the minimum--possibly even longer than its 100,000-word predecessor--because at this point, it feels like the story is only just getting started. There is so much more to come.
One significant development to report is that I have decided to adopt Rainbow as the actual title of the book (hence the italics, whereas in previous posts it was always in quotation marks). This is partly because I had been thinking of it as "Rainbow" (initially only intended as a working title) for so long that it just came to seem what the book was called; partly because no better title has presented itself to me; but, most importantly, because I decided that the title, simple as it is, really works with this story. Something about the minimalism of the title lends itself to the mystery of the story, in my mind. I like the fact that it is one simple and common word that contains within itself a wide variety of connotations and possible interpretations. That is actually very fitting for this particular novel, centering as it does on the elusive and enigmatic figure of Martin Lane.
My inspiration for this story has certainly already taken a rather wild trajectory. This story has had a strange story of its own from the very beginning, when, last February, the very next day after I wrote on my blog lamenting my seeming lack of artistic inspiration, a stray line from the movie version of Hello, Dolly! proved to be the spark that set fire to a monumental new novel in my imagination... a source of inspiration which, in hindsight, seems not only perfectly ridiculous but also humorously appropriate.
Seriously, folks, I cannot write fiction half as strange as truth.
The winding history of the novel since then has been detailed in earlier posts (just look under Rainbow in the Index of this blog), but the main feature of its development has been the rollercoaster nature of my literary inspiration. Riding high on the initial inspiration in March... then, in April, sidetracked by a different inspiration that led to my novella Angels Are Lonely on the Earth... and, almost immediately after that was completed in early May, my inspiration for Rainbow, which I had barely thought about while engrossed in my other story, suddenly revived more powerfully than ever.
And all that was before I actually started writing it. After what I once described as my mid-May Martinmania (try saying it five times really fast), I took the fateful step of re-reading my (yet to be) debut(ed) novel, The Bluebird of Happiness, and promptly fell into a fit of depression. However, I recovered enough in early June to make a brilliant start, at last, on the new novel (about 5,000 words in one weekend, mostly that Sunday)... only to fall back into even deeper depression soon after. I managed to get back into the writing in fits and starts during the remainder of the summer, but, after writing 10,000 words by summer's end, the novel again lay dormant until January.
I have felt my inspiration for the story coming back in recent days, and it now feels even fuller and richer and deeper than it already did... and somewhat altered. I have realized that this story is being shaped and formed by unforeseen and unpredictable life experiences, both high and low, as much as it is by my own deliberate plans and intentions as an author.
This latest burst of inspiration, which has suddenly lit the story aflame once more, comes on the heels of an episode of nervous exhaustion, during which I felt quite physically and emotionally depleted. So it seems that Rainbow, as befits its name, is a story that is continually born out of storms... and it is strange to me now to recall that, from the very beginning, before I had named it, even before I knew it was to be a novel about Martin, the story had the feeling of a vast, powerful, dark storm brewing on the horizon... but one that I knew would carry me to a wondrous Oz, somewhere over the rainbow.
The story is fundamentally the same as it was last year, but I believe that the theme of longing for home, and the related emotion of Sehnsucht, have become much more central and significant. Martin Lane has become perhaps even more complex and ambiguous of a creature than he already seemed. I am sure I do not even know everything about who he is, but I know that he will reveal more of himself to me as I continue to tell his story. Even at the end, however, I know that he will remain ultimately mysterious, even to me, yet full of signification. He is perhaps, in a very real way, a poem.
And that is a good way for me to understand my own novel in progress, because, even though there are a few broad themes and meanings that I can identify, it is, like a poem, something that cannot ultimately be summarized. As I said of Bluebird, in the writing of this novel I am trying to express something that can only be expressed in the exact form of this novel. And that is perhaps true of all literature... the experience can only be had, the meaning only found, in the actual reading of it. Just because literature is composed of words does not mean that it can be adequately captured by (other) words any more than one can really experience a piece of music or a painting by hearing someone describe it to you.
Therefore, any details I might reveal about the story and its characters would not go very far in communicating what it is really about. And the poetic nature of novelistic storytelling can make the story's reason for being not fully clear even to the author. It may feel very powerful, very insistent, very real... but on the intellectual level, it can be quite difficult to explain, even to myself, exactly why I am writing the story that I am.
But it does make me feel things and think things that are strange and new and exciting, and my purpose as an artist is to attempt to communicate that vision to others, so that they too can see what it is I am seeing. In this way, this quite mysterious way, I believe that art expands our knowledge just as science does... not of the external world that is observable to our senses, but of the internal world of our minds, hearts, and souls... tracing our human response to the world, revealing its meaning for us as humans.
And so, like Bluebird before it, Rainbow is my latest attempt to explore, express, and reveal whatever truth it is that I am capable of perceiving as the particular artist that I am. I could tell you that it is the tale of a man much like myself--a Generation X artist who grew up in Florida--but those superficial details are almost beside the point. Beyond the specifics of time, place, and personality--indeed, despite the surpassing strangeness of many of its characters (perhaps, most of all, Martin himself)--my hope, and my belief, is that Rainbow, like the literature to which it aspires, will be a story that is universally human.
And ultimately, one of many things Rainbow will be about is the surpassing strangeness of being human.