Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bluebird Briefing: April 2015

First, a preface about my second novel, Rainbow, which has been in production for about two years now (concept development started in February 2013, the actual writing that June). The manuscript currently stands at 28,000 words. That's about half the length of a short novel, but I have much more writing ahead of me than behind me, and Rainbow will not be, never could have been, a short novel. Like our protagonist Martin Lane, whom one character emphatically declares cannot be contained, the novel that tells his story seems boundlessly expansive and is not readily delimited.

The writing has been progressing slowly but steadily (isn't that the kind that wins the race?), propelled by a relatively low-key yet sustained stream of inspiration. Unlike the interior cosmic drama that drove me to create Bluebird in a six-week fever (or perhaps something more like a visionary trance), the fire which fuels Rainbow is not usually quite as blindingly bright, but has proven remarkably durable, and the project is still deeply, if a bit more quietly, exciting.


Meanwhile, developments have been occurring with my first effort in novelistic art, The Bluebird of Happiness. One thing I have realized of late is that, even though the novel was written during that aforementioned six weeks almost three years ago, it is, even today, not really finished, and indeed the production of the novel has been a process far greater than those six glorious weeks. Yes, the novel was essentially written during that time period, but it had a long history prior to that, and, despite having felt that the manuscript was polished and ready for prime time two years ago, I have come to feel that there is more work yet to be done before my debut novel is all that it can be and is, well, ready for its debut.

For background, here is a brief outline of the history of Bluebird:

1999: I first conceive the idea for the novel, at the time titled The Terrible Blue, set in a decadent near-future America and centering on the character of Thomas Fairchild.

2003: I reimagine the story as set in the present day and revolving around the lives of three characters: Thomas, Martin Lane, and Aurora Nightingale. Martin, who was actually first imagined back in 1997, becomes the lead character.

2004: I write several pages of the story, some material from which ends up in the eventual novel.

2007: After setting the project aside for a time, a viewing of the movie Velvet Goldmine provides me with fresh inspiration for the story.

2009: Early in the year, I decide to abandon the novel altogether. By the summer, however, I have taken up the idea once more. I change the title to The Bluebird of Happiness.

2010: I make yet another start on the manuscript, writing the first few pages.

2011: Late in the year, I decide to make Thomas the main character once more.

2012: In early May I receive a powerful new inspiration for the story, which now centers on the seemingly impossible love of Thomas for Alexandra Grey (with Martin and Aurora as important supporting characters). On July 3rd I begin writing; on August 17th I complete the 100,000+ word initial draft of the manuscript.

2013: In May I edit the manuscript, believing it at the time to be ready for submission to agents and publishers.

2014: I decide that I wish to rewrite one section of the novel, consisting of a long letter from Thomas to Alexandra.

This last development was significant for me because it entailed reversing my decision of the preceding year that the novel was in fact finished. It has been a bit difficult to deal with too because it means that the novel is taking much longer to complete than I had previously thought. However, I have also come to realize that this is normal and good; however inspired, however wondrous, however powerful that blaze of literary creation in the summer of 2012 might have been, however important and central a part of the creative process that is producing The Bluebird of Happiness, it is still only a part of that process. The above timeline amply illustrates this fact. The writing of any novel must be a combination of passionate inspiration and arduous toil.

I have also, in recent days, come to a greater acceptance of the need for diligent and careful revision, editing, polishing, and not to be afraid that this will tamper with the purity of the initial inspiration. The two processes are complementary aspects of the same greater process of artistic creation. I know that other authors have put years of effort and work into their novels too, and that this is okay. It is crucially important that I do not release my Bluebird into the world until it is fully ready for flight, until I feel no nagging reservations about any part of the manuscript. Of course it will never be perfect (it is questionable whether any literary work, particularly a novel, can ever truly be "perfect", even more questionable what "perfect" might mean), but part of my hesitation about marketing the manuscript has been due to misgivings about certain parts, especially the letter to Alexandra, which I feel could (should, considering its fictional author and the nature of the novel) be much more poetic. As it stands now, it feels too prosaic and explanatory whereas I feel it could and should be a more mysterious and sublime expression of mysterious and sublime emotions. In short, I didn't write that part quite as well as I could have, and that needs to be fixed, I think, before the novel is everything it was meant to be, before it becomes the one true Bluebird.

Sometimes I feel a bit of trepidation about undertaking such a task of rewriting (which I have yet to begin, though I have been developing ideas for it). The major reason is that the fiery inspiration that produced the initial manuscript was a passing phenomenon. I suppose it is possible that the muse may seize me again as I begin to rewrite Thomas's epistle to the object of his undying love, but no author can completely control things like that. The muse may aid the poet, but the poet serves the muse. However, if the task must be done, then it must, and I can only trust the muse to guide me as she has so faithfully done before. (I realize that for non-writers all this talk of muses may sound a bit mystical, but it must also be understood, as it is by poets, that some things can only be expressed poetically.)

I have also been troubled by the thought that any addition or substantial revision I make now to the Bluebird MS seems, inevitably, like a later interpolation to the "real" text that I produced under such effulgent inspiration three years ago. After all, it was written at a particular moment in my life, and as the philosopher Heraclitus says, one cannot step in the same river twice. But if anything is mystical, it might be the belief that only what I wrote during those six weeks can possibly count as the "real" Bluebird. No matter how romantic I might be in some ways, I am also worldly enough to understand, as I alluded to above, that literary creation is always a cooperative effort between the heart, the head, and the hands.

So, while it is true that I might never be able to recapture the full power of the vision that so ravished me during that summer of suffering and splendor, it is also true that I am still, in a deeper sense, the same person, and it is also true that any literary work is produced over a period of time, whether it be a single day to write a lyric poem or very short story, or many years to write a great novel. As I mentioned at the outset, Rainbow has already been in production for two years, and I am not precisely the same as I was when I began its composition--and I will surely be different still by the time I finish it. And of course Bluebird itself existed as a concept for 13 years prior to its writing, so it is not as though it sprang fully formed from the ether, however much it may have felt that way at the time. (As I mentioned in the timeline, a small part of the text was actually written several years before. So why not some of the text written a few years after the main event?)

On February 5th of this year, I actually did make a small but significant revision to one passage in Bluebird (not the letter), because I wanted to leave certain things about Thomas a bit more mysterious and ambiguous than they otherwise might have been. This was the first time since the edit of the manuscript in May 2013 that I made any changes at all to the text. I am thinking now that I would like to reread and re-edit the entire manuscript, in addition to rewriting the letter. For a novel that I have always intended and hoped to be an enduring work of art, it is well worth the time and the effort to make it as close to perfect, as close to my highest vision, as I can possibly make it.

On a final note, only yesterday I thought up an entirely new scene for Bluebird. This scene, once written, would constitute the first substantial new addition to the story since 2012 (I have hardly entertained the notion of making any actual additions to the text, as opposed to revising or rewriting existing parts of it, until now). Thomas, Martin, and Aurora, as well as a number of other characters from Bluebird, reappear in Rainbow, and some of them may possibly appear further in other shorter works of fiction, but this particular scene that occurred to me yesterday struck me as being especially suitable for Bluebird itself.

It is a scene that I believe would fit the tone and spirit of the first novel perfectly, while also standing out in a rather striking and bold sort of way, and thereby adding a single but important note to the entire symphony. I am quite excited by this, as this development has made me feel more than anything else that my first novel is not yet complete, and that its final completion need not be entirely tedious, but rather may involve fresh inspiration. One of my hesitations about rewriting the letter is that it seemed more an act of obligation, a chore, than the act of passionate eros that the initial writing of the novel was; but that task, too, as time goes on, is being fueled more and more by new ideas, increasingly more by desire than by duty.

The new scene for Bluebird, incidentally, involves a certain piece of music by Purcell which was referenced in my 2013 novella Angels Are Lonely on the Earth. That novella is set a hundred years in the future but the three main characters share a passion for the poetry of Thomas Fairchild, making it not so much a sequel to Bluebird as a story set in the same fictional universe. The new scene in Bluebird will provide a further connection between the two tales. It occurs to me that future readers may see the scene in Angels involving the Purcell piece as making reference to the scene in Bluebird, even though in reality the passage in Bluebird was not written (or even thought up) until two years after Angels was written. Thus do I weave a complicated web among the various works of my literary oeuvre.

I read somewhere the other day that poetry is an act of daydreaming. And so it is. The worlds I see in my head, those worlds that seek realization in works of fiction or of poetry (literary fiction being, ultimately, a form of poetry... you might say, poetry by other means), are essentially dream worlds. That does not mean they are not real. They are of course not real in the same sense that the empirical world is, but they are realities of the mind, of my mind, and, through the concrete expression of art, may also become realities of other people's minds as well. And, like all art, these constructions, these made-up things, help us to see reality more deeply and more fully. Art may not be life, but art helps us live.

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