In Dreams Awake

Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.

(Henry David Thoreau)

Friday, 25 July 2014

So Bends the Tree

 Every artist - writer, painter, whatever - draws on his or her own experiences. I don't wholly buy the popular advice of write what you know, because if we all stuck to that there would be no sci-fi (who's ever really flown between stars?), no Fantasy, not even any Victorian Gothics. But the things we know and feel do find their way onto the pages, because they're what shaped us as people - we're each the sum of our own experiences.

 The most important factor of all this is family. Nothing does as much to form our character as that. There are proverbs about it, such as give me the child until he is seven and I shall give you the man. Or as grows the sapling, so bends the tree. As children we can be conditioned to respond a certain way, and as adults we still do. Habits like that run very deep, and are fiercely hard to break.

 Now, I don't have a great family. I knew it even as a small boy, the sort of age when most children accept their world almost without question. My parents made a bad marriage and I can't remember a time when they didn't hate each other. My elder brother was effectively a functioning sociopath, unable to feel or empathize as normal people do; he saw others as pieces to be moved, there for his own amusement but without valid lives or cares of their own. And my mother couldn't see that - wouldn't see it, in truth - because she'd invested such hopes in him she couldn't bear to see them crushed, or accept he wasn't capable of achieving the things she dreamed of.

 (Incidentally, I think it's interesting that I saw this so young. Even aged 6, maybe before, I'd begun to stand aside from events and watch them. see how people behaved and how it differed from what they said. Any artist needs that distance, I think, while also being involved enough to empathize. It's a curious thing. Some people believe writers are born, not made; when I think about this I suspect they might be right).


 All that conflict and chaos in my childhood affected me. Of course it did, it's inevitable. I'm sure there are people who suffered worse and dealt with it better; I know some of the wounds I carry are due, in part at least, to me not coping well. But I was a child, and it's hard to beat myself up. It was dreadful and too often there was nobody there who would protect me from the barrage, but I got through it and here I am, still standing. If we find a way to deal with our scars and move on, that's a win.

 As a child, I used to think my friend Mark's family was perfect. I'd wish I'd been born there instead of to my own parents, but of course I hadn't been and I'd missed all the internal arguments, the shouting and tears, a thousand things that would be inconsequential to anyone else but are agony for a child living through them.

 As an adult, I've discovered there are families much worse than mine was. Forget the child abuse cases on TV, these are just ordinary people who don't seem able to stop hurting each other, day after day. People for whom the love and bitterness have become so entwined they can't be separated anymore, so they twine around each other in spirals that go on and on and on... There might be no major events, nothing that would make it onto Jerry Springer, but there's a parade of little things, like the Death of a Thousand Cuts. And even in the good families there are still sore places, memories nobody speaks of at the Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone's wounded. Nobody grows up unscarred.

 Cheery thought, eh? Actually I think it is, in a crooked sort of way. Because scarred or not we do grow up, and we deal with the shit and move on - and that's a win.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Packed with Good Stuff

  Well, there's been a bit of a change in my life this past fortnight. I'm now in a relationship with a woman named Caroline, who's clever and tough and brooks no nonsense from anyone. I've known Caz for some time, and liked her, but since she was seeing someone else I couldn't speak. However, we're together now, and I couldn't be happier.

  But it's going to cut into my writing time....

  The good news there is that TROY: Heirs of Immortality is finished. The first draft is, anyway, so now I'll leave it for a month and turn to other things, tinker with another story or start a new one, and then return to Troy II to edit. I loathe redrafting, it's just boring and technical most of the time, and has none of the creative spark that actual writing does. But it has to be done, in both online and traditional publishing, so there's no point complaining. I knew the deal when I signed up to it.

  What I'll actually spend this month or so doing is a new version - the fourth - of a story called Starfire. There have been so many because I haven't been able to make the story work. It has masses of good ideas and elements; different magics and cultures, non-human creatures, ancient power struggles and a secretive group of archivists, to name only some. But the story won't let itself be told. The third effort failed because several people told me the opening sounded like an info dump, with too much information thrown at the reader too fast. Trouble is, avoiding that meant restructuring the story from top to bottom, and I didn't really know how to go about that, besides which Troy was under way by then.

  This is a pain.

  But I was thinking about it the other day and I had an idea about an 'in'. Essentially it involves throwing away nearly everything I wrote, and coming at the story from a different angle. It should be more immediate and direct, so what I throw at the reader isn't dry info but a series of events that slowly come together to reveal what's going on. There's a good story somewhere inside Starfire, it's packed with good stuff, and despite all the problems I still believe in it. My job is to find that story and tease it out.

  So... my To Do list now reads: redraft Troy II, write Troy III, redo Starfire, keep sending Black Lord of Eagles to conventional publishers, redraft volume one of Chained Dragon and then do volumes two and three, and proceed with The Playground of Fawns (set in an analogue of ancient China). Including all the sequels it adds up to ten volumes. That's five years work right there, minimum, and I somehow have to do this while also making Caz happy and taking her out now and then.

  My life. Packed with good stuff.