I’m an extremely introspective person, nearly to a fault. When I was working a normal day job, I was able to keep my darker musings where they arguably belonged, shoved into the back of my head, to be handled in the dark before I fell asleep or maybe coughed up like cud to be chewed on a long commute. Any long stretches of idle thinking during the day were invariably interrupted by whatever the latest crisis at work happened to be, and I was usually too busy to really let myself dwell on anything. All this stuff just sat there, simmering at the bottom of some dank well in my head and producing a vague disquiet that I could ignore most of the time (but never completely).
Now, though, you could argue I dwell on stuff for a living. This is both good and bad. My writing usually comes from all those dark musings; Alex and Rebecca were just the culmination of a bunch of dark musing at once. But too much musing… well, I wouldn’t quite call it depression, but spending every waking minute pondering the meaning of life, worrying about the climate, worrying about what my kids will be like as teenagers… I’m not sure it’s healthy. When I’m writing an “Alex-ey” novel, the writing flows straight out of that dark well. But with the arrival of Children, “Alex-ey” novels are not the only kind I write.
I spent a good deal of time while writing Children feeling like I had grown too mature for it. Alex and Rebecca were srs books, exploring deep themes. Children, on some level, was a fantasy book about kids kicking ass. Yeah, I’m doing it a disservice saying that. I recognize it’s fairly deep on its own merits, and yeah, I have a lot of things I want to say through that series. But I couldn’t shake the voice, hissing out of that well, that insisted Children was a step backwards. “This is stuff for kids,” it said. “You’re going backwards. You’ve outgrown this. This isn’t srs.”
My Alex-ey books are great ways to express the stuff that comes out of that well. They’re cathartic; they help me deal with my issues and put them out there to see who can relate. Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the meaning of existence. I believe, more or less, that humanity was a wonderful cosmic accident – but where is the meaning in that? I don’t mean that question rhetorically. That question shouldn’t be read as, “There’s no meaning in that.” That might be one of the possible answers to the question, but the question itself is intended honestly. What is the meaning? Where is it? Does each person find it for themselves? If humanity is really alone in the galaxy, or even just the solar system, do we have some kind of responsibility to ourselves, our descendents, and our fellow evolved organisms? If so, why? We are a truly incredible life form, unique on our planet. If there is no absolute moral law (and I’m not sure there is), does that responsibility come from our senses of wonder and love, from being true to ourselves?
Blah, blah, blah.
I want to explore that question, I really do, and there is a story in my mind that explores it with gusto. I want to write it. But here’s where I run into a problem: I want to write A Season of Rendings first. Children is an introduction. It hasn’t gotten a ton of reviews yet, but many of the ones it has gotten point out correctly that its ending begs for a second book. From the perspective of being a fair author, I need to write the sequel. From the perspective of making money at this job, I need to write a sequel.
But if writing is all about expression, will Season serve that function?
Glance back at the title of this post, and maybe you’ll see where I’m going with this. This morning in the car (where my best musing always happens!), I had an epiphany that helped me break through two months of mental logjam:
Expression doesn’t need to be the only reason for writing.
Once, before I started taking myself so goddamned seriously all the time, I used to write for fun.
Season doesn’t need to be as deep or heartfelt as Alex (there are very few things that ever could be). It doesn’t need to be as timely as Rebecca. It comes from a D&D campaign I ran over 15 years ago, and that in turn came from ideas and stories I’d had as a kid. No wonder it feels childish to me now: it is. But that’s not a bad thing. A lot of fantasy these days (I’m looking at you, GRRM) is gritty and realistic, but what originally drew me to the genre was the sense of wonder. The epicness, if you will. Big things going on, world-shaking events, almost always with a single hero or group of heroes at the eye of the storm. I watch my kids playing with their toys and having these epic fights. When I was doing that, that was what I wanted to express: the awesomeness of good vs. evil, the furious clashes of magic, the small people taking the big risks.
The voice from the well says, “Those are childish ideas.” But are they? I’m not so sure. I think we’re most in touch with them, maybe, when we’re young – but that doesn’t mean they don’t have merit. Sometimes people say they read certain genres to feel young again. Maybe I can write a certain genre to feel young again.
The voice from the well says, “Good vs. evil? The power of god? You’re an atheist. Not only do you no longer identify with these concepts, writing about them as if they’re real lends them credence they don’t deserve.” This argument has been bothering me a lot the latest couple months, but I’ve realized something else: the great thing about The Redemption Chronicle is that it’s fantasy. Yes, Akir was an invention of a fifteen-year-old mind trying to come to terms with a God he didn’t understand by imagining a world where that God more directly influenced events. A world where true believers could work miracles – not just in some dusty old book, but in the here and now. That fifteen-year-old grew up and turned into an atheist, but in many ways, his exploration of this fantasy helped facilitate that atheism, not impede it. Besides, writing about a god in a fantasy world doesn’t mean I believe in one. I don’t believe in the Pulse, either.
And good vs. evil? It may not be as clear cut as it used to be – I don’t think the Ten Commandments have much to do with it – but I still believe in right and wrong. I still love it when the side of right wins, especially against impossible odds.
And last but not least, let’s not forget that I need to get out of that well sometimes. There’s no better way to watch days of potential writing disappear then to get sucked into it, suffocating in the darkness at the bottom. Expressing that darkness can help me escape it. But ignoring it – for god’s sake, doing something else – can help, too.
The ideas in that well are not going away. After Season, I’ll dive in headfirst. Maybe you’ll be able to relate to what I come with; maybe it’ll tap into some secret dark well of your own.
In the meantime, though, Seth has some ass to kick.
This is gonna be fun.