The Year in Review
The Work Ahead
Saturday, December 29, 2018
So we meet for the last time in 2018!
What an odd year, eh?
Creatively, it was a slow year. I recommenced the Regular Features early in the year, with plenty of gaps and blips along the way. And although I did some spot work here and there on larger projects, I consistently found myself short on time to really dig in and tackle the major stuff. In the last couple months I've tried to change course on that, with the Year of 36, but making the time has still been a struggle. I currently stand at just four months to meet my Galaxy Federal novel goal, and seven months for ATH Book I Chapter 1.
The writing I've completed in recent days has underscored two crucial points: First, as it was in 2015 with the Prelude, the real magic for the next ATH book is going to happen in the editing phase, not the writing phase. But to get to the editing phase I still have to actually get though the writing phase first. Second, and even more important, I've lost touch with the style of writing I had developed during my main work on Mate of Song several years ago—which to date is (in my humble opinion) my strongest stylistic expression—and I've even lost touch with the style of writing I used on the Prelude. This means a lot of tonal settings are still to be determined for Book I Chapter 1, and I'd really like to nail those down in a satisfying way, and soon.
Related to that second point, much of the writing I've done for Book I this year has run into a problem that I'll describe as "I'm not interested in writing the next Game of Thrones." Ages ago I wrote of the fantasy genre becoming degenerately stagnant, and in need of reinvention. This has more or less happened, and the successful model turned out to be political melodrama. I don't actually have terribly much to say in such a space. I'm interested in writing a different kind of fantasy: the fantasy of discovery, creation, and realization. Chapter 1 of ATH has had its overall shape set for almost twenty years, and it happens to be very heavy in politics—which will set a precedent for the rest of ATH to be much the same. And I don't actually want it that way. I want to limit the amount of politics. If I'm introducing characters to advance plotlines, I want to shy away from focusing on the nobility or the celebrity class. Some of that is necessary, but I want to limit it. That's not really what The Curious Tale is about.
In its place, and while retaining and amplifying that After the Hero pomp and grandeur, I want to get closer to that Mate of Song melancholy. I know it's hard for most of you to know what I mean by that, as I've only shared extensive amounts of the text with two people, but Mate of Song touched on some very wistful, very quiet space...like a soft wind blowing through a graveyard on a cloudy day. Afiach's earnestness, the narrative's wistfulness, those things are very close to the spark of The Curious Tale.
As I work on ATH in the months to come, I see I have a lot of work ahead of me to elevate the scenes that I know I'm going to write into something that exudes the bittersweet longings of Mate of Song, while also drawing the reader forward with an epic, sweeping story. That's the real magic of writing: scenes are easy, but tying it all together with a well-placed, compelling plot, and also hitting the intended themes in the intended manner...that's what makes it art.
2018 was an empty year, with very little constructive work. It was a year defined chiefly by the retreat of negative things. No longer am I incapacitated by depression nor mired in financial oblivion, but the departure of those traumas has created emptiness that has yet to be filled. I liken it to the long period of quiet convalescence after a major illness. The creatively productive Josh of 2019, if he comes to be, is going to be a very different Josh from any version I've known yet.
I'm also finding myself a bit out of practice as an author. I know the cure for that: The cure is to do more reading. But I'm not sure how realistic that is, given that I'm already struggling to make the time to write.
Besides, I diverge from most humans in that I have no interest in (and for the most part actively disdain) conspicuous citation. I don't ever want it to be said of me that I'm "channeling so-and-so." It's especially a shame that this is such an elevated concept in our arts and entertainment since in real life we seldom think this way about our acquaintances. Rarely does anyone say "Oh, that Joe! He's always channeling Frank." No; rather, we tend to perceive each person as their own entity. The world is bigger when we do this—when we interpret the world situationally as opposed to reducing people to a small handful of archetypes.
No, I do enjoy allusion, but I have surprisingly strong contempt for the premise that the validation of a story comes through its facility as an echo chamber for cultural references. That kind of thinking just reinforces the premise that we are more important as members of a society than we are as thinking individuals—a premise that I recognize most people endorse, but which I fiercely do not. To me, that is chains.
All right, the last two paragraphs are a rather bizarre tangent, and quite underdeveloped too so I'm not even sure that made any sense. And in any case it's a weird line of rationalization to come up with for the implication that I'm not likely to do the added reading that I just identified I ought to so as to get back "in practice" as a writer. But, hey, it's the holidays. Eccentricity is permitted. Individual quirks are most welcome. In a world that ruthlessly tries to narrow our conceptual frameworks and our expectations, I like variety.
That's enough from me for now. I'll see you in 2019.
Happy New Year!
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!