post-novel clean-up and found things ...

It's amazing the amount of detritus that piles up around my chair when I'm working on a novel. Over the weekend, I cleaned away the debris and filed three binders full of notes that will be used to construct the next novel in this series.

Out of all the information I researched, I believe the most enjoyable was discovering Federico Garcia Lorca and his poetry, plays, and lectures. Lorca was a fascinating, talented man whose life was cut short at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War when he was arrested and murdered by Nationalists. It is believed that he is buried in a common grave somewhere in Granada; although his remains have never been found.

Internationally renowned prior to his death, Lorca's poetry and works were banned by Francisco Franco's regime and did not become available again until after 1953. Fortunately, his works are now available in English and Spanish, his plays, his lectures, and his poetry lives on.

Lorca asked us to look beyond the limits of reason and see the fantastic in life and in death. He believed that art was tied to the land, to love, and to death, which was not an end but merely a new beginning, a passage, a new way of seeing. The five senses limit us to a mundane world, but Lorca believed in the extraordinary, the duende, the black sounds.

While I was cleaning up, I found a small book that I had ordered early in my research; a short collection entitled In Search of Duende, which contains several of Lorca's lectures on the subject along with some of his poetry. In "Play and Theory of the Duende," Lorca recites a lyric poem taken from Cancionero Musical del Palacio, an early sixteenth century Spanish song-book reprinted in 1890 by F. Asenjo Barbieri:

In the garden

I will die.

In the roses

they will kill me.

I was going, mother,

to pick roses,

to find death

in the garden.

I was going, mother,

to cut roses,

to find death

among the roses.

In the garden

I will die,

in the roses

they will kill me.

There is a longing here for love and for life, yet a sweet resignation to the death that will eventually find us all.

Federico Garcia Lorca was born in 1898 and died in 1936. He understood the dark nature of the duende and transformed it into his poetry and plays. Lorca was also a homosexual, and he passionately believed in his voice, his right, and the rights of others, to live life to its fullest extent, open and in the sun. Not many people have enough faith in themselves to do that.

All these thoughts return to me as I put away my notes and my books; although I occasionally stop and reread some passages that resonate more strongly than others, such as the poem above. It was a hard story to write, for many reasons, and is nothing like the story I set out to tell, but that's all right.

Sometimes my stories turn out the way I intend for them too, and sometimes my stories turn out the way they are meant to be ... and that's all right too. In the end, I was true to the vision of the story, and that is what is important.

storytelling versus writing in fantasy

After several months of just putting words on paper, I finally have a real story.

There is a difference, you see, between just writing words and telling a story. When I write essays or blog posts, I'm writing. It's sometimes dry, occasionally (very, VERY occasionally) witty, or just a quick note or two to let folks know that I'm still here. That is writing. It is the presentation of information, nothing more.

On the other hand, in order to tell you a story, I have to feel what the characters are feeling and understand their thoughts and motivations as my own. I have to immerse myself into a world of make-believe, so that you, the reader, will become immersed with me.

One day, as I was daydreaming, I realized that one character was throwing the whole story off. She was too developed, too complete in those first scenes. The parts I had written were suitable for the last half of the book, not the first. I wanted her to awaken to magic, but I had no immediate explanation for how the magic worked. After wrestling with the issue for days, I finally trusted my instincts and deleted the old words and wrote new ones based on a few lines that kept rolling through my head.

And magically, the story started to speak to me in the way that stories do. Just that one change gave me the subtle shift that I needed to make the rest of the story live. I stopped trying to analyize how things were happening and believed in the myth of magic.

Jeff VanderMeer awakened me with these words in his excellent post on The New Surrealism:

There’s always a reason, an explanation, for anything. On some level, in these post-post times explanations are less useful to us than journeys that expand consciousness, get at psychological truths, and convert the dross of the everyday into something amazing.

Then I came across this lecture that Federico Garcia Lorca gave in Madrid in 1923* where Lorca talks about the child's wonder as spectator and creator in the story:

The child comprehends much more than we think. He is in an inaccessible poetic world, that neither rhetoric, nor imagination the procuress, nor fantasy can penetrate; a flat plain, its nerve centres exposed, of horror and keen beauty, where a snow-white horse, half nickel, half smoke, falls, suddenly injured, with a swarm of bees furiously nailed to its eyes.

Unlike us, the child possesses his creative faith intact and is still free as yet of the destructive seed of reason. He is innocent and, so wise. He understands, more deeply than us, the ineffable key to poetic substance.

Both of these passages make me realize that if I'm working too hard to find explanations for you, the reader, then I have robbed you of a wondrous journey. I have slipped from my role as storyteller and have become a writer; an author who seeks to force my understanding of the world on you. I have cheated you of the ability to expand your consciousness through your own interpretation and robbed you of your chance to let go of the "destructive seed of reason" so that you can be a participant in the story.

Fantasy is a journey into the realm of myth and magic and an even deeper journey into the subconscious; it is poetry, it is beauty, and it is terror. Fantasy cannot always be wrapped up neatly with twenty-first century logic. Nor should it be.

I am so glad I happened upon both of those posts last week. They reaffirmed to me what fantasy is and what it is about. It's not about explanations and writing; fantasy is about the story, the journey from darkness into light. It is about becoming something other than what we are, it is about seeing deeply.

*From Las nanas infantiles / On Lullabies, the lecture has been translated into English

slipping into someone's skin

I've been kind of quiet lately. There have been some shifts in The Garden, and I've been enjoying working on the story now that the characters have come alive for me. This is what always takes me so long on a brand new novel--learning to feel the characters so I can immediately slip into their skins when I write the scenes.

So now I have my Guillermo, a man who only wants to be valued for who he is, but he is drowning in memories not his own.

And Diago is a man who will not cry, who believes his bitter heart can never love again.

As I write their story, I have a line from one of Federico García Lorca's poems run through my head. It's from "Romance sonámbulo:"

Pero yo ya no soy yo ... / But I am no longer I ...

I am no longer I.

I am not myself.

My true self.


You can still register to win one signed ARC of my novel Miserere: An Autumn Tale at Goodreads, but you have to hurry.

Next weekend (June 3-5) I will be hanging out at ConCarolinas in Charlotte, NC as a fan. It looks like they've got a super convention planned, so if you're in the area, stop by and check it out. If you see me, say hi, I'd love to meet you.

That's it for now.

Be safe and have a happy Memorial Day weekend.