Saturday, November 15, 2008

My Fear of Caves

When I first started writing my novel "The Nightwing's Quest" which was published in 2008, I was on chapter three when I realized I was getting too scared to continue writing.

This novel is about a world of dark elves who live underground. It all sounded fine until I got to the chapters about the underground. How would it really feel to be underground? Could I really imagine what it would be like to live in a cavern hundreds of feet below the earth?

So I started to paint. I got some watercolors and began to paint caves. And slowly, my imagination began to kick in. I felt better.

The cover of my novel was actually painted many years after I finished. I started writing it in 1989 and finished the last draft in 2002. The painting was actually done after my publisher Jigsaw Press asked me for an idea for a cover. I just dashed off this watercolor and said, "Here's a sketch you can use." I thought she must have a stable of painters on staff.

Instead, she actually used it for the cover. I was astonished. But somehow I think -- or hope -- that I conveyed the magic of the underground to the prospective readers of my novel.

It was a great experience writing my first novel. It was a little like exploring a cave with nothing more than flashlight. I would run home every few days with a new chapter to read to my son and husband, who were my first critics. It was around 1989 that I also joined a writer's group, having met a fellow fantasy writer at a workshop. This writer's group was also very helpful to me over the years - critiquing my work in a way that family can't really do. No one is more understanding or helpful than a fellow writer.

A writer will say, "I don't quite understand what your character meant on page 2 ..." or "Why did she say that?" A family member will more likely say, "That's great. I love it." Good for the ego, but not necessarily helpful.

So it's done. And now what? My publisher wants me to continue and write a new book about one of the characters that she really liked. Meanwhile, I am in the beginning chapters of a new novel set in the Inuit world.

My journals of my time in India are yet to be edited, and who knows what will become of the mainstream novel I put aside years ago?

Poetry fills in the cracks. A writer's work is never really finished.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Streets of Mumbai

I'm starting this blog after setting it up almost two years ago. I'm not sure why today. Maybe because of the dreams I've had the past two nights. I'm wondering if maybe this whole blog should be about my dreams, because they are my guide and my inspiration.

I just finished reading Rajendar Menen's book "Karma Sutra, Essays from the Margin." The book is a compendium of interviews with street people, and the vast majority are prostitutes, though not all of them. Since I've been to Mumbai, and to many of the places he writes about, I have strong images of some of the scenes he offers.

Two nights in a row, I have dreamed about characters who might have been in the book. I say "might have been" because they sprang from my dream world, perhaps not from the real world that Menen writes about.

The first dream was about a man passing his business on to his son. He was a truck driver, and his son didn't really want to become a truck driver, so he was posing difficult situations to his father, like, "What will happen if someone steals from me?" or "What will happen if I have a deadline and I need to sleep?" He wanted to find an excuse, but every objection he raised was answered by his father. "You will find a way. You will get the things back. You will drink strong tea and sleep later."

So finally, the son said, "You're right. There's nothing to do." It was his fate and he accepted it.

The second dream was last night. I dreamed about a gigolo. I remember him vividly because he was quite handsome with thick, dark eyebrows, dark hair and flashing eyes. He was perhaps Muslim or maybe from the South. He was wearing a bright royal blue shirt. He was trying to seduce me and get my money. And I had no money, although I looked rich.

So finally I went to him and sat very close so that our noses were almost touching. And I said, "Look, I know you're trying to scam me, but I don't care."

He said, "Really?" and I reassured him that it was okay. Maybe I was taking on the role of the reporter, like Menen. Maybe I was trying to answer my own questions, because I've been asking myself, "How did he do this? How did he support himself? How did he decide it was what he wanted to do?"

I've been trying to dream my way into a new profession lately (as if I could ever escape being a writer). But perhaps trying to dream myself into something more pressing, like working in one of Mother Theresa's hospices, for instance - anything that could take over for the kinds of boring day jobs I've consigned myself to over the years.

So as a fiction writer, I sometimes wonder how I imagine fictional characters. Where do they come from? I know in a way, they are real, somehow fashioned from the clay of those whom I've met or lived with or known. Sometimes I just pull them out of the ethers. Sometimes I dream them into form.