Monday, August 31, 2009

Lord of the Procrastinators

The summer has ended and school is here. Wha' happen!? It all went too fast, like it always does. I didn't get the writing done I wanted to, I didn't get all the reading done I wanted to, and I certainly didn't get all the traveling in I was hoping to. But such is life, I suppose, and there were some unexpected surprises in there that I'm pretty happy about, so I can't really complain.

I will only be teaching at the Orange County High School of the Arts this term and most of the classes I've taught before. I'm hoping this means I'll have more time to write, but that remains to be seen. The only new class I'll be teaching this term is an author study class on J.R.R. Tolkien and that has dominated most of my summer reading and research. I can't think of a better way to be humbled as a writer than by learning about Tolkien. The guy, no doubt, was a genius. He could read and write dozens of languages, many of them extinct, he was an Oxford don, he helped write a dictionary, and of course, he wrote one of the most famous pieces of literature of all time in The Lord of the Rings. I think any writer who has tried his or her hand at fantasy fiction is probably daunted by the breadth of scope and epic brilliance of The Lord of the Rings (any writer who isn't daunted is either an egomaniac or an idiot, probably both). Tolkien had an amazing imagination and the mythology he developed to explain the origins of his created languages—which eventually became The Silmarillion—was so pervasive in his mind that he couldn't help but set the stories he wrote into the world he created. I've yet to see a fictional world by any other writer that has come even close to the complexity and depth of Tolkien's Eä and Middle Earth.

So yeah, I feel pretty small and insignificant in comparison, but there are a few encouraging things to take from Tolkien's life. For one thing, he was a chronic procrastinator when it came to writing. It took him twelve years to write The Lord of the Rings (granted, he wrote a lot of it by hand and it was over 1,000 pages long). For another thing, he was a little insecure about his writing and might not have published The Lord of the Rings if it weren't at the urging and encouragement of his publisher and friends like C.S. Lewis. So the guy was at least partially human and that makes me feel a little better.

Although I am in the process of writing my own fantasy novel, Dreamwielder, I am taking pains to try and veer from the path Tolkien blazed for fantasy writers over fifty years ago. My story is much less epic in nature in it is not so clearly a tale of pure good vs. pure evil. In addition, whereas Tolkien's work was very much a fictional mythology for the ancestral inhabitants of the British Isles, I see my own novel very much as an American fantasy.

The one area where I am taking a page from Tolkien, is with his narrative voice. As C.S. Lewis said in his review of the book, The Lord of the Rings is a heroic romance. Its formal prose and conspicuous, omniscient narrative voice is a stark contrast to what was being published at the time. This was the era of Hemingway's minimalist style, Faulkner's stream of consciousness, and the shocking first person narrative of Nabokov's Lolita, and more than one critic took issue with Tolkien's almost archaic form of writing. Today, it seems to me that the conspicuous, omniscient, third-person narrator is almost entirely gone from literature with the exception of in children's fiction. Today's fiction, especially genre fiction, is dominated by either first person narratives, limited third-person narratives (i.e. limited to one character's point of view), or what's called “best-seller point of view” which is essentially a limited third-person POV that jumps around from one place or time as necessary to advance the plot. Maybe I'm crazy, but goddammit I am writing my novel in a very conspicuous, very omniscient narrative to try and capture the feel of the heroic romance. There are POV changes within the same chapters and—fuck it—I'm not even using section breaks to denote the POV changes.

I haven't gotten back to writing yet (like I swore to do in my last post), but I have gone back over the first few chapters of my manuscript and I think it works. Who knows, I might change my tune after the first draft is done or when an agent or publisher waves money in my face, but for now I'm pretty determined this is the right type of voice for this story. If Tolkien had anything, it was persistence and conviction, and at the very least, I can take that from him.

There's not much else to mention in the way of writing news. I misread when my flash fiction piece comes out in Zygote in My Coffee. The piece should actually be out any day now, not back in early August like I initially stated. Other than that, there's nothing too noteworthy. I've got all my unpublished stories and articles out for consideration with editors, the Dark Days script I'm writing with Eric Tryon is more or less finalized until we get to the live readings, and there still have been no bites from publishers for Baldairn Motte. School starts tomorrow, though, and I'm confident that'll remotivate me to get back to work. Here's to it. Cheers.

-Garrett Calcaterra

1 comment:

  1. Great entry; the best yet.

    I didn't know you were teaching a class on Tolkien. Make sure you include Farmer Giles of Ham!