We all have our inspirations, the people who bring out the best of us. I have managed to do a lot of things over the course of my life that might be unexpected were you to meet me for the first time. My forays into music and writing are two of them.
I can still remember the defining moments that drove me to play music: When I was 14 and picked up a guitar for the first time I was told I would never be a guitar player because I did not have the “look”; In my sophomore year of high school, the first time I saw KISS live on video, I was hooked on bass and hooked on the epic coolness that is Gene Simmons on stage and thought, if I could not be a guitar player, perhaps I could be a bass player. In my senior year of high school I started up a fledgling rock band and began to learn bass to MTV videos, specifically to the galloping awesomeness of Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris.
But the one thing that got me absolutely driven to play was my first glimpse of the brilliance that is George Lynch. Although he is a guitar player, and I am a bass player who can also play guitar, his music is what drove me to play. I consider him a muse, one of my “heroes”. Someday I hope to simply shake his hand and tell him how much of a difference he made in my life.
I mention George, and the intensity of my love for his work, as well as the positive and negative events that led to what I consider to be a successful music career, to put context into the story of this event. To a lesser degree professionally, but perhaps to a larger degree personally, I have a similar muse in the writing world. In many ways his work is so powerful, so amazing, that at times it seems overwhelming for me to even engage as an author; I’ve written tons of poetry but I find it difficult to write actual stories because I just know it can never be that good. I would love to one day be considered a good author, and in the last few years I’ve tried to write short stories and had difficulties with finding the “voice” of various characters as I work through story ideas.
One way that I’ve managed to get the writing juices flowing is through an online community known as “Kevin’s Watch”. I joined the Watch in 2008 and have nearly 2,000 posts there. You can check it out here when you have the time and if you are so inclined. It’s simply an awesome community of people with like interests and who have actually become friends. And it’s not in the Facebook friends kind of way, either. We all have an interest in our favorite fantasy author, but on top of that we discuss other novels, other artists, tell jokes, and even rant at each other in one of the more civil (allegedly) political forums, our very own “Think Tank”. The group has turned out a few anthologies of short stories and I’ve used that as well as some internal discussion forums to try to move my writing forward.
All of which is background for an event that happened last weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the home of my favorite author, Stephen R. Donaldson. He is the author of the Series That Changed Me, the incomparable Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. They are epic fantasy in a way that Tolkien is not, driven by strong characterization and heroic characters that grip you with their passion and dedication to what is right. In the midst of this amazing world, Thomas Covenant stands as an embodiment of all that could be wrong with the universe, an anti-hero who is driven to criminal actions by his inability to believe in a fantasy world filled with the purity of untainted love and beauty. There is no more vivid world to lose yourself in, no more vivid story to immerse yourself in. A Second and Last Chronicles have followed, along with Mordant’s Need, a two-part series that is well worth reading, and the Gap Sequence, a five volume brutal examination of man’s basest desires and depravity that builds for three and half books to a gripping climax that leaves you turning page after page after page, an absolutely transcendent work of ever-increasing intensity that doesn’t let up for more than a thousand pages. And there are books of short stories as well as a mystery series.
For a different perspective on this event, visit Lynne Cantwell’s fantastic blog at Hearth/Myth
For the last decade, after the release of a book, Mr. Donaldson has agreed to meet with fans of his, mostly from Kevin’s Watch, for a dinner and interactive Q&A session. Dubbed “Elohim-fest” after a race of characters that Thomas Covenant encounters, this “meet and greet” has reached its fourth incarnation, with over 40 of us attending from as far away as Australia and Finland. I myself attended for the first time, with two goals. One was to merely shake the man’s hand and acknowledge everything he’s done for me; the other was to ask him one of those “how do you do what you do” questions, specifically around the struggles I’ve had with voice in my stories. In poetry, meter and rhyme can dictate voice; in prose, I still struggled with it.
So I asked him my question, something on the order of, “How do you write dialogue that sounds real to your readers, and that doesn’t sound like something you yourself would say?”
I can’t really tell you what he said to be honest, because as he answered the question, he maintained eye contact with me the whole time, and just to have him know for that few minutes that I existed was more than enough! It was beyond words.
That in itself was amazing. To actually meet a hero of mine. How often do people really get to do that?
But the weekend was so much more than that, mostly because Kevin’s Watch, as a community beyond your everyday internet community, made it that. I’m fairly socially awkward around people until I get to know them, and to be honest, a small part of me was dreading dropping myself into an environment with people I’d only met online. Back in 1997 I was part of the first “internet chat rooms” at Yahoo! and had some disastrous “meet and greet” events in those days. Plus I just don’t usually believe that what I have to say is going to be of much interest to others. But Danlo (the host of the event and the man we all owe much thanks to, along with his lovely wife) made everyone feel at home at a gathering the night before the event, and I completely felt as if I’d known these people all my life, which in a way, I sort of have, given my now 6 years as a member of the Watch. I had so many amazing conversations and talked to people from all over the world in ways that I would not have done without the Watch. I made some unexpected friends as well. I can’t wait for the next one when they have it…as much for another chance to sit in a room with my favorite author as to simply talk about writing with people who are engaged.
So, the moral of the story, I suppose, is to go and meet your muses if you can. And when you do, I hope that you will meet a bunch of wonderful people who are on the same journey, and be able to count them as friends. It’s a great feeling and one that is hard to describe, and even harder to replicate.