I’m reminded of a sentiment from the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Evita. Toward the end, Eva Peron’s husband, Argentinian President Juan Peron, champions his dynamic wife’s enduring worth and accomplishments to his advisers despite her waning energy as a result of illness.
“But on the other hand, she’s slowing down.
She’s lost a little of that magic drive.
But I would not advise those critics present to derive
Any satisfaction from her fading star
She’s the one who’s kept us where we are…”
I am far from Evita Peron’s level of fame, fortune, and fabulousness (sonofabitch), but I recognize something in her predicament at this point in the show, and in her life. She wants to keep on doing big things, but she just isn’t up to it. The same is true for me.
Middle age has definitely made me record a cold-eyed stock of my life in all departments. There’s a common trend in several of them: easing up. Slowing down. Mellowing.
Specifically concerning my storytelling and art, I’ve found that, while it remains my most fulfilling activity, I don’t have the energy or fire anymore that made me turn out two or three completed works a year. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it’s led me to focus more on quality than quantity. The disappointing factor is that I have tended to outline some really kick-ass projects in the last couple of years…but lacked the drive to realize them. Recent case in point: I’ve spent three months developing and building the outline for what promises to be an absolutely terrific illustrated storybook based on the adage that “It takes a whole village to raise a child”, the concept influenced by Lars Von Trier’s brilliant film Dogville…and the Universal monsters.
It holds up in the telling.
I was ablaze with inspiration, at a temperature that I don’t think I’ve reached since I started writing seriously eleven years ago. I built a synopsis, developed the characters, the setting, researched photographs of the type of homes and businesses the characters would have; I wrote an eleven-page detailed treatment, from which I would have worked directly to create the actual story…and suddenly realized that the project had grown too big. I had overextended myself. I had set out to write a straightforward parable and wound up with a four-act epic. I didn’t feel I could do justice to it right now, having just published a full-length novel, written half of another, and being about to embark on creating two, going on three, storybooks for an anthology to be compiled many years down the road. And so with both regret and relief, I shelved A Whole Village indefinitely.
I suppose I have a right to be tired. I’ve worked my tail off on The Horrible Hand!, newly-published (for the second time; I was unhappy with the formatting at first). There were three years of my life invested in that book. Not only did I have to both write and illustrate it, but I had to painstakingly set the foundation for the follow-up novels and ensure that the first book stood on its own in terms of the context of those to come. I think the effort shows; the story is entertaining (according to those who read early drafts), the concept unique, and the possibilities for future entries in the Eerie Series unlimited. (For more detail on The Horrible Hand!, check the link I’ve provided here, which leads to an explanation of the ES’s background and projected future, and also a further link to where THH can be purchased.) The only problem is that the concept may be too unique. Potential readers may not “get it” because it’s too sophisticated. Trying to explain that The Horrible Hand! is essentially a mystery within a mystery, but more than that–a novelization of a mystery movie that was never actually made, complemented by the backstories of the make-believe actors who never actually made it, as well as of the director who never actually existed, who mysteriously disappeared many years later, whose fate may or may not be revealed through future books in the series…all that is a little too much for people to chew at one brief sitting. At least that has been my experience when presenting the book at a recent author showcase, and even among members of the writers group I belong to. Along with other details, there was much confusion simply as to whether the book was really fiction or not. So…I don’t know if I succeeded with The Horrible Hand! Ultimately, the best course for anyone who cares is to sit down and read the damn thing…upon which all will make sense. Including the explanation for my first-ever use of a pen name, Corwin McCloud–even though it isn’t really a pen name–
Oh, hell; just tryyyyyyy it, you’ll liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiike it. Alas, in this illiterate Second Dark Age, people don’t want to spend that much time trying to understand high-minded creative concepts, and they don’t read anymore, anyway. But for what it’s worth…The Horrible Hand! is, at long last, published.
I’m reminded of another play, Terrence McNally’s Master Class, in which opera legend Maria Callas, in the middle of one of her titular addresses, forgets herself and mutters before her students, “It’s a terrible career, really. I don’t know why I bothered. I didn’t say that! I didn’t say that and you didn’t hear it!”
Moving on…I’ve decided to work on those aforementioned two small storybooks as a way of decompressing from THH. One is based on a summer art project, Shelley and the Blue Vampire; a sort of “crime-board” collage which tells the story of a young girl afflicted with depression, and how this influences her life decisions, leading to a tragic end. It’s a better idea than it sounds, really. It’s my attempt at timeliness, and to actually address a social problem across a broad spectrum of causes, including political and interpersonal. So that should be fun, and not too much of a strain, as most of the work, text and illustration, has already been completed.
The other storybook, Not Even Death, will be a quickie horror tale suggested by an eerie ghost story I heard about a year ago, concerning a babysitter’s (supposedly true) experience when the mother of his/her charge returned suddenly from her outing…with a strange, fixed smile on her face…and sat down at the kitchen table with her arms hanging utterly limp, not moving…not speaking…with the babysitter eventually learning that the mother was killed in a car crash not long before… Shivers! Again, a fun little project that will give me a chance to experiment with illustration, which I love to do. These “one-reelers” may become a regular form of respite from the heavy lifting of a major project, and as I indicated, I aim to gather them into a collection for publication at some point. My effort from early this year, Bad Medicine, will also be included.
The other project on my agenda is to continue, and hopefully complete, Midnight Steps, the full-length novel that I started around two years ago. It’s at the midpoint, and this tale of murder, mystery, and melancholy romance–all set against the background of the Roaring Twenties–will really step up its game in the second half. The characters literally won’t have time to cry. Hopefully, neither will the reader. At least, Midnight Steps can be easily classified as a straightforward historical mystery. And even from my personal perfectionist standpoint, I honestly believe that MS contains some of the very best fiction writing I’ve ever done.
That’s the plan as 2018 draws to a close. Notice I didn’t mention any other pending new projects, or the memoir, What a World, What a World, which is tabled at the moment. There is the possibility of submitting a short piece of writing to an anthology being assembled by my writers group, but I haven’t thought about that yet.
I’ll update my progress on these projects in detail as I go. For right now, I prefer to do what I’ve committed, in recent years, to doing throughout my life, as well as in my creative work: keep it simple.