As I have been revising a back title this week in preparation to publish it later this summer, I have thought a great deal about the creative process and how writing is much like gardening - another love of mine.
In the simplest analogy, of course, both are products of the creative process. Neither arises without consideration planning, contemplation, and due diligence - and especially not without a flair for the artistic. I will no more pop down to Lowe's and scoop up a palette of petunias, drop them into the soil and call that a garden than I will read Orson Scott Card and try to emulate exactly what he did. Neither product will turn out anything like what I might have hoped. No, the greater lesson can be found in the continually changing colors, shapes, and textures both in the garden and in the developing story.
When I say garden, folks, I'm not talking about a few shrubs or annuals wrapped in lovely circles at the base of trees. No, no. I'm talking 100 percent grass-free landscapes. Both homes I've owned over the past 27 years started out with grass - and a fair helping at that. Generic, like every other home in the neighborhood. But of course, lawn owners with any measure of pride must follow a strict regimen that allows said grass to flourish in addition to the traditional 5- to 7-day waiting period between mowings - in order to return the lawn to the exact state it was 5 to 7 days earlier. Rinse, wash, repeat. Lawns are static - thin green, thick green, mixed green, one to three inches high. I want a landscape that evolves throughout the year, often in remarkably surprising ways. Colors change, aromas waft, and veggies arrive in time for dinner. In short, the garden - like a good story in development - is full of revelations.
It is that part of the creative process - the unexpected twists and turns - that makes both writing and gardening such satisfying endeavors. Some plants will die, while others will flourish in unexpected ways (perhaps even taking over large chunks of the garden). Same goes for an evolving story. Amazing characters will arrive from out of nowhere, offering plot twists that lead down unexpected paths while other characters can't sustain themselves and simply need to be ... well, mowed down. Either journey is fraught with disappointment and exhilaration, but never predictability. And that's what makes both journeys so gratifying.
A screed in disguise
One of the great joys of writing fiction lies in the ability to vent about the world - specifically, human beings - without directly coming out and engaging in rambling, acrimonious, sociopolitical screeds that might have more of a tendency to piss people off without serving any particular purpose. What delights then wait in creating a story whereby the author can hide behind the characters and present them as representatives of the various faces that humans present in the real world.
Many years ago I wrote a novel called I Dream in Widescreen wherein 13-year-old narrator Evan Schaeffer defies just about every expected personality norm for a boy in his comfortable, affluent world, but ultimately he has the same needs and desires as any other boy his age - needs that are NOT being fulfilled by the adults in his life. Evan loses himself in an illusion created by his favorite video games, movies, and music; and when tragedy strikes, he melts down. The underlying theme of the story focused on the larger illusions we create for ourselves through materialism and the Quixotic pursuit for more, more, more without consideration of what we're losing in the process. Yeah, yeah, sounds like a buzzkill. Actually, the story is quite fun and, for the most part, one of the more hopeful books I've written. Note the previous use of "underlying," my friends.
Back when i was selling the manuscript to the market, I had more than one agent who seemed willing to represent the book - one hardened o'l bastard even admitted he shed a tear toward the end. But, like so many agents who have hemmed and hawed and over-analyzed my work through the years, he couldn't figure out how to sell it. No matter. I told the story I wanted - and yes, the aforementioned agent did pick up on the underlying theme.
At some point soon I am going to revisit Dream. My experience as a teacher has shown that this immersion into video games and media has created far greater illusions among the newest generation of addicts. The story may yet have relevance.