Dark territory: when the novel is done, the muse stops talking
In Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, my protagonist David Ward is convinced that some of the people we meet on rainy city sidewalks and between the dry-as-dust shelves in ancient libraries began their lives as fictional characters. Whether they first strayed through a writer’s thoughts as a random notion, stalked him along the boundaries of his waking world in twilight dreams, or arrived at the very moment the pen first kissed the paper with their name, such individuals are called into life because an empty space must be filled.
David claims he wrote a novel about a woman who meets his protagonist at an old transfer house where the city’s streetcar lines come together, allowing people to transfer from one city car to another or from a south side local to a north side interurban. It’s impossible to know whether Ward dreamt up a character whose depth and outlook were the very same as the depth and outlook of the soul mate he was seeking or whether his muse was moonlighting as a matchmaker.
At a time when David was lost, the fictional character appeared in his life as a living, breathing woman, and while she was in the process of saving his life, he asked how she happened to meet him by happenstance on a warm, Indian summer afternoon. She said he called her when he wrote what he wrote about the transfer house. Clearly, he needed her too much for her to live out her existence on a printed page. She is, in David’s mind, a very real woman who is filling a very real empty space.
He’s fair certain the gods tampered with the workings of the temporal world on the day when she had her first independent thought. He’s convinced of her reality, and I believe him.
As an author of fantasy novels, I can’t claim what my characters claim. I will not try to convince you that David Ward stepped out of Garden of Heaven: an Odyssey, and became real, much less that a character in one of my character’s stories became real. Speculation along such lines leads to lunacy or into the “many worlds interpretation” of quantum mechanics that suggests that things that can happen, do happen.
Sarabande has entered dark territory
My protagonist in Sarabande was, for the many months I was actively at work on the novel, a very strong presence in my thoughts. She had a story to tell. Like a living and breathing person, it took her awhile to trust me enough to share the most personal events and feelings that had, for so many years, lurked powerfully in her thoughts. Figuratively speaking, I followed her on her journey from Montana to Illinois and back as a silent scribe. I could not intervene because my powers as an author do not allow me to tamper with the workings of my stories.
Now, the novel has been written and published and I feel rather lost because, fictional though she is, Sarabande’s voice—as interpreted by my muse—has been a voice constantly speaking. She needed me to hear her and disseminate her story to those who love fantasy worlds that hover close enough to our world that they rattle the windows as well as our thoughts while we’re reading a story.
When Sarabande was published, Sarabande stopped talking. There was nothing else for her to say. My muse became quiet as well. At the end of the novel, Sarabande understood many things. I understood them, too. Then she stepped into a well-lighted mountain cabin with two friends and closed the door. They have much to discuss, but I am no longer hearing Sarabande’s voice. I have no idea what is being said and done on the other side of that door. In the railroad business, “dark territory” refers to sections of the line where there’s no communication between a train and the outside world. That’s an apt description for Sarabande’s current whereabouts.
Many authors feel a bit lost when the finish writing a short story or a novel. The intense focus on the story for many months or many years is rather hard to replace with the chores of a normal day. The missing story-in-progress leaves an empty space. I can understand why a reader or a writer might speculate about his characters finding the wherewithal to transition from the world of fantasy into the world of reality as we currently understand it.
Yet, Sarabande ended at a natural place. Tempting as it may be to write past that ending, I think my words would not ring true.
A friend of mine asked, “What next?” I really don’t know. Perhaps I’ll write about stone masons in 16th century France or mountain climbers on the summit of Mt. Everest. Perhaps Sarabande will ask my muse to ask me to write another story about her life in the universe next door. She’s independent of me now and, in that regard, just as real in my memory as the people I’ve met on rainy city sidewalks and between the dry-as-dust shelves in ancient libraries. I can no longer tell you what she’s thinking.
I don’t know what’s next. No doubt, there are a lot of probable fictional characters out there with stories to tell. Hopefully, there are dreamers amongst them who need a scribe who loves mixing fantasy and reality in the same glass. When one of them is ready to talk, my muse knows my phone number and we can talk about what’s supposed to follow the words “once upon a time.”
Coming September 6
Author Smoky Trudeau Zeidel (On the Choptank Shores – A Love Story) will be here with a guest post offering a bit of advice for unpublished authors called “Knock it Off.”