Living and writing and reading in our hyper-literate society is great, but we do suffer from an embarrassment of riches, and options. Used to be, my literary horizons were bounded by the local library and rare visits to distant bookstores. Now that literature no longer has to live predominantly on shelves, curated by publishing houses, entire new genres are available to be written. New "business models" (attempt to) distribute what may or may not be classified as books in new ways with newish technologies. So many of those options entice me that I scarcely know where to direct my ambitions. I needed to get back to my roots.
A few months ago I re-read Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. My overwhelming fondness for Zelazny as an author and Lord of Light as a novel may date me a bit, but checking that book out from my small town's library as a kid far too young understand it changed my life profoundly. The first time through I scarcely understood a bit of it, but the language enthralled me so much I read it a second time. The second time through, the plot captivated me. Each of the many times through since then, I have noticed something different, some new bit of Zelazny's mastery.
This time, with my own attempts at writing fresh and vivid in my mind, I realized how much I unconsciously strive to write like a poor man's Zelazny, and how much I long to come closer to that mark. My favorite parts of Lord of Light are not the epic battles between god-like combatants or vast armies; my favorite parts are the fraught moments and the tense interludes: Sam and Yama "cultivat[ing] patience and smok[ing] cigarettes," Yama explaining demons to Tak, Sam and Kali in the Pavilion of Silence, Kubera's work with common objects after Yama's pyrrhic victory, and so many more that shimmer in my mind.
I realize now that Zelazny told his story with those interstitial moments. The big action scenes are really there to navigate from one meaningful moment to the next. I love those quiet moments as much for what they don't say as what they do. Zelazny could be lavish with his words when he wanted to, but he knew when sparse prose would pack more punch. The gods' arrivals for the Celestial Wedding are vividly described, but not so readily remembered; Kubera imbuing "the ball with ball-ness and the block with block-ness" and Murga's responding laugh cannot be so quickly forgotten.
The stories I am drawn to write are the ones that happen in those fraught interstitial moments Zelazny captured so well. My stories do not stir the emotions so well as his, of course; I cannot capture loss and longing with the painful perfection of my hero's writing. Even if I fall short of that ambitious mark, though, it helps to remind myself of what success would look like for me.
All of us with the audacity to create must possess a target for our ambitions. Revisiting an old friend reminded me of my own target, there in my literary roots. If I write half as well as Zelazny, I have succeeded.