The Spark of Life

The first time I experienced the muse was in about 1977, while I was walking across the UNC Chapel Hill campus to meet Diane, who was getting her PhD in mathematical statistics. I didn’t know what the muse was then.

I had been thinking about writing a book-length story, instead of the short stories of which I had sold only two. This story would have the trappings of science fiction. The anti-hero would be based on my shadow, the Jungian opposite of who I was. He would arrive on another world, in his search for a thing (I would find out what it was later) which would make him wealthy enough to get out from under his father’s financial thumb. He was a remittance man, that is, his father paid him to stay away from home. That’s all I knew.

The story came to me in a series of unfolding scenes. This was the main plot, the core of the story, from beginning to end. It ran through my mind in only about twenty minutes. I knew there would have to be more, but I needed to remember what had come to me, so I ran through it again, and a third time. Diane and I got home, I sat down and wrote out a kind of outline. It was a list of what would be accomplished in each of the scenes, but not how it would be done.

I put it aside because I had a draft of a novel which I was struggling to finish, and I spent some weeks on it. I needed a map of the city, and I already had one, but it had to be altered to fit the story. I needed more scenes to flesh out the setting, the characters, the culture, and the songs that would be playing through my hero’s head. I had to figure out how to put those scenes in the appropriate places in my list. I wish I still had it.

When I finally started writing, my muse wouldn’t let me stop, not even to work for my landlord to pay my rent. I wrote 75,000 words in eight and a half days. I took the half day off, then I began to revise and correct and make the story ready for submission. That took a while. I sent it to an agent who had been recommended to me and, after another while, The Planet Masters was published, by St. Martin’s Press, in 1979.

I didn’t know until many years later, that the stories which I had written while inspired by my muse were far better than those which I had worked out intellectually. I learned where my muse lives, deep in the back of my head. I learned how to let my muse come to me, by not looking for it. I learned that pushing on my muse drives it away. Inspiration is for the art of creation. What I know about the craft of writing is for revision, correction, and development, after I have the full story.

I have written stories without the guidance of my muse. They all seem to lack a kind of vital spark. Some of them have been published, and may be well written and well developed, but they lack life. They lack spirit. Because my intellect got in the way, and I didn’t let my muse work for me. It’s my muse which gives my stories the spark of life.

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