Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Brief Preamble

I've always loved Stories.

No, not stories (although I've always loved those, too). I mean Stories, with a capital "S," where exciting things happen to colorful characters in amusingly descriptive ways. The kind that begin with "Once upon a time," and end more or less happily ever after, but are not necessarily your garden-variety fairy tales.

My first attempt at National Novel Writing Month, 2006's Trip Morrow and the World Unmade, was definitely Story-ish, considering it represented my attempt to pack as many of the things I'd always wanted to write about -- dinosaurs, robots, lost cities, pirate gorillas, etc. -- into a single narrative. But where it drew inspiration from the pulp novels of the 1930s, this year's effort has slightly less lurid forebears.

For starters, it owes a lot to folks like Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and William Goldman, who love to write stories that seem to follow the traditional trappings of fantasy, adventure, and myth, but take great joy in zigging where you expect them to zag, and vice versa. Their books can be very funny, and very frightening, sometimes both and once, and I like the way they very clearly and calmly allow terrible things to happen to undeserving people, but do so with an honest, human sort of sympathy.

I'd be remiss not to mention Douglas Adams as well. I love his dry wit, and his way of boiling down vast cosmic notions to amusingly mundane scale.

This year's book also wouldn't be the same without the work of Alfred Bester, who I discovered only in the past year. A little-known but much-loved science fiction writer of staggering imagination, his handful of brilliant books and stories never seem to run out of jaw-droppingly novel concepts, memorable characters, and awe-inspiring ideas.

And perhaps most importantly, this book wouldn't have ever surfaced in my brain if not for its two primary inspirations -- Robert Graves' I, Claudius, or at least the BBC miniseries version of same, and the TV series Arrested Development, both of which are about very different sorts of radically dysfunctional families. His Majesty The Accident began for me with the image of a very strange family portrait, and the quiet, thoughtful boy almost hidden away at its center. Where it will end ... well, I'm not entirely sure yet. Come back starting Nov. 1, and we'll find out together.

Perhaps I can even finish this one in a month, this time around...