Books that Inspire

I’m currently reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust. I find myself wishing that I had read it as a child–not because it’s written for children (I don’t know if it was) or because I would have enjoyed it more then than I am right now. I wish I had read it when I was younger because it is so well-written and such a wonderful tale that I know it would have been one of those books that I read over and over, one of those that inspired me as a writer.

As I read I’m comparing the book to the movie that came out a few years ago, and I am surprised at the amount of differences in just the first third of the book. This is definitely a case of the book and movie being almost entirely separate stories (I mean, in the movie, Yvaine never says “fuck”). So, although I have some idea of how the story goes, there are enough differences that I get to have that feeling of wanting to know what will happen next.

I would say the story has many typical elements of fairy tales and the fantasy genre (that is, before urban fantasy became popular). The details, though, are unique enough that I don’t feel like I’ve read the same story a thousand times. Since every basic story has been told already, as they say, it’s all in the way the story is told, and this one is told brilliantly. The way that details are revealed allows for just the right amount of suspense, in my opinion. I have a somewhat low suspense threshold and when it’s crossed, I get bored, so I’m happy with just enough to keep it interesting. And the language, oh my. It’s not news that Neil Gaiman is an excellent writer, but there is something about this book in particular… the quality of the writing fits so well with the setting of the Faerie world. In my opinion it’s quite ethereal, a little surreal, but not insubstantial or unbelievable in any way. Maybe I would still believe in Faerie if I had read this book when I was younger.

Last night I was reading this instead of going to sleep and I was reminded in a way that rarely happens these days that I am supposed to be writing. Of all the other interests I have cultivated, nothing makes me feel as satisfied as writing, and there is no other medium through which I can express myself so well. If I didn’t have bills and student loans and all that to worry about, I would just write full time starting NOW.

A Response to Neil Gaiman’s Graduation Address

Dear Neil Gaiman,

I would like to start by thanking you for this speech, as I did find it inspiring and thought-provoking. I think you are extremely creative, with a very unique imagination, and I have enjoyed everything of yours I’ve ever read. I do not imagine that you’ll stop working during your lifetime, and I think the literary world would be worse off if you did. It needs people like you, not thinking about the “rules” or what you “should” write, but writing what you want to write.

I would love to just be inspired and motivated by your words and leave it at that. But, as it turns out, I can’t. I keep thinking about one thing you said, about having to balance pursuing writing as a path, doing what you want, with paying bills, eating, and other such “necessities” of life.

Your name is well-known, established in the literary world. As you’ve said, all your “bottles” are returning to you. I’m sure you have to sort through many requests to write stories or episodes of Dr. Who (!). Because you’re so well-known, with all the doors open to you, while I’ve just barely got a foot in, I find myself going to the “That’s easy for you to say…” place. It is so easy in situations like this to think that the successful person speaking doesn’t understand the whole starting out and getting work out struggle. It’s ridiculous–of COURSE you understand that. You were not born a famous writer. You had to work and revise and revise and revise, and I’m sure you got your fair share of rejections when you started out. But when I am watching this speech, I can’t see all of that. I can only see someone who because so successful that he has been asked to speak at a college graduation.

The trouble with admiring famous people, aspiring to be where they are, is that no one is well-known until they are. We never see the name until it starts to appear everywhere. There is, to some degree, an illusion that it simply happens all of a sudden. You can talk about your starting-out days all you want, and I believe they really happened, but the reality of it escapes my grasp. I am unable to connect your early days as a writer with mine. For every person whose story led to success, like yours, there are probably many more who never made it. I suppose the most common difference is that all of those people, at some point, gave up. But you have to admit, there is no guarantee that it will ever happen for any particular person.

I am not trying to imply that you don’t deserve your success, Neil. I’m a fan; it’s clear that your work is well-loved for a reason. It’s just that I have never been able to understand that bridge between writing and getting the writing recognized. Maybe that’s just me.

 

Sincerely,

Deva Jasheway, long-time writer