Friday, June 11, 2010


A few weeks ago I was driving to pick my daughter up from school when something wonderful happened.  I’d spent the morning working on an outline for a television project, finishing the teaser (that’s the pre-credits sequence) and the first act.  I knew, in a general way, what was going to happen in the second act, but I hadn’t figured out any of the specifics.  Driving along, listening to the radio, I wasn’t even thinking about the story; then, in an instant, the second act opening—a scene that would take up a good five minutes of screen-time—appeared in my mind.  I’ve written before about seeing movies in my head, watching stories unfold, in real time, and then rushing to the computer to get the details down before I forgot them, but this was different.  This happened in a split second:  the entire sequence—action, dialogue, everything—unfolding in my mind like a hologram, like pop-up book.  One moment it wasn’t there, the next it was, absolutely whole:  an information download from Imagination Central. 

I’d experienced something like this years ago, on a trip to India.  I was inside the Tomb-Shrine of Avatar Meher Baba, placing my head against the cool marble and—once again, in a flash—a story came to me.  A complete story, with a beginning, middle and end.  I didn’t think about it, my wandering mind didn’t dream it up, it was just there, the entire thing unfolding instantaneously.  Over time, that story evolved into Seekers Into The Mystery and, given the themes of that series, a hill in India was the perfect place for the idea to manifest.

These are the moments that writers (well, this writer) live for.  Moments when it becomes clear that we’re not really the authors of our work:  we’re channels, tuning into another frequency, another dimension, and bringing that information down into the physical world, where—using the tools, the talents and perspectives that are uniquely ours—we transcribe and embellish that information, transforming it into that wonderful creature called a Story.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether the transmission is instant or unfolds slowly, it’s the opening up that’s so magical.  That moment of realizing that you’re connected to something so much bigger than yourself.  I remember, years ago, when I was just beginning work on Moonshadow, standing in the shower—mouth open, eyes glazed, still as a statue— watching the ending of the series play out on the movie screen of my psyche.  Make no mistake:  I didn’t create the scene, I just witnessed and transcribed it.  That truth hit me with even more impact a few months later, when I was working on Moonshadow #3.  The first two issues of Moon were, at that point in my career, the best writing I’d ever done; they were so good, in fact, that I was terrified the third issue would be a total disaster, proving to the world that the my success had been a fluke, that I was a talentless charlatan.  And that’s almost what happened.

I worked that story so hard I nearly beat it to death, but, within a few pages of the end, I had the sickening realization that what I’d written just didn’t work.  And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make it work.  What did I do then? 

I gave up.

Not willingly, not happily, maybe not even consciously; but however it happened, I spent several days collapsed on the floor, cursing the gods and trying to figure out how I was going to explain to my editor that I was quitting comics and committing myself to a mental asylum (which, come to think of it, is where a good part of that Moonshadow issue took place).  And then, one morning, still sprawled out on the floor like a perfect idiot, my mind an absolute blank, there it was, unspooling like a film:  a haunting, graceful sequence with Moon and the spirit of his dead aunt that lead, with equal grace, to the culmination of the story.  That was when I understood, in a way I never had before, that the only way to truly create is to allow the unconscious (and all the realms beyond it that enter through that door) free reign.   Surrender to Story is like surrender to God:  you can’t fake it, either you do it or you don’t; but, if you do, the results, in both cases, will be miraculous.

I’d love to tell you that I can open this doorway to the miraculous at will, but it doesn’t work that way.  It functions very much like Divine Grace—with an elegant, sometimes infuriating, whim of its own; but when it arrives, I welcome it.  No, I revel in it.  Which is why I’ve learned not to be afraid of those moments—and they still come with alarming frequency—when it seems my story is collapsing all around me:  I know now that the chaos is just a prelude.  That my unconscious is tuning into something far beyond me, something huge and unfathomable and yet as intimate as a kiss.

© copyright 2010 J.M. DeMatteis


  1. That was beautifully put, Marc-- it also jibes with the larger picture of when life itself seems to be collpasing around oneself how important it is to stap back and see beyond one's own control- or illusion of same. The Master Storyteller who directs a writer's work is also in charge of our own tales, even when it doesn't seem so at the time. It's amazing how life can be the eqivilant of the 00100101100 algorhythm with the 0 representing feeling that nothing is there and 1 those moments of certainty when something is...

  2. Beautifully put yourself, Jeff. When you say "The Master Storyteller who directs a writer's work is also in charge of our own tales..." it hits the bullseye for me. I truly believe that we're all walking around inside our own stories right now; in many ways, there's no difference between the tales we create in our imaginations and the tales created by The Master Storyteller, the ones featuring us as the main characters.

    There's an excerpt on the back cover of IMAGINALIS that speaks to this:

    "In this world," Prognostica went on, "we're just a story. But really, the whole universe is just a story, isn't it? Every life is an extraordinary adventure. Some lives just end up between the pages of a book."

  3. I'll second that, Jeff. Very well said. The '1' moments are like what I've heard called 'the mountaintop experience.'

    Great line, JMD, that brings to mind the passage from LOTR where Sam realizes he's becoming a character in the kind of stories he loved to hear in the Shire. I thought of your work the last time I read that, actually!

    I recently had a Story that came to me during a birthday party. It was nothing I was looking for--but there it was, just the same!

  4. The ones that show up out of the blue are the best ones, David. It's like an unexpected miracle.

  5. It's very interesting to me that this is very similar to "Eureka" moments in Mathematics. You can work hours without end on a problem, not finding a way around an obstacle and then magically the idea to beat the obstacle (solve the problem) comes out of nowhere. A lot of these ideas come to me when I shower or when I walk my dog, but they are similar to what you describe, except that instead of a story unravelling before my eyes, I feel enlightened about a problem I couldn't understand before and that all of a sudden becomes as clear as water. The great mathematician, Carl Friederich Gauss, described these feelings as lighting striking the mind (I paraphrase from memory, so don't quote Gauss on that).

  6. You're right, Quigue: These channelings occur in a variety of different settings. Life is filled with "Aha!" moments, some of them so out of the blue, so much like (as you say) lightning strikes, that they seem to come to us straight from the Twilight Zone. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

  7. JMD,

    I just started a blog at

    This is a bit off topic, but then not really, because I think my first post covers some of this thematically but from a reader's perspective.

    You're welcome to stop by!

  8. I'll be happy to check it out, David!

  9. Thanks for sharing, J.M., it's great to hear others telling tales of the tales around their tales that make it to the page.

    I've been working to 'clean out the pipes' for this flow from That Great Mysterious in my own life, and keep finding that the only blockage I have 'control' over is my own self, and getting that 'self' out of the way is no small feat, with no small reward.

    It is encouraging to hear your stories of surrender after glimpsed failure, of reveling where once lived fear, and recognition of the greater which flows through the lesser.

    Tim James

  10. You're welcome, Tim. And thanks to you for putting your own distinctive spin on you always do.

    I actually think all of life is a process of getting ourselves out of the way...letting in that Larger Self, so full of mystery and insight and wonderful surprises. Which is why I love writing (y'know, aside from the times I don't): it's a living metaphor for the path of our entire existence.

  11. Side-note for ya, J.M.,

    I had mixed feelings upon hearing you were slated to pen some BOOSTER GOLD, and can now say after the first two issues, the mix feels just right!

    I've found BOOSTER to be a character with a lot of promise and potential power, and have enjoyed watching his everyman journey.

    Seeing the larger story materialize around your BOOSTER re-entry has been quite rewarding so far, and I sense more to come. Booster's unique minority position regarding Max Lord (what is this "Max Lord" of which you speak, Booster?) who is now back in the hands of you and Keith Giffen... well, that has me smilingly satisfied :)

  12. Glad you've enjoyed the first few issues, Tim. I'm on page 20 of BOOSTER #35 at this very moment: it's a big, old-fashioned JLI adventure with Booster, Beetle, Mister Miracle and Big Barda...and I'm having a wonderful time.

    Max WHO?

  13. Just read WOS 8, guys, and posted my review of JMD's Reilly store here:


  14. Hey, thanks, David: I'll check it out!

  15. So what'd you think?

    I LOVED this issue and look forward to seeing more stories in the future.

    And we now have 5 volumes solicited for the Clone Saga, so Marvel seems serious about seeing it to the end.

    I predict a big year for Ben Reilly in 2011!:)

  16. A very nice piece, David. Glad you enjoyed the story. It was fun taking Ben to Italy and exploring his character in a new context.

    FIVE volumes solicited? I guess it will be a big year for Ben!

  17. Yeah, only about 15 more to go! I do wonder, and I hope, that Marvel will publish most if not all of Ben Reilly's appearances.

    And we should see REDEMPTION by what, volume 10 or so? I actually made the case a while back that the Ben Reilly trilogy (PARKER LEGACY, LOST YEARS and REDEMPTION) is arguably every bit as good as KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT.

    Hey, a new blog idea!

  18. Well, I leave it to the readers to decide that question, David, but if you choose to explore it in a blog post, let me know. That said, I think those intertwining stories would make a great stand-alone collection.

  19. I will definitely give you a heads-up on that.

    I agree on the stand-alone collection. I know it wasn't originally plotted out that way, but the trilogy has a definitive beginning, middle and end. It doesn't even suffer from the infamous trilogy syndrome, where the third act is dwarfed by the second. REDEMPTION has a huge payoff.

    Also--last shameless plug for the day (sorry!) I'm really proud of my last blog on Jonah Jameson.

  20. Shameless, David. Absolutely shameless!

    I've always had mixed feelings about REDEMPTION; I think because there was so much behind the scenes editorial madness. The story went through quite a few changes along the way.

  21. Not knowing what went on behind the curtain, I find REDEMPTION effective. But I can only imagine that it was a bittersweet process. If I recall, it came out AFTER Marvel had effectively pulled the plug on Ben Reilly. They spent something like a year easing into the transition after all but announcing that Ben was doomed. In my opinion, a lot of the Ben Reilly Spider-Man work suffered because of it. Hard to invest in a character when you know you're just dragging out the inevitable and he's about to get the shaft--but maybe that's just my take. I wasn't there, after all.

    When I think of the Ben Reilly Spider-Man era, my mind typically goes to REDEMPTION and Jurgens' early work on SENSATIONAL. Those works represent the real potential in a post-Scarlet Spider Ben Reilly.

  22. Somewhere out there on the web is a series of articles called LIFE OF REILLY. In one of them, editor Glenn Greenberg talks about what went on behind the scenes with REDEMPTION. Glenn actually remembers it far better than I do!

  23. I need to revisit that site. HIGHLY recommended.

    And it just occurred to me that the Glen Greenberg who posts here is THAT Glen Greenberg!

  24. JM, a wonderful post! And one that any creative person will identify with immediately, too.

    I've had that experience more than a few times during the past few years. When I was much younger, I wrote & published 3 fantasy novels -- the first 2 horribly overwritten & wooden, the 3rd a not-bad YA fantasy with a female protagonist. But after that, my ability to write just dried up, I got a regular day job, and my creative dreams remained just that -- dreams -- for the longest time, fading & fraying more & more as the years went by.

    (That section in "Blood," where in a few pages you cover the life of a modern man, and he comments on that long-unfinished novel in his desk drawer -- well, that really hit home with me!)

    And then a few years ago, after several life-altering events, I began to keep a dream journal. And I started having dreams that were entire little short stories -- and short stories were something I'd NEVER been able to write. Finally I had some that were so intense & succinct that I simply sat down the next day & started writing ... and I suddenly had a good, solid little fable written.

    Since then I've been pursuing many creative dreams that were set aside for so long, discovering that I've a real knack for evocative collage (for example). I'm still writing short-short stories, simply for my own enjoyment. I entered a juried art show last year & was selected as a finalist. Who'd have thunk it? :)

    However we define it, there's a magic & a mystery to creativity. We can cultivate the skills for it, prepare ourselves & open ourselves to it to some extent ... but we can't force it, can't make it work on demand. It reveals itself, even insists on itself at times. And it opens doorways to a larger, far more luminous world.

  25. Thanks, Tim, for sharing your personal journey so eloquently. The thing I appreciate most about doing this blog is making connections, sparking responses like yours. We're all dancing through this "luminous world" together and sharing our stories (within stories within stories) is, in many ways, what the dance is all about.

    I think I may have asked this a few years back, but are any of your books still in print? I'd love to read one.

  26. Long, long out of print, JM -- and in the case of the first 2, just as well! Though you can find some actual customer comments at Amazon for the 3rd one, "Witchwood."

    If you're interested, a sample of collage work can be seen here:

    You'll also see some photos of our resident woodchuck there as well! :)

    I have to say, I'm having a ball exploring the possibilities of creativity. And I find that the work shows me myself in ways I hadn't understood before. There's a kind of purity, a breathtaking dazzle of brilliant fire, when something within you suddenly appears in a tangible creation, as if you've made a vessel for something sacred & transporting.

  27. Those reviews at Amazon are certainly heartfelt and enthusiastic, Tim. Maybe it's time to set sail on another novel. (You could always do a Bradbury and link up your short stories.)

    I will check out the collages...and the woodchuck...right now.

    "A breathtaking dazzle of brilliant if you've made a vessel for something sacred & transporting." Again, beautifull said; but I don't think there's an "as if" involved. In those moments, we HAVE made something sacred.

  28. I've read somewhere (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I think) that the entire 'Scientific Method' is a process implemented around the central core of 'Creation of A Hypothesis', which is completely OUTSIDE the realm of repeatability, determinism, or other so-called 'scientific' criteria.

  29. So, Tim, what you're saying is that the "logic" of science is really an intuitive lightning bolt in disguise?

    Or did I get that wrong?

  30. Yep, something along those lines. I find it humorous that in my experience there are many folks who label concepts of 'tapping into some creative force beyond myself' or 'Dreams having meaning' or 'Stories writing themselves' as 'unscientific' which supposedly equates to 'not true'.

    My rabbit-trail-o-thought went: Yeah, I agree! I've experienced that. Some say it's not possible. Science 'proves' it's not. But Science hinges on the same. Tee-hee-hee!

  31. I agree wholeheartedly, Tim. Those moments of channeled grace can come up in any/every context in life. For me, the ultimate goal is for EVERY MOMENT to be lived that way. And, no, I'm not there yet—far from it—but what a wonderful goal to aim for.

  32. One of my favorite quotes is this gem from Martin Luther, speaking on a theological mystery:

    "I do not believe it so much as find it true to my experience."

    I think the application of that line is pretty universal. It doesn't really matter what our individual philosophy is. At a certain point, we ALL experience "lightning bolt" moments that point to nothing less than a sacred invasion.

    Another personal favorite of mine is a line from Romans: "The Spirit speaks with groans we cannot utter."

    Of course, as writers, scientists, mathemeticians, etc. we CAN utter those experiences. But like you say in BROOKLYN DREAMS, JMD, the moment we speak them they become something different, something truer than even 'fact.'

    It's magic!

  33. Y'know, David, you and the other folks who comment on this blog are an astoundingly insightful and literate bunch. So thanks to ALL of you for sharing those insights. It's profoundly appreciated.

  34. Thanks back for 30 plus years of soulful, engrossing entertainment! Can't think of any creator who'd provide a more welcoming hangout, a great relief from those sites where it's all about arguments and controversy.

    Been looking over my Moonshadow book and comics- any insights into the art changes between the original Epic printings and the later Graphitti/Vertigo editions? #12 especially seemed to have significant alterations(all for the better). Was there ever any thought to a reissue with Mr. Muth handling the art for the issue he missed? Weezie Simonson once told me that he had lots of help throughout the series so the fill-in shouldn't have been too jarring. Didn't seem to have the soft hazy quality of Jon's brush though.
    On another note: what are your favorite Woody Allen movies? I'm partial to Radio Days, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Vickie Christina Barecelona, Hannah and Her Sisters and some of the heavy dramas (when in the right mindset).

  35. You're VERY welcome, Jeff.

    I always felt the ending of the original, Epic Comics version of MOONSHADOW was just too vague. Incoherently so. It was one of those cases where the book was late and I didn't get to see the finished version before it went to the printer. If I had, I would have added copy to it to bring it to the point of COHERENT vagueness I think it reached in the Vertigo version. (Sometimes you write a script, see it in your head and then, after it's drawn, you realize it doesn't work and make adjustments. We added a few pages to the Epic collected edition, but that didn't quite do the trick, either.)

    I made several adjustments to the Vertigo version, most of them minor (and almost all in that last issue, if I recall), all of which I think improved the story. Although I know there are some folks who disagree.

    Favorite Woody Allen movies? I totally agree with you on RADIO DAYS and CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and HANNAH. Also, LOVE AND DEATH, PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, BROADWAY DANNY many others. I don't know if there's a director out there who's done more movies that I've loved.
    (This despite the fact that I haven't really enjoyed his films of the past decade or two.)

  36. Right back at ya, JMD, and I agree:

    CREATION POINT is good people!