Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WHO'S DREAMING WHO?

In the third of Hyperion’s Abadazad books—The Puppet, the Professor and the Prophet—Zad’s resident genius, Professor Headstrong, gave a little discourse on the nature of reality:  “I am thoroughly convinced,” he said, “that Abadazad exists on a dimensional plane wholly separate from...but intersecting with...Earth.  Now ours being a realm composed primarily of mind and imagination—where thought and, more important, belief possess malleability, it is highly likely that inspirations and assumptions, ideas and ideals, from your world are constantly seeping into our dimension and taking form.  This suggests that the dreams of Earth might literally have created Abadazad, and that Abadazadian dreams—which are, by definition, monumentally potent—have manifested on Earth.”

If you’re a follower of this blog, then you know how fascinated I am with the creative act:  specifically, those sublime moments when the stories I write appear to come from someplace far beyond that limited terrain known as the self; when the Cosmic Download kicks in and dialogue, scenes, sometimes entire epics, beam down from the ethers, manifesting like holograms in my head; when it seems as if these fantastical worlds exist, as Headstrong said, on another vibrational plane and I’ve been chosen to chronicle their histories.  I certainly felt that way when I was writing Abadazad and, most memorably, when I was writing the third issue of the CrossGen comic book series that predated the Hyperion trilogy. 

At that point, the Abadazad concept had been years in development—many a holographic movie had been watched in the theater of my mind—and I had a very clear idea of where the story was going:  I’d mapped out Kate Jameson’s quest, I knew how it was going to end and I knew everyone she was going to encounter along the way.  Mike Ploog—who was surely experiencing cosmic downloads of his own—had done detailed sketches of the characters, bringing them to perfect visual life.  After only two issues we were caught up in a heady rush of collaborative energy, the kind of creative symmetry between writer and artist that you can’t consciously manifest:  it’s either there or it isn’t.  (With Mike it was there from the first time we spoke on the phone.)

I was excited about our third installment because it was going to introduce a new group of characters:  the Knights of Abadazad, a collection of completely inept and utterly unthreatening bunglers who were charged—or so they believed—with guarding Queen Ija’s palace.  (Ija was more than capable of guarding her kingdom without their help, but she just didn’t have the heart to tell them.)  I’d spent time figuring out who each knight was, what his role would be, and Mike had done a wonderful job designing them.  But when I sat down to write the issue, something very odd happened.

I was crafting one of the prose sequences that ran throughout the series:  excerpts from the original Abadazad novels that were published in the early 1900’s.  Of course there were no original Abadazad novels—I made them up—but I loved putting myself in the place of Zad’s alleged creator, Franklin O. Barrie (he morphed into Franklin O. Davies in the Hyperion series) and writing in the formal-but-playful style of the children’s books of the era.  I tended to just flow with these sequences, putting down whatever popped into my head and then shaping it as I went along.  These were the first words I typed (keep in mind that—since this was supposed to be a random page taken from one of Davies’ books—I began in mid-sentence):

weeping violently.  “Don’t cry, Master Wix,” Little Martha told him.  “Be brave.”  



Wix looked at her through his paraffin tears and mustered a courageous, heartfelt, and utterly pathetic smile.   “If you say so,” he whimpered, allowing the girl to dab at his cheeks with the hem of her dress; “but,” he continued, “I really don’t see why I should stop.  We are doomed, after all.”


Nothing odd or unusual in that—except for the fact that, until the name “Master Wix” showed up in that first sentence, I had never heard of him.  In all the preliminary work I'd done—all the biographies, back stories, histories—the vaguest concept of this character (a self-styled tough guy with a soft heart and a candle head) had never so much as flitted across my mind.  I wasn’t even thinking about him while I was typing:  the words tumbled out and Wix simply appeared, new born and full grown, on my computer screen—as if he’d been plucked out of a magician’s hat (or, in this case, a magician’s head).
 

Open as I am to happy accidents and cosmic surprises, and finding Wix an intriguing character, I pondered fitting him into the Zad saga somewhere down the line, then finished off the prose section and moved on with the story of Kate’s adventure with the Knights of Abadazad.  Problem was, no matter how hard I tried to wrestle that beast to the ground, it kept swatting me off and thrashing wildly out of control.  I don’t know how long I kept struggling with the story, trying to get it to do what I wanted, before I realized what was happening.  I could feel it, feel him, in the back of my head:  Master Wix.  He wanted to be in that story, in that particular issue of the comic book.  “But I can’t do that,” I protested.  “I’ve got this issue all worked out.”  He made his request again.  “Okay, okay,” I replied, “maybe I’ll give you a little cameo, but later.  First I’ve got to get this sequence with the Knights to work.”  Only it wasn’t working:  it was falling to pieces and it felt as if Abadazad, my beloved dream project, was falling to pieces with it.  I, of course, leaped to conclusion that any neurotic writer would:  “I’ve blown it, I’m a failure, everyone loved the first two issues but now they’re all going to see what an utter fraud I am.”  But then Wix returned, more insistent:  “Just put me into the story.  Put me in now.  I promise you, it will all work out.”

There was really no choice:  I took a deep breath, tossed the Knights of Abadazad out on their armored butts, and brought Wix into the story right at the beginning.  As soon as I did what he requested—no, what he demanded—the third chapter started flowing. All the pieces came together easily, effortlessly and joyfully.  By the time I was done with the issue, I’d realized that Wix was incredibly important not just to that sequence but to the entire series.  As for the Knights of Abadazad:  they’d been booted clear out of Zad.  I think the point Wix was making was that they’d never belonged there in the first place. 

As noted, I’d been channeling plenty of holographic movies from Abadazad—sent, no doubt, via the Blue Globe, direct from Queen Ija’s palace in the city of Inconceivable—but somehow, in all the mass of characters and events, I’d missed Master Wix and downloaded these other characters, these comical knights, from a totally different universe.  Happily, the gods of Zad wouldn’t let me turn their story upside down.  They made sure Wix came through, loud and clear.  They made sure he assumed his important role in the Abadazad tapestry.

Mystics have said that all we can imagine exists somewhere on another dimensional plane, all our thoughts and dreams, fears and nightmares, playing out in the astral realms.  But, as Professor Headstrong suggested (and who am I to gainsay his wisdom?), it might also work the other way around:  perhaps Abadazad  existed long before I was born and some confluence of cosmic forces brought us together.  All I can say for sure is that, in that magical moment on that magical day, Master Wix and the Abadazadians made it clear to me just how deep and wonderfully unfathomable our creative union was.  



So I ask:  Who created Master Wix?  For that matter, who really wrote the story of Abadazad?  Did I dream Zad, did Zad dream me, did we simultaneously dream each other?  If I had to pick one theory, that last one would be it:  dreamer creating dream, dream creating dreamer, all at the same time. 

If you have a hard time believing that, I suggest you talk to my old friend Wixy:  I’m sure he’ll convince you that it’s true.


©copyright 2011 J.M. DeMatteis

8 comments:

  1. Well put, and something I can relate to vehemently. Characters, when truly good, have a life of their own. They speak, have needs, and have a purpose--whether it's ours or theirs. Stories are about characters, and characters need stories. They are so interlinked that they cannot be separated. Wix was a part of Abadazad. He needed to be in it, and it was just a matter of time before you saw it. Well played, J.M.--and Master Wix!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks again for sharing notes from the viewpoint of a Story-scribe. I admire the Journey, the process, the surrender, the confusion, etc.

    As for a specific, complete, static, clear answer to the question of 'Who created Master Wix?', I'm personally tickled that it seems too big (the Tao which can be named, after all)

    And what fun to (here comes my own 'If I had to pick a theory') play hide-and-seek with such an intimate, patient, compassionate friend as ALL THAT IS in this funhouse of mirrors.

    ReplyDelete
  3. We seem to be in perfect agreement, A. Jaye.

    ReplyDelete
  4. A "funhouse of mirrors" indeed, Tim. And we wouldn't have it any other way, would we?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Mr. DeMatteis,
    First off, I've been a big fan of your work for a long time,I believe 'Defenders'#112 was the first time I saw your name in the credits(still a favorite of mine). I get excited any time I see your name in the credits of 'Batman:Brave And The Bold'. I'm sad that there won't be too many more new episodes shown on Cartoon Network.

    I had a quick(silly)question for you:

    I recently started a blog dedicated to Marvel's Assistant Editors' Month.
    http://assistanteditorsmonth.blogspot.com/

    It's still one of my favorite comic "events".

    I'm getting ready to write about 'Captain America'#289. For the sake of accuracy, could you please tell me "who's who" in the cover drawing of the creative team?:
    http://www.comics.org/issue/38203/cover/4/

    Thank you, if you have anything else to add about AEM, I'd also appreciate that.
    Thanks,
    J.A.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks for the kind words, J.A. DEFENDERS was a long time ago...I'm always amazed, and gratified, that people still remember it fondly.

    As for that AEM cover: that's me in the dark glasses, Mike Carlin right in front of me in the green shirt. Mike Zeck is the guy with the beard and glasses and our inker, John Beatty, is right behind him. (I still have a ridiculous fondness for that "Bernie America" story.)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Thanks for clearing that up for me! I'll let you know when the post about that story goes up.

    ReplyDelete