Sorry I missed posting last week. I had one of those economic-apocalypse days (my wife and I had a sudden loss of income the night before), and spent the whole time chasing freelance work to make up the shortfall in our income. Things worked out okay — we’re set for a few months now, and chasing leads for future stuff — but it was still a harrowing day or so. My natural urge is to write a post about diversifying freelance income and being willing to write various kinds of things if you want to make a living at this kind of thing, but I’ve covered that before, so I’m going to follow another impulse and talk about thematic circling.
If you read a bunch of stuff by a given author, you’ll probably start to notice themes, images, tropes, whatever, that recur over and over. They give you a clue to the author’s ongoing concerns. (Stephen King writes an awful lot about writers and brain tumors; Tim Powers writes a lot about dead wives and drinking booze; Charles de Lint writes a lot about the evils of child abuse and the power of the imagination to transform lives; etc.) While I would counsel against doing armchair psychological profiling based on noticing such trends, it’s certainly interesting.
I, myself, do a fair bit of this sort of thing. (I’m sure I do lots of stuff I’m unaware of, too — probably better if I’m not overly aware of my deeper obsessions.) I have a tendency to seize a certain idea and attack it from different angles, and produce related works… which nobody but me ever seems to notice are related.
There’s my Legba triptych, for instance. Stories “The Scent of Copper Pennies” and “Jen at the Crossroads” and poem “The God of the Crossroads” — all about the vodun loa Papa Legba, the opener of the way, and all about parallel universes, but more importantly, all about those linchpin moments in life, those choices that change everything forever after; decisions to leave, or stay, or love, or run away. I couldn’t say everything I needed to say about the subject in one piece — so I said it in three.
Likewise my poem “Soul Searching” and my story “Life in Stone,” both about the idea of sorcerers hiding their souls away in a jewel or a stone, to become immortal — but more importantly about what it might mean to live without a soul, to go on living without an essential part of yourself, and whether that would be any kind of life at all.
My stories “Restless in my Hand” and “Over There” are both about people in the modern world confronted with epic fantasy situations (one inherits a deadly magical axe, and one has a midlife crisis related to a trip to a fantasy world decades before). More fundamentally they’re about the corrosive power of nostalgia and the danger of power fantasies. I’ve got a third story in mind for that idea, too — another triptych, examining the subject from yet another angle.
I’m never really done with anything, because by nature I am a writer who poses questions, and doesn’t expect answers; most questions about the human condition don’t have clear, simple, one-size-fits-all answers. By circling certain themes until I finally feel satisfied, though, I can begin to hone and narrow the spheres of my inquiries, and find out what’s most important to question.