Last night, I received in the mail three books. One of them -- The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington -- is not so important, apart from the fact that I want to read it. The other two are by Jeff VanderMeer: City of Saints and Madmen and Shriek: An Afterword. I want to read the VanderMeer books, too, obviously, but they're important beyond that, in the sense that, after reading about the books, I have to ask myself why I don't really write much fiction anymore.
I never wrote a lot, but when an idea struck me, and I found that the idea worked, I would write flat out, for as long as I could, until the thing was done. I've experienced few greater pleasures in my life then when a story I was writing started to take shape, and I could see the finish line, and felt that the destination was one worth reaching. The absence of any significant fiction writing in my life these days boils down to two things. Laziness is unquestionably one of them. The other is a dearth of good ideas. Ideas that I think are both good and workable are pretty hard to come by, but I think laziness plays a part here as well -- sometimes, one has to put in work to come up with an idea. You can't always expect them to just pop into your head. That's my preferred method, but you can't count on it.
The thing about the two VanderMeer books is that they both sound like exactly the kind of thing I'd be writing if I could kick over these hurdles I've set up for myself. In the books (and in Finch, VanderMeer's most recent), he constructs a fictional city called Ambergris, a sort of Victorian London otherworld in which any kind of strange, disturbing story can take place. A lot of writers have done similar things -- some, of course, have created, and populated, entire planets -- but there's something to do with what I've gleaned about what VanderMeer is up to that makes me think "Damn it, I should be doing that." Or something like it. The gist, I suppose, is that you often hear writers say that they write the kind of books that they'd like to read, but which aren't being written. I've often felt the same way, but I now have the uneasy feeling that VanderMeer is already writing the books I'd like to read, but which aren't being written.
Mind you, I haven't read VanderMeer's books yet. I don't know what's in store for me. But City of Saints and Madmen is, to simplify what the book appears to be, a collection of novellas set in Ambergris, and a brief summary on the back of the book describing the first novella perked my ears up. These summaries are rarely to be trusted, and I thought, "Well, if that story doesn't turn out to match what popped into my head when I read the summary, then maybe I have an idea." I don't know. Is that cheating? Anyway, we'll see what shakes out, I guess.