Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Remembering Robert Jordan

I wanted to take a moment to express my thoughts about Robert Jordan’s death yesterday. In many ways, I feel like I’m losing a friend I’ve never known. As absurd as that sounds. But I guess that I understand why so many people were distraught over the death of Pavarotti. It’s the sadness that comes with seeing a great artist who touched so many lives leave this world.

The irony is I doubt that he and I would have gotten along. I mean, he was a gun-toting, South Carolina Republican. While I have counted one such chap as a good friend in the past, I imagine that my political views would have created friction. Then again, I could be wrong.

I think that while on the one hand, I’m saddened for selfish reasons (his incomplete epic), I’m also sad that he won’t infect new, young minds with his style of artistry. There’s a whole generation of future readers that will never get a chance to discover his work, passionately devour it, and then spend months or years waiting for his next great piece of writing.

But more than that, Robert Jordan is more or less my literary inspiration (with J.R.R. Tolkien, John Steinbeck, and Philip Dick being the other three). The reason I have found his story so inspiring is because it’s not the legacy of an F. Scott Fitzgerald – i.e. a naturally talented, but crazy fool who didn’t have to struggle terribly to produce fine works of fiction (biographers will differ with me on this point, but there’s no denying that his talent, like other great writers, spewed forth from him in limitless quantities).

Instead, Jordan had a normal life. He worked a normal job until he wrote his first book. It was never published (he had a contract dispute), but the fact that someone was willing to publish it gave him the confidence he needed to quit his day job and become a fulltime author. Over the years he honed his craft, developed his skills, and through hard work, became one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time (I rank him directly behind Tolkien).

That is my inspiration. As an aspiring author, I have not had an “easy” time of developing my voice, finding my muse. I’ve written and re-written and discarded and started over dozens of times. And I fear that my great work, the epic that I hope to make real, is something that will take many more years (in addition to the 5 I’ve already spent on it) to become a work of art. In the meantime, I have other works that are nearing completion. And with each step that I make, I find inspiration and context and meaning that I try to express in literary form.

I would have loved to spend 30 minutes with Jordan just quizzing him about his development process. In some ways, I believe it must be the most exciting time of an author’s life. In other ways, it can be the most challenging and frustrating. I still wonder how much he had to struggle – not just in the beginning, but with each book, each story that he told.

Ultimately, Jordan was a huge success and inspiration to thousands if not millions. Each of us have our own dreams, our inspiration and only very few aspiring authors will ever reach commercial success, not to mention the heights of success that Jordan achieved (11 NYT bestsellers). But I have hope and confidence and perseverance. And in some small measure, I attribute that to Jordan who showed all of us that little by little, step by step, literary aspirations can become reality.



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