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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, author Monte Schulz shares his writing inspiration and the creative process that went into his new book, Metropolis.
Written by Monte Schulz
Literary inspirations are quite elusive, difficult to identify. That genesis of a book or story idea that appears out nowhere when nothing was present before. Harder yet to retrieve when the origin of the idea has fallen back into the past.
Starting To Write Metropolis
The dating of my first written files on Metropolis shows I first began saving pages back in 2003, which seems half a lifetime ago now. I do recall wanting to write a novel about big things, big events on a scale of nations, a war. An adventure novel with puzzles and romance, too. I remember needing a cause behind it, a moral tragedy.
Eugenics came to mind and, fortuitously as it happened, I found Edwin Black’s terrific history of the eugenics movement in the late 19th and early 20th century, War Against the Weak. At the time, I didn’t read it cover to cover, but I did gain a sense of the philosophy and impetus for eugenics and some of the nomenclature: that false scourge of the invalid and feebleminded, sociopathic and criminal. And that was enough because I already had my story of a college student, Julian Brehm, matriculating through fictional Regency College during the years of war and eugenical persecution and horror.
I gave him a love interest, as well, in a beautiful young bohemian revolutionary named Nina Rinaldi who shared a ramshackle house with her eight-year-old sister Delia and pack of like-minded youths. I wrote fifty pages, then stopped. I quit the book. Why? For some reason I could not decide how Julian was able to study the Greeks and Romans in an invented republic. Nor was I able to reconcile the geography of the novel.
Finding The Setting For Metropolis
Where was the metropolis of the title? Where was St. Etienne Shores of the opening chapter, and Julian’s Regency College? Where was the war occurring? If there were Greeks and Romans in the past to be studied, then where was this republic set in the known world? It took me sixteen years to solve that problem.
Ray Bradbury helped me with all that. In his introduction to a later printing of his novel, Dandelion Wine, regarding his childhood, he tells us how dandelion wine still waits in the cellar of his old home. His beloved family still sits on the porch in the dark, where fire balloons set aloft still drift and burn in the night sky of an as yet unburied summer. “Why and how? Because I say it is so.”
The essence of storytelling. Making a world and naming it true.
And that’s why I did in the spring of 2019. I let Julian read the Greeks and Romans, Shakespeare and James Joyce. How? Because I say he did.
The Creative Process Behind Metropolis
Most books are conceived and written with part inspiration and simple hard work. Sticking to it, day after day. Before Metropolis, that described my creations. Somehow, Metropolis was different. I wrote it page by page with no outline, no daily roadmap for what would happen, and yet it flowed out of me with no difficulty.
When I needed a turn of plot, it came to me with a flourish. A character explanation? I typed as if the Muses were whispering in my ear. I wrote the entire book in nine months with no troubles at all. Given the complexity of the story, the nuanced nature of my style and language, Metropolis reads to me as almost a miracle now. How did I manage that? I have no idea. It just happened.
Writing About Big Issues
But I did want to write a novel about big issues. Not a giant book, but thematically an important one. I love writing about relationships, romantic and family, so I tried to make those true and heartfelt. Julian tells us at the start that Metropolis is a love story, and it is, indeed. And we do see love expressed in many different ways. And yet I was still after a greater canvas.
So, I set the love story against the backdrop of a hundred-year eugenics war, where threads of narrative run in a labyrinth of directions and danger exists throughout. And I wanted things to happen. I admit to being impatient with literary novels exploring the interior lives of characters without any external events affecting them. Most of these books are written in a lovely voice and offer profound insights into life as we live it.
Yet, often I begin to feel there ought to be a larger story beyond interior musings. Because novels are also about the greater world around us, and our place in it. I did not forget to explore the emotional lives of my characters and their relationships with others, heartfelt or frustrating. Those moments, those conversations give the book its emotional center, but setting the narrative within the backdrop of a vast eugenics conflict and decades long war gave a gravitas and mortal adventure to Metropolis and offered my readers the experience of reading several kinds of books at once.
And I had many disparate influences. I read a lot. It’s the essence of writing: to read and learn and absorb and be entertained. I love popular fiction as much as literary, poetry as much as non-fiction. All of it informs what I write, what I want to write, and how I write. From Stephen King and John Grisham to Roberto Bolaño, Isabelle Allende, Cormac McCarthy and many, many other authors living and dead, past giants and new voices of many distinctions in the present, all giving me inspiration and guidance, my de facto mentors along this road to filling pages with my own words, my own worlds.
One last thought? Find inspiration in what you read and read often and widely. Learn to appreciate all sort of books. And write! Something every day if you can. A paragraph or a single sentence is better than a blank page. Ignore insinuations of writer’s block. Be persistent when you submit. An agent and a publisher are waiting for you.
Find more from Monte Schulz now:
All about my new book can be found here: metropolisthebook.com
Information about my novel of the Jazz Age, Crossing Eden, can be seen here: monteschulzauthor.com
I also write music, songs of many kinds performed by many fabulous singers, musicians, and can be found and listened to here: seraphonium.com
I am on Facebook, as well, under my own name, and under Seraphonium!
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