In the seventeenth issue of The Sandman, well, I’m not going to get anything right, am I? If you’re intrigued by that, then it’s time for Mark to read The Sandman.
This issue just makes me want to write.
I’ve just started to write my first novel, and while I was on the Mark Does Stuff tour, I spent a lot of my time on Greyhound buses with no Internet or phone connection, staring out at the desert in the American Southwest with my laptop open and the words flowing from my brain. It’s been a terrifying and thrilling experience for me because I’ve been writing for a long time. And while I have experimented with a whole lot over the years, I somehow never could finish even half of any novel I started. It was too daunting. I didn’t have the confidence in my own abilities. I doubted every word I put down on the page. Ever since Mark Reads became a staple of my life and, even more so, since Mark Watches was added to the mix, I realized I was writing a lot every single day. As it stands right now, I’m writing 40,000 words a week. On average. And that’s if I’m not going over two thousand words per post. THAT IS SO MANY WORDS. Sometime last year, I knew that I needed to channel some of this into a more creative outlet. Which is not to say that my sites don’t count as writing or anything, but I know that I still have ideas in my head that I want to put out into the world. Why am I putting these things off?
Mark Reads and Mark Watches have exposed me to so many different writers, styles, techniques, and narrative devices that I might never have experienced. And every so often, I’ll read something and get the urge to start creating. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to devote much of my life to this sort of thing. Hell, until this past January, it was pretty much impossible for me to do anything aside from my full time job as a community manager and the ten posts per week that I was putting up. But once I got laid off and discovered what free time was again, I knew that this might be the only chance for a long time to do what I really have always wanted to do.
This relates to “Calliope” for a very specific reason: reading this issue makes me realize just what sort of power one can wield while writing. I don’t mean this in any sort of evil super villain sort of way. (OR DO I???) It’s just that I’m very critical of my own writing, and it’s been a challenge for me to do so much of it without the normal amount of self-reflection I’ve become accustomed to. I just don’t have the time to spend hours doing re-writes on my blog posts, so I’ve learned to just let things go. But despite that, I am still constantly concerned with doing the best I can. As I started plotting and planning my novel, I began to get more and more excited by the idea that I could do anything I wanted to. I could twist character tropes. I could use whatever nicknames I wanted for the people who would appear in my stories. I could create an entire universe, or I could describe one that already exists and make it real for you. I could kill off a character or bring them back to life, or I could just make everyone suffer as eternal retribution for everything Joss Whedon and George R.R. Martin have done to me. That’s a rational action, right???
Here’s what I’m trying to get to: Neil Gaiman is telling a story about Dream that’s largely chronological at this point, and it concerns what Dream does after being imprisoned for seventy years. And while I had no idea where this novel could go after the end of volume two, I assumed that Gaiman would give me hints as I moved into volume three. It only makes sense, right? These were published as issues, too, not volumes, so the next issue after #16 had to be the next chapter in the story, right?
Instead, it’s clear to me that Gaiman simply said, “FUCK IT,” and told precisely the story he wanted to, regardless of what was expected of him. I feel like I can’t convey to y’all what a liberating thing this is to experience as someone who’s finally creating their own fictional world. I can do whatever I want. It’s nice that people still stick around, but that’s something that even I’ve had to cope with in the past, especially whenever I decide to use one of those alternate narrative techniques for a review. I do them to satisfy and entertain myself, and the joy it brings me to create something, no matter how ridiculous the end result is, is what I’ve been seeking out my whole life.
“Calliope” doesn’t just inspire me because of the fact that Neil Gaiman wrote this while cackling at me. (Yes, just me, obviously.) I am just so enamored with a good story. I couldn’t help but think of Stephen King’s Misery while I read “Calliope.” And I’m going to comment on this now, because every time I make a mention of Stephen King on my site or on my Tumblr, I get anonymous Asks about him, and people seem to think he’s below me and not good enough to be a part of any sort of critical analysis of literature. First of all, go away. Secondly, what. Thirdly, have you ever read a book. Okay, I’m being facetious, but people are so shocked that I enjoy Stephen King! Look, as someone who openly talks about how much I love the horror genre, I don’t think it should be a surprise that I appreciate Stephen King. Have you read any of his short stories? “The Jaunt”? Like that one story alone fucked me up for like a week. Misery and It and everything in Different Seasons are all brilliantly written, so let me just end that before it begins. Yes, I like Stephen King a lot, and you’re just going to have to deal with it. (That doesn’t mean there’s not a lot to criticize about him, though. I just don’t understand this idea that he’s a hack writer with no talent. I just read Under the Dome last year, and the man still can write one hell of a novel.)
Anyway, I found “Calliope” to be a moving and disturbing story about the desperation that people have to be successful, at least in terms of how they perceive themselves. Richard Madoc was successful as far as I was concerned. Most people can’t even finish a novel, and his was a best-seller? But this is truly about perception: Madoc couldn’t see himself as he wanted to be seen, and so he imprisons and rapes one of the muses, Calliope, in order to obtain that success. Yeah, fuck you, Richard Madoc.
I noticed a small thematic tie to American Gods when Calliope called on three other muses (at least I think that’s who they were, or maybe those three sisters?). It makes me wonder if it was during the writing of The Sandman that Neil Gaiman got the idea of a world where all god were real, but only existed in their world if they were believed in. It also got me thinking: how much of that same concept would we see here? I mean, the Endless have their own realm of existence, but they exist almost independently of humans. Their life doesn’t seem to depend on folks believing in them.
Anyway, this story starts out in an upsetting way, and ends with a lot of closure. In a way, it’s kind of a parallel revenge story to what Dream went through. Ancient being is imprisoned, is set free, and then gets revenge. Oh boy, how fucked up is Dream’s punishment for Richard? HE CAN’T STOP HAVING IDEAS. Good lord. Then Dream’s goodbye to Calliope is kind of sad because it seems to suggest we’ll not see Calliope ever again. I feel like this issue is a one-shot, though, a story that exists just for what it is. So what will the other issues in volume three address? Is this just setting the tone for the other seven issues to come? I AM EXCITED TO BE SO IGNORANT.
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