(Design & illustration by Robert Roxby)
This piece on inspiration from Mike Martin reminds me of how much our lives—our childhood memories, our dreams—can shape who we are as writers, entering our stories and not letting go. Reading this gives me the shivers, in the best possible way:
Inspiration is equal parts love and terror.
And let’s all admit that that seems like a contradiction. Even for a guy who both writes and hates scary things, it’s odd alchemy.
But—I promise—it’s also real.
Allow me to cite, as evidence: three childhood sources. Two memories, one dream.
The first memory goes like:
I’m a kid—I guess about six—and my neighbor trots to the fence to inform me that my friend Jeremy has just gotten hit by a car.
We weren’t best friends, Jeremy and me. Let’s call us Nintendo Pals. But the news that a Buick had flung him into a coma on the last day of summer was my inaugural experience of realizing that the world in which I watched David the Gnome and played t-ball…that world had teeth, and sometimes it liked to bite.
My neighbor trots away and I stand there, squinting in the sun, suddenly aware, in my terror, of the truth that I am very small.
Which occurs at about the same age. I’m in this VHS place and I notice a poster, taped on the ceiling, for Child’s Play 2.
Again, me, frozen in my sneakers.
The killer doll, Chucky—enchanted by some malignant magic—is holding a pair of shears to the coiled neck of a jack-in-the-box. Jack wears an expression of almost comical terror—a look that says, And all I wanted to do was play!
Sorry, Jack…Chucky’s Back!
That poster petrified my small self in ways I can’t recount. Did I hate it? Did the fresh terror make me feel smaller yet? To both questions, I admit: Yep.
But maybe I don’t have to tell you:
I also loved it, my gosh, so much.
Even in the night-hours, waiting for Chucky’s red plastic shoes to step out of my own closet, I pushed at the image like a sore tooth. I turned it over in my mind like a puzzle.
Chucky, I thought. Now what we’ve got here is One Bad Dude.
Now that’s the kind of guy who has teeth, and sometimes likes to bite.
Here in the deadly toy was Danger Condensed. To the Kid Me, here was pain personified and thus combatable. Here was evil that could be understood.
The notion ignited something deep in me. In the bed, I could almost feel a heat, coming off my heart.
The line whispers a fact: Chucky had been gone. Danger’d been defeated.
And if Chucky been gone once, maybe I…
…maybe I could send him packing again.
How, I wondered, would such a remarkable and awesome miracle occur?
Let me think about that. Let me figure out each step.
Let me tell myself a story.
And of course it was then that I felt that wondrous kid’s-mix of fear and exuberance. That space between the equal possibilities of love and terror. That Inspiration.
I promised I’d tell you a dream.
…and then I’m standing on bare feet, wrapped up in goosebumps, and I see my breath ghost out in the moonlight and realize I’m in my backyard. And I am aware that I am small.
In front of me are the lights of my home. And in their way, those lights are beautiful. They are safe. Certain.
Which is why I run.
Which is why I run away from them.
I turn and I fly into the dream-dark with the dewy grass quick between my toes: I move as fast as a dream-boy can, because I am on a mission that seeks nothing less than the blackly beating heart of the Boogeyman.
I suppose that image—a boy going headlong toward eerie borders, to hunt whatever haunts him—captures it all, everything that inspired me to write what I write and to love what I love.
Inspiration is the acceptance of an invitation to rendezvous with the Unknown.
That’s only the romance, though.
The twenty-seven-year-old who writes this post is bruised enough to realize those gorgeous adventure-feelings don’t come often. That blaze of joy, that shiver of newness: those flee me a lot.
I still believe in Inspiration, but these days my commitment can consist of addressing the Unknown Things inside my heart, as much as on my page. Actual fact: My courage is often just accepting, with as much grace as I can summon, that I might try my best and still sometimes fail my battles. Fail to always outpace a lifelong depression; fail to nail my scenes; fail to reach publication on the timeline I’d hoped for.
That all sounds pretty melancholy, maybe, until I tell you something else this twenty-seven-year-old knows:
My Nintendo Pal woke up from his coma three months after being struck down, fully functioning and as prodigious at Mega Man 2 as ever.
Even in an unbeatable world, you can still chalk up a big one for the Good Guys sometimes.
That’s the thing.
Inspiration can be astounding, it can be mundane, but it always commands the same toll: The willingness to walk with not knowing what will come.
And meeting that task—that’s more than just real.
Man… that’s magic.
Mike Martin lives with his wife in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he writes young adult fiction and works as a screenplay reader. His own screenplays have been optioned and developed by several major Hollywood production companies. Mike is represented by Joanna Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary.
Follow @_mike_martin on Twitter.