So I've been working on a new novel. I'm not sure where it came from. I was putzing around with a couple other projects—reworking my first, unpublished novel and writing a slow-in-coming horror short for an anthology due out in August—when this new story sunk its claws into my mind. I think it's something that's been lurking in there for a while now, a story my subconscious knew I couldn't hope to pull off so it wasn't worth bringing up.
Now I say, my subconscious don't know shit. And besides, it's too hung up on repressed memories (and sex, of course) to worry about what I'm writing. So the reworking of the first novel (which was tiresome) has been put on hold for a while, although the horror short will be ready on schedule.
The new project is a book on the life and times of Bodhidharma. That's right, the fifth century monk that few outside of Zen Buddhists and practitioners of kung-fu have heard of.
Wait . . . did you say fifth century?
Why, yes. Yes I did.
As in sixteen hundred years ago?
I'm a writer, not a fucking mathematician.
So it's . . . what? Historical fiction? You've never written anything like that before. How are you gonna pull it off? And what in the name of holy hallelujah do you know about fifth century India and China?
At this point, jack shit. Something about dynasties and rishis, but I'm not sure which one goes where. Indian dynasties? Chinese rishis? Eh, I'll figure it out later. As to pulling it off . . . the first chapter of the book is flowing out of me and onto the page faster than any first chapter ever has. All in all, it's going to be a lot of work, but I'm taking the good start as a good omen.
Cling to that, buddy. You cling to that.
Oh, I am. And since Bodhidharma lived so long ago that he is nowadays essentially a myth, I've got a lot of wiggle room. The challenge will be making him a believable human being. I'm going to do my best to make the novel as historically accurate as possible, and include every anecdote and legend about Bodhidharma known to man—although there is little that is really, truly known about him: a handful of scholars claim that he did not even exist. So I figure I can do whatever I like. (That's a good notion for a writer to have.) And I've got some great fucking ideas. Better than any I've had in the last couple of years. Maybe ever.
And what brought on this, ahem, sudden inspiration?
A combination of things—a convergence of conditions, Bodhidharma might say. Reading The Book of Mu. Reading Christopher Moore's most recent novel, Sacre Bleu, which takes place during the Impressionist era and features as characters the artists Van Gogh, Manet, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Monet, among others. If you've read Sacre Bleu or Lamb, you know that Moore does a great job of taking a time period—and the people who lived during that time period—and making it his own. I know I can't do it better than the master, but I can sure as hell give it my best. I've been obsessed with Bodhidharma, the enigmatic figure who brought Zen from India to China, for years now. And I've been reading on dharma for over a decade. Other than that . . . life. The universe. Everything. Nothing.
But who in their right, god-fearing mind would want to read a book about a Zen monk that takes place in the fifth century?
I don't rightly know. Buddhists? Kung-fu masters? Fans of historical fiction? Those who like good books with a twist of humor? I'm far from the marketing stage of this thing, so don't ask yourself stupid questions, self.
So what you got so far, you mighty writer, you?
Watch your tone, self, or I'll turn this blog post right around. The first chapter takes place in the palace of the southern Indian kingdom of Kanchi, at the birth of Bodhidharma, a prince who will one day receive the mind-seal of the Buddha and become the 28th patriarch of Indian Buddhism. It is told from the point of view of Mara, who attends as a cockroach (or is it a spider? haven't decided yet) clinging to a wall. The god of delusion reminisces upon his last encounter with the one called the Buddha, and the curse placed upon him by Siddhartha Gautama—or ol' Sid, as Mara calls him—that haunts him to this day, almost a millennium later, and brings him to the birthing room.
Yeah, for the most part it's a flashback scene (at least at this point)—and in the first chapter, no less—but it's got the Buddha in it, so just call it literary fiction and drop it, sticklers.
Maybe it's bad luck to talk about your novel before you've even really gotten started. But fuck it. What the hell's Lady Luck, that lazy slut, ever done for me? It's time to get to work, son.