I’m worried I see in words. When I read a vivid, painterly writer like Dorothy Dunnett or J.M. Ney-Grimm I feel like I am immersed, virtual-reality-style, in a world I can see and smell. When I try to remember the color of my mother’s couch, I can’t. When I try to conjure an image of what my own couch would look like based on the two color swatches in my hands the image won’t come. Could I describe a stranger’s face to a sketch artist in sufficient detail to depict a perpetrator? Hell, no. I’d get height, hair, and eyes. I can recognize someone if I see them again—most of the time—but I’d really appreciate it if none of you ever changed your hairstyle again. I’m good with what you’ve got.
It’s different when I read. I can see something even without looking at it. Words make me see all sorts of things in my head. With the right writer, I feel like I’m reading a movie. It’s also how I write, and when I write I see thing as I describe them in words. The images grow clearer with each word on the screen, and I can enter my own worlds and eventually see all of it. I just need words to take me there. But if I’m sitting around daydreaming, what comes into my head are conversations and actions, not pictures of places. This made my alien world of Nwwwlf rather difficult at first. I didn’t even know it would be.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like looking at things. I may have no long-term storage capacity for what I see, but I love beautiful things. I have paint and pictures on my walls, floral fabrics on chairs, and I love gardens, manicured or wild. People are objects of beauty just as much as a painting, and my heart melts with longing when I look at a pot de crème. But my visual imagination lags my language.
As with so many things, the internet has come to my rescue. I was looking on One Kings Lane at paintings I wanted but couldn’t get, and there was Country Sunrise by Kenneth Ray Wilson, with its odd colors that do exist in the natural world but not often. A meadow of pale lime receded up a hill. Grasses of indigo, pale and dark, crowded the foreground. It was alien and strange and looked like my imaginary world, only I hadn’t realized it until just that moment. Sunset Oaks gave a different perspective on the same colors and had the same effect on me. A pang of excitement hit. This really was what Nwwwlf looked like. Then I became sad. I wished I could save the paintings. I could write up the colors really quickly, sure, but the paintings were evocative and put me immediately into my imaginary world without me having to do a lot of work. I wanted to come back and gaze at it, but the site was a flash sale site of sorts. All would be lost.
Then I saw it, the little circle with a P in it. I could save the picture. I could look at it whenever I wanted to and not pay anyone $379 to do so. I set up a board for Sleeping Duty, the first in my Waking Late series, on Pinterest. I gradually added other pictures to it, a river mill, a rush chair, items and settings that evoked the medieval feel of Nwwwlf. I even have some wacky dudes whose manly posture I like to show to my cover artist.
I created more boards. My favorite might be my collection of Early Spaceports. The Canaletto above will be the cover for an unfinished story about a powersat billionaire who collects paintings of what he calls, you guessed it, early spaceports. I’ll just be adding a little satellite to the blue, blue of the sky. The board itself contains paintings of wharves, ports, sailing ships, water, water everywhere, and mysterious paths. A painting of mysterious paths also features in the story. For some reason, that painting is something I can picture in my head, and I keep looking for a real-life version of it. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m getting close. I also have a picture on that board of one of my sons and me, but that’s because it’s a picture of us at a real early spaceport, waiting for the first Antares launch out of Wallops. The launch got scrubbed, but these pictures won’t.