Relating the Thoughtforms of Animism to Everyday Modern Life

One of the tenets of Wicca/Paganism is the idea that everything around us, rocks, trees, clouds, is alive. This animistic idea that animals, plants, even natural phenomenon itself have spiritual essence is ancient and very, very attractive.

As I move into Wicca/Paganism I find these ideas do enlighten my perspective toward the world around me.

Foggy street outside my house this morning.

Foggy street outside my house this morning.

Now if you ask do I believe a rock is alive in the sense we understand the makeup and biological processes of living things, no, I do not. But if you ask does that rock have a significant role to play in the overall makeup of the world and its environs then, yes, I can kind of see that.

I guess more than anything it’s being aware of the interconnectedness of things around me. Being Wiccan/Pagan gives me a jumping off point, or a skill set if you wish, to be more definitive about this worldview. The breadth of understanding it gives to my writing is, in my opinion, incalculable.

This morning I got up early and went outside to see a foggy street outside my house. The idea of animism really came home to me in that instant. No, I do not believe the fog itself is alive. I do think it has an interconnectedness with the things around it, however, certainly in a physical way, and in my mind, perhaps spiritually as well.

And I think that’s the key to much of this as regards the spiritual side of Paganism. It’s a reflection of our own minds, and what we bring to the world through our own observations and thoughtforms that helps us relate to the world. Then again that’s the motive of all religions. As a writer I find that fascinating, and very, very enlightening.

Advertisements

My New Path into Norse Wicca

Freya is one of the gods I will use in my journey through Nordic Wiccan.Many years past a couple of friends and I were talking about religion. What we liked, what we didn’t like. I said then, “If I had not been born a Catholic I would have followed Wicca.”

I never forgot that. To be honest, I never realized at the time what being born, or not being born Catholic, had to do with following any religion for any reason.

But there were parts of Wicca I always liked. Its close relation to nature. Ritual. Reflection. Seeking wisdom. Acknowledging the old ways and the old gods. Forming and shaping parts and elements of the belief to fit your own worldview. A very personal and eclectic system to be built, if that’s what you wanted.

Over the years I wondered if that was what I wanted. I remain unsure to some degree. But I have decided to follow Wicca for a calender year (loosely, Samhain to Samhain) and delve into it and learn.

My reason for this is twofold. One, just by learning more about this cannot but help me with my fiction. I write a lot of dark fantasy. I have never been well-steeped in some facets of that world. Knowing more about it, learning more about it, can only help me as a writer if I continue to write.

And I will continue to write.

Second, I honestly do like the nature aspect of this. Helping me connect more to nature can only be a positive thing. Anyone who follows my blog or knows me well knows how much I like camping and getting away and being by myself. I am hoping I can find new synergy Odin is the male god I will worship in my journey through Norse Wicca.here. Maybe, maybe not. I don’t care. It’s the journey that interests me most. As a writer I am always more interested in journey than in endings and beginnings. Seeking wisdom. Looking into yourself. Being alone without being lonely. That has always been who I am.

I’m going to blog about this and I am going to approach it legitimately. Now, I certainly do realize that with my deep background in physics and chemistry and skepticism leavened with an INTJ personality there may be some bumpy roads ahead. That’s all fine. For what writer alive thinks  human life isn’t about conflict? At the core of things, what else is there to write about? What else do we write about?

So I am going to be very honest with myself about all this. I know there are some things I am going to have a hard time accepting. I may never accept any of it. Maybe I won’t like it. Maybe I’ll get tired of it. Maybe the pressures of the every day world will find a way to tear this idea from my consciousness.

I’m all good with that. I’m a writer first. You think I am going to pass up the opportunity for potential story ideas?

I don’t know how much of this I can do, either. I want to be honest about it and approach it openly, but I can’t lie to myself. I doubt I am going to have the time to celebrate the many-fold parts of this. But I will be honest about it, and my intent will be good, so I’ll see where it goes.

So for one calender year I am going to follow Wicca, learn about it, do it, perform it, be honest to it. If I don’t like it I will stop. If I do like it I will keep going. No matter what happens I will blog about it and write about it here, and use all those experiences to broaden my fiction.

Valkyries and gods seeking wisdom. What's not to like in Nordic Wiccan?There are many ways to seek the path. I think the eclectic one, a solitary path, is right for me. I am not interested in covens or anything like that. In Wicca there is often the Lord and Lady you pay homage to plays a prominent role. But you can choose other pantheons. Lots of witches do and that seems to be a path I would like to explore. The Norse gods have always interested me and here’s a way I can delve more deeply into that mythology. To really get at the bones of the myth and immerse myself in it without being fanatical about it all.

That’s why I have decided to go with Odin and Freya. Perhaps Frigg in place of Freya? I’ll have to think about it and do more research. It remains to be seen which one speaks to me the most. Conventional Norse choices, I suppose, but they seem right to me at the moment. Which is not to say I might not turn to Lord and Lady or even other gods like Egyptian, Celtic, Japanese, or what have you. There are a lot to choose from. You can follow whomever you like, who speaks to you, as long as you have good intent. But I think Norse feels right to me in a very deep and personal way. Especially these gods known for wisdom and strength and knowledge and beauty. I like that. I like that a lot.

The eclectic part will work better for me rather some something more structured like, say, Asatru. Although there are parts of Asatru I like as well. Oh, well, I also get to decide if I use a Pentacle, Valknut, or Triquetra on my altar. Not that I have an altar. Gotta make that someday. Fun!

So there you have it. This is what I am going to do. Well, aside from writing. I’m going camping tomorrow in Santa Rosa, NM and later Palo Duro if I’m not too tired. I intend to finish the Haxan story while camping, do a ton of reading and think about this decision at more depth.

While I am out I am going to look for a wand. They say the tools of your altar find you when you are ready. We will see about that.

This is something that has been building in the back of my mind for more than half a decade now. Now I am going to do it and learn what I can and have fun.

So mote it be.

)O(

My New Story Coming from Frontier Tales, and a Discussion of Character Motivation Revealed by Voice and Style

Frontier Tales has accepted a new Haxan story from me. It will appear in September. Magra Snowberry must get home to find the man she loves. Standing in her way are four horsemen.The title is as yet undecided.

I’m really excited about this story for many reasons. It features Magra Snowberry and tells the story how she tries to get home to the man she loves. Standing in her way are four peculiar horsemen, and a ferryman who tries to help her.

I wrote this some months after I finished the Haxan prequel Quaternity. Some of the stylistic language is similar, along with a decidedly literary bent. I did this for a purpose. I no longer write stories only to transcribe action. I now try to write for the ear as well. I write for the voice.

How a story sounds is just as important to me as how it reads. I wasn’t always that way. But I am fully wedded to that philosophical idea today. I think the Rubicon I crossed was with the short story “Fishing the Styx” because in that tale I went far the other direction from a simple retelling of action.

I do this because I have never viewed my role as a fiction writer coupled with that as a stenographer. Right or wrong, I view my role as a writer more important than that. I view fiction as more important than that. Of course, I always try to be careful to avoid pretension. Stories that rely on that dynamic alone always collapse under their own weight. So it’s a balancing process…and one I admit I have yet to master.

But I think I’m getting there.

While I like the story as is, it remains for the reader to decide for himself whether my stylistic choices, and my philosophical choices, work.

I tend to like stories that take chances and I took a few here. I hope you like them.

Magra Snowberry has always been a character who intrigues me in a very different way than, say, Marwood. John Marwood brings his own identity to each and every story. But I have always thought Magra was more malleable. Not in a sense of weakness. Her malleability comes with her innate ability to adapt.

Magra is more philosophically fluid, if that makes sense, than Marwood. Or, perhaps, anyone else around her.

Also, when push comes to shove, she’s as willing to take the long red road of violence to achieve her ends as Marwood. I think the difference between her and Marwood is he sometimes tries to couch his actions within the framework of the law. He’s not always successful.

Magra, on the other hand, isn’t so wedded to thoughts of justice or the arc of law. She’s not more nihilistic than Marwood. She’s more practical.

She’d rather be left alone. But if you keep getting in her way there’s going to be pain involved.

A lot of pain.

It’s very easy to write about Marwood. You always know how he’s going to jump. I don’t necessarily view this as a point of strength. I’ve had characters say in several stories that Marwood never changes. “The west is changing, but you stay the same.”

It’s not a compliment. It’s an indictment of his lifestyle. It’s a warning to him (and people like him)  a rigid worldview is not going to hold up to the pressing arc of history.  Other people see this. He can’t. He never can. At the moment it’s his strength. But he’s not stupid. He realizes the inability to change or adapt will, one day, prove disastrous.

Simply put, Marwood is unable to learn from the history he has lived. He doesn’t look back and he doesn’t look forward. He is trapped in the now.  He is trapped by Fate.

Magra, on the other hand, views life and death in longer terms. This comes from her ability to night-walk along with her powers as a bruja.

She is not trapped or limited by Fate. She weaves Fate.

When I first started writing these stories Magra didn’t have the elevated position she now holds. I think in some of the very early stories she comes across as the damsel in distress. I changed that forever with the story “Vengeance is Mine” published in the anthology Beauty Has Her Way.

I originally wrote that story from Marwood’s perspective, but the editor, Jennifer Brozek, made me see the story would be more powerful and possess more emotional resonance if viewed from Magra’s perspective. This made me take a long and serious look at Magra and forced me to elevate her place in the pantheon of Haxan characters. Who, for the most part, tend to be broken and flawed people trying to survive in  a violent world.

Magra was always important, of course, and especially strong-willed. But now she had to take those characteristics and apply them in a way that would make the fiction interesting and memorable.

Magra came into her own in the short story “Vengeance is Mine” and she’s never turned back. I’m pretty happy about that because it makes her a viable character with her own stories to tell.

This new story is a continuation of that. When the story comes out I’ll link it here on the blog for you.

Hope you like it. 🙂

In an upcoming story Magra Snowberry meets four horsemen. This can't end well.

Life in the Rear View Mirror

I guess there comes a point in your life when you are farther along past the middle, and closer to the end, than you are to the beginning.

I’ve been reflective of late. Not necessarily a bad thing, nor is it depression related. It’s just a point in my life when I am hearing about friends who are dying or going through bad things and of course that gets you to thinking.

But when I relate this to my writing I see there is a lot I want to do and accomplish. I have finished two new Haxan short stories and now I can start turning attention to a brand new novel.

This is happening, however, in the context of looking at my writing in a rear view mirror. I look at what I have done so far and, yes, I am happy with that. But I am not satisfied.

I think that is a positive thing. Because I am not satisfied there is still more I want to do and prove to myself as a writer.

I feel I am in a good position right now, as far as my writing goes. Of course, I have been doing this long enough to know the other shoe can drop at anytime and there’s nothing anyone can do. There are no guarantees in life, and ever fewer (as in zero) when it comes to writing.

But I’m going to keep doing it and see what happens.

Looking for Stories in all the Right Places

I started a brand new Haxan short story yesterday called “Talitha Koum” and so far I am making decent progress. It’s taking time, but the story is shaping up and I am beginning to see what it is really about.

It’s funny. I was looking through some old files and saw the notes and stuff for this story. I had forgotten I had this lying around! I think this is a good example of something I do which I urge other writers to do.

When you are finished with a story, or when it is not working for you, put it aside, forget about it, and move on to the next story.

This is something I am really good at. Maybe to my own detriment. If you pressed me to name all the stories I have published I probably couldn’t do it.* I know I couldn’t name all the stories I have written, both published and non-published. I was in a superb writing group in Mississippi and the members knew I had this policy to forget a story and put it away and always move on to the next one. One of the members asked me about one of my old stories he had read and I couldn’t remember the name of the story!

I wrote it, and I couldn’t remember it at all! He laughed and said, “It really is true, you don’t bother to remember what you did. You are always looking ahead.”

That has always been my philosophy when it comes to writing. When you finish a story you are finished. Why should you dwell on that when there are new stories waiting to be written?

This has gotten me into trouble a time or two. Sometimes at conventions an editor or writer will ask a general question about my work and I’ll stand there with a dumb and vacant look on my face. Oh, well, I’m not going to change. This old dog isn’t willing to learn that trick. I really do believe a writer always needs to be looking ahead and not obsessing over the past.

On the other hand there are stories that have been with me for decades. Usually these are stories I have had trouble writing but haven’t entirely given up on. We all have stories like that, I think. I don’t know. Maybe it depends on the person. I know I am very lucky as a writer and have had more stories published than I ever expected. I am not done yet, however. I am very grateful for the stories I have published…but it’s the stories I have not been able to work, or the stories that didn’t work, or the stories that didn’t come together that stick with me more.

I know, it’s crazy. I’m a crazy writer. But this time my philosophy of forgetting stories worked out rather well when I found the notes for it. It was like a brand new idea, and because so much time has passed I am able to look at it with entirely fresh eyes.

So that’s what I am working on right now, a couple of short stories. I still plan to delve into the Great American Hobo novel this summer. I am looking forward to that!

 

*But then again that’s why we writers maintain bibliographies, haha.

 

3 Writers Who Influenced Me Most

One of the things that interests me is how writers are influenced by other writers. I have thought about this a lot because I see other writers talk  about it. I got to wondering who influenced me the most as I was growing up and learning how to write.

I had a lot of favorites growing up. I marveled at the storytelling capability of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He wasn’t a great writer, but he was a good story teller and a favorite when I was in my teens. I also liked Nabakov a lot, mainly for his command of the English language and ability to push the envelope. I went through a big Ray Bradbury phase and liked his work, and tried to imitate him when I was eleven or twelve years old, but I don’t think he had any lasting impression upon me. In fact, I must admit today his work doesn’t speak to me at all in any understandable way. Which is amazing since he was such a favorite of mine at one time.

So the last couple of days I got to wondering who had really influenced me and why. I came up with three names.

Ian Fleming. This was my first big influence. I was introduced to his novels by my dad when I was around thirteen. By that time I One of the first big influences on my writing.was pretty sure I wanted to be a writer. I just didn’t know how to go about it. Fleming’s descriptive work had a big impact on me. I knew it was escapism, and some people said it was “only” escapism. I knew better. By then I was a much deeper reader than most people around me and I could see the themes he was working on.

Also, I was growing up at the time in an abusive household, so a writer like this who could take me away to a  time and place where violence was happening but you won out in the end…that made a deep philosophical impact on my life.

I often tried to write like Fleming. I like his style and what he can do with dialog. He’s best known for his iconic characters and villains, but his mastery at language, plot, characterization, it was all meat for my table. After reading Fleming I knew for certain I wanted to be a writer. There was no longer any doubt.

I would sit under our trailer during the day, enjoying what shade I could grab, and compose entire Flemingesque novels in my head. It was a heady time for me. I had been given a glimpse of a world where I could write stories that interested me and helped people forget their travails for a time.

What kind of writer would I be? Someone who could tell a story that transported you to another time and place and make you forget the mundane shitstorm that was ordinary life.

All right, fine. But how would I go about doing that? This was the part that worried me and I saw no way around it.

Ernest Hemingway. When I was in high school I read The Old Man and the Sea. I wasn’t captivated by it, nor did I think it was the best thing I had ever read. But I was astonished by the symbolism and the careful attention to detail he brought to the work, along with an economy of words. I talked to the English teacher about it afterward and she said he did those things on purpose. That floored me. I knew then this writing thing was a lot more difficult than putting words on paper. Anyone could do that. They’re called hacks. This was going to be work if I wanted to elevate writing into what I knew it was supposed to be: an art form. Fine, I thought. I’ll do what it takes to learn the things I need to know.

From then on I devoured pretty much everything Hemingway wrote. I have read A Farewell to Arms several times. It’s by far my favorite novel of his and one I plan to read again in the not too distant future. But as I studied and read Hemingway it wasn’t his style that had so much influence on me but his philosophy about life, and about writing itself. I remember one day I found a book that collected his old letters to contemporaries. Something like that was gold to a philosophically starving writer like myself.

As I studied Hemingway I learned about his views on symbolism. Yes, symbols were in his work, but he hadn’t put them there on purpose. If he had done it on purpose they would have lost resonance and power. He wasn’t stupid. He knew they were there and necessary to the story, but he hadn’t done it on purpose.

It took me a while to understand this concept, but I think I have a grasp on it today. It only took me about thirty years to understand. It’s one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s cabinet if he knows how to use it well.

One of the things Hemingway said still resonates with me. I wish it would resonate with more writers to  be quite honest. In an interview with The Paris Review Hemingway said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.”

I live by that. I think all good writers should live by that if they want their work to be remembered. I think it speaks to something else I have blogged about and that is writing should not be safe. The safe story is never remembered. Nor should it expect to be.

I am not comparing myself to Hemingway, of course, but I have taken on this particular philosophy as my own. I think it works well both as an artistic tool and a method to maintain your sanity in this profession.

Hemingway

“The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”

To me Hemingway’s life reads and ends like a Greek tragedy in many respects. As someone who has suffered from depression I can relate to what he went through in many ways. No matter the venue I can never think of Hemingway without remembering the old Viking Death Chant:

Lo, there do I see my father.
Lo, there do I see my mother,
and my sisters and my brothers
Lo, there do I see the line of my people
back to the beginning.
Lo, they do call to me.
They bid me take my place among them
in the halls of Valhalla
where the brave may live forever.

I don’t know if Hemingway had those words in his thoughts before he died. But it would not surprise me. Either way, he is a definite and chartable influence upon my growth as a writer, lasting even today.

I think Hemingway also said good writers don’t talk about their work all that much. I believe that’s a good rule, more or less. What’s more important, the story you finished yesterday, or the one you will write today?

It’s an easy decision for me, too.

Henry Miller.  Now we come to the writer who, by far, had the biggest influence on me. Tropic of Cancer is without a Henry Miller was the greatest influence ever upon my growth as a writer.doubt my favorite novel. I discovered Miller when I was about nineteen or twenty, I think. I remember sitting in a washateria one Saturday afternoon waiting for my clothes to finish and reading Miller. It was a bright day and the sun streamed through the plate glass window. A guy walked past and saw what I was reading. He stopped and said, “Hey, Miller, cool.”

It was like a code. People who read Miller knew what it meant. We had been given keys into the insight of the human psyche. I loved Miller’s vocabulary and tried, and failed dismally, to use copy it in my own fiction at the time. But it was all a learning process.

What fascinated me most about Miller, and does today, was his unswerving attention to the truth, no matter who it irritated. And if they found his writing obscene and the actions he described grotesque, all the better, for humans were themselves obscene and grotesque, along with being noble. All you had to do was open a history book to be reminded of that fact.

Miller believed if you weren’t pissing someone off somewhere you weren’t trying very hard with your writing. I liked his honesty, his ability to look so deep within himself * and write with passion what he saw residing there without recoiling. That took character and courage and a deep belief in your ability as a writer to successfully pull it off. It is the one concept I take from him and try to live up to. I may fail at it. But I keep trying.

Miller, by far, had the greatest influence upon me, mainly from a philosophical point of view, but also through his fearless writing and his phenomenal ability to use language to make us think, and to move us. For Miller, obscenity was always a cleansing process.

I think he, more than anyone else I ever read, helped develop my current philosophy that stories should never, never be safe. Because if they are, you not only attenuate yourself, but literature as an art form.

*Nietzsche claimed “When you look into the abyss, it looks into you.” Nietzsche had an influence upon my life, perhaps more than any philosopher. But his influence was more philosophical, not from a writing perspective. Although, unlike many philosophers, his writing is easier to grasp and understand and has an accessibility which evades his contemporaries.

My Elevator Pitch for the New Haxan Novel “Quaternity” and Other Philosophical Arguments on Recursive Genre

*Press elevator stop button. Cage jerks to a halt.*

“I can sum the novel up pretty fast. Jorge Luis Borges said man will one day resign himself to new abominations, and that soon only bandits and soldiers will be left. Which is why I’m going to beat the living shit out of you right now.”

*   *   *

Thus, Quaternity.

But this crazy scenario does represent in a stark and frightening way what the novel is all about: the ever-present actuality of man’s violent nature and its necessary place in history. A nature, the book argues, which will never be ameliorated by man himself because it is not in man’s interest to do so, nor is it his fundamental nature to be able to do so, outliers like Gandhi, MLK, and the Prophet Jesus laid aside.

As I remarked before in this blog, Quaternity is unlike anything I have ever written before. I set the bar very high for this novel not only on a literary level but thematically. Of course I don’t go into these arguments within the novel’s context or as story. It would make the damn thing nigh unreadable and pretentious beyond human reason. And, quite frankly, we have enough epidemically overrated books in our midst to last us through the remainder of the decade, and quite possibly the century.

But if I were to say these elements were not present in the story I would also be lying, and I’m not going to do that. They are there if you want to find them. If not, they won’t impact the rest of the novel one bit.

Whether I reached the mark I aimed for remains for readers to decide. If it ever gets published, and if there ever are readers.

I don’t pull any punches in this novel. I am loyal to the historical record. This is who these ruthless people were, and not the sanitized and whitewashed (in all respects of that word) romantic history we have been spoon fed by John Ford and Owen Wister and others.*

I have said before I wanted this novel to stand as an anti-western. But now that I have distance from the story I think I can more specifically say,

Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges

and with justification, it’s an anti-mythology western.

Not that I am dinging on westerns in particular. Like all other recursive literary genres westerns incorporate semiotic elements which make them immediately recognizable to the reading public. Science fiction has a long and storied history in this regard. This isn’t debilitative to a genre if it’s handled correctly, and if a writer has a natural respect for a genre’s history and its canonical themes and the foundations that were laid down  by other writers. Even science fiction, which by all accounts is at heart a subversive genre, adheres to some of these principles today, at least from time to time. Although, I guess we have to accept that many of them were lost during the New Wave Movement in SF. A movement that was necessary because SF themes had become so incestuous and moribund there had to be a spurt of literary growth or the entire genre would collapse into smoking slag.

But the old themes and cliches were never really lost to us, even though they had been put aside by writers with dangerous visions like Samuel R. Delany, Harlan Ellison, Joanna Russ, and John Brunner. Later, they were rediscovered, revived, and thrust again into public consciousness via the Star Wars trilogies.

Again, it doesn’t dilute the field if handled with respect. Which, to be fair, most writers do. I may not hold George Lucas’s writing talent in the highest regard, but I do recognize the fact he had a deep love and respect for science fiction’s past, hoary cliches and all.

I simply maintain there are other writers too lazy or too inept to see the difference which half an hour of homework and research would correct. Google exists today for a reason. But so did Encyclopedia Britannica twenty years ago. I know because I bought a set and I still have it.

Writers who reinvent the wheel and then put their work up as if it’s new and different, when really it’s nothing more than recursive cliches posing as plot devices, hurt growth. Genres, like people, are organic. They must grow and evolve, or wither and die. Writing the same thing over and over doesn’t do any good. Let’s make them grow.

So, all else aside, I obviously cannot use the elevator pitch I started this blog with. So what is the story about? Simply put, it’s about a ten thousand year old demon man who is trying to find himself in a world he cannot understand.

Sometimes, Occam’s razor is the best starting place after all. 🙂

 

*It is to their everlasting credit creative directors like Bud Boetticher, Clint Eastwood, and Sam Peckinpah, along with robust writers like Edward Gorman and Loren D. Estleman have worked to correct this fault.

On Pushing Your Writing Beyond Safe Boundaries

A writer friend of mine, Sandra Wickham, was trying to brainstorm ideas and found herself, in her own words, “floundering.” She wondered aloud if people had any tips on how to dig deep for a big idea.

I expect she got lots of good advice, because if writers have anything in over abundance it’s advice. Myself included. But, here is what I told her:

“Take chances. Push the envelope. Think outside the areas you are comfortable in and imagine what makes you uncomfortable.”

This fits in with my own philosophy about writing. I don’t believe in playing it safe when it comes to writing. I don’t know if that has ever been part of my makeup when it comes to writing, but it may have been early on before I wised up. I grew up a big Henry Miller fan and he was a huge inspiration to me when I started to write in a serious way. You can’t delve into Miller and come away with the thought process that your writing should be dull and uninspiring. You may not like Miller, but you can’t argue he ever played it safe.

Remember Marathon Man, that movie with Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier? There’s a chilling scene where Hoffman is asked over and over again by Olivier, “Is it safe? Is it safe?

As a writer I believe you should ask yourself the same question about every story you write. If the answer to any part of the story is Yes, it is safe…then you should probably pass it by unless you have a very good reason not to.

Here’s the reason. Let other writers write those safe stories. You need to concentrate on thinking outside the envelope and pushing past your comfort zone. It’s easy to write the same story over and over. But here’s the problem. Many other writers are already doing that. So you might as well take a chance and break out of that mold.

Sandra also mentioned in a conversation that she felt if she were a “real writer” she should have lots more ideas waiting to be written. As someone who has done this a long time I know from personal experience it’s not the number of ideas you have, it’s the quality.

And the quality comes, I believe, when you push yourself and try to work outside your comfort zone.

Some years back I used to train in Shotokan Karate. I got pretty good at it and was a final test away from getting my brown belt. But as I trained I learned it benefited me more to practice the things I wasn’t really good at more than the things I could do well. Writing is the same. There are probably many things about writing you can do well. So you need to work on your weaknesses instead. This is the mark of a good writer. This is the mark of a writer who grows.

Writing is hard enough without making it more difficult. A lot of these things come with experience and a belief in yourself. You gain a levels of trust and confidence within yourself as you advance. As you write and publish more stories you will become more secure in your abilities to take on new problems. Your writing will get better, and readers will definitely respond.

Or, you could write the same old safe story over and over again. You know. Like a lot of other people are doing.

Writing is an art form. Like all art you can be part of a crowd or break out. I once half-joked with another writer that if you’re not ticking someone off you are doing something wrong. But I was only half-joking, I think. Or, maybe, knowing me deep down, not joking at all.

I’m not saying it’s easy. I probably don’t succeed myself half the time. But the point is I try. And when I fail, I keep trying because the only other option is to play it safe.

That, more than anything else, is really what separates writers.

“Is it safe?”

Writing is the Art of Reality

I believe writing is the art of reality.Do you want your reader to read the same old boring story?

Writers paint in words. We use the world around us to create, and we create immense worlds. We aren’t constrained unless we let ourselves be constrained. We can take as much as we want, or as little, depending on the story that wants to be told.

We are in complete control. The only limitation is ourselves.

I was talking to a writer friend yesterday. There’s a person in her writing group who does not accept criticism of his work. Every word he writes is gold, every sentence glitters. In his mind he’s a writer, and everyone else, especially the reader, is always wrong.

I don’t have to spell out to you how toxic this is.

Earlier this week I followed a link to a writer’s published work. It was bad. The dialog was cringe-worthy. I honestly felt embarrassed for the writer.

How does stuff like that get past agents and editors? Seriously, how does it? So much for the vaunted gatekeepers.

But these are extreme examples. Most published writers are technically able to turn out a readable story. Readable, yes, but not memorable.

Or maybe the readers keep reading them because that’s the only option they have?

I have wrestled with this my entire life. I always try to challenge myself. If you follow this blog you know my peculiar philosophy. I’m not saying I am successful. I fail more often than I succeed, but I keep trying.

I love and respect writers who elevate their craft beyond the mundane. I like seeing genres grow out of their cliched roots and welcome new readers. That can’t happen unless writers are constantly challenging the status quo, however.

I don’t think I am alone in this. I believe most writers want to write well. I think they want to bring something new to the reader, and I believe the reader wants to be challenged and entertained.

But when writers take the safe path  everyone loses, and the genre is watered down.

Then again maybe I am wrong about every blasted thing we have talked about today. Maybe writing is not art. Maybe it’s only a method to shovel thoughts and ideas down to the reader. But I don’t believe that in my heart. I don’t believe most writers think that way about their craft, and I don’t believe readers think that way, either.

Meanwhile, a lot of people are getting published.

But, by comparison, I am seeing fewer writers in the process.

So my advice, FWIW, is take a chance. Stand out. Separate yourself from the pack.

Look, if all you want to do is get published, if that is your goal…well, anyone can do that. Nowadays it’s not difficult. But if you want to be a writer? That’s something else altogether. You will have to work to accomplish that goal.

Trust me. It’s worth it in the long run. You won’t always be successful and there are never any guarantees, especially in this ego-shattering profession. But when you are able to pull it off….man, is it ever worth it.

Tension and Compromise, the Charybdis and Scylla of Art

Speaking only for myself, but I find it’s important to find a workable balance between perfection and compromise. I was responding on a Finding a balance between compromise and perfection is a necessary ingredient in your writing.classical guitar forum earlier tonight and it got me to thinking about this problem in more detail. Not only how it affects facets of our lives, but, since this is primarily a writing blog, how that dynamic between perfection and compromise can affect our art.

This came home to me last week before a guitar lesson lesson. I was home practicing “Malagueña” in the bedroom. Someone poked their head in the door and said, “That was really good.”

I thanked her and said it was kind of hard for me because of all the triplets. But later I wondered about this. She was being honest. She thought it was good. But for myself…all I could hear were mistakes.

Later, I had a lesson with my classical guitar teacher and related this experience. He said it was normal and while he didn’t use the phrase “find a balance between perfection and compromise” he meant as much.

I told him all  could hear were the mistakes. I told him all I ever heard were the mistakes. He also said ordinary people listening to you play the guitar don’t always “hear” the mistakes you make. Not in the sense you, as the player, does. That’s not what they are listening for. He told me a story how he had performed on stage and honestly believed he had played the worst he ever had. Yet people in the audience, and one of them was a Big Names Musician, told him he was very good.

I thought about this and I imagine there might be some truth to it. Of course, you will always have severely critical people who will find fault with everything you do. I am very critical of myself as I related earlier. When it comes to writing, or playing the guitar, or anything else, you have to find a balance between perfection and compromise.

An excellent example of perfection gone wrong is when you meet a writer who has been working on the same story without moving on. They keep rewriting it, editing it, “perfeFinding a balance is necessary in art. cting” it. The result is the story never gets finished and never gets sold.

And when it doesn’t get sold it doesn’t get read.

Now I am not saying you should write a story and throw it out on its little baby feet and expect it to run a marathon.  But there comes a point in editing and rewrites where you reach diminishing returns.

Every successful professional writer I know, every one of them, writes a story, makes it as good as they possibly can, and then moves on. They never obsess over that one story trying to perfect it into a diamond. Yes, they spend time on it, they sweat blood and tears over it, they open their hearts to it, but they reach a point where they know it’s time to move on and they do.

Every successful writer I know writes a story so he can move on to the next one. That’s their main goal. The next story. That’s what they are always thinking about. That’s what is always on their horizon.

I think it behooves us as artists to be aware of our limitations and strive to correct them and work through them. That’s what I’m trying to do right now with my classical guitar playing. I already do it with my writing.

I am not always successful, but I am going to keep trying. If you truly believe in your artistry, failure is not an option. It can’t be.

Writers Come and Go, but the Story is Eternal

I’ve been practicing classical guitar lately. Mostly arpeggios and reading music in divisi. (See how handy I am with those terms, haha) I was lax while working on the novel, and I’ve been working on the novel a year and half. So my CG playing suffered.

I kept up with the guitar during that year and a half. I played the songs I knew and fiddled around with it. But a rigorous practice schedule? That had to fall by the wayside.

Which is what I want to talk about. I firmly believe if you are going to write you have to make strong choices. Which is more important? Writing, or something else. There isn’t often room for compromise, it seems.

Margaret Mitchell used to tell a story about how bad she felt when people invited her out to dinner and she had to beg off and they couldn’t understand why. It was because she was writing Gone With the Wind.

Writers have to make hard choices. It’s not you, it’s the story that is important. You can’t meet it half way. There’s no room for compromise. The story comes first. The story is all.

Every successful writer I know believes this to some degree. I definitely believe it. I probably go too far with it. People who do not write see it as YOU being selfish. They don’t understand. They will never understand. You have nothing to do with it. It’s the story which demands attention.

It’s crazy sometimes. How we get pulled in by a story. This happened to me with this latest novel. Despite all the problems I had writing the thing I always knew there was something there worth finding.

Writing is hard enough as it is. It is a very solitary exercise. A good writer has to be comfortable with that and willing to spend the time necessary to bring the story to light. Because it’s the story, not you, that is most important.

You are just the writer. The story is eternal. And it will always be that way.

Late Afternoon Thoughts on a Novel in Progress

It's all just scribbling in the end! I am not using italics for the Spanish translations in the Haxan prequel novel. I want to show stylistically the Spanish and English is all one part of the same culture. Now whether or not I am ultimately successful in this is open to debate. But that’s my philosophy why I am not underlining Spanish words, etc. I feel it is a correct one, so far.

Because I am not italicizing Spanish words and phrases I thought about not using quotation marks at all. I will write the novel in such a way as to convey who is speaking. There is dialog, but do so without the use of quotation marks? My writing buddy said that would require a deep rewrite of the 170 pages I have so far, and I agree. It would require a deep rewrite. But then I could go ahead and finish the novel in that vein. Hey, it could be worse. I could have a finished novel on my hand and then be faced with a 400+ page rewrite.

Well, no one ever said writing was easy.

Here’s the structural problem, as I see it. You can’t just pull quotation marks out and expect the story to flow. My writing buddy suggested I write the next scene and see what it looks like on paper. It will answer for me whether the story calls for that, plus it’s easier to add quotation marks in a scene for dialog, than to take them away and expect the prose to make any qualitative sense.

I have read novels before without quotation marks. I’m just wondering if the story calls for it. I won’t do it for any other reason than the story, because any other reason is an affectation on my part. I’m not going to risk the story for that reason alone.

Nothing I have mentioned here is consuming me. The story is consuming me. But these are questions that raise themselves every time you write something. I feel it is always important to look deep into the story and see what else it needs, rather than concentrate on smoke and mirrors to get the job done. I am toying with these ideas as the story unfolds. I am trying to see ways to elevate the story without it becoming more than itself. Or, what I mean, I guess, is drawing attention to the story that do not elevate or enhance other aspects of the novel.

This is all stuff I am thinking of as I work. I always viewed this novel as an anti-western from the first day of conception. Non-traditional ways of structure might help convey that sense while keeping the story congruent.

I have been waking up around 3:30 am and ready to write. I have done this profession a long time. This is the nice part. Strike while the iron is hot, because later when that energy flags you still have to write, and it just becomes work, work, work.

Another thing I am concerned about is  how it looks on the page. A lot of writers don’t consider that, but it’s important. It’s one of those almost nonexistent things you don’t necessarily think about or consider, but they operate on subconscious levels and readers definitely respond to them.

It’s looking like this will be around 100K words or so. Not  too bad. I want to keep it around there. 125K tops. It doesn’t feel like a bigger book than that, and if it were bigger a primary character’s role would be diminished. That would be totally wrong because the entire novel is about Marwood’s relationship to him. You subsume the antagonist to that degree and the novel would collapse. I don’t want that, obviously.

There’s always something to keep in mind when writing. It’s not just transcribing the story from your mind into print.

It’s the subtleties that kill you, and keep you up at night.

Violence in Haxan

While attending Chicon 7 I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussing violence in fantasy and how much was too much. Or if there was such a thing as too much.

The usual things you expect to be said on such a topic were said.

But I was surprised, genuinely surprised, no one seemed to really get it. I mean they kept saying things like “Violence is terrible and we don’t know why humans are so excited by it. It must say something fundamental about the human experience.”

I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand then and I don’t understand now. Violence is human. It’s who we are. It does define us. We can pretend otherwise, but the fact remains we are a violent species. All you have to do is open a history book of you don’t believe me. We respect and elevate and revere people like Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King. But they are the outliers. The norm is much more base, more cruel, than that.

This is important because I feel as writers what we do is we write about the human condition. There is violence in my stories, especially the Haxan stories. I don’t describe every splatter of blood and drop of gore. That’s not violence. That’s torture porn. Violence is cold and brutal and fast and hard and often unexpected. It’s over in a flash and it leaves a cold empty place in your gut. In Haxan, which I use to reflect not only western mores but human ones as well, that’s how violence is presented. It’s real and it’s part of us and it’s not going away.

Human beings are very violent animals. And that’s the key, I think. We are still animals despite all our laws and culture and architecture and mathematics and striped toothpaste. Do I wish it were otherwise? Of course I do. But I also recognize we don’t live in a sane world because we ourselves are not sane. We never have been, and sometimes I think we never will be. Then again maybe we are as sane as our natural violent tendencies allow us to be.

Either way, as a writer I will continue to shine a light upon all the facets of the human diamond. So. Everything considered, why is this important?

Because I have no respect for the “safe” story. I guess when you get down to it I never have. I like stories that push the edge of the envelope. I want stories that question ourselves and how we look at others and why we do the things we do. That doesn’t necessarily mean a story has to have violence or violent words in it….but it has to be true to the human condition and the human experience. Not a reflection of how we want the world to be, but a reflection of how the world is.

Like I said, I will let others write those stories. They will do a much better job than I ever could. Nor do I argue stories like that have no place in the genre. But that’s not what I write.

I probably read too much Nietzsche. I plead guilty. But I think he sees deeper into the human heart than many other people have the stomach to endure. I don’t care for blow by blow descriptions of violence in stories and I don’t write those scenes. But I don’t go around pretending humans beings are warm happy puppies living in sunshine, either.

The truth, just like real life, is much more cruel and cold and distant….and violent. That’s what I try to do with the violence in Haxan. That’s how I try to portray it.

 

Edit: This got me to thinking about writing dangerous stories as opposed to safe ones. Maybe someday I will blog about that, too, but I think most of the points I could make about it are also covered here, even if they don’t rely on violence per se.

Learning How to Write by Watching People

When I attended ArmadilloCon I had the good fortune to see my friend Gabrielle Faust on a panel focused on how you can write better. One thing she said, and it’s something I have been saying and believing for a long time, is that you should watch other people to see how they act and move and behave and speak…and it will make your fiction better.

I completely agree.

This is one reason I rarely if ever watch any commercial television anymore. People don’t behave like that in real life. They don’t speak like that, move like that, interact with other people or behave like that. It’s clearly fake. And it’s so obviously fake that’s why I can’t watch it. Don’t even get me started on “reality” shows. They are even more egregious examples.

Go to a coffee shop and watch people. Or an airport. Or a grocery store. Watch how they move. Listen to the way they talk. Understand how they interact with other people and the world around them and why they do what they do. That’s what you need to use in your fiction. That’s what you need to study.

I mean, let’s get real. If you’re looking to television in the first place to learn how to write then you are already in trouble. Unless you are looking to television to learn how to write television scripts…in which case you are doing the right thing by watching a lot of TV.

But if you’re writing fiction, either story length or novel length, you can do a lot worse than sitting in a coffee shop and watching how people really behave. Writers write about people. You need to study people to write about them well. So go to the source. Study the closely, and use what you learn in your stories.

You’ll thank me later.

Sometimes a Banana is just a Banana. And a Story is just a Story.

There is an apocryphal quote attributed to Freud: “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” There’s no evidence he ever said this, and later SNL did a skit where they substituted the word “banana” for cigar.

But it got me to thinking about stories and how we view them from different perspectives Re: writers and readers.

I was reading a web site dedicated to a writer which got me to thinking, and remembering, how often I have seen things like this in many other areas, especially book reviews. Mostly it is especially directed toward well known or popular writers but sometimes amateurs get dinged on it, too.

Very often readers misinterpret or deconstruct a story in ways the writer never intended. Or they subscribe certain beliefs toward the writer when all he was really doing was just telling a story.

I understand why this happens. All the writer does is write the story. That’s a pretty hard lift in itself as you know. But once you write the story you are done. What you intended or what you meant by your story may or may not be seen by subsequent readers.

Because the reader brings his own life perspective and makes the story his. There’s nothing you can do about that and you shouldn’t want to do anything about it. The reader isn’t wrong in his interpretation. It may not be what you intended, but that’s not the reader’s fault. It’s not your fault, either, as  a writer. That’s part of the organic process, the subtle give and take between writer and reader. We’ve all experienced it to some degree on both sides of the fence, I think.

So it’s very natural the reader might perceive elements within the story that were never originally intended by the author in the first place. He might deconstruct the story in ways you never thought possible or viable or reasonable. He also might see relationships and connections in the story that are there, but which you missed completely.

It got me to thinking about all this and the dynamic that plays itself out between writer and reader. To be sure some readers completely miss the point. Then again so do some writers. But that subtle interchange between thought and process and mental integration on both sides never fails to fascinate me.

It’s an intricate puzzle. Maybe someday I will be able to figure it out. 🙂

 

In Search of Bold Story Ideas…and settling on the warm safety of cliche.

I guess one of the things that surprises me most is how easy it is to come up with ideas for stories.

I wrote about this before. I used to be worried I would never have enough story ideas when I began to write. Now I have too many. I suppose that’s growth of a sort. Or being wised up to reality. Or something.

But what I want to talk about today isn’t how easy it is to come up with story ideas. It’s how hard it is to determine which stories deserve to be written and which stories don’t. That’s not always easy for me to do. But over the years, and with I admit some confidence, I have reached a point where I think I can look at a story idea and say, “No, I’ll let someone else write that one.”

I think this decision making process operates simultaneously on many different levels. Not surprising since writing itself is an organic process. Part of it is genre related. No, I don’t want to write a SF story today. Or, no, I don’t currently see I have anything new to say with that story idea; it’s been done to death already. Or, again, no, I’ll pass on this story idea because…let’s face facts…I’ve moved beyond that point and am now engaged in saying different things than what that story calls for.

Because, you see, the story comes first. You can’t make it into something it’s not. That never works no matter how hard you try.

I suppose it’s a cold-hearted culling process that goes on here, and a learned one. I am not saying these story ideas have no worth. I am saying I have so many other story ideas to explore I’d rather see them developed first. Okay, I guess when you get down to it I am saying certain story ideas have no worth to me. There is some definite snobbery at work here. That doesn’t mean another writer can’t, or shouldn’t, develop them into something stellar. They can, and they probably should, do so.

They just aren’t for me.

I suspect you know where this is going. I am currently working in the western genre. No secret there. It’s also no secret I have railed, and will continue to rail, about the cliches and stilted story lines I continue to see in this field from writers who should know better. But, you know what? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe they don’t know any better. Maybe they never will. But I am not complaining. Because they stick to their field and what obviously works for them, it leaves me with a lot of running room. And, to be fair, the stories they write are popular and people do like them and do buy them. So they must be doing something right.

But they are not for me and they never will be because while science fiction is twelve (and by extension all other genres) I am no longer twelve.

I mean, seriously. Do we have to see another story about the Noble Savage? The Virgin Schoolmarm? The Laconic Cowboy? I am on record I want to see other voices, new interpretations, different perspectives.

Is that asking too much? Sometimes I wonder.

I will give you a personal example. Maybe it will help you understand what I am trying to say here. Several years back when I was running a western community on Live Journal someone actually confronted me and argued homosexuals had nothing to do with settling the West.  Absolutely nothing. Now I want you to think about that a moment. This individual might well have said women had nothing to do with settling the Old West, or Native Americans, or African Americans, or Latinos, or…well, you get the idea.

In this person’s worldview the stereotypes we have been fed for decades was the only truth.

Long story short, I want to change that. I don’t mean I want to change that person’s mind. Nothing is ever going to accomplish that. I want to change the underlying idea of what makes a western a western because I want the genre to thrive and grow. I want it to thrive and grow because I am working in this genre and it does me no good to be in a genre that’s spinning its wheels and calling that progress.

Fortunately, all this is changing. Although, I admit, not fast enough to suit me. There are a lot of new, good writers out there who are challenging the Old Guard. I call them Cactus Turks because they tend to be young, prickly, obstinate, and they openly challenge authority. Thank goodness for that!

Because otherwise we’d be stuck with the same old story about a handsome sun-tanned cowboy on a palomino who safeguards a widow and her blond-haired son from the evil robber baron who owns the deed to her ranch. Hoo boy. Like  we haven’t seen that one before, right?

Let someone else write that story. It’s not for me. And it’s not for the new guard of writers in this genre who are doing better work than I am and pushing the boundaries far wider than I could ever hope to imagine.

So. My advice? Be bold. Take chances. Run risks. Piss people off with your fiction. I see a lot of safe fiction out there in many different genres. They’re all guilty of it, not only westerns. Let’s get out of that rut. Get off the well-lighted roads and strike off into the dark woods and see what you can find. You’re a writer. Be bold.

Trust yourself.

So that’s my point about why I am so careful about choosing story ideas. There are a lot of story ideas out there. As a writer you always have to make a decision for yourself, your reader, and, yes, the health of the genre, whether or not you are going to pursue it. You may not always get it right. In fact, since this is writing we are talking about, you will probably get it wrong more often than not. I know I do. But I keep trying. I don’t give up. I have seen it in my own fiction. The stories I first started to write in this genre are very different from what I see now. I take more risks now, challenge more beliefs.

Once again I am only speaking for myself, but I feel if I am not doing that then I am nothing more than a stenographer. A stenographer  looks at the surface features. I am a writer. I try to dive deeper.

But, come what may, these are the headwinds we are faced with today and they are fierce and unrelenting. Believe it or not there were millions of people other than the traditional White Christian Male who worked and lived and died in the west. No, really. It’s true. Just open a history book.

Better yet, open your mind and write.

Island of Lost Souls (1933) – Censored Horror with Sex and Atmospheric Bestiality

The Island of Dr. Moreau is one of my favorite novels by H.G. Wells. Published in 1896 it has deep philosophical elements whichThe garish movie poster for Island of Lost Souls Wells faces head on. It is arguably one of his least known, but best written, scientific romances.

In 1933 the novel was adapted to film by Paramount Pictures. It starred Charles Laughton as Moreau and he brings that character alive in a creepy and memorable way with his soft spoken voice and oily manner. Bela Lugosi has a small but pivotal role as one of the Beastmen called The Sayer of the Law:

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to eat meat, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to go on all fours, that is the law. Are we not men?

Dr. Moreau: What is the law?

Sayer of the Law: Not to spill blood, that is the law. Are we not men?

The film has many layers to it. It’s not a simple and straightforward story. Moreau sets himself up as God. He claims he knows what it feels like to be God. There are implied Gnostic principles at work here as well because Moreau dresses in white but he has the countenance of the Devil. I don’t know if that’s intentional, but I suspect it was. It’s too obvious to have been a mistake.

Laughton is unforgettable as the evil Dr. MoreauThe Sayer of the Law stands for man caught between Heaven and Hell. Purgatory if you will. The House of Pain, where Moreau engages in his horrific experiments to transform beasts into men using plastic surgery, ray baths, and blood transfusions, is an obvious stand-in for Hell.

The stage is set. Enter a shipwrecked man, Edward Parker, played by Richard Arlen. Moreau, in the role of God, has not only made men from beasts, he has made a woman from a panther by the name of Lota. Kathleen Burke plays Lota and she does a phenomenal job. Moreau throws Parker and Lota together because he wants to know if she is a real woman or not. As Moreau explains, Lota is too afraid of him to accurately judge her sexuality so Parker is perfect in this role. He can awaken Lota’s sexuality if it exists. (Parker has a girlfriend back on the mainland who later comes looking for him.)

But you get the main  idea. Moreau is God. He has made a woman for an unblemished “Adam” who accidentally stumbled into his horrific Garden of Eden.

He wants them to mate. Be fruitful and multiply.

There are many unsettling undercurrents to this film which got it banned three times in Great Britain and has made it one of the best pre-code films that exist today. There is obvious bestiality (the romance between Lota and Parker) and cruel vivisection and lots of irreverent talk how God must stand aside (or be shoved aside) for the coming dominance of Man. Throw in some steamy pre-code half-dressed jungle sexuality and innuendo, along with intense torture and mindless brutality — and this film becomes more powerful today than when it was released.

I love pre-code films for exactly this reason. They were willing to take dangerous subjects and leave no stone unturned. But Another iconic image from the film in which we see the juxtaposition between Man and Beast. Is Man at his basic level only a beast? That's what Wells argues. for all this it is Lota, the Panther Woman, that make this film endure today. She is the  character all the other players revolve around. The look she brings to the screen is iconic and there are subtle touches of the Flapper about her as created by Coco Chanel: she is thin and boyish, her breasts are bound tightly to her body, yet her sexuality is raw and powerful and she wants to experiment and flout the rigid laws which restrain her. That’s straight out of Flapper philosophy, btw.

Wells did not like this film. He felt it glossed over the philosophies he talked about in the book. I don’t disagree. But when I watch this film I watch it as a film. When I read the novel I read it as a novel. They are apples and oranges. That’s not to say films made from novels don’t get it wrong. They often do. But in this case the film pays homage to the philosophies Wells put forth while challenging basic human sexuality which Wells did not.

I guess what I’m saying is in this case, both book and movie complement each other. That doesn’t always happen, but in this case it does.

The final five minutes of this film are unforgettable. It is very, very intense. You cannot look away. Especially during the demise of Moreau when the Men he has created decide Hey, let’s do it, let’s murder God.

I am not going to spoil it for you more than that. You will have to watch it for yourself if you think you can stand it.

If you like atmospheric horror with underpinnings of raw sexuality then you are going to like Island of Lost Souls a lot. The use of light and shadow is wonderful in this movie. The makeup is as good as anything you see today. These don’t look like people in cheap masks. They look like real Beastmen. The sets are lush and gorgeous and reek with dripping evil. It’s a great horror film and a superb example why pre-code films are so powerful even today. Give it a peek. You should watch this film if you like horror and science fiction.

Kathleen Burke plays Lota the Panther Woman who experiments with her new sexuality.

Writing as an Organic Process (in other words, it’s Art)

I have a background in physics with a little chemistry on the side. So I know all about the scientific method and how you employ it when approaching a problem. And the scientific method works when you are doing science. There are lots of questions in writing but few answers due to its orgainic nature.

But we have no common method when it comes to writing. It’s extremely organic and most of it is shifting sand. If we are not careful we can get swallowed up with minute detail and lose sight of the big picture: THE STORY WE ARE TRYING TO TELL.

So there is an inherent difficulty built into writing (and I would argue most artistic endeavors) we must overcome if we want our story to be successful. I have maintained in recent posts I do not believe this is an easy thing to do. I merely argue it is necessary. If that is the case, how can we be successful?

By recognizing that writing is, at its core, organic. There is no crystalline structure to writing. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to writing. What works for me will almost certainly not work for you, and vice versa. Heart surgery is difficult, but the surgeon has a process he follows. He does each step in turn, omitting nothing, taking no shortcuts. Same thing in science. You start taking shortcuts, you are almost certainly going to achieve at an error-filled result.

Writing is way different. It’s organic nature demands that each one of us must find the path that works for him. You can share your results with other writers, but don’t take it as an affront if they decline to follow your footsteps.  They have to find a process to write the story in their own way. They have to find a method that works for them.

I know a writer who writes everyday. He literally writes everyday, even if it’s nothing but a paragraph. I could never do that. You sit me down when a story is not ready to be written and I can promise you all you will get in return is garbage. I never write until the story is ready to be written. I’ve tried the Write Everyday recipe. It doesn’t work for me. But that’s just me. It works for a lot of other people. My method is no better than theirs. It’s just my method.

Because of the orgainic nature of writing you are going to have to find your own road in this regard. I, and other professional writers, can show you signposts and give you guidance and support, but bottom line you have to write the story yourself. And that is hard. But I know you can do it because I did it and so did tens of thousands of other writers.

Keep writing!

“The Downside of Persistence” by Richard Parks

Occasionally I come across a post by another writer that is so good I just have to share. “The Downside of Persistence” by Richard Parks is such a post.

I know Richard from the time I lived in Mississippi. He is a superb writer and he thinks deeply about the process of writing and its outcomes, something I think about myself. Yet, I am unable to quantify my ideas as succinctly as he can. Again, which doesn’t surprise me because I know him personally and know what a great writer he is. Anyway, he really hit a home run with this post, imo.

If you are a beginning or an established writer I think you should read Richard’s post. I found it very helpful and enlightening…and I don’t say that about most things I read.


The Downside of Persistence by Richard Parks

 

Process VS Protocol, or why only one thing matters in writing

I’ve been a professional writer (by deed and definition) for a long time. Sometimes it amazes me. I will never be satisfied or ready to rest on my laurels, but I must admit if I never wrote another word for the rest of my life IWriting is hard work. When we accept that fact we have won half the battle. have come further than I had any right to expect. But aside from that, because of my physics and chemistry background I often think about process and how it can be applied to different facets of writing. Or how it can NOT be applied, as the case may be.

I don’t know that this has any value in the long run. But it is something I think about quite a lot, mainly because as a writer I know deep down there are no hard and fast rules to this profession. Therein lies the conflict with the scientific background of my nature and my education. In physics, as in all sciences, we approach a problem with systematic care. We have a protocol to follow: Hypothesis, experimentation, measurement, theory. It is a rigorous lifestyle and one I believe in with all my heart. In science we are trained to put aside what we want and accept the facts.

Here’s the quandary as I see it. With writing there is a process. You have to juggle many different things in a story to keep them all straight. You have to watch the pacing, be cognizant of tone, characterization, info dumps, grammar, tone, texture, quality…it’s damn near overwhelming. If truth be told a lot of this happens subconsciously. I think that’s the mark of a good writer. Don’t get me wrong. I always feel I am in control when I am writing. I hear stories from other writers about how the “character took over” the story. I call piffle on this. How ridiculous. That’s not the character, that’s YOU. The story is coming from you. Nothing is alive on the pages of a story. What a writer must do is make the character come alive for the reader through sleight of hand and smoke and mirrors. That’s the real trick.

So I have little patience when I hear something like that. When a writer bemoans the fact he tried to get a character to act one way, but the character had a mind of his own. Spare me, please. That’s your instinct at work, your subconscious. And as a writer who has done this for a little while at least I can assure you that listening to your instinct is the one thing you should always do.

But where does that leave us? With the hard truth that in writing there is no standard protocol or hard and fast process to follow. I guess if there is one constant in this profession, one rule that has withstood the test of time, it’s this: To be successful you must make yourself sit down and write.

I agree with that statement…up to a point. I have never thought you should try and write a story before it is ready to be written. Which is to say, before your subconscious is ready to take it on. The whole “to write you have to sit down and do it” has always grated on me to some extent because it overlooks this. Forcing yourself to write a story before it is ready to be written is a sure recipe for failure. To be fair this is far different from making yourself sit down and work/write on a story that is ready to be written. No one procrastinates better than a writer. Even Hemingway acknowledged this when he said he made it a point to “fix the refrigerator” first before he started writing. In other words, he looked for anything else he could do before he started writing. I also think he might have meant a writer needs a clear mind and no worries before he delves into a story. But that last is probably to a lesser extent than the fact we often do look for an excuse NOT to write. Writers are really good at looking for reasons not to write. I have a theory about that, too. I think because we know deep down writing is not that much fun. It’s work. Hard work at that.

I have literally dug ditches. I have cut brush with a machete all day long, from sunup to sundown. I have carried 90 pound geophysical cables through ice-cold sloughs, up steep mountains, across baking deserts. I can honestly say that was easier than writing.

Which brings me full circle to the point of this essay. The old saw “you have to sit your butt in the chair” is true for writing, but up to a point. I think what needs to be said, and what that old saw is actually implying, is that: Writing is work. Deal with it.

And that’s the one thing a successful writer needs to be aware of and accept. There is little in the way of process that transfers from writer to writer. We all do it differently. And as far as protocol goes, forget it. That animal doesn’t exist in this profession. But there is one hard and fast truth that has withstood the test of time. Every published writer knows it to be true. Writing is work. We have to deal with that.*

When we accept that as a fundamental truth we realize we don’t really need process or protocol or a list of Do’s and Don’ts when it comes to writing. We know writing is hard work. We accept that fact so we buckle down and do it. The process we use, or the protocol of steps, is, and will remain, secondary.

 

*In the future I someday want to write an essay about how after you write the story the easy part is over, and the really hard work begins.

%d bloggers like this: