Tag Archives: Writing

Conversations with Myself, Mini Reviews, and a Challenge

I asked myself:
If you could have been the author of any of your favorite books, which books would you most like to be the author of? And the all important question, why?

After some quick answers the part of me that asked the question said, “no, don’t answer what you think is right. Answer what is true.”

This is what I finally found to be true:

Stephen King’s, “The Dark Tower: Gunslinger”
Why?
This was the work that first stirred me as an adult to dream the impossible. I remember vividly to this day the way that story started, and how I knew it’d never leave my soul. There was a magic in the very first line that completely pulled the audience in, and whispered a promise of bigger and bolder things to come. There was an easy rhythm to the story that seemed purely American, if such a thing exists. There was also this fantastic other world, like a dark and twisted Oz, that King had built. It pulled me in and left me hungry for more. And of course, there is King’s character building.

Clive Barker’s, “Hellbound Heart”
Why?
There was a distinctly poetic voice in the narration of this story, it was visual, it was alluring, and it had an ease of language that any good poetry always seemed to have. It was lean, to the point, and stronger for it. It told a tight story, with strong characters that evoked–no, demanded–a reaction from me as a reader. It haunted me. It raised ugly questions in the deeper, shadowed, part of my mind, and made me really look at things a little closer and a little more differently. There was also a strong sense of atmosphere, of place, of setting. It was like Barker had built a private movie theater in my mind and began to roll the film, burning its presence into my being.

Poppy Z. Brite’s, “Lost Souls”
Why?
My god the beauty in the story tellers voice! This work, like Barker’s is almost one long poem. The language dripped with beauty. And this despite the sometimes jarring and disturbing subject matter. I hardly doubt this was accidental, these wonderful contrasts. And then there’s the one scene built near the middle of the book that I won’t give away in this entry, but how it absolutely haunted me when I had read it. I’m not sure it was a universal haunt but the author had known that terror, simply had to have in order to have built it so well. She wasn’t shy to be honest, to share her truth, and to build something by which to reflect our soul back at us with.

You see the reason I asked myself these questions was to force myself to face a deeper series of truths. What kind of fiction did I want to create? What has affected me? What resonates? What moved me? If I know this, I then have some hope of doing the same to an audience.

So, I ask you to do the same, ask yourself, what three books, movies, paintings, songs, whatever would you like to have created? And why?

Find your truth, find your art, give away your soul. This is what the world needs. This is what you need. And this is where your need and the world’s dance together and create the symphony of your duty as artist, writer, creator of any kind, and asks of you to be honest and to give accordingly.

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Don’t Think, Dead Poets, And a Slice of Cheesecake

Today was a good day. Only in Kentucky can the weather go from the upper teens and mid twenties one day to a spiraling almost comfortable mid fifties with sunshine and a pleasant wind the following. The grass was green, the smiles bountiful, and the day productive.

My family came to visit—I wouldn’t be who I am without them, a simple, but very honest truth—they helped me with some things around the apartment, and then we had dinner together, and went out rummaging for odds and ends at a thrift store. Of course I spent my time in the books (I came back with no books, but did find some binders and a new portfolio and some paper, winning).

Tonight, after they left, I sat down to one of my all time favorite movies: Dead Poets Society. It seems that just lately my life has been complimenting my mind, as I have been very reflective on the themes of what it means to be a writer, a reader, and a person striving to live life on purpose. One of the things played out brilliantly in the film was the essence of seizing one’s moments in life. But more than this there was a deeper truth very pertinent for writers. In the words of the late great Bradbury, “Don’t think! Write!” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is exactly what I picked up on when I watched the movie tonight.

There is more than one scene that builds this brilliant theme, but one of the best is when a shy character who up until the moment he was literally forced to center stage by his professor, he barely has said a word or revealed any stirring of life inside his head or soul. He is first told to yawp a barbaric yawp before his classmates and then is told to close his eyes and together he and the professor (through questions, nudging, curiousity, and determination) build a masterful work. What does the professor continue to say over and over? “Don’t think! Say whatever pops into your head. Whatever the first word is, it might even be gibberish, just say it, speak it aloud, say it.”

That is what I’ve been hearing lately from nearly everywhere I turn. My Poetry Professor, youtube, books I’ve been reading, my own deep mind, and intuitions. From everywhere, the deeper drive, and ancient instruction: trust your gut, don’t think, write—speak, cry, paint, play your music, dance, breathe, live, by God Live!—seize your moment and share with the world what only you can, your soul.

I think we’ve been taught too much that giving our soul away is a bad thing, a damnable thing, a deadly thing. And perhaps SELLING it is. But GIVING it? I am not so convinced. When we fall in love, do we not, in some small part at the beginning at least, share our deeper selves, our essence, our passions, our dreams, our hopes, our great joy? You see, I think that maybe, just maybe, art is made of the same substance as soul. We lose ourselves when we pretend that what we are making is art, but instead is some cheap knock off item we really just hope to sell. Not GIVE to the world, not defy the status quo with. God no! Why would we stir up such waters?

But I challenge you, if you wish to make something worth calling your legacy, then by God make something worth calling your legacy. Bleed your soul into that thing, sweat, cry, laugh and joy. That is what you and I have to offer that no one else does: ourselves.

In other news, I currently have a cheesecake cooling in the kitchen, and a great hen thawing out in the sink for a dinner I’m cooking tomorrow. Excited.

 

When I began writing this piece, Lindsey Stirling was playing in the background. I am a huge fan of her work, she makes poetry with her violin.

 

What roles does music play in your writing life? Reading life? Life in general?

 

In what ways can cooking be likened to writing a poem?

 

Don’t think, write.


List Your Way to Truth

Recently went on a writing splurge. It was great. Then this weekend it all kind of stopped. Scared the shit out of me, where did all my voices go? I can’t be the only writer to have this kind of problem, can I? No, of course not, but being a writer means in part feeling as though you’re kind of all alone in the world. I’ve been at this (and rejected) enough to know what I’m talking about.

So, what do I do to get myself going again?

The options are pretty simple it would seem, I could give up, start over, reevaluate or push through.

Actually looking at that, I realize I have two options, giving up or not. I recently confided in a friend that not writing would be the same as not living, so, I guess the choice is made for me. I like living a little too much to not continue at this.

What got me going on the big writing kick off was a Ray Bradbury article, ”Run Fast, Stand Still, or, The Thing at the Top of the Stairs, or, New Ghosts From Old Minds,” Something about what he was saying – and how he was saying it more than anything – resonated with me. I felt his words seep into my soul, and a great new freedom came over me. Suddenly I no longer felt restrained, I felt simply loose and able to chase whatever came along with the full vigor of my younger writer self. The big suggestion that did this?

Lists.

Bradbury suggested making lists of nouns and gave some examples of his own:

“The Lake. The Night. The Crickets. The Ravine. The Attic. The Basement. The Trapdoor. The Baby. The Crowd. The Night Train. The Foghorn. The Scythe. The Carnival. The Carousel. The Dwarf. The Mirror Maze. The Skeleton,” (Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing, Page 17).

I can’t really remember now why, but something about his lists teased me into trying my own. So, I sat down and began to type away. One word bursts, period, pause, reflect, continue. That’s how it went. It wasn’t writing a story, it was something else, something beautiful, something different. And then I saw it clearly. It was the something I had been getting so damned close to all these years now and hadn’t ever fully went into. For Bradbury it was when he wrote about his “Ravine,” for me, I wrote a short story called “Lucinda’s Gift” a while back and really took a liking to it (that’s another story for another time perhaps).

That night of lists started to show me something, something I had teased in “Lucinda’s Gift” but had never fully and with knowledge, explored. The deepest truth of all, is the truth I personally bring to the table. It’s so common sense we might easily overlook it, but, what this means is simply this: What do you remember from your childhood, early twenties, last great romance, last great affair, steamy passionate night with a stranger, or horrible bad decision? What Does Home feel like in your memory? What colors stand out, what about YOUR home is different than anyone else’s? That’s the truth I had been getting at and hadn’t ever knew it.

Once I saw this, something about fiction changed for me. I wasn’t worried anymore about being a Horror writer, or a genre writer, I was only worried about chasing down the memory, the truth, the unique things I knew and no one else did. The first word (actually I chose to make titles, sometimes one word but more often tight little descriptive sentences, it’s whatever works for you) on my list I began to play with was, “The Spring House in the Woods.” This was the memory of a Spring house my grandfather had built back in the woods near my family home. I’d went there a couple times as an adult and heard Dad talk about it plenty, it wasn’t just any spring house either, it was the only one in the wide world with my Grandfather’s name carved in the wall. It still stands there, and it is a personal truth that is mine and mine alone. So I did the first honest thing of my writing career, I started to write down that memory.

Soon the voices came, the imagination stirred, the what if’s kicked in and I simply obeyed. I said to hell with plot, I said screw it to any idea of what made a good story or a bad, I just listened to my mind, I smiled big, and I wrote. By God, I wrote.

That’s what I learned.

And you know what? I started this essay/journal feeling the blues a little, but look at this, I just did the same thing all over again. I said to hell with the rules and listened to my inner voice and wrote this through to completion. That’s what writing is about, discovery, pushing through, growing. Never stop growing, because when you do, you’re fungus food folks.

Moral of the story? Be you, write truth, to hell with the rules (once you know what they are to abandon them of course).


Modeling Monday – Write like Steinbeck

Not even a full mile down the road, maybe a smidge more, the Kentucky river rolls through a low laying flood plain. When it’s the summer the fields there are wild and untamed, a happy lively wild place, a garden for the animals to come and eat. But there are other times when the river runs a deep ugly brown, painting the air with a muddy scent, and roaring its mighty voice as the damn is overtaken and the waters rage on. At first the water stays in its domain, the banks holding the brown majesty of the flood to its confines, but soon enough the water spills over and fills the little valley with a hungry need for expansion. When I was a boy, there were two old houses in the valley, never lived in, not for times longer than my short life can remember have those houses seen real habitation. But for those of us that lived near the river, we’d go to the high place the road took you and look down on that valley and measure the rising river’s fury against how far the waters had risen against the house. One time, I saw the waters go so high as the roof.

We were somewhat fortunate where I grew up, the river was far enough away to never reach us, and the hills provided a safety net enough to guarantee the water there would never come so far. Fortunate enough, which is not the same as saying I never saw a flood around the house. I saw several when the little creek that wound out behind and below my family home could take no more rain. Sometimes the bridge up the road would get clogged with debris. The water would back up and finally push over top and come down the road, which was a terrifying sight. Or, the water would simply rise and rise and soon enough poor over the rock fence out back and fill the yard. Flash floods are speedy demons, sometimes giving very little warning, and in no time, a family can be completely shut off from all the civilized world beyond, left looking to one another wondering, will this be the one to take our little home?


The Six Guides

Open book icon

So, you’re all signed up for JunoWrimo (or doing it on your own), itching to pants your way to writer fame and fortune, or maybe you’ve went a lil differently about it and charted out an outline. You know what you’re doing, you’re a writer dammit, and you will see this thing through! You’re all cozied in, drinks lined up, phone turned off, and you know just what you want to write. Hell, you blaze through the first fifteen days without a problem. You’re a regular Rocky Balboa of words. Day sixteen comes along and knocks your happy ass for a loop. What do you do? Where do you turn? You’ve never met a problem like this before, and never even imagined one of such horror even could exist!

Heather Sellers, Author of, Chapter after Chapter, suggests writers stop skimming a thousand books at a time to figure out how to write one, and instead choose six books (and no more) to bring along the journey of novel building. Just six books. Three books on craft, Three books of fiction similar to the one you’re trying to build. It sounds easy, right?

Try it for yourself and get back to me, ha!

Which book of the multitude that are out there are best to carry along on a 50,000 (or more) word journey of novelized glory? Which books are the most sound, the most inspiring, the most kick-your ass into writing mode are the absolute best to take with you? Any one you know, and know well:

“You are a book writer; not a book buyer. You are a book reader; not a book skimmer. To really know a book—how it’s built, its wisdom—is to read it several times. To go over and over certain passages.” Heather Sellers

Pick the books that have worked before, the ones with the most dog-eared pages, and most pop/whiskey stains, and smells vaguely of sweat and blood. Those books are stained with other things as well, namely the essence of your admiration, and the smear of your spirit upon their page. They are a fine offering to the muses and will help carry you through.

For practical purposes, what these books really offer you is a direct connection to age old experience that has been tested time and again. Need an answer? Turn to someone who has been there, who has done it, who has banged their head on the same wall and then figured it out. It works in life, it works in writing. Pick guides, good guides, and travel boldly!

My Challenge to you:

Make your list, start by picking twelve books and whittle it down to the six book goal. You have time still if you’re starting your novel in June for Junowrimo. If you’re writing on your own for another project, it’s always best to start early, give yourself time and figure these things out with truth and contemplation.

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Road Trip to Hell and (Hopefully) Back!

Español: Paisaje desolador, muestra de la orog...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In June I’m going on a trip. The place is a somewhat distant and hazy land of both joy, and sorrow. I’m more than excited to ride the rides, take a few pictures, buy a few drinks and see the sights. I’ve heard from others that have been there (some having made a career of travelling to and from that place) that it can be quite a lovely location. From others I’ve heard to pack military grade survival gear. Though I’m sure many of the crowd would advise against taking any assault weapons, this place can be dangerous, but mostly because we bring the danger there our self and not so much because it is a dangerous place.

So just where the hell am I going?

To the land of novel writing. Head to forehand. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there before, I’ve seen the sights, taken the pictures, bought the farm, grew a crop, and thought myself hot shit as I walked those streets. I’ve written a few novels in fact. Each novel from the days of long ago, are still at some degree of shit, and carefully hidden away in one metaphorical trunk or another (however one is floating about the net, immortal and deformed for all the world to see).

What’s worse about this trip? I plan to see as much as I can in a single month. That’s right, a novel in a month. Like Christmas in July, there’s now a novel writing challenge in June, I happened upon it by mistake. Junowrimo was a chance discovery of mine, the rules are simple enough, the challenge clear, the call to action haunting.

You see, recently I posted on here a short bit of practice called “Into Hades” it seems to be my most popular piece. I probably shouldn’t have posted it because it’s too close to the novel I intend to write. Oh well. At the time of playing around with that scene I wasn’t in the least thinking about the novel in the back of my mind, I was just having fun, painting images, watching the movie in my head. After I finished it, I leaned back and felt the full weight of what I’d done. I had breathed life into the skeletal remains of an old story begging to be

reborn.

And so, here I am now, with an old story itching to come to surface, begging to be written anew. That combined with my chance encounter with Junowrimo has pushed me to the precipice of my own personal abyss. I plan to take a dive and grow wings on the way down, if none will come, hey, I hear the abyss is pretty deep so I should have time to say a few things along the way, right?

Wrapping this semi rant all up, what’s this have to do with Haunted Axiom? Well, as I journey along the path TO the writing month ahead, I have every intention to explore some preparation issues related to novel writing. I want very badly (for myself as much as for my readers) to share some tips I’ve picked up, lessons I’ve learned, exercises I’m doing to stretch the old limbs, and whatever else comes to mind that may help us.

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Old man at the Bar (Exercise)

Exercise:

Use a place with a group of people to observe. Write a single scene inspired by this group. Bring them to life, and imagine out the details.

 

Old man at the Bar

He stood in the corner of the room, blanketed in equal measures of shadow and mystery. His ball cap hid an old fat pair of fluffy black headphones from easy view. In one hand he held a mug bigger than his knobbed and worn down hand looked able to hold. In his other hand he held a nearly empty pitcher of cheap yellow beer with all the foam threatening to dry up. He stood statue still, transfixed perhaps by all the youth that surrounded him.

The birthday girls and soon to be bride walked by him with a wrinkled nose. It wasn’t clear if they did this because of a smell they both detected coming off the man—he didn’t look very clean despite his perfectly ironed clothing, all bright and free from visible dirt or stain. They giggled to each other and darted furtive glances back at the odd man, saying all they needed about how highly they valued his worth as a person from their damning cold glances.

The man by the jukebox didn’t seem to mind. His eyes rolled about in a slow methodical way. Each young face fell under his ancient gaze at least once or twice as his hands went about the busy work of refilling his mug. The statue still persona of the old man broke up for a few good drinks of his warming beer. Beer fuzz stuck to his chin and upper lip before popping away, leaving only a thin line of drool behind as testament to their existence. His eyes remained ever watchful. The young people that surrounded him on all sides hummed with a bee like electricity, charged up and primed, and giving off a sneaky aura of threat as though they were always ready to sting and hurt.

Three rowdy looking young men came in the door of the bar, talking loudly about all the wonders of their young and ignorant lives. The odd man lowered his mug and let his eyes roll to them. He sized them up and in his fastest move yet, he looked away. His head followed his eyes and with more speed than one could guess the old man capable of pulling off, he walked with rat like worry and speed to the opposite side of the bar, far away from where he had been, and even farther from the door and the young men walking in.

He was just in time leaving too. The three young men who had came in didn’t bother with ordering their brew first—their smell and loud way of carrying themselves suggested they’d already had their share and more. The young men headed straight for the jukebox and fumbled with change along the way. The clang of coins on solid oak floorboards was barely detectable, but two eyes followed the glint of light each fat quarter and paper thin dime caught as they fell to the floor. Each coin reminded the old man of shooting stars, and wishes that had never bothered coming true.

Loud songs came out of the jukebox not long after the young men made their selections and headed to the long skinny bar. They walked up, tried to out order each other, as if the liquor they ordered gave proof to their being more manly than the other. Old eyes watched them from the corner, sizing them up, putting each careful tick of their drunken idiot movement away to some special part of a long and well worn memory.

The music became deafening, screaming out ugly anthems of new generations and the old man found his own headphones almost inadequate to compete with it. He twirled the dial on his old walkman and cranked good old Hank Williams as high as he could. The old man grinned a little possum grin as he found himself slipping away to a long ago youth he himself once had, and a girl with blue eyes and the prettiest blonde locks he’d ever seen. They’d danced often to this very tune, using the loneliness of the music as justification to cling tighter than ever to one another. But summers pass away, and golden locks turn gray, blue eyes dim to ugly ashen familiarity and they too soon vanish from the earth. The old man’s grin slipped off his face, giving birth instead to a slight tremor in one hand a big plop of tear down one cheek.

He made one fatal error. He closed his eyes and lowered his guard. Just one moment is all it took. But in life, chaos only requires a single unwatched moment to slip in and bring hell with it.


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