Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mirror Lists

We've all done it, all of guilty at one point or another, of that most glaring and unavoidable crime of having our characters mirror gaze.

The "dirty-public-restroom selfie"

It usually goes something like this:

Amanda strolled through the hall with a hop in her step, turning the corner and catching sight of herself in the mirror: her long strawberry blonde hair falling down across her thin shoulders, light freckles sprinkled across her pale face and framing her fiery honey eyes.

This is a moment in the prose borne only to familiarize the reader with how the character looks; a chance to list out his or her physical traits in a quick and compact fashion so as to get on with the great business of storytelling.

And mirrors offer up such temptation, for many of us see them everyday in our lives, when we prepare ourselves for work and school and going out, whenever we go to the bathroom, whenever we are feeling unsure of our appearance. It's easy enough to simply have our characters nonchalantly stroll by a conveniently-placed mirror, take a quick momentary glance, and commentate on how she or he looks (as many of us do) at that moment. Because, what reader would care about our characters if they couldn't know exactly what they looked like?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Waking Time: Part Three

Here at last the story reaches its conclusion. As always your comments and critiques are welcome. If you haven't already read Part One of Part Two, I strongly recommend doing so, as this part will not make much sense otherwise.

Above me the ceiling is cracking, I can see where the seams meet and where they break and a bright light is shining through. This is the end. I stand and I feel no pain, the blood is dried. Everything is a second too slow, every movement delayed and out of sync, the legs and arms belong to the body and not me and I can only tell them where to move. 

It is day now and the sun is coming up slowly over the rows of roofs. Still there is no movement in the house, no sound – another siren outside, distant though, lonely. This must be a dream. Otherwise, why would no one come to help me? Even my mother would, if she heard me, even if she is afraid, she would still come to help if she heard me fall to the floor, bang my head, like she did that day I crashed my bike into the tree across the street and bent the rim – she hugged and told me it would be alright, as long as I was not hurt she was not mad or sad.
I move and go through the door, I have no fear of the outside today. I want to see it. I move through the hallway and see all the walls and the ceilings and the floors coming apart, see the burning sunshine burst through, feel the air of the outside. The world disintegrates wherever I step, whatever I look to.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


To be honest, I don't particularly like to do research.

And by research, I mean the traditional idea of scouring over primary sources and stuffy texts in search of information. I don't like it because, well, at times it can be downright boring. And sometimes it can even seem unnecessary in relation to the realm of fiction. I mean, the idea is that we (creative writers) are the architects of worlds borne from our own deep wells of pure, distilled imagination...

That's all well and good of course. Imagination is key to our endeavors but, how far can it really get us?

Not very, as I see it.

Even the most immensely alien universes and unseemly far-reaching scenarios invented by the mind must have, somewhere, at its root, a basis in real-world experience or past-learned knowledge.  That is, a person who spent their entire life in barren room without access to literature or any type of media exposing the outside world would, I believe, have a very bland view of the universe (or at most a severely limited one). Maybe I'm wrong about this (as I have not done any specific research on the subject!!) but I do believe that the mind, especially the creative mind, needs to be fed information in one form or another in order to be used to its full potential.

Not only that, but when writing about a certain subject - let's say sword-forging - we owe it to our audience to write about the forging of swords with integrity and some knowledge, even if that knowledge was gained only just prior to the act of writing. It's really not the sort of thing that should be pulled, ham-fisted, from the depths of our behinds.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Waking Time: Part Two

Here is part two of (what has now become) a three-part story. Read part one first if you haven't yet had the chance. Enjoy!

“Nathaniel, may I call you Nathaniel?” asks the doctor, dressed in a dark suit and tie, smelling of something heavy and fragrant.
“Yes, that’s my name.”

“Nathaniel, my name is Doctor William Song.”
Another neurologist, or some sleepy time medicine man, another one here to tell me what it is that’s wrong with me, with my brain. He’s talking in a toneless stream of words I can hear but don’t listen to. Hypocretin, REM, neurotransmitters, reflex inhibition, the same words over and over every time and I sit staring blindly at the wall just beyond the man’s head.
“I hope you don’t mind, but I was observing your sleep before you woke up. Your mother said it would be alright.” The doctor smiles at me with crinkled eyes behind glasses. “She’s very worried you know; she's a very nice lady. I told her not to worry though. We’re going to find a way to control this, you and me.”
Control; I wonder if he’ll make this place go away, or if that’s even possible. I don’t ask, I remember how well that went over when I asked the last one. My mother will bring in another to tell me I’m depressed, another to tell me that I have so much to live for, another to ask me if my father ever touched me at night while I lay in bed.  And then yet another will come that wants me to explain what happens when I close my eyes, to divulge and expose my island and to hear me name you, to hear me describe your face and your form and your hair and your voice, to have me strip you naked until you are left fleshless. So I only nod now, the sooner he stops talking the sooner I can return. I’m needed there, not only by you but by everyone.
Doctor Song will write down words on a paper, pills to take, stimulants, things that make me stay here for too long, for days and for nights and for days. I won’t take them, only pretend when my mother watches from the half-opened door, swallow and hack up into the toilet later with a finger down my throat.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

For Love of Words or Paper

Anyone who knows anything about me as a writer, as an artist, knows that I am passionate about my creative output. And those same people may know that I can get a bit irate and downright ranty when it comes to the subject of artists creating with one hand while holding the other out in expectation of (supposedly well-deserved) monetary award. So I apologize to anyone who has heard from me these same gripes but I felt I needed to make one more definitive statement on the issue.

More and more, I am seeing writers who have taken up writing as a means of generating income and who view the craft as an easy and lucrative way to make ends meet and then some. Essentially, the story goes: writing was something they always enjoyed (as a hobby) throughout life, but now times are getting tough, jobs are scarce, and so they turn to the craft of the pen to scare up a few bucks with the help of the (swiftly expanding) world of self-epublishing.

Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with writers making money or getting paid for their work. Ideally, I too would like very much to one day be able to make a living off of what I love to do. And I take no issue either with those would write so-called "trashy" novels for quick and easy consumption. There is a place for these works as much as there is for dense volumes of literary fiction.

What irks me truly is this emphasis on making money. In my social media streams, I see more and more posts regarding ways that writers can hope to strike the most lucrative deals with literary agents or how to best sell to a specific audience. I am seeing a group of writers who seem to place the act of word-crafting into the backseat behind business strategies and self-marketing. It's now said that the modern writer must be invested in these affairs though if they are to get anywhere, if they are to become something, if they want to strike the next big movie deal.

It's been said that the days of Hemingway, of sitting locked in a room with only pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) as company, of carefully constructing an opus are long over. This act of painstaking creation (especially if one does not tweet about it) is no longer acceptable in this new digital age. We, as writers, must be quick, must be voracious, must be social and vocal with our reader base, must pump out "literature" that the public wants and do it often if we wish to stay relevant. And by relevant, they of course mean, get paid.

But, do we deserve to be paid? Or, is it our duty, as writers, to put the work first into producing truly great work that others will want to pay us for? I honestly find something immoral, artistically, in the act of seeking out what potential readers might want in their literature and then bending one's work to suit this want rather than creating something so unique and wonderful that readers will have no choice but to love it for what it is, regardless of their expectations or preconceived desires. And this journey, this long path to growing ourselves, to perfecting the craft, is one that should always be propelled by love of the word, love of story-telling, love of creating beauty through language, but never out of want (or worse, need) of eventually being compensated for services rendered.

Truly, I would be happy going my entire life without ever being paid to write a word as long as I were not reduced to shaping, conforming, rushing, or otherwise compromising my vision for the sake of satisfying the ever-fickle mainstream. And it is because I write for the love of the thing itself that I can say this with confidence. And as long as I have readers who can enjoy my work (however few that may be), I can be glad knowing that my work has provided at least a small amount of enjoyment. As artists, what more can we ask for?

Sorry again for those who have already read parts of this rant from me before, I will try to contain my disdain of things relating to this topic from now on.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Waking Time: Part One

This is part one of a two-part story. As always your comments and critiques are most welcome. Enjoy.

I am lying in a room with a cream-colored ceiling, an open window to my left, above my head. Outside it is sunny, a soft cool breeze fluttering the thin blue curtains and brushing against the dark hairs on my arm. I watch them wave with the moving air, convincing myself that I can feel the sensation against skin warming in the sun. The sudden urge to pee overcomes me and I must stand.
Walking is not fluid, steps like from inside a thick suit, missing parts, and I’m standing above the white, lifted seat, hand steadying my shaking body against a wall. I think of you. The two small rooms are bright with light, but it is tainted, dull, as if a film has been pasted across every surface. I stand by that open window and attempt to peel my eyes with my fingernails but there is too much pain for the attempt.
There are parts that don’t happen but do. At the door is a tray of food – an apple and bread with cheese and a thermos of cold water and a plastic container of homemade chili, beans and meat and still rising steam, the smell reminding me of something old – served with a rounded metal fork. I eat it all ravenously, my hunger waking up after the first few bites. There may be more food in a few hours, just before I wake up again. Until then I am stuck in this room, unwilling to leave it, unable to face the things outside it. I stare at the slow-moving street outside, the green and yellow yard and the sparse trees, always the same.
 I read a book, then a magazine. They are always in the room, the same ones on a shelf. I read the words and understand them but can’t remember them now, they form meanings and stories but little ones that seem so flat and unimportant. For a long time, I sit on the edge of the bed and stare into the ground, into the floor, studying the texture of the wood grain, the swirls in it. At last I feel tired, feel my eyes begin to droop, and I fall into the softness of the bed.