Ode to October

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October.

Time to read

the stories of Ray Bradbury,

the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe,

and the novels of Daphne du Maurier.

October.

Time to watch anime like

Soul Eater,

Hellsing,

and Black Butler.

October.

Time to see TV shows like

Dark Shadows,

The Addams Family,

and The Twilight Zone.

October.

Time to revisit films like

Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder,

The Raven with Vincent Price,

and the work of Alfred Hitchcock.

October.

Time to listen to music by

The Rasmus, HiM,

and Nightwish.

October.

Time for sweaters, scarves, and hot soup,

for shadows, smoke,

and morning mist.

October.

Time to curl up under blankets

with cats and cups of hot chocolate

mixed with Baileys Irish Cream.

October.

Time that is in two places at once,

the month that is both eight and ten,

Julian and Gregorian.

October:

Time to celebrate the things that go bump in the night

and try, oh so convincingly, to pretend

we are not afraid of the dark.

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Okay, now that that is off my chest, we can get into the meat of this post.  Although I’ll admit that my entries have been a little lean lately.  Nearing the end of a project seems to slow my momentum rather than increase it.  But I did want to create a companion entry to “Page Counts, Words, Rosemary, and Time.”  “Page Counts” dealt with my own schedule and how I use daily word counts or time spent to move forward.  While writing that entry, I wondered if any other fantasy authors, or authors in general, did something similar.  Did any of them measure their progress by counting pages?  Or did they set aside specific blocks of time to work?  Or did they just write all day long?  I know each author has their own way of doing things, but I also like finding trends.

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Literature — Larger Than Life

I have been reading, which is always a dangerous thing.

No, really, reading is dangerous.  It challenges the twin conditions of Status Quo and Ignorance.  Which is probably why is has been encouraged to decline.  I do not know what the current literacy rates are, but I see what people check out in libraries, what students come slouching sullenly to the desk to request, hear the verbal banalities pour, not just from the mouths of other babes, but my own, and it makes me weep.

In case you have not noticed, I’ve been reading classic literature and essays by Ray Bradbury.  Both put me in a maudlin kind of mood where I hover between ecstasy and madness.  Because when I read them, if I’m lucky, I get the sensation that there are great truths hidden within them, sentences and paragraphs that resonate with me, but I have no means of expressing them.  The sheer abundance of creativity makes me want to simultaneously shout my joy to the heavens and slink back home and tear up the pages of my manuscripts that aren’t nearly as beautiful or insightful.  (So far I rarely express the former in public and I’ve resisted the urge to perform the latter.)

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Memory of a Master: Ray Bradbury

Last Tuesday, one of the most prolific and talented writers of speculative fiction died at the age of 91.  That writer was Ray Bradbury.  I call him an author of speculative fiction because his work can’t be defined strictly along the lines of sci-fi or fantasy or horror or mystery.  A lot of the time, his work is very like sci-fi.  There are spaceships and aliens and other worlds…but there’s something different.  Something almost…dreamlike, something vaguely Gaiman-esque about his tales.  Even though he predates Neil Gaiman, they share similar dream-states in their writing where things aren’t always what they seem and never what you would expect.

About a year ago, I was reading a book called Dwellers in the Mirage by A. Merritt and I told a friend:

“For some reason, books from the 1940s and 50s, the ones with the cheap, thin card-like covers and aged-tan pages and that tiny font that looks like Times New Roman but somehow subtly isn’t…they always give me a feeling of dreamlike detachment, like the book is a hallucination, or a flock of cleverly disguised birds about to fly away.”

The book responsible for this impression is my dad’s 1953 copy of Fahrenheit 451.  I don’t remember if this was the first Ray Bradbury book I ever read, or if it was just the first one I can remember reading.  I know there was a copy of The Martian Chronicles in the house that I read around the same time, but I suppose it doesn’t matter which came first.  I think I read Fahrenheit 451 when I was 9 or 10, years before I ended up reading it in middle school for English class.  I’ll admit that, at the time, I didn’t understand a lot of the subtly and finesse of the book, but I got the basic idea.  Fahrenheit 451 sparked my distrust of authority, public institutions, and the government.  The idea that a government would outlaw books and then burn those books along with anyone possessing them terrified me.  The idea of outlawing reading was unthinkable!  It also sparked my sometimes uncontrollable desire to hoard books, especially old ones, because you never know when they might just “disappear” from record.  I am fanatical about having hard copies of everything, thanks to Fahrenheit 451.  I still have the same copy I read all those years ago, and every now and then, I’ll flip through the pages and experience the wonder and fear again, as a reminder of the importance of the tangible.

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Prolific Penmasters

It’s ironic that the three writers I look up to the most are also some of the most prolific.  Mercedes Lackey has dozens upon dozens of novels.  Many are collaborations, but many are not, and even collaborating takes a great deal of time and effort.  Oddly enough, she started off as a writer of fanfiction and was a protegée of Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of the mistresses of sci-fi and fantasy.  J. Michael Straczynski writes for 10 hours a day, every day, except on his birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s.  He says, “If I don’t have an assignment, I’ll write a short story, I’ll write a spec script, I’ll write a novel. I just enjoy the hell out of it.”  Out of the 110 episodes comprising Babylon 5, he wrote the scripts for 92 of them, plus all of the movies.  Joss Whedon has created several cult classic television shows with some of the most unique and memorable mythologies and characters.  He worked on BuffyAngel, and Firefly as writer and director during the 2002-2003 television season, and said that he only feels his best when he’s writing:

“You know, I always get cranky when I’m not writing,” Joss admits.  “I’ll be mad and I don’t know why.  I just feel like I’m angry with everybody and I hate everything and life is a sham.  Then I’ll realize I haven’t written anything. And rewriting doesn’t count.  It has to be an original script” (Havens, 158).

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Everlasting Pulp

These are the reasons I love to read and still love the older, archaic pulp fiction stories…and my primary motivations for reading at all.  After watching Marvel’s The Avengers this weekend, and seeing all of the comic book characters coming to life on the silver screen recently, I thought this passage from the end of Richard A. Lupoff’s interesting book was rather apt:

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Onward and Upward

Being a writer is hard.

Heck, being any kind of artist is hard.  Writing, drawing, painting, sculpting, composing or playing music, dancing, costuming, the performing arts…all of these and a few I haven’t listed require time, training, and serious dedication to master.  Some people have inborn talent that lets them pick up art forms more easily than others.  Some appear to be good at everything with no effort at all.  But that lack of effort is an illusion and I’d say that 99% of any master who makes the work they do look easy have paid their tithe of blood, sweat, and tears.

While talent may give you an edge in some fields, most of it is acquired through long, careful study and vigorous practice.  No matter how much talent Nature has gifted you, if you don’t expand and refine that gift, it will go to waste or never reach its full potential.  Thanks to my mother’s side of the family, I have a decent amount of inborn talent for drawing and painting.  It’s not genius level, but I look and approach things from an artist’s point of view and can draw decently without a whole lot of training.  However, I could be a really good artist if I put my mind to it.

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To Write, You Must Read

One of the greatest and most basic rules of thumb in the world of writing is: “Write a story you would want to read.”
 
The next question is, “What kinds of stories do you enjoy reading?”
 
Once you’ve answered these two questions, your journey into the realm of writing has begun. And yet, so many writers seem to forget these basic questions. Too many get caught up what they think other people want them to write, or what other people want to read, or what kind of story formula will guarantee sales that will make them a multi-million-dollar success. If you start coming at stories from that angle these days, you are only sabotaging your own efforts. Your readers can tell when a story has heart and when it was written with calculation designed to draw them in. To an extent, every writer is trying to pull readers in, but the difference is this: are you trying to hook them because you think you have a good story to tell? Or are you trying to hook them for the money and popularity?

Accepting Criticism With Grace

No one likes criticism.  No one wants to hear that the paper or story or script that they spent days, weeks, months, even years slaving over is no good.  Or even that only parts of it are not good.  “Sorry, you missed the mark, try again.”

Rejection hurts.  Criticism hurts.  It’s like watching someone sucker-punch your infant child while having your fingers amputated because you aren’t worthy to be a writer and then having salt and alcohol slathered over those gaping, bleeding wounds.

Okay, I don’t think I’ve felt quite that extreme a reaction to criticism, but it is a lot like amputation and birth contractions, coming in waves with occasional sharp pangs that make you want to crawl into a hole and hide your face from the world forever.

But like the pain of a birth or an amputation, criticism is necessary in order for us to grow.

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The Appeal of Fantasy

What is your favorite genre?  What kind of story inspires you, intrigues you, appeals to you?  Do you seek the spine-tingling screams of Horror?  The alien worlds and high stakes of Science Fiction?  The head-scratching maze of Mystery?  The depth and realism of Historical Fiction?  The pounding pulses and happy endings of Romance?  (If you would like a full list of the main genres and sub-genres of fiction, I highly recommend reading “Writer’s Digest Sub-Genre Descriptions.”)

I think everyone has a favorite genre or kind of book or story that they seek out over the others.  Some people like a wide variety of books while others are very particular about what they read and specialize in only a few types of books.  Some even focus on only one kind.  I don’t think one way is better than the other, although it is good to be at least exposed to other works and genres even if you don’t read them on a regular basis.  My personal area of expertise is the wide-eyed wonder of Fantasy.

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