Simple Stories

I got to talking to my brother about the structure of The Force Awakens versus Star Wars: Rogue One today, and my complaint was that ROgue One jumped around too much and never got the thread of an emotional story, though it kind of played at it. When I watched it with my dad I could tell he was losing track at it jumping around in the beginning instead of telling a simple, personal story. Now, don't get me wrong, I sometimes like movies and books that are more ensemble pieces, and many TV shows do it very well. But for me, for myself, I'm trying to stick to simple, linear stories that more often than not focus on one or two characters primarily surrounded by secondary characters. 

Some of my favorite novels - Moby Dick, Madam Bovary, Holy Fire - are primary focused on just one viewpoint and a few characters. I don't know why I prefer that - I think maybe writing a novel is so difficult that I prefer keeping what I have to do as simple as possible, but like I also describe in this blog in the past, simplicity is one of my guiding principles when it comes to writing. 

I like to write stories that go from point A to B to C. Sometimes, I flashback to the pasts of the characters to explain how they got here, but I don't do things out of order, like, says, a Slaughter-House Five or a Pulp Fiction.  I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that kind of storytelling, in fact, it can be very effective. I'm just not personally interested in doing that in my writing. 

Why? I don't know. As I go further into my career I notice habits and rules I've adopted kind of without thought, maybe especially because I'm mostly self-taught and never went to school. When I was younger I experimented more with storytelling and structure, but now I like to keep my structure neat and tidy, but the story I'm telling and my characters a little insane. 

 

Atwood

I'm reading Margaret Atwood's (The Handmaid's Tale) book on writing and finding it very interesting. But she says something really interesting that struck me - that despite claims of Modernism, Post-Modernism, etc. we're actually experiencing the tail end of Romanticism. Now, I don't know a LOT about romanticism, but I've studied Modernism a lot. Atwood is an incredibly smart woman though, and I can accept she might know what she's talking about. Personally, as a big believer in pluralism, I love the modern age's niche oriented landscape for writing and books - if you want to write literary, there's a place for that; if you want to write about vampire espionage, there's a place for that; if you want to write Young Adult fantasy, there's a place for that, etc. I was arguing with my brother the other day, and I was saying this is the best time for writers and readers than any other time, but he had nostalgia goggles on and couldn't see it. THe simple fact is there's more people reading, and more people making a living as writers, as ever before. However, going back to Atwood, I can see what she's saying as most of our characters in our books are 'heroic' in one way or another, at least in how they see themselves. I think that's just the nature of how we human beings see ourselves these days. Maybe Atwood is right. But if we're still in Romanticism, and this is the tail end, what's next????

Rise of the Empathy Machines


I'm not afraid to write female characters. Or black characters. Or gay characters. Or Muslim unicorn accountant characters. I believe that a writer should be able to inhabit the soul of anyone, and write about it. Does that mean I do it well? Who knows! Who cares! Either way, I learn something, and maybe the reader does too.  

There's a quote by someone saying that books are empathy machines. I think this is true. Novels and fiction are one of the few ways we can ever really get a peak into the mind and soul of other people. We can watch people talk and take action on television, but we don't look into their minds. This is what fiction is for. 

If you look at history, you see the actions and words of people. But that is only a fraction of who we are. We live our lives in the interiors of our hearts and brains. People may experience our actions and words, but they may not understand them. We might know what happened in history, but we can only guess why.  Some people think history is the resulte of external causes and movements. I don't think so. History is people acting on their impulses and their judgments, and the resulting morass is our world. 

So through fiction we learn the minds and souls of others. And hopefully, gain an understanding into why other people do what they do, and what they're experiences are like, and how they are different than we are. 

My father thinks that children should study hard sciences and applicable skills in school. I think it's more important children are taught literature. Maybe if people could look outside themselves a bit, we would live in a better world. One can only hope. 

Efficiency

It wasn't until I read (and re-read) the work of French modernist Gustav Flaubert that I really came into my own style. Even translated into English, there is a an efficiency and elegance there
that really speaks to me. I continue to read his books, trying learn what I can from a true master. 

As I've said I'm also inspired by Wide Screen and decompression from comic books in the late 1990's and early 2000's. I like focusing on my characters thoughts, actions, and speech, and nothing else. I don't like opining too much, and prefer my stories to speak for themselves. Like a great musician, it's not what I'm playing what I'm not playing. I want the reader to make their own decisions. 

I have nothing against ornate writing, or stuff that tells rather than shows. In fact, I read a lot of stuff like that. It's just not what I want or am capable of doing with my infinitesmal attention span. 

Why I Write About Batman-Like Characters

for a couple reasons. FOr one thing, I see Bruce Wayne as Nietzsche's "Ubermensch", the superman, the ultimate human being. His superpower isn't money (Fuck SNyder) but his will, and his discipline over himself. HE is the anti-Hamlet - and while Hamlet is unable to act until it's too late, Bruce Wayne acts without hesitation, considering everything, but never doubting. So many people these days are helpless, cynical, nihilistic people who things there's no point in doing anything - Bruce Wayne is the opposite. Luckily, he has the immense wealth and power to actually do something.  

However, does he accomplish anything? That is the question. If we take his opposite, the random, anarchist Joker, whom he is locked in eternal combat with, and pit them against each other, their two concepts will battle until the end of time. 

A lot of people think Batman isn't the interesting character, but his villains are, or Bruce Wayne isn't interesting - but to me, Wayne is the ULTIMATE character, perhaps one of the most complex in modern mythology. He's just often not written very well. Same deal with Superman, but Batman is a little easier to write. 

Like Nietzsche said, it's all about will, and Wayne has the ultimate will. He makes the world around him - not just because of his wealth, but in his worldview, and in taking action where so few of us do. 

Writing about History

I am an innately curious person. I am fascinated by a great many things, especially history. I read books from the past, and new books about the past. It astonishes me how many people don't. It realy teaches you a lot about society and how for most of civilization's duration, people have been dealing with the same problems every generation. We leave monuments and ideas behind when we die, and new generations take them up, but most human dramas are the same as they were two thousand years ago. 

Specifically, I have been researching a few certain things. First, I've been reading Annie Proulx's "Barkskins," about a family of lumber traders over the course of a couple generations. Fascinating stuff. In addition, I have been doing research on the Byzantine empire, the Eastern Rome that has been mostly forgotten about by the West. This research is for a story I've been considering that tells the tale of the empire from the beginning to its end, through the eyes of a time traveller and his guide, a vampire. 

Now this is important: for my own work, I have a hard time writing about the past without having time travel being involved. I feel that the eyes that help narrate the story have to be from our own time, for it to make sense. I don't know why. 

Last year I finished a novella about a Batman-like character, who I call Night Shepherd, travelling back in time to try to save King Arthur. This story was perhaps a major landmark in my career, and I heavily researched it, reading about five or six Arthur books before I wrote it. Writing this was a revelation in more ways than one. 

I've also been thinking about doing a Viet Nam story, but again with the twist of time travel. I don't know why - I was just sitting there the other day and said to myself: I'm going to write a Viet Nam story. 

Anyway, maybe my technique of having time travel involved wil get more readers to understand my presentations of these periods of time. History is long. There have been many things that happened that people just forget and neglect. I don't understand it.  

Your Dream of Dark Angels

Today I wanted to discuss and describe my current project, "Your Dream of Dark Angels." I've nursed it for about five years, but I've decided to finally finish it if I can. 

The story imagines what it might be like for a young Bruce Wayne / Batman, here named "Lucas Watts" so to not interfere with DC Comics, and also to declare he's mostly my own creation. 

Lucas is fifteen when the story begins, in the angst of high school, and trying to find himself as a person and his place in the world with his unique heritage and situation. He wants to fix the world, but he doesn't know how - but he does believe no one else is willing or has the power to do it, and he DOES. 

In the beginning of the story, the father of one of his good friends at school is found dead, and while it is declared  suicide, Lucas isn't so sure, and thus the rest of the story begins. 

There's no caped crusader or batman or any "vigilante" that truly makes an appearance here. It is more Lucas's story rather than anything else, though when he goes on some adventures, he calls himself, "The Monstrous," a creature manufactured to strike fear in the hearts of those who do evil in one way or another. 

I mix in a lot of ideas into the soup of the story, with examinations of Hamlet (Lucas is the Anti-Hamlet), old Roman Skepticism, asceticism, the question of justice, etc. etc.

It's really an exciting project, and I'm not sure how long the final result will be, maybe 200 pages, I don't know. But it's certainly capturing my attention right now. 

My friend Gisella also did illustrations for it, one of which is above. It's a great project. :)

What HAS Snee Been Up To?

Well, for one thing, I finished my 178 page epic poem, "Evil Land," and polished it with my editor, Clare. Now I've submitted it to a couple contests out there. I'll self-publish it eventually if there are no takers, I just feel I oughtta try the old fashioned way for poetry. I have a couple other chapbooks out at contests too... I was really productive this winter, and I'm only now starting to realize it. 

Otherwise, I have been working on a top secret project - an interactive novel / story-driven video game. It's called "Forgetter".  

 

In it, you play as a ghost in the afterlife who has forgotten who you were when you were alive, and your quest during the game is to remember. I've been nursing this idea for about five years, and one day about a month ago, I said to hell with it, I'm doing it. 

A month of 16 hour days later, the game is almost finished. Still a lot of work left, but I've gone over the hill and its downhill from here. 

THe game is nonlinear, and you can explore however you like, and most of it is just conversing with strange characters who are also ghosts as you try to solve your quest. It's quite cool!

I've attached some screenshots below for your perusal. I've done everything in this game myself, the images, the music, the story, the programming, everything. It's a lot of work!

 

amoeba.jpg

Meet Author Kenna McKinnon!!

Who’s your favorite author?

I have so many, but I would say that John Steinbeck, the American author of Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, is one of my favorites. I also love Alice Munro, the Canadian author – her book of short stories, A Bird in the House, was one of my high school required reading texts. Margaret Laurence may be my favorite author. My son once gave me a set of her books. The Prophet’s Camel Bell, nonfiction, and written during her stay in Africa with her engineer husband, is another of my favorites. Margaret Atwood also is excellent. Her prophetic book, The Handmaid’s Tale, has been made into a movie as well, I believe, but The Edible Woman is another I enjoyed, as well as Penelope, a modern retelling of the Odysseus story.

Which book or books have most informed you as a writer?

As a writer, I have been influenced by female literary writers and poets as well as the science fiction greats such as Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and so on. My father read these books and I was exposed to them at a young age. My son also liked the same sort of traditional science fiction. Greg Bear’s book Eon and William Gibson as an author also informed me as a writer, I believe. That doesn’t really answer your question, but the most influential book as a writer may have been a little known and short book I read about 40 years ago called Journey to Arcturus. The Anne of Green Gables books also influenced me as a young girl, and Emily of New Moon. So many.

When did you realize you wanted to write?

Ever since I can remember. I was able to print little poems and stories when I was about five and started then, and before that, I’d entertain my brothers and sister with stories I’d tell them before bedtime or on the way to school. All I ever wanted to be was a writer as a young girl, and thought that a journalist would be a worthy occupation. However, I didn’t follow that career path and wasn’t published until fairly recently.

What was your last completed project?

A paranormal/fantasy book called Den of Dark Angels. It’s a collection of three novellas now published by Creativia.

What are you working on now?

My WIP is an adult fantasy called Engaging the Dragon. A sort of an adult fairytale, set on an alien planet, complete with dragons and a princess, and a handsome prince.

What is your writing “process” typically like?

I am very unorganized in my writing and often write for long hours late at night, or go for several weeks or even months without writing. I write at a PC, not a laptop, by a window where I have my desk set up. Sometimes I listen to music. I’m quite a fast typist but will write out scenes in longhand on yellow lined paper if I’m stuck for a scene or something that comes to me quickly, for example, in the night, and I want to get it down. I’ve begun to make outlines though I don’t usually write the synopsis until the book or story is finished. I make notes and do research on line or sometimes glean from real life what I want to describe, but I use my imagination more than facts as I often write fantasy or SF, though a reader gave SpaceHive 2 stars at one time because of factual errors. I’ll sit down with a cup of tea and don’t set aside any specific length of time to write. I write from an outline now more than I used to. Sometimes I’m quite prolific.

How do you combat writer’s block?

I seldom have writer’s block but when I do, I simply write nonsense or a lot of swear words to get me going, and make sure it’s all typed down and then it sort of automatically goes into writing mode and I can break the writer’s block. But writer’s block doesn’t happen often, I suppose because I don’t have concrete times to write. If I don’t feel like writing I often don’t. I’ll go out for walks, too, listen to music, or a really good method is to read someone else’s book in the same or a different genre.

Where do your ideas come from?

My head and my life experience, reading, talking to people, I don’t think any authors have a dearth of ideas. They are always there.

What’s your greatest challenge as a writer?

Making time to market my books and stories. I just am a complete suck at promotion, though I’m making a real effort lately to get in the game.

And what has been your greatest triumph (so far)?

Being accepted by a small press after working with the publisher on an idea for my first novel, SpaceHive, which was originally written after a friend was stung by wasps in her garden. I began to wonder, what if they were huge alien wasps out to conquer Earth, and someone was immune to the stings, and the book evolved from there. I approached the publisher with the draft and she had had a dream the night before about bees, so was more interested in my concept, I think, because of the dream and it was coincidental that it should happen then. That was the first book I’d had accepted, and it was while I was still in my sixties or late fifties. It has since been republished by Creativia. I initially called it The Jive Hive. My original publisher suggested a name change.

 

Thanks Kenna!!!

How Fan-Fiction Saved My Writing

For years I tried to make a dent in the fickle and derivative indie lit scene. My mistake was trying to write stories that hadn't been written before, and mostly using pre-created characters, celebrities, and myths. It was a weird dichotomy. I wrote about sports stars, Big Bird, Cobra Commander, Dolph Lundgren movies, Transformers having sex with each other, and crack-addicted homosexual video game characters. 

Nobody cared. I was trying to do something new, but in the scene's defense, my stories weren't very good.  I wrote perhaps twenty bad stories, and finally gave up. I went back to novels for a while. Even now, I have a problem writing something less than 80 pages or so - I like the middle-sized form of novels and novellas rather than big books or shorts. 

I couldn't find myself as a writer. I had definite ideas, but I didn't know how to realize them. Most of all, I didn't know how to write my stuff because I didn't know how to be me, or what that meant. 

But around 2013 I had a breakthrough. I was thinking about Batman a lot, and lo and behold, a strange idea came into my head: Batman as time traveller, sent back to rescue King Arthur. It's a totally nutso idea, and I loved it immediately.

Not only could I write about a character I was obsessed with, without having to say anything "literary", but I was also able to research the Arthurian myth to do so, and I LOVE research. I must have read five or six King Arthur books to write that 80 page story. 

Ultimately, I spun my own version of Batman, and my own version of King Arthur, a potent combination that still thrills me. 

But most importantly, I found who I really am as a writer. I don't know how - but for some reason, this story marked a new level in my writing. It is so pure, intense writing, absent of the desire to impress anyone but myself. That was a big milestone. 

The story is called "Paladin of Gotham," and I have since reconfigured it so it doesn't use the "Batman" name or accoutrements, and now has a character named "Night Shepherd" instead. Now it is truly mine. 

But I found myself through fan fiction, whether it was with those earlier, terrible stories, or finally with "Paladin of Gotham," that's how I taught myself how to be... me.  

Meet Author Susan-Alia Terry!!!

Who’s your favorite author?

I like a lot of authors, but Stephen King is probably my favorite, with Clive Barker a close second.

Which book or books have most informed you as a writer?

Probably The Books of Blood, The Great and Secret Show, and Imajica by Clive Barker. His ability to walk through different worlds is so amazing to me.

When did you realize you wanted to write?

After I completed my first National Writing Month. I did it on a whim and it was such a rush! Writing still is a rush!

What was your last completed project?

Coming Darkness (http://mybook.to/ComingDarkness) is my most recent release.

What are you working on now?

The follow-up to Coming Darkness. The plan is to complete the initial story and then branch out with stories within the universe.

What is your writing “process” typically like?

I start with an idea that expands as I begin to write. For instance in Coming Darkness the initial idea was of a Lucifer that had never been to hell. What does that look like? Who is he? Then it spirals out from there. Why hadn’t he been to hell? How did we humans learn a story about him that isn’t true? All the little components then attach themselves like pieces of a jigsaw. And like jigsaw pieces there’s bunches that seems to have no connections – those either fit into the current story or coalesce into another one.

How do you combat writer’s block?

Do not pass Go! Do not collect $200! Seriously, the best thing to do is redirect. For me that’s watch a movie, take a nap, play a video game, take a walk, etc. Anything that occupies my active, conscious mind and allows the story to simmer quietly in my subconscious. Forcing it never works. Either I write what I don’t want and have to delete, or I manage to write a paragraph of questionable usefulness while beating myself up the entire time. Redirecting is healthier and ultimately more productive.

Where do your ideas come from?

The ‘woo-woo’ answer is the Great Subconscious – the Great Collective. Every thought ever thought and yet to be thought. The material, practical answer I suppose could be my ability to ask fantastical questions, especially of things we already think we know the answers to.

What’s your greatest challenge as a writer?

To stop comparing myself to other writers, especially those whose talent I admire, but also those who are more successful than I am.

And what has been your greatest triumph (so far)?

Releasing my first book! Holding a physical copy of my first book – the culmination of years of effort  - has been the most amazing thing. I doubt I will ever get used to how wonderful that feels.

 

 

Thank you, Susan!!!

The Quest for Perfection

I was just reminded of a great quote: "Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."  

This is by Antoine de saint-Exupery, writer of the favorite little book, "The Little Prince," among other things. 

I think this is the quote I would try to teach most if I taught writing.  In the end, it's easy to add more and more to a novel. The writer's mind is always coming up with more stuff.  But when you're editing, and rewriting, the key comes to cutting stuff that's superfluous, and this is hard.  As Antoine says, the moment you achieve perfection is when you can no longer take anything out no matter what it is. 

Obviously, not all writers and all books need to follow this example. Bloated books like Stephen King's "It" and Melville's "Moby Dick" are among my favorite novels. But for myself, this mantra, of cutting, helps me realize what I want to realize without losing my goddamned mind. 

Let's Talk about Sex

Let's talk about sex. "The Year I Slept" is overflowing with sexuality and eroticism. For some people, this is not gonna work. But I stand by my decision to include it. I just felt when I was writing it I had to contrast all the death and despair and sorrow with happy, loving sex, to kind of keep things balanced.  Honestly, I can't imagine the novel without this eroticism. It just wouldn't make sense to me at this point. 

In comparison to a book like "50 Shades of Gray," the difference is obvious - the sex between Rowan and Emerson has a foundation of love, where "50 Shades" is not. The characters in "50 Shades" only care about what the other can give them, whether it's expensive gifts, or sexual domination. That Lin's relationship with Tim is kind of like "50 Shades" is no accident. And while I believe BDSM can be great between loving partners, it can also be horrendous for partners who don't love each other. 

Tim abuses Lin. Period. She might like it sometimes, but overall she is just so submissive and weak-willed that she lets Tim do whatever he wants with her, just so she can get out of her own head for a while. And while Tim never truly conquers Lin, he does leave her in a terrible state when they are done, and she is practically ruined. 

True love exists. This is the point of the novel. I'm reminded of a line from Bulgakov's masterpiece, "The Master and Margarita,": 

"Whoever told you true, everlasting love does not exist! May the despicable liar have his tongue cut out! Come with me dear reader, and only me, and I will show you that kind of love!"

Secondly, there is another quote, from Philip Glass's "Einstein on the Beach,":

"Everything must have an ending except for my love for you."

These quotes explain "The Year I Slept" in a way nothing else can. They are it's inspiration, its foundation, and its truth.  

 

Rowan and Lin

A friend of mine asked me why I chose to depict the character of Rowan on the cover of "The Year I Slept," rather than the character of Lin, who truly owns the book. Well, that wasn't always the idea. In fact, in my original imagining, I planned to depict Lin, and I even had the idea of somehow doing them both. But finally, it occurred to me that it would be best to depict Rowan by herself after all.  

Why? I think because, while the book mostly tells Lin's story, Rowan symbolizes the hope and anticipation for the future that I'm ultimately trying to convey through the book. Lin however symbolizes a lost past, while Rowan stands for a hopeful future. And that's what I thought was most important. 

I guess the cover could have been a lot of things, and conveyed a lot of things. But I am completely happy with the direction I went with, because Rowan, again, symbolizes the future, and love, and optimism, while depicting Lin, while it is her book, would have been a little less optimistic I think.  

So that's why I did it, basically.  

Create. Don't Imitate.

My advice for young (and old) writers is the same I'd give to anybody trying to do anything - be yourself. Don't try to imitate. No one will ever be the next _______. Write a book, or create something that only you, and no one else can create.  It's a great big sea of the same old shit out there, and the way to stand out is to be uniquely you - in a way no one else can be. 

What does this entail? First, sticking to your own sensibilities. Obviously, people might disagree with your artistic choices, and even your editor might fight with you on this or that - but never let go of the things your gut tells you not to let go. Be yourself. Write your story, and no one else's. And by that I'm not saying to do something biographical. I mean to write characters the way YOU would write them, not how other people would write them. 

Second, write books that you yourself would read. This is always how I have been when I compose music. I've alway sought to write/produce the music I wasn't hearing anywhere else, but wanted to hear, somewhere. Don't make what you think people would like, or try to be somebody else. Make what YOU like, and if you do it right, people will come along in time. 

We all have greatness inside us. Sometimes we just don't know how to get it out or what to do with it. Again, you gotta be yourself. Whether you want to be a trackstar or a writer, you have to completely focus on that dream and WORK HARD. You can't play at things if you want to create something truly great. 

Over the years I've seen a lot of artists abandon their work, as they grow up or have kids, or whatnot. And I realize while thinking back, few of them ever really worked at it anyway - they just played at art, and while some of them were quite talented, they didn't have that drive to really blow the roof off. 

You have to care about what you're doing. I wouldn't describe my mother as your typical artist, but she is, in her own way.  Her art is her garden, and she waters and prunes it and takes care of it every day. It is a wonderful site and experience to behold. But she doesn't play at it. She works at it, and that's how she makes something beautiful.  

Anyway, I just wanted to give everyone a pep talk (me included).