Posts Tagged ‘writing groups’

“What the hell are you talking about?” you ask, incredulous at the ridiculous and counter-intuitive title you just clicked.  Horror, especially the graphic sort, is a public menace that desensitizes us to negativity.  In the war between good and evil, positive and negative, light and dark, extreme fiction pulls us out of balance in a direction we should not tread.

This, my friends, is horse manure.

Like any other symbolic product, art that draws on the dark, the nasty, the gruesome, and the violent is received by different audience members in a variety of ways.  I know this because I have experienced horrific art in ways different than others assumed that I would. The idea that because I like something you see as negative means I glorify or support negativity is false.  Personally, I feel like I’ve taken positive lessons from extreme art.

By way of example, let me take you back to my teen years.  Yes, the dreaded 1980s.  Big hair, parachute pants, actual arcades.  The decade was awash in all kinds of subcultural sounds, from pre-Goth, depressing New Wave stuff to dudes in make-up party rock.  Me, I dug on thrash.  Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, and of course, Slayer.  You would be correct to assume, with names of that sort, that these bands didn’t exactly sing happy songs.  And as part of the subculture that worshiped these bands, I had many a devil and skull on my bedroom walls.  The thing was, I never took it as bad because I was never a bad person.

So imagine my surprise when one day, based on the Slayer tee I wore, I was accused of being a Nazi.  Turns out, a lot of people thought that the band glorified the Third Reich and supported their ideology.  And maybe they did.  There was certainly some Nazi imagery in the artwork the band chose.  The biggest reason people thought that, however, was because of one of the bands most popular songs, Angel of Death.  The song is about Josef Mengele, and approaches the notorious doctor by singing graphically about his gruesome medical experiments during the Holocaust.  The lyrics pull no punches. They are graphic and nasty. And they are likely in the realm of truth in depicting what this monster actually did.

Now, I freely admit that I did (and still do) really like this song.  The music is fast and the subject matter appeals to my sense of the macabre.  But, I never liked it because it glorified Mengele and the Nazis.  In fact, as gruesome as some of the lyrics were, they are actually presented in a value neutral sort of way.  They come off more as a list of facts.  When I heard the song, I never thought the band was holding Mengele up to be emulated.  I actually took the song to be on the side of the victims.  I took it as an illustration of horror and terror brought down on innocent people, and I tended to empathize with them.

The song sensitized me to the horrific.  The opposite of what many believe horror does.

That influence carries over into what I write today.  I choose, at times, to rub my readers faces in nastiness because I want them to feel it in a visceral way.  No doubt, sexual violence makes frequent appearances in what I write.  But I don’t write it for the purpose of titillation, though I’m aware a small percentage of readers will be titillated.  And I don’t write it just to shock.  I write it because it’s a prominent part of our culture and I want people to engage with it, understand it, and work to integrate the impulses that cause it.  I want to sensitize the reader to the horror a victim experiences so that they will empathize with them.  Hopefully that empathy becomes part of the way they approach the world.  And, I want to sensitize the reader to the darkness that might lead someone to victimize someone in that way.  I want people to empathize with the perpetrator because he is us and he won’t go away by ignoring him. Perhaps that sensitivity will lead to solutions.

Does graphic horror desensitize?  In a world where drone strikes are discussed as body counts and dead innocents are referred to as collateral damage, I think maybe we’d be more sensitive if our noses were rubbed in the smell of burned fleshed and the gore of shattered bodies a little more often.  Go watch graphic scenes of torture in films like Hostel or Martyrs and see if you can still stomach the idea of “enhanced interrogation” or still think it’s okay to farm out information gathering to nations with less restrictive rules.  Irreversible does not make me want to victimize women.  It makes me, by engaging my primal emotions, want to resist their victimization.

So go on out there and fight desensitization.  Get elbow deep in the gutter.  Imagine the out of control.  Empathize with the light by entering the darkness.  Write some extreme fiction.  It can be a public service.

I’m a nice guy. I like fuzzy critters, love my wife, and get all squishy when I think of my first child who is on the way. I can watch a Disney flick and feel uplifted or a comedy and laugh. Friends are awesome, and I live for a good hug.

But I have a dark side.

Despite my sweet disposition, I’ve always been pulled toward the shadowy, lurid, and nasty in literature. Don’t ask me where my fascination with the horrific comes from because I can’t tell you. I do know it’s been there as long as I can remember. My favorite book as a child, the one that now haunts me in implication, was an obscure Dr. Seuss with a melodramatic black and red cover. The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins is a simple story really. A poor boy in a long ago kingdom must remove his hat in respect for the king. Unfortunately, every time he takes his hat off another appears on his head. Well, there’s a serious downside for young Bartholomew. People who don’t remove their hats for the king get their heads chopped off. Green Eggs and Ham it ain’t. Why was I drawn to such a dark tale? I don’t know. My attraction just is.

Now, the biggest problem with loving horror is that most people don’t. They wonder why you want to feel bad when you read. Or they think you perverse as they imagine you entertained by death and gore in the same way they are entertained by American Idol.  Being a horror junkie is right next to porn perv on many people’s list of, “What the heck is wrong with you?” It can really get a gorehound down.

With reading, it’s not a huge problem. Reading is private. Reading is safe. When I’m asked about the nature of the book in my hand, a simple, “It’s horror,” is enough to send the majority of folks on their way with just a vague feeling of unease. And if they stay? Well then, they’re probably my people. They’ll get why I keep a list of the best, most awful books I’ve ever read (Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door tops it, by the way). The point is, when reading there’s only minor risk of judgment.

Writing is a whole different animal.

Your writing marks you in a way that reading does not. The words on the page are yours. They are fed by your experience, cobbled together in your mind, depend on your fingers for their existence. Yours. And when people judge it, they point a finger squarely at you. When I present images of torn panties and severed heads, strangled pets and devoured infants, incestuous mothers and child beating babysitters, well, I’m forced to own them. And there is risk in that. People conflate artist and art. Sick art means a sick mind, and illness makes many close the door. When I present my work I tend to wonder, “What must they think of me?”

But here’s the thing. Not everyone sees the art as sick, twisted, and wrong. I’ve had the same depiction of sexual assault derided as disgusting fantasy and praised as aggressively feminist, and I’ve had the same gore soaked scene called excessive and tame.

And therein lies safety.

Art only belongs to the artist until the moment it’s released to the world. From that point on, it belongs to the audience. It doesn’t matter if I intended a tale of bloody infanticide to create rumination on the nature of evil or just to shock the hell out of people. Once the audience has it, the rumination is theirs, the shock is theirs, the judgment is theirs. If they think your work is brilliant it’s because it appeals to something in their head, their heart. Alternatively, it’s their sense of perversity that makes your story excessive, not your excess as an artist. People may be angry at your story and furious at you for writing it, but that affront is their responsibility. The writer generates. Interpretation belongs to the audience.

So, here’s my advice on the choice to write extreme fiction. Be a channel for the stories that choose you as parent and stay secure in your own sense of who you are and what you intend. If you think you’re the next Richard Laymon, go for it. Forget about judgment. It’s out of your hands.

To quote Stephen King, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot, and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

I couldn’t agree more. It is through reading that we grasp how the written word brings other worlds to life. I think it’s safe to say that storytelling has existed just about as long as language has. Every time we tell someone about an experience we had, we are essentially telling them a story. Granted, they aren’t always good tales, but none-the-less, they are still stories.

In just over the last year, I’ve started listening to audiobooks while I work, since it doesn’t interfere with my job. It’s actually how I revisited Stephen King’s On Writing. But here’s the question. Does listening to an audiobook count as actually reading?

I say yes, and no. I think if you have a good grasp of how the written word is properly used, then yes, it can count. Maybe not wholly, but at least a fraction, say 1/3. I often find myself imagining that I’m reading the words as they’re spoken. I also say yes, because you’re exposing yourself to the art of storytelling. However, the reason I say no, is because even though I see the words in my mind, I don’t see the way they are on the actual page with all their punctuation and style. This is why if I have the print copy, and the opportunity, I occasionally like to follow along by reading while I listen.

One of the first audiobooks I listened to at work was The Road by Cormac McCarthy. The reason why I listened to the audiobook in the first place, was because I couldn’t stand the writing style employed in the print book, which doesn’t contain quotation marks, and with certain contractions, doesn’t include the apostrophe. I should note that this is intentional by McCarthy, and is part of his unique style which he employs in his other books as well. Many of which have been made into movies. Unfortunately for me, I find I dislike reading his works. However, I thoroughly enjoyed listening to The Road, as it is a great story. I will add though, that some liberties were taken with the wording in the audiobook version, as certain parts were changed so that it read easier.

In my own writing style, I tend to use a lot of commas. It’s my way of setting the pace and cadence of my writing. I know I don’t always follow the proper rules on the use of the comma, but I’m aware and acknowledged it. It’s my style, and, as much as I’m disheartened by the thought, I’m sure that there is someone out there who won’t like my style, just like I don’t like McCarthy’s.

It’s often been said when it comes to writing, that first you need to learn the rules, so that you can properly break them. Many authors have said this in some fashion or another, and even the Dalai Lama has a similar quotation attributed to him. I’ll admit, in high school, English wasn’t my favorite class. I just couldn’t seem to care what the difference was between a participial phrase and a prepositional phrase. My teachers always praised my writing, so I figured, what did it really matter if I didn’t know all the terms and their differentiation. But when I started taking my writing seriously, I realized that I needed to bone up on my English. I still don’t think you need to learn all the rules, as there are quite a lot of them, but I will admit learning the basics is essential, and any extra beyond that helps. This is where I think reading a lot comes in handy. The more you read, or even listen to audiobooks, the more you absorb how language is properly used. You subconsciously absorb what sounds and looks right on the page.

One of the main things I’ve come away with from being a part of this writing group, is seeing how others interpret my style while reading my works aloud. As a member of Stonehenge, when we submit our works for critique to the group, the author chooses one of our fellow writers, sometimes several, to read aloud what we’ve written. We do this in order to see, or rather, hear, how others interpret our written word. I find this to be extremely helpful.

So, even though my advice isn’t brand spanking new or even a good twist on an old theme, here it is. If you want to be a serious writer; write, read, and listen to audiobooks. And, learn how to properly use the English language so that you can improperly use it effectively.

Stephen King recommends the classic, The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I would add to that, A Pocket Style Manual by Diana Hacker. I will also add, that one of the many beauties of the internet, is that almost anything can be found online. If I feel something I’ve written just isn’t quite right, it generally only takes a minute or two of searching to find myself saying, “Doh, that’s what I meant to write.” There are a good number of grammar based sites out there on the web, but one that I find the most helpful is by Mignon Fogarty, AKA, Grammar Girl @ http://grammar.quickanddirtytips.com/

What makes Grammar Girl so great, at least in my opinion, is that it’s also a podcast, which means I get to work at two things at once.

So there you are. Now you have my not so sage advice  to being a writer.

P.S. Since this is a blog based on a writers group, I would feel amiss not to add another little bit of advice. Check out a writers group, at least a few times, and even few different ones. They aren’t all the same, and you may have a hard time finding one that fits you, but they can be beneficial. I will say though that they aren’t for every writer. As a matter of fact, some of my favorite authors are against such groups, believing that the cons outweigh the prose. Yes, that’s an intentional pun. But if you don’t ever give them a shot, how will you ever know? Unless you live rurally, I’m sure there’s one local, and if not, there’s plenty online. And if you’re in the Sacramento area, pop your head in some time.

This post is part of my ongoing series inspired by my revisiting Stephen King’s On Writing. To check out the rest, visit my personal blog @ rienreigns.wordpress.com

 

 

Writing, unlike other forms of art, allow the reader direct access to the soul of the writer. When viewing a painting or photograph, we may perceive a piece of emotion or desire, but it is limited by ambiguity and by our personal filters. This holds true for the written word, yet the reader has more to work with. It’s all there, on paper or the computer: the soul exposed. Even if a story is about a world non-existent, the characters are built upon by the experiences of the writer, and in doing so, the reader may decipher who a writer is.

This being true, for me, writing is extremely personal. I am an introvert. I do not easily share my innermost thoughts or emotions with strangers, and oh, how I relish in the anonymity of the digital world. But, to grow as a writer, I needed to find peers of the field.

So, I found Stonehenge. I have been with them for over a year now, and I have seen my writing grow; I would not be as strong as a writer without their help. Although I remain an introvert, always will, I have found comfort in sharing my self, my writing, and my worlds. I took a leap in the growth of a human being by pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.

This blog is the culmination of Stonehenge Writers pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone, as a group, and entering the digital aether to share our knowledge, our goals, and our questions to the world. I invite you, join us. Share in our journey, share in our souls, and share in our words. You may not live near us, but with the click of a mouse, we are bound only by miles to share thought and vision.

And now, I leave you with this tiny fragment of myself:

I ride
Past the sound an’ past the light
All is a blur of cosmic flight

It’s a shame there are so many of us writers and so few publishers…or are there?

In this mass-multi-media-mayhem of a world we thrive in, there have never been so many options.  Whether your goal is to publish traditionally, indie, or by any other means your creative mind can concoct, the world is at the whim of your will.

But, how do we get there?  Well, here’s the short answer.  Anybody can publish a book.  One click of your mouse can show you websites sleek enough to easily connect your story to the masses.

Here are some tougher questions.  Is self-publishing the best option?  How do we know when our writing is good enough?  And at what point should we stop editing?  How do we market?  Where and how do we find agents if self-publishing isn’t the goal?  And what is this elevator pitch/query letter/synopsis thing people always talk about?

Well, if you’ve read this far, are interested in our answers to these questions, or if these questions have fired new ones in the furnace of your mind, then read on.  We will explore every facet of writing our fingertips can click onto the page.  Have a question?  Good, we love discussions and debates.  Just remember to be respectful.

Stonehenge craves knowledge, so if you have something informative to offer, or a different perspective to pitch, please share.  The one thing I’ve come to understand is, the more I know, the more I realize I don’t know.  While the wealth of knowledge we carry is immense, we are always learning and adapting.  So click around.  Peruse our site.  You just might find an answer to that question burning in your mind.