Wise words from G. K. Chesterton…
Monthly Archives: November 2013
2013 Book #30 – Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
Wow! Anyone out there who thinks that reading non-fiction is boring, you need to sit down and read a book like Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking! Brains are such amazing things, and the stuff I learned about my brain and the way it fits—or doesn’t fit—into modern American society is fascinating!
There was so much packed into this little book that I can only touch the tip of the iceberg.
from Stark Writing Crazy http://cjcasey.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/2013-book-30-quiet-the-power-of-introverts-in-a-world-that-cant-stop-talking-by-susan-cain/
The Abruptness of Storytelling
Interesting thoughts on storytelling and gear-shifting. — CJKC
Reblogged from The Unicorn Blues:
Lately I’ve been thinking about different ways you can tell a story, and how abrupt tonal shifts and/or endings shouldn’t always be considered flaws. No matter what kind of story you’re telling, it is somewhat going to echo life around you; life with its rapid tonal shifts and unexpected endings.
In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars the main character, Hazel, is obsessed with a book called An Imperial Affliction.
Why Writers Should Read
A poet friend of mine, who is very talented and skilled (those are two separate things, you know) recently posted an ‘Aside’ on her blog The 365 Poetry Project that was about how she didn’t read a lot of poetry. Some of the arguments she made were close to arguments I made about my own writing at one point of my life, so I came up with this response to her.
I’m not going to waste time talking about your writing… you already know what I like, and how much of it I like, and how I’m not afraid to tell you when I don’t think something quite works. And while I don’t think you’re quite as arrogant as you like to think you are (hmm, wonder if that’s its own special kind of arrogance) I do think you have at least the required amount of cockiness that is required to be able to think that total strangers will want to look at the stuff that comes out of your head.
I am going to address one thing in particular, though, something that you mentioned in your post and in other conversations that we’ve had. And while I’m going to keep the ‘back when I was a young writer’ talk to a minimum, I am going to say that two writing mentors I had gave me similar advice when I needed it. Both of these people… a woman who used to feature me reading at her open mics in San Francisco, and a sailor and writer I served with who was some 15 years older than me and who really pushed me from writing in a closed room to writing for the public… heard my arguments that I couldn’t or didn’t want to read a lot of other peoples’ poetry, I’ve since built on their arguments and while I don’t think I read as much as these two or some other readers do, I have managed to widen my spectrum and take in a lot more input.
Because that’s why you should read poetry. At the least, you should read writing, whether on the Internet or in the library or in your own library (or ask me nicely and I’ll lend some out to you… I have a shitload). But because you write poetry, and because you want to write poetry… especially because you want to write poetry, you should read it. Read contemporary poetry in magazines that you want to publish in. Read the classics; perhaps ask other writers which classic writers you could gain the most from reading. Read bad poetry (which you said you did) because that encourages you and makes you realise that your work isn’t all that bad. Read good poetry because that sense of having your soul peeled open and filled with the light of the universe that good poems engender will leave an even greater mark on a poet. It will give you something to strive for, to reach for. You need the bad writers to look at and think “I could do that” but you need the good perhaps even more to make you think “that’s what I want to do.”
Read poetry in the same way that you write, a certain set amount per day. I do this, and while I get criticised by other writers who say that I take the joy out of reading or some such codswallop, I have also read the better part of the Best American Poetry Series, which first came out a few years before you did… not to mention several of the epics by Keats and Browning and Wordsworth, the works of William Carlos William and Thomas Hardy. (Also the complete Remembrance of Things Past by Proust… twice… but that might be as much because I’m a masochist as well.) Currently, my bathroom book is The Collected Poems of Philip Larkin, and well, at the risk of being crude, I will point out the similarities between the time it takes to read a one- to two- page poem, and the time it takes for a good healthy crap. Poetry magazine is great for this as well.
But I read under other conditions as well… in parks, on buses, in my reading chair at home. When I get a new book of poetry, I set out to read five poems a day until it’s finished. Sometimes four, if they’re long, or six if they’re short, but never more. Poetry, if read properly, can be intense. Should be intense. And like really good food or good sex, it’s best to slow down, let your system digest it and process it, and give your brain a break. If I try and plunge straight through a book of poems, I get really tired of it after fifteen minutes or so. If I ration it, I can think about it critically, enjoy it, and take something from it as well, something I can use for my own work. When I started doing this, reading poetry as regularly as I wrote, I began finishing the masters and the contemporary writers. I also began writing better.
I haven’t yet said why you should read poetry. For this, I’m going to dip into the pool of metaphors, the pool of subconscious speech and imagery, the pool where we as writers go to pick out the phrases and images that we want to use for our writing. The actual pool itself is vast and inaccessible, seated at the top of a mountain and containing the wealth of human experience; those of us who try to climb and jump in risk insanity, death, or turning into a basket case. (Your humble corespondent may have climbed a little too close to this pool before.) Most writers and artists have little pools of their own on the slopes of this mountain, and when we are casting about for an idea to write, or we want to add to something we want to write, we reach into the pool and pull out a handful of inspiration. This is the feeling you get when your paper suddenly fills itself of its own accord, when you feel like your pen is going to ignite because you’re writing so fast, or in my case, when my Muse runs up excitedly from the pool into the basement writing studio we keep in my head and shouts “CJ! Look at this! We have to write about this! Now!”
When we first discover that we, as creators, have access to this pool, it’s easy to get lost in the joy of creation. It feel so wonderful, better than any other experiences we’ve had in our young adult lives, to pull these ideas seemingly out of nowhere and pour them on paper. But unfortunately, the water in these pools is cloudy and opaque, We can’t see the bottom until one day we reach in and scrape our knuckles on the rock.
Many writers give up at this point. It’s so easy to be locked in the moment, to think that it’s all gone, that it will never come back, that we had our time and now we just can’t write any more. The world of literature is filled with writers who wrote one or two amazing works of art… Harper Lee, Malcolm Lowry, James Agee, Margaret Mitchell, Arthur Rimbaud… and then stopped, never to write or publish again, or to die frustrated and blocked. Others start drinking or smoking or other drugs… all have the effect of zapping the brain artificially and briefly filling the pool with inspiration, but then their brains are too fried to apply craft to what they pull out.
The trick, the secret, is to walk up the mountain, or around the mountain, where the collected subconscious of Mankind runs down in rivulets, cascades, and sometimes waterfalls. Do this, carrying your cap or a bowl, and dip it in. Then go back to your own pool and empty it. Don’t carry it back to your typewriter or computer or notebook immediately; that’s a good way to write something extra-derivative. Let it mingle with your own ideas, your own subconscious. Let it form new worlds and new ideas. Then pull it out to work with it. This is essential… going to the works of others to recharge your own work. If you don’t, one day you will sit down to write and it will be as useful as trying to look out your elbow.
Of course, the main reason I read is because I love to read, and sometimes I’m pretty sure that I write in order to fuel my reading habits. The method I described up there is, I think, the best way to read poetry, especially long works of poetry. And it will add to your own repertoire. You’ll find a poet whose work speaks to you or enchants you, and a month or a year later, you’ll realise that it’s enriched your own writing. I agree with you about the frustration that can come from reading poetry sometimes, even when you like writing it. This is why I find it essential to dip into these works, not dive into them. I do the same with Victorian novels and Romantic-era writing… part of the reason is because that was how it was meant to be consumed, a couple of chapters or poems at a time every month until the serial is finished. The best wine is drunk a small glass at a time, not by the gallon.
Whatever you do, keep writing. I think reading more of the good poets will help your writing (as it helped my own) but that shouldn’t be a block to writing. You are doing some incredible work at your blog. Sometimes I think of what you were writing a year ago at this time, compare it to what you’re writing now, and I start to fantasize about what you’ll be writing in a year, or ten years. And it also makes me get off my tucchus and write more, myself.
Remember when those large media companies pushed for draconian fines for copyright violations?
I’m a big proponent of fair use especially when it comes to remixes, parodies, fan fiction, and other sorts of art. I’m also a big proponent of credit where credit is due. Even on this blog, I make sure that all of the pictures are credited and used properly. It’s not too hard in this day and age to contact a creator and get a simple permission when you’re a single blogger… let alone when you’re part of a corporation. I usually try not to indulge my schadenfreude but, come on, people.
Twitter Pics, Editor’s Nightmare, and Jury’s Ruling
Here Be Dragons: The 140,000 Word Outline
Reblogged from Bare Knuckle Writer:
Amazing words of encouragement and wisdom from what is becoming one of my new favourite writing blogs.
Special 50th Anniversary Feature
Today, 22 November 2013, is the 50th anniversary of the death of an important figure in 20th century history, especially amongst the English-speaking people. His work and writing has influenced countless people around the planet, and even today, the most pessimistic person cannot deny the effect he had on our culture. Whatever your religion, race, ethnicity, or political persuasion, chances are you’ve encountered the great works of this wonderful man, who died too soon, 50 years ago today.
Only 64 years old, one week shy of his birthday when he died, Clive Staples ‘Jack’ Lewis is still justifiably famous for his writing, especially his seven-volume fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, and his Christian apologetics. Long after I fell in love with his writing as a child (even cramming myself into the coat closet to read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe because somehow, at age 8, that just seemed right) I began to realize the effect he had on theology and philosophy, as well as children’s literature. One cannot understate the effect he had on children’s literature. Along with Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein and Judy Blume, he felt that it was possible to write for children without writing down to them, and this still shows in his writing. If you haven’t read at least the Narnia books, read them. Twice. (Though please for the Love of Aslan, read them in the published order, not the new series order. My first, memorable experience of the joys of a prequel came from his books, and the simple fact that children are robbed of this if they read them in the new order bothers me.)
I never read his Christian works, though, not until college. It wasn’t so much that I was anti-Christian, just that I was a rebellious teenager (there’s a redundant phrase for you) and had no interest in reading essays about God. It was enough that I was breaking stereotypes by never really growing out of children’s books, at least at the time. But at San Joachin Delta College in Stockton, California, I had a philosophy professor who was a very strict atheist, stopping just short of being one of the ‘Atheist Evangelists’ that populate a lot of Internet forums these days. Once, I went to his Office Hours and I saw that he had a bunch of his books in his office. When I asked him about it, he said “I consider him a worthy opponent.” The respect he said this with left a mark on me, and I had a second run-in with his essays and thought, making me fall in love with the guy’s writing all over again. And while I didn’t agree with a lot of his views (I’m a Jewish Taoist) his essays and arguments were so engrossing that I didn’t care. Mere Christianity is still one of my favourite books of religious philosophy.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read the entire Chronicles (five? seven?) or the individual books like The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader‘ (fifty? I’d slip into chapters of that book sometimes once a week just to re-experience its world) but I can still say that they never get old. And of course, the older I get, the more I realize the wonderful way he worked Christian symbolism into it. Most Christian allegories (read: pretty much every one I’ve ever read) are fairly heavy-handed… maybe a kid named Joshua is nice to everyone at his Dad’s autoshop, and after a few miraculous things happen, the bullies get together and beat him up, but he just smiles and lets them do it, or something like that, and they lay on the treacly syrup pretty thick. Lewis never fell into that trap. Oh sure, it’s pretty obvious that Aslan is a stand-in for Jesus, and parts of The Last Battle mirror Christian apocalyptic thinking. But that’s as far as it goes with direct sequences lifted from the Bible and other religious books. The rest of the symbolism is there if you look for it, but it doesn’t smack you in the face repeatedly, and if you don’t look for it or don’t care about it, your enjoyment of the story isn’t hindered at all. For example, in The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader:’
On the next page she came to a spell “for the refreshment of the spirit’. The pictures were fewer here but very beautiful. And what Lucy found herself reading was more like a story than a spell. It went on for three pages and before she had read to the bottom of the page she had forgotten that she was reading at all. She was living in the story as if it were real, and all the pictures were real too. When she had got to the third page and come to the end, she said, “That is the loveliest story I’ve ever read or ever shall read in my whole life. Oh, I wish I could have gone on reading it for ten years. At least I’ll read it over again.”
But here part of the magic of the Book came into play. You couldn’t turn back. The right-hand pages, the ones ahead, could be turned; the left-hand pages could not.
“Oh, what a shame!” said Lucy. “I did so want to read it again. Well, at least I must remember it. Let’s see . . . it was about . . . about . . . oh dear, it’s all fading away again.
And even this last page is going blank. This is a very queer book. How can I have forgotten? It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much. But I can’t remember and what shall I do?”
Later, of course, the last paragraph jumped out at me, but as a child (and as an adult when I’m just reading it for enjoyment) it’s just a nice bit of folklore-style storytelling. Or you can dig and realize that the cup could be the Grail, the tree the Cross, the hill Golgotha. But if you don’t know any of that, it’s still a fun part of the story and makes sense. (If you do it doesn’t smack you over the head, either.) The same goes for the harrowing scene underground in The Silver Chair when the Lady of the Green Kirtle is hypnotizing the heroes into thinking there’s no such thing as ‘above;’ everything they think comes from above is merely their imagination working on something ‘below.’ There’s a fairly obvious parallel there… and it’s also just a scene leading to the climax of a story where all hope is lost for the characters and they’re about to be betrayed by the antagonist.
These reasons are why I still love, admire, and respect his books, and why I recommend them to other writers. This is the way to work symbolism and allegory into a story, starting with the idea that you should work it into the story, not the other way around. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about Christianity, or Buddhism, or the Panic of 1819. Create your characters, write your story, and focus on having the characters resolve the story. Then go back and sprinkle on a little of this and a little of that. Flavour the story with an allegory or metaphor if you wish, but in small doses; too much can make the reader’s throat clench. The most important thing in any story is the story. You should be able to strip away any symbolism and, though the story would be hurt, it would still make sense.
I’m going to close with one more section from The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader‘, one that still haunts me. This has nothing to do with this article; I just like this piece of writing so I’m putting it in. This is from Chapter Twelve, ‘The Dark Island:’
Edmund thought he had never seen a wilder-looking man. Though he did not otherwise look very old, his hair was an untidy mop of white, his face was thin and drawn, and, for clothing, only a few wet rags hung about him. But what one mainly noticed were his eyes, which were so widely opened that he seemed to have no eyelids at all, and stared as if in an agony of pure fear. The moment his feet reached the deck he said:
“Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”
“Compose yourself,” said Reepicheep, “and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying.”
The stranger started horribly at the voice of the Mouse, which he had not noticed before.
“Nevertheless you will fly from here,” he gasped. “This is the Island where Dreams come true.”
“That’s the island I’ve been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I’d find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”
“And I’d find Tom alive again,” said another.
“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I’d better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams—dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”
That last three-word sentence is probably what turned me into a writer of haunting stories. I’ve been trying to recreate the jarring sense of ‘oh crap’ that hit me when I first read that book.
EDIT: I can’t close on that note. Here is a beautiful letter of his written to a young American fan and archived on the Letters of Note site.
Blogs/ Writers to look for
Eventually I’m going to have a blogroll at the side, but for now, I want to take time every Friday to list a few literary and writing sites that I enjoy. These are in no particular order; I don’t necessarily endorse everything they say, and in many cases, the writers probably have no clue who I am. They’re just blogs that I like to look at when I’m breaking from writing… whether in the sense of ‘taking a break’ or ‘becoming broken.’
I confess… I like his fiction, and I’m not trying to disparage it at all. But his blogging and non-fiction will forever occupy a place in my heart. A tiny, blackened, charred, obscene place, but a place nonetheless. His books of writing tips are shocking, funny, and just all-around great pieces of work.
Signore Mana and I connected a little while back, I think, because of some Sword-and-Sorcery articles I wrote for Way Too Fantasy. His blog is a wonderful repository of all things pulp fiction related, and has already pointed me to a few writers I may not have discovered. He also has a fun short on Amazon and hopefully more to come.
Not a personal blog, of course, and also one of the generally best sources of writing information, support, and entertainment. There are other subreddits based on what type of writing you’d like to do, but usually, a few minutes (okay… it’s reddit… a few hours) here give me the strength to keep going on one of my projects.
I tried to link to one of her articles yesterday, only to realize that it wasn’t her day to post on the Mad Genius Club blog. (Also, I realized the importance of having someone double-check your posts, and triple-check if you’re at home recovering from the first time you took a sick day in four-and-a-half years.) According to Hoyt is the blog that really pushed me over the edge into self-publishing (along with a lot of encouragement from June Stormcrow, also at Way Too Fantasy). She blogs about libertarian and conservative issues a lot as well and always puts things into pointed, sometimes biting language.
I’ll have more later, and if anyone has any recommendations, please drop a line. I’m still trying to feel my way around the new blog and would love to get input from other writers out there.
Kate Paulk: First, Remove Head from Fundamental Orifice
This is an amazing counter-rant by Kate Paulk, an author who, with Sarah Hoyt, has indirectly pushed me along the self-publishing path. Also, you can’t go wrong by following and reading this blog.
First, Remove Head from Funamental Orifice
EDIT: Speaking of removing one’s head, I initially attributed this to Sarah Hoyt, who blogs on Wednesdays at the Mad Genius Club, not Thursdays. Apparently, that’s what I get for posting while sick. Sorry!
More Storytime Thursday
So, you’ve already listened to the podcast from this morning, and you want more stories. Well… I’m here to tell ya, you’re in luck. I recently heard a rumour that there are people out there who have not only never seen the excellent UK stop-motion animation version of The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship, there are even people who are actually not familiar with this story, a shocker to me since I like this one so much I’m writing a serial based on it. Since witches have been known to curse people for lesser offenses, I’m here to remedy the situation. Below, I’ve left handy-dandy links to all five parts (about 60 minutes) of Cosgrove Hall’s production of this most excellent fairy tale.
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 1
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 2
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 3
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 4
The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship HD Part 5
Anyway, it might not be the usual surreal horror that I like to recommend, but it’s still one of my earliest influences. Russian and East European folktales captured my muse back when I was un piccolo bambino and I don’t ever plan on growing out of them.