Fahrenheit 2011

The books that the world calls immoral are the books that show the world its own shame – Oscar Wilde

September is Banned Book Month.

I have to confess that I never realized just how important it was while I was in high school.  I was lucky enough to attend a school where The Scarlet Letter was assigned reading along with Of Mice and Men and Lord of the Flies.  My English teacher lent me a copy of Catch-22 and suggested I read it for a book report.  I remember reading these books and never thinking twice about it.

I wrote a paper on censorship and never caught that many of the books on the banned list could be found in my high school library.  Looking back, I appreciated it.  When I was studying to be a high school English teacher, I emailed my former instructor and told him exactly how much I appreciated it.  It took courage for him to teach a curriculum that he knew may come under attack.

That courage is lacking many places.  I don’t fault the teachers.  Especially in this economy, it is a dangerous thing to stand up when the rest of your world is telling you to sit down.  Teachers have been fired for daring to teach certain books.  Generally, the argument is based on racial slurs, sex, or violence.  Oddly enough, high school students have been exposed to all of these things, even without the masterpieces that they were denied the pleasure of reading.  In spite of school districts’ best efforts, all of these things are still a part of high school life.

Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 in 1953.  He imagined a world that must have seemed ridiculous at the time.  It was a world where firemen burned books, people spent all their time with their mind-numbing “families” and rebels committed entire books to memory.  Montag was the unlikely hero, a man who suddenly realized what he had been missing.

As years have passed, I’ve become more and more frightened by Bradbury’s prophetic work.

Not long ago, the 3D television was released.  Now, with the right equipment, we can be surrounded by television worlds of our choosing.  Unfortunately, more and more of that television has been reduced to mind-numbing reality shows featuring dancing with D-list celebrities and people who call themselves The Situation.

In Bradbury’s world, the book burning starts with the simple tearing out of pages that each group found offensive.  Recently, a university professor decided to neuter Mark Twain’s classic on racial tension in order to make it more accessible to students and less offensive to school boards.

Then, there is this quote:  With school turning out more runners, jumpers, racers, tinkerers, grabbers, snatchers, fliers, and swimmers instead of examiners, critics, knowers, and imaginative creators, the word `intellectual,’ of course, became the swear word it deserved to be. You always dread the unfamiliar.

We, in fact, now live in a world where the arts are axed due to budget concerns, but every school has a football team.  State universities are cutting majors, while their affiliated athletic departments are thriving businesses, generating millions.  Academics has become the after-thought, the athletics the main attraction.

Recently, I was told there might be a move to remove literature from high schools.

I wonder what book I should start memorizing.

Fiction may be subjective, in many ways.  It may not be as test friendly as math or science, but it is just as important.  Fiction allows us to look critically at a subject from a new perspective.  It allows us to examine the darkest and brightest  aspects of our humanity through a different lens.  Fiction is about possibilities.  There was a time in this society when we were driven by possibilities.  We imagined where we could go next, and what it might mean to us.  I shudder to think of where we will end up without that.

Animals are content to live their lives based on survival.  Being human has always been more than that.  Since primitive man first drew on a wall or banged a drum, we have known there is more to this world than simple existence.  Math and science are survival tools.  The arts give us a reason to survive.

Literature lets us see the world as it was, through the perspective of a writer who lived it, rather than a scholar who judges it from a distance.  Literature lets us see how the world could be, good and bad.  A world without literature is a world without stories, without heroes.  A world without heroes has nothing left for which to strive.

Do I believe every student of every age should be able to read every book?  Of course not.  But, I guarantee you, our children see more offensive material in movies, music, and their real lives than you are going to find in any of the books on the banned list.  We aren’t trying to protect our children, we are trying to protect ourselves from the embarrassment of having to actually talk to our children.  Rather than discuss important things, we would rather pretend they didn’t exist.  Our children are not stupid.  They deserve better than that.  A generation who grows up without controversy is a generation ill-prepared for life.  Real life is never afraid to offend us.

If you have a high school kid who likes to read, I encourage you to expose him to some of the books on the banned list.  Read them yourself.  Discuss them.  Love them.  Share them.  Do it, before it is too late.

Jules Verne saw a world where men walked on the moon.  It happened.  William Gibson imagined a world were information flowed worldwide like water.  It came to pass.  Ray Bradbury saw a world without books ending in war.  Are you going to be able to outrun the hound?

This is a link to a list of frequently challenged books.  Find one you haven’t read and take it in.  Devour it.  Love it.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_most_commonly_challenged_books_in_the_United_States

What the Fire Consumed

A member of a writer’s group I’ve been attending suggested we all write a 140-character short story for Thaumatrope.  For those who don’t know about it, Thaumatrope is a Twitter-based magazine of flash fiction.  The character limit for Twitter is 140, thus, the guidelines.  You can check them out at http://thaumatrope.greententacles.com.  I wrote a stor, but  they are closed to submissions.

It’s a cool idea.  Create a story with a beginning, middle, and end and do it in 140 characters.  I am extremely interested in the mechanics of editing out needless words and phrases.  This forces you to do just that.  You cannot have anything taking up space that doesn’t accomplish an objective.  I’ve always liked flash fiction.  This is less a flash than a spark.

I thought I would post it here, since the idea I used originated from this blog.  In “Opening A Vein,” I gave some insight to how I sometimes generate story ideas.  You can find the original post here: http://jackcampbelljr.wordpress.com/2011/08/18/opening-a-vein/

Without further ado, “What the Fire Consumed.”  This story is based on a single phrase of the Sylvia Plath poem “On Looking Into The Eyes of a Demon Lover.”  Thanks for reading.  Feel free to try the 140 character story yourself.  Post it in the comments, if you like.  I would be interested to see your results.

From http://wordzeal.com/flash-fiction-write-better/

###

What the Fire Consumed

By

Jack Campbell, Jr.

The plungers descended; promised painless death.  A gallery of gawkers faded.   Consuming shadows crept, clawing for portions.  Soul-fueled pyres blazed.  They lied.

The Horror of 9/11

Ten years ago, the world changed.  9/11 is the most significant event of my generation.  With any luck, it will be  the last of it’s kind.  But I doubt it.  There has always been terror, and there have always been those who wield it.  Some, like myself and other writers, wield terror creatively, not to impose fear, but to face them.  In facing our fears, we find out who we are.  By looking into the shadows, we expose our personalities to the brightest lights.

The best horror has always been a reflection of society’s fears.  Vampires and werewolves were born out of superstition.  Other monsters, such as Frankenstein and Godzilla, were born out of science and nuclear war.  These days, we have no need of superstition, nor monsters.  Our fears lie waiting behind much more familiar doors.

Our greatest threat is human.  Humans are capable of far more destruction than any monster.  As we found ten years ago, our monsters may be anywhere and strike at any time.  We live in a world where a simple search on your computer may find pedophiles next door.  Mothers and fathers kill their children.  We are connected by the anonymous thread of the internet, never knowing who is on the other side.  Yet, we post everything about ourselves and our loved ones for all to see.  Meanwhile, there are those out there who would use that information to harm our children.

This is the world we live in, an age of enlightenment.  We know the capabilities of humankind, both good and bad.  9/11 was a reflection of that knowledge.

You may have seen the terrorists, at the airport, in their cars, out and about before the attacks.  They weren’t hiding in caves.  They were living among us.  They committed a horrible act that most of us could have never imagined would take place in the United States.  Two structures synonymous with our success toppled in a matter of minutes.  The horrified and hopeless jumped to their deaths.  Almost three thousand people died on that day.

But then, the most amazing thing happened.  People ran in to the collapsing buildings trying to save others.  Others dug through the wreckage looking for survivors.  A group of passengers on a hijacked plane said, “Let’s roll.” and showed the terrorists real strength. We came together as a nation, paid our respects, and healed.

We will never forget.  We saw our greatest fears come to life, but that isn’t what will be remembered.  We will remember the great strength shown  in its wake.  Today, we remember the heroes of 9/11, those who died and those who lived.  We remember the day we were thrust into the darkness and found our greatest light.  We remember where we were, how we felt, and how it changed everything.

Ten years ago, I was a journalism student, waking up to a phone call from my best friend.  He said, “Dude, we are under attack.”  I will remember that phone call for the rest of my life.  I will remember the heroic acts of those who refused to give in to fear.  I will remember their affect on me.  I will never forget.  I doubt you will, either.

Our fears make us human.  Our ability to overcome them makes us special.  God bless the heroes who that showed us that.

Thousands Died This Morning

I wrote this short story several years ago as an experiment with second-person viewpoint and a more lyrical prose style.  I thought I would post it since it took place on Sept. 11 and the tenth anniversary is coming up.  The concept was that while 9/11 was a great tragedy, individual tragedies continued to occur,  just as they always do.  This was published in Twenty 3 Magazine six years ago.  It was the first story I ever submitted, accepted to the first place I submitted it.  They spelled my name incorrectly–twice–in two different ways, and I didn’t get paid a cent.  I didn’t even get a contributor copy.  The magazine doesn’t even exist anymore.  Still I was very proud of it.  I hope you enjoy it.

Thousands Died This Morning

By

Jack Campbell, Jr.

Thousands died this morning.

You sit on the unforgiving asphalt, your hands stained crimson with the blood of your best friend.  You watch through your Everclear haze as paramedics load his broken body onto a gurney.  You’ve known him for all of your life, through skinned-knee afternoons, playground hijinks, and teenage angst-ridden romantic quests with the opposite sex.  But you wouldn’t know him now.  The concrete has grated his face unrecognizable, like cheese brick remnants that are about to go back into the fridge.   His shirt is a loosely-connected network of cloth, shredded by the torn steel of the Ford Pinto that is now decimated road kill wadded beneath the trailer of a semi.  The world moves in slow motion as your brain marinates in the liquid horror of reality.  Not one moment of grief followed by merciful denial, but eternal guilt beating down like the sun on an August afternoon, blistering your soul.   Frame by frame you gaze inward at the instant replay, powerless to stop the hideous carnage lurking around the curve, up the ramp of a now-blocked interstate.  You see a Nike high-top lying on the ground, unloved and forgotten.  You recognize it as Charlie’s.  The shoe is more familiar than your friend.  Somehow, the shoe makes it real.

It’s September 11th, 2001.

Thousands died just this morning.  You woke up with the Everclear bottle still resting in your hands from the night before.  Three hours of sleep had failed to clear your swimming head.  A gulp of grain alcohol killed any bit of slumber-achieved sobriety as you stumbled to television’s glowing facade.

“Charlie,” you slurred to your sleeping friend.  “Get a load of this…movie sucks…so fake.  Charlie, where’s the goddamn remote?”

Charlie was lying practically on top of a passed-out girl that you recognize from your Biology class.  Her make-up was a Picasso-esque smear.  Images of her shirtless tango atop the kitchen table crept into your head, but soon fled from your alcohol-drenched brain, leaving you with nothing but a vague shadow of a memory, blackened by.  You poured a little alcohol on Charlie’s face to wake him up.  He sputtered and choked, fighting off the assault of the lukewarm liquor spreading quickly over his face.

“Damn…dude.  That’s alcohol abuse.  What a waste…” Charlie mumbles before retreating back to his huddled position, face buried in the girl’s back.

“Man, where’s the remote?  Gotta be somethin’ better than this…”

Charlie waved off towards the wooden bar that you and he salvaged from a dumpster in back of an apartment complex.  In the midst of spilt liquid and cigarette butts lying on a paper plate ashtray, you found the remote under the pile of beer cans.  You shake the remote dry, and, with the press of a button, the grainy poorly produced production of burning buildings and crashing planes backed by the screams of innocents was replaced by the third showing of The Matrix you had seen this week.

Morpheus sat in front of Neo; offering the bliss of ignorance in one hand, and bitter bite of reality in the other.  Which pill would you take?

Thousands died this morning.  It made no difference to you.  It wasn’t real.  It wasn’t the truth.  It was simply an illusion created by the cable company.  It was simply a mirage, a distorted reflection in your drink.  You finished off your bottle.

The Matrix has you.

Charlie had returned from the bathroom.  You never even noticed that he got up.  Your ears are deafened by your drunkenness.  Your eyes are unfocused and bloodshot in protest to your drunken dehydration.

“Dude, we’re fresh out of TP,” he said, “Road trip?”

“A’ight.”

Thousands died this morning.  But as you worked with Charlie in a dormitory restroom at the local college, you chuckled uncontrollably as you struggled to fight away intoxication long enough to pry the toilet paper dispenser off the heavily-vandalized stall wall.

“Hey!  Stop!” the janitor cried as Charlie shoved by him in the narrow hallway, carrying a two-foot wide roll of toilet paper under his arm like a football, stopping momentarily to strike the Heisman pose before darting though the stairwell door..  You were hot on his heels, a drunken cackle erupting from your innards

In the car, success was on your tongues, and beer was on your lips in toast of your victory.  You clinked your bottles together in honor of eternal friendship and big-ass rolls of toilet paper.

“Man, you are so fucking crazy,” you said.  “I wish I had a camera.”  You struck the Heisman pose in imitation of your friend, a true feat while driving in a cramped car.

“It was a moment of inspiration,” Charlie remarked.  “I wish I’d straight-armed the janitor.  Now that would have been a Kodak moment.”  Charlie took a swig of his beer.

“Dude, you and your Bud Light.  You’re a hundred pounds.  Who are you kidding?”

“Ha, ha.  One hundred pounds, my ass.  Or maybe one hundred pounds YOUR ass,” Charlie said before finishing off his beer.

You laughed as Charlie meticulously peeled the label off the bottle for his wall-mounted collection, in spite of the bumpy ride.  You gulped the remnants of your beer down, grimacing at the bitterness nipping at your throat, then grinning as the alcohol bloomed a warm welcome within your stomach.  The comfort of that beer stayed with you right up till the moment you merged onto Highway 37, and then into the side of a Coca-Cola delivery semi.

Thousands died this morning.  But you only killed one.  As the death count on the east coast continues to rise, a count of one ravages you with its finality.  One.  Killed not in the name of jihad, but of Budweiser.  One who did not die storming a cockpit to save his fellow man, but asleep in a drunken coma clutching a roll of single-ply like a child’s teddy-bear.  One who was not killed by the hatred of a man he had never known, but by a friend with whom he’d spent most of his life.

The paramedics load Charlie into the ambulance en route to the hospital where the doctors and their machines will attempt to breathe machine life into his dead body.  But you know that he is dead.  You know it the way that the old men in town know it’s going to rain.  You can feel it in your bones.  You can smell Charlie’s death in the air, the copper smell of your friend’s blood.   Though you are still drunk, you’ve never felt more sober in your entire life.

The paramedics turn their attention to you, but miraculously, you have been unharmed.  There is not a scratch on your body.  Inside, though, your mind is as mangled as the Ford Pinto that you had been driving since you were seventeen.  The paramedics will take you to the hospital, tests will be run, and when they are done with you, the police will get their turn.

They will have their questions, and you will give them their answers.  And then you will live.  You will live as payment of debt for the life you were responsible for ending.

Thousands died today, but you will live, alone and guilty, for all of your life.

Truths of the Group Mind

I recently went to a couple of writer’s groups.  I have not had my work actively critiqued by another writer since college, unless you count a couple rejection letters.

Writing groups are a very interesting place, and I had almost forgotten what they are like.  There are several truths about writing groups.  I am posting these in hopes of helping new writers to not be overwhelmed, and reminding established writers what it was like to be that newbie in the corner, wondering what to say.  These are the truths, as I see them:

1.  Nearly every group you go to will say they aren’t there to be nice and will be brutal to your work.  You, of course, being a writer, expect and demand this.  Publishers and editors aren’t always nice, either.  However, being brutal is easier and harder than you would expect.  It is easier, because criticism naturally comes easier than praise.  It is also harder, because you aren’t used to being critical of people in the first place.  Writer’s groups can be like bad marriages.  When you do something good, no one notices, and when you do something bad, it’s all they will talk about.

2.  There will never be enough time.  If you started a writing group session at 6 am and had the room till midnight, you would still start late and get kicked out by the janitor before you got a chance to tell Tammy exactly why you feel she has an unlikeable protagonist with a plot that lags towards the middle.  You’ll look at a clock and find out that even though you just got there, two hours have passed.  Maybe it is magic.

3.  There will always be several strong personalities in the group.  They will speak loudly and confidently.  They talk about semi-colons, themes that you didn’t know you ever wrote, and plot devices they just don’t understand.  They dominate the conversation, contradict what others say if they don’t agree, and always seem to know something.  Eventually, if you have enough writers together, this will breakdown into an all out argument.  Knives may be involved, possibly pistols at dawn.

4.  There will always be newer writers in the group who have never dealt with these sorts of personalities, and aren’t exactly sure how to handle them.   They will sit in their corner, nursing their coffee, beer, tea, or whatever.  They will cautiously speak when it is their turn, until someday they become one of the strong personalities named in truth 3.  They will sometimes let themselves get intimidated.  They shouldn’t.  Everyone else started out in the same place as they are in, and most of  the group aren’t any better, or more qualified, than they are.  Unless you are in one hell of a writer’s group, or live on a coast, most probably don’t make a living on their writing.  Take their criticism, try out some of the stuff they recommend, but don’t take it as gospel.  Unless you are a horror writer and your writing group consists of Stephen King, Clive Barker, John Saul, and Anne Rice.  You might listen to them.  They have been published.

5.  Your writing group can be the best thing for your writing.  Part of writing is reading critically.  Critiquing the work of others helps you learn to be a better writer.  You see what worked for them and what didn’t.  You see what others seem to like, and what they don’t.  Writing groups hold you accountable and give you a reason to write, if only so you have something for them to read.  Just don’t spend so much time in groups that you never actually get around to writing.  That is an unofficial truth.  Some members of writing groups are really more interested in the writer lifestyle.  You’ll recognize them.  They’ll talk a lot and you’ll never see them finish anything.

There you have it, my top five truths about writing groups.  In practice, writing groups can be awesome.  However, it is easy for a bully to poison the group.  For those of you who have been around, try to remember to point out what you like about someone’s work, and not just what you hate.  For newer writers, remember that you have spent your entire life reading.  You may not know the technical vocabulary, but you know when something works.  Don’t be afraid to express your opinions.

There are many types of writing groups that meet in many different formats.  These days, you could be a part of a writing group that is entirely online, but I like the face-to-face method.  It’s nice to know other writers exist in your area.  It also makes it easier to take the rapiers out to the parking lot, if needed.

Have fun and keep writing.

What are some other truths about writing groups?

Parenting in the Modern Age

A couple of weeks ago, I read a Freshly-Pressed blog on how our parents put us to shame in parenting.  Check it out, it is a good read.

http://mommabethyname.com/2011/08/05/why-our-parents-put-us-to-shame/

With all due respect to our parents, and particularly our grandparents, parenting is much harder in the modern age.  Parenting has changed a lot, but so has the world around us.  For example, if you go back to my father’s childhood.

My grandfather worked.  My grandmother didn’t.  They didn’t have internet, television, or even radio for quite a long time.  There were no babysitters, because my grandmother took care of her kids all the time.  They were involved in a couple of activities, probably through school or church.

My father worked, and so did my mother.  We didn’t have internet, but we did have television.  We had local and long distance phone service, rarely using the long-distance.  I had babysitters (normally, that same grandmother that raised my father).  I was involved in even more activities, all through school or church.

Fast forward to the current day.  I’ve seen figures that over 61 percent of families have two incomes.  If you also consider the percentage of marriages that end in divorce, and that single parent families obviously have to work, a large percentage of parents are working.  By 1993, a majority of families had two incomes, which means my generation’s parents were both working, so the option of staying with grandma or grandpa isn’t there.

A lot of us have internet, satellite television, cell phone service, and student loans, on top of a mortgage, car payments, and all that other cool stuff we just had to have.  Also, in 1955, a box of Oreo cookies was 39 cents.  In 2008 it was $4.29.  Obviously, inflation is involved, but cost of living has increased drastically.

Meanwhile, our kids now enjoy activities away from school and church.  They have dance, gymnastics, martial arts, private music lessons, club sports, and a million other things.  All of these activities cost money, both to participate and for supplies, which increases demand for money, and therefore the demand for work.  As a result, if you add it up honestly, our kids spend more time with teachers, coaches, friends, and babysitters than they do with us.

Some might say the answer is to get rid of the internet, cell phone, television, video games, all your hobbies, stop eating out, quit your secondary income job and go back to the old days.  If you are going to do that, you can stop reading.  For the rest of you, like me, who are still here (don’t worry, the others will be back the first time they miss Teen Mom re-runs or Monday Night Football), we have to find other answers.

It’s not easy these days.  Our parents and our grand-parents were, short of doing anything illegal, allowed to parent however they saw fit, for better or worse.  My grandma would have never had to worry about someone recording her spanking my dad on an iPhone.  Now we are bombarded on a daily basis with media about bad parents, philosophies on good parenting, and Dr. Phil episodes telling people they have done it incorrectly.  It’s no wonder the result has been for people NOT to parent.

I would like to say I have an answer, but all I can give is simple advice.  Stay involved.  With all of this stuff going on, it is easy to drop them off at various practices and lessons and not worry about them till you pick them up again.  Resist that urge.  You wouldn’t drop off your child with a total stranger, but that is basically what we are doing.  Talk to the people in charge.  Get to know them.  If media reports have shown us anything, it is that pedophiles can be coaches and group leaders just as easily as anyone else.

It is easy in a busy world to become a “punishment parent” and make most of our involvement when our kids do something wrong.  Guard against that.  Let your kids know you see it when they do what they are told or do something well.  Don’t let the coaches, teachers, etc. have all of those moments.  If the only time you pay attention is when your kid does something he shouldn’t, he will do things he shouldn’t so you pay attention.  Meanwhile, all these other people have become a bigger influence on your children’s lives than you are.

Be sure to make time for your kids.  Make time to reward and support them, but also make time to discipline them.  Be strict, but be loving.  Let them know that you care about the things they love and support them in the things they try to accomplish.  Always be involved.  Know what they are doing on the internet.  Know what they are doing at school.  I know how their activities are going and be around for them.

In this busy world, time is the most valuable thing we have, and there never seems to be enough of it.  But, if you don’t make time for your kids, someone else will, and that someone may be a dangerous person.  If all you do is shuttle your kids around from activity to activity, you aren’t a parent, you are a day-planner with a driver’s license.

Most importantly, don’t let Dr. Phil and other things like him make you second guess yourself into parental paralysis.  According to Dr. Phil’s ex-wife, he was domineering, wouldn’t let her work outside the home, and made her lift weights to improve her bust-line.  His son married a Playboy model best known for posing nude in photos with her triplet sisters, despite Dr. Phil being very vocal against pornography.

Something tells me Dr. Phil didn’t have it all figured out, either.

It’s a new world, and we are all learning to parent a new way.  Keep your chin up, and I’ll see you out there.

Opening a Vein

“There is nothing to writing.  All you do is sit at a typewriter and open a vein.” – Red Smith

Writing can be difficult, especially knowing what to write.  I’ve been reading several blogs lately about ideas and the constant influx of them when you don’t need them, their apparent extinction when you do, and writing prompts to get them going.  After all, to steal a concept from Red Smith, we are going to be spilling our life out onto the blank page for all to see.

Everyone has seen the daily writing prompts that give you a vague scenario with which to run.  I’ve never been a fan of those.  To me, it feels like I am writing a story for someone else, rather than for me.  I’ll use one in a pinch, but I don’t feel those stories have been as successful for me.

I prefer using words to spark my writing, single words or phrases taken out of context.  My method is a variation of Ray Bradbury’s technique.  My understanding is that Ray Bradbury would sometimes have nothing but a title.  He would then sit down and write about that title as fast as he could, after all, he was writing on a coin-operated typewriter.  One of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories “There Will Come Soft Rains” actually comes from a poem by Sara Teasdale of the same title.  The poem itself was a definite inspiration for Bradbury, as both deal with a post-apocalyptic setting.

What I normally do is pick up a book of poetry and flip to a random page.  My favorites for this are Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, and others of that sort.  Pick someone who has a similar feeling of story to the ones you want to write.  I use these because my work tends to be a little bit dark sometimes, as was theirs.  From that random page, I pick a word or phrase that strikes me.  I’ll know when I see it.

As I wrote this, I found a random Plath poem.  “On Looking into the Eyes of a Demon Lover.”  Sounds promising.

Here are two pupils
whose moons of black
transform to cripples
all who look:

Right away, “moons of black” strikes me.  There has been a lot of mythology based on lunar cycles.  There are definite possibilities there.  Werewolf stories are a bit cliche, so you might think past that first thought, but ancient cultures hold a lot of rich information, as well as man’s inherent fear of the dark.  The appearance of stars moons and planets has been an obsession of mankind’s throughout history.

each lovely lady
who peers inside
take on the body
of a toad.

Within these mirrors
the world inverts:
the fond admirer’s
burning darts

“Within these mirrors” sounds great  Mirrors are a mysterious thing.  You look at them, and they look right back at you.  Mirrors could be used literally, or as a metaphor.  It opens a lot of possibilities about other realms, other words, what a person sees about themselves when they look into a mirror, and who knows what your reflection is doing when you are AREN’T looking at it.  Haven’t you ever felt that if you could just look quickly enough, you would catch that person in the mirror NOT mimicking your every move?

turn back to injure
the thrusting hand
and inflame to danger
the scarlet wound.

I sought my image
in the scorching glass,
for what fire could damage
a witch’s face?

So I stared in that furnace
where beauties char
but found radiant Venus
reflected there.

 Three strike me out of this last grouping.  “the scarlet wound,” “what fire could damage,” and “where beauties char.”  The scarlet wound brings up images of Hawthorne, but if  you look past it, out of context and think of what the color scarlet makes you feel, and how many different types of wounds there really are, you can probably get a nice short story out of it.

The other two deal with another inherent fear of humanity.  We rely on fire for our survival, but we have never learned to control it.  It’s like a wandering spirit.  We can try to contain it, but we still end up burning our houses down.  It goes where it is going to go, despite our persistent urgings to the contrary.  There are several metaphorical meanings of fire, as well as Hell itself.  There are bound to be ideas in there.

My next step would be to type those words at the top of the page.  I’ll develop a small, vague premise.  For example: A person at the end of their life reflects on their past sins and the unknown fate of their soul.  I am getting that from “What Fire Could Damage” and “Where Beauties Char.”

If you are saying that isn’t a very complex idea, you are right.  I’m a seat of the pants writer.  I have no idea what this story will be about, who will be in it, or how it will end.  That is the beauty of it.

I won’t know till I ask the character.  Is the person is young, old, male, female…alien?  What has this person done?  There are lots of levels of sin.  What is this person dying of?  Is the person ultimately saved, or condemned to the fires they feared?  Do they die, or do they live?  It will depend on who I find.

I could write that story four or five times and have them be totally different.You could get four or five premises out of the same quote by making different interpretations, and I latched on to five phrases in the poem.  This one poem could provide me with a dozen possible stories.  The key for me is looking at the phrases out of context and determining what they mean to me.

Best of all, these are my veins, not another person’s.  I am just using Plath’s words to help me find them.  (My suicide analogy paired with a poem from Plath, who committed suicide, was not intentional and not meant to offend anyone.)

Go get a book off your shelf and find yourself a story.  Poems are best for me because poets have to carefully choose every word.  If you don’t have poetry books, you can find entire poems online.

If it works for you, you’ll have another tool in your writer’s toolbox to fight writer’s block.  Good luck and keep writing.

Mirrors to Remind Ourselves

There is a quote in the movie Memento.  “We all need mirrors to remind ourselves who we are.”  I thought of that movie in relation to writing, just recently.

I was shocked to realize that I did not have a copy of any of my writing from my college creative writing courses on my laptop.  In a panic, I checked my USB drives.  No luck.  I’d erased all of them at one point or another for large files needed for work.  My desktop computer had recently decided it’s motherboard was of no use to it anymore, and in turn, was no use to me.

In a last ditch effort, I headed to the garage.  There, beneath the piles of corrugated cardboard boxes from Amazon that I always mean to recycle was my old laptop, which I had always meant to erase.

That laptop has a sort of sentimentality to me.  A majority of my writing has been done on that device.  Up until a year ago, it had been my faithful companion since 2002.  The case is worn, dark tarnished spots mark the perfect outline of where my palms rested on the keyboard.  There were keys missing, an unfortunate side effect of letting my son near it as a curious two year old.  The case was heavy, which what its only redeeming quality, since technology had rendered it nearly as useless as a paperweight.

But, booting it up…slowly…waiting…until…finally, there they where, copies of my work.  Not everything I had written, but a large chunk of it.  Catastrophe diverted.

I was shocked to find, going through the file names, that I didn’t remember writing many of them.  I could even tell you the premise of half of the stories.  I found myself thinking of Hemingway, whose wife Hadley lost all a suitcase full of his unpublished fiction.  Hemingway had been devastated, and blamed her for the loss.  I now understood how he felt.

I am not Hemingway, not even close, and I had no one to blame but my own carelessness, but opening one of the stories and reading a few paragraphs, I quickly realized that I could never have reproduced them.

I am a different person and a different writer.  I was Leonard from Memento, looking in the mirror at the words I had written, trying to remember what had made me put them there in the first place, trying to decode what they meant to me and why they had been important.  I have never been one for photo albums, I have never understood them.  I know where I have been and who I have met.  But looking at the writing was to remember who I had been.  They are the mirror I need to remember who I am.

We all need our metaphorical mirrors, whether they are photos, trophies, writing, collections, or simply fond memories.  We have to know where we have been if we are ever going to figure out where we are going.

I am looking forward to re-writing a few of the stories.  I have no doubt the re-writes will be drastically different than the first drafts, as there is a drastically different writer looking at them.  Still, it should be fun to look back on the young man I once was and see what the man I am today thinks of him.

Hopefully, they get along.

Lost Files by Peter Hoey

Writing:  Finished two short stories, re-writing two others.

Recently Read:  Strunk and White’s Elements of Style

Started Reading:  Vs. Reality by Blake Northcott

Recently Seen:  Super, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

The Rage of One Man

The rage of one man is nothing to fear.  It is generally pointless, aimless, and like a flash fire burning hot for moments, before burning itself out.  It is a smoldering cigarette, extinguished by mere chance, or the proper placement of a boot.

But sometimes, that smoldering cigarette catches fire to nearby grass or leaves, it spreads and spreads till you see entire California towns evacuated due to raging wildfires.  The same way, rage can spread from one man, to another, to another, and another.  The rage of two men can be dangerous, but is directed in a single direction.  The rage of many, like a wildfire, will consume everything around it.

Today, London is consumed by rage.  The heat has become so widespread, that few could probably tell you from where the initial spark came.  The problem with civil unrest, is that it’s victims are not the government, nor the authorities, nor any of the people who were in any way responsible for the unrest.  The victims are people, just like those whose rage has consumed them, just like the people who are now victimizing the innocent, just because they can.

Civil unrest made us what we are as a nation.  It is a great and powerful thing.  It molded us into the single most powerful democracy on the face of the Earth, but it has lost its way.  Not just in the U.S., but in London, as well.

I have been in a position to see a few riots, and to witness their aftermath.  What was once a means of expressing displeasure has become a means of causing senseless destruction and committing senseless thefts.  From the recent riots in Canada, sparked by the simple losing of a sport, to the current riots in London, which were at least partially sparked by a police shooting, as well as slashes in government spending.

I will make no judgements of who is right and wrong in those issues.  I was not there for the shooting, and I am not an economist.  Where I will make judgement is of the people who have used this unrest for the sake of looting stores and burning businesses to the ground.  Did the owner of a family business that had existed for generations pull the trigger than gunned down a man.  Of course not.  But they burned his business to the ground.  Did the manager of an electronics store slash government spending.  Not at all, yet it is his storefront that has been destroyed and his stock that has been stolen.

The riots will come to an end.  All rage, no matter how severe, eventually burns out, but the victims will still have been victimized.  Meanwhile, people who would never throw a brick through a storefront or steal high-priced sneakers on their own are in stores, taking whatever they can carry.  And tomorrow, when the riots are over, when they can no longer hide behind the name of social unrest, they will be simple thieves, minor criminals.

If by some chance, one reads this blog someday, on a laptop stolen in the name of some person they cared nothing about, or some budget cuts they really didn’t know about in the first place, I ask that person to look hard at themselves, then click to another page, because I don’t want you being part of my world, even the little piece that is this blog.

Rage, I will always understand, even if I don’t agree.  Parasitic scum, however, will never have my sympathy.

From Associated Press

 

Writing: 3000 words on a short story, re-writing past longer short for submission

Currently reading:  What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson, Strunk and White’s Essential Guide to Style, Burning Chrome by William Gibson, On Writing Horror by The Horror Writer’s Association

Recently finished: Starship Troopers by Robert Heinline.

Recently saw:  Middle Men

It all begins with a single word.

This is the beginning of my new blog, and hopefully a new commitment to my writing life.  Too often, I push aside my writing life.  It’s easy to do.  I push it aside to make money in my day job.  I push it aside out of guilt for not spending time with my family.  I push it aside out of nervousness and apprehension.  What if I don’t make it?  What if no one reads and no one cares?  Or even worse, what if they do?

There are so many reasons not to write, yet, it is all I think about, all I desire.  When you write, hours go by like minutes, words flow that you never knew you had.  You experience that bliss that comes from total release within that electric gray matter floating around in your skull.  I love the feeling of writing above nearly anything else, and it is time I embrace that more fully.

I don’t need to be Stephen King.  I don’t need millions of dollars.  All I need is one person, one individual soul to tell me that my work meant something to them, or barring that, just that they enjoyed reading it.  I miss that feeling.  The feeling of seeing your words in print, published by someone else, enjoyed by any who find it.

Thus, this blog, is hopefully the beginnings of a more complete site.    My plan is to post occasional short stories I have written, track my daily progress, and generally express any other thoughts as they come up.  I also generally read a few books at once, so I’ll keep tabs on that, as well.

Like everything, it all begins with a single word, which grows into a sentence, a paragraph, a thought.  Thoughts can entertain, change a life, or change the world.  But it always begins with a single word.

I don’t ask for the ability to change the world.  Just to write that first word and see what happens.

writing today: 950 words on a short story

reading:  Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, Burning Chrome by William Gibson, Starship Troopers by Robert Heinline, On Writing Horror by the Horror Writer’s Association.

recently read:  Write Good or Die by Various Writers, Stupid American History by Leland Gregory, Highland Martial Culture by Chistopher Scott Thompson

films recently seen:  Captain America, Horrible Bosses