Archive for July, 2010


The Beautiful People

This video is a classic example of someone who commits themselves utterly to their Art. It’s creepy as hell and it reminds me of a great Thomas Ligotti story.

It’s ironic that Brian Warner (a.k.a. Marilyn Manson) came along in the mid-90s and absolutely mastered the form, right as the form itself was dying. The Music Video really doesn’t matter anymore…or does it?

Has the internet and 24-hour “on demand” access made the music video a vital art form again? If that is the case, then surely the production values have gone down. In other words, they don’t make them like this one anymore. This video is like a miniature horror movie. Very effective…and it rocks. Play it loud.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ypkv0HeUvTc

“Capitalism has made it this way…old-fashioned Facism will take it away.”

Peace,

John

I have a new article up at the BLACK GATE web site that explores originality in writing fantasy fiction. Check it out at http://www.blackgate.com

So, I’m four chapters into my new novel, The Life and Dreams of Tall Eagle. It’s an attempt to blend historical fantasy with heroic fantasy. The protagonist is a Native American circa 1700. Chapter 1 was written in about three sessions, after months of research and contemplation. Chapter 2 was about the same speed. Then, the Author’s Momentum began kicking in…Chapter 3 was two sessions. Chapter 4, where the plot really kicks into a higher gear, I banged out in a single marathon session. It had been building all through the previous chapters, and it came pouring out of me in a raw explosion of seething narrative. This is what happens when you write a novel…you build up momentum…like a snowball rolling downhill your writing sessions get faster and more massive. The feeling of “I’m really getting somewhere here” is a good one.

Then Real Life intervenes.

I’m not at the stage yet where I can shut out society and survival demands and focus on nothing but my novel for three or four months. Even though I’m on summer vacation from my teaching job, there are still “stuff” I gotta do–responsibilities I can’t ignore. So every now and then you have to skip a day or two of writing, and BAM! there goes your momentum. You’ve got to “dive back in” and get your rhythm going again. But maybe that’s the way all novels are written…in a series of broken rhythms that link into a greater pattern.

These types of “breaks” or pauses in creativity happen naturally, usually at organic points in the story when you need to ponder something slated for the next chapter, or when the story itself throws you for a loop and sends you in a different direction. All chapters are not created equal, so to speak. Some chapters (or sequences) require more “time-out” deliberation and meditation before you can hammer them into existence on your keyboard. Other chapters flow effortlessly because you know what you need and you can’t wait to slam it out.

The shape of your story will usually tell you when it’s time to take a break from the keyboard and spend more time cultivating the seeds of your thought. And too, the deeper you get into a novel, the more intricate your “weaving” becomes…the better you get to know your characters and your world…the more you have to consider as you walk the path of completion chapter-by-chapter.

So, even though I lost momentum thanks to Real World responsibilities, I’m going to dive back into the deep waters of  my new novel-in-progress with a positive attitude. At least I got to hammer out the action-packed Chapter 4 before stopping. I can’t help but believe that it’s a GOOD thing to pause and “cool down” after such a breakneck chapter. A novel should have its own sense of pacing, its own “movements,” a series of passages that build their own rhythm, and the tempo SHOULD vary from scene to scene.

I don’t want to write a solid “blast” of one-note fiction…that might work for a short story…but this is a novel. It’s got to rise and subside like the tides, slow and build steam, arrive at a climactic moment, then resettle for the next “act.” Then build again, and again…like a waveform…until it reaches the Big Climax toward the end…the sequence that resolves the novel’s main concerns and sets the stage for its conclusion. 

So today I intend to ride that wave…find that new rhythm…dive back into that Sea of Words and catch a wave.

Peace!

John

UPDATE: I just finished the first draft of Chapter 5…wasn’t as difficult as I thought to recapture momentum! Unlike writing a brand-new short story, when doing the latest chapter of a novel you’re not under the burden of “starting from scratch.” Instead, you just keep the ball rolling…

It’s rolling!

Cheers,
John

Discovering the Unbeliever

I’m currently reading LORD FOUL’S BANE, the first book of Stephen R. Donaldson’s legendary trilogy The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant the Unbeliever. I know, I know–most people my age read this series back in the late 70s, the 80s, or during any decade since. I admit–I’m way late to this fantastic party. But that’s the beauty of great fiction–especially great fantasy–you can discover it years or decades or centuries after it’s released and it rocks your world.  And Donaldson is seriously rocking it with this series.

When I was in middle school a friend who was into fantasy recommended the book, and I tried to read it. I was big into LORD OF THE RINGS, CONAN THE BARBARIAN,  and THE MARTIAN TALES OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS, among others. But when my 7th-grade self popped open a copy of LORD FOUL’S BANE, it was simply…beyond me.

The prose must have been too sophisticated for my young brain…plus it didn’t help that the protagonist starts in the “real world” and it takes about three chapters before he is immersed in the fantasy world called The Land. I guess I ran out of patience…and that’s really not too terrible because now, at the age of 40,  I am discovering what some have called the “War and Peace of fantasy fiction” for the first time and man am I loving it.

It’s no wonder my younger self didn’t “click” with Donaldson’s main character, Thomas Covenant, in his first adventure. This is a thoroughly ADULT fantasy…the themes and the language were never intended for a Young Adult Audience, although many young adults enjoy the series. I look at it like this: My younger self gave my older self a present by ignoring this amazingly good feast of fantasy for later. I’m sure many a reader who read the series as a youngster read it again later and got much more out of it. How can a 12-year-old (as bright as some are) identify with poor Thomas Covenant, who is so beaten down and despised by the world that he is a literal outcast, his emotions atrophied, his self-confidence shattered, his very essence torn, tattered, and suffering?

Donaldson takes a man who is on the very lowest rung of society–a victim of leprosy–and plunges him into a fantasy world that is enchanting, vital, and deadly. I’m still in the first book of the series and I keep wondering if Covenent will ever accept that he’s no longer sick, that he’s got the White Gold Power, and that he’s not a total loser!

The first moment of shock and awe came for me when Covenant, believing himself caught in a strange dream where nothing is real, sexually assaults a teenage girl who does nothing but help him survive from the moment he arrives. I am absolutely AMAZED that Donaldson’s publishers let him keep that scene in the book…it is so powerful and so very wrong

Right away your sympathy for this protagonist is tested, challenged to the core, because he has done something reprehensible. Of course, Covenenant only experiences more self-revulsion and guilt becuase now he must live with his crime. Everyone he meets thinks he is the reincarnation of the great hero Berek Halfhand, but Covenant himself refuses to accept his obvious “wild magic” powers or his physical existence in the despoiled paradise that is The Land. At times I’m rooting for him, at other times I’m hoping he gets what is coming to him. This is brilliant writing, and it creates a fantasy world that is utterly charming and yet full of grey areas…it is not a simple tale of good folk versus evil folk. Perhaps there is symbolism in the naming of the book’s lead villain Lord Foul as “The Grey Slayer.”  Something to think about.

Besides the anti-heroic Thomas Covenant, the real beauty of the book is how Donaldson builds a fantasy world (The Land) that brims with benign magic and evokes the loveliness of nature itself (much as Tolkien did with Middle Earth). His peoples with their Lore of stone and wood magic are fascinating and complex in their emotional depth. His giants are links to the glorious legends of the past, which provide a subtext as gorgeous as the bits of Tolkien’s SILMARILLION that creep into LORD OF THE RINGS. It seems that Donaldson’s genius was in taking what Tolkien had done, twisting it, and filling it with the imperfections of human nature that make every character closer to modern humanity than Tolkien’s striding, lovable archetypes. Like The Land itself, the people who live in it are damaged, flawed, and sometimes utterly broken.

I will most likely post more thoughts on this classic series as I continue blazing through the books. I’m so very glad that I finally found my way back to Donaldson’s creation. I can’t wait to see where it takes me…

Peace!

John