Remember When Nothing Happened?

 

All done for the day.

It’s been a helluva week, so I’m sorry that I haven’t had time to respond to your thoughtful and thorough replies to my question last week.  I did read every one and will get back to you soon.  I was pleasantly surprised by a sudden request for 6 new English courses, three of which I started, but which are also in the process of serious restructuring to make them more relevant to the current blah, blah, blah, a bunch of stuff that doesn’t matter to any readers of this blog.

Suffice it to say, I’m suddenly very busy.  So busy that I’m not even going to edit out that adverb.

On top of these new courses, I’m getting ready for Story a Day in September.  I won’t be trying to write a new story every day this time, but rather rewriting some and starting a few.  Here’s one that I’m rather fond of, even if it’s not really about anything and I crap all over the show-don’t-tell “rule”.  Yeah, yeah, yeah.  I love my deformed babies, too.

My musical offering this week is the New Order classic “Ceremony,” since the line “Avenues all lined with trees” was the catalyst for this story.  I had to laugh when a critiquer told me that olive trees grow in groves, not along the side of roads.  I guess that person has never been to Davis, California.

So enjoy.  I’ll be back next week to discuss who controls–or should control–the direction that art takes.

Adding It Up

They turned onto an avenue lined with olive trees, and Darla asked him, “How did they figure out olives?”

Moy came out of his driving trance.  “What’s that, honey?”

“Well, you know they have to soak them in lye or something, then water, then vinegar.  It’s a long process.  They’re too bitter to eat off the tree.  So how did they figure that out?  Why bother?”

“How would I know?”  He added a laugh so she wouldn’t know he was annoyed.  She was always looking to him for answers.

She reached over and stroked his hair. “You’re smart.  You read.”

He shook his head away.  She knew he hated having his head stroked.  Thought it was something you only do to animals.

“We can look it up later.  I’m sure Wikipedia will have a reasonable lie about it.”

He slowed the car down to 50 on the avenue to enjoy the shade of the olive trees.  They had been in the direct sun on the freeway for an hour, with no real scenery and it was a nice change.  They had made good time, so a few extra minutes wouldn’t matter.

He added, “Everybody is smart about something.”

She thought he was smarter, better in many ways.  She loved him more than he loved her, they both knew, although they would never talk about it.  He assumed this was always the case.  One person gave 120 percent to make up for the 80 of the other.  It was close enough to make it work.

The first fling had been two years into their marriage.  He was surprised how easy it was.  So many friends had been caught by making stupid mistakes, things that seemed so obvious to him.  Always take them to a motel, never to her house, certainly not to yours.  Always carry your own soap, the same brand that you use at home; she’ll smell the motel soap.  Do it in the middle of the day, never at the end, or you’ll be suspiciously clean.  Never see the same woman more than three times, five max, or they start to get attached.  And use a condom.  How could men not know this?

The only mistake he had made at the beginning was being overly attentive to Darla after the first time.  He had bought her flowers “just because I love you” and she had joked that he must have something to feel guilty about.  He took her into his arms and reassured her.  “I just don’t want us to lose the romance.  I never want the honeymoon to end.”  She accepted this answer, but he saved the flowers for anniversaries and Valentines after that.

He never understood why he did it.  He always chose women who looked a lot like Darla:  dark hair, plain features.  Small breasts, because more than a handful is wasted, as Dad used to say.  He did the same things in bed with them.  Darla wasn’t prudish, neither did he have any kinks.  And it didn’t affect their sex life.  He was still attracted to her, even after 22 years.

They came to the end of the avenue, and he turned right, toward a town he could see in the distance.

She tensed up, as she always did when she was confused, and grabbed her knees.  “Moy, where are we going?  Isn’t it to the left?” She reached into the door pocket for the map.

He shifted into third and touched her arm.  “We have time.  I’m hungry.  How about a quick Italian meal?  Now I’ve got a hankering for olives.”  He flashed an exaggerated toothy smile at her.

She relaxed.  “That sounds good.  I’m feeling a little peckish myself.”

He looked in his rearview at the olive lined avenue becoming smaller in the distance.  “They saw animals eating them and figured they were edible.”

“What?”

“The olives.  People saw animals eating them, decided they must be edible and found a way to make them edible for humans.”

“I thought you said you didn’t know.”

“It makes sense, I guess.  But we can look it up later.”

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My Hand to God, That’s How it Happened.

This week, I want to ask you writers and readers about believability.

I was recently workshopping a story set here in Mexico, where two cab drivers get in a fist fight and one ends up with a broken nose. They calm down and the nosebreaker sets his opponent’s nose.  This tripped several readers up, because the story didn’t state facts that I took for granted. First, the wait for medical attention at a government run hospital here can be very long, so setting your nose on the street makes perfect sense; second, that most working class Mexican men know how to set a nose, even their own, if necessary; and finally, that honor among adversaries is not too uncommon here. Two Mexicans read the story and didn’t say a thing about that part.

My question is this: how can a writer make the reader believe without using the dreaded info-dump? My thinking is that this is problematic in narrative as well as dialog.  As a reader, how much do you want explained to you, and how?

I look forward to any insight here.

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Spark Contest Three: “The Fantasy is Here; The Future is Now”

Artwork by Paul Pederson

Hey, everybody.  Did I tell you I took third place in Contest Two at Spark: A Creative Anthology?  No?  Oh, well, I took third place in Contest Two at Spark: A Creative Anthology.  There you go.  It was for an odd little collection of vignettes that may or not be part of the same story of the picture prompt, Una Mujer , by Rodney Artiles.

After the announcement, I started to work on a recorded version of it, but I see now that it still needs some work, and I wouldn’t have given me first place either.  Damn, this writing stuff is hard.

By the way, Spark has recently announced Contest Three: “The Fantasy is Here; The Future is Now” .   With Brian Lewis’ kind permission, I’m just going to steal his words for the rest of this post.

Theme

In a recent interview, our editor-in-chief was asked, “What draws you to speculative fiction?” He said:

To me, speculative fiction is all about what’s possible. Each subcategory does it in different ways: Fantasy tells us what’s possible when we close our eyes and imagine life without the constraints of our world; Sci-Fi tells us what’s possible if we continue exploring the amazing science of technology we already have; Steampunk tells us what’s possible with human ingenuity—it’s not bound by electricity, microcircuits, supermagnets, but would have bloomed even without those particular advancements. Other categories take still different approaches, but the one thing they all have in common is the celebration of what’s possible.

Your assignment for Contest Three is to take that celebration of what’s possible and apply it to our own universe in the present day.

Fundraiser

This specially-themed contest doubles as a fundraiser for guest judge David Farland’s son Ben Wolverton. Ben has made amazing progress recovering from a traumatic head injury, but medical expenses are staggering—well over a million dollars. The career path of “successful independent writer” does not provide health insurance.
One half of all entry fees for Contest Three will be donated to the Wolverton family to help with Ben’s medical expenses.

Guest Judges

David Farland (Dave Wolverton)bestselling author and Writers of the Future Contest coordinating judge

E. Catherine Tobler, author and senior editor at Shimmer magazine

Chad Morris, author of the Cragbridge Hall series

Brad R. Torgersenauthor and past winner of the Writers of the Future Contest

Tess Granthamwriter, journalist, and former Editorial Manager of Pacific Islands Publishing

Awards

Grand Prize

We will award one Grand Prize for poetry, and one for prose. Each of the two Grand Prize winners will receive:

  • US$500.00
  • Publication in Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume IV (cover art pictured above)
  • Lifetime Premium Membership at Scribophile, the online writing group for serious writers
  • One year subscription to Duotrope
  • One-year print subscription to American Poetry Review or Poets & Writers Magazine
  • Complimentary print & digital copies of Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volumes I through IV

Second Place

We will award one Second Place prize for poetry, and one for prose. Each of the two Second Place winners will receive:

  • US$100.00
  • Lifetime Premium Membership at Scribophile
  • One-year digital subscription to American Poetry Review
  • Complimentary digital copies of Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volumes I through IV
  • Complimentary print copy of Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volume I

Third Place

We will award one Third Place prize for poetry, and one for prose. Each of the two Third Place winners will receive:

  • One-year Premium Membership at Scribophile
  • Complimentary digital copy of Spark: A Creative Anthology Volumes I through IV
  • One-year digital subscription to American Poetry Review
  • Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland (2013 Kindle or Nook edition)

Plus a lot of other information on this contest to be found on the Spark Contest Three page.

I think this will appeal to many writers I know, and many you know, so let’s do like the shampoo commercial.  You’ll tell two friends, they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on and so on.

Our song this week is, appropriately enough, John Prine’s “Living in the Future.”  Forget the footer widget.  It doesn’t want to cooperate, so I’m putting the music in the post.

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Twitter’s White Noise

I discussed different kinds of social media recently, and I want to take a moment to rail against Twitter.  Now, I don’t hate Twitter.  It’s a necessary tool for self-promotion, and it helps me follow people that are interesting to me—or who might be useful to me someday, let’s be honest—and hating a tool seems pointless to me.  The bus system in Guadalajara is often dangerous, noisy, smelly, downright surreal, but hating it would be a waste of my time.  I need it, so I enjoy the ride as best I can.  That doesn’t mean that I can’t complain in my own way.

Although I’m still learning to use Twitter, and am certainly not an expert, I do have some opinions on how it can be better utilized, and a few things to avoid.  Please feel free to add your own.

  • Retweeting is good.  When we tweet something interesting, useful, or even funny, it makes the person feel good to know that they have a bigger audience, at least for that one tweet.  It might even bring more followers.  But please, don’t retweet everything.
  • Promotion is fine.  For many of us, it’s the main reason for having a Twitter presence.  However, reminding me every few minutes that your book is on Amazon, it’s a good read, and oh, look what this person has to say about it is just annoying.  The effect you want: my interest in your story.  The effect you get: me never wanting to hear from you again.
  • #FF.  Suggesting people that your Twitter followers might want to follow is a kind gesture.  I need to do this more often, to promote people I think are really worth following and to repay those who have done it for me.  But please, I beg of you, don’t tell me to follow everybody you know all at once.
  • Whimsy is fun.  I appreciate the odd out-of-left-field comment that shakes me up for a moment, sure, but a string of nonsensical sentences gets old. “Delicate coke cough syrup aftersmell” is not as clever as you think it is, especially after a couple dozen of similar tweets.
  • We want to know how many people we are following and are following us.  Our followers really don’t care.  Please get rid of that service that announces every day how many people started/stopped following you.  That is of no use to me.  Twitter already gives you the numbers, and you can check your list to see who all those people are.
  • Your thought can be longer than the tweet allows sometimes, I understand.  Please make every effort to keep it short, and if it goes over, stop and let your followers know that it will continue with a (cont),
  • lest you leave them
  • confused, looking through their feed, already filled with so many
  • different tweet topics coming through the feed.  It is difficult to
  • Does consider become do? Layout proof for breakfast, shaking off giant roaches, dancing transsexual…now?
  • know when the thought is going to
  • The 5th Annual NANO Prize, publication and Otherwise. New blog entry, starting the StoryADay Guides.
  • end, or if it already did,
  • It’s not me. I guess it’s a dish best served with Durkee’s fried onions and in place for today, not me.
  • so don’t do that.

For those of you on Twitter, is there anything you would add to this list?

(This week’s song: Man, It’s So Loud in Here, by They Might Be Giants.)

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Social Media for the Artist (Starving and Otherwise).

social-media-management1

I had a short Twitter conversation with Edith Frost on Saturday night.  It happened like this: Somebody that I follow tweeted a response to one of Edith’s tweets, so I followed her and responded to a tweet about the ASL sign for taco. This is part of the conversation I then had with her.

Edith Frost ‏@edithfrost

Now I know how to say taco in ASL (make V shape w/ left hand and do like a karate chop into it w/ right hand)

George Wells ‏@GeorgeWAuthor

@edithfrost I think that’s the universal sign for taco.

Edith Frost ‏@edithfrost2h

@GeorgeWAuthor Hey I used to live in Guad when I was a kid, from 73-79, I went to the friggin American School on Colomos

George Wells ‏@GeorgeWAuthor

@edithfrost Wow! I know teachers who worked there. GDL is great tonight. Cool and rainy.

Edith Frost ‏@edithfrost

@GeorgeWAuthor Wow I hope none of them go back far enuf to remember me, I was kind of a handful. My little sister Lucie fared better there

She then followed me on Twitter, and that’s really cool and made me feel good, and you have no idea who Edith Frost is, but you’ve all heard of Britney Spears, and that proves that the world is broken. She’s an awesome singer-songwriter of “pensive countrified psychedelia.”  Here’s an old favorite, Cars and Parties.  Check it out.

Social media is important to artists, especially the more independent and up and coming, but really with everybody.  There is a lot to wade through, and we’re struggling to be rise above the din, to be read as writers, seen as visual artists, heard as musicians, so we have to use the tools available to us.

What are these tools, and how can we use them effectively?  No, really.  I’m asking.  I have precious little insight to offer you, so please help me out on this one.

A few common sites that I know of and some observations:

Facebook: You should have a page as an artist that is separate from your personal page, because memes about cats and bacon are loads of fun, but not very informative.  I have one, but never know what to put there, except for links to this blog and the occasional announcement about a publication (Spark: A Creative Anthology, Volumes  I  and II ; check ‘em out!), or my latest rejection.

Twitter: Similar to the FB, really, but with shorter messages. I see some put the same thing in both places.  I can also make quips about the fact that I’m writing or not writing.

Blog: Now, some artists with blogs blog about their art exclusively.  I’ve heard differing opinions on this.  Many suggest that you need to have a wider range of topics, or else you’re only going to attract people who are already doing the same thing as you.

Others: Pinterest, tumblr, Google + (I can’t even type that without laughing), etc.

So I guess I’ve discovered why it took me so long to get this post done: I don’t have much insight.  Mmm…I thought I did.

Back to my conversation with Edith: As a fan of her work, it was nice to connect with her, have an interesting conversation, and learn that she’s got a new project in the works.  Now I’m following her to see when it comes out, and I’ll definitely pick it up.  How did it help me?  I don’t know.  Maybe she’ll check me out, maybe somebody else will see me on her Twitter list and follow me, who knows.  Couldn’t hurt.

My question for the week:  How do you use the internet and social media on both sides?  Do your followers look for your latest work?  Are they looking forward to it?  Does their internet activity affect your buying decisions?

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Spreading Compassion and Awareness with Emotional Pistols

In order to get caught up on a few things, I’m reposting an old post from my Facebook about reposting on Facebook, because I fancy myself some kind of meta-humor genius.  Or else I didn’t get this week’s topic written in time.  It’s like when they announce on TV “Encore Presentation” when they really mean “rerun.”  But most of you probably haven’t seen this, so I’ll shut up and let you read now.

Let me preface this by saying that I understand that people repost the “repost this” posts out of sincere desire to get people thinking about a particular disease, disorder, social problem, whatever.  I understand and respect the intentions, and have even done so myself.  I have been touched in some way by most every issue in these posts.  However, they are growing more and more demanding and accusatory towards others in our social network, and I have written the following as part angry rant, part request that we read them more carefully and consider the language being used.

I do not wish to point the finger at anyone, only to point out the lack of civility used in calling attention to what are, indeed, serious matters.

Here’s the post:

Stupid cancer. We all want a new car, a new phone. A person who has cancer only wants one thing… to survive. I know that a lot of you “who think you’re too cool” probably won’t re-post this. But a very little amount of my friends will. Put this on your wall in honor of someone who died of cancer, survived, or who is fighting against it now.

Let’s break this down.

  1.  “Stupid cancer”—Yes.  I think we all agree that cancer sucks.  As a matter of fact, I would be shocked to find out that anybody I know is a cheerleader for cancer.
  1. “We all want a new car, a new phone.”—I don’t think this is true for even most people I know.  Sure, it’s great to have a car if you can afford it, and in this day and age a phone is a necessity for most people, be it for safety and security, or for work.  However, very few people I know want those things for status.  They have what they need as tools for survival in modern society.  Yes, there are those who want the newest, the most expensive, the flashiest, but they’re not the people running around in my circle.  I’m pretty sure that my friends and acquaintances are more concerned with doing a good job in a field they like, where their contribution is rewarding to them and somehow beneficial to society.  Those who have children are more concerned with feeding and nurturing them than with giving them the most expensive toys.
  1. “A person who has cancer only wants one thing… to survive.”—Actually, this is one of the grossest oversimplifications I have ever read.  A person with cancer wants to survive.  That’s a no-brainer.  But while he/she is going through treatment, he/she also wants to live life as normally as possible, or perhaps even make improvements.  He/she wants to spend time with family, laugh, love, go to the store, wash dishes, listen to music, etc.
  1.  “I know that a lot of you “who think you’re too cool” probably won’t re-post this.”—Okay, so I’m a self-centered douche if I don’t immediately repost this.  I don’t care about cancer, only about myself.  Or maybe I was just too busy slipping radioactive mickeys into people’s drinks in the hope of creating more cancer, then coming home and pleasuring myself while thinking about how my victims will suffer.  This is the part of this post that bugs me the most.
  1. “But a very little amount of my friends will.”—I’ll leave the grammar alone and just focus on being called out.  If I’m one of the people who don’t post, how can you even respect me and consider me a friend?  I mean, if I refuse to post after the last four brilliantly reasoned statements, you must really have a low opinion of me.  I don’t blame you.
  1. “Put this on your wall in honor of someone who died of cancer, survived, or who is fighting against it now.”—Or else?

Yes, cancer concerns me.  My mother is a cancer survivor, and my grandfather was a cancer victim.  So yes, Stupid Cancer.   I think of them and I pray for them, and I thank them for never telling me that I’m a prick if I don’t go shouting about it from every mountaintop.

Stepping off my soapbox now.  Please feel free to comment.  I’ll be back next week with more on my feelings about social media.

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The Sequel is Just As Good.

Image

THE MOST IMPORTANT VOLUME of an anthology is not the first, but the second. With the first volume of Spark: A Creative Anthology, we proved we have ambition and desire. Here, in Volume II, we also demonstrate staying power, both of the anthology itself and of modern storytelling and poetry.

People do write it.

People do read it.

—Brian Lewis, Editor-in-Chief of Spark: A Creative Anthology, from the foreword to Volume II.

I’m very late with my post this week, but I have a good excuse.  As I was beginning yet another rambling missive, Brian contacted me and asked if I had time to take a look at the proof for Spark, Volume II.  Could I lend him another set of eyes to check for any errors that might have slipped through the cracks or crept in during the editing process?  Absolutely!

Full disclosure from both parties:  Brian told me that a big part of his motivation was to show it off, and part of mine was to put off the blog post I was working on that wasn’t taking off.  However, I did also get a good read and he also got to fix a few (minor) issues before sending to print, so it’s win-win.

With Brian’s kind permission, I’d like to offer you a glimpse into what I saw over the weekend.

There are twenty-four pieces in total, a mix of shorts, flashes, and poems.  It offers a surprising mix of genres, which has been Brian’s vision since the beginning.  Now, that might seem off-putting—indeed, I understand that he was told that it was a risky move—but as a man who has read many anthologies of genre specific stories, I don’t see the difference.  I have never loved every last word of even the best I have read.  It works well, and the pieces are chosen to have a fairly broad appeal.

I’ll get poetry out of the way first.  Yes, I said that.  I don’t know a lot about poetry, so I always feel grossly underqualified to comment on it.  That’s something I keep promising to change soon, but meh, there’s always tomorrow.

The two pieces that stuck out for me were “Oh, How We Lived and Died There,” by Kate Raynes and “the horse race for existence” by Scott Skrabal.  Kate’s poem was actually the winning entry for the poetry category for Spark’s Contest One.  I enjoyed the imagery, possibly because it was familiar to me.  A snippet.

Where a river twists and winds,

dotted by dams, with levees in line,

we strove to control the fl ow

that goes from the heartland

out through a gaping maw.

I grew up in Northern California, and rivers, dams, and levees were a big part of my childhood, so maybe that colored my opinion.

Scott Skrabal’s poem was the one that I liked the best, as there’s a certain cadence to it that fit the idea of a horse race.  I couldn’t help but read that one out loud, and I found it pleasing to the ear.

As for the rest of the poetry, it was good.  I don’t know poetry. I don’t dislike it, mind you, I’m simply uncomfortable making any statements.  If anybody has read the other poems, please comment below.  I’d love to hear your opinions.

On to prose.  My favorite was my own, of course.  Just kidding.  Maybe.  I’ll come back to that.  Let’s begin with a few lit-fic pieces.

The anthology opens with Spark’s first contest winner for the prose category,  Michelle Soudier’s “Perspective,” about a divorced man who learns a valuable lesson from his son about finding his place in life.  I have a heart of stone, but I was a little misty by the end.

Brandon Tietz’s “Ultimate Grand Supreme Super Sexy Baby” is a wonderful mix of the humorous and the horrific.

Simon Bradley’s “Semi-Detached” successfully breaks one of the cardinal rules of plot—don’t kill the dog—and I applaud him for it.  Not that I like dead dogs, but I tend to question “The Rules.”  It is darkly funny, and I laughed in spite of myself.

Christine Edwards’ “The Barfly from Apartment Twenty-One” and Ellen Denton’s “The Confession” both make well-known fiction devices—memory loss and deathbed confessions, respectively—new again.

Alexis A. Hunter , a favorite of mine, stretches outside the bounds of her usual speculative fiction offerings that I know her for, and gives us a western, “The Shadow Attached to His Name,” a sequel to her offering in  Volume I, “By the Gun.”  If you only read one western this year, make it these two.

For Sci-fi lovers, Hunter Liguore gives us “Me,” a story about identity that would have been at home on “The Twilight Zone.” Daniel Pearlman’s “Caught in Vagrante” reminded me of Philip K Dick’s short stories, an anvilicious commentary on the war on the homeless.  Robert J Sawyer takes us centuries into the future to answer the question of conscience posed by the nuclear bomb in “Wiping Out.”

Ashley Capes’ “Somnus and the March Hare” brings Alice’s rabbit into the real world and throws in a touch of Roman mythology for a fun grown-up fantasy tale.  Jennifer Racek’s “The Library at the End of the World” is a fable about the importance of books, and while it was unusual for the anthology, being possibly more suited to younger readers, I found it an enjoyable read.

Then there’s my favorite story: mine.  I say this not because it’s the best story—it isn’t—but because I spent so much time with it and am happy with the results, overjoyed to see it in print.  When I was workshopping it, the first critique left me this comment: “Sorry to be so negative but that’s how the plot struck me – bleak and negative.”  I knew I was moving in the right direction.

I will have to come back later to comment on the rest of the pieces, as I was occasionally too distracted to give them my full attention, and I don’t believe I was able to fully appreciate the meaning and impact of the words.  An entire anthology is a lot to absorb in a day.

Those pieces are:

If you read any of these stories and poems—and I hope you do—do please comment on them, even, nay especially, if you wrote it.

Props to the artists, too.  The cover is a photograph by Charles King, an artist and author from Portland, Oregon, and the inner art was drawn specifically for some of the stories by Paul Pederson, an artist and graphic designer currently living in St. George, Utah.

Thanks for reading.  I will make every effort to be back to my regular Saturday postings this weekend.

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Brilliance in Bedlam?

I'm not crazy

Somebody asked a question the other day in the Scribophile forums about the correlation between mental illness and creativity.  “Do you think this is true?”

Jesus wept, I thought.  Here we go again.

Since I’ll be taking the scenic route to my point today, I’ll give you a teaser.  My answer is: No, I don’t, for the most part.

To begin, I think it’s important to understand that the term mental illness covers a wide range of conditions, from feeling a little blue to losing arguments with lampposts to being unable to function in the world.  This is the same for physical illness.  The common cold, irritating and debilitating as it can be, is certainly not the same as leprosy, cancer, or Parkinson’s.   Indeed, even those physical illnesses have their own subclasses.

I am not mentally ill, but I have been.  That’s a fun story, but a little family background first.

My father’s mother has always been something of a legend for me, as she passed away before I was born.  Dad didn’t talk about her a lot, but it was always with a mix of love, frustration, and regret.  I wish I had a picture of that face he put on when he told me those stories.

She was fun, witty, intelligent, an artist.

In early elementary school, she drew a duck in class, and the teacher remarked that it was better than her own example.  She was a writer, crafting stories longhand in a notebook that my other grandmother, Mom’s mom, later typed up for her.

She was creative and spontaneous.

Mama was in my father’s room one day, chatting with him and his buddies.  She picked at a loose chip of paint on the wall with her fingernail.  She picked again and again.  When my father asked what she was doing, she told him, “Making a map of the United States.”  After this, Dad’s walls became a canvas for his friends to write and draw on.  Unfortunately, nobody took a picture of this.

She was energetic, and there were always things to be done.

When my parents were dating as teenagers, they would sit in Dad’s car and talk (and probably more; I’m not naïve), and one evening Mama (my grandmother) came out and filled the backseat with paper bags, instructing them to fold them for her.

“Why are we doing this?” my mother asked as she flattened a bag in her lap.

“Because Mama says so.”

She was strong-willed, sometimes explosive.

Mama and Papa (my grandfather) had their share of disagreements, which is common enough, but one night Mama was determined to win the argument.  She broke every plate, cup, and saucer in the kitchen by throwing them on the floor or against the wall while Papa waited safely outside the door.  She stomped across the kitchen, ceramic crunching under her feet, and informed Papa that she would not go back into the kitchen “until you’ve cleaned up every last bit of that mess.”  Papa did, and told my parents with a chuckle as he filled the dustpan, “I guess it was time to buy new dishes anyway.”

I’ve been told all my life that I resemble her in many ways.  That was a high compliment, especially coming from my father.  At least it seemed that way when I was younger and only hearing about how creative she was.  As I got older and my parents added stories about the pressing need for folded paper bags and shattered tableware, I worried a bit over this comparison.

Then I heard about the sixth floor.

In the hospital, resting.  Fuck, they might as well have said, “She has the vapors.”

Long story short, as people are wont to say when it’s too late, she was in and out of the hospital for many years, she was up, she was down, she was fun, a terror.  My father joined the Navy to get away from her.  She took her medicine, she had her cocktails.  One night, she passed away in her sleep from too much of both.  There was always a silent divide in the family over the question of whether that was an accident or not.  For the record, my parents and my grandfather believed it was.

Wow, this is a long story.  Let’s take a dance break.

Ok, we’re back.

In 2004, I lost my other half to illness, on January 25th, the fifth anniversary of my father’s passing.  In that span of time I also lost three other people dear to me: my maternal grandmother, with whom I had lived for several years; my ex, who was still my close friend; and my paternal grandfather.

I called my boss from the school.  When she answered, the only thing I could get out was her name.

“Tere…”  I lay on the floor, my lungs locked, my muscles frozen, my feet tingling, as if they had ants crawling on them.

She knew something was wrong.  “I’ll be right there.”

By the time I got the hospital, I was not only breathing, I was panting, sobbing, choking on the air I was pulling into my lungs too quickly.  I told the doctor that the tingling had reached to above my knees.  It was all over my body when the sedative took effect.

When I woke later, I met with my psychiatrist, who asked me questions about my family history.  Mom has anxiety attacks and is in treatment.  One uncle is a recovering alcoholic, another ate himself into obesity and heart disease, killed himself.  I went over everybody, and then told him the stories about my grandmother.

“Yeah, your grandmother was bipolar.”

Nobody had ever told me that.  I knew there was something wrong there.  I even told my uncle once, “Your mother was more than excitable.  It sounds like she was mentally ill.”  He didn’t seem interested in pursuing that conversation.  I guess for him, she was just excitable, and needed to rest for a while on the sixth floor.

I asked the doctor, “Do you think I might…?”

He shook his finger at me.  “You’re past the age. Bipolar disorder would have manifested years ago.  No, you’re just having a really hard time of things right now.”

Wait, did he just tell me I have the vapors?

I was in the hospital for two weeks.  I took medication, I had therapy, I participated in dynamics.  I also met some nice people, had some fun, caused some trouble.  Good times.  I’m all better now.

So here’s my point:  No, I do not believe that there is a correlation between mental illness in the sense that one causes the other.   My grandmother was mentally ill for most of her adult life, probably.  She was also creative.  I have been mentally healthy for most of my adult life.  I’m also creative.  I certainly wasn’t during the year of therapy after my breakdown.  I did not meet one single creative person in my stay at the hospital.

I think that what happens more often than not with people who answer this question with a “yes” is that they are romanticizing mental illness.  I wish they would stop.  There is nothing romantic about it.  There is a reason doctors talk about “suffering” mental illness, and not “enjoying” it.

Of course, there are cases of people with mental illness being creative.  Van Gogh, certainly.  Hemingway, yes.  However, there are many more artists who are/were happy, well-adjusted people.  I know many.

A final note:  I do understand that certain conditions can contribute to creativity, especially in highly intelligent people, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, but not in all cases, and even then, they are nothing to be romantic about.  Both are hell on the sufferer and their loved ones if left untreated.

Of course, this is my experience.   What do you think/what is your experience?  (For the record, those who are following me on this blog so far seem to be some of the most creative and mentally healthy people I’ve ever met.)

(I haven’t read these books, but it’s interesting that there are studies showing the opposite of the long held belief of mental illness equaling creativity.)

The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius

Explaining Creativity: The Science of Human Innovation

Posted in Arts, Psychology, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

PYU-lit-sur

paperback

I’m a little late with the blog this week, as I’ve been focused on subbing out stories.  It’s kind of a grueling process, since I have to get to know the various markets to find the right fit, which means reading their stories first.  I lost some time reading a magazine only to find that it’s closed to submissions.  I’ve adjusted my method accordingly.  Now, the waiting begins.

I do have a great topic to discuss with you all, but I’m putting that off until next week so I can tell you about my big personal challenge.

I’m going to read all of the winning books for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction.  Yeah.

It looks like a cheap project at the beginning, since the first five are already in the public domain.  I hope to find used copies of the rest as I go, and a few of them are already on my shelves, some already read, some on my “to read” list already.

I hope that this will expand my horizons a bit, since I don’t tend to read much literature older than me.  Most of my favorite authors are still alive and writing, so it will be interesting to see what was considered awardworthy in the past.  (Yes, I just invented that word.  Awardworthy ®.)

The first novel to receive the award was His Family by Ernest Poole.

From Wikipedia: His Family tells the story of a middle-class family in New York City in the 1910s. The family’s patriarch, widower Roger Gale, struggles to deal with the way his daughters and grandchildren respond to the changing society. Each of his daughters responds in a distinctively different way to the circumstances of their lives, forcing Roger into attempting to calm the increasingly challenging family disputes that erupt.

This kind of story sounds right up my alley.  I love family conflict—when it’s not in my own family—and write about it quite a bit.

An interesting note about this book:  It was published in 1917, won the award in 1918, and was out of print by the mid-20s.  It wasn’t reprinted until 1970, then was taken out of print again by the late 70s, reappearing again in 2000.  You can get it on Amazon, or free through Gutenberg.

That is, if you’re interested in joining me in this challenge.  I know that many of you have different tastes in reading, so would you consider a similar personal challenge? Hugo Awards, perhaps? RITA Award?  Some other personally defined reading challenge?  I’d love to hear what you’ve done to push yourself to read more.

Posted in Reading | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments

I May or May Not Have Meant to Say Something Like That or Quite the Opposite.

“It is not enough to make sense. We want to find the sense the author intended.” —C.S. Lewis

Anybody want to join me on the fence?  There’s plenty of room.

I agree with this sometimes, disagree sometimes.  This discussion always makes me think of Ray Bradbury explaining to disbelieving university students that Fahrenheit 451 was absolutely not about censorship. No, it’s not.  I wrote it, dammit; I should know! (Here I imagine Mr. Bradbury flinging paperbacks at college students’ heads.  His aim is impressive.)

bradbury

Let me give you a couple of examples from my own experience as a writer who deals directly with readers during the workshopping process.

Last year, I presented a fifty-word story to the community on  Scribophile.  I’d never tried microfiction before, but it was for a contest, so I gave it a shot.  Since I didn’t win, and my subsequent submission of the piece came with a note telling me that I don’t understand microfiction, I’ll share it with you here.

Waiting

I waited for him to come home. He did.

I waited for him to speak. He spoke.

I waited for him to stop.

Go to sleep, I thought. He did.

I waited for him to leave for work. Leave me alone.

Now I wait for him to return. He won’t.

A critique I received on this came with an interpretation that I would never have expected.  What’s your take on it?  My answer is below.  Please enjoy these puppies while you consider your answer.

Aaaaaawwwwwwwwww-Sweet-puppies-9415255-1600-1200

What did I write?  The narrator is waiting for hubby to come home, but then wants hubby to be quiet and go away, as he’s an annoyance.  The interpretation that threw me for a loop?  A man who comes home and rapes his wife every night because he feels he can as the man.

No, no, no!  Not only is that not what I wrote, I have no idea how it could be inferred from those words.  A year later, and I’m still baffled.

I did not correct that person, by the way.  I said thanks and walked away, scratching my head.

On the other hand, I’m sometimes pleased when people find things I didn’t mean, possible motives for a character, meanings for a story, connections between people and events that I miss.

I’m working on another story that I wrote last year, where the main character comes across an old friend.  The MC is successful, with a family of sorts, and his friend is a junkie/prostitute.  The MC purposefully gives his friend an overdose in the climax of the story.  I don’t overtly state why, which has caused different readers to suggest possible motives.  I’m seriously considering leaving it as is, because I find the idea of openness in this particular story fascinating.

(I didn’t mean to skip the motive; it was simply so obvious inside my head that I didn’t put it on the page. If you’ve read the story and are dying to know, I’ll tell you once it’s printed and you’ve purchased whatever magazine buys it.)

What do you think?  Does art belong to the artist or to the observer or to both?

Posted in Arts, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments